Gear

Live View for Landscapes?

Most of us landscape photographers still like to use cameras with an optical viewfinder. It’s the traditional method and basically it just feels… right.

No matter how many press releases you read saying that a new camera’s EVF is the best thing ever, they still don’t compare with an optical viewfinder when it comes to connecting to the scene. And we’re even less likely to use the camera’s LCD screen for anything but dipping into menus or reviewing images, aren’t we? We’ve all seen people doing it, as though they’re holding an iPad. It just looks a bit numpty.

But here’s the thing: Aside from lacking that quintessential feeling of real light bouncing off the landscape and into your eye, EVFs and Live View screens are incredibly handy for landscaping. Below are some reasons why, so give them a try and they’re likely to improve your landscape shots.

Don’t worry, you can still enjoy the actual light using your actual eyes.

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Many of us still favour optical viewfinders, but live view has lots of advantages for landscape photography.

1/ Full frame coverage

Not all optical viewfinders cover the whole scene. Yes, it’s shocking, and yes, it’s true. Some let you see only 95% of what’s going to be recorded when you fire off an exposure. For that reason, it’s not uncommon to hear landscapers saying stuff like “Crickey, what’s that at the edge of me shot?”. Yeah, we’ve all heard them. But, via your camera’s EVF, or in Live View mode what you see on screen is, literally, what you’ll get when you take the picture – it’s a live feed from the sensor. Therefore no surprises at the frame edges and no embarrassing outbursts on the hillside.

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Live view shows you the picture exactly as it’ll be recorded by the sensor, so there are no surpises waiting at the edges of the frame

2/ Better compositions.

While we’re on the subject of Live View showing you exactly what the picture will look like when it’s taken, it can also help you avoid poor compositions. Here’s the thing. Even the best optical viewfinders still mean you’re visually focusing on one part of the scene at a time; it’s natural for your eye to do this, and there’s a certain amount of distortion involved in how your brain interprets this. But examine a picture on the camera’s screen and you’ll find it’s easier to assess its compositional merits before you shoot, just as though you were using an old fashioned view camera.

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Assessing the merits of your composition on screen is easier than doing it through the viewfinder. It’s just the way your brain works.

3/ Improved exposures.

Oh my, the wysiwyg strikes again. Explanation: if the screen is showing areas that are too light or dark, that’s almost certainly how they’ll look in the exposure, so you’ll be losing detail in over or under exposed parts of the scene. Add to this most cameras’ ability to bring up a live histogram on the LCD screen or via an EVF, and you can see how the tones in the scene are spread out, so there are really no more excuses for under or over exposing.

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When shooting in live view it’s easier to judge the brightness of the exposure than with the optical viewfinder, especially if you have a histogram running at the same time.

4/ Sharper focusing.

Using an optical viewfinder and relying on phase-detection AF points is fine for most situations. But where focus is critical, say when you’re planning to focus on some particular foreground details, nothing beats Live View. Again, because you’re seeing exactly what the sensor is, you’ve got the best view possible. You can zoom right in to check sharpness and manually improve the focus, so you know it’s spot on. This benefit of live view is also vital when shooting in dim conditions, when AF, whether it’s phase- or contrast detect will often struggle.

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Manually focusing using live view means that you know that the sharpness is exactly where you want it.

5/ Better control of depth-of-field.

Really? Well sure. Now you can focus accurately using Live View you can do it anywhere in the frame. That means you can push the focusing area right to the edge of the view, making sure that even the parts of the scene closest to and furthest from the camera are pin-sharp. As you shoot, repeat this throughout the scene and you’ll have a series of exposures adding up to an image with total sharpness. All that’s left is to merge them in software.

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With live view focusing you can place the focusing point closer to the edge of the view, making sure the closest parts of the scene are as sharp as everything else.

6/ Easier shooting from low angles.

Flip out Live View screens are widely touted by manufacturers as being an aid to high and low angle compositions. And the reason they say this is because it’s true. It’s not only those posh vari-angle designs that help, either. Shooting via the screen in any low-angle situation is going to make it easier to compose without you getting wet and muddy feet, knees or arse.

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One of the most obvious uses of live view is when it’s impractical to stick your face close enough to the camera to use the OVF.

7/ Get on the level.

Another benefit of Live View is when using a virtual horizon. Now, most DSLRs now offer one of these in the viewfinder, too, but it’s nowhere near as accurate as when viewed on the screen. The benefit of getting your horizons straight isn’t just the broad aesthetic improvement of a level shot either; any correction you need to make in rotating the picture will lose you valuable pixels in editing.

8/ See DoF and filter effects easily

Most EVFs and Live View modes will engage the aperture you’ve set, so that you get a better idea of the resulting depth-of-field of the image. In contrast, if you’re using the optical viewfinder, the lens will be set to its widest, and you need to press the depth-of-field preview button, but crucially this will make the image much darker, so it’s not as easy to see what’s going on. But that’s not all, when you have an ND grad filter fitted, the effect is more noticeable at smaller apertures, so Live View makes it more obvious and helps enormously in helping you to line it up in the right place within the scene.

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Using live view it’s much easier to see how well graduated filters are positioned on the image.

Wait a minute!

But hang on. Before you rush out to make the most of your new Live View skills, remember you’ll need to be shooting from a tripod for many of these benefits to become apparent. And, if you’re used to shooting with a DSLR using the optical viewfinder, you’ll notice that using Live View uses more power, so take a spare battery.