Camera Techniques - The Best Camera Tools

When composing a scene, it is sometimes necessary to achieve a perspective that requires the camera to be positioned in a way that makes it impossible or difficult to look through the viewfinder. Macro photography is a good example as it often requires the camera to be near the ground to get eye level with the subject. Another example is when landscape photographers want a high perspective and are not tall enough to get face to face with the camera's viewfinder.

When setting up for a shot, the photographer must do three things - compose the scene, expose the scene and focus on the scene. To compose or frame the scene, it must be viewed either through the viewfinder (ideally) or the back panel. In the image above, the camera is above eye level so looking through the camera's eyepiece is not an option. Fortunately, my camera, like all mirrorless cameras and many DSLR cameras has Live View. Live View allows you to view the scene on the back panel before you take a shot. This is very useful for a couple reasons.  First, if I can't look through the viewfinder like in the situation above, I need to view the scene on the back panel.

Even better, my camera, like many digital cameras has an articulating back panel, as you see in the photo above. By pivoting the back panel down at an angle, I can view it from below without the glare. Now I can see everything I need to see!

The second advantage to Live View is that camera settings can be viewed on the back panel, especially important for exposure. Because I use manual exposure, I need to access ISO, aperture and shutter speed, as you see in the three images above.

Although I can see the exposure settings, I cannot see the camera's meter (which is in the viewfinder). How do I know I have the correct exposure? This is where the power of Live View becomes obvious. Live View allows me to see the scene as it will be exposed before I take the shot. What I see on the back panel (and for many cameras, the viewfinder as well) is the image's exposure changing before my eyes as I adjust ISO, aperture or shutter speed. Take a look at the two images above, one showing an underexposed scene, the other a well exposed scene.

My camera offers an even more powerful tool and that is Live View Histogram. Live View has been commonplace among modern digital cameras for at least a decade and for many cameras (not all) Live View Histogram can be displayed on the back panel (and sometimes the viewfinder). That is, the camera will allow the histogram to be viewed while you make adjustments to the exposure settings. Before Live View, the histogram was available only when reviewing a shot after taking it.

Look again at the two images above. Note the histogram diagram on the bottom right corner. When exposing a scene, you want to avoid pushing too much data to the left (underexposing and clipping the dark areas) and data to the right (overexposing and clipping the bright areas). In other words, reviewing the histogram as you adjust the exposure will help you avoid losing detail in the dark and bright areas of the scene.

There is one more tool that I rely on when shooting landscape/waterscape scenes and that is the touch screen as you see in the image above.  Most current digital cameras provide touch screen and where that tool shines is when it is used to auto focus. Be mindful however that some cameras allow you to activate the shutter button by touching the screen. I recommend you disable that and allow the touch screen to be used only to focus before you activate the shutter button.

One final thought - even when you can use the viewfinder and have the camera comfortably in front of you, Live View and the histogram are very useful tools to help you set the exposure. Learn to interpret the histogram and use it to capture well exposed scenes every time. Here are some links to check out.

Blog: Live View Histogram explained

Blog: Use the histogram and avoid clipping

Video: Using Live View for correct exposure

Video: Use the histogram for wide dynamic range scenes

Thanks for looking on and if you are in the south Florida area, please consider taking a workshop, individualized, and scheduled at a mutually agreed upon time. Check out my website and feel free to contact me at