Use Live View For Sharper Shots

How to make the most of this innovative feature to get better pictures

Most new DSLRs have Live View, yet too many nature photographers don’t use it. Some aren’t used to Live View, while others think it’s just a marketing gimmick from the manufacturers. Live View has become an essential part of my field shooting technique, and it does distinct things for me that the viewfinder does not. The viewfinder is still a very important part of a DSLR. However, Live View offers special benefits that make it well worth learning to use.

Live View can help you focus better when shooting from a tripod. Critical focus is important in any type of photography, but Live View helps ensure that focus with landscapes and macro shots. I’ve even used it for focusing on wildlife that were sitting in one spot.

You may be doubtful about how a small LCD might help you focus better. It doesn’t. What helps is when you magnify the image on your LCD while in Live View and then move the focus point over your subject. With some cameras, you press a button to get two different magnifications. With other cameras, you can change your magnification to varied amounts.

When your image is magnified, you really can see exactly what’s sharp and what’s not. Try this yourself—I did, and I was surprised at how much more accurately I could focus. Set up your camera on a tripod, focus on something at a close-to-moderate distance, turn on your Live View and magnify it. Move your focusing point to the part of the frame that should be tack-sharp and see how close your focus was. You’ll find that many times you can get much better focus with Live View.

Live View can help with sharpness in another way. One of the challenges that we often have with slow shutter speeds is that even when shooting on a tripod, there can be sharpness problems due to camera movement caused by mirror bounce. I don’t know about you, but I find using a camera’s mirror lockup (if it’s available at all) a pain even though it does solve this issue.

Enter Live View. Whenever you’re using Live View, the mirror is up because Live View only works when the sensor has a clear view of what’s coming through the lens. You’re essentially already in a mirror lockup mode and you’ll eliminate any problems with mirror bounce. I find this helps me consistently get the sharpest images possible from my lenses.

Live View also helps me to see the whole frame rather than getting the kind of target fixation that can happen when looking through the optical viewfinder. Essentially, Live View makes your camera act like a small view camera. I’ve known some photographers who use a dark cloth over their camera and head while looking at the LCD, just like view-camera users. Seeing a composition as a small picture is a very different experience photographically than simply looking at a scene through a viewfinder.

If you have Live View on your camera, check your manual to learn how it works and give it a try!

11 Comments

    One thing photographers need to remember when using live view is that it drains the camera battery very quickly. You can control this somewhat by being selective in the use of live view, but you will still go through the battery far faster than without using live view. So, make sure you have one or more spare camera batteries with you.

    I’ve had the E-30 and used the live view at 10x for sharpening and it’s wonderful. It can’t get any better than this when you want perfection. As far as running the battery down quickly, I just carry an extra battery with me and the two will last all day.

    Sounds like something to try. What about my diopter setting? Is that adjustment still in play, or do I need to wear glasses?

    @John Gavin

    Your diopter adj. only effects the optical viewfinder on your camera because it contains lens elements etc., You should know by now if you need to wear glasses looking at your camera’s LCD display. If you do (need glasses) you will still need them in Live View. Hope this helps.

    Live view is perhaps the most important feature on my Canon 5D2. When I first purchased the camera I overlooked the feature, thinking it was a gimmick, but since then it has transformed the way I work in the field.

    1. I can focus with greater accuracy by using the 10x “loupe” feature.

    2. Live view works in very low light. I can focus in situations where I might have had to guess in the past. I can recompose a scene in daylight when using a 9-stop ND filter.

    3. By combining the 10X live view and the DOF preview button I precisely check the effect of aperture choice by viewing critical parts of the scene at 10x.

    4. The live histogram feature is tremendously useful.

    5. The superimposed grid lets me better level/align the camera.

    6. I can place the camera in positions in which I cannot see through the normal viewfinder.

    For landscape photography and similar the only downside is the faster depletion of battery charge – so I simply carry more batteries.

    G Dan Mitchell

    Not mentioned is the fact that focusing mechanisms that do not use the imaging sensor (all focusing through the viewfinder) are quite often inaccurate, even when manually focusing. Focusing through live view eliminates this.

    But beware of an overheating sensor and amPlifiers. They can contribute noise, and worse, Patterned noise. I find this with my 5D2 if I am not careful, Particularly in skies and other smooth tones.

    If you are wondering about the P used, for some reason this site will not accePt lower case P from my comPuter.

    I’ve been out shooting in Live View quite a bit lately, esp getting shots of the aspens changing colors in the mountains. I took a black cloth with me and boy what a difference in being able to get a sharp image. To save on batteries (I have three) I compose in the viewfinder and use the Live View to sharpen and make final adjustments. ) With the clothe draped over my head and camera I feel like a time traveler!!

    I noticed this about a year ago. It is especially noticeable when shooting wide open. Also when using manual focus lenses. Just remember to use live view with your lens wide open.

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