Depth of Field (DOF) and Hyperfocal distance

Half DomeEl Capitan photographed while focusing on the Hyperfocal distance
(Very large Depth of Field)
In this article I am going go outline some basic concepts of Depth of Field and Hyperfocal Distance. As a little extra you can download my Hyperfocal Distance Calculator to create your own tables for use in the field and for experimentation.

Depth of Field is defined as the range in front and behind the focus point that is still in focus and sharp. Since perceived sharpness depends on print size, viewing distance and lighting conditions as well as your eyesight.
Therefore I will use quantifiers like shallow to describe the Depth of Field.

Focusing and Depth of Field

In Landscape Photography I often try to achieve a maximum Depth of Field (picture of El Capitan). Getting such a deep DOF requires planning.
You need to set a very small aperture (large f-stop number). I therefore use Aperture Priority Mode (Av on most Cameras) and place the camera on a tripod, since a small aperture usually results in a long exposure time.
Since I want to keep the foreground and the background in focus, I usually use manual focusing and set my focus distance to the Hyperfocal Distance (see below).
Some lenses (usually prime lenses) offer a Depth of Field Scale. This scale will show you how far the range of the DOF extends at a certain aperture. Although this is a good reference, it is normed. Since perceived Depth of Field also depends on print size and viewing distance, those values are not always accurate in all situations.
Digital SLR usually have a Depth of Field Preview Button that is located somewhere near the lens. Unfortunately most Digital SLR with crop factor have a relatively small viewfinder, limiting the usefulness of this preview. Since my Eyesight isn't what it used to be anymore, I don't use this very much and I rather depend on experience or a cheat sheet I created.
An easy rule to remember is the 1/3 - 2/3 rule: For any f-stop, the depth of field extends about twice as far behind the focal plane then in front. Therefore the saying: Focus 1/3 of the way into your image.
Example: If your DOF is 30 meters and you want to have everything between 20m and 50m in focus, you need to focus at about 30m (1/3 of the distance between 20m and 50m). Depending on your nearest point, you can replace infinity with approx. 50m to 300m (if you focus close, use 50m).
When you focus on a subject at close range (macro) this rule doesn't hold true anymore (the distances become approx. equal).


A small aperture (small lens opening) creates another problem, diffraction. I don't want to go into too much detail (just follow the Wikipedia Link). Suffice it to say that Diffraction will scatter the light rays to a certain extend. The smaller the aperture, the more scattering you get, until the diffraction pattern becomes as large as the pixel site of your camera. For the Canon 20D (crop factor = 1.6), this aperture is about f/16. Although I have gone as high as f/22 for some photos, keep in mind that you might lose sharpness again due to diffraction.

Lens Sharpness

The lens is the most important aspect in creating "sharp" images. Unfortunately lens quality is directly reflected towards their prize. This is especially true for zoom lenses. I try to stay away from the so-called super-zooms, because it is very hard to obtain sharpness through the entire zoom range for those. I rather use multiple lenses for different purposes. The sharpest lens I have is a cheap 50mm prime from Canon. A prime is a lens without a zoom.
Lenses lose a lot of sharpness at wide apertures, since they require a larger area of the glass to be honed to perfection.  A good lens will retain decent sharpness down to very wide apertures.
Many photographers recommend shooting near f/8, for maximum lens sharpness, as this is roughly in the middle of the aperture range for most lenses.
Generally I would recommend not shooting at the widest aperture (smallest f-stop number) your lens supports, unless you have to (low light conditions, no tripod)


Lets recap this Section so far:
  • Use aperture priority Mode to set DOF
  • Auto-focus is not always the best choice, choose where to focus
  • Depth of Field Scale and Preview Button can be helpful but limited
  • Remember limits Diffraction
  • Don't shoot with a wide aperture
  • Focus 1/3 into the Scene
Yosemite Wild BuckShallow Depth of Field keeps interest on the main Subject

Limiting Depth of Field to draw attention

Maximum Depth of Field is not always the way to go. DOF can be used as a creative element, especially in portrait photography or when you want to draw attention to a certain part of your photograph.
In those cases the background will only distract the viewer from the actual subject.
Putting your subject in focus and everything else out of focus is a good way of drawing attention to the subject.
Make the aperture just wide enough to put your entire subject in focus and focus just in front of the subject or on its closest point (remember the 1/3 rule !). If the aperture is too large, portions of your subject will be out of focus and if the aperture is too small you will have distracting background elements in your picture.

