Using Live-View for Landscape Photography

Most modern cameras have a feature known as “live-view” that can be used to see the image in the LCD of the camera instead of the viewfinder. Modern LCDs are big and have a lot of resolution so they can be used to get a sharp photo, proper exposure and the right depth of field for landscape photography. In this article we’ll show a quick way to approach landscape photography using live-view.
 

 
Advantages of Live-View over the viewfinder for landscape photography.

We assume you are using a tripod, if you are not using a tripod then the viewfinder is probably better.

- The big LCD allows you to check the depth of field
- You can check the exposure and even the histogram for the photo (in exposure simulation mode)
- You can check the framing in 100% mode, most viewfinders are not 100% in coverage
- You can make sure the photo is level using a grid
- You can check for perfect focus using live-view magnification
- In live-view mode the mirror is up so it’s an effective way to use mirror-locup for sharper shots
 

As a disadvantage live-view generates heat in the sensor and that produces noise. At daytime that noise is completely harmless as the signal is too strong. At night the thermal noise can start to be a problem so live-view use should be minimized when you shoot at night.
 

 
Step 1: Compose

Use live-view to compose your shot, you are seeing 100% of your frame so you can check the borders and make sure you are happy with your composition.

Step 2: Focus

Put your camera/lens in manual focus mode.

Using live-view select an aperture that you think will work for the scene, for example F8. Then pressing the DOF-preview button start with focus at infinite and move it towards the foreground until the background stops being sharp. That’s the closest you can focus with your selected aperture for a sharp background!

If your foreground is sharp then you are done. If not then move to a smaller aperture (larger F-number) and repeat the process.  For example move from F8 to F11.

What you are doing is finding your hyperfocal distance without the need of tables or calculations. Live-view to the rescue!

You are also trying to avoid diffraction by using the bigger aperture (smaller F-number) you can for the DOF you need.

Tip: Use live-view magnification if needed to make sure your focus is perfect.

Step 3: Exposure

Make sure you are shooting RAW.

Activate the live-view histogram to check the real-time histogram for your shot. Select the slowest exposure you can afford without parts of the histogram touching the right side. The goal is to expose as much to the right as you can but not more. Don’t worry if the photo looks overexposed you can correct that without a problem when you process your RAW file. This is known as “ETTR” for expose-to-the-right and has the goal to maximize the signal to noise ratio in your photo. In short words: less noise.

Note: sometimes if there’s a very bright element in the shot like the sun some parts have to be overexposed for the rest of the landscape to have detail. It’s your decision.

When the dynamic range of the scene is just too big then you need to use a graduated filter or shoot more than 1 photo with different exposure levels to then combine the shots in your favorite photo-editor software.

With this simple method you can get:

- Minimum diffraction
- Perfect Depth of Field
- Perfect Focus
- Maximum Sharpness
- Perfect exposure
 

And you don’t need hyperfocal distance tables, a light-meter or anything special. You just need to activate live-view and use your LCD to make sure that what you see in the display is what you want. It is really as simple as that.

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  1. Fer

    Excelente explicacion, Luis. La voy a practicar. Saludos!! fer_cba :-)

  2. Phil barry

    I find the use of live view very useful for composing and metering when useing a 9 stop ND filter to drag water, I focus first, then place on the 9 stop filter, alter my shutter and aperture until I see the shot I want on the screen no need to calculate the 9 stop difference then I take the shot works for me!

  3. john

    Not all cameras are created equal… Live view mode is not the same as MLU on Nikons (the mirror does in fact drop before opening the shutter when using live view). There are a handful of Canon cameras that Live view is an alternative for MLU but for some of them the mirror drops before the shutter opens as well.

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