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Technique

Le présent article n'est pas disponible en Français
November 2007

When a photographer finishes a shoot, the most likely next step is to take the memory card out of the camera and download the images onto a computer for processing. However, a few years ago, the demands of one of my clients forced me to explore tethered shooting and led me to a whole new way of working.

Professional photographers can sometimes act just like small children at lunch-time; they know what they like to eat and are sceptical of anything new. I too was afraid of cables in the past, especially the cumbersome firewire cables. The plugs would come loose, connections could get wet and the camera socket could all too easily be damaged.

In those early days, I was one of many photographers who shunned cables, preferring instead to stick with a tried and tested card reader to transfer my images. But that all changed when a client asked to see pictures of their ice-hockey team as I was shooting them. Since the customer is always right, I sourced an extra-long firewire cable and set up the EOS-1Ds (my favourite camera at the time) to connect to my laptop. Eventually I got it all working and despite one of the players getting tangled in a cable, the customer was happy. I was still unsure of the cables, but at least I had a working model to build on.

An ice-hockey shoot where I used tethered shooting to allow the client to see the images on a larger screen as they were shot.
 

An ice-hockey shoot where I used tethered shooting to allow the client to see the images on a larger screen as they were shot.

With the launch of the EOS-1D Mark III, my cable worries dissolved into thin air. In the box, Canon had included a small cable bracket and locking nut that ensures the cable connection is much harder to break than it used to be. In fact, it’s so strong you can hang the camera from the USB cable without it coming off. The only worry is the cable-to-computer connection, but as long as you’re careful, a bit of tape onto the side of the computer usually suffices since the full size USB connections are stronger than the mini-B connectors at the camera end.

The locking nut connector holding the USB cable securely onto the EOS-1D Mark III.
 

The locking nut connector holding the USB cable securely onto the EOS-1D Mark III.

The two types of USB connection on the lead. On the left is the mini-B connector that fits the camera, on the right is the Type A connector that plugs into the computer.
 

The two types of USB connection on the lead. On the left is the mini-B connector that fits the camera, on the right is the Type A connector that plugs into the computer.

The connection standard has also been changed, to USB 2. This is a much more widely supported standard and ports are included on almost any recent computer. The connection speed is up to 480Mbit/sec and computers recognise USB connections in a reliable and robust fashion - simply connect the cables, turn on the camera and wait a second while the drivers initiate. Canon EOS Utility starts automatically and you’re up and running. This USB standard and the screw attachment are so robust you can continue to use it even while mobile with an ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) or pocket PC.

So tethered shooting is now a viable solution, and for many, it provides a useful tool. To make use of this technology, you need to first make sure you have installed the software that came with your camera, specifically EOS Utility. This allows the camera and computer to communicate and provides some very useful features. The advantages of tethered shooting are many and varied.

1. Taking images directly from the camera to the computer

EOS Utility opening, showing the options available and the preferences button to select where images are downloaded.
 

EOS Utility opening, showing the options available and the preferences button to select where images are downloaded.

USB 2 provides a fast connection to transfer the images. To connect the camera and computer using the supplied cable, in EOS Utility select the destination folder for the images, and then choose to either download images one-by-one or all at once. Once the download is complete, Digital Photo Professional will open and allows further browsing and processing of the images.

2. Working in a live environment for instant feedback

In many photo studios tethered shooting is part of the daily routine. The photographer, assistant, and often client, like to view the images as quickly as possible. Using a large screen to review images allows you to see mistakes in lighting and focus easier than looking at the back of the camera. For commercial shoots, the client or art director often likes to take part in these discussions and they appreciate the ability to review images on a large screen rather than huddling around the back of the camera. For portrait studios images can be downloaded, reviewed and printed without any delay. Removing the need to switch cards can save a lot of time and the customer can leave with their images immediately.

A typical studio set-up for a client where wireless shooting allows me to show the client the images directly as well as check for focus or lighting issues.
 

A typical studio set-up for a client where wireless shooting allows me to show the client the images directly as well as check for focus or lighting issues.

3. Remote shooting

For shooting static subjects in a studio, the EOS-1D Mark III, EOS-1Ds Mark III and EOS 40D offer remote Live View shooting. Connect the camera to the computer with the USB cable, make sure EOS Utility is open and select ‘Start remote shooting’ from the tools menu. This will turn on Live View on the camera and you will be able to see what the camera is seeing on the computer screen. More importantly, you will be able to change settings on the camera and drive the focus motor to get the shot you want. You can even check depth of field on the large screen. When you’re happy, you can fire the camera, again using the computer, and the image will be downloaded to the computer.

 

Live View in the EOS Utility window. This is the image the camera is seeing, being relayed wired or wirelessly to the computer in real-time. On the middle right are white balance, focus and depth-of-field preview buttons. The palette on the far right shows the camera settings.

A world without wires

The following year, the client I’d photographed the ice-hockey team for wanted me to do more of the same, but this time he wanted images and slideshows projected onto a large plasma screen so the sponsors in the grandstands could see the images live. Canon had just launched its WFT-E1 wireless file transmitter and I was able to send pictures to a laptop 50m away from where they were relayed to a 30-inch screen that the sponsors could watch from their seats.

