Using Hyperfocal Distance

In the last two weeks, we’ve been talking about depth of field and hyperfocal distance. If you missed those blog posts, take a moment to review them before you read this post. It will make more sense. 

A wide angle shot using a 20mm lens at f/22. I used hyperfocal distance to ensure that everything from near to far was in focus.

We know that the hyperfocal distance will help us achieve the maximum depth of field possible with any given lens. So, for the widest angle of view and the smallest aperture, we want to focus on the hyperfocal distance. But how do we do that? This week I present you with a very low-tech for yet effective solution.

You’ll need some string and a fishing weight. Use one of the services described in last week's blog to determine the hyperfocal distance. Now you’re ready to go. 

Secure a fishing weight to one end of the string. If you’re using a nylon string, you may want to use a small flame to seal the end of the string to keep it from fraying. 

Here is a string cut to the hyperfocal distance for a 16mm lens at f/22. (Note: I use a full frame camera so I can't use the same string on a camera with a smaller sensor.)

Next, tie a knot in the string so that, measured from the knot to the end of the fishing weight, the distance is equal to your hyperfocal distance. At this point, I tie on a small label and mark it with the focal length and aperture that I used to calculate the hyperfocal distance.

Now, when you’re in the field and want to use the hyperfocal distance as your focus point, you simply set your lens to the shortest focal length and turn autofocus on. Then hold the label of the string at the end of your lens. Point your camera at the ground and when the tip of the fishing weight just touches the ground, press the shutter release to focus on the ground. 

At this point, your camera is now focused at the hyperfocal distance. Turn off your autofocus and don’t touch the focusing ring again until you are done shooting. (You may find back button focus to be very helpful when using this technique.)

Using your handy dandy hyperfocal string, set your focus to the hyperfocal distance by holding the string at the end of the lens at a point when the fishing weight just touches the ground. Use autofocus to set the focus point at the hyperfocal distance. 

Now it’s time to compose your shot with a strong foreground, middle and distant subject. The big question now is how close the foreground can be? The closes object to your camera should be no closer than half the hyperfocal distance. Just fold the string in half and use it as your ruler to make sure foreground objects stay beyond that distance. 

Adding dimension to your images using hyperfocal focusing can help you create compelling photographs that demand attention. But, moving the camera only a few inches dramatically changes the composition. It takes practice. Make up your hyperfocal string and head out and practice, practice, practice.