Shooting Challenge: Hyperfocal Photography

Illustration for article titled Shooting Challenge: Hyperfocal Photography

Everyone reading this probably takes a decent photo. Smart framing. Anticipated exposure. General taste. Sprinkling of bokeh. What separates amateurs and pros, beyond a paycheck, is simple: Control. For this week's Shooting Challenge, you'll control focus on a fundamental level.

The Challenge

Take a photograph of a scene/subject that has some depth but that's also completely in focus using the rules of hyperfocal distance.


WTF Is Hyperfocal Distance?

Don't be scared off. This is a good question! You know how sometimes you'll take a photograph and something in the foreground is in focus while the background is not? And sometimes you'll take a photograph and, magically, everything is in focus? That's all related to depth of field, or the distances from your camera that appear sharp in a photo. So...

... the hyperfocal distance setting ... is simply a fancy term that means the distance setting at any aperture that produces the greatest depth of field.

- How to Use Your Camera, New York Institute of Photography, 2000.

Basically, by knowing your lens and aperture, you can calculate (via formulas or lazy iPhone app!) exactly where to focus in a scene (the hyperfocal distance) to maximize depth of field, to get everything you want in focus. Or, at minimum, you can know if what you're attempting in your mind's eye is impossible according to the rules of physics.

The Method

You'll want to use a 50mm or wider lens for this. (Or don't use the zoom on your point and shoot.) You'll want to set your camera to aperture priority, meaning that you can choose the aperture (which will largely determine your depth of field) while allowing your camera to worry about shutter speeds. The smaller your aperture (which means the higher the f-stop), the greater your depth of field.


Now do some reading.

DOFMaster has an excellent tutorial with helpful illustrations. You may learn that your lens already has the markings you need to calculate the hyperfocal distance.


If you find that too heavy, Matt Greer's explanation is highly readable as well.

OK, but what if you're really lazy? What if you just want to plug in some values and get a magic "focus here!!" response? DOFMaster has some nice looking (pay) apps to handle this. There are also plenty of free calculators online, like this one. Please share any good calculators you've used in the comments.


The Example

Ian Plant, who has a third tutorial you can read, demonstrates hyperfocal distance in a real scene. Keep in mind, you don't need to shoot a landscape that reaches into infinity to participate in this challenge.


The Rules - READ THESE

1. Submissions need to be your own.
2. Photos must be taken since this contest was announced.
3. Explain, briefly, the equipment, settings, technique and story behind shot.
4. Email submissions to, not me.
5. Include 800px wide image (200KB or less) AND a 2560x1600 sized in email. I know that your photo may not fall into those exact high rez dimensions, so whatever native resolution you're using is fine.
6. One submission per person.
7. Use the proper SUBJECT line in your email (more info on that below)


Send your best photo by Monday, January 17th at 8AM Eastern to with "hyperfocal" in the subject line. Save your files as JPGs, and use a FirstnameLastnameHyperfocal.jpg (960px wide) and FirstnameLastnameHyperfocalWallpaper.jpg (2560px wide) naming conventions. Include your shooting summary (camera, lens, ISO, etc) in the body of the email along with a story of the shot in a few sentences. And don't skip this story part because it's often the most enjoyable part for us all beyond the shot itself!

If you haven't seen it, my site Life, Panoramic has posted its Best Photos of 2010. It's a pretty fantastic collection that's definitely worth a peek.


Click to view

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Here's some help:


Competing factors: Size of Print versus absolute Depth Of Field.

The two ideas applied to a 1.5x magnification factor chip like in all the DX Nikons and others:

If Size Of Print is the standard, at f/22 a 24mm lens focused at 2'-5" is all you need for a paper print six inches wide.

Note: Near focus is always h/2, or in this case 1'-2.5".

But DOF calcs depend on actual standards of "circle of confusion" at the image plane. Typically about 2 pixels big for a 1:1 original image display.

So that same lens+camera+f-stop dictates you focus at 4'-2" and your DOF range is from 2'-1" to infinity.

For computer display, the hyperfocal calc is closer to practical.