Photographic techniques can be complicated and difficult to understand at first. Learning is part of the job. Each concept will help you to realize your artistic vision and create great photos. If you’re familiar with aperture, depth-of-field, and minimum focal distance, the hyperfocal distance might be your next step. It may seem complicated, but once you get the hang of it it will be second nature. It will allow you to achieve the depth you desire without having to alter your camera settings or compose.

It is important to know how to measure hyperfocal distance, especially if you are interested in landscape photography or cityscape photography. This will help you produce crisp, sharp images. Regardless of what type of photography you prefer, it is important to control the depth of field. Here’s everything you need to know about hyperfocal distance, and how you can use it to your advantage.

What is Hyperfocal Distance?

The hyperfocal distance in photography is the distance at which the camera can focus on a point to achieve the best depth of field. This distance allows the camera to focus only on one point in the frame, allowing you to keep the whole frame clear and sharp.

Two very similar measurement methods and definitions of hyperfocal distance exist. Because the differences between their results are small, you can choose which definition or method is more familiar to you.

First Definition

Hyperfocal distance refers to the distance at which a lens is focused and objects remain sharp at infinity.

Second Definition

Hyperfocal distance refers to the distance beyond which objects can be considered sharp for a lens focusing at infinity.

This means that there is a focal point in the background and foreground that allows them both to be focused. Hyperfocal Distance is the distance between the camera and that point.

Both definitions have the word “acceptable” in them. The circle of confusion limit (CoC limit) is the maximum blur spot that the human eye considers to be a point. The CoC limit is often associated to image formats in order to make things simpler. For full-frame sensors, the CoC limit is 0.029mm. However, for APS-C sensors it varies between 0.018mm to 0.023mm.

The limit of the circle of confusion depends on your visual acuity, viewing conditions and image enlargement. Blurry can result from enlarging an image too much. A blurry image might look sharp on a smaller monitor.

Although it is not an exact measurement, it is very accurate. However, perfect sharpness is impossible. You’ll be able to see that the CoC limit can fool the human eye.

If you take a picture at hyperfocal distance, most of it will consist of small circles that are perceived by the eye as points. In almost all cases, it will be considered sharp.

How do you measure hyperfocal distance?

Two formulae can be used to calculate hyperfocal distance. One for each definition.

The first definition of hyperfocal distance, is:

H= f^2/Nc+f

H is hyperfocal distance. F is focal length. N is the fnumber (aperture), c is CoC limit.

The formula for the second definition is nearly the same, you just need to remove the focal length at its end:

H= f^2/Nc

Let’s take an example with the second definition.

For example, c would be 0.029mm if you used a full-frame digital camera. The hyperfocal distance with a 100mm lens, f/4 aperture and a 100mm lens is:

H= 100^2/(4*0.029)=86207mm

You will therefore get a hyperfocal range of 86m. To maximize depth of field and reach infinity, you need to focus on this focal range.

The same full-frame camera with 100mm lens and f/4 aperture, and focusing at approximately 85m, all distances from 43m to infinity (or half) will be acceptable.

An 18mm lens will allow you to see sharper objects beyond 2.8m. You can choose to use a telephoto lens or a wide-angle lens.

The difference between aperture and focal length is only a few centimeters.

Many lenses include marks that indicate the hyperfocal distance and range of their lenses. Most photographers won’t use formulas in a photoshoot. A Nikon Nikkor 28mm Lens, for example, uses an orange dot to indicate the hyperfocal range of specific apertures. Hyperfocal apps and charts are also available, as described below.

Use a Hyperfocal Distance Map

Hyperfocal distance tables are a quick way to find the hyperfocal distance of any sensor, focal length, or aperture. These tables provide hyperfocal distances from all types of cameras, lenses, and apertures. To address multiple models of cameras, you can either print a static diagram for your model or use the real-time calculator provided to you by the manufacturer.

You will need to choose a sensor type, focal length and aperture in order to use a hyperfocal-distance chart. The table will display the hyperfocal distance. You can limit your search to only two variables, focal length and aperture, since you don’t change the sensor type often.

The formulas show that the hyperfocal distance is dependent on the focal length and the f-number. Telephoto lenses will give you a shallow depth-of-field when you focus on subjects near the camera. You can increase depth of field by focusing at a greater distance, which means you will need to have a longer distance between the camera and the subject.

Contrarily, lenses with shorter focal lengths and larger f-numbers (closed aperture opening) will produce a shorter hyperfocal distance. You will be able to achieve deeper depth of field using a closer focal point. You will be able have your subject in focus near the camera, and distant background in focus.

Set Yourself Up

First, choose the lens that will cover the distance between your subject and the camera. Next, find the hyperfocal Distance Chart for the aperture that provides the correct hyperfocal separation.

The chart can also be used to determine the aperture required for a hyperfocal distance. You can also use the chart to determine what focal length is needed for a fixed aperture. You can adjust the use of this chart to suit your lighting conditions and composition choices, and change the parameter as much as you want.

You can use a smartphone hyperfocal calculator instead of a physical chart that shows distances. The app will tell you where to focus.

When should you use hyperfocal distance

Hyperfocal distance allows you to have both the foreground as well as background in focus, even if there is a great distance between them. To make the measurement worthwhile, you must first have interesting elements in both the front and the back of your scene.

Landscape and cityscape photographers often use this measurement. Because their scene is often deep, and often includes the horizon, it must be completely sharp. The landscape looks more real if there is an element in the background. Landscape photographs can be used with hyperfocal distance easily.

You could also consider hyperfocal distance when the scene is smaller than a large landscape. Sometimes the distance between background and foreground can translate into a shallow depth-of-field, even though it’s not very far. You must decide whether you want a clear background, or a foreground. Find the hyperfocal distance to take a shot if both are attractive and add value. Try different depths of focus to find the one that suits your composition.

Hyperfocal distance is also an option when multiple subjects are scattered far from the camera, or the leading lines that point towards the horizon. If there is strong visual or intuitive connection between the foreground (visible) and the background (infravisible), both should be in focus.

Concluding words

It is possible to use hyperfocal distances with charts and formulas. It’s easy to either approximate it or create your own. Photographers often start by increasing the distance from the object they are trying to focus. Some photographers start at infinity, then move closer until they are happy with the results. In certain situations, it may be better to know the exact hyperfocal distance that you require and then locate the aperture that provides that distance. You will eventually find what works best for you. It doesn’t hurt to keep a chart or an application handy just in case you need it.