Why I Use Live View

Horseshoe Bend, Page, AZ

I think one of the best innovations in high end DSLRs is the incorporation of “Live View”.  Live View gives you the ability to use the Preview/Review screen on the back of your camera to make photographs.  I will be using Canon “terms” in this blog as that is the equipment we use.

Peter using Live View on Beetle Rock, Sequoia National Park, CA

Almost all point and shoots now use a screen for composition and focusing.  Most do not even have an eye piece.  People are now used to holding a camera away from their eyes at arm’s length and pushing the “shutter button.”

The View from Beetle Rock

I get the feeling that Single Lens Reflex (SLR) owners and users frowned upon this as they used their eye pieces that contained a number of important information such as exposure and focusing lock, as well as information about aperture, shutter speed and exposure stops that were built into the eye piece.

Greg Duncan using his eye piece and Mary getting ready to shoot at Badwater Basin, Death Valley, CA

The big problem with the review screens on older DSLRs was that they were very small and were of low picture quality.  The review screen on my old Canon 10D is just 1 inch by 1.5 inches.  One would never use it to make a determination of the quality of a photo, solely based on what was on the review screen.

Two major upgrades have completely revolutionized the use of the Preview/Review Screens.  First, the screens are now much bigger and have very high quality DPI (dots per inch).  They are now basically high resolution VGA flat screens.  The newest Canons have screens that are 2.5×2 inches and have 900,000 dpi.  Second, the cameras now, in Live View, can show you exposure simulation that is very close to the final photograph.  I have personally found it right on, within 1/3 of a stop accurate.  As the exposure time gets longer the accuracy diminishes.  However, this is a great improvement over the use of the eye piece and exposure compensation reading within the camera, especially for landscape photographers.

Mary and Peter using Live View, hanging over the edge of Horseshoe Bend, AZ

Here is how I shoot in Live View.

  1. I almost always use a tripod for composition.  I also use a bubble level.  I turn on the “Live View.”  This flips up the mirror and uses the camera’s sensor directly to communicate information to the Preview/Review Screen.  Also, Live View has a “rule of thirds” grid screen for assistance in composition.  There are several options including having a live histogram on the screen as you change exposure.  There are times, when a tripod is optional – like looking over the edge of Horseshoe Bend.  Here we are using Live View hand-held, more below.
  2. I compose and focus.  I choose the point I want to have sharp, whether it is a specific subject or 1/3 of the way into the photo.  I use the magnification buttons to magnify the subject 10x and adjust the focusing ring manually.  You can also use auto focus, but I always check with the magnification buttons, if I can.
  3. Once I have the composition I want and I am confident that it is focused, I work on exposure.  I shot f/16 in Manual Mode and in Live View I adjust the shutter speed until I like the looks of the exposure and I am usually within plus or minus 1 stop of the camera’s auto exposure reading.  You can also take these same steps in Aperture Priority and use exposure compensation.  In either case, the preview screen will be very accurate.
  4. Push the shutter button, use a remote control, or the timer.  Either way, I try to keep my hands off of the camera to reduce shaking.  Look at the review screen and check your histogram.  You can also use the magnification buttons, if you want to check the sharpness again.
Peter using Live View at the Antelope Valley, CA Poppy Fields
Antelope Valley, CA Poppy Fields
There are several other advantages to using Live View.  Many of the screens now swing out from the camera and can be adjusted.  This is especially useful when shooting from very low or very high awkward positions.  My Canon G12 has this feature, as does Mary’s new Canon Rebel T3i.
Mary using Live View on Rhododendruns in Oregon
Mary using Live View for macro flower shots in Moro Bay, CA

It is also a little hard to use Live View Mode hand held, but you can do it with a little practice.  As easy as it seems with a point and shoot, I find it difficult with the Canon 5D Mark II or any other bigger DSLR because they are heavier and more bulky.  There are situations where hand held Live View can be quite useful.  When I do use Live View, I hold the bottom of my camera with my left hand, the back button focus and shutter button with my right hand, and stretch out my arms so that the neck strap is very very tight.  This “triangle” gives me a lot of stability.  I also increase the ISO to 400-3200 to get a good shutter speed without blur.

The Live View Hand-held technique with an R Strap, Old Town San Diego, CA

When we were in the Antelope Slot Canyons in Page, Arizona, there where places where we could not use a tripod because the canyon was so narrow.  I used the technique above to make this photo.

Antelope Slot Canyon hand-held with Live View

There are definitely times when Live View is not the optimal shooting mode.  Live View can be inaccurate for long exposures, over 20 seconds, and will not do an exposure longer than 30 seconds.  I still use it for composition and focusing and then I turn it off and figure out the exposure time the old fashion way, internal metering, and trial and error for very long exposures.  I do not use Live View Mode for shooting sports, photographing animals, nor any fast moving subjects like race cars or small children.  I do not use it in these situations when I am using a mono-pod.  Lastly, I do not use it for making portraits where you are moving around a lot and a tripod is hard to use.

Mary using her eye piece and Peter on Live View in Arizona

So, if you have not used Live View for landscape photography, I highly recommend it.  Live View is not for all situations, but it certainly should be a tool that you use for set pieces and places where you can use a tripod and take your time to compose and execute a finely made landscape photograph.  To see more of our photographs, please go to www.pamphotography.com.


  1. pamphotography

    we’re glad you’re enjoying it. you can also subscribe – that way you will get an email every time we post something new (we typically post 2ce/week). If you have anything you’d like to see, let us know – we’re always open to suggestions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s