We all have seen and admired those heavenly landscape photos which are perfectly in focus from the foreground to the background which sometimes is hundreds of feet away. Have you ever tried to figure out how exactly these shots must have been clicked which such range of depth of field? Maybe you have, but the resulted image had either the foreground out of focus or the background was blurry, right?
The secret of clicking sharp and well-focused landscapes is to focus your lens at hyperfocal distance. In the era of digital photography, hyperfocal distance has somehow lost its relevance as the cameras have taken over the decision-making power from the photographer, making everything automatic and effortless.
Trust me, there are instances when these automatic featured of our DSLR cameras fail to deliver what we actually desire to capture in our shot. That is the time when these evergreen rules and tricks such as hyperfocal distance and Sunny 16 rule come into play.
What is Hyperfocal Distance?
One of the key elements of landscape photography is to make sure that all the elements in your frame, in foreground and background are sharp and well in focus. This can only be achieved if we focus on the hyperfocal distance by increasing the depth of field so that maximum area in front as well as behind the focus point is in focus.
The hyperfocal distance is a point that you can focus on to get both the foreground and the background in focus. By focusing on this point, everything from ‘half the distance of hyperfocal distance from your lens’ to ‘infinity’ will be in focus. Sounds great, right?
So next time you go out to shoot landscapes, focus on the hyperfocal distance point instead of infinity are you will be surprised to see such great range of depth of field from foreground to background.
How to calculate Hyperfocal Distance?
Before revealing the formula of calculating the hyperfocal distance, i would first like to list three key factors:
As you start framing your shot, setting the focal length as per your composition is the first thing your proceed with. The focal length will directly affect your depth of field and therefore the hyperfocal distance. A short focal length (wide angle) will result in greater depth of field, similarly, a long focal length (telephoto lens) will result in shallower depth of field. My advice would be to use a wide angle to get a sharp and well focus shot.
As we know, the wider the aperture is (less f number), the shallower the depth of field and the narrower the aperture (more f number) the greater the depth of field. While shooting landscapes, never blindly set the aperture value to maximum blindly. the advisable aperture value is f/8-f/11 for APS-C cameras and f/11-16 for full frame cameras. If you further increase the aperture value, your image will start loosing sharpness around the corners because of diffraction.
Circle of Confusion:
Circle of confusion is the point of light falling on the camera sensor, it is minimum when the image is at its best focus and increases as the image is out of focus. It depends on the sensor type of the camera, usually ranging between 0.02mm – 0.03mm in today’s digital cameras. Check the circle of confusion value of your camera here.
Now, as you are well aware of the factors affecting the hyperfocal distance, let’s have a look at the formula to calculate the point:
Hyperfocal Distance = (Focal Length x Focal Length) / (Circle of Confusion x Aperture Value)
To get started, check the hyperfocal distance using Online hyperfocal distance calculator
Wondering what to do if you do not have a calculator or a smart phone? There is a well tried and tested rule which acts as a substitute to hyperfocal distance. Simply set the focus 1/3rd way into the frame (as shown in the image below). This will give you a sharp photo with a great depth of field, trust me. But if you need to get a error-free sharp image, using the hyperfocal distance approach is the only way.
Never blindly follow the hyperfocal distance rule every time you are framing a landscape in your camera. Firstly, ask yourself, do you need a photo where all the elements in the frame are well in focus or do you need to give more visual focus to the element placed in the foreground/background.
In this situation, set the focus on the hyperfocal point and slowly move the focus ring on your lens till the time your subject is well in focus.
Hope this post helped you figure out how to click sharp and well focused landscape photos. Do share your doubts/questions in the comments below.