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Photography

Direct to Desktop: Camera Tethering in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Have you ever seen a high-powered fashion photography studio setup on TV? Maybe on a reality show, or a makeup ad: medium format digital cameras hooked up to fancy editing bays on wheels, sending photos to the screen on the fly. While a setup like this can cost more than a new car, you likely already have the tools to put together a more affordable - and every bit as useful - version for yourself.

In this tutorial, you'll learn all about setting up camera tethering with Lightroom and how to maximize the power of a tethered workflow.

What You'll Need

It doesn't take much to tether! You will need:

  • a supported camera
  • an appropriately long USB cable for your camera
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

The Benefits of Camera Tethering

Tethering offers several big benefits, all of which increase your speed, flexibility and accuracy in a photography studio environment.

The most important advantage is the ability to see your images on screen. Instead of being confined to the camera's tiny LCD, the images will come from your camera and through to Lightroom nearly instantly. If your screen is well calibrated you'll be able to review color accurately. Even if your screen isn't calibrated, having the nice big screen to work on is a joy.

Tethering the camera to your computer sends your image files directly to the hard drive, without the eject-and-transfer dance of memory cards. If you have a camera with a high megapixel count (or small memory cards) this means not having to worry if your card is running out of space.

You'll also be able to apply image processing and add metadata to the files quickly, as they are made. Depending on your style of working, you'll often be able to flag, star, keyword and pick your keepers as you photograph, saving you from the time-consuming reviewing stage in post-production.

Tethering setup
The exciting thing about setting up tethering is that you probably already have the tools to do so. With a camera, cable, and computer, you can easily start shooting directly to your hard drive. Photo by Forrest Lane.

Simple and Affordable Tethered Setup

You probably already have the tools you need to tether your camera to a computer. With a supported camera, cable, and Lightroom, you can tether your camera with just a few minutes of setup.

Although many cameras are supported by Lightroom, there's a chance that you may have compatibility issues with older cameras and newer versions of Lightroom. Make sure to check Adobe's compatibility list to find out if your camera is supported.

For this tutorial, I'm using a Canon Digital Rebel T1i/500d (my usual Canon 5D classic isn't supported under Lightroom 5) and Lightroom 5 on Mac OS X.

Getting Tethered

After you've confirmed that you have the tools you need to tether, open Lightroom and connect your camera. Make sure the camera is powered on. Connect it to your computer and choose File > Tethered Capture > Start Tethered Capture.

Start Tethered Capture
To get started with tethered capture, simply navigate to File > Tethered Capture > Start Tethered Capture.

After starting up the tethering session, you'll see a number of options to customize the way that images are copied to your computer. This screen has a lot of power to modify the way your images come in, so let's take a look:

Tethered capture options
The tethered capture window provides options for how to import images on the fly.
  • Session Name:  This is simple; give your tethered session a name to separate it in your Lightroom catalog.
  • Naming: Lightroom offers many options to customize the naming scheme of images as they are imported. The dropdown templates allow for naming files based on capture time, or custom rules. In this case, I've built my own naming rule, "watch photos-###" and Lightroom automatically names the files created during the tethering session.
  • Destination: Choose a folder for the images you capture to be sorted into.
  • Information: Add metadata presets and keywords to all of the images captured.

Once you've setup the rules you want to apply to tethered images, you'll find a new control bar that appears in the Library module, where you'll conduct your tethered session. This bar reads out the settings selected on your camera in real time.

At this point, you can simply press the shutter button on your camera to make the latest image appear on the film strip. With just a couple of seconds lag, tethering even on an entry level camera via USB is a totally usable experience.

Tethering Controls

There are several features on the tethered capture bar. First, you can press the large white circle button on the right side of the toolbar to capture an image. If your camera is on a tripod or out of reach in a controlled setup you can fire the shutter with this button and eliminate camera shake.

Tethered Capture Preset
One amazing feature of tethered capture is the option to apply presets on the fly while capturing images. If you are attempting to simulate a "finished image" then tethered presets are an amazing step toward that.

One more really powerful feature is the Develop Settings dropdown. When you click it, you can choose from a selection of Lightroom presets. These presets will automatically apply to each captured image. As always, you can undo this preset in the Develop module and revert the image to its original state.

The Power of Tethering in Practice

Tethering is a surprisingly powerful tool for getting that one perfect image. Product photography, still-life, and fashion photography are the most suited to tethered workflows. Macrophotography, scientific, and automated can imaging processes also benefit from tethering.

Product Photography

For product photographers, the essence of the job is to perfect every pixel and detail of the product. When you're tethered to a larger display, you can iterate and change your lighting setup frame by frame and get more precise feedback.

Fashion Photography

High fashion photography calls for attention to your models above all. When you're in the moment of providing directions and feedback, waiting for the perfect pose and moment, the last thing you want to think about are the precise technical details.

That's why fashion photographers can benefit so greatly from a tethered setup. With an assistant providing feedback and technical suggestions based upon the tethered preview, the photographer is freed to fully engage with the model.

Macro, Micro, and Scientific Applications

Similar to product photography, macro photography needs a lot of precision. In most macro, microscopic, and scientific situations, extremely shallow depth of field is used and precise manual focus is required. Tethering is great for applications where it is difficult to judge by eye or impossible to operate the camera by hand.

Working with Tear Sheets

If you're trying to envision the way an image will appear in a printed product or web property, tethering can help cut out steps as well. Having it on my laptop immediately can help me simulate the final product without the steps of copying images via memory card.

Wrapping Up

Tethering your camera to Lightroom is an easy to use feature that can give you a professional workflow with the tools that you already have.

Recap

  1. Connect your camera to your computer and choose File > Tethered Capture > Start Tethered Capture.
  2. Set up your session and check your settings
  3. Capture at will!

Recommendations

If you enjoyed this tutorial, check out these Adobe Lightroom tutorials:

As I demonstrated above, this technique is a great fit for product photography, still-life, or any application where you're perfecting a look, such as How To Photograph Paintings and Prints With Copy Lighting.

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