Tethered digital photography has become a gold standard in the commercial photography industry and is proliferating in numerous studios around the world, but why? For starters, the obvious reason – it’s really not practical or effective to review images on that tiny little LCD on the back of your camera when today’s cameras are producing humongous high-resolution files. But what about the client’s perspective? This is where tethering becomes a substantial factor and is often even expected.
If your goal is to get involved in commercial shoots, you’re going to need to assemble the right gear and the right team to pull things off as seamlessly as possible for your clients. You’ll find yourself in situations where your shoot has 10 or more people on set. A number of those people, such as creative directors and art buyers (and really anyone else who may have a financial stake in your shoot) is probably going to want to see what is being captured while you work. The higher the stakes and the larger the production, the more likely this will be required. Enter tethering, digital techs, and auxiliary screens. Digital Techs are the liaison between your captured images and your clients in this scenario, but tethering is the technology that enables all of this to happen.
But what about those smaller jobs where it might just be you and your client (and maybe a makeup artist) in the studio working to capture some headshots (for example)? Tethering enables a powerful feedback loop and workflow even in these smaller shoots. When they don’t quite understand what you’re telling them to do, in comes tethering to save the day. Show them! Right then and there, review and discuss the images with them. As long as you’re prepared to coach and direct those minor issues out of your clients, using tethering to review images during your session is a powerful thing.
I can tell you from experience that the feedback loop is powerful. After I discuss some minor things with my clients and put them back out there, they just tend to get it. They’ve seen the light – literally! This makes for better photos, faster progress, and happier clients. Tethering creates a continuous feedback loop that you’re in charge of, empowering your client and creating investment and interest in the photographic process that didn’t otherwise exist.
There are certainly situations where tethering is ill-advised. Again, the obvious – you’re shooting event photography or sports. It’s simply not practical to have that much equipment with you. But beyond that, there are absolutely times when I DON’T want my client to see images until I’ve had a chance to cull, edit, or even composite.
When deciding whether or not tethering might be a good idea, always consider things from the client’s perspective. Will seeing their own image (or whatever they’ve hired you to shoot) in real time help the session and inspire better imagery, or will it hurt the session workflow and introduce problems or concerns that aren’t easily or reasonably addressed during the shoot? Do you have time during the shoot to review and discuss images with them? Is it a requirement that they can review images in real-time?
One final warning on the tech side: tethering drains camera batteries substantially faster on most cameras than shooting without tethering, so don’t find yourself with dead batteries halfway through a shoot.
Tethering may not fit the needs of every photographer, but it is a technology that has entrenched itself in many niches of photography and for good reason. Perhaps it’s time to give it a try? Just be sure to carve out the time to work out any technical issues and workflow kinks with the particular gear that you decide to use. You never want that stuff to creep up in a paid session.