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Video: Should Photographers Use Live View When Shooting Portraits?

If you’ve ever watched behind-the-scenes (BTS) footage of Pye Jirsa taking photos, then you’ve no doubt seen him capturing portraits while using live view on his camera. It may seem a curious choice for a professional photographer, but there’s a good reason for it (actually TWO great reasons)!

In this article, Pye shares when and why he chooses to use live view to capture images, as well as when the viewfinder is the best option.

Reason #1 to Use Live View: Focusing Accuracy

Whenever Pye shoots on his Canon 5D Mark IV, he often uses live view to capture portraits. The reason for this has to do with the focusing accuracy in regards to the camera system being used.

live view portrait sessions 01

The 5D Mark IV includes a special focusing feature called Dual Pixel Autofocus (DPAF). which only works in live view and uses an intensely accurate pixel-based focusing system. Using live view, all one has to do is tap any point on the screen where the focus should be, and the autofocus system responds with tack sharp images. This is particularly useful when shooting at wide open apertures with prime lenses.

live view portrait session 02

Through the viewfinder, however, Pye found the camera system would often produce back or front-focused images in which the focus point would be slightly off from the intended target. At a wide open aperture on a prime lens, slightly off can make a big difference.

The accuracy and effectiveness of the DPAF when using live view became the number one reason for using live view on most of Pye’s shoots, even if it DID make him look like a noob.

Live View Demonstration

To support the notion that live view produces more accurately focused images, Pye captured a few quick shots of the video crew using the Canon 5D Mark IV and the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 lens.

live view focus accuracy demo 05

With the touch shutter enabled in live view mode, Pye was able to simply tap on the LCD monitor and capture multiple tack sharp images in a row, despite using a wide open aperture (f/1.4) on the Sigma lens. The live view system ensures accuracy because it is verifying the sharpness of pixels and not using a mechanical or cross-type autofocus like you’d use when shooting through the viewfinder.

It’s worth noting that this reason may not hold up in the future because viewfinder and live view focusing are identical in mirrorless cameras. This is why Pye exclaimed earlier that it matters which camera system is being used.

[Related Reading: One Simple Trick to Better Compositions in Your Photography]

Reason #2 to Use Live View: Exposure & Color Verification

live view to dial in exposure settings and white balance

Whether shooting with live view or through the viewfinder for a session, Pye always starts with live view to help dial in his exposure and verify color accuracy. While in live view mode, Pye shows his histogram and dials in all of his compositional details, including exposure settings (aperture/depth of field, shutter speed, and ISO) and white balance. Live view makes it easy to quickly check and adjust all of these settings in real time on the LCD monitor.

live view to photograph portraits 07

In the past, photographers had to use spot metering, placing the spot over areas on the subject’s skin for exposure purposes. This method can result in making several adjustments and taking multiple test shots before getting it right in camera. Live view provides a much quicker option so that you can start shooting sooner.

When to Use the Viewfinder

So, when does Pye actually shoot through the viewfinder?

live view viewfinder works best for fast pace action

In a recent shoot (pre-COVID-19 lockdown), Pye took the Canon 1DX Mark III to photograph Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at the school he attends. The advanced focusing system in the camera, paired with fast and sharp lenses like the 24-70mm f/2.8 or 70-200mm f/2.8 (which Pye often uses for photojournalistic work), made shooting through the viewfinder a safe option that rendered accurate results. The 1DX Mark III actually worked well with a wide open prime lens during this shoot as well.

Typically, when shooting in fast-paced environments, Pye prefers to look through the viewfinder for added compositional control. Live view is more convenient on many occasions, but the viewfinder wins out for shooting at speed when the action unfolds quickly.

[Related Reading: One Simple Technique to Make Your Subjects Stand Out (With BTS)]

Conclusion

At the end of the day, it comes down to this:

  • Know your gear: Whether you should shoot through the viewfinder or with live view to get accurate focus depends on the camera and lenses you’re using.
  • Use live view to set up shots: Live view makes it easier to see what you’re going to get before you ever take a shot.
  • If autofocus systems are equal, use live view, especially in fast-paced environments: The viewfinder provides greater compositional control when shooting at speed.

We hope you enjoyed this video and lesson on when and why you should use live view to capture portraits – catch our next episode of Mastering Your Craft on Adorama’s YouTube channel next week! If you want to catch up on all the episodes, make sure you check out our playlist!