What's it all about?

This blog is about photography and photoediting. Its purpose is to provide hints and tips and links to interesting and useful resources for digital photographers, regardless of their level of expertise or experience. It is aimed at people who use digital SLR cameras and who process their images using the latest versions of Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

The author of this blog is Glenn Springer and you can read more about him at his web portal at faczen.com. Information on workshops, and links to everything is at photography.to. Glenn's original blog, which is an ongoing journal of his photographic meanderings goes back to 2006 and contains many additional hints and tips, as well as representative images that he has made. Gallery quality prints are available through his Smugmug gallery site. It is an interesting place to visit to see a variety of quality images, as well as an ongoing general journal of photos going back several years.

Photography workshops are scheduled every few weeks starting in the Spring. For an overview of what's happening, please visit the photography.to website.

The most recent blog post is below. Scroll down to the bottom to see the list of previous postings or search for any particular topic.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Shooting Tethered

In this post we're going to look at shooting digital images while tethered to a computer. We'll look at what it is, why you might want to, what's involved, what you can and can't do, and a quick caveat (which means "beware!" if you didn't already know that). I'll be talking about Lightroom 3's capability to hook up your camera.

What is tethered shooting?

It means shooting pictures with your Digital SLR while it's connected to a computer. I've always wanted to try that, but (here's a Canon vs. Nikon thing where I come down on the wrong side!), Canon cameras had the capability to do it built-in, while if you had a Nikon, you needed to buy a relatively expensive piece of software to do so. I can't speak to the Canon side, but although I always wanted to try it, I didn't want to have to pay for it. So I never bought the Nikon software. All of that is changed with the advent of Lightroom 3.

What does it do for you?

There are lots of reasons why shooting tethered is a good idea.
  • Workflow. In the old film days, you shot your pictures, then either sent the film out to be processed or disappeared for a time into the darkroom, perhaps you could read a negative but you typically had prints or a contact sheet printed, and only then did you discover that the label on the can was upside down, or the lighting wasn't what you hoped, or it was out of focus.
With the advent of digital, that all got easier. Now you shot your pictures, took the card out of the camera, plugged it into the computer, uploaded the images and you could have a look at how they came out. It became 20 times faster and easier than the film days.
Shooting tethered, you could take a picture, then immediately look at it on your computer in all its wondrous glory and decide if the image is what you wanted. Immediately.
OK, you've got me. All of the other reasons I was thinking about kind of fall under the category described above. You save time. But the real advantage is that you can proof things  instantly on a big screen. Is that exposure correct? Can you get away with shooting at f/8 or is that not enough depth of field? Did the model undo too many buttons? Did she blink or have a funny expression on her face? Does the client (who's looking over your shoulder) like the shot or do you need to keep going? It makes your workflow much more efficient and interactive.

One more thing. It's really, really cool.

What do you need in order to shoot tethered?

There are a whole bunch of solutions out there, most of which you have to pay for, to allow you to tether your camera to the computer. As I mentioned above, Nikon has something called "Camera Control Pro 2"  which allows you to control your camera remotely. It costs $225 in Canada. It does allow you to do more things than the approach I'm going to describe next, though.

Lightroom 3 has the built-in capability to control your camera from your computer, provided your camera is on the list! The list is not long: there are 17 Canon models, 9 Nikons and one Leica on the list that I have. Open LR3, hit f1 for help and type in "tethered" for a list. There are some things it won't do, compared to the manufacturer's software, though.

So in order to shoot tethered, you need 3 things:
  • Lightroom 3 or better
  • A camera that's on the list
  • A USB cable.
That's it! Scott Kelby said it well: "It's so simple, Adobe did a beautiful job with this".

Open Lightroom. In the main "File" menu, pull down to "Tethered Capture" and click "Start Tethered Capture"  on the flyout. You get a really simple little menu that wants to know where you want to store your images and if you want to do anything to them while you're importing them.

Click "OK". You'll now get a camera control bar that will recognize your camera as soon as you plug it in and turn it on. It looks like this:

You can see your camera settings, and that big button on the right is your shutter release! Click it, and you take a picture! A few seconds later, the image appears on screen in Lightroom and you can do whatever you normally would do in LR. You can blow it up, adjust it, crop it, export it, print it, anything! It's a normal image in Lightroom and you didn't have to transfer it in, it's already there! Slick.

What won't it do?

It won't let you adjust your camera from the computer. Just fire the shutter. That's pretty good, but it's too bad you can't adjust focus or tweak settings while looking at it onscreen. I would LOVE to be able to zoom in to 300% and adjust focus live. The manufacturer's software will let you do that. Maybe in Lightroom 4...

OK, here are some quick points to ponder.

  • While the camera is connected to the computer, it's sucking power out of your battery. More than normal, just like when you plug it in to upload images. Have some spares on hand, or use an AC adapter.
  • This isn't going to do you a lot of good while shooting an NBA game from courtside, or crocodiles feasting on kudu on the Nile river. But in the studio, or on location in a studio-like setting, you're going to love it.
  • If you use the shutter release button on the screen, you have to wait for the picture to be processed (a few seconds) before you can take another shot. If you use the normal shutter release on the camera, it works the same way it always does. The images get uploaded and you get to look at the last one, but you could scroll back and see the others if you want.
  • Your camera is connected to the computer by a cable. Nobody has come up with a wireless device for this yet (as far as I know), so you're stuck within USB cable distance of your computer. So what happens when someone trips over the cable? One of three things:
    • your camera goes crashing down to the floor.
    • your computer goes crashing down to the floor.
    • the cable rips out, taking with it some very expensive electronics. Be careful.
On Larry Becker's blog, "cheap shots", he talks about a cheap solution to hold the USB cable securely in the camera. Google it.

Here's a shot from my first tethered session yesterday. I took about 10 exposures to fine-tune it, to balance the light from the strobe illuminating the floor of the light tent and the light on the subject from the other two strobes. I would have had no idea how it looked any other way.

You're going to love shooting tethered. I do.

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