What is Hyperfocal Distance?


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I've been bumping into this phrase on the internet lately (for some reason), so I thought I'd write a quick post that discusses exactly what it is. Many of you have never heard of "Hyperfocal Distance" before because it's a step beyond regular camera focus and depth of field, but it's actually quite an important concept to get a grasp of. Every photograph needs to be in some sort of focus, so it's helpful to understand exactly how that focus works and how you can set the depth of field to your advantage, so everything you want to be sharp in your photos is actually sharp.

Okay, here it is. This is a good definition of hyperfocal distance: the distance between a camera lens and the closest object which is in focus when the lens is focused at infinity.

I guess you can sort of say that this phrase describes the distance at which your camera needs to be from an object in order for it to "hyper" focus. And that "hyper" means to focus at infinity or forever.

Since this is a concept that's difficult you wrap one's head around, I'll try to explain it in the most simple way I can. As you may already know, there are a few things that dictate the blur in a photograph. The actual focus and the depth of field in the scene that's created by the distance from an object as well as the aperture size inside of the lens. Let's forget about focusing for now. We'll pretend that the point of focus is, in fact, in focus. So what we're left with is the distance and the aperture size.

Did you know that there is an app that provides the necessary calculation for hyperfocal distance? I just wanted to put that out there. There are actually a few. One is called HyperFocal Pro. Just look that up on Google Play Store. There are tons of other resources that can help with this calculation as well. To find them, search "Hyperfocal Distance tools and apps" on Google or Bing.

Anyway, you may not even need to think about hyperfocal distance unless you're shooting landscape photography or something similar. Basically, situations where you need the foreground as well as the background in focus. The problem with simply pointing an shooting in situations like these is that it's difficult to tell whether the mountains in the distance are actually as in focus as the leaves that are right in front of your face are. There's a calculation that needs to be made that tells you how far away from the leaves you need to stand and at what aperture you need your lens to maintain focus (depth of field) all the way through. Again, the distance from an object as well as aperture size matters. To get a quick glimpse of what I'm talking about, check out this depth of field calculator. It's got the hyperfocal distance value included.

Here's another way to think about what hyperfocal distance is. It's the focus distance that places the farthest edge of a depth of field at infinity. So if you were to focus on something in your scene and that's the closest object you could focus on before the objects in the distance became soft, you'd have found your hyperfocal distance. If you moved your camera closer to the object you're focusing on or try focusing on something closer to the camera, the objects in the distance would lose focus. It's strange how these lenses and apertures work, but once you understand the fact that there actually is a setting and position that can offer you an infinity focus, it all begins to come together. All that needs to be done then is to calculate what aperture size you need to set your lens to and how far away you need to stand from the object in the foreground you'll be focusing on.

There are a few methods available for keeping things in the distance sharp as well as maintaining focus on foreground objects. You can always download an app for your phone or you can use an online calculator tool. In reality though, these things take time and it's not likely that you'll be out in the field photographing while looking at the internet. So, something more intuitive and realistic might be better.

Here's a tip: Focus your camera on the most distant object in your scene. Then, adjust your focus as close as you can to yourself while keeping the distance in focus as well. You'll see the in-focus areas change fairly obviously. When you do this, you'll have found your hyperfocal distance. To get a feel for the distances I'm referring to, you can play with the many hyperfocal chart calculators available out there. Here's a pretty good one.

I know this is a tricky topic, so please ask me questions down below. Perhaps if you ask a question, I can explain it better. Thanks!

By the way, if you need to get caught up on what depth of field is as it relates to photography and how to calculate it, please check out these posts: