One Workflow Change With the Biggest Impact on My Professional Photography

I recently wrote about shooting on film, and the dangers of that. One of the reasons was that no one sees my work right away. In this article, I will break down why shooting tethered has completely changed my workflow and improved my photography beyond imaginable. 

Disclaimer: this isn’t a sponsored post, TetherTools is mentioned because this is the system I bought, use, and will continue to use. If you have something better, good for you! Share in the comments. 

Join My Photoshoots

If you come to my shoot, you will find that the first thing I’m setting up is a tether table and the digital station. This happens on all shoots where I am working with people, and being a fashion photographer, this happens on every shoot. There is a dedicated setup that I use that is reliable, robust, and most importantly easy for everyone to get a hang of. 

On top of my tether table, is a 15” Mac, two LaCie drives, charger, coffee, notes, and color gels. It gets messy, but that’s not the point. 

This wasn’t always like that. How it used to be was me showing up with a 5D Mark II, shooting away, and checking the photos at the back of the screen. This was still a valid way of creating, doing it meant that I was able to show the best of the best photos. What happens with beginner crews is that if the “head guy” — the photographer — says the photo is good, everyone continues with the next look. Not only is this limiting exploration, but it is also limiting how much else is possible to create. There are fewer benefits than there are disadvantages to this non-tethered setup.  

Let me walk you through all the ways shooting tethered not only made my life easier but also improved my photography. 

Collaboration 

The first is the most obvious and probably the one you expect. When I’m tethering in, I ask my team to be at the laptop looking at the photos. If they’re not, I’m unlikely to bring them along on the next shoot. As harsh as it sounds, shooting tethered costs me money, and I’d appreciate it if the team valued my input in making their life easier. 

That aside, when the team is looking at the photos while I shoot, I have the confidence that the images are ok. Not only that, there is constant input and creativity on set. I appreciate when I am not the only person doing the work, not because of my own laziness, but because I don’t see everything. It is not a lack of clear vision, it is being open-minded to suggestions from anyone on set. I’ve even taken suggestions from assistants, in fact, those were much better than what I imagined. Without tethering in, I can’t take any input from my crew. 

A good fashion image is a lot about fashion, a lot less about everything else. That’s why finding a good stylist has been paramount to making better work. They know what looks good, which results in your images looking good too. But a stylist can only do so much if they are not getting immediate feedback on how the clothes look in the picture.

Another contributor to the success is the model. The talent gives character, flair, and life to fashion. A pretty picture won't cut it, it should have character, storyline, and a feeling. That’s why great images can be technically imperfect but still be considered works of art. A model can look over at the screen, see what is happening, and quickly adjust her posing to fit the mood better. In a way it’s like dancing in front of a mirror: immediate feedback, effectively delivered. 

Hair and makeup transform the model, but there are always small tweaks that can be done to make the whole look better. Concentrating on the final result, a makeup artist and a hairstylist are able to see their work right away and make necessary changes. Sometimes, it's something as simple as changing the color of the lipstick, other times it's more complex such as adding or (worse) removing glitter. 

Overall, shooting tethered allows me to include my team in the production process from the get-go. So far, no one has complained about making them collaborate on photos. Art directors love it too, but that’s a different topic.  

Momentum 

Some may say that tethering is quite slow. And, yes it can be, but only if you’re shooting sports in burst mode on a Phase One with a 150MP back. I work with the 5Ds, which produces monstrous files, still, USB 3.0 is relatively fast in transferring them, even though 10 meters of cable. 

The momentum comes in when I am far from the laptop, and I am simply shooting. I don’t check the images once I’ve set everything up. After all, I’m not a technician but a photographer. Taking images, without thinking too much about checking has been revolutionary to my flow. I create at the moment, and oh boy is it fun. sometimes I wonder how much more fun can it be?  

Safety 

Backups are essential. Whenever I shoot, I use two shoot drives that are backed up in real-time with Ease US backup. Unfortunately, Capture One doesn’t offer native backup solutions in the Pro version, only in Enterprise. If anyone at Capture One is reading this, please please please add backups feature to Sessions. 

Still Not Convinced?

There are some naysayers that are against tethering. Some are worried that they will lose reputation because they show all files, I stopped worrying about it, we all have bad photos. If anything, “bad” photos create awareness about how good the keepers are. On-location shooters may be upset about powering the whole setup, luckily there are batteries, generators, and other solutions that have been very robust and reliable in my world. Lastly, there are people who just think it's not as mobile, it's restricting, and so on. To them,  I say: buy an extension if your cable is too short, put your tether station on wheels, and be happy to give everything you have for the perfect image. Sure I’d be upset if my gear died, but if it died creating great work, it’s worth it.  

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27 Comments
Illya Ovchar's picture

If that is what you think it is, feel free.

Illya Ovchar's picture

If that’s what it is for you, by all means. I’ve outlined my grounds in the article.

John Haniotakis's picture

There's nothing wrong with "chimping". It's an essential feature of digital photography. Good article, for a limited audience of course. I tried as an amateur a tethering device in the field once, it's just too much to carry. But for a pro, it's a must.

