People often ask where to focus their camera when they are taking a landscape photograph and they want to get as much in focus as possible. There are two prominent answers out there, focus about a third of the way into the scene or calculate the Hyperfocal Distance. The first is the most popular answer because it is the path of least resistance. The second answer, Hyperfocal Distance, is the least popular answer because the camera doesn’t automatically calculate this for folks and if you don’t have “an app for that” then you’re left to use a calculator to figure it out. So what is Hyperfocal Distance?
What is Hyperfocal Distance
Hyperfocal Distance is the optimal distance you should focus your lens to achieve the greatest depth of field and have as much in focus as possible. You’d use Hyperfocal Distance if you want to capture objects of interest in the foreground as well as the background of a scene. There are complicated calculations you could use to figure out the exact distance or you could use one of the easy charts and tables available on the internet or most smart phones. When calculated the image will be in focus from half way between the camera and the focus point, all the way to infinity. For example, if your focus point was 10 ft. away then your image would be in focus 5ft. from the camera all the way to infinity.
The formula is the square of the focal length divided by the product of the f-stop times the circle of confusion (or COC). The COC is key, as it varies depending on your image sensor size (cropped, full frame, micro four thirds, etc.). The calculation for circle of confusion is like the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, it’s long, dark, and confusing. Fear not though, there is a cheat sheet for you to figure out your camera’s COC at DOFMaster.com. Find your camera and the COC will be listed to the right of it, that is the last piece of the equation (the list is pretty comprehensive but not all are there, a quick Google search for your camera should give you the results).
Using a Hyperfocal Calculator
A better option is if you work out the numbers at home on your computer using any of the free Hyperfocal Distance calculators strewn about the web and print them off for a few common focal lengths you shoot with. For example, the one on the right is the one that I personally keep with me in my camera bag. I found this handy little chart on Cambridgeincolour.com and printed it out, it’s a good idea to have it laminated so it doesn’t turn into a wrinkled mess in your bag.
Here are a couple charts from Cambrigeincolour.com (hit the link for more)