Point and Shoot cameras usually have a very small sensor with a large crop factor (CF). This makes achieving a small Depth of Field harder, since the Depth of Field is CF times larger then with a 35mm camera. (The opposite is true for large format cameras).
This increase in depth of field can be very useful when you are shooting landscapes (like El Capitan) and can be somewhat of a hindrance for portraits (like the deer picture).

Another thing to keep in mind is how the out of focus background looks. Bright spots will also distract the viewer, even if they are out of focus. The eye is magically drawn to these spots. The quality of the Lens will determine how these spots look like and if they become very distracting. This is called Bokeh and explained pretty well by Brian (check the link).

Hyperfocal Distance

To maximize Depth of Field, you can focus on the hyperfocal distance. Switch your lens to manual focus and focus on the range you have calculated.
Everything from 1/2 of this distance to infinity will be in focus.
I have used this technique for the photo of El Capitan, to have everything from the snow covered stones to El Capitan in the background in focus. I had printed out some values from my calculator and I had those "cheat sheets with me". I found a good spot and then I focused on the stones to measure their distance (reading the distance from the lens). Then I picked the hyperfocal distance from the chart (twice the distance from the nearest stone). Knowing that the focal length of my lens was at 24mm (Canon 24-85 USM Lens) I read the correct aperture setting from the chart. The large aperture mandated the use of a tripod.

Hyperfocal Distance Calculator

Initially I made this excel sheet to print out some cheat sheets for my personal use. I have added some more camera crop factor / sensor sizes to the excel file now.
The Excel Spreadsheet has two tabs. Open the Tab I called "Setup" first.

Hyperfocal Distance Calculator SetupHyperfocal Distance Calculator Setup Usage is pretty straightforward. Don't change anything except the values in the Green Field to set the calculator to your camera crop factor, chose a viewing distance and two print sizes (labeled small and large). You can also modify the eyesight parameter if you are not happy with the results you are getting. To start I would recommend leaving this parameter untouched.

Then go to the second tab labeled "Calc". This is the actual calculator. It will calculate two tables (one for large prints and one for small prints).
I am mostly shooting with a focal length between 24mm to 200mm. You should pick ranges that suit your personal needs (careful: some Point and Shoot cameras are specified with 35mm equivalents in mind).
You might also want to modify the f-stop parameters (its the range I use mostly).

 Hyperfocal Distance CalculatorHyperfocal Distance Calculator The values in the blue fields will be calculated for your. Those are the hyperfocal distances for your parameters, focal length and specific f-stop. Everything from 1/2 of this distance to infinity will be in focus.
If you own a Pocket PC you can also upload the calculator to your device. It will let you change values in the field and give you a bit more freedom experimenting.

Hyperfocal Distance Calculator for Pocket PCHyperfocal Distance Calculator for Pocket PC Download the Hyperfocal Distance Calculator

Achieving infinite Depth of Field

At this point I should probably mention that there are also ways of achieving infinite Depth of Field in situations that go beyond the capabilities of straightforward photos and hyperfocal distance.

Tilt and Shift lens

Canon offers so-called Tilt and Shift Lenses. With these lenses you can control the angle of the focal plane and put most of the elements in your image (foreground and background) into the same focal plane. This is probably the sharpest image you can shoot with a large DOF (everything is in the same focal plane). However these things have a pretty hefty price tag:

I don't own them although I'd love to give one of those babies a try.

Helicon Focus

Helicon Focus is a Software product that lets you stack multiple exposures with different focal planes (or different areas that are in focus) to create a single image with increased DOF.
You can find it here. I haven't tried it, so I can't speak for the product, but I have heard good things about it. I am somewhat turned off by the amount of work one has to put into creating those images and by the fact that you will have to change the focus for each image. This means you will have to touch your camera and potentially create images that won't stack easily by changing the position of your camera (I always use a wired remote when I have the camera on a tripod).

Stay Updated and Participate

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In my last article on Photo Mistakes I received a lot of very good feedback. I would like to extend an invitation. If anyone wants to write an article and publish it here, please contact me and let me know about it.

As always, I welcome any feedback you might have.

Thanks for shedding some

Thanks for shedding some light on the mystery of Depth of Field.
I can't say I understood everything, but I will use your advise and hopefully get everything in focus in all of my images.

Thanks for the download.

Thanks for the download.

