Get Hitched to Streamline Your Workflow

By David Saffir Back to


Most people know that it’s possible to capture images while the camera is connected to a laptop or desktop computer. It’s been my experience, however, that most photographers don’t do this—instead they rely on the camera LCD for their histogram and image preview information. When conditions permit, in the studio or on location, shooting tethered can give you more control over image quality and in many cases streamline overall workflow−saving you time and money.

Advantages Of Shooting Tethered Include:

• A larger image preview (even on a small laptop)

• Near-immediate preview of captured images

• Availability of a number of important image adjustment and editing tools

• Viewing quality of the computer display is far superior to the camera LCD

• Real-time color management/color correction

• Ability to check focus, even in the small details

• Ability to create “presets” or adjustments that can be applied to each capture

• Near-instant backup of image files

• Streamlined workflow and improved image quality

Disadvantages Include:

• Need for additional equipment (in some cases, a power supply)

• Connecting the camera via cable (in some cases, WiFi)

• WiFi can involve using multiple applications and slower image transfer

• Requires modest adjustments in shooting tempo, mostly for image review and adjustment

• If you’re involved in a busy, complex shoot, you may need an assistant on hand to operate the computer

Image Viewing, Displays

You’ll need software, of course, to manage the camera interface and preview your images. My personal preference is Phase One Capture One. Examples of alternatives include Adobe Lightroom, Hasselblad’s Phocus software and applications provided by Canon and Nikon specific to their equipment.

Most people using a tethered setup employ a laptop. Keep in mind that a calibrated computer display is your friend−calibration gives you control of dy- namic range and color accuracy. I use Datacolor’s Spyder4ELITE for display calibration. Even if your laptop display is not as capable as your desktop, it’s definitely worth the effort.

It’s a good idea to protect the display from direct bright light. Use a screen hood, or tuck yourself into a shaded corner. I’ve also found that bright light bouncing around behind me can make the screen wash out, so protect the screen in that situation as well.


I generally use a 14-foot Firewire cable (I’m shooting most often with a Hasselblad H-series camera and a Phase One digital back). Cable extenders are available−these boost the signal and enable longer reach back to the computer. Other cameras can be tethered using a USB cable, or WiFi.

It’s best to keep a spare cable or two on hand. It’s also a good idea to protect the cable path from foot traffic to avoid accidents. In fact, I disconnect the cable at the camera end if I’m not actively shooting.


Please note that the camera you connect to the computer must be supported by the software. The list of sup-ported cameras is extensive in Capture One, and includes several medium format cameras in addition to DSLRs; Adobe Lightroom supports a wide range of DSLRs. Hasselblad’s Phocus software supports only Hasselblad products. Nikon and Canon also offer software that supports camera tethering. I normally start the software and designate a session name and capture folder on the computer. Look at the opening screen shot (Figure 1) and note the outlined areas: Session name, session capture/ “hot” folder (in blue), Next Capture Adjustment (in red), and the color balance tool (in green).


I normally start by getting my lighting situation in order, whether in-studio or on-location. I use a hand-held meter for this, managing each light source in turn, creating the effects and “look” required. Once lighting is set, take the first shot tethered to the computer.

Check the histogram for correct exposure. Zoom in to 100% magnification and examine critical areas of the image for focus. You may want to make somebasic adjustments at this point. This is also the time to get color management and color accuracy under control.

Two of the tools on this panel (Figure 1) are important to this stage; first, under “Next Capture Adjustments,” I normally select “Copy From Last.” (This selection ensures that Capture One will automatically apply my adjustments to subsequent images captured during the session. In other words, color balance and other settings become “sticky” until you disable or change this feature (Figure 2). In Lightroom, you might create a preset that is applied to each capture.

Next, I’ll use the Balance tool to select a neutral gray target, and set overall color balance. Click on the “Set” button (highlighted in the green box), and the cursor becomes a gray balance tool. I normally use a SpyderCUBE from Datacolor for this. SpyderCUBE is device that offers white, gray and black targets.

You can use it in a number of ways, including con- trolling dynamic range, setting white and black points, or setting custom white balance. (See my article published Sept/Oct 2012 in photo technique for more information). In this case I’ll use the Color Balance tool, and click on the gray panel on the SpyderCUBE in the image (red arrow) to color-correct the image.

This works remarkably well, whether I’m using color-balanced studio strobes, or I’m shooting in a mixed- lighting environment, like a hospital. As long as the lighting setup remains unchanged, you can expect that the color balance achieved in the first shot will work well with subsequent image captures. If you change your lighting, place the SpyderCUBE or other gray target in the shot, and update.

Other Image Adjustments, Editing Workflow

You can make a range of image adjustments while shooting tethered. These include exposure level, white and black point/dynamic range, color temperature, cropping, sharpening−even dust spot removal.

My workflow incorporates shooting to Capture One, adding conservative, basic adjustments during the shoot and then exporting high-bit TIFF files for additional editing. I generally use Photoshop CS6 and do the heavy lifting with adjustment layers, layer masks and the like. (Figure 3)

Other photographers choose to shoot tethered using applications such as Lightroom. Individual adjustments are possible, and presets can be created and applied during the shooting session to streamline workflow. It’s fast and easy to transition to the Develop module for additional editing.

Other Benefits

Shooting tethered also makes it much easier to get your client or art director involved in managing the photo shoot to a successful outcome. It’s much easier

for them to see framing, exposure, movement, point of focus, color balance and accuracy and more. This can help build rapport and also serves to shorten the post-production editing cycle.

Some photographers set up real-time backups during the photo shoot, providing additional security for important images. Images are copied from the capture folder to a folder on a secondary hard drive.

I encourage you to consider shooting tethered in the field or in the studio−it’s a useful tool, one which can help you refine your images early in the process, and ensures that you have a clear idea of your progress during image creation.

Resources: SpyderCube, Spyder4ELITE-; Hasselblad Phocus-; Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop-; Phase One Capture One-

About the Author

David Saffir
David Saffir is an internationally recognized, award-winning portrait, commercial and fine art photographer and printmaker. He teaches workshops and seminars in photography, printmaking and color management. He lives in Santa Clarita, California. He is the author of Mastering Digital Color: A Photographer’s and Artist’s Guide to Controlling Color, published by Thomson/Cengage and a photography book, The Joy of Discovery.