theory

Focus: How to get sharp images front to back, part 2

In the first part we covered the 1/3 of the way in method and focus stacking.

And now we discuss the hyperfocal distance.

Hyperfocal distance

As complicated as it sounds its actually not that complicated once broken down. The hyperfocal distance is basically how close into the scene you can focus so everything from the point focused on and half that distance to infinity will be acceptably sharp. I know the statement I just made has not made it easier to understand but I am going break it down so its easier to digest.

First of all let us define what infinity is.

The infinity setting of a lens is the point where the furthest object into the scene will be in focus, it doesn’t matter if it's 10 meters away or 10,000 meters away, if it is in the frame it will be in focus.

Each lens (usually) has a measurement system that tells you what distance you are currently focusing at. Many of these lenses have various measures before they reach infinty, mines stops at 3ft before reaching infinity whilst others may stop at 6ft or more. Once you have reached the infinity sign it signals that you have reached the furthest plane of focus in your lens. Some lenses may focus a little beyond infinity as a precaution of heat distortion in hotter climates.

Now, when using the hyperfocal distance our aim is to have the foreground, middleground and background acceptably sharp.

How do we do this? We find out where the hyperfocal distance is, but this depends on aperture, focal length and sensor size. For example look at the diagram below.

This diagram is not to scale and is based on a full frame sensor

This diagram is not to scale and is based on a full frame sensor

Let us break down the diagram one step at a time and by the end of this blog I hope you rejoice in your new found understanding of the hyperfocal distance.

Above we see the camera set on the tripod. the focal length is 16mm and the aperture is set at f8.

I have a beautiful scene infront of me and I want to make sure everything is in acceptable focus. So I dial in the focal length and aperture into a photography app and it tells me the hyperfocal distance is at 3 feet 6.6 inches.

After I focus on exactly (or as close as possible) to the required distance, I now know that everything from half of that distance to infinity will be in focus. So just to break it down even further, The red line from the camera is how far into the scene the focus is set, 3 feet and 6.6 inches. The blue line which starts at 1ft 9.3 inches is half of that distance and is where the range of focus starts up to infinity. Everything from 1ft 9.3 inches to infinty should be acceptably sharp. Not pin sharp, but acceptably sharp. The hyperfocal distance will always be sharp from half of its original focus distance to infinty. So if I dialed in f11 and the same focal length of 16mm into the photography app it would tell me that the hyperfocal distance is 2 feet 7.2 inches, so I would set my focus there. However, from 1foot 3.6inches to infinity would be in focus. This will always be the case when using the hyperfocal distance. Just as in the diagram the focus point (red line) is set just after the flowers, but because from half of that distance will be in focus (blue line) we dont have to worry about them because the range of focus starts just before the flowers so we have them covered.

Again just to make it crystal clear that whatever the hyperfocal distance is, half it and thats where the point of sharpness starts right up to infinity.

I know I may of exaspirated my point but I always like to be crystal clear when giving instruction, especially when covering the hyperfocal distance because many times when I have explained it before to a friend or a colleague and always ended up being lost in translation.

When to use the hyperfocal distance?

I may lose a few friends for saying this but I hardly ever use it. I think it's too much of a fidgety process and if your a slight bit out with the focusing distance then that can really be bad news for your photo. Another problem I have with this this method is that when using a tape measure or an augmented reality app that measures the distance for you and shows you where to focus, I have never really had the best results. My preferred method is to either focus 1/3 of the way into a scene, focus stack or focus to infinity.

That being said I know a number of people who use this regulalry and with fine results, it just depends on what you are comfortable with.

If you are going to try and use this method I would recommend that you have ample time and set up before hand rather than being at a location last minute and having to rush the enitre process. Now to answer the question when to use it. I would say use it when you have ample time and when you want to make sure everything will be in focus. Although one can argue that can be achieved by the 3 methods I have listed above. It’s totally dependant on your preference.

You may probably be thinking if I dont use it then why talk about it?

I wanted to blog about it because I think that as photographers we can never have enough tools. Whilst the hyperfocal distance is a tool I almost never use it might one day serve me when I might have need of it, or maybe if I want to pass the knowledge on to someone who might use it more than I ever will.

Thank you for reading and stay tuned because in the next post I will be asking some well known photographers for snippets of advice about how they became successful and what advice they might have for those wishing to start out in photography.

See you in the next one,

Adam.