Does focal length not come into play in


Good artice of DOF! Interesting read on how you shot the "El Captin". To me it makes a lot of sense on what you did apart from the second to last sentence the hyperfocal distance paragraph. You conclude: "Knowing that the focal length of my lens was at 24mm (Canon 24-85 USM Lens) I read the correct aperture setting from the chart. "

To my knowledge, the hyperfocal distance of a lens is dependant on the focal length, which I believe you imply as well.

But looking at your hyperfocal distance calculator I noticed that the focal length of a lens does not seem to be included in the calculations. Is something missing or have my thoughts gone off track?

Many thanks from New Zealand,


First Row

Hello Edsard,

the focal length is actually included. It is the first row of each table where it reads: 24, 30, 40, 50, 60, 85, 100, 135, 200 (in the green fields).
Change these numbers according to your lens and your preferred focal length.

My brain must have been on

My brain must have been on another planet (lol)

Thanks Andre for all good stuff on your site.



Don't worry about it, happens to all of us. I probably should have written it down somewhere too ;-)

dof calc

Are you able to alter the focal lengths to suit lenses?
as i have a 17mm on a 30d

What do the large/small picture size actually represent? long edge of print??

Plus what do you think of reducing the Coc of camera to make sharper/larger prints?



You can enter whatever value you want in for your lenses, those values are just suggestions and can be changed (the green fields).
In the setup you can change the size (long side). The CoC is calculated, don't change it. It is much more instructive to change the print size and eyesight parameters.

Viewing distance

Great article. By the way what does the viewing distance stands for? from where should I calculate the viewing distance. Is it from my lens to the object that i want to be in foucs?

Viewing Distance

The Viewing Distance is literally the distance you are away from the final print when you look at it. So in a Gallery that will be a few feet.
Calculating DOF is not exact science as it also depends on your eyesight and how sharp is sharp to you vs. me (we all perceive things slightly different).
Its geared towards print and not 100% magnification on the computer screen.
In that case, you circle of confusion should never be larger then your pixel size.

In the excel spreadsheet, in

In the excel spreadsheet, in which units are the DOF values (B15/B16). cm, m or inches ?

thanks !


In the first line on the page it says meters. You can change it to feet if you like, but the distances on lenses are usually given in meters or meters and feet, but never in feet alone.


This is the closest I've come to understanding how to take a photo based on hyperfocal distance. If I can summarise the process, and hopefully my understanding will prove correct...

Say for example my scene is: far away mountain, lake in the mid-ground, long grass in the foreground. I want focus from the grass all the way to infinity (the mountain). I find the spot that provides the composition I want, I focus on the grass (because I want this to be at the front of my depth of field) to measure the distance from lens to that spot, and it works out as 3 meters. I take that value and multiply by 2, producing 6 meters. Then using your excel spreadsheet, I find the focal length I'm using, say 24mm, read down that column until I come to around 6 meters, and then I read across to find the aperture that I need to use.

Is that correct?


Thanks for FREE Tutotials & Broad Suggestions... Im satisfiedÜ Cheers for you man!


Print size and Hyperfocal Dist plus near/far range and lens fee.

I have a question concerning print size related to Hyperfocal Dist.(HP), near and far dist and lens feet setting.
The chosen mm, ft. and f-stop are merely an example. According to, Depth of Field Calculator, a 100 mm lens set at f-5.6 and 20 ft, has a Near dist of 18.7', the Far is 21.42 ft (changed inch part to ft) and HF dist is 293.18'(CC 0.02) for an estimated 10.6" max.dimension print for a 1.5 factor DSLR. Using the data from the size of print can be changed and the new hyperfocal distance is given. By comparing I find for example that the Hyperfocal Distance(HF) of an 18" max dimension print is equal to that of a est 10.6" max size print multiplied (all else same) by 1.7 i.e.18"/10.6" = 1.7. Using this for the above HP near and far distance would change the HP dist of 293.16'(293.16 X 1.7) to 499', near 18.7' to 32'and the far from 21.42' to 38'. My problem is that now the range is no longer within the 20 ft (lens distance setting). How do I get around this conflict. Is the footage also multiplied by 1.8 and the lens reset (what would happen at 20 ft then)?
I would greatly appreciate any help that you can offer. Thanks Dick form WA.

