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The Secret to Ultra-Sharp Photos

The following post on The Secrets to Ultra-Sharp Photos is by San Francisco based photographer Jim M. Goldstein. Learn more about him at the end of this post.
Sharp-PhotosAs previously noted the best photo tip I ever received had to do with sharpness and up until the time in which I received this tip I had little understanding of how to consistently get sharp photos. I’ll never forget when I was a teenager I borrowed my mothers film SLR and ventured out into Yosemite valley while on a family vacation to photograph flowers, the landscape, etc. A couple weeks later when I got the film back almost all my photos were out of focus. Young and easily frustrated I cast photography to the wind for several years. These days digital cameras simplify not only your ability to see what you’re focusing on, but they also give you an immediate view of your photo enabling you to move on to your next photo or to try again. As great as these features are consistently getting sharp photos can still be a challenge.

Whether you’re using film or digital cameras the optics of lenses hasn’t changed as optics are all about math and physics. Don’t worry I don’t want to talk math or physics any more than you want to read about it, but there is a key principle that every photographer should be aware of and that is hyperfocal distance.

“When the lens is focused on the hyperfocal distance, the depth of field extends from half the hyperfocal distance to infinity.” – Photography, Phil Davis, 1972.

Dof Hyperfocal

The short and sweet tip for those using shorter focal length lenses is to focus 1/3 of the way into your photo with a smaller aperture setting to maximize your depth of field.

Note for longer focal length lenses like telephoto lenses this principle still applies, but it becomes less of a factor for most people given the types of subjects  photographed with these lenses are generally less foreground-centric.

If your eyes haven’t glazed over yet there are more precise ways to calculate hyperfocal distance whether you use a point and shoot or an SLR. The best way to get an idea of what the hyperfocal distance is for your camera at different settings is to make use of a Depth of Field Calculator or chart. If you’re at home and interested in researching this then I recommend the following Depth of Field Calculator that covers a large number of cameras. If you’re looking for such information when in the field you can download a chart via Vividlight.com.

For most this is enough, but if you’re truly over the top you can purchase a laser rangefinder, do the math in the field and find out exactly how far ahead of your camera things will begin to be in sharp focus. The hyperfocal distance formula (via Wikipedia) is well known :


H is hyperfocal distance
f is focal length
N is f-number
c is the circle of confusion limit

Now that you’re armed with this key information hopefully the next outing you make with your camera will help you yield a greater number of images that are in sharp focus.

This post was written by Jim M. Goldstein. Jim’s landscape, nature, travel and photojournalism photography is featured on his web site JMG-Galleries.com, and blog. In addition Jim’s podcast “EXIF and Beyond” features photographer interviews and chronicles the creation of some of his images. In addition Jim can be followed on Twitter and FriendFeed.

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Jim Goldstein
Jim Goldstein

is a San Francisco based professional photographer. An author as well as a photographer Jim has been published in numerous publications including Outdoor Photographer, Digital Photo Pro, Popular Photography and has self-published a PDF eBook Photographing the 4th Dimension – Time covering numerous slow shutter techniques. His latest work and writing can be found on his JMG-Galleries blog and on 500px

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