Rob here. Photographers have a handicap. Think about it. We live on, and photograph, this wonderful spinning blue ball called Earth. Our subjects are dynamic three-dimensional objects - some real close to our cameras and others far away. Yet the end result of our endeavors is usually a flat two-dimensional piece of artwork. We loose that third dimension we called depth.
So how do we communicate with the viewer that there is depth in our scenes? When they look at that flat print or screen, what dynamic cues do they use to know that there is depth in the scene?
In photography, we use perspective distortion to help illustrate depth. An object close to the camera appears larger - the closer to the camera it’s placed, the larger it appears. With a wide angle lens, an object close to the lens appears abnormally large compared to more distant objects. Think about it. If you photograph a person standing six feet from you with a mountain in the background, the person is going to look larger than the mountain. We know that’s not the case so the grey matter between our ears tells us that the two objects are far apart - voila, we have depth.
Let’s take that a step farther. The closer we can get to this foreground object, the larger it looks and the more we can exaggerate the sense of depth - the distance between foreground and background. It’s best too, that both foreground and background objects are in sharp focus. To do this, photographers use a technique called hyperfocal focusing.
What is Hyperfocal focusing?
In a nutshell, Hyperfocal focusing is a technique in which you can maximize your depth of field for a given focal length and aperture. It’s based on focusing your camera at the Hyperfocal Distance. Now, I want to avoid getting bogged down in technical details - there are many sites that have very good explanations of hyperfocal and I’d encourage you to check them out. I want to share with you some of the key points and then also share with you a very simple and low tech approach for this technique.
If you focus your lens at infinity, then the near point that is acceptably sharp is the Hyperfocal Distance. If you focus your lens at the hyperfocal distance, then infinity will be in focus and the near point that is acceptably sharp is half way between the camera and the hyperfocal distance.
For landscapes and other grand scenic shots, you want to maximize the depth of field, so any landscape photographer worth their salt knows the hyperfocal distance for their widest angle lens at f/22. After all, it is that combination that will allow them to exaggerate the depth of field.
(Coming up Next Week - I’ll show you how to calculate the Hyperfocal Distance for your lens and also show you how to set that focus in the field.)