In-Depth Photography Guides

How to Find the Hyperfocal Distance using the Double the Distance Focusing Technique

If you have ever attempted to get an entire photo in focus from the foreground to the background, you probably know how tricky it can be.

A large depth of field is often necessary to capture an entire landscape composition in focus.

One way to maximize your depth of field is by focusing at a point in your composition called the “hyperfocal distance.”

This focusing method is important to understand if you want to get your landscape images sharp from front-to-back, but it can also be one of the more confusing methods to master.

This guide is intended to beak down the topic of hyperfocal distance in an easy to understand way so that you can start using it like a pro.

Table of Contents

What is Hyperfocal Distance?

The hyperlocal distance is the distance between your camera and the closest point you can focus on within your image that still allows you to get everything in the background acceptably sharp (i.e. in focus).

In other words, it is the “sweet spot” to focus on between the foreground and the background that gives you the most depth of field possible in a single composition.

When you focus at this sweet spot, or hyperfocal distance, your depth of field will extend from half of this distance to infinity (i.e. the distant horizon).

For example, if your hyperfocal distance is 5 feet and you focus at an object in your composition that is 5 feet from your lens, everything from 2.5 away (half of the hyperfocal distance) to the far horizon (infinity) will appear to be sharp.

It should be noted that a lens can only focus exactly on a single plane.

Sharpness of an image deteriorates gradually as you move the focus point, so you may notice a drop off in sharpness towards closes and most distant parts of the image (i.e. closest foreground and furthest background). Depth of field does not drop off dramatically like it appears to in this figure.

When Should You Focus at the Hyperfocal Distance?

Many, if not most, landscape photographers choose to focus at the hyperfocal distance in order to get foreground to background sharpness in their photographs.

It is typically the optimal point to focus on in a composition due to the fact that it will provide you with the most depth of field for a given aperture and focal length.

This method typically works best in the following circumstances:

  • you are shooting with wide angle and standard lenses at focal lengths up to about 100mm.
  • Your composition contains a foreground (e.g. rocks, grasses or flowers) and a background that extends to the horizon (e.g. mountain range).
  • there are no objects in your foreground less than a few feet away (i.e. super close to your lens).

Choosing to focus at the hyperfocal point might seem like the obvious place to focus at for every image, but like most things in photography, this is not always the case.

This method is not ideal to choose in the following circumstances:

  • when shooting with telephoto lenses with longer focal lengths: it gets harder to point where the hyperfocal distance is in your composition. This is because, as you will learn in the next section, the longer the focal length you are shooting with, the larger the hyperfocal distance will be. As hyperfocal distance gets further and further away from you, it gets harder to approximate where it is in the scene in front of you. For example, if your hyperfocal distance is 200 feet or more away, could you accurately estimate where that is? See my focusing methods guide to learn where to focus with a telephoto lens.
  • If you have objects in your scene less than a few feet away: if an object in your foreground is too close to your lens, there will be insufficient depth of field to get the entire foreground and background acceptably sharp. For example, if your hyperfocal distance is 10 feet away, you know that everything from 5 feet away (half the hyperfocal distance) to infinity will be acceptably sharp. But what if you have a flower in your foreground that is 2 feet away? The flower will not be in sharp focus. Jump to: troubleshooting to learn how you can get around this problem.
  • When you don’t have a foreground: if you are shooting from a position where everything in your scene is in the distance, such as an overlook or bridge, you will get a sharper image by focusing either in the center of your composition or at infinity. For example, if your hyperfocal distance is 10 feet away, but the closest object in your scene is 100 feet away, it wouldn’t make sense to set your focus to 10 feet.

How Hyperfocal Distance is Calculated

Hyperfocal distance can be calculated with the following equation:

Don’t let this equation scare you, even if you hate math.

What's important is that you understand that hyperfocal distance is a function of:

  • focal length
  • f-stop number
  • the acceptable circle of confusion, which is simply a measurement that is related to your image sensor size. It is typically 0.02mm for cropped sensors and 0.03mm for full-frame sensors.

If you need a refresher on focal length and f-stops, visit my guides here and here.

