Finding Fantastic Focus – Learning Hyperfocal Distance

Purple Mountain Lavender

Finding Fantastic Focus - Learning Hyperfocal Distance. It’s a beautiful morning as you gather your camera and gear to head out to take some beautiful landscape photos. You understand the settings that you’ll need to get the proper exposure, in this case with a fast enough shutter to overcome the blur caused by the breeze that’s tosses the flowers around in front of you. In the background is a view of Mount Hood on the horizon. You allow the camera to set the focus by using one of the automatic settings. Perhaps you focus on either the foreground or the background. Or, if you are using manual focus, you use the age old method learned from another photographer who learned it from his uncle who was a photographer who learned it from some guy named Ansel, you focus a third of the way into the scene and hope for the best.

Once you get home and download your photos you notice that in some of the photos the foreground is out of focus and the background is in perfect focus, while in others the foreground is sharp but the background is out of focus. Some may be fine from front to back but you don’t know why or how it happened.

In time, as you hone your photography skills, you will want to understand how to focus properly and consistently. It’s something that is hard to guess your way through or to accidentally discover. And once you figure out that there’s a method, understanding it seems daunting but it’s rather simple to understand if explained properly, so I’ll give it a try.

What you need to understand is something called hyperfocal distance. By focusing your camera at the hyperfocal distance your photo will be in acceptable focus from half that distance all the way to infinity. In other words if your hyperfocal distance is 20 feet everything will be in focus from 10 feet to infinity. In landscape photography especially it allows you to maximize your depth of field. Knowing this, in this example, we can then push our depth of field out by focusing to 30 feet, ten feet past your subject, maximizing the depth of field.

Determining the hyperfocal distance for a particular focal length and aperture combination can be tricky, but there are charts that you can put in your billfold or camera case. There are also apps for your smartphone that will help you calculate what it is for your particular camera, focal length and aperture setting. Because of this I won’t go into the complications of the mathematics involved in determining your hyperfocal distance. With one of the variables being “The Circle of Confusion”, it would be easier to explain a method that I use that you can start using right away to maximize your depth of field resulting in a more accurate and consistent focus in your photos.

Start by switching your lens to Manual. Turn off any kind of vibration reduction if you’re using a tripod, leave it active if you’re hand holding. Make sure to stop down, aiming for the lens “sweet spot”, an aperture setting of roughly f/8 - f/11. The sweet spot is the range of sharpest aperture settings of your lens. It’s typically two full stops from your widest aperture depending on the lens. Just make sure to stop down to increase your depth of field.

Turn on your Live View screen and increase its magnification and scroll the view to the closest spot that you want to be in focus in the scene. Observe that area as you turn your lens focus ring to infinity, which will slightly blur your foreground, and then focus back from infinity slowly until your foreground object just comes into sharp focus then stop. Once you do this you’ve moved your depth of field out as far as it can go while maintaining focus at your foreground object. Using this method you don’t need to know distances to set your focus.

I should mention that there are times when hyperfocal distance is not desired or necessary. Many forms of photography rely on a shallow depth of field such as portraiture or macro photography. In that case, none of this is necessary as having areas that lack focus is desired to direct the viewer's attention to the subject which is in focus.

Also modern digital photography and computerized post processing allows a photographer to take multiple shots of a scene, focusing from front to back, and then combine them to create a focus that is sharp throughout the image. This method is called Focus Stacking, but in most cases it’s unnecessary if you use the methods described in this article.

As in most cases when an instructor explains something, they will always seem to take the long way. I know that I gave you the shortcut at the end of a lengthy description, but in any skill it’s more than doing, it’s also about understanding. The more that we understand what we are doing, the more we’re able to perfect how we do it. I hope that this rudimentary explanation of hyperfocal distance helps you to take your photos one step closer to perfection.

Pathway To The Stars – The Milky Way Over Mount Hood

The Milky way Over Mount Hood Oregon

Pathway To The Stars. The Milky Way Over Mount Hood Oregon - I had a great time hanging around in the dark with my brudda Rob last night. We shot the night sky over Mount Hood from the north side while talking about the Milky Way over Mauna Loa - The night was as warm as a Big Island night - and other places where we've stood and observed the stars.

There are very few things that surpass the brilliance of the stars on a dark Summer night. Since I was a small boy I have slept outside whenever possible, even if only in my backyard. I'm fortunate to have lived in some places that have extremely dark night skies.

I remember great times while I was in school in the Illinois Valley of Southern Oregon when neighbor friends, my brother and I would just lay blankets out in the pasture, set up our sleeping bags and count falling stars and satellites until we fell asleep only to wake up again at sunrise covered in dew.

I was reading the other day that 80% of the people in the United States are unable to see the Milky Way at night. That's a sad figure. I sincerely feel that when we remove ourselves from the natural world we suffer. Taking away the stars in the sky that have caused so many people to dream fantastic dreams and thoughts of wonderment and hope is the last brick in the wall of separation of humanity from Nature. Stand in a city some night and search for anything natural. Even the sky is cloaked in a bath of unnatural light. How can we understand what Nature requires from us if we don't understand her?

Please do yourself and Nature a favor and reconnect your soul to the Earth and all of its natural fantastic wonders. Drive somewhere dark some night and look up. Bring a blanket and a sleeping bag. You may be there for a while.

Oregon Rain Forest

Oregon Rain Forest

The Oregon Rain Forest - This photograph speaks of what Oregon means to me. My earliest memories are of sitting at the edge of an Oregon creek fishing for trout with my father and the smell of the forest and the sound of the creek as it tumbles over the top of mossy rocks and logs. It hasn't mattered where I have been in the world in my life Oregon was still home to me. These creek side memories had a lot to do with my yearning to return home. They're a peaceful place and make wonderful landscape photos.

