I love to shoot tethered whenever I can. It’s the most successful way to create real collaboration on set, and clients are more engaged when they can see what’s happening on a big screen. Depending on the environment and the demands of the production, I’ll choose between a couple of tethering approaches.
In the Studio
In the studio or in more controlled environments where the camera and computer will not move much, I will generally use a wired connection. Wired tethering offers the fastest transfer between camera and computer — there’s almost no delay between firing the shutter and seeing the images on screen.
The only downside is the cable. It can get yanked out of the camera port easily, or wiggle loose just enough to break the physical connection and often times the software needs to be restarted before it will recognize the camera connection again. Using a cable retention device, where the cable connects to the camera, helps minimize the movement of the cord and can prevent it from inadvertently coming unplugged. There is also a version for the computer end, which is somewhat less critical, but helps make sure that the USB cord isn’t accidentally pulled out.
The most important piece of equipment for wired tethered photography is the cord itself. It’s really worth the extra money to get a good quality, extra-long tethering cable, that has plated connections, coatings to reduce signal noise, and a core that provides the best possible transmission.
Out of the Studio
With all of that said, I shoot out on location almost all the time. I have tried (many, many times) the scenario above, but when working outdoors, I found that being connected by cables to a laptop was too limiting for my shooting style. I searched for quite some time for a reliable wireless tethering system and finally landed on the CamRanger Wireless Tethering System. The CamRanger is a small device that plugs into the camera’s USB terminal and then can sit in the hot shoe or anywhere you care to put it within range of the cord that connects it.
The CamRanger creates its own network so you don’t have to be connected to wi-fi and wirelessly transmits your JPEG or raw captures via the CamRanger software. If you want to, you can monitor the images, control the camera (change ISO, shutter speed, and f-stop), and fire the shutter through the software. You can also watch Live View on your computer monitor.
I import all of my work into Adobe Lightroom, so when shooting with the CamRanger and CamRanger software, I like to use the Auto Import feature of Lightroom. This way we’re ingesting the images into Lightroom right away, making selections and flagging our favorites right there at the shoot. Doing this on set takes a big step out of the post processing workflow and I find it to be a great time saver.
The one drawback is lag time. Unlike wired tethering, there’s a delay of 15-30 seconds (or more depending on file size) while the images transfer to the computer. So, by the time the client is responding to the images I captured a minute or two ago, I might have already made changes to lighting or composition. The delay takes some getting used to, but I think it’s a very worthwhile tradeoff for what you gain in the process.
Sometimes, when out on location, I shoot with the CamRanger and an iPad, which is a really great, light and elegant way to travel. The raw images are saved to the card and the images that are sent to the iPad are smaller JPEGs, so they show up on screen more quickly than the laptop mode mentioned above.
Even though the files are smaller, I find that it’s sometimes just the right solution, especially when there’s no Digital Tech (DIT) on set. The downside is that shooting to the camera’s memory card requires the additional step of transferring the images from the card to the laptop and any images that were flagged as favorites on set have to be re-identified. For me, it’s not the most efficient workflow.
Shooting with the laptop for wireless tethered shooting integrates seamlessly with my studio practices, and it’s certainly the safest workflow in terms of protection from data loss. I follow the 3-2-1 back up rule, which advocates maintaining 3 copies of your data saved onto 2 different media types where 1 copy is kept offsite, so by shooting to the camera’s card and a laptop with an external drive attached, you have the 3-2-1 redundancy needed to keep files safe from damage, corruption, loss, etc. Just make sure that you don’t leave all three copies in one place at any given time!
Back at the studio, I work from the Lightroom catalog already created on set, and simply drag the primary set of files in the folder from my laptop’s temporary working folder onto my Drobo, an amazingly easy to expand RAID — or Redundant Array of Independent Disks — that keeps your data safe from drive failure by writing it across multiple drives. I typically do this right away so that my laptop’s hard drive doesn’t get too full. The secondary backup on the external drive we made at the shoot stays “as is” and gets stored offsite. The third backup happens when the Drobo folder containing jobs in progress gets backed up using Apple’s Time Machine, and it’s now safe to reformat the CF card for the next shoot!
Learn more about wired and wireless tethered photography with mirrorless, DSLR, and medium format cameras in The Ultimate Tethering Guide, a free eight chapter downloadable PDF from ASMP and Tether Tools.
Rhea Anna shoots narrative based, conceptual lifestyle stories in the still frame and in motion. Rhea’s lifestyle imagery is used by businesses and brands that inspire.
Images Copyright Rhea Anna and Aaron Ingrao.