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Hyperfocal Photography: Different Methods to Calculate Hyperfocal Distance

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When you are foraying into the field of landscape photography, the whole scene is your subject. It is not easy for the untrained eye to include all the elements in a photograph. However, with hyperfocal photography, it is possible to include all the desired elements in the photograph while retaining its sharpness. We aim to assist budding photographers who are trying to get a grip on capturing landscapes and focal point photography.

What is Hyperfocal Distance

Hyperfocal distance is the ideal focusing distance that allows you to capture photographs with the greatest depth of field. Technically speaking, it is the distance from the camera that, when focused on, brings everything between half this distance and the background in sharp focus. Hyperfocal photography is thus dependent on the unique properties of the camera like the focal length, the aperture used etc.

understand hyperfocal photography
Understand the hyperfocal distance (source)

What Does Depth of Field Actually Mean

You must have come across this term when reading articles on focal point photography. In the simplest terms, depth of field is the part of the image that is sharp. If you have a shallow depth of field, a very small part of your image will be sharply focused. On the other hand, when the depth of field is deep, the whole region of the image, from the foreground to the background seems to be sharp.

In landscape photography, it is desirable to have a deep depth of field. This is where the concept of hyperfocal photography will come to our rescue. Calculating this distance for your camera model will allow you to capture the maximum depth of field for any given aperture value. This will result in fantastic pictures with the foreground, middle ground and the background sharply focused.

Calculating Hyperfocal Distance

For those of you who want to know the exact way of calculating the hyperfocal distance, here is the formula:

Hfd = {(focal length)2/ (f-number) * (acceptable circle of confusion)} + (focal length)

Discussing this formula is beyond the scope of this article because it involves advanced physical and mathematical calculations. You might be familiar with all the terms mentioned in the formula, except for the term ‘circle of confusion’. The circle of confusion, measured in millimeters, is indicative of the size that a pinpoint of light can spread out on the sensor of your camera before blurring. 

You don’t have to be a mathematical genius for figuring out this calculation. This can easily be done using a hyperfocal distance calculator.

7 Ways to Calculate the Distance

We now discuss the various ways by which this can be done.

1. Using Hyperfocal Distance Charts

The most common way to determine a particular photograph’s hyperfocal distance (hfd) is to use a hyperfocal distance chart. These charts contain precalculated distances for different values of focal length and corresponding aperture values. The hfd value specified in the chart will be your rough guide. Dividing this value by 2 will give you the nearest distance that you can sharply focus on.

Using a chart is fairly easy. You just have to know the focal length and the aperture value that you are selecting for a particular shot. Then you have to find the number that is mentioned corresponding to both these values. 

A major disadvantage of these charts is that they don’t take into account the brand or model of your camera. The mathematical calculation that is done in the charts takes average values of 0.03 mm for the circle of confusion. This may or may not be the value for your camera. Therefore, the hyperfocal distance specified by these charts is never 100% accurate.

Another disadvantage is that they are not specific to the kind of landscape you are going to click. Also, they cannot rely upon if your foreground lies outside their specified sharp focus range. Also, carrying them with you for your hyperfocal photography shot may not always be a practical option.

hyperfocal distance chart
Hyperfocal distance charts (source)

2. Using Hyperfocal Distance Calculating Apps

There are many apps that will do this work for you. A great example is the Hyperfocal Pro app. This is a free app that can be easily downloaded from Google Play Store on your mobile phone.

Before you get started with this app, you will need the following information:

  • The brand and model of your camera
  • The aperture value that is being used for taking a particular shot
  • The focal length being used for the same shot

Yes, that is all you need to know before getting started with the hyperfocal distance calculator. 

Hyperfocal Distance Calculating Apps
Hyperfocal Distance Calculating Apps (source)

Here is how you calculate the hyperfocal distance using the Hyperfocal Pro app:

  1. The first step is to select the brand and model of your camera on the app. There is a drop-down menu in the app that allows you to make the selection from a list of camera brands and models.
  2. Next, you will have to enter the focal length of the lens for a particular shot. Since this number will vary from shot to shot, you will have to enter a new value each time you change the focal length. This number can be checked by the values marked on your lens.
  3. The third parameter that needs to be entered is the aperture value you are using for the shot.
  4. After you enter these three values, you will be asked to enter the subject distance. Press this button and choose “use hfd” option that appears. 
  5. After you select “use hfd” option, the hyperfocal distance will be displayed at the bottom of the screen for you.
  6. Once you know this value, you should manually focus the camera to the distance specified by the app. If this number is not more than 3 meters, manual focusing will work fabulously. If this distance is more, for example, 13 meters, then you may switch to autofocus mode and focus on an object that is roughly at a distance of 13 meters from you. By doing this, all elements between half this value and infinity will be sharp in your photograph.

