General Observations

HyperFocal Distance

I love taking photos of Philly’s skyline, it never gets old for me. One of my biggest influencers in composition is Stanley Kubrick, who was a master of depth of field. He never wasted any details, keeping everything in focus. 

When it comes to depth of field, something I’ve been trying to fully understand is “hyperfocal distance,"  which is the area where everything from half of your focal distance to infinite is sharp. This theory is most useful for landscape photography or, in my case, cityscapes. 

There are a few different ways to figure out what the hyperfocal distance is for your lens, including various apps that offer depth of field calculators, or math equations to calculate the exact distance to set your focus at. I hate math, and don’t have the patience to fumble around with my phone when I’m out shooting, so I tend to just guesstimate. 

This photo of Philly’s skyline was taken a little while ago on the roof of one of the MaKen studio sites in Kensington (opening soon) with my Nikon D7100 and a Sigma 10-20mm f4/5.6 lens. I dialed my aperture to f9. I've found that for most landscape/ cityscape scenarios an aperture between f9-13 works best at providing optimal DoF without loosing acceptable sharpness due to diffraction. I manually focused in on the furthest point. I wanted the skyscrapers all the way in the back on the horizon to be sharp. Then, I pulled the focus closer until the nearest part in my foreground that I wanted to be sharp, the street and cars, came into focus while still keeping the horizon as sharp as possible. 

With this technique, everything from half the distance between me and my nearest point to infinite came into sharp focus giving me the deep depth of field that I wanted for a cityscape shot. 

Keep in mind when shooting that if you are stopping down your lens to a high aperture, your lens (if you’re using a digital camera) is set to its largest aperture and won’t switch to the aperture you’ve set until the shutter is pressed. If your camera model has a DoF preview button use it to see exactly what is in focus. Also, if you have a live view feature try using that for a better visualization of the foreground and background.

Hopefully this information serves as useful and comes in handy for someone. Next time you're trying to capture the sun rising or setting over the city or whatever landscape/ cityscape you see, try focusing to the hyperfocal distance and see what happens. Please don’t hesitate to leave thoughts, opinions, or questions. Now just go shoot!