Note: the circle of confusion (CoC) is a measurement in optics that has to do with how light converges to form an image. The larger the CoC, the blurrier your picture will be. You can learn more about it here, but it’s not necessary to understand in order to learn and use hyperfocal distance. If you always use the same camera, your CoC will stay the same.

Let’s calculate the hyperfocal distance for the following example scenario.

Say you are shooting an image with the following settings/variables:

  • a lens that has a focal length of 14mm
  • an f-stop value of f/11
  • a full-frame format camera with an acceptable CoC of 0.03

We can then calculate the hyperfocal distance by plugging the values above into the equation:

Hyperfocal distance = ((14mm)(14mm)/ (11)(0.03)) + 14mm = 607.9mm, or 0.6m, or about 2 feet.

This means that you should focus at whatever object is about two feet in front of your camera in order to get everything from half of this distance (1 foot) to infinity in focus.

Again, this would be the most efficient point to focus on in your composition.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do with math if you don’t want to.

As I’ll explain next, there many techniques and tools to make finding the hyperfocal distance easy.

Simple Methods for Finding Hyperfocal Distance

There are many ways to calculate the hyperfocal distance in your images, but there are three of the most used methods:

These include:

  1. estimation using the "double the distance method" to estimate it (most recommended)
  2. phone and computer apps
  3. hyperfocal distance tables

The first method, the double the distance technique, is what I suggest you learn because I find it to be the simplest, most accurate, and most practical method to use when you are out shooting.

In the following sections, I will walk you though everything you need to know to use the double the distance technique, as well as the other two common methods for finding hyperfocal distance listed above.

1. The Best Method to Find Hyperfocal Distance: The Double the Distance Method

The easiest and most practical way to find hyperfocal distance is a method that is commonly called the “double the distance” method.

This method is very simple and requires no charts, apps or calculators, which is what makes it so practical.

I’d argue that the double the distance method is the only one you truly need to know if you plan on focusing on the hyperfocal distance in the field - which you should!

I personally use this method the most and the I encourage you to learn and practice it regularly.

As you now know, half of the hyperfocal distance to infinity will be acceptably sharp, so it makes sense that if you want to get the closest part of your foreground in focus, you simply need to double this distance to ensure it falls within the area of acceptable sharpness that exists between the hyperfocal distance and your camera.

The video below will guide you step by step on how to use this method to find the hyperfocal distance in your composition.

Here is how to use this method, step by step, as shown in the video:

  1. Mount your camera on a tripod and set up the composition you want to capture.
  2. Set your aperture to its sharpest f-stop. This is usually f/8 or f/11. Make sure your camera is set to aperture priority mode so that your aperture doesn’t change.
  3. Through your viewfinder or Live View, determine the closet object in your scene that you want to appear in sharp focus. This should be an object at the very bottom center of the frame assuming you want the entire image to be in focus.
  4. Estimate the distance from your camera to the object that you just pinpointed. I recommend moving to the side of your camera to get a better perspective of how far this is. You can also use your camera’s focusing scale on your lens, but I would recommend testing your lenses to see how accurate the focusing scale is.
  5. Whatever this estimated distance is, double it. This doubled distance is the hyperfocal distance.
  6. Focus on the hyperfocal distance (the doubled distance you found in step 6) using single point spot focus. Don’t worry too much if you are a few inches away from the exact hyperfocal distance. This method should still work.
  7. Shoot the image and review it on your camera’s LCD screen. Ensure that the entire foreground, background, and focal point (the point you focused on) are in focus. If it is, you accurately focused on the hyperfocal distance. Yay!
Figure 1. Diagram shows how to find the hyperfocal distance using the double the distance method. Simply double Distance X as shown, then focus at that doubled distance. This doubled distance is the hyperfocal distance.


Troubleshooting: What to do if the foreground and/or background aren’t sharp.

