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Using Hyperfocal Distance to
Increase Depth of Field

by Theresa A. Husarik

If you are using a digital camera there is a little more to the calculation. Read all about hyperfocal distance and digital cameras here.

For film cameras, read on...

A quick trick to increase the depth of field in your photos involves using what is called the hyperfocal distance. The way it works is for a physicist to explain ;->, so you're just going to have to trust me here! If you are interested in the physics, here it is.

The table below lists these hyperfocal distances. If you set you camera settings to those indicated in the table, what you will get is that a greater range of the image area will be in focus. Anything that is between 1/2 of the "distance" number listed in the table and on to infinity will be in sharp focus.

Let's say you have a 24mm lense. And the conditions are agreeable to using an f-stop of f22. According to the table, you should set the lense manually to 3.3 ft. So, in the resulting picture, anything in the image that is between 1.65ft (1/2 the distance listed as the hyperfocal distance) and infinity will be in focus. You get some of the benefits of using a large format camera without having to carry it!

Here is a picture taken using this technique. Notice the flowers in the foreground are in focus and well as the hillside in the background.

Just follow these steps:

  • First set your lense to "manual focus".
  • Based on the scene before you, decide what aperture you need and set the camera to that aperture.
  • Set the focus distance to the corresponding number listed in the table below.
  • Don't worry that the image looks out of focus when you look through the viewfinder, it does work! Do NOT refocus!

Here is a very cool online Hyperfoacl Distance Calculator to help you determine the exact number for your lense/aperture combination. I have listed a few common ones below:

Apertures or F-Stops
Lense f/11 f/16 f/22 f/32
16mm 2.6 1.8 1.3 0.9
17mm 2.9 2.1 1.5 1.0
20mm 4.6 3.2 2.3 1.6
24mm 6.6 4.7 3.3 2.3
28mm 9.0 6.3 4.5 3.2
35mm 14 10 7 5
50mm 28 20 14 10

Aperture - The f-stop, or the size of the shutter opening.
Depth of Field - The zone of sharp focus within the image.
F-stop - Same as aperture.
Hyperfocal Distance - The distance at which anything that is between 1/2 that distance from the lense and on out to infinity will be in focus. This optimal distance is a calculation based on the focal length of the lense and the aperture used.
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