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What is Hyperfocal Distance and Why Should I Care? 
By The Staff at Vivid Light

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So what the heck is hyperfocal distance and why should I care?

In Plain Language 
You will get the greatest depth of field when you focus your lens at its hyperfocal distance . With a high quality lens you can produce images with your 35mm that people will swear came from a medium format camera.

So what is hyperfocal distance? Whenever you focus your lens there will be an area that is in focus and areas that are out of focus. The in focus area is referred to as the "focal plane". 

The import thing here is that 1/3rd of the focal plane is ahead of the thing you're focused on and 2/3rds of the focal plane falls behind what you're focused on.

Focus your lens at infinity and the leading edge of the area that is in focus is the hyperfocal point for that lens. 

Focus on that point instead of infinity and you'll have the greatest range of focus from infinity back toward your location.

The Chart 
You can cheat, and many photographers do, by focusing about a third of the way into a scene. This will get you good sharp images with a lot of depth of field. But if you really want to squeeze the maximum depth of field out of that sweeping landscape before your lens you'll need to know where that hyperfocal point lies.

You can do some math to find out the hyperfocal distance for any focal length lens at any aperture. But since most of us don't carry around calculators in our camera bags it helps to have a little cheat sheet along. We've included a couple of links below that allow you to print out charts for 35mm, 4x5, 6x6, and digital SLRs. There are a couple of versions of the charts. The simplest to use is the PDF version. Just download it and print it. We've also included charts in Microsoft Excel format for the math wizards out there who want to modify the spreadsheets for other formats or to change the value of a constant in a formula (see Understanding the Math below).

Using the Chart 
The first step in getting maximum depth of field is to use a tripod. The idea is to capture fine detail. Unless you're using a very high shutter speed and you have the steady hands of a marksman the only way to do this is with a tripod to keep your camera rock steady.

Compose your image. Put your camera into manual focus mode, pick an object at the hyperfocal distance indicated by the chart and focus on it. There was a time when every lens had a distance scale printed right on the lens barrel. Those days are gone so unless you're using an older manual focus lens you'll have to estimate distance.

Use a cable release or the camera's built in self-timer to trip the shutter. Doing it manually by pressing down the shutter release button will cause camera movement and everything you've done so far will have been wasted.

When you get home make a nice big print and enjoy the results!

Times You Don't want to Use Hyperfocal Distance 
A visual technique that has become common in today's landscape photography is to pick a strong foreground subject placed low in the frame. Your eye naturally goes to that foreground subject as a starting point and then flows back into the image.

Depending on the focal length of the lens and the closeness of the subject, setting your lens to its hyperfocal distance may leave that foreground subject soft. Since it will be the first thing the viewers eye goes to the whole image will appear to be slightly out of focus - even if everything beyond that foreground subject is tack sharp. So if you're employing this compositional technique for your landscapes you have to make sure the foreground subject is sharp.

If you have a sufficiently bright viewfinder you can go to your hyperfocal distance and then gradually back the focus in until the foreground is tack sharp and that may require moving you point of focus back toward you until that foreground subject snaps into sharp focus.

That's the end of the practical discussion and most of us should stop reading here. Continue on only if you want to get into the math and science behind calculating hyperfocal distance. To download the hyperfocal charts just right click on the format you want (Excel or PDF) and choose Save Target As.

To Download the Charts
Right click on the chart you want and choose Save Target As 
Microsoft Excel 
Adobe PDF


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