If only the foreground is out of focus:

If any part of the foreground is out of focus but everything else is sharp, it could be due to to two main problems:

  1. you didn’t accurately estimate your distances from steps 5-7,
  2. you have correctly focused on the hyperfocal distance and achieved maximum depth of field for your particular settings, but part of your foreground is so close to your camera that there still isn’t sufficient depth of field necessary to capture the entire scene in focus.

there are a few methods I recommend you use to fix this:

  • step a few feet or more backwards, away from your subject. When you move away from your subject, you will increases your depth of field. Often times this is a simple and effective way to get your foreground sharp while still keeping the background sharp.
  • If you can’t or don’t want to move further from your subject, use a technique called focus stacking. This involves taking several photos of same composition at different focus points and merging them in post-possessing using Photoshop.
  • Choose a larger f-stop (smaller aperture) in order to increase your depth of field. This is my least recommended method as you can lose image sharpness the smaller your aperture gets due to diffraction.
  • Choose a smaller focal length. This will change your composition, so it is not recommended if you want to keep your composition the same.

If only the background is out of focus:

If only the background is out of focus, then you might have underestimated how far into the scene your hyperfocal point is.

In other words, you have focused too close to your camera and not at the hyperfocal distance because not everything too infinity is in focus.

You will get better at estimating distance the more you practice, especially if you use the same equipment and settings for most of your images.

The method I recommend to fix this is:

  • slightly move your focal point (the point you focus on) deeper into your scene. This will bring your focal point higher into the frame, closer towards the center. Take the shot and check to see if the background is sharp without compromising foreground sharpness. Repeat this until the background and foreground are both sharp.
  • Choose a larger f-stop to increase your depth of field.

If the foreground AND background aren't completely in focus

If this happens, you don’t have enough overall depth of field to get your entire composition in focus. You can do one or a combination of the following, which will help increase your depth of field:

  • Step back away from your subject
  • Choose a larger f-stop to increase your depth of field
  • Choose a lens with a smaller focal length, or zoom out to a smaller focal length.
  • Use focus stacking.

2. Apps that Calculate Hyperfocal Distance

As you might imagine there are numerous apps and websites that you can use to quickly and accurately calculate hyperfocal distance.

While you can go Google searching for the best app, the one that I (and many other photographers) think is the best is an app called PhotoPills (iOS | Android).

This app allows you to plug your camera make and model and it will provide you with a detailed hyperfocal chart that allows you to easily find your hyperfocal distance for a specific focal length and aperture.

Once you find your hyperfocal distance on this chart, you can view a visual depth of field diagram that will help you visualize what’s going on with the depth of field in your composition when you focus at the hyperfocal distance.

Figure 2 below is a screenshot of a depth of field diagram produced in Photopills when focusing at the hyperfocal distance with a 14mm lens set to f/11.

Figure 2. A screenshot from the awesome Photopills app showing a depth of field diagram produced when you plug in a 14mm focal length and an f-stop of f/11.

You can even choose to enter augmented reality mode, where the app will open up your phones camera and superimpose the hyperfocal distance on your camera screen for the composition you are looking at.

While I personally love to nerd out on this and other apps, I don’t think it is the most practical method for calculating hyperfocal distance.

I do, however, think it is a really great way to learn and visualize a lot of the concepts related to hyperfocal distance and depth of field.

I highly recommend practicing with the PhotoPills hyperfocal distance chart and using their visual tools.

Here are the pros and cons to using apps to calculate hyperfocal distance.

Pros:

  • Apps can easily help you calculate hyperfocal distance.
  • Everyone always has their phone, so having hyperfocal charts and calculators on your phone means one less thing to carry.
  • They can be really powerful tools to help you learn complex topics like hyperfocal distance.

Cons:

  • Your phone or apps can fail. For example, some features might not work without cell service or wifi, which you likely wont have while hiking or driving through remote places.
  • They use valuable battery life which I personally hate to waste while out hiking, in case I truly need to use my phone.
  • Charts and tools that apps provide don’t take into account the fact that every composition is different. If everything in your scene is at least a hundred feet away but your hyperfocal distance is 5 feet, it would make no sense to focus at 5 feet.
  • It can be very hard to focus exactly at the hyperfocal distance when using a telephoto lens because these lenses have hyperfocal distances that are very large. For example, if you are using a 300mm lens at f/8 on a full-frame camera, your hyperfocal distance will be over 1000 feet away! It’s nearly impossible to accurately estimate where that is in your composition.
  • It can be impractical and annoying to have to take the time to look at and rely on an app when more effective methods, like the double the distance method covered below, don’t require the need to do so.

