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 is 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 object 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.

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 meters/feet.

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

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

Example number: I want to use Focal length = 24mm           My Hyperfocal distance = 3m or +/-10 feet

Lens Focal Length                                                 Aperture f-stop

                                  f 2.8         f 4            f 5.6         f 6.4          f 8           f 11             f 16           f 22         f 32        f 45
24mm                          6.9         4.8             3.4             3           2.4           1.7              1.2            0.9          0. 6        0.4
35mm                         14.6       10.2            7.3           6.4           5.1           3.7              2.6            1.9           1.3        0.9
50mm                         29.8       20.8           14.9           13          10.4           7.6             5.2            3.8           2.6        1.9
55mm                          36         25.2            18           15.8         12.6           9.2              6.3            4.6           3.2        2.2
70mm                         58.3       40.8           29.2         25.5         20.4         14.8            10.2            7.4           5.1        3.6
85mm                          86          60.2            43          37.6         30.1         21.9             15.1          10.9           7.5        5.4
100mm                       119        83.3           59.5         52.1         41.7         30.3             20.8          15.2         10.4       7.4
_____________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________
In this example, the number on the chart (above) indicates that my best settings would be f/6.4 at 3 meters (in BOLD)
Set your f/stop to f//6.4 and then in the window on your lens rotate the focus ring until you see 3 on the “m” or meter 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 5 feet or 1.5 meters in front of your camera 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 in your computer it WILL be sharp.

Printable charts and apps for your smartphone are available all over the web…