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!