3. Hyperfocal Distance Charts

This method for easily finding the hyperfocal distance has probably been around the longest, but it still can be useful, especially if you use the same equipment every time you shoot.

A typical hyperfocal distance chart will look something like this:

Figure 3. A hyperfocal distance chart.

As you can see in figure 3, hyperfocal distance charts will show you the hyperfocal distance (values in feet shown above) for a given aperture and focal length.

Once you get your hyperfocal distance from the chart, you can focus your lens at this hyperfocal point by:

  • estimating an object in your composition at that distance and using automatic single point spot focus to focus in on that object (recommended).
  • use the focusing scale on your lens if it has one.

Pros:

  • You can’t print these charts out and keep them in your camera bag without worrying about using your phone/apps/internet (which can fail) in the field.
  • It doesn’t get much simpler than using a chart to find your hyperfocal distance. It requires no knowledge of how to use more complicated apps.

Cons:

  • The charts can be impractical to carry with you, specially when hiking or backpacking when they can get damaged or ruined.
  • Charts don’t take into account the fact that every composition is different. If everything in your scene is at least a hundred feet away but your hyperfocal distance is 5 feet, it would make no sense to focus at 5 feet.
  • It can be very hard to focus exactly at the hyperfocal distance when using a telephoto lens because these lenses have hyperfocal distances that are very large. For example, if you are using a 300mm lens at f/8 on a full-frame camera, your hyperfocal distance will be over 1000 feet away! It’s nearly impossible to accurately estimate where that is in your composition.
  • It can be annoying to have to take the time to look at a chart when more effective methods, like the double the distance method covered below, don’t require the need to do so.

Variables that Affect Hyperfocal Distance

There are three main variables that affect hyperlocal distance, which include aperture, focal length, and sensor size.

This means that when you are out shooting, the hyperfocal distance will change every time you adjust your aperture or change the focal length of your lens.

You will also need to recalculate your hyperfocal distance in the more rare case that you change your image sensor size by switching out your camera body (e.g. a full-frame to a cropped sensor camera).

You might remember that aperture, focal length, and sensor size are also some of the main variables that allow you to control depth of field in an image, so it is no coincidence that they are key factors that determine hyperfocal length. Refer to my depth of field guide if you need a refresher on this topic.

These three variables affect hyperfocal distance by the following general trends (assuming all other settings remain constant for each trend):

  • aperture - the smaller the aperture, the smaller the hyperfocal distance will be, and vice versa.
  • focal length - the smaller the focal length, the smaller the hyperfocal distance will be, and vice versa.
  • sensor size - while not something that changes in the field unless you are switching camera bodies (e.g. a full-frame to a cropped sensor camera), the larger the sensor, the smaller the hyperfocal distance, and vice versa.

As you can see, smaller apertures, smaller focal lengths, and larger image sensor sizes result in hyperfocal distances that are closer to the camera, and larger apertures and longer focal lengths result in hyperfocal distances that are further away from the camera.

If you remember, as you move toward smaller apertures, smaller focal lengths, and larger image sensor sizes, you also increase the depth of field in an image.

It therefore follows that:

the more you reduce depth of field through aperture, focal length, and (in the rare case) image sensor size, the smaller your hyperfocal length gets.

In practical terms, this means that when you use wide angle lenses at small apertures (large f-stop values)

  • the hyperfocal distance (the point you want to focus on) will be relatively close to your camera.
  • You might only need to focus a few feet away to get the distant background at infinity (the horizon) acceptably sharp.
  • This point tends to be about 1/3 of the way into your scene, which is why a lot of landscape photographers will tell you to focus 1/3 of the way into your composition. However, this method, which you can learn more about in my “were to focus” guide, is not as accurate as focusing on the exact hyperfocal distance.

Alternatively, when you use telephoto lenses at wider apertures

  • the hyperfocal distance will be relatively far away.
  • you will end up focusing deeper into your scene, closer to the center of your composition.

Keep these variables and trends as they relate to hyperfocal length in mind as we move on, as they will be important to understand when you are choosing where to focus in your composition.

The next section will give all of the tools and techniques available to help you fully understand and accurately find the hyperfocal distance to focus on in every shot you take.