Hyperfocal Technique

In Landscape/Outdoor photography having a prominent and sharp foreground lends greatly to creating a dramatic image.
But does your camera’s autofocus always give the best results? More important is the photographer’s focusing technique proper? Along with proper exposure of an image, focusing is right up there in importance. Blurry images are immediately rejected by the human psyche (except for purposely done abstract images). However, exceedingly sharp clear images tend to gain attraction to the human visual perspective.

A long-standing technique to achieve this type of sharp focus is using the “Hyperfocal” technique. The technical aspects of why and how this technique works are in an of itself a very deep discussion, so I will simply describe the steps needed to create a stunning image in the field.

Before starting you must know your camera’s sensor crop factor. 1:1 for full frame 35mm 1:1.5 Nikon AP-C and 1:1.6 Canon AP-C etc…depending on brand and model camera you have.

First, look at your lens and make sure it has the graduated scale on the lens barrel. Usually, this is a series of numbers measured in meters and feet including the infinity symbol ∞ located in a little window near the focusing ring on the lens. Many new lenses don’t have this scale and therefore are useless for using this technique. Do Not confuse this scale with the Focal length number typically measured as ” xx-mm” as in 50mm.

Having located this scale the next tool you’ll need is a predefined chart, again with a scale for distance and a scale for aperture settings. Many “Apps” are available for your smartphone that will provide the same information necessary. A chart in my pocket is quicker and doesn’t rely on batteries!

Lastly, you’ll want to use a tripod to support your camera, Also don’t forget to set your camera to Manual and turn off Autofocus
When setting up your composition which includes a strong foreground element such as a rock, a plant, or other objects of interest, measure the distance from this object back to the camera’s lens. This is known as the “Hyperfocal Distance”. You can estimate but try to be within a few inches. (My shoes are 12 inches long so I can easily pace the distance if need be.)

Knowing the Hyperfocal distance you can now refer to your chart or “App” for the required settings to make.

You will need to know:  The Hyperfocal distance you measured off (to that rock in the foreground). Let’s say it’s 3 feet

The chart will have several f/stop Aperture readings as well as Focal length measurements. In the chart body, there will be distance measurements (be sure to note its either meters or feet). Look for the distance you measured off in the body of the chart. Then look at the corresponding focal length and aperture setting.

See the example in the chart: (This chart is for 35mm Full frame sensors)

Hyperfocal Distance Chart – *Use a chart scaled for your Camera’s Image Sensor

Example:   My Hyperfocal distance = 3 feet    My camera/lens combo is: 35mm full frame with a 17-40mm f/4 lens

I will look for the closest distance on the chart which is 2.9 feet at Focal length = 24mm

Therefore I will use the 24mm focal length at 2.9 feet on the chart. My aperture will then be f/22

Set your f/stop to f/22 on your camera and then in the window on your lens rotate the focus ring until you see 3 on the “f” or feet scale and reference it with the indicator line – Note focal length is set to 24mm – see image below


You’re now set to take you photograph. Everything from 1.5 feet to infinity (always half the hyperfocal distance) will be perceptibly sharp.
Don’t bother looking through the viewfinder eyepiece or using live view, the image will NOT appear sharp. But when you view the image after taking it on your review screen or later on your computer it WILL be sharp.

Printable charts and apps for your smartphone are available all over the web…be sure and use one appropriate for your sensor’s crop factor!