I remember thinking when live view functionality was first introduced in cameras, “Big deal, so what, I never shoot video and I’ll probably never use it.” Well I couldn’t have been more wrong. For landscape and general nature photography applications I find I use it almost without exception. In no particular order, here’s why I love it so much.
1) Aids in Achieving Critical Focus and Depth of Field (dof) – Once I’ve determined my composition and set up the shot I switch live view on and zoom in to the portion of the scene I suspect should be my point of focus. I then focus manually while zoomed in, thus achieving perfect focus, something my camera’s autofocus seems incapable of doing more often than not. I’ll then set an aperture and use the depth of field preview while scrolling both near and far to determine if there’s proper dof. I can rotate through aperture settings and/or adjust focus manually until things look nice and sharp.
2) Live histogram for Exposure – I usually turn on the histogram function while using live view. I love this feature because in real time you can watch the effect that changes in aperture, shutter speed or exposure compensation will have on the histogram, as well as get a live preview of how those choices will affect the aesthetics of your shot.
3) Precise Placement of Graduated Neutral Density Filters – Yep, I still use grad nd filters and love them. In conjunction with #2 above, I find using live view to be very helpful when placing grads. You’re able to see in real time how well they balance the highlights with shadows as well as how the grad line effects the overall aesthetic. At times I’ll even determine that using a grad is not beneficial or effective and I’ll opt to bracket and blend later in Photoshop.
4) Grid Lines for Leveling Horizons – I used to use one of those fancy, albeit over priced little bubble levels that slides into the hotshoe on my camera to aid in leveling my shot. After dropping a couple into streams and off cliffs I decided not purchase another. Enter live view’s grid option. I love this handy little feature for leveling horizons (either actual or implied, like a receding lake shore) and paralleling vertical lines like buildings or trees.
5) Mirror Lock Up – We know how important it use to use mirror lock up for optimal sharpness. One added benefit of live view is that as long as it is on the mirror is locked up. This may not seem like a big deal but when you’re waiting for a pesky breeze to stop moving a flower or perhaps timing incoming waves on the coast the extra step involved with locking up the mirror can result in missing the shot. While using live view you can simply pop the shutter at the decisive moment and not worry about vibrations caused by mirror slap.
Live view was extremely helpful in shooting this scene near my home in central Vermont. If you’re not regularly making use of your camera’s live view function I would urge you to give it a try.
Technical Details: Canon 5D II, EF 16-35 f2.8L II, 3 stop reverse grad, f14 @ .4 sec, ISO 160