So focusing on a person or object isn’t that hard. You zoom in or use magnify, adjust focus, and then zoom back out. They’re in focus. But what if your subject moves in place or you have two subjects in the frame? What do you do? And what the hell is Hyperfocal distance?
What is the Hyperfocal Distance?
When you focus on a point by zooming in, that’s what we call the focus distance. I’ve focused on my eye which is 5 ft from the camera and there’s an area in focus on either side of that point, called our focal range. And we express that with a near and far distance point.
I’ll check a depth of field chart, on DOFmaster.com. I’m using a 50mm lens, shooting at f/5.6, focusing on 5 feet, I see that my near focus is 4’ 8.4” from the camera, let's say 8 1/2, and my far is 5’ 4”, that’s about 7.5” focal range.
That works if I don’t move much but that’s shallow when you think about it. If I need more then two subjects in focus, and I don’t want to or am not able to rack focus from one, to the other, what can I do?
Well we know two things, the wider our aperture, the shallower our depth of field, our focal range. And the higher or tighter our aperture, the longer our focal range.
But also, our focus distance has an effect, that point we focus on, depending on its distance from our camera.
The closer we focus to our lens, the smaller our focal range. The farther from the camera we focus, the wider our focal range becomes.
And at a certain point, the far distance of our focal range becomes infinity. This is now the widest focal range you can get, I mean, come on, infinity. This focus distance, the one that gives you infinity as your far focus, is called the Hyperfocal distance.
Very useful especially on landscapes or other shots with long distances that you want in focus. A stark contrast to those familiar shallow focus shots with soft, out of focus, bokeh backgrounds. But who doesn’t like bokeh?
So What's the Near Focus Point?
The far focus is infinity, easy, so what’s the near focus? Also easy, it’s half the hyperfocal distance.
If your Hyperfocal distance for your lens and aperture is 20’, then your far focus is of course infinity, and your near is…10’. So you could have your close subject 10’ from the camera and be in focus along with everything else past them.
How Do You find the Hyperfocal Distance?
There are charts, tables, formulas out there to help, based on what focal length lens you’re using and at what f-stop, your aperture. You’ll quickly see that a tight aperture like f/16 or f/22 with a wider lens will give you the closest Hyperfocal distance and therefore the widest focal range. But the wider the lens, the smaller your background gets right.
What if you don’t have charts with you and charts make you dizzy because it looks like math.
One is on your lens though it can be tricky to use. Here on my 24 to 105 Canon zoom, it has an infinity symbol on the focus ring that corresponds to markings for 50, 35 and 24mm focal length.
On this 50mm lens, it also marks infinity but with aperture markings. In this case, point the mark at the center of the infinity symbol that corresponds to your aperture.
Another way, a trick still photographers use that works great if the focus of your shot actors in the foreground.
Place your closest subject and measure that distance from the camera. That’s your near focus point. Now we know our near focus point is half the distance of our hyperlocal distance. We measure that same distance from our near subject and focus on that mark. I’ll put James at this point and focus on him.
This will be our hyperlocal distance but we’re not done yet. We still need the right aperture so I stop down my f-stop until I see the background come into focus.
Now I kinda cheated here because I already knew that shooting with a 35mm lens, at f/16 my Hyperfocal distance would be 14.5 feet with a near focus point 7.25’ but you get the point.
But is that background really in sharp focus? Is it hyperfocus?
Hows this for hyperfocus?
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