Photography / Tips and Solutions

An Introduction to Tethered Shooting

         

At its most basic, tethered shooting involves connecting your camera to your computer as you shoot. You’ve likely seen it in some behind-the-scenes video for a professional studio shoot, or you just have a friend who swears it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Tethering is a shooting technique that can benefit many a photographer’s workflow significantly, though upon first hearing of it, the idea of tethering can be something that first requires a bit of education. Hopefully, this introduction will help get you started.

Why should you Tether?

This is usually the first question asked by the beginner when tethering, as the extra equipment or simply, the need to be plugged in, can feel unnecessarily restrictive and unnatural, but fortunately, there are a few very simple answers:

• Immediate transfer of images for editing and review on a properly calibrated screen.

• Remote control over a camera that involves difficult positioning, or for a scene where the photographer needs to be away from the camera.

• Simplified image file organization without the need to download after a shoot.

• Larger preview screen with a full-sized image for ensuring accurate focus.

• Ability to work with clients and assistants for collaborative pieces.

These are just a few of the many reasons photographers choose to tether, but they should give you a good sense of the many benefits of the technique.

How to Tether

As I indicated earlier, the simplest way to get started is to take the data cable supplied with many cameras and plug it into your computer, after connecting the other end to the camera itself. Some modern cameras also have built-in Wi-Fi for wireless tethering, but we will stick to the basics here. While trying to shoot comfortably, many will find the supplied cable a bit short. In this case, some manufacturers, such as the aptly named TetherTools, have their own solutions. These alternative cables offer length and color options that can greatly benefit your set, especially if you pick a bright orange option that ensures high visibility to prevent others involved in the production from crushing your cable or accidentally tripping over it. Also, a JerkStopper can prevent damage to a camera’s data port, caused by the abrupt removal of a connected cable, should anything or anyone suddenly pull it.

In a studio, or otherwise consistent shooting environment, a powerful desktop computer is a good choice for pairing with a camera. If you require overall portability, a laptop has the advantage of being inherently easy to move, in addition to being powered by its own battery. Tethered shooters who need to be mobile can also obtain specifically designed laptop surfaces that can be placed close to their shooting position. This is especially useful if they are working alone and managing every aspect of the shoot, or if they wish to create a close, tightly focused setting where taking one’s attention away from the subject must be minimized. For this, one common solution is the Aero Traveler, which is easily placed onto a 1/4"-20 tripod head, 3/8" tripod mount, 5/8" stud studio stand, or an Arca-style mounting attachment for placement nearly anywhere on set.

Tethering Software

With everything plugged in, the next item to consider is software. For many, this could just mean the software included with the camera. Most manufacturers bundle some basic tethering program that provides limited camera control, along with the ability to transfer files directly to a folder on your computer. If you are looking for more, or want better integration with your post-production workflow, stand-alone software is the best bet.

There are currently two top dogs in the tethered shooting world: Capture One from Phase One, and Lightroom, from Adobe. Most people will recognize these as their standard raw file conversion applications, but inside these capable pieces of software are advanced tethering tools. Capture One is more well known in this regard, having been initially developed as a tethering tool and then evolving into the editing suite it is now. Lightroom has enjoyed a larger user base for editing and file management, but has integrated advanced tethering features over its several past iterations. Either is a perfectly fine choice, and it is likely best to pick the one with which you feel most comfortable editing.

Benefit from a Large Live View

You may realize that this “before you start” guide is much longer than the average “go out and start shooting” checklist, and that can be a huge hurdle for some, but if tethering isn’t for you, it isn’t for you. If you did manage to make it this far, you will get to reap many rewards from your effort.

Immediately, you can benefit from a large live view image from your camera on your computer display. From here, you should also be able to view and control the settings from your camera, including shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and usually more. This larger display is the first big bonus, but now it’s what you can do in this window that is the most beneficial. Here you can deploy tools, such as masking, or create your own marker lines over the image as you shoot, allowing you to match shots easily, ensure proper composition for a specific publishing requirement, and more. You will also be able to near-instantly see a full-size rendering of the image when a photo is taken. There is so much more available, as well.

Early setup can alleviate numerous editing hassles (depending on your software of course), as users can take one sample image, perform basic white balance, cropping, exposure correction, and then have all of these adjustments applied to subsequent images. This also means you no longer have to hope that what you sample on the camera’s rear screen is good enough and, if you are working with clients, they will be able to see a more accurate representation of the final product instead of completely unedited raw files. To facilitate this, fairly abundant and consistent lighting in the shooting environment can be essential for the viewing benefit of everyone involved, making studio work well suited to this style of working.

