Live View for Landscape Photography
Do you use the Live View function on your camera? It’s a function found in most digital cameras that allow you to see exactly what the camera sees.
This is, for many, a tool that makes photography a lot easier as it has a great impact on your in-field workflow (and it makes it easier to understand the fundamental camera settings)
Keep reading and you’ll learn everything you need to know about getting started with your camera’s Live View function.
What is Live View?
Live View is a neat function that uses the LCD screen to display exactly what the camera sees at any time. This tool is available in the majority of modern digital cameras, though additional functions or modes might vary from camera to camera.
This might sound similar to the Optical Viewfinder but when using Live View, you can see the real-time impact adjusting a camera setting has on the photo. For example, if you change to a quicker shutter speed, the Live View displays a darker image than before. This is a real-time change.
You can think of the Live View as an Optical Viewfinder but on a bigger screen that also shows additional information such as
- Live Exposure
- Live Histogram
- Grid View(s)
- EXIF data
- Spirit Level
- … and more
Exactly which additional functions you can see depends on the specific camera you’re using but the above are the most common.
You might not use all the extra functions at once but know that each of them can have a big impact on your workflow. For example, the Grid View is good to use when setting up a composition, the Live Histogram is good for making sure that you’re not over- or under-exposing, and the Spirit Level is useful to make sure the image is level.
Recommended Reading: How Understanding the Histogram Will Improve Your Photography
Personally, I consider the Live View to be a helpful tool that in many ways has benefited my photography.
Note: Electronic Viewfinders (EVF) use a tiny electronic display that is very similar to the Live View and includes several of the same features.
When to Use Live View (and When Not)
Exactly how great Live View works will depend on the camera you’re using. It’s no secret that some cameras (often entry-level cameras) don’t have high-quality LCD screens. Monitors of low quality may lack detail and have a lot of grain, making it hard to exploit many of its advantages.
Also, not all cameras have extra functions such as Live Histogram or the Spirit Level (We’ll come back to these in a bit)
Since the quality of the LCD screen has such a big impact on how well the Live View work, it’s important to understand that it might not perform as well in dimmed light.
This isn’t just a problem with entry-level cameras. Even high-end models can struggle to deliver a noise-free Live View when the sun goes down.
Personally, I tend to use Live View when my camera is mounted on a tripod. I’ll still turn it on when photographing at night just to see if there are any light sources I can use as a reference for my composition (even though I know I can’t rely on it for exposure and focusing purposes)
Recommended Reading: Why Every Landscape Photographer Needs a Tripod
That being said, the main reasons I use Live View is because of the Live Histogram, Live Exposure, Grid View, and Spirit Level. These tools allow me to make sure that I’ve got a well-exposed image that’s perfectly level.
When Not to Use Live View
There are certain times using Live View won’t be helpful, though.
Whenever you’re photographing a quickly moving subject, such as a moving car, birds or a person running, Live View is unnecessary and will not be helpful.
You should also avoid using Live View when photographing in burst mode (i.e. multiple images immediately after each other) The reason is the slight delay, or buffer, that happens between the shots. In some cases, that will result in you missing the shot.
Let’s say that you’re doing seascape photography and are trying to capture the perfect wave. This means you shoot many images with the shortest possible interval.
Live View isn’t ideal in that case. You can of course use it to find your composition and to set the exposure but turn it off before beginning the “rapid fire”.
Advantages of Using Live View
Now that you have a general idea of what the Live View is and how you can use it, let’s look at some of the advantages:
#1 Live View Leads to Sharper Images
This might be a bold statement but using Live View will lead to sharper images.
You might be wondering how a visual representation of the image displayed on the back of your camera will affect the sharpness of an image. Well, a benefit of Live View is that you’re able to zoom in on the LCD screen.
This allows you to take full advantage of manual focus and make slight adjustments until you find the sharpest point. That would’ve been very difficult if you were using the Optical Viewfinder.
A second benefit is that you can zoom in on the live view anywhere you want within the frame. That means you don’t need to rely on autofocus points but can set your own.
Most lenses and cameras have good autofocus functions but I still tend to focus manually. At least whenever the camera is mounted on a tripod and I’m not in a rush. Is there still a difference now that technology has evolved so much? I don’t know. But some habits are hard to change.
