Understanding and using the Hyperfocal Distance in your photography.
Fulfilling my promise that I made in the last edition where I said that I would help you to understand what hyperfocal distance is all about. It is not a term commonly used anymore or applied. Hyperfocal distance is still taught if you were doing or contemplating doing a formal class in photography.
I will give you the definition that I was taught and then I will explain it to you. Why it is taught and who should use and know about this. If you did a formal diploma or degree in photography you may in ‘formative film years’ have used a textbook in your first year ‘Basic Photography’ M.J. Langford, and I will quote, “In discussing depth of field we agreed that it is unnecessary for a lens to focus exactly every part of a subject. Provided all parts of the subject lie somewhere within the depth of field they are visually just as acceptable as the one distance ‘clinically focused’. Therefore, if we are focusing distant subject matter, i.e., landscapes and general views, we are wasting some of this valuable depth by setting the focusing scale on ‘infinity’. What is happening is that our depth of field is extending back to a point nearer the camera and forwards beyond infinity.
Why lose this latter zone? Why not focus on some nearer point which allows depth of field to extend back just to infinity and towards us to include even more of the scene nearer the camera. We can do this by focusing the lens on a point which marked the nearest limit to depth of field when the lens was earlier focused on infinity. This is known as the ‘Hyperfocal point’ and its distance from the lens as the ‘Hyperfocal distance’. If our lens is focused for a subject at the hyperfocal distance from the lens, depth of field will extend back to infinity. It will also extend forward to a point half the hyperfocal distance from the lens.
Definition: ‘ Hyperfocal distance’ – the distance between the lens and the nearest point of acceptably sharp focus when the lens is focused for infinity. When focused for the hyperfocal distance depth of field extends from half this distance to infinity. This exploitation of depth of field (a sort of optical ‘cheating’) is an intelligent manoeuvre to increase foreground sharpness when focusing by scale. Also, it is more useful for lenses of fixed focus – such as those in inexpensive cameras – to be set by their manufacturers for hyperfocal distance rather than infinity. Aerial cameras and optical instruments for distant work are also often set for hyperfocal distance at their widest aperture.
The hyperfocal distance varies with every f-number as well as focal length and the acceptable circle of confusion diameter. The following formula gives us the hyperfocal distance in whatever common units we quote focal length and circle of confusion.” Without even realizing this our autofocus camera’s when capturing landscapes will usually set itself to infinity focus automatically.
Depth of Field Gained by Focusing For the Hyperfocal Distance
Just for interest, I have included the formula but I need you to understand that this textbook was written long before the advent of digital photography but optical principles are cast in stone and it is good to know and to understand such. In the previous edition, I covered depth of field in detail, included circles of confusion and depth of focus. If we come to understand just how to set up our camera to use this knowledge our results will become predictable and stunning. The hyperfocal distance is normally only used for landscape photography with fixed focal length lenses, a short recap, The hyperfocal distance varies with every f-number as well as focal length and the acceptable circle of confusion diameter.
Fortunately today we can cut through the confusion and we can if we should so choose, download a hyperfocal distance App to our smartphones and simply use this according to the simple explanation that comes with this. I have made it even easier for you to understand by including a short YouTube video lesson on hyperfocal distance.
I concurred with Steve Schwindt obtaining his permission to display some of his outstanding work that aptly demonstrates the hyperfocal distance in practice. After absorbing what you have just learnt please take this opportunity and appreciate more of Steve’s outstanding landscape and nature photography. Steve Schwindt .com