Hyperfocal Distance and the Landscape Photographer

Most landscape photographers prefer to create landscape images that have sharp focus from the front of the scene to the horizon line (‘infinity’). The reason for this is that the viewers eye can go on a journey from the front of the scene to the horizon line and not be instantly drawn to the only sharp subject in the frame. To ensure the optimum ‘Depth of Field’ (the range of distance that appears acceptably sharp), the landscape photographer is advised to consider choosing their ‘point-of-focus’ in the scene with great care when the foreground subject matter is close to the camera. Most experienced photographers will avoid using f/22 when using full-frame cameras in order to pull all of the scene into sharp focus. This is because they know that the effects of ‘diffraction‘ will steal away overall sharpness in the image – even though technically the depth of field is greater. The effects of diffraction are even worse when using cropped or APS-C sensors, as the visible softening of overall sharpness can be visible at apertures of f/16 as well as f/22. As depth of field is greater when using cropped sensors users of cameras with APS-C sensors are advised to use apertures of no smaller than f/11 whenever possible (if image sharpness is a priority).

The good news is that it is really very easy to determine the optimum focus point within a scene when using a mirrorless cameras due to the benefits of using Electronic Viewfinders that provide photographers with a constant live view. DSLR users who view their scene through an optical viewfinder are always looking at their scene through the widest aperture of the lens until the point of capture, so do not see the effects of their chosen aperture until after the picture is taken. The movie below demonstrates how easy it is to find the ‘Hyperlocal Distance’ or optimum point of focus when using a mirrorless camera.

Note > If after using the technique outlined in the movie you are unsure whether you have enough depth of field to ensure the nearest subject matter is sharp you simply need to move the magnified view to that subject. If the foreground subject is not sharp you have several choices including moving further away from your foreground subject and cropping in post or stopping down a little further (but not to f/22 unless you want the scene to look like it was captured using a budget kit lens).

More information on the subject?

A useful resource for photographers wanting to learn more about this subject can be found on the website ‘Cambridge in Colour’. They define Hyperfocal Distance as: “the focus distance that places the furthest edge of a depth of field at infinity. If one were to focus any closer than this — if even by the slightest amount — then a distant background will appear unacceptably soft.” Cambridge in Colour

I would recommend the users of DSLR cameras either print out the Hyperfocal Distance Calculator and keep a copy in their camera bag or use ‘Live View’ to determine the Hyperfocal Distance. A useful Depth of Field Calculator can also be found on this site.

Photographers, who are intending to print very large images, should read the ‘Precautions’ section on the Hyperfocal Distance page. ‘Acceptably Sharp’ does not mean ‘Pin Sharp’ if a viewer at your exhibition is scrutinizing you large print at very close range. If in doubt err on the side of caution and stop down.

Reminder > For photographers wanting to achieve maximum sharpness from their equipment I would NOT recommend using f/22 (to avoid the effects of Diffraction). Remember to switch off OSS and/or IBIS when the camera is mounted on a tripod (especially when using longer focal length lenses) and the use the Self-Timer or a ‘Remote Release’ to trigger the shutter release.

Why f/11 is often enough depth of field for most landscape images

To illustrate the fact that you do not always need the smallest apertures to render your scene sharp from the nearest subject matter to the horizon I recommend that you click on the image below to enlarge the view. This image was captured using an aperture of f/11 on a lens with a 25mm focal length using a full frame sensor. The hyperlocal distance was located using the technique outlined in the movie above. The foreground stumps are just a metre away from the camera. Remember that f/11 on a cropped sensor will give the photographer more depth of field and if you don’t have any foreground subject matter close to the lens why not shoot at f/8.

Queen Mary ll at Princes Pier – A7RII and Batis 2/25
1/5 second at f/11, ISO 160

Mark is a Global Imaging Ambassador for Sony, an experienced educator and an Imaging Ambassador for Adobe. As well as public speaking he offers training in the form of creative workshops and one-on-one training.