What is Live View? It’s the option to display a preview of your shot on the LCD screen of a DSLR. This may seem like a benign feature at first because point and shoot cameras have been using this approach for a long time, but in DLSR world this technology is relatively new and still has some limitations. The eye piece is still favoured in many circumstances, but in slow styles of photography like architecture and landscapes, Live view is starting to go well beyond a convenience. In fact it’s become a critical part of my architectural photography workflow and has a real impact on image quality. The two big benefits of Live View are better focusing and less camera shake and intuitive exposure control. It also makes learning photography easier because you can see the affect of changing settings live. Here’s how I use it:

Step 1 : Camera settings

Before you use Live View lets make sure the rest of your camera is set up correctly. You have two main options. The first is to use the aperture priority settings we outlined in this post, or to use full manual settings (Which we’ll write about in a future post).

Step 2 : Turn on Live View

By default a DSLR has Live View turned off in favour of using the eye piece to view your prospective shot. So turn it on and you’ll see the preview on the rear LCD screen. Different camera models and brands do this differently so read your manual if you can’t figure it out.

Step 3 : Adjust your exposure

The first benefit of Live View is that you get to see a preview of the exposure of the prospective shot. Because it’s a live preview you get to see the effect of changing settings straight away. That’s a big bonus for learning, but it’s also an intuitive way to set the exposure. Adjusting your exposure will depend on the camera mode you’re in, and also your camera model.

Aperture Priority Mode : Use exposure compensation to make the preview lighter or darker. On my Canon I do this by rotating the thumb dial (Shown above as #1).

Full Manual: Adjust the shutter speed to make the preview lighter or darker. On my Canon I do that by rotating the index dial (Shown above as #2)

Adjust the preview image until you’re happy it. (There’s a lot more we could say about exposure itself, but we’ll leave that for another post.)

Step 4 : Manual Focus

The second benefit of Live View is the ability to focus far more accurately than just using the eye piece. What I do is use manual focus (this is because Live View autofocus is clumsy at best, but also because tilt shift lenses are manual only). I then choose a detail that stands out, zoom in to the maximum possible and manually adjust the focus. What you actually focus on is a matter of choice but I find details with hard and definable edges work well. Items like nuts, bolts, brick edges, cladding lines, etc. I avoid focusing on soft objects like the sky because you won’t see the affect of pin sharp focus on these types of elements.

Step 5: Take the shot

When you’re happy with both the exposure and the focus take the shot.

A couple other things

Less shutter shake: I’m not a camera technician, but my understanding is that Live View works in a similar way to mirror lock up. This means that there is reduced camera shake when you take a shot in Live View because there are less moving parts. That trademark SLR click clunk is significantly reduced, which is beneficial for the slow shots of architectural photography.

Exposure simulation and long exposures: Live View struggles when it comes to long exposures (ie, 15 seconds or more). On one hand it can’t possibly show a preview of what will happen in the shot over that time period, ie clouds moving or the motion blur of people walking. That I can understand, but it also displays the exposure incorrectly. It shows a preview that is much darker than the actual shot. It seems to reach a point where it can’t simulate the exposure any more and just displays a dark preview. In this scenario you need to just take the shot, see what it looks like, adjust your settings, and take another shot.

Battery Life: Live View uses a fair bit more energy to power the LCD screen, so it’s a good idea to carry additional batteries for this type of shooting.