For the longest time I viewed tethered capture as a nice-to-have reserved for high budget shoots and simply shyed away from it. I tried it a few times and after constantly being plagued with technical problems, I decided I'm better off sticking to my camera's LCD screen and didn't give it a second thought. Through my ignorance, little did I know how much I was actually losing out on and how much time I wasted in the process. The turning point for me came when I was forced to start shooting tethered while filming my Fashion and Beauty Photography/Retouching tutorial at PRO EDU (which coincidently released today). Approaching the whole situation with a good deal of trepidation, I quickly came to the realization that I've been overlooking a tremendous benefit that is available to me at little cost. Before we delve into the reasons why you should shoot tethered, I think it’s best to address some of the hesitations or arguments against it, as they're what kept me away from it in the first place.
- I don’t like people looking at my screen while I’m trying to get my lighting right - Simply put, stop worrying about it. We all have to work through the lighting, composition, etc. and your team already knows that. If you want to be safe, just let them know that you’re going to spend some time getting things dialed down and that what they see is just light tests. If your client is present then it’s best to have an assistant stand-in and help you get the lighting more or less set up before the model steps onto the set.
- I shoot on location and don’t have space for it - Sure, some of us may not have the luxury of a studio environment to work in, and if you can’t get a laptop set up on-location there are still other options. Fellow writers Clay Cook and Mike Kelley have written several great articles on the CamRanger which makes on location tethering simple and still gives you a lot of the benefits that traditional computer tethering does.
- It’s inconvenient - Sure, it’s more work to set up and more stuff to carry, but who said photography was about convenience? Getting a great shot takes work and it’s just another piece of the puzzle. What's more inconvienient is missing a big problem because you couldn't see it.
- It’s buggy and freezes all the time - If you’re using Lightroom to tether then yes, you’ll be plagued with non-stop issues. Ever since I switched to Capture One Pro for tethering I haven’t missed a single frame.
As you read the above, you may start realizing that the majority of your hesitations towards tethered capture are self-inflicted. We look for reasons not to use it because it just seems easier and safer not to. Hopefully some of the reasons listed below will convince you that it is indeed worth trying out and not nearly as scary as it seems.
You’ll Produce a Better Result
This most important argument for shooting tethered is in the results you’ll get at the end of your shoot. Your team is there to help you create great images but they can only fix what they see. By making the images accessible to everyone, the whole team can do their job to the best of their abilities. The stylist can see how the clothing is being lit and how it drapes, the make-up artist can watch out for tonal imbalances, hot spots or patches, the hair stylist will keep fly-away hairs in check and the model can see what poses and expressions work best. Be sure to let your team members know that the shoot is a collaborative effort and that you want everyone to solicit their input. This is important as some photographers are very closed-minded and often times team members don’t want to overstep their boundaries. By involving everyone you’re only helping yourself in the long-run.
You’ll Slow Down and Shoot Less
One thing I noticed once I started tethering is that I shoot far fewer frames than I used to. I’m able to slow down, evaluate my work and make the corrections I need to earlier, rather than relying on quantity to produce a great result. By knowing that others are watching, I’m also more motivated to compose my shots carefully, guide the model and get the best out-of-camera image I can. I can also bring the model in and easily show them which poses and expressions work and which don't and save wasted frames.
You’ll Look Less Silly
I always felt a bit awkward going through images and squinting away at the back of my camera while the models sits and waits. Somehow you don’t get that feeling when evaluating images on a large display. While this may just be my perception, it’s also driven by the fact that I’m using the right tool to make my evaluation as opposed to something barely suited to the task. If I'm working with an assistant I can have them study the images as I shoot and alert me of techical problems, or if I have a great shot, and not have to peer down every couple of frames.
Your Team and Client Can See Your Vision
When it comes to delivering a certain look, that look is partially driven by what you do in camera, but also what you do in post processing. Color grading and dynamic range adjustments can make the world of difference. Looking at the back of the camera is a poor indicator to both you and the client as to whether that vision is being met or not. Remember, your client and team members may not know anything about post processing so it’s your job to convince them that their vision is being met. The below image shows you the difference between the out of camera image and one with a few quick adjustments in Capture One Pro to bring it closer to our editorial concept. Check out my Guide to Getting Started with Capture One Pro for more information on how to make these adjustments.
It Saves you Time
While I’m a strong advocate of getting things right in-camera, the reason we spend thousands on high end cameras is to harness their benefits. By having the ability to immediately make adjustments to the raw file, I can see just how much shadow and highlight detail I have and decide whether I need to make further in-camera adjustments. If it turns out that a dark or bright area has ample detail for me to work off of in post-processing, I can save myself the trouble and time of making lighting ratio changes or additions and take advantage of the power of digital. Looking at the back of the camera, all we can do is hope that the information is there or spend extra time on set trying to get it perfect.
Another time-saver is the ability to do real time culling of my images as I’m shooting. If I know there are images that don’t work I’ll immediately flag them so that they don’t waste time down the road. Similarly, if I or my team members love a particular shot, I’ll mark it as such for later reference. Ultimately I can get through the culling phase back at my office much faster and have a feel for what the team was drawn to while we were shooting.
Finally, retouching time is dramatically reduced by eliminating issues on set. By going back to the first point I made, both myself and my team are better able to spot problem areas and quickly fix them before they are discovered down the road. Remember that a few stray hairs can mean hours of retouching time that adds no value to anyone.
It Gives you Confidence
Before shooting tethered, I was always hesitant as to whether I got “the shot” that would look fantastic. By studying the images with my raw adjustments, on a larger display and in the context of one another, I’m better able to gauge when we have the shot or if we need to keep working it. This once again goes back to the idea of shooting less. If I see a couple of standout images, I know that I can stop and move on.
Shooting to the camera, you often only have the option of saving to a single card only (some cameras excluded), which is potentially dangerous if the card fails or is lost or stolen. When shooting directly to the computer, I create a minimum of 2 copies of each file on external drives that get transported back to the office separately. This replication is easily achieved through the use of software like Carbon Copy Cloner or Folder Watch. You can even take it a step further by simultaneously syncing files to cloud based storage for critical applications.
As someone that was vehemently opposed to tethered capture for many of the above reasons, I can say that after shooting tethered through Capture One for a few months now, I would never go back to staring at my LCD screen. Once you get over your reservations and self-consciousness, you’ll gain more confidence in the images you’re producing, end up with higher quality results and wonder how you ever shot without it.