Hyperfocal distances are an arcane, over-technical art for some photographers and just another tool to whip out at the necessary moment for others. So, how do you put those hyperfocal blues to bed?
It's 6 am on a cold February morning, and you are preparing a dawn landscape shoot. You've got the insulated jacket, woolen beanie, and padded gloves to keep you warm, but even so, you find yourself stamping your feet and slapping your arms in the chilled blue hour. You select the 14mm lens, attach it to your DSLR, and screw it onto the tripod. You're stood over a frozen pool, the vista stretching away into the distance. Angling the camera down, you fill the foreground, level the horizon, and are ready to shoot. At this point, you realize you've forgotten the hyperfocal distance. For a moment, you consider the app on your smartphone, but toss the idea at the thought of taking your gloves off. You guess and start shooting.
So, how do you ensure both foreground and background are in focus? This is the realm of hyperfocal distances, something that we've covered on FStoppers before.
In short, it's the focus distance for a given focal length, circle of confusion, and aperture combination, which gives the greatest depth of field. We don't need to know the physics of its calculation, just that it's a calculable value, and there are a ton of apps for your smartphone that will do it. My favorite on Android is called Hyperfocal Pro, but just search on any app store and you'll get a load of hits.
The screenshot below highlights the boxes you are interested in. These are camera selection, focal length, and aperture.
For my Nikon D700 with Samyang 14mm lens at f/22, this gives a hyperfocal distance of 0.31 m, which means that everything from 0.16 m to infinity is acceptably in focus, notwithstanding any blurring from the effects of diffraction. Stop down to f/16 or f/11 and these distances change to 0.44 m and 0.61 m, respectively. Knowing this was particularly useful for the banner shot of the dome in St. Paul's Cathedral, London.
Of course, none of this is new, and the proliferation of smartphone apps is testament to people wanting to know this stuff. But an app is just a little too much faff for me, and for longer focal lengths, I'm also interested in depth of field (dof), useful for taking portraits. That led me to printing out DoF tables using the useful DoFMaster. In a similar vein to Hyperfocal Pro, you enter the relevant camera and lens, then for different aperture settings, you can produce a table of dofs and the hyperfocal calculation. As it turned out, I'm even less likely to look at these, as they remain crumpled and unopened in my bag.
So what's the answer? Well, just as I have labeled my cameras/lenses to aid their return if I lose them, so I've now also tagged every lens with its hyperfocal distance at f/22, f/16, and f/11. That puts those figures right at my fingertips, and all I have to do is look at the lens.
In addition, for my longer lenses, I've also put dof distances for focusing at 2 m and 3 m, something that I find is common when shooting portraits. So, when you next need to ensure the bride and groom are both in focus, you can rest assured that that knowledge is literally at your fingertips!
Do you have any settings that you'd benefit from sticking to your camera? If so, what are they?