Keep it Real Using Hyperfocal Distance
For me street photography can be broadly categorised as two types. One is when the photographer engages with the people in the scene. In this method you can capture great portraits with low depth of field and creamy bokeh. The down side though is that the subject becomes aware that they are being photographed and the authentic moment can be lost.
The other style of street photography is where the photographer does not engage and the people in the scene remain unaware they are being photographed. In these images the scene remains “real” and unchanged by the presence of the camera. By merely raising the camera to your eye and focussing the authenticity of the moment can be lost. One way to avoid this is to set the focus to manual and use hyperfocal distance.
What is hyperfocal distance?
Put simply hyperfocal distance is the minimum distance of focus where the lens focusses to infinity. This means that everything from some point near the camera to infinity will be in focus. The depth of field will be from a point half the hyperfocal distance until infinity.
How to calculate hyperfocal distance.
There are many tables online or smartphone apps that will tell you what your hyperlocal distance will be using a different lens and aperture f stop. I use the deep focus app on my smartphone but over time have come to know the distances for my trusty Nikon 20mm manual prime lens. Have a look at the table below to get an idea of how hyperfocal distance works.
As you can see the wider the lens the closer the hyperfocal distance is and the larger the f stop (i.e. smaller aperture setting) the closer the distance becomes. So to get the most space in focus choose a wide lens and as large an f number as you can in the available light.
Using my 20mm I know that in full sun I can set my lens to focus at 1 metre on f.14 and capture everything from half a metre to infinity in focus without even having to raise the camera to my face. At night I need to use f.2.8 aperture to get enough light into the camera so I set the focus to around 4.8m and make sure that the key elements of my shot are more than 2.4m from the lens.
Using this method I can shoot from the hip and react fast as moments play out in front of me. Even my full frame Nikon d810 DSLR looks small and unobtrusive when shot away from my face and using the small pancake 20mm lens. Hyperfocal distance and manual focus allow you to be always ready to shoot and avoid the frustration of missing focus on your subject or being too slow to capture the moment.
All the images in the article I shot in Sardinia during July 2017 using hyperfocal distance.
by Wade Ranson
Bar on Via Roma in Cagliari, Sardinia
Umbrella shade in Iglesias, Sardinia
Scooters at night in Cagliari, Sardinia
Strolling in the Marina district of Cagliari, Sardinia
Gelateria in Pula, Sardinia
Tabacchi on Via Sonnino in Cagliari, Sardinia
Working in the doorway in Cagliari, Sardinia