Hello Dick

depending on the focal length of your lens, you can treat anything beyond the distance setting as infinity.
The hyperfocal distance is just an estimate for average people. Some people have better sight and see finer detail and some people have worse sight. Strictly speaking, anything outside the focal plane is out of focus and how much is "acceptable" depends on each individual viewer. I consider the hyperfocal distance just a suggestion. I have long since stopped to worry about these things and focused (pun intended) on the creative aspects of my photography.
To solve your problem I would suggest you also check out this completely different, yet ingenious method of determining aperture:
and most importantly that you run your own experiments. See what settings give you the most pleasing results under certain conditions and go from there.
Most importantly, focus on the subject and the composition and let the rest flow.

If you are still not happy with the answer, remember that the distance chart on a lens is always logarithmic (doubling in one direction and halving in the other). Estimate where in the landscape the hyperfocal distance might be, select a single focus point on your camera and autofocus at exactly that difference. Your lens will automatically adjust itself, even beyond its scale.

P.S.: Sorry for the late answer. I tried responding to the email you sent, but you left an incorrect return email.

Hyperfocal Distrance

Back in the 1960's when I had an Edixa SLR, I used HD all the time. Now I have come back to photography in my retirement with a Canon 350D I find it's not possible unless I am missing something. Neither my 18-55mm kit lens or my Tamron 55-200mm have any distance markings on them so how do I set the focus to a specifice distance? Also how do you focus 1/3 of the way into a scene if a close rock is 10 or 12 feet away and the hills 10 or 12 miles away? My estimating of distances can be 50% out so looking for something at say 16ft to focus on would be way out.

Great Questions

Those are wonderful questions. Actually I was puzzled when I looked at the 18-55mm lens a while ago. Not only does the lens not have the Hyperfocal distance indicators, it also completely lacks distance marks. I haven't used this lens in a long time, but when I did, I selected a focus point and focussed on a feature in my scene which I estimated to be at the correct distance.

With the Canon 350D you can actually use the A-Dep mode. When you select this mode, and keep one focus point on the nearest and one on the farthest feature, the camera will automatically focus to the correct distance and choose an aperture for you, that should guarantee that everything is sharp.

Since the focus points don't reach the corners of the frame, I used this simple trick for horizontal compositions:
-Set up the composition and chose the correct focal length you need.
-Set your camera to A-Dep
-Now turn it (towards vertical) to put the focus points where you want to meter and let the camera determine the focus. Make a mental note of the aperture.
-Switch focus to manual
-Turn the camera back to your desired composition
-Switch the camera to Aperture priority mode and dial in the aperture you memorized

I never fully investigated how Canon determines the necessary aperture. Considering that the setting in the Hyperfocal distance calculation is dependent on your vision and print size. However the results looked good to me, so I didn't worry too much.
Unfortunately my new Canon 7D doesn't have that mode anymore.

Answering the second part of your question also requires a focus scale. Look at this image for reference (it also shows the hyperfocal distance marks for f/16, f/11, f/5.6, indicating that at f/16 you can get everything from 3m to infinity in focus).
From this you can see that 5m is roughly 1/2 the distance between 3m and infinity and that 2m is roughly 1/2 the distance between 1.2m and infinity.
The scale is logarithmic and converges very quickly towards infinity after 5m.

Thank you very much for that

Thank you very much for that lucid explanation. It also answeres a question I didn't ask, "Whatever is A-Dep?".

I am keeping my eye open at the local charity shops for an old screw fit M42 lens, I have an adapter, and go back to the old manual photography. For landscapes and architectural pictures where you don't rush it could be fun.

Thanks again


Thanks for coming back!
I am glad you found the explanation useful. I agree that manual focusing can be a lot of fun. I found some of the adapters on Amazon. You could just get it from there :).
I usually imagine the image (2 dimensions) with the vanishing point at infinity. About 1/2 the distance between your closest part of the image and that vanishing point on the image itself will about match that logarithmic scale.

Thanks for sharing this one.

Thanks for sharing this one. This is really and it is informative too. I will try to explore that software when I have a time. Good thing you provide a step by step process. Thanks again. Dr Naveed Fazlani

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In the Real World

Two points:

1 - The distance scale on most autofocus lenses, if the lens has one, is unusable. Just how do you focus at 10.5' when the marked distances are no more than a quarter of an inch apart? You can't have a fast autofocusing lens with a usable distance scale.

2 - Diffraction isn't the only problem you're likely to encounter shooting at small apertures. With the possible exception of Leica, all lenses are sharper, with fewer optical defects, in the middle of the aperture range.

Just my $.02. YMMV.

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