Firstly, for the uninitiated shooting ‘tethered’ is a method whereby the images are transferred instantly (mostly) to a computer/laptop/tablet. This can be done wirelessly by way of various gizmos that act as transmitters (more on those a little later) and in its most simple form a very long USB cable which plugs directly to your camera.
A great idea and generally extremely useful. The screens we have on the back of our digital cameras are without exception too small to show if we ultimately achieved sharpness, perfect exposure and correct colour. Sending them over to a device with a bigger screen on which we can see each image more clearly is a no brainer, isn’t it?
However (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?) there are downsides. I have tethered with a 12ft USB cable connected to my Mac for years. Using bundled Canon software (I’m sure all manufacturers have their own version) or via Lightroom or Aperture, you can shoot, check and edit in one fell swoop. Heck you can even change the settings and shoot remotely on your computer!
So why am I reluctant to do so? Well basically it’s the clients. Let me explain….
The first time I shot tethered was (a long time ago) when I was just getting into shooting in RAW format (and yes that’s another topic I will be going into at a later date). Keen to impress another new client, I was showing off this magical ‘tethered shooting’, using Canon’s own software. This was going down very well and the client seemed suitably impressed…..that is until I started shooting. As my client eagerly watched the computer screen her face seemed to drop and I knew something was wrong. Stopping the shoot to have a look myself it was instantly apparent as to what was concerning my client. Each photo looked soft and washed out. There was no sharpness or punch. Basically the images looked slightly out of focus. For a second (which felt like an hour) I was rattled. Had I knocked the Autofocus switch? Had I missed my focus point? Had I become a numpty?
Then I remembered that RAW images do not come with any of the spit and polish that jpegs have. There is no sharpening for a start. Of course they would look dull and soft! That was all very well, but now I had to explain that to my client who, seeing that I was clearly flustered, took some convincing. I had to process a sample shot to regain her trust and after that the shoot was completed without any more drama.
So the moral of this story is to make sure you’re fully prepared before you do a ‘live’ shoot for your client. Make sure you are confident and aware of the possibilities. The problem is that this is the tip of the iceberg. In preparation for a shoot you discuss and plan with the client. You agree a game plan and as a photographer you know what your end result should be and how to achieve it. Letting clients see the images live as you’re tethering can really be a double edged sword. Yes they can verbally sign off the images as you go, leaving you safe in the knowledge that they are happy. But more often than not they can start to interfere and even change the plan mid-shoot because they either see something new or they simply can’t visualise the end results. At best they will slow you down, at worst they will completely alter the trajectory of the entire project.
Having said all that there is some really nifty hardware out there which can help you tether. My favourite at the moment is Eyefi. These are SD cards that can create their own network with your computer/tablet so that you can see and transfer your images as you shoot. The best application I can think of is when you’re shooting on location where you can make sure your images are sharp and as they should be by monitoring them on your tablet as you shoot. The only downside at the moment is that you have to buy a more expensive ‘Pro’ version to transfer RAW files and even then it’s usually impractically slow. However, as a means of checking your images on a larger screen on the go – it’s brilliant.
But remember people – be careful! 😉