Using Live View for Composition

Author: Amy Novotny

Live View is a great tool featured on many new digital cameras and serves many purposes. It can help with focus, with shooting scenes in which the camera is higher or lower than the photographer, and with composition.

With landscapes and macro shots, Live View allows for greater control in manually focusing and creating sharper images. With auto-focus, the camera attempts to focus on a spot but might not be able to narrow down the focus to the specific object desired, especially if the scene contains a lot of different elements or objects.  This can lead to the focus being on a nearby object even if that object is not the desired focus point.  After switching to Live View, the photographer can then zoom in on the specific object that needs to be in focus and manually focus from there.


This can be used in macro photography as well when images are focus-stacked and the focus needs to be adjusted in slight amounts over multiple images and then be combined into one image that is fully in focus.


Live View can also help with shooting images in which the photographer cannot have his or her eye at the viewfinder. This can be beneficial if the photographer wants to photograph a scene that requires the camera to be much higher or lower than the photographer has access to. For instance, in the scene below, the Great Horned Owl was perched high in the canyon walls of the slot canyon, Canyon X. It was impossible to move further away from the bird due to being in a narrow slot canyon. Furthermore, having the camera on a tripod on the ground would not allow for the owl to be in the frame, so the camera was raised above the photographer’s head and Live View turned on. The shot was framed and composed in this manner and allowed for a clear image of this bird.


This tool can be useful in composing images that have a lot of detail in the scene. In the two scenes below, it can be difficult to find a way to isolate aspects of the canyon walls or balance the multitude of sunflowers in the scene. In both cases, Live View was turned on and the camera was swiveled on a tripod until the desired composition was seen. Various angles were attempted and slight adjustments were made to account for all the various shapes in nature. The resulting images were achieved through this method and possibly would not have been seen without Live View.



This is a great tool to experiment with and can even help capture sharper images that requires less post-processing or cropping.

Amy Novotny is a Volunteer Trip Leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Twitter: @amynovotnyaz
Instagram: anovotn



Nikon’s “Live View” Grows Up

Author:  John Frelich

For those of us who felt like “2nd Cousins” to our Canon brethren because we couldn’t just focus and shoot in “Live View,” a new day has dawned. With my D700 I had to focus in a limited area of the image and then close out “Live View” to then capture an image. Those with Canons didn’t have to do the same and would look at us strangely when discussing the problem.   The process was mainly used to manually focus on an off center spot to get the best possible results.

Recently I purchased a new D810 and was going through a Field Guide for the camera. Under the topic it updated the capability of the Nikons to shoot either in a manual or tripod based process but also discussed how auto focus (or manual) can be used as well as a split screen process to focus on both sides of the viewer and on the subject. From that point of focus you can just capture your image by pressing the shutter button.

For those interested in video capture the D810 also added capabilities that go beyond the original still image system becoming a hybrid digital single lens reflex camera that could take video. From the little time I’ve had the camera it seems that this entire process has clearly been improved.  Has this been passed down to other models, everyone will have to research this for themselves.

John Frelich is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops


Practice, Practice, Practice To Make Better Photographs

Author: Vern West

It rained last night here in the White Mountains so when we arose this morning there were several new mushrooms that had sprouted overnight. I decided to try some macro or close ups of a new fungi. Macro really means 1:1 image so if the subject is larger than your sensor, as this mushroom was, what you are doing is making a close up photograph.

The sky was sunny with a frequent clouds so the light was constantly changing from soft light when a cloud was in front of the sun or rather harsh directional light when the sun was out. I have a small set of diffuser/reflectors that I take when traveling so I knew I would need them.

The mushroom that I was photographing is only three inches tall so I also knew that I would have to be lying on the ground to photograph it. I have bad knees and tender elbows so I got out several foam pads to lie on. I started off putting my camera on a beanbag figuring that would be high enough but it gave me too much detail in the back ground. I needed to have my camera a couple of inches higher. I then went to plan B and got out my tripod and adjusted it to put my camera in the vertical format about 4-5 inches off the ground. Below is what my setup looked like.


Now that I had the composition that I wanted I used Live View to focus. I use back button focus so my lens is always in manual focus. You may have to switch the lens to manual focus to be able to use live view and have the focus remain as you set it. You don’t want the camera to readjust the focus when you depress the shutter button. If you are unsure about how to focus using live view I’ll explain it in a future  blog post. When the sun was out I used a loupe to help focus. This process can be rather slow and is best accomplished with a little “trial and error” to achieve the best focus.

I set my camera to Aperture Priority because of the light changing so frequently. This assured that the F/16 I set would remain under the varying light conditions thus giving maximum depth of field. I would probably use manual exposure under more constant light. I then set the timer to two seconds so that my touching the camera would not affect the sharpness of the image plus 2 seconds would give me time to use the reflector and diffuser myself. I could have used a remote shutter release to aid in sharpness but that would have required someone else to hold the reflector and diffuser.