This photograph was taken in the Mt Hood National Forest near the little town of Rhododendron Oregon. It was made on May 21st of 2016. This shows the lush green moss covered forest at it's Springtime prime.  It's a time of the year that the forest is the most alive. It's as if everything that lives there is celebrating the warmer weather and the passing of Winter. Everything from the smallest insect to the largest bear, moss to trees they all are reaching for the light. It's the lushest and the greenest. The creeks are full and the leaves fill the voids of every corner and every gully. I love photographing the forest in the Spring time.

This shot was made with my Nikon D810 with a 24-85 f/3.5. The exposure was 0.8 sec at an aperture of f/20 and 800 ISO. I used a polarizing filter to reduce glare. Raw conversion was in Lightroom with basic exposure and contrast adjustments, lens correction, CA correction and basic sharpening and NR, and the processing was then finished in Photoshop with a thin Orton layer and final sizing and sharpening.

Contact me for photography instruction including private workshops for camera operation or processing.

 

Landscape Photography Ethics and Stewardship

Columbia Gorge
Oneonta Gorge Landscape Photography Ethics
Oneonta Gorge Crowd
Landscape Photography Ethics and Stewardship of our public lands.

If you haven’t noticed lately, our public lands have become quite popular in the last decade. Many of the folks that are visiting them are inspired by the photos posted on social platforms such as Instagram or Facebook.

We have all seen that epic photo of someone standing on a hill in the foreground with their hands up in the air as if victorious after an epic journey. Behind them you see a sweeping view, idyllic light and a towering snow capped peak in the distance. These photos inspire those who yearn to express the human spirit of adventure and exploration. It also causes an increased number of people trekking to these locations. When I post a photo online the most asked question is usually, “Where is that?”

No longer is there an attitude that you should go out and explore the world and find these places. In this day and age it’s about the image and not the adventure. The location that’s easy to get to and to take a striking photo of especially. The result of this is that these iconic, beautiful and many times environmentally sensitive locations are being overrun by folks that may be inexperienced in the outdoors. Many that I have met seem to have the attitude that they are in a landscaped and maintained city park or, with some, an amusement park for extreme outdoor sports. At the end of the day it really is but a way to make an awesome photo to post online in attempt to feed their own vanity.

This may sound harsh, but as a professional outfitter and guide as well as a photographer and social media practitioner I experience this frequently. You may think that this is about me railing against the virtues of humility but it is not. The purpose of this is to point out that this activity on public land is causing it harm. With the increase in use of the trails and facilities it is more important than ever before to realize our effect on the land. Therefore I feel compelled to make a list of suggestions that will help to minimize the effects of this increased usage. This applies to us all, not just photographers.

Opal Creek
Opal Creek

Don’t create new trails in established trail areas. Stay on the existing trails. If you can see that someone has already been to an area, look for a trail to it before you cross virgin territory. I was at Elowah Falls one day and observed two photographers looking down and over the embankment to a spot in the creek below. As I approached I could tell that they were considering trailblazing their way to it. I walked up and started a friendly conversation about how beautiful it was there. I told them that there’s a great little trail just behind us that will take them there. They thanked me and took the trail. They were unfamiliar with the location, but if they would have taken just a few more minutes looking they would have found the trail.

Pick up other’s trash. We’ve all heard the saying, “Pack it in. Pack it out”. In this day and age it should be, “Pack it in, pack it… and other less considerate people's trash, out. I always carry a kitchen trash back and some ziplocks in my backpack. They can come in very handing for this and other purposes. If you’re hiking with a dog pick up the poo with a plastic baggie and do not leave it along the trail with the intent of picking it up on the hike out. Put it in it’s plastic bag and then put that into the trash bag. If you’re still worried about getting poo in your pack, double bag it.

Don’t pose in sensitive areas. I have seen people standing in or erecting their tents in places off trail just for a photo. This sends a message that this location is fine to walk to which will cause damage in time. Choose a location that a trail already accesses.

Be original. With the sheer amount of people accessing these areas think about why you would want to go to the same location to get the same photograph. This mindset creates a herd. And with any herd it causes a swath of wear to these places. I’m not saying not to go but think about all of the other less photographed areas left to explore. If we as photographers seek out new locations it will scatter the herd and at the same time you will create more unique photographs.

Columbia Gorge
Columbia Gorge

Buy trailhead or commercial use permits. There’s a purpose to purchase forest passes or commercial use permits beyond paying another tax. It’s also a way to help regulate the use of these areas. If you’re hiking frequently consider a season pass. It’s convenient because you don’t have to buy one every time that you go hiking, and it saves you a lot of money. I’m one of a mind that this land is ours to use freely, but in the 21st century we have a few harsh realities that a permit system addresses.

Volunteer. The Forest Service or many social or civic clubs have ways for one to volunteer to clean trails and trailheads. This gives you a chance to give back all that our public lands provide. Contact the US Forest Service office to inquire about how you can help. Join a meetup group and go out for a walk with new friends and teach by example how easy it is to clean a trail as you hike.

None of these points are abstract or obscure concepts. This was how my parents raised me as we hiked on Oregon trails as a boy. I’m not one to claim that we’re doomed in this day and age because of the deterioration of society. Even when you toss that out of that argument there’s one glaring fact that can’t be ignored. There are more and more people coming to these places and just that fact alone dictates that we treat our trails and public land with even more respect.

Landscape Photography Ethics and Stewardship should be all of our responsibility.

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