Hyperfocal Distance at close range

Do you know what hyperfocal distance is? It’s the distance that gets every object in a photographic scene sharp as a razor blade. Hyperfocal distance depends on your camera body, lens, zoom factor and aperture. Sometimes it won’t work, but there’s a workaround. You do need Helicon Focus for it to work, though.

Helicon Focus is a great application that allows you to merge multiple images together. Each image of a Helicon Focus series has been shot with focus set to manual. You shoot focussing on as many ‘focal planes’ (virtual planes you imagine to be present in the scene, which will bring into focus each scene element from closest to farthest or vice versa) as your lens allows. The software merges everything together.

Helicon Focus is especially useful for macro photography, e.g. shooting insects from close-up, to regain control over depth of field.

Hyperfocal distance with Helicon Focus

But you can also use Helicon Focus if you can’t focus via the Hyperfocal Distance. Imagine three objects that you want to shoot with all three in perfect focus. If these three objects are located in your scene with number one closer to the lens than number two and three, then you can only get all three of them in sharp focus by using the Hyperfocal Distance that will lie somewhere in the middle.

However, hyperfocal distance focussing can be problematic. For example, for the examples I shot, the lens was at 50cm from the closest object while for the aperture and zoom factor I wanted, the hyperfocal distance was somewhere at 35 metres.

Without Helicon Focus or a similar app, I wouldn’t be able to shoot this scene with all three objects in focus as well as a compelling ‘bokeh’ effect for the rest of the scene.

So, I used Helicon Focus to control my scene. I first set up the scene, the camera flashes and the camera.

Using manual focussing, I started with the closest object and then moved the focus ring in extremely small increments until the last object was in focus. It took a bit of experimenting and I am still not entirely satisfied with the result, but you may take “extremely small” literally.

You will find the best increments by experimenting, but a rule of thumb is to take as many as you can. Tiny turns on the focus ring are essential.

Helicon Focus for Hyperfocal Distance

If you get it right, offload your RAW images (or JPEGs) into Helicon Focus and let the software calculate the merged image using a depth map, with default settings.

When it’s done, you’ll have a near-perfect result.

Using the Retouch tools in Helicon Focus’ dedicated tab, you can select different original images to get the details right. For example, specular highlights from the flash tend to create “auras” instead of nice highlights after merging. You can retouch those, based on which image gets the object that has the highlights in sharp focus.

The end-result is as if you would have been at a distance of 35 metres, with a bokeh that’s clearly only possible at the 50cm distance.


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