After the Shoot

Going back to your images is made much faster now that you have integrated the step of transferring files to your computer with the each press of the shutter. Also, throughout the shoot, your assistant or clients could easily “star” their favorites, giving you a Selects folder to work through right away. And, if you applied corrections and crops early on, your starting point for which images to edit is placed farther along, dramatically speeding up your entire workflow. By now, you are out of the tethering world, so I’ll leave it here, as many of you already have your own post-capture workflows.

Hopefully, you have learned something about tethered shooting, and that it is not as daunting a task as many beginners believe. If you haven’t tried it out, I highly recommend you plug in your camera and see if it can work for you, as the benefits you can gain can dramatically improve your entire workflow.

Discussion 10

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I'm researching all the information I need to venture into the world of on-site photography (mainly school photos to start with). Is this the kind of software that will allow me to capture the photo, store it in a folder with its own file name, and (most importantly) with some sort of template will be able to import each individual photo onto an order form that I can then print out on site to give out on the day?

Tim

Hello Tim,

I'm not entirely clear on your exact requirements, but I will say that Capture One is likely your best bet. It has excellent options for organization (including naming and location) for import of photos while shooting, can be used for image editing and development, with the ability to crop and use presets as the images are shot, and can be set up with different "recipes" for export, as well as handling printing. I would recommend with all software that you download the free trials available on the manufacturers' websites which usually last for about a month, plenty of time to see if it fits your needs.

I've never shot tethered, but I have a question-since I am shooting Raw, Canon 5D mkII, what image is shown on the computer screen, and is it stored on the computer?  The same question would apply to a wireless connection to an ipad; my cards are bigger than the total ipad storage.  Thanks for your time.

Foster

Hello Foster,

If you are working with either Canon's software or another software such as Capture One or Lightroom (and you camera is set to RAW), the file sent and stored on your computer should be the RAW image. For an iPad this is trickier since natively it does not support RAW files. This depends entirely on the app you are using and whether it can import RAW images or just JPEGs. Usually it is just JPEGs in order to save space and speed up wireless transfer times.

Hope this helps.

You have backwards the comparison of capabilities of Lightroom and camera-proprietary tethered shooting, at least for Canon cameras. Lightroom gives you only a shutter button and a view of basic exposure settings - no control of anything but the shutter button. It's the most limited, simplified tether capability possible.

The Canon Utility program that has been being delivered on CD for over a decade with their EOS cameras is capable of the most detailed remote control imaginable. You can control almost every aspect of shooting, even to remotely adjusting focus. It has an on-screen quick view that's faster than LR; and ways to organize including where the file is stored - hard drive only, or card or both. It's thoroughly mature and often updated, whereas Lightroom has had the same mundane, button-only capability for many versions.

Using the Canon software together with Lightroom set to its autoimport function can be the best of both worlds.

I suggest if you actually use both, you'll be surprised as well as wanting to revise this text.

Hello Don,

Thanks for your clarification on Lightroom tethering. To be honest, I use Capture One for my capture and raw development so my experience with LR is limited. However, while you may not have great camera controls (or any except for shutter release) it still does have the ability to automatically apply corrections and other settings when you set it up. Your solution to use both the manufacturer's software and LR together is very useful. I'm really glad you like the Canon software, unfortunately, my experience with manufacturer's software hasn't been as good (crashes, bugs, and compatibility issues), which makes it hard for me to recommend it for consistent/demanding use. I would recommend Capture One, as it offers everything in one convenient package, including raw development, complete camera control, excellent live view, and more. I will be making some updates to the article to reflect your input. Thank you.

Thank you for the insight on tethering. Something I haven't done yet, but considering to try this summer during our softball league play. Also, can these tips also be applied to taking videos?

Thanks

Hi Newburgh,

Thank you for reading! Tethering for a sporting event is something I have never done, but good luck and make sure to test everything before you go out and shoot. Unfortunately, most of this is not applicable to video. Video has much different concerns, though it can almost all be handled with an external recorder such as an Atomos Shogun or Video Devices PIX-E5, which can take in an HDMI feed and show/record the footage while also providing features such as LUTs, magnification, focus peaking, and more.

I love wirelessly tethering with my CamRanger! I take photos from my camera and then they wirelessly transfer to an iPad and Mac.  The client has the iPad and stars their favorites.  This system works much better than having a cable! 

Hi Katy,

Wireless tethering is a very viable solution nowadays, especially since many cameras have it built in. Personally, and many fellow photographers agree, I think a cable is much more reliable. Also, in Capture One you can set up an iPad on the same network as your computer and automatically have a feed sent from the computer to the iPad in almost real time. I have used this setup many times and find it the best way to work. But, if you require or prefer wireless that is now a great way to do it. As an introduction, I would advise new tetherers try wired connections first and then invest in wireless systems second if needed.

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