Over the years, I’ve struggled learning how to take sharp landscape photos when I have a close foreground subject. I never seemed to get a completely sharp photo until I learned how to use hyperfocal distance. Since then, my landscape photography has improved by leaps and bounds.
How I got this shot.
16mm, f11, 1/25 sec, ISO 100
About 15-20 minutes after the sun first peaked over the horizon. I was about 4 feet away from the tip of the driftwood at the bottom of the frame.
Why focusing a third of the way in your frame just doesn’t cut it.
Early on, I was confused about where to focus in landscape photography. Foreground? Background? I wanted to learn how to take sharp landscape photos where everything in the frame was crystal clear.
Many of the tips I found online taught me how to focus 1/3 into the scene. But doing that with a subject like a rock or a tree that’s a couple of feet in front of you just doesn’t work.
You might get your subject in focus, but the grass between it and the bottom of your frame might be blurry. Or the mountain in the background might be out of focus.
That’s where hyperfocal distance comes in.
What is hyperfocal distance?
According to Wikipedia, “The hyperfocal distance is the closest distance at which a lens can be focused while keeping objects at infinity acceptably sharp. When the lens is focused at this distance, all objects at distances from half of the hyperfocal distance out to infinity will be acceptably sharp.”
It depends on how close you are to your foreground subject. What focal length you’re using. And your chosen aperture.
How to take sharp landscape photos using hyperfocal distance?
— Jim Schubert (@SchubertJim) May 2, 2017
I have to give credit for what I’ve learned on this subject to the folks over at Visual Wilderness. Check out their incredibly easy-to-understand video course on hyperfocal distance for on-location teaching of this concept.
Step 1: Download a hyperfocal distance chart or search for an online app or mobile app.
Step 2: Compose your shot the way you want it.
Step 3: Using your hyperfocal distance chart/app, find the intersection at which your chosen focal distance and aperture meet. This should show you two numbers 1) Hyperfocal Distance 2) Near Focus. The Hyperfocal distance is the distance from your lens you should focus on in your frame. Near Focus is half the hyperfocal distance. You don’t want anything in your shot that is between your lens and the Near Focus point, because it will end up out of focus. But everything from your Near Focus point to infinity will be acceptably sharp.
Step 4: Make sure nothing is in your frame between your lens and the Near Focus point. If there is, close your aperture down further and check your chart to determine what where your new hyperfocal distance is. For example, If you started at f8, go up to f11 or higher until your chart or app shows a Near Focus number that is low enough to accommodate the closest thing from your lens that’s visible in your frame.
Step 5: Focus on something in your frame that is exactly the hyperfocal distance your chart or app recommends.
Step 6: Take your shot.
Ready to make your landscape photos tack sharp?
Now that you know how to take sharp landscape photos, go take what you learned here and practice out in the field.
Then come back here and let me know in the comments how it went. Feel free to share a link to examples of your photos. I’d love to see how you did.