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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.