I’m a big advocate of shooting tethered into Lightroom. Great synergies result when I send images from my DSLR straight into Lightroom. Even on location shoots, I’ll tie my camera into my laptop. Here’s a run down of the benefits of tethered shooting – for both photographers and their clients.
Hardware & Software For Tethered Shooting
Like many shooters, you might be surprised to learn that you already have all (or most) of the gear needed for tethered shooting. [In a future post, I’ll give you the details on how to set it up.]
- Digital SLR – Virtually any DSLR with a data port and external control software can be used for tethered shooting.
- Lightroom – Built by Adobe from the ground up for digital photography. In the past six months, it has become the backbone of my digital workflow.
- Data Transfer Cable – Most DSLRs come with a data transfer cable (although I’ve since purchased longer and more robust cables).
- Software for Camera Control (“Capture”) – This is the software by which your computer can actually control the camera’s settings. Canon provides Canon EOS Utility with their DSLRs. If you’re a Nikon shooter, you’ll have to get Nikon Camera Control Pro 2 [30-day trial here]. If you’re an Olympus shooter, you have to get Olympus Studio [30-day trial here].
How You’ll Benefit By Shooting Tethered Into Lightroom
- Precise Evaluation Of The Exposure – Even if you’re shooting RAW, the histogram on your camera’s LCD is still derived from JPEG data (think “close but not perfect info”). If you’re exposing so that the histogram is as far as you can to the right without clipping highlights, the LCD on your camera still might be too conservative. The histogram in Lightroom is built on the RAW data and is far more accurate. It’s also a heck of a lot easier to see. Further, you can use the exposure slider in Lightroom to determine the correct exposure setting for your camera. When evaluating a test image in Lightroom, if you slide the Exposure setting up .66 so that the histogram hovers just below the threshold of highlight clipping, you should open your aperture by 2/3 of a stop (as in open from f/8 to f/6.3) for your next test shot. Shoot again and evaluate the new histogram.
- Seeing The Exact Point Of Focus – If you’re shooting for minimum or selective depth-of-field, such as with macro or food photography, it’s far easier to immediately view the image on a large monitor rather than the camera’s LCD. Being able to zoom in to 100% moments after the image is made is a great help. I’ve joked that shooting tethered is like strapping a huge magnifying glass to the back of my camera.
Power-Chimping (above) or Tethered Into Lightroom (below)
- Evaluate The Gamut of Color-Critical Subjects – If you’re creating color-critical images that have to fit into a reduced color space (like CMYK for the printing of catalogs and magazines), tethered shooting enables real-time, soft-proofing during the shoot. That’s a fancy way of saying that if it’s really important to get the exact shade of your client’s red dress to print, during a tethered shoot you can determine if its vibrant colors fall within the printable range of CMYK colors. [For more info on color management, read this post.]
- Create Job Specific File Names – Forget about names like “_MG_0319.CR2”. It’s easy to configure Lightroom to automatically rename your files as they come in. “Client_Date_Subject_0319.CR2” is far easier to understand in the days and weeks after the shoot. Renaming the files at the time of capture assures consistency throughout the shoot.
- Add Detailed Copyright Data – Lightroom will embed complete copyright and contact information as your images are imported. Yes, you can do this later… but, having it done automatically as the images come in is more efficient.
- Append Job Specific Keywords On The Fly – Lightroom will append specific keywords as the images come in. This is very helpful on long shoots where you’ll likely want to view groups of images by subject, set number or another criterion for a quick evaluation.
- Immediate Data Redundancy – Most DLSRs will record the image to the camera’s card and simultaneously send the data down the cable. So, even on a field shoot, with nothing more than your camera, a cable and a laptop, you can have immediate data redundancy.
- With Tabletop Work, Tethered Is Far More Comfortable – If you’re shooting tabletop or some other static set where the camera is bolted to a tripod, you can save your back by driving the camera from your desktop rather than from behind the tripod. Once the frame is composed, you can change the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, metering pattern, etc. from your keyboard.
How Shooting Tethered Into Lightroom Benefits Your Clients
- Client Confidence – If your art director and client are on set, you can keep them at a distance by tethering into a long cable and configuring Lightroom to show each capture as a single, high-resolution image on screen as they come in. That way, they can see the images without standing over your shoulder.
- Closed Workflow – When shooting tethered on location or in your studio, your clients will view the images on your calibrated monitor rather than on their (often lousy) office monitor. This is invaluable when matching colors to products is critical.
- X/Y Comparisons – You can ease your client’s frustrations with sensory overload by presenting only two image candidates at a time and have her choose one of the two. Then bring up another image for comparison and have her choose the best of those two. For clients who are not professional photo editors, this is a very easy way to select the hero images.
- Keep Track of Client Selects – Get your client’s approval and flag her selects before the set is struck. Being able to quickly pull up a gallery of client selects will help you and your client maintain image consistency over a long shoot.
- Create Web Galleries… Quickly – With Lightroom, it’s easy to create and upload web galleries. Your client’s associates (or her clients) can review progress of? the shoot via web galleries – while the shoot is still underway.
Tethered Shooting Is Not So Great When…
- The Subject Is Running – There are maximum lengths for cables (USB = 80′ with active extensions, Firewire = 120′ with powered hub). If your subject is moving beyond the range of the cable, you’ll have to make your computer rig mobile or you’ll have to limit your range of shooting.
- You’re Shooting Faster Than The Camera Can Transfer Data – If you’re shooting like a machine gun, it’s probable that the camera won’t be able to transfer the data fast enough. In this situation, it’s possible to do your test shots (for exposure etc.) while tethered, uncable and then shoot to the camera’s card.