Hyperfocal Focusing and Photography

Hyperfocal focusing is a very important technique that can be used in landscape photography. It is the amount of sharp focus that photographers can get in the entire photograph. There are countless situations in which photographers have to know how much of an image they can get into the acceptable line of focus. Hyperfocal focusing becomes even more important when you are using wide angle lenses and shooting with foreground objects. Wide angles allow photographers to get very close to objects that they can put into the foreground for compelling landscape photography composition.

But, there are so many questions that can come up when you’re dealing with hyperfocal focusing.

  • How close can I get to the foreground?
  • What aperture should I be using?
  • How far into the photo will be in focus?
  • Is hyperfocal focusing only for wide angle lenses?

Hyperfocal focusing is not just for wide angle lenses, but it’s widely used when shooting with them because they distort the foreground so much, making it larger and more noticeable. You can also refer back to hyperfocal focusing when you’re using telephoto lenses to get sharp focus.

What Aperture Should You Be Using?

When you’re using hyperfocal focusing, you want to be sure you’re using a small aperture. Your natural reaction would be to adjust your aperture to the smallest possible size and start shooting, but that isn’t always the best idea. You see, shooting at the smallest possible aperture size, like f/22, doesn’t always give you the sharpest image possible. F/22 has a tendency to soften the overall image instead of making it super tack sharp.

A wiser aperture would be something like an f/16. F/16 would give you a small enough opening to be able to fit a large amount of focusing range into the image while keeping a high amount of focus in the photo as well.

You can use any size aperture when you’re shooting with hyperfocal focusing depending on your personal style and taste, but I always recommend using something around f/16.

How Close Can You Get to the Foreground?

That’s a very interesting and challenging question you need to be asking yourself when you’re out in the field shooting. Different lenses and cameras will allow different distances that you’re able to be up to in regards to the foreground subject. For example, crop sensor and full frame cameras will give you different distances and a lens with a 24mm focal distance will give you a different result than a lens with a 14mm focal distance.

There are formulas that you can calculate when you’re out shooting, but it’s not always easy to remember the formulas or do the math in your head.

Luckily for photographers, there are several apps that you can use to calculate just how far you can be from your foreground element. I prefer to use the app PhotoPills because their charts are very simple to read and understand, not to mention their vast catalog of cameras and focal lengths you have to choose from.

Let’s take a look at a screen shot using a Sony a6000 to understand how to use one of these charts.

As you can see, you can select the camera you’re using by clicking on the name of the camera in the “Camera” tab at the top of the screen. PhotoPills will automatically adjust the measurements of how close you can be to your foreground element. On the left side of the screen you have your different focal lengths you could be shooting in that range from the smallest at the top and the largest at the bottom. This screen scrolls so you can see all distances you could be shooting in. The top of the chart shows your aperture. It scrolls left and right so you can find the exact aperture you’re using. Once you find the aperture you’re using and the focal length you’re using, you match them on the chart and you can see how close you can get to your foreground to keep it in focus.

You can also use PhotoPills tools like Subject Distance to figure out how far you can be from the closest element in your composition for it to be in focus. A lot of those features will also be the same. Choosing your camera and lens focal length allows PhotoPills to choose your minimum subject distance in the photograph.

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How Far Into the Photo Will Be In Focus?

This is the most important question because you want your photograph to be tack sharp all the way throughout the image. When you use hyperfocal focusing, the minimum distance to infinity will be in focus. When I say infinity, I mean that from the point of minimum focus to an eternal distance will be within focus.

Let’s look at this concept with an example using what we learned in the hyperfocal focusing section of PhotoPills. Here is the screen that we are using with our minimum focus distance according to our camera, lens, and aperture setting.

So, according to this chart, I can get as close as 0.63 Meters to my foreground and it will still be in focus. So, let’s look at a photo resembling this distance.

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The red line indicates the point in which I want the infinite focus to start from. It’s well within the minimum distance of 0.63 meters, so I know that my entire foreground element is going to be within focus. This is great because it’s exactly what I want. So, what’s going to be in focus throughout the rest of the image?

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Since hyperfocal focusing creates focus from the minimum focal distance to infinity, I have peace of mind that everything remaining in the midground and the background of the photo will be within focus. So, I know the boardwalk is in focus, the sand dunes are in focus, the rest of the plants are in focus, the ocean is in focus, and even the clouds way off in the distance are in focus.

As you can see, hyperfocal focusing is an incredible tool to utilize whenever you’re shooting. Knowledge of focus can ensure that your planned photos will be tack sharp so you won’t have to venture back out into the wilderness to give it another shot.

Sometimes, however, you can’t use hyperfocal focusing because your subject is just too close. In those cases, you can always use focus stacking!