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How to Calculate and Use Hyperfocal Distance for Better Landscape Photography

How to Calculate and Use Hyperfocal Distance for Better Landscape Photography

Jason D. Little
Jason Little is a photographer (shooting macros, portraits, candids, and the occasional landscape), part time writer, and full time lover of music. You can see Jason’s photography on his photography blog or on Flickr.
Jason D. Little
Jason D. Little

Blog Posts by Jason D. Little

Jason D. Little

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By on in Cool Photos 7 Comments ]

 

Hyperfocal distance, much like the “Sunny 16 Rule,” is one of those things that has arguably lost some relevance in the age of digital photography; the sophisticated metering and auto focusing systems built into digital cameras have helped make life a little easier in some ways.

But there are times when some automated feature of your camera simply doesn’t come through for you, or times when you prefer to take away all your camera’s decision-making abilities and do it all for yourself. Then it’s good to know all those old school rules that you thought you would never have any use for.

One of those “old” photographic principles deemed useful by landscape photographers is that of hyperfocal distance.

What is Hyperfocal Distance?

Portrait photographers don’t typically see depth of field as something to overcome; a good portrait can be made from large apertures and small apertures alike. How much depth of field is present depends on how much of the subject the photographer wants to isolate. Landscape photographers, however, face a different challenge. When shooting landscapes there are going to be numerous objects in a scene — there will be background elements and foreground elements. Furthermore, the distance between the background and foreground could very well be hundreds of feet. The goal is to get all this in focus. How, then, does one solve this depth of field riddle?


Tourist Attraction by aevarg, on Flickr

We know that depth of field increases with higher f-stops (f/16 creates more depth of field than f/4). We also know that depth of field increases as the camera focuses farther away. So, imagine you are attempting to focus in on a picturesque landscape scene using a 20mm lens set to f/11; you want to be sure that you’ve got the background as well as the foreground in sharp focus. You don’t want to run the risk of stopping the lens down too much and introducing diffraction, and you don’t want to guess on where to focus and end up with a blurry background.

What if there were a point at which you could focus so as to get as much of the scene as possible in focus? Something like that would be brilliant.

Luckily, such a thing exists. It is referred to as hyperfocal distance.

The hyperfocal distance is the point of focus that allows for maximum depth of field throughout a scene. Once you have focused on the hyperfocal point, everything from half the hyperfocal distance to infinity will be in focus.

hyperfocal dist illust

You may be wondering how exactly hyperfocal distance is determined; how do you know where that magical point is?

Calculating Hyperfocal Distance

In order to calculate hyperfocal distance, you need to know three things:

  1. Focal length – This will depend on what lens you’re using.
  2. Circle of confusion value – Commonly 0.03 and 0.02; depends on sensor type.
  3. F-stop – f/11 and f/13 are often regarded as optimal for landscape photography.

Next, use the following formula and do a little math (lengths and distances measured in mm):

hyperfocal dist formula

Using the aforementioned scenario involving a 20mm lens at f/11 on a full-frame camera, you get a hyperfocal distance of 1212 mm, or 1.2 meters (almost 4 feet). So you should focus on an object that is approximately 1.2 meters away; everything from 0.6 meters (half the hyperfocal distance) away to infinity will be in focus.


Dynamic Serenity by papalars, on Flickr

And there you have it. It’s that simple (if you don’t forget to pack a calculator). Using hyperfocal distance will help you get landscape shots that are sharp front to back.

Check here if you want to find the circle of confusion value for your camera or use this online hyperfocal distance calculator.

7 Comments

  • John Crothers:

    Jason,

    I’d like to take a moment to thank you for all the wonderful articles of yours I have read here on lightstalking. They are all very informative and well written!

    November 27, 2013 at 5:54 pmReply

  • Andrew Boyd:

    For those days when you forget the calculator: a good general rule of thumb for this that actually works: focus 1/3 of the way into your shot, shoot with an aperture of around f11 or higher and you’ll get great landscape results.

    November 29, 2013 at 2:00 pmReply

  • Avatar of tobytoby:

    jDevaun, this was a great article.

    Andrew, I will keep 1/3 and f11 in mind.

    Thanks guys.

    December 2, 2013 at 4:18 pmReply

  • Skip:

    I’ve had this explained to me several times, but not in such a simple and understandable way. As an avid lover of landscape photography, I appreciate your explanation. This is something I’ve wanted to understand for a long time.

    December 5, 2013 at 8:36 pmReply

  • Kevin:

    You mentioned this calculation is for a full frame sensor. Is this the same calc for a sensor that is not full frame? I have a Canon EOS 70D and the sensor frame factor is 1.6. Do put the 1.6 factor in on the top line of the equation and multiple by the stated mm focal length on the lens?

    December 19, 2013 at 5:39 pmReply

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