Robert Lynch's picture

In the old days we called them Polaroids. Professionals understand the value of checking their work on the go.

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

I agree, fellow Budapestian photographer ! And when shooting non professional models (corporate shooting), it helps a lot to explain why this position is better than another, or why looking in this direction gives a better light. Which ends up sometimes with a collaborative posing from their side.
Even shooting products is much easier tethered. Especially when artistic director wants to place objects in the frame. Or architecture shooting : easier to check if all is straight.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Ah, are you also based in Budapest? That's incredible!! Yep, tethering is a major change in my work. I love it.

Tony Clark's picture

I have the same opinion as the author, I go as far as bring a 27" display and mirror my laptop screen so the client, stylist and everyone else can view the images. I will make basic adjustments in Capture One so there are no surprises and find that it builds confidence in the images. Back in the film days, you would shoot a lot of Polaroids and people loved to see them. We would tape one to the film log which goes with that shots film as a reference, it came in handy if there was confusion at the lab. We could match the film clip to the Polaroid and put it with the film as it came out of processing.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Oh wow, a 27", that is next level man. Yeah, polaroids have something special to them for sure. Sometimes they are better than the film ahhaha.

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

Oh yes, the polaroids. Working with a medium format or a large format camera, it was costly, so we observed every details of it before to think about what to modify in the picture. Digital made it much easier in this respect. And Capture One is an efficient and not overpriced tool.

Tamas Nemeth's picture

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Illya Ovchar's picture

Oh lord, sorry, that's a typo on my part. Yes 150Mpx

J. H.'s picture

This encourages me to finally set this up for myself. But I mainly have another reason: I need reading glasses now, and checking on the small screen on the back has become tedious and complicated, especially in warm environments when you sweat. The glasses fog up all the time and putting them on and off is a pain. A big screen also makes setup with a flash system easier. Thanks for the article, Illya.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Glad you like my work, Jan! Yes tethering is a great way to ease eye strain.

Keith Trollope's picture

I have the opposite problem of needing glasses to see the model :-) I tried tether about 5 years ago, but had issues - may be better now. I ended with a CamRanger Mini which displays to an iPad, which is more portable than a laptop so easy to take to the model so they can see how they are doing.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Ah I need to give the CamRanger a shot. Seems like something interesting.

Keith Trollope's picture

I used to shoot tethered about 5 years ago, with my Canon 5D mk3 in to Photoshop on Windows 8 or perhaps 10. However, about half of the shoots it would freeze after about 2 hours. I never lost any photos, I just had to manually import form the card later. More recently I have been using a CamRanger Mini, which displays to an iPad. I cannot edit or set the white balance, but is better squinting at the back of the camera, at least for me, and is more portable than a laptop, so easy to carry over and show the model.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Tethering to Photoshop? That's interesting. I've never used that, generally, I use Capture One and so far it has tethered without fail. I'd suggest giving it a shot. It also lets you display to an iPad via a shared network.

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

I know it's possible, but I never could make this wireless solution work !

Keith Trollope's picture

Apologies, I meant tether to Lightroom (not Photoshop)

Illya Ovchar's picture

Oh right, it did sound a little odd haha) I tend to tether to Capture One for it's faster.

Lee Sei-Macfhearchair's picture

I shoot a lot of dancers' portraits. Tethering to a larger screen increases collaboration between the subject and photographer, and you get can ideas from anyone involved in the shoot. I saw a Joe McNally shoot where he always took comments from his staff using a tethered screen. It works out better for everyone involved.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I still use a ten feet grey USB cable a friend gave me 21 years ago to tether my old D30. Today, connecting is very reliable and has no delay with M1 and SSD on a Air. Tethered photography has been around for nearly 30 years but used scsi during most of the 90's. Early backs could only work tethered.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Oh yes, the old Phase One H10 and H20 backs without a screen. How are the M1 macs btw? I'm considering getting one.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I was thinking more Leaf as they were really ahead of the competition by about 6 years. The rest was mostly scanning backs. Leaf started with the DCB and later the DCB2, the one I used on a P2 in studio. Not mine, I was just the photographer for a pre-press house back then. Phase one came out later when Leaf had the Volare and Cantare but Phase one did not have a cooling system on their " backs without a screen".
M1 works for me, nothing wrong with it and tether connection is super fast.

Dan Cantero's picture

100% agree. The benefits of having multiple pairs of eyes on a large screen is massive. The hair stylist, MUA and the stylist are always pointing things out to me that we need to correct. Passing the camera around and zooming in and out to show everyone on set is just not efficient or as effective. The only thing I would add is that I always bring a couple of floor mats to go over the tether cables. I stopped gaffer-taping the cables to the floor the one time it ripped off the varnish from the floorboards! Plus its cheaper :-) Nice article.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Thanks for reading, Dan! I appreciate your suggestion on mats. I actually had my camera fall and die after I walked into a tether cable. Bought an extension, and the problem was gone haha. It is practical when working with still life, but I move around a lot in fashion.