Shooting Tethered From a Camera Bag – The Lowepro S&F Laptop Utility Backpack

I learned a new trick several weeks ago that might just change the way that I shoot certain events. I had a chance to explore tethered shooting using Adobe Lightroom 3 and a laptop computer. To other photographers this may have been a no-brainer, but for some reason I’ve always had it in my head that tethered shooting was a studio thing. With that kind of thinking I was only getting half the picture.

I have used software in the past that permitted tethered capture but those programs seemed to concentrate more on remote viewing and release of the camera. Using something like Canon’s EOS Utility I had been able to setup my camera and link it to my computer. Then through the Utility software I could make camera settings changes and trip the shutter and send the image to the hard drive. This worked well when I was taking pictures of products in a studio or a series of images all from the same vantage point.

To me, tethered shooting meant stationary and tied down. Then I stumbled across a few posts in the Lightroom 3 bulletin boards that caused me to rethink my notions. These posting photographers were using tethered cameras on the move.

With select cameras Adobe’s Lightroom 3 can manage image downloading on the fly. As a picture is taken by the camera it is processed and stored by Lightroom on the laptop’s hard drive or other designated storage device. The biggest challenge is finding the means to carry the laptop while it is connected to the camera.

Lowepro, a popular maker of camera bags, solved the laptop transportation problem with their excellent S&F Laptop Utility Backpack. Inside the storage compartment of the backpack is a suspension system that holds a laptop suspended and off the bottom of the bag. This means that all data or power ports on the laptop can have cables attached without fear of crimping the cables.

In addition, the Utility Backpack has channels sewn into the straps that can be used as conduit to lead a USB cord from the inside pack compartment to a convenient opening on the front of the shoulder strap. A six foot USB cord is long enough to go from your camera in hand to a USB port on the laptop inside the backpack (I do add a USB extender to my rig because my longer arms make for a seven foot circuit from computer to the camera resting on my neck strap).

So we have all of the gear in place. Lightroom 3 running on a laptop that rests inside the Lowepro Laptop Utility Backpack. A USB cord connects the laptop to my compatible camera and runs through the channels sewn into the Utility Backpack which keeps the cord out of my way and also prevents it from snagging on things as I move about.

Why bother with all of this rigging? Well, before zipping up the backpack and starting to wander and shoot the photographer can set Lightroom to apply a certain preset to all of the images captured. Commonly the photographer would shoot the first image containing a white balance card, then use the ‘Develop’ module in Lightroom to get the color balance set just right, and finally select ‘Same As Previous’ for the preset on the capture dialog bar to be applied to all new images. Now all of the images captured will share the same white balance. This will save a ton of time in post processing.

The photographer can have Lightroom save all of the images to the laptop hard drive or choose to send them to any other connected memory device such as a USB hard drive or a large thumb drive. No matter the choice, the photographer is free to wander and shoot pictures until the laptop battery or the camera battery is exhausted.

This kind of image capture would be ideal for street events, fairs and festivals, or even a long hike in the woods. The beauty of a tethered shooting rig like this is that all of the pictures taken can be processed and ready to view moments after capture. Shooting tethered in this instance isn’t about vast amounts of storage space for images, it’s about applying select preset manipulations at the time of capture to reduce the amount of computer face time in post production.

Just a couple more points to make, first it is possible to select a white balance on the first shot and then realize 30 minutes later that the light has changed drastically. In this case you will always have the RAW files to go back to in order to change the white balance to something a little more accurate. Second, if you have purchased Lightroom 3 you can run two instances of the software – one on your home desktop computer and another on a laptop. Not having to purchase another instance of a $300 program really helps keep the expenses down!

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