Do you prefer to shoot tethered? Do you even know what it means to shoot tethered? How do you decide if you should shoot tethered? It wasn’t that long ago that shooting tethered was reserved for photographers who had big budgets, assistants and super high end gear. Now pretty much all pro cameras and even a lot of prosumer cameras will allow you to shoot tethered and you don’t need a ton of expensive accessories or software to do it.
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What is shooting tethered?
Shooting tethered is just the process of connecting your camera to a computer, generally with a usb cord, and having your images bypass the camera’s memory card, download, and save directly to your computer’s hard drive – while you are shooting.
Shooting tethered is similar to using wi-fi to transfer your files from the camera to a computer, with the primary differences being the wire and the fact that tethered shooting is MUCH faster than wi-fi. Wi-fi speeds don’t come close to USB cables… yet.
Why shoot tethered?
Today’s digital cameras are using so many megapixels and providing us with so much detail that it is tremendously helpful to be able to review your images on a larger computer screen instead of the small LCD on the back of your camera. Shooting tethered gives you the ability to fine-tune your image during the shoot using software like Adobe Lightroom, or Capture One Pro. This is not only a big time saver but it allows you greater control because your computer’s monitor can be calibrated to match the final use of your photos, much more so than the camera’s LCD can.
Shooting tethered is also a plus if you are working with clients and want them to be able to view the images as you shoot. Software like Capture One Pro even allows you to launch a web server from your laptop that will allow you to hand the client an iPad and let them view the images in real time, from a distance, so that they aren’t hovering over your workstation.
Also, most software that allows tethering also allows you to control your camera from the computer. This can be extremely helpful if you are previewing and triggering the camera for product shots, macro, low-light and time lapse scenarios.
Should YOU shoot tethered?
Tethering is not for everyone. A photojournalist in the field, a sports photographer, a photographer shooting toddlers are not going to find tethering to be advantageous in most of their work. Location work in general is more challenging when tethered, but many photographers who have the budget for assistants will tether on location for the additional benefits that it provides. So it is not uncommon for Fashion, Architectural, Landscape and even astrophotographers to shoot tethered.
For me, I shoot tethered in the studio about 90% of the time. The main reason for not shooting tethered would be the few circumstances that I am either in a hurry or have a situation where I need to be able to move quickly around my model during the shoot.
On location, I generally only shoot tethered if I am working on a client project and the client is willing to pay the cost of hiring a digital assistant and digital cart for the shoot.
What do you need to shoot tethered?
The bare minimum is four things….
- A camera that supports tethering
- A laptop with a USB connection.
- Software that supports tethering. (Be sure to read this article to learn more about software for tethered shooting)
- USB chord to connect your camera and computer. Yes, different cameras use different types of plugs.
It is important to know that Passive cables over 16ft. (5m) in length, for the purpose of data transmission, may result in signal errors and/or noise and are not recommended. If you need to be more than 16ft from your computer when shooting, you can add an active extension cable to allow for longer tethering distances without worrying about signal errors or corrupt data transfers. Up to 4 USB active cables and 1 passive 15ft (4.6m) USB cable can be daisy chained together for a total of 80ft (24m) before any drop-off in signal or quality is detected.
Just be sure to secure the connections so that the cables don’t pull apart while you are shooting. You can get Cable locks like this Tether Tools Jerk Stopper Extension Lock for about nine dollars or a simple piece of Gaffers tape works very well.
My personal choice for cables is to use a short 20” right angle cord coming out of my camera and then a 16ft active extension cable to reach my computer.
That brings me to the real reason for this article: the technology that cameras use to shoot tethered is flawed. Wireless would be best, but current transfer speeds are way too slow and most of the wireless transfer apps are clunky and poorly designed. Unfortunately, camera manufacturers took the easy way out and decided to use existing computer cords and plugs and simply install data ports into cameras. That seems like fair logic since today’s cameras are actually computers that take pictures, but in practice… you wouldn’t walk your laptop all over the place with usb cords dangling from it, mainly because they would pull out or you would trip over them and the list of potential disasters goes on.
So instead, photographers suffer through tiny little computer plugs that pull out of the camera easily and long wires that are great to trip over and then pull the plug out of the camera, often times damaging your camera’s data plug.
If you are already shooting tethered, you are probably using or have used these bright orange cables from a company called Tether Tools. Tether Tools was founded in 2008 and is pretty much considered the go-to supplier of tethering gear and accessories, which you can find on Amazon.
I am sorry to say that I have always been a very frustrated Tether Tools customer. I have tried their straight cords as well as their angled cords and they never stay securely in place on my Nikon Cameras. Tether Tools does make a little gadget called a jerk stopper, but unfortunately that still doesn’t prevent the cords from falling out.
Finally last fall, I had the chance to speak with a Tether Tools rep at the PhotoPlus Expo in New York and their answer was to blame Nikon. The rep claims that Nikon uses a shorter data port which prevents the cords from seating securely. Maybe this is true, but it definitely wasn’t a solution to my problem and sounds more like an excuse, as we are talking about one of the largest camera brands out there.
Then while I was at the WPPI show in Las Vegas I stumbled upon a guy sitting in the corner of one of the camera store booths and he had this little blue gadget attached to the bottom of a camera with a wire sticking out. I only noticed it because as I walked by he picked the camera up by the wire.
The product is called TetherBLOCK. In short, TetherBLOCK allows you to work with thick, medium sized or even thin right angle USB cords. You run the cord through the TetherBLOCK and then screw the TetherBLOCK into your camera’s tripod socket and now you have a secure cable connection that won’t pull out or fall out and insures you that you’re not going to damage your camera’s data port. You can get one on Amazon here.
TetherBLOCK wasn’t created by a big company – it was created by a California-based photographer named David Blattel. David is a commercial advertising photographer who is probably best known for his annual Harley Davidson Calendars.
The catalyst for TetherBLOCK happened on the very first day that David worked with a digital camera. During the shoot, he tripped over the tether cable, instantly damaging the camera connection. After finding out the cost of repair, he never had that camera fixed. Instead, David teamed up with a friend who owns a machine shop and with input from a few other photographers David developed TetherBLOCK.
TetherBLOCK’s simplicity is what makes it so brilliant. Weighing in at just over two ounces and made from a single block of high-grade aircraft aluminum there are two versions of the TetherBLOCK. The TetherBLOCK MC comes with both 1/4” and 3/8” threads and also has two additional 1/4-20 threads for mounting video rigging and accessories.
The TetherBLOCK QR Plus is designed to fit directly into any Arca-Swiss compatible quick release tripod head, and has a sliding screw channel that allows for perfect centering of the base on your camera.
Both TetherBLOCKs come with non-slip friction pads that allow you to attach the TetherBLOCK to the bottom of your camera and use it without the block sliding around.
The blocks have different sized channels, depending on the thickness of your cord. You weave the cord through the channels, leaving just enough to reach your camera’s data port. The TetherBLOCK supports USB, Firewire, Audio, HDMI and many other cable types.
The units currently sell for just $89 for the TetherBLOCK MC and $99 for the TetherBLOCK QR Plus.
So there you have it: an awesome and simple solution to a very big problem for photographers who want to shoot tethered.
Until next time, gang, be sure to remember that your best shot is your next shot. And if you shoot tethered, you will see it bigger and faster. So remember: keep learning, keep thinking, and keep shooting. Adios!