PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE TO SHARPER IMAGES WITH LIVE VIEW

Welcome to Technical Tuesday’s Steps to Sharper Photos Series.  Today we explore how using the Live View function on your camera aids in determining image sharpness. Unlike my previous two posts about image sharpness, I consider Live View the icing on the cake but not the cake itself.  Why? Live View does not create sharper photos; it provides a real time way to evaluate if the image is sharp.

Before delving into the Live View function, you may want to take time to read my two previous blog posts on Photography Guide to Sharper Photos. The previous posts explored a camera’s different focusing modes, when to use autofocus, and explained the different methods for selecting focus points. Autofocus Modes and Selecting Autofocus Points.  

So What is Live View?

Live View is exactly what is is called.  It is a real time view of a scene displayed on the camera’s LCD screen prior to the shutter being pressed. Instead of taking the image then viewing the display on the LCD screen afterward, Live View shows you ahead of time how your image will appear.  

When I photographed this old gate in St. Augustine, Florida I knew I wanted to use camera setting that would bring both the leaves on the trees and the old gate in focus. So with Live View, prior to shooting, I zoomed into the above two areas to check image sharpness. 

Oh to view actual images, please be sure to click each thumbnail as thumbnails in WordPress never appear as sharp as the actual images.

Before Live View

Many long time photographers are familiar with the traditional method of composing an image then pressing the camera’s Depth of Field Preview Button to evaluate an image’s sharpness. Even though I still use this function at times, I don’t find it great. Looking through the viewfinder at a small dark image to see if an image is sharp is difficult. 

Comparison of Live View vs Viewfinder vs Depth of Field Preview

Live View

  • Displays the actual scene on a LCD screen prior to capture. 
  • Ability to zoom up to 400-500% to check areas of sharpness.  
  • Most manufacturers show the Live View image at a wide open aperture just as one you see using the viewfinder.  Therefore the image may not reflect actual sharpness. However, on most cameras, the Live View image and DOF preview button can be combined so that the Live View image displays with the actual aperture setting.
  • Easy to see since scene is displayed on a LCD screen instead of having to look into the viewfinder. 
  • Additional information can be displayed as well as composition grids.
  • Good for stationary subjects and when working on a tripod.
  • For cameras with flip screens, allows easier viewing of subjects close to the ground. I was once photographing a pitcher plant growing in a creek with water moccasins.  Therefore, I was too afraid to lay on the ground to check my composition so I had to guess at it. Where was the flip screen when I needed it?

Viewfinder

  • The scene is viewed by looking directly into the camera’s viewfinder and shown at a wide open aperture.  No zoom capabilities or other information is provided.

Depth of Field Preview w Viewfinder

  • Image is shown prior to capture at actual aperture settings.
  • Image is only shown through viewfinder, not LCD screen.
  • Image can’t be zoomed into to check specific areas of sharpness.
  • Display is hard to see, especially in bright light.
  • No additional information is displayed
  • Works even when not using a tripod.
Taken with cell phone while looking through camera so ignore image quality.

What is a Depth of Field Preview Button?

  • When looking through the camera’s viewfinder, the images that are displayed are shown at the largest aperture and not the actual aperture settings currently in use. This is done to allow enough light into the viewfinder to make it easy to view.
  • To see the scene with the current aperture setting, a Depth of Field Preview Button must be depressed.  This is normally a very small button located on the front of the camera and not aways easy to find by touch alone.  See your camera’s manual for your DOF preview button location.
  • It is especially difficult to determine if far away objects are sharp without enlarging the image. For example, the snow covered mountain tops in the photo below would be difficult to properly evaluate with Depth of Field Preview since you can’t zoom into the mountains.

Recommended Exercise:  

  • Compose an image outdoors that includes the number 3 written in black across 3 different white poster boards.  
  • Place the poster boards from 10 to 20 feet apart standing up.  
  • Set your camera on a tripod, set the aperture to F11, and look through the viewfinder taking note of the sharpness of each number 3.  
  • Next press the Depth of Field Preview Button, again still looking through the viewfinder and check the sharpness of each number 3.  
  • Now without moving the camera, turn on Live View and zoom into each number 3 in the image.  
  • Lastly, repeat the Live View step above while holding down the DOF preview button.

You could also do this exercise with the number 6,8, or 9.  For whatever reason I do not find numbers with lines such as 4, 7,  etc. work as well with this exercise. Upon completion of the above exercise, it should be apparent that Live View provides to best way to determine image sharpness.

Limitations of Live View

  • Moving Subjects– There is usually no time to check image sharpness or depth of field preview prior to pressing the shutter. Thankfully, most of the time, we are not concerned with maximum DOF with moving subjects. However, that may not always be the case and in those situations, a photographer must rely on experience.
  • Live View will only provide accurate feedback if the camera is on a tripod or otherwise stabilized.  Because of the necessity to look at the LCD screen, the camera must be held away from the body rendering it impossible to handhold and use your body to stablize the camera. If the camera is not stationary, the image viewed in Live View will most likely not be the image captured when the shutter was pressed due to movement. The differences may or may not be significant depending on lens and changes to a focal point.
  • Moving one’s eye from the viewfinder can be distracting.  Let’s talk about this one a bit further- With the eye close to the viewfinder, the eye will only see what’s in the viewfinder, not all the surrounding elements.  
    • For instance if a photographer is photographing a sunset and waiting for the color to peak in the sky, the subtle color changes are easier to see through a viewfinder than standing back looking at an LCD screen.  Too many distractions from the area outside the composition compete for the eye’s attention. 

Additional Benefits of Live View

  • Mirror Lock Up is engaged for Live View which reduces camera vibration. This is great when photographing with slow shutter speeds and saves photographers from having to change settings.
  • High and Low -For camera’s with flip LCD screens that swivel it is easier to photograph not only previously mentioned low to the ground subjects, but also situations where the  camera may be extended higher than eye level to shoot over an object such as a post. 
  • Zooming -As previously mentioned the ability to zoom to 100% or greater and make adjustments to sharpness is a major plus to Live View.
  • Some cameras offer a screen tap function to focus on a subject with Live View.  How great is that?

As usually thanks for joining me on another Technical Tuesday post and I will see you in a couple weeks for a discussion of back button focus.

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