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Tiny Tips 15: Hyperfocal Distance in Street Photography

When you’re out taking street photographs, you’ll sometimes want to capture an image without putting your eye to the viewfinder. Setting your lens to its Hyperfocal distance will allow you to capture fleeting moments that you would otherwise have missed if your camera was not always at the ready.

Photo: Pingnews

Here’s a trick for all you technical photographers out there!

  1. Setting your lens in manual focus mode
  2. Set your camera to a small aperture size, like f/11 or f/16
  3. Now, fix focus at its Hyperfocal distance. Each lens will have a slightly different hyperfocal distance, which changes with the aperture.

Doing this will allow you to take photographs with a great deal of flexibility, often allowing you to shoot from your hip, or while supporting the camera on a steady surface. This is a very un-obtrusive way to take pictures.

What is Hyperfocal Distance?

Hyperfocal distance is the distance between a camera lens and the closest object which is in focus when the lens is focused at infinity. When you set your lens’s focus to this distance, the depth of field extends from a distance even closer than the hyperfocal distance, all the way up to infinity.

Remember that the Hyperfocal distance focusing technique works best when you’re using a rather small f-stop, like f/11, f/16, or f/22, so set your camera in aperture priority mode and shoot on a relatively sunny day, and you’ll find nearly everything in focus. Of course, this works best if you’re using a wide-angle or normal lens.

I’ve managed to get everything from infinity to objects around 4 feet away in good focus while trying this technique recently, with my Nikon F3 and a 50mm lens. It worked great!

Do try it out and let us know how it worked for you, or if you’ve got some other tips involving Hyperfocal Distance or Street Photography, do share them with us in the comments.

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Published: September 20, 2008 | Last Updated: October 8, 2022

7 thoughts on “Tiny Tips 15: Hyperfocal Distance in Street Photography”

  1. This is a nice approach to the old “shoot-from-the-hip-and-get-everything-in-focus” problem. But one of the things that attracts me in street photos is the different focal planes. A street photo that has huge depth of field can quite easily become boring.

    Just a thought…

  2. @Antonio Marques & Markus Hartel:

    Good points to note… especially zone focusing.

    I think that this one of those techniques that you keep in your back pocket and pull out at a handy moment; when the technique suits the occasion.

    Thanks for your comments.

  3. Dear Markus Hartel,
    Excellent article indeed! However, Zone focusing is impossible in the majority of the digital lenses because there is no DOF scale. Mr Bryan Peterson in his book “Understanding Exposure” makes a passing mention about this. He talks some thing like ” F22 and focus second 1/3 of the frame then everything will be sharp” I am not sure though. I am waiting for some good article on Hyperfocal distance for Dummies like me!
    Regards,
    R.J

  4. There is a simple workaround to use zone focusing with AF/digital lenses. simply focus on an object within your working distance and deactivate autofocus – focus will always be at that point… use a little piece of gaffers tape to hold the lens barrel in place, if necessary. trust me, I have been through this numerous times.

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