Better When You Tether in an Educational Environment: Jeff McLain

Posted by: on Sep 10, 2013

This article was written by Jeff McLain for the Better When You Tether series of articles by professional photographers who experience the benefits of shooting tethered in various shooting environments.

YouTether_Logo_082613-02In-Studio with Rocky Mountain School of Photography

Photo courtesy ©Jeff McLain

In the pre-digital film days, professional photographers had a specific workflow we’d adhere to before committing the shot to film. We’d assess the ambient light in the scene, if any, and meter the strobe lighting to meet our intended aperture and light quality to which we were aiming. Before the final set of shots, we’d pop a number of Polaroids. Some of these were a separate camera itself, such as a Polaroid back affixed to a 35mm body; and sometimes they were interchangeable backs, such as on medium format systems; and sometimes they were a Polaroid sheet holder we’d use in a 4×5 or 8×10 format camera. The Polaroid shot gave us a ‘preview’ of sorts to the look and exposure of the shot. In critical focus shots, often we’d expose a sheet of Type-55 black and white, which yielded a black and white negative with which we’d examine with a loupe to make sure our focus was dead-on. After finessing with these Polaroid previews, we were more comfortable committing to the film exposures. 

Photo courtesy ©Jeff McLain

Nowadays, the digital ‘Polaroid’ preview is the view we get on the LCD screen on the back of our cameras. Unfortunately, these screens are around 2”x3” in size, which is small and difficult to make critical judgements regarding composition, styling, exposure, and color. Out in the bright sun, this difficulty is compounded. But digital cameras today have the advantage of being plugged directly into a laptop or desktop computer, for on-screen previews, only limited by the display size. 

Photo courtesy ©Sarah Ehlen

At Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula, Montana, I have been championing the advantages of tethering the camera to the computer when possible. The relative size of the preview on a laptop is far superior to what we get on the back on the screen. We also can make sure our monitors are calibrated so we are getting the most accurate rendering of our color and exposure. In addition to this, most clients today are becoming accustomed to seeing the shots on-screen and don’t want to have to art direct to a 2×3 inch screen. And on larger commercial shoots, where we have multiple stylists and clients, previewing on computer screen is necessary. 

Photo courtesy ©Sarah Ehlen

Students at the program shoot a mix of tabletop work and portraiture in the studio environment, and in both situations tethering has distinct advantages over camera-only previewing. Tethering has its limitations, specifically if you want to be hand-held and moving around – but even then tethering can be extremely useful. I instruct my students that even if they intend to not shoot their portraits tethered, they should start out tethered to dial in the lighting, exposure, color and overall scene to perfection – and then unhook and shoot to card. It’s really just a larger, more accurate, more adaptable ‘Polaroid’ kind of workflow. The students utilize Tether Tools Aero Master and Aero Traveler table tops and are equipped with TetherPro USB 2.0 and 3.0 cables, Aero Hooks to hang the cables, and XDC hard-drive compartments that are discretely positioned below the tabletop surface. Being able to maneuver the tethering station around the studio on wheels is critical, so the whole system sits atop Avenger Low Boy Studio Roller stands. The Aero system is adaptable to location work, when they can move the table top from the rolling stand and attach it to a tripod on-location. The Aero ProPad provides a non-slip surface on the table for the laptops and the Clear Power Surge Protectors are mounted below the table as well for power needs. In my view, tethering is pretty critical in today’s photographic market. It’s a workflow that some students have to get used to – most think it is really cool to shoot the camera and see their image large on the screen. I find that in most cases, a tethering workflow vastly improves the quality of the work. It slows the pace down and forces the student to really look and assess their image before cracking off a slew of shots.

About Jeff McLain

jeff-mclain-headshotJeff McLain is a photographer, videographer, and digital artist. His expertise in digital capture and post production has been a valuable asset in the creation of myriad images. His clients include Williams Sonoma, Keen Shoes, Mountain Hardwear and Robert Mondavi Wines. His work has taken him across the U.S. as well as overseas. When not shooting in-studio or on-location, Jeff spends time with his young son in Missoula, Montana.

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