Tag Archives: scott bacon

Ask An Expert: Hyperfocal Focusing Demystified

I got a great question on email the other day about hyperfocal focusing.  This is one of those topics that seems to confuse the living crap out of photographers.  That’s a bummer because it’s really critical to know, especially for landscape photographers.  Scott Bacon, a very talented large format photographer who is now mostly a digital dude, wrote an awesome explanation that makes this confusing topic about as easy to understand as it’s gonna get.  Read on…

The Question:

How about explaining how/why hyperfocal distance works, why you should use it, and the easiest way to accomplish hyperfocal focus, without getting too technical. (You know me – I learn on my own and the really technical stuff either goes over my head or puts me to sleep!  Keep it simple, stupid…)   Tim Fitzharris had a pretty easy technique in his Audobon book but I haven’t tried it to see if it actually works.  Yes, I have a chart but honestly – I’m not very good at judging distances by eyeballing it and haven’t had much luck.

Scott Responds:

Hyperfocal focusing is a technique used to maximize the depth of field of an
image. In simpler terms, its just a way to get as much as possible in focus.

Often, we want to compose images with a foreground object (the pretty
flowers at our feet) and a background scene (mountains in the distance), and have both the near and the far in focus. So, how can we use hyperfocal
focusing to do this? Just focus your lens at the hyperfocal distance. Sounds
simple enough, right? Sure, as long as you can determine what the hyperfocal distance is and where that point is in the scene in front of you. This is where many people get lost.

Simply put, hyperfocal distance is the point nearest the camera at which the depth of field extends to infinity. It can be calculated using the focal
length, f-stop and something called the circle of confusion. Uh, oh. This
makes some folk’s eyes glaze over. So just keep in mind what hyperfocal
distance IS and don’t worry so much about how to calculate it.You can find
hyperfocal charts on the web and print them out. I like this one because you can customize it – http://www.dofmaster.com/charts.html In fact, there’s lots of good info and explanations on that website.

Now that we know what the hyperfocal distance is, let’s get practical. Here
are some ways you can use hyperfocal focusing in the field.

Method #1 – Use a Chart:

   1. Compose your image.
   2. Determine your focal length and f-stop.
   3. Find the hyperfocal distance on your chart.
   4. *Manually* focus your lens to the hyperfocal distance.
      1. This can be done easily if you have a distance scale on your lens.
      2. Or… find and focus on an object in your frame that is at the
      hyperfocal distance by estimating. Some are better at this than others.
   5. Check the near/far focus accuracy using the depth of field preview option on your camera. This takes some “getting used to” since the review is often dark.
   6. Press the shutter button.

Method #2 – The 1/3 Rule of Thumb:

   1. Compose your image.
   2. Manually Focus 1/3 of the way into the scene. Seriously! This often
   gets you very close to the hyperfocal distance.
   3. Check the near/far focus accuracy using the depth of field preview
   option on your camera.
   4. Adjust focus as necessary and check again with the Depth of Field
   preview. Repeat as necessary.
   5. Press the shutter button.

Method #3 – Use a Prime Lens:
Some prime, or fixed focal length, lenses have hyperfocal markings on the
lens barrel. Check for f-stop numbers (11, 16, 22) printed on the lens
barrel near the focus scale, or check the lens user manual.

   1. Compose your image.
   2. Determine the f-stop
   3. Manually focus the lens so that the f-stop marking on the barrel of
   the lens lines up with the infinity symbol (looks like a sideways “8″) on
   the focus scale. Done!
   4. Press the shutter button.

Note that it is important to use manual focus while using any of the
hyperfocal focusing techniques. If you don’t turn off auto focus, your
camera will probably adjust the focus as you press the shutter button.

Using hyperfocal focusing techniques in the field takes some practice. But
if you are using a digital camera, you can check your results on your
camera’s LCD, right there in the field. This interactive learning and
practice allows for quick progress. Give it a try!

Thanks for the detailed explanation, Scott!  Got a hyperfocal tip you’d like to share?  Leave a comment and help us all learn from your knowledge and experience.

Ask An Expert: Bosque del Apache

One of my favorite clients emailed me yesterday to ask for my advice on photographing at Bosque del Apache.  He doesn’t have a ginormous telephoto lens and was curious about whether his current gear would still allow for a fruitful trip.  I’ve never been to Bosque del Apache and the only bird I shoot is the one you’ll get for cutting me off in traffic.  So, I consulted the experts and emailed him their responses as well as an esoteric one from me.  Here’s what we came up with:

The Question

Hi Bret,

Looks like I have a weather window to spend this weekend shooting at Bosque del Apache. Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese. Research tells me I do not have lens to do this perfectly, but wonder what potential I have shooting with 28-300 on my Nikon D300?

Since this is a 700-800 mile round trip I’d like to have some idea of what to expect before I invest the time and effort.  I’m not so much into extreme close-up work on the birds, but more into the water, horizon, sunrise or sunset background image. Trip is as much to discover if I want to work this subject more in the future so I’m thinking my equipment may be adequate.

Any advice you might have would be very welcomed.

The Experts Respond

Nat Coalson said: 

I think your equipment will be adequate for a lot of different kinds of shots at Bosque.  If you decide you really want more length, a couple of things you could consider: 

1. Rent a lens. It’s cheap. I can give you a promo code for BorrowLenses.com, which I highly recommend. Renting a lens is also a great way to try out new equipment before buying. 

2. See if there’s a tele-extender that works with your current lens. A 1.5 or 2x extender is a really handy gadget in your bag. 

Hope you have a great trip!

Andy Biggs said:

My hunch is that 500mm would be a good focal length. 

Scott Bacon said: 

Ditto what Andy said.

And finally, my response:

I’m going to get a little more esoteric.  From a practical standpoint I think the gear you have will be fine for just about everything you’ll find there.  If you do find a bird to photograph you may well wish you had a longer lens but as you said, you’re going more for landscapes and less for birds. 

Here’s where I get esoteric – with the right attitude whatever gear you have is the right gear for the moment.  Huh?  What I mean is that regardless of your gear, the weather, the light and the subjects available you can almost always find something to photograph if you keep an open mind and let your creativity take over.

Been to Bosque del Apache and have some advice that might be helpful?  Please leave a comment.  You never know when someone else will stumble across this thread and find great value in your response.  You can never have too much good karma.