#2 Live Histogram Makes it Easy to Expose
This is one of the biggest advantages of using Live View. Unfortunately, this function isn’t available on all cameras but if it is available on yours: I highly recommend using it.
The Live Histogram shows you what the histogram looks like at any time. If you increase the shutter speed by one stop, you’ll see that the histogram is affected right away. This is an extremely useful tool that will help you to capture well-exposed images.
To find this view open Live View and toggle through the different display modes. Normally, this is done by pressing the information button.
If you don’t have the Live Histogram on your camera, you can always see the histogram of each individual image in the playback folder.
When you’re at an image simply press the information button (this might vary from camera to camera) and switch between the different playback modes until you find the histogram.
If you don’t know what the histogram is or how to interpret it, I strongly recommend reading our article How Understanding the Histogram Will Improve Your Photography.
#3 Live View Can Help With Compositions
I know that every photographer has their own workflow and process when setting up their composition. That’s something to be respected and I’m not going to pretend that there’s only one way to do it. That would be a lie.
But what I can do is share my own experience from when I was getting started with photography.
At that time I didn’t have a camera with Live View so, naturally, I relied on the viewfinder. This became a habit and when I years later purchased a camera with Live View, it took a long time for me to start using it.
However, I found that I spend more time working on my compositions after I introduced it into my workflow.
It’s extremely convenient to have a live representation of the image on the camera’s display. This allows me to see the changes I make to the composition live and without having to stand in an awkward position while adjusting the tripod and looking through the viewfinder.
#4 You Can Make Fine Adjustments With Grid View and Level View
Another compositional benefit of using Live View is Grid View and the Spirit Level/Level View. Unlike the Grid View, Level View isn’t available on all camera models.
Grid View is an excellent tool to use when working on your composition. A grid is placed on the LCD screen which allows you to align elements in your image and work with the composition.
Level View is a live spirit level/leveler that you can use to make sure your image is straight – it’s the tool I use the most within Live View.
Disadvantages of Live View
Even though I use Live View most of the time and I’m quite happy with it, there are a couple of downsides that should be mentioned.
#1 Live View Drains the Battery
You’ll quickly see that the battery’s shooting time is severely shortened if you use Live View all the time.
Unfortunately, this is something many aren’t aware of in the beginning and they end up emptying the battery while the conditions are still good.
This is even more true for mirrorless cameras that have an EVF and LCD, but no Optical Viewfinder. In other words, Live View is on all the time and you can’t turn it off.
For this reason, I recommend always bringing spare batteries. Personally, I travel with at least 4 to 5 spare batteries when going out on longer adventures. If I’m just photographing locally, I might not need that many but I’ll at the very least have a couple. Just in case.
A suggestion to those with a DSLR or camera with an Optical Viewfinder is to turn Live View off when it’s not being used. You can even turn it off after you’ve found your composition and camera settings. There’s no reason to leave it on if you’re sticking to that shot for a while.
Small measures like that will keep the battery charged a little longer.
#2 Low-Quality LCD Screens Have a Lot of Noise
As I’ve already mentioned, a common issue is that many of the LCD displays aren’t of high enough quality to provide a noise-free Live View.
This makes it quite difficult to focus in the dark. Aside from that, a poor LCD display won’t have much impact on other aspects of Live View.
Although worth mentioning, the focusing issue shouldn’t discourage you from discovering all the advantages of using it!
Live View is a great function that many photographers rely on for their in-field workflows. There are several advantages of using it but the most important for landscape photographers is being able to see the Live Exposure and Live Histogram. That does wonders when it comes to nailing the perfect exposures.
Other tools such as the Grid View and Level View are there to help improve your compositions and make sure that small details such as a straight horizon are in check.
The beauty of photography is that every photographer has their own habits, preferences, and workflows. There are many who still swear to the Optical Viewfinder and their photos are not less because of it. At the end of the day, it comes down to what feels right for you.
What Live View offers is simply additional tools to help you get the best possible images.
Have you used the Live View yet? Perhaps you’ve got some tips you wish to share with us? Let us know in the comments!