Tethered shooting is one of those fantastic photography techniques which, once you find, you’ll never want to live without. Yes, we have screens on the backs of our cameras, so I can forgive you for thinking that it’s not necessary, but oh, how wrong you would be. This article will talk about why I use it, how I use it, and give you a couple tips on software to use. The focus will be for product photography, but tethered shooting can be used in all sorts of genres.
Why Is Tethered Shooting So Freaking Good?
The reasons I’ll give here are just a small sample of the benefits of shooting tethered (my favorites).
If you’re working as part of a team, it’s essential. I’m sure there will be those amongst you that used to shoot film and will say “in my day we got by…” and blah blah blah, but the fact is, the technology is there now and it’s indispensable to every member of the crew. The stylist can check their work, hair and makeup, art director, and so on. No longer is what’s going on in-camera only known by the photographer. Tethered shooting allows all crew members to immediately see errors, and provides a more collaborative approach. If you’re working as part of a team, make sure you’re shooting tethered wherever possible.
Tethered Shooting Provides The Ultimate In Precision
When shooting products, you’ll often be working in very tight conditions. In the BTS photo above, I’m mid-way through shooting a watch. The watch is surrounded by a cone so I can have complete control over every glossy surface. The trouble with this technique as with most product photography, is the distances we’re working with; They’re tiny. Move your light a centimeter and your shot completely changes. I cannot even imagine having to do something like above with only the back of your camera; it would be an absolute nightmare! Shooting tethered allows me to precisely position my light and analyse its effect, sometimes before I even take the photo, and I’ll explain that next.
Along the same vein as precision but important enough to merit its own section, is ‘Live View’. You all know about Live View I’m sure, but did you know you can use Live View in certain pieces of software? Sadly you can’t in Lightroom but with programs like Capture One you can see the Live View feed blown up on your computer screen; see photo below.
The benefits of which cannot be underestimated. The most important aspect for product photography is the ability to see the effect of your light placement live. For example, with the watch I am currently working on, I turn Live View on and move the light until I find a position I like. Without this ability, you have shoot, move, shoot, move, shoot, and move. It’s not fun! You can aslo use Live View to grab focus, add grids and other useful tools.
The first two points are without doubt my favorite benefits that tethered shooting provides, but there’s more. Whether using Lightroom or Capture One, you can apply all of your usual edits as you shoot. If you do all your editing in your RAW editor, then you can be absolutely certain that the images you have shot are what you want. I tend to do a lot more editing after I shoot but given how flat RAW files can appear I find it extremely useful to be able to apply edits as I go.
Given how precise product photography is, tethered shooting is an obvious companion. Being able to quickly zoom to 100% and check every aspect of your photo, ensure RGB values are within appropriate levels, check focus, color and so on, makes tethered shooting essential.
Hardware And Software Needed For Tethered Shooting
As mentioned, you’ve probably got at least one element necessary already, your software. I think Capture One is leaps and bounds ahead of Lightroom in terms of tethered shooting, but you can certainly use Lightroom if you’re not ready to invest in Capture One. Other than that, and your camera of course, you’ll need a decent cable. I’ve learned over the years that not all cables are created equal, and while it can sting a little paying $40 (ish) dollars for a cable, as I always say, “buy cheap, buy twice”. I recommend using Tether tools; you can purchase one of their cables here.
My next two recommendations are certainly geared more toward product photographers, but I’m sure other genres will also find them useful. Get a remote camera trigger. There are tons of options available here but I just use a Yongnuo 605 hooked up to my camera, it’s cheap and relatively reliable. My second recommendation is to use a decent focus stacking software. I’ve said this over and over but it is always worth repeating. Unless for stylistic reasons, product photos should be sharp from front to back. To achieve this, you will need focus stacking software (Photoshop, in my opinion, is not good enough). I use Helicon Focus which you can purchase, 20% off, here.
Tethered Shooting Summary
Shooting tethered can open up a new realm of possibilities for creativity. I came from a video background and have always found it far easier to scrutinize my photography when looking at a screen. You may find the same to be true. Seriously, if you’ve not tried it and you’re a little on the fence, give it a go now. I assure you, you’ll never look back.
It’s definitely more appropriate for some genres than others. I don’t expect to see wedding photographers ordering their 2nd shooters to follow them around with a laptop all day but there are many instances where it can be used. I’ve seen fashion photographers in the sea shooting tethered! You can check out Pye giving a run-down on shooting tethered with Lightroom, below.
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