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Tether on the Move

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Sure, the more recent LCD screens on the back of our cameras do a fairly good job at helping us estimate focus accuracy, and the histogram gives us a decent idea of our exposure. But as good as they have become, they cannot compare to looking at images up close on a proper computer screen.

Shooting "tethered", by having the camera connected to a computer, provides a number of benefits. On top of the aforementioned advantages of seeing the result on a better display, software (like Phase One's Capture One) allows to make automatic adjustments to every image shot, such as a precise white balance. When shooting with a loose framing for a layout, one can apply automatic cropping and overlays. One can judge focus accuracy much quicker with focus masks (when your camera doesn't already provide it). It also helps that everything you shoot is automatically backed up in a separate location, so you can feel safer. And if you have clients on the set, you can let them see your progress along the way.

That's all well and good, but how do you shoot tethered on location? You can have a computer installed on a table or a cart, which is fine if you're working inside and not moving around much. But if you have to move frequently or shoot outside, it can become a pain to find a proper surface to put down the laptop, with your USB cable lying around on which you will inevitably trip and disconnect.

In fact, you already know the advantages of shooting tethered, but the point I want to make is simply that if it's too much of a hassle, you just won't do it. The solution I discovered after seeing Joe McNally's setup (and later Drew Gardner's) puts all of that aggravation to rest.

A convenient tethering setup for location work(1).

What it is, is a horizontal accessory arm (this one made by Manfrotto) and a platform (this one made by Gitzo)(2) that allow you to support the whole rig (camera and laptop) together on your tripod. This provides a solid setup with minimal footprint—all you need is a short USB cable on which you won't trip, and you're set!

Now, I have to admit, this is not a setup I would want use all the time. When I am working "run and gun", exploring and documenting a location, this setup would slow me down more than anything. In such a case, I would prefer having a lighter setup (just a camera on sticks) of which I can adjust the height and legs easily and quickly. But any time I would be on a given spot for more than a few minutes, where I would want to carefully prepare the shot, perhaps moving furniture and props around, setting up and tweaking lights, then it would totally make sense.


(1) Yes, I am a PC guy. That's a topic for another [polemical] post.

(2) Keep in mind that the platform is just a "dumb" flat surface that can accommodate a 15" laptop. Whoever wakes up and makes a platform that provides a mechanism to secure the laptop in place better, hooks and straps for AC cables, perhaps room for a mouse, compartment underneath to fit a small external hard drive, etc., would take over the market, because there simply isn't anything like that out there (that I know of).

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