Live View for Landscape Photography
Have you used the Live View function on your camera? If not, I highly recommend you give it a try the next time you’re out photographing. This helpful function can have a great impact on your workflow.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know to get started with your camera’s Live View function.
What is Live View?
Live View is a neat function that shows you exactly what the camera sees at any time on the camera’s LCD screen. It’s available in the majority of DSLR cameras although there are some low-end models that still don’t have it, most do.
Think of it as the viewfinder but on a display that also shows additional information such as
- The Histogram
- Grid View
- EXIF data
- Spirit Level
- … and more
What fascinates me is that it’s about a 50/50 split between whether people use this function or not. It’s not that people avoid using it because it’s a bad function but just that many are used to using the viewfinder and stick with that out of habit.
I’ve found the Live View to be quite beneficial when working on a composition and it also gives a quite accurate representation of how well exposed the image will be. I consider the Live View to be a helpful tool that in many ways has benefited my photography.
When can it be used and when not?
The quality of the Live View changes a between cameras. On certain cameras, the LCD screen isn’t as good and there will be a lot of noise, 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)
There are certain restrictions on when you can use it since the quality of the LCD screen has a large impact on the performance of your camera’s Live View. Normally, the performance will be good during daytime but as it gets darker, it might become harder to use.
This isn’t only a problem on low-end cameras. Even my Nikon D800 was struggling to deliver a noise-free Live View when the sun went down.
I tend to use Live View in mostly any situation when my camera is mounted on a tripod. Even during pitch black, I’ll turn it on just to see if there are any light sources I can use as a reference for my composition.
That being said, I mainly use it because of the Spirit Level and Live Histogram functions to make sure that I’ve got a straight photograph that’s correctly exposed.
When it’s not ideal
There are certain times using Live View won’t be helpful, though.
Whenever you’re photographing a quickly moving subject, such as moving car, birds or a person running, Live View is unnecessary and will not be helpful.
You should also avoid using Live View when planning to shoot bursts of images. There is a delay when using it which, in some cases, will result in you missing the shot.
For example, when you’re photographing the ocean and you’re trying to capture the “perfect wave”, you shoot many images with the shortest possible intervals between. In that case, make sure that you don’t use Live View (you can use it to find your composition but turn it off before starting to photograph).
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:
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 with Live View is that you’re able to zoom in on the LCD screen. This allows you to accurately adjust the focus (make sure that you use manual focus) until you find precisely the sharpest point.
Another benefit is that you can zoom in wherever you want in the frame so you don’t need to rely on autofocus points: choose your own.
Even though most lenses have a good autofocus, I prefer to do it manually as I’m then able to get the focus just as I want. The difference may be small but it becomes visible as soon as you hang an image on the wall.
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.
Working with Compositions
I know that the workflow and process of creating a composition often depend on your preferences.
When I started with photography, I didn’t have a camera with Live View so, naturally, I relied on the viewfinder. This became a habit and when I later got a camera with Live View, it took a long time for me to start using it (it should be mentioned that I didn’t use a tripod as much back then as I do now either).
After beginning to use Live View, however, I’ve found that I spend more time working on my compositions.
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.
Grid View & Level View
Another compositional benefit of using Live View is the two tools Grid View and 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 downsides that should be mentioned.
Drains the battery
If you’re using Live View all the time, you’ll quickly see that the battery’s shooting time is severely shortened.
Unfortunately, this is something many aren’t aware of when beginning to use Live View and they end up emptying the battery while the conditions are still good.
I recommend always bringing spare batteries when you’re going out photographing. Regardless of how far away you’re going, make sure that you’ve got at least one extra battery that is fully charged.
Personally, I travel with at least 5 spare batteries (which isn’t actually necessary unless you’ll be spending time without access to a charger).
So, turn off Live View on when you’re not using the camera. Small measures like that will keep the battery charged a little longer. Also, if you’ve found a composition that you’ll shoot for a while there’s no reason to leave it on the entire time.
Poor LCD screens have a lot of noise
Another 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!
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!