July 17, 2017

What's Hyperfocal Distance and How Can It Help You Shoot Deep Focus Shots?

You may have never heard of hyperfocal distance before, but you definitely have seen this concept in action.

Ah, shallow depth of field. We all probably remember the first time we got our hands on a lens that allowed us to obscure the backgrounds of our images with beautiful, twinkling bokeh balls, instantly turning our compositions into incredible, even accidental, works of art. "I'm a visionary," we thought. And we were so right.

But the art of capturing images is much more diverse, we learned, and soon we found that subjects, when blocked with great care, can be just as meaningful and aesthetic when shot in deep focus. In fact, some of the most iconic films in cinematic history were made famous with deep focus shots, like Citizen Kane, Paper Moon, and The Bridge on the River Kwai

In this informative video, John P. Hess of Filmmaker IQ shows you how you can capture deep focus shots by explaining, in great detail, the concept of hyperfocal distance.

Simply put, hyperfocal distance is the closest distance you can focus a lens while managing to keep objects at infinity "acceptably" sharp, giving you the deepest depth of field possible for the lens you're using. As Hess explains, the hyperfocal distance depends on several factors, including sensor size, crop factors, and the type of lens you use. To get the closest possible distance, you'll need a lens that has a:

  • Smaller focal length
  • Higher F-stop
  • Larger Circle of Confusion

As you can see from Hess' sensor comparison, it gets really interesting when you start calculating for sensor size. Smaller sensors, like a Micro 4/3, tend to produce shallower depth of field than larger sensors, like a full frame, so if you put the same lens on each, the hyperfocal distance will be much further with the small sensor camera. However, if you account for crop factor on the smaller sensor and replace the lens with a field-of-view equivalent, then the hyperfocal distance is actually going to become much closer compared to the larger sensor camera.

If I just completely confused you/butchered Hess' explanation, check out his interactive lab on Filmmaker IQ so you can really get a handle on the concept.      

Your Comment

4 Comments

"Smaller sensors, like a Micro 4/3, tend to produce shallower depth of field than larger sensors, like a full frame" In my understanding, this is false, the exact opposite is true.

July 18, 2017 at 12:02AM

5
Reply
Sam A
Writer/Director/DP
81

He actually goes on to explain why you feel that way

July 18, 2017 at 9:03AM

1
Reply
avatar
C Bowden
Director of Photography
54

Starts at 9 minutes. I just saved you 9 minutes! Great video though

July 18, 2017 at 9:03AM, Edited July 18, 9:04AM

0
Reply
avatar
C Bowden
Director of Photography
54

Nice explanation of depth of field and hyper focal. Ive found a very good app for android and windows, DoF by Jonathan M. Sachs, with some of the best documentation on theories and usage, as well as how diffraction affects focus. It has saved me a lot of setup time.

July 23, 2017 at 8:48AM

1
Reply
James Schindler
Aspiring Film maker
107