So here are three images that reflect several lighting conditions.

  • The first is when a cloud moved in front of the sun. You can see that the light is pretty uniform.
  • The second is with the sun out but a diffuser over the mushroom to soften the light. Notice the stalk is shadowed.
  • On the third image I used not only a diffuser to soften the light but I also used a silver reflector to add some light to the stalk of the mushroom.




Now as to which version is best? Art and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say “your mileage may vary”. I rather prefer the soft uniform light but in other cases a I have used reflectors and diffusers to achieve what my vision said was right.  So  try some practice, practice, practice and make your vision translate into better photographs.

Vern West is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Focusing at Night

by Beth Ruggiero-York

One of the most common questions about night photography is “How do I focus at night?”, and rightfully so, especially if you are accustomed to relying on autofocus in daylight. The sharpness of an image is critical to its success, and that includes night images.

In this post, I will guide you through four different methods for night focusing and help you to decide which method is right for different situations. These methods apply to establishing “infinity focus” so that everything at infinity is sharp, or nearer focus.

If you are familiar with the markings on your camera lenses, then you know that there is an “infinity” mark (∞) on the focus ring. Don’t be tempted to simply line the focus ring up with the infinity mark and expect sharp focus. The focus ring “stop” for autofocus lenses extends slightly beyond the infinity mark to give a cushion to the autofocus motor. In this case, manual focusing will be necessary to achieve infinity focus. For many lenses that are manual focus only (e.g., Zeiss), however, the infinity mark (in this case, turning the focus ring to its stop) is infinity. You should test your manual focus lens in the field to make sure this is the case, but once you know, it will make night focus on infinity a simple process.

Note: Remember that infinity focus is needed for night scenes without a close foreground. If your subject is closer than infinity distance, then you need to focus on either the subject or the hyperfocal distance (explained below).

Method 1: The Moon or a Distant Light After Dark

For images requiring infinity focus, if the Moon or even a partial moon (quarter moon or larger) is visible, you can take advantage of autofocus. If the Moon is not visible or is only a sliver, look instead for a distant, bright light to serve the same purpose.

  1. Autofocus on the Moon or light using the center focusing point in your viewfinder;
  2. Switch camera/lens to Manual Focus;
  3. Use a piece of gaffer tape to secure the focus ring.

Method 2: A Distant or Near Object Before Dark

This method applies to images requiring either infinity focus or closer focus. If you arrive at the site and set up your camera gear before dark (this is always recommended), establish your focus on an appropriate object. Use a distant object (e.g., mountains in the distance) for infinity focus, or a near object (e.g., a building or automobile that you will be light painting) for closer focus. If you want both a near object in focus as well as, for instance, the sky, you will need to do one of two things: 1) Use hyperfocal distance (explained below); or, 2) Take two images, one of the foreground and one of the background (e.g., sky, mountains, etc.) and merge them as a composite in post-processing.

  1. Autofocus on the desired subject using the center focusing point in your viewfinder;
  2. Switch camera/lens to Manual Focus;
  3. Use a piece of gaffer tape to secure the focus ring.

Method 3: Live View

Focusing after dark without the aid of the Moon or a distant light as described in Method 1 is easiest and most effective with Live View.

For infinity focus:

  1. Find a bright star or planet with your naked eye
  2. Locate the star or planet in the center of the viewfinder
  3. Turn on Manual Focus and Live View
  4. Zoom to 10x magnification
  5. Focus manually on the star or planet (when it is smallest and “crunchiest”)
  6. Lock down focus ring with gaffer tape

For near focus:

  1. Turn on Manual Focus and Live View
  2. Locate and illuminate the near subject in Live View with a bright flashlight
  3. Zoom to 10x magnification
  4. Focus manually on the illuminated subject
  5. Lock down focus ring with gaffer tape

Method 4: Hyperfocal Distance

Hyperfocal distance is defined as the “closest distance at which a lens can be focused while keeping objects at infinity acceptably sharp.” There are several phone apps that can be used to calculate hyperfocal distance. Before the days of electronic conveniences, photographers carried a chart with them to calculate it. Some examples of these apps are PhotoBuddy, DOF Master, iDoF Calc, etc.

  1. Calculate the hyperfocal distance using an app;
  2. Measure out the distance either by pacing it off or estimating visually;
  3. Use autofocus or manual focus, as appropriate, to establish focus;
  4. Switch to manual focus;
  5. Lock down focus ring with gaffer tape.

If you are using Method 4, and it is dark, you will need a very bright flashlight to illuminate an object at the hyperfocal distance to aid the focusing process. Ideally, you will pace out the distance and place a flashlight at the location, return to your camera, focus, and then retrieve the flashlight. I have listed hyperfocal distance last of the four focus methods because it is the most cumbersome to use at night. Nevertheless, when all else fails, it is an option.

The last thing I would like to recommend is practice, practice, and practice more, and soon focusing at night will become second nature.