Isn’t it simple?

You must have noticed that in step number 4 above, we asked you to choose the option “use hfd” instead of entering a numerical value for the subject distance. This is a common procedure when you are capturing landscapes. This allows you to focus sharply all across the photograph and yields excellent results of hyperfocal photography.

If you wish that only certain parts of the landscape are to be highlighted, for example, a tree standing in the middle of a field, then you may enter the approximate distance of this structure. Then, the app will show you a range of distance between which all elements will be sharp. Anything that lies outside this distance range will not be as sharp. This feature is useful for many photographs where the photographer wants to highlight a particular aspect.

However, these apps will not be of any help if you want to include foreground in the image that lies outside their calculated range of focus.

3. Using the Double Distance Method

This is a very simple method to estimate the hyperfocal distance of your shot. The beauty of this method is that even though it is not 100% accurate, it gives a very high rate of success. This is how you use this method:

  • Choose the closest object that you want sharp in the final photograph. 
  • Make an assumption about its distance from the camera.
  • Double this number to estimate the hyperfocal distance.

It is a very easy method, but you might have to take a few shots to choose the aperture value and focal length that work best. With practice, this method can be mastered and you won’t need any app or calculator to click sharp landscape photographs or master the art of hyperfocal photography.

4. Using a Focusing Scale

Many cameras have focusing scales on their lenses. If you have one of these models, you can easily estimate the hyperfocal distance. These scales indicate how much depth of field will you have when you select an aperture and focal length value. Here is how you estimate the hfd with focusing scales:

  • Choose an aperture value for the shot.
  • On the focusing scale, you will see two dashes corresponding to the depth of field. Bring one of these dashes on the infinity symbol
  • The other dash will then tell you the range of focus.

Although it is fairly easy to determine the hyperfocal distance using scales, this method also has its share of disadvantages. The first disadvantage is that it is also based on estimated value of 0.03 mm for the circle of confusion. Hence, the calculation is just the closest approximation. Also, very few cameras have this scale on their lenses.

But if you happen to have one of these lenses, then you will have a quick way to make an estimation of the range of focus distance.

focusing scale
Focusing (source)

5. Using the Live View Infinity Focus Method

Yet another way to make an approximation about the hyperfocal distance is the live view infinity focus method. This is how you do it:

  • When taking a photograph, decide an aperture value and focus on the farthest point in the landscape. Click.
  • Observe the image captured in the camera. Zoom in and look for the closest point that is still sharp to the naked eye. This is the closest estimate of the hyperfocal distance in this picture.
  • Without changing the aperture, focus the lens at this point in your next image and click.

This method of hyperfocal photography isn’t the most accurate. However, it is much faster than using apps or charts. It is also fairly convenient for most photographers.

Live View Infinity Focus Method
Live View Infinity Focus Method (source)

6. Using the Blur Focus Method

Another method of determining the hfd is to select live view mode of the camera and set up the widest aperture of the lens. Here is what you do next:

  • Select the manual mode for your lens and turn on the live view.
  • Focus so that the foreground and background are both blurry.
  • Without changing the focus now, bring the aperture to your desired value. You will see that the image automatically gets in focus.

Again, this method of hyperfocal photography isn’t perfect because you adjudge the blur on the LCD screen. However, this method works wonderfully for many photography enthusiasts. This method may work very well with some camera lenses while not at all with others. Therefore, you must have a few trials before practising this method.

7. Using the Split Screen Focus Function

The last method on our list for hyperfocal photography is using the split screen function. Cameras that have a split-screen display zoom can be used to simultaneously compare the sharpness of the foreground and background. This way, you can manually focus the lens to obtain sharpness in both.

This feature works better for vertical features, but not so much for horizontal structure. Moreover, if your camera isn’t equipped with this feature, you cannot use it.

Hyperfocal Photography: Final Words

Everyone loves photographs that are sharp. Retaining sharpness throughout the photograph or only in certain points of interest is a decision that is best left to the photographer. Having a knowledge about the hyper-focus is good for making this decision.

There are many ways to estimate the hyperfocal distance. Having a sound knowledge of this concept will be very useful for you when you use hyperfocal photography for landscapes or even street photography. But it is important for you to judge whether you want the overall image to be sharp or do you prefer only certain portions of the image to be focused.

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