This convinced me that there was a huge potential for wireless photography. I, like many other photographers, found the lack of mobility with a wired connection stopped me using it at events or on location where freedom of movement is essential.

The WFT-E2 WiFi unit attached to a camera
 

The WFT-E2 WiFi unit attached to a camera

The update to the older WFT-E1, the WFT-E2 has completed the jigsaw I’ve been working on for the last five years. Using this, I can wirelessly transmit images from the camera to a computer free from the burden of cables.

The WFT-E2 is a wireless LAN (Local Area Network) adaptor that connects to the side of the camera by way of a strong screw thread and a connecting arm. It is small enough to be unobtrusive and I personally leave mine connected to the camera most of the time. It doesn’t even seem to mind a drop of rain.

While the WFT-E1 provided a solution, the great step forward with the WFT-E2 (and the WFT-E3 for the EOS 40D) is the ease with which it can be set-up. Most photographers are not wireless network experts, and while I’d still advise you to get some help from someone who understands wireless networks, the new connection wizard will help you find your way through the maze.

From Ad-Hoc to Picture Transfer Protocol (PTP)

For wireless LAN adaptors, there are two methods of connection.

1. Ad-Hoc - this is a direct connection between a wireless LAN (the WFT-E2 in this case) and a computer using the wireless network connector built into most modern computers. This offers a range of around 100m but this will vary with local conditions and the strength of the wireless network adaptor in the computer. For shooting in studios and confined spaces, this is the best option.

2. Using an access point (AP) to establish a wireless network is called an infrastructure connection. An access point may be attached to a computer or may simply be a wireless router (like the ones many people use to provide wireless internet in their homes) that could be connected to the internet. Wireless access points are often supplied with antennas giving an operating range of several hundred meters. Many sports stadiums and increasingly many cities provide wireless LAN access points. Many cost money to use, though free WiFi hotspots are becoming more widespread.

To establish a wireless network, the components (the WFT unit and the computer or access point) need to be configured. To make an analogy, it is like two people agreeing to communicate on either side of the Atlantic using a telephone. They first need to swap phone numbers, and then if they speak different languages they need to decide on which one to use.

This kind of communication in a computer network is called TCP/IP. The phone number is the IP address and the language is the ‘protocol’. Wireless networks use three protocols to communicate - File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and PTP (Picture Transfer Protocol). FTP is the primary data transfer protocol for the internet and is still one of the most used methods for transmitting pictures to clients. HTTP is the standard protocol for the internet - look at the address bar of your browser, the web address will be preceded by ‘http://’. PTP has been developed to connect cameras to computers. It enables bi-directional communication so pictures can be sent from the camera to the computer and commands can be sent from the computer to the camera. In the case of the cameras featuring Live View, live pictures can be transmitted back to the computer. This enables data transfer and remote control of the camera, all without wires.

Setting up a wireless network

This will differ depending on whether you are using a PC or a Mac, and also with the software and hardware you are using. As such, it is impossible to give a set of instructions that will work for everybody. Instead, below you will find a series of guidelines that will put you on the right path to getting everything working.

1. Start with an Ad-Hoc network.

Setting an IP address on a PC
 

Setting an IP address on a PC

2. Give the computer’s wireless network adaptor a permanent IP address. Do not use DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) as it will create an automatic IP. IP addresses are a lot like a street address - they are made of a string of four sets of numbers (called octets) for example 192.168.0.1. The ‘192’ is the country, ‘168’ is the town, ‘0’ is the street and ‘1’ is the house. It allows computers on a network to communicate with each other.

3. Reduce the number of network types available to your computer. In Windows XP you will find this under ‘Network Connections>Wireless Networks>Preferred Networks’. Choose WFT-Canon enhanced, only peer-to-peer networks (Ad-Hoc).

4. Disable any firewalls your computer is running (don’t forget to re-activate them afterwards).

5. Keep things very simple - don’t activate any security features like WEP, WPA or WEAP encryption. You can come to this once you have everything set up and working.

6. Use the connection wizard in the menus of the camera.

7. Select PTP(PC) as the communication protocol. Then follow the instructions of the wizard.

8. Enter the IP address that you gave the computer and then a different IP address for the camera, for example 192.168.1.1 for the computer, and 192.168.1.2 for the camera. The subnet mask is always 255.255.255.0.

9. Hopefully, the green LAN light on the WFT-E2 unit should now be blinking.

10. Usually EOS Utility will start automatically at this point. If it doesn’t, start it manually.

11. There should be a camera symbol in the task list, if not, start the WFT pairing software and select the camera from the list.

The WFT pairing software showing one available camera. Use this software if EOS Utility does not detect your wirelessly-connected camera automatically.
 

The WFT pairing software showing one available camera. Use this software if EOS Utility does not detect your wirelessly-connected camera automatically.

12. Once the camera is connected, you should find the same options in EOS Utility as you did when using a USB cable connection that allows you to download individual or remote control the camera.

13. If you turn the camera off, EOS Utility will shut down automatically. Turning the camera back on will re-establish the connection with the computer within a few seconds.

If you want to stream images directly from the camera to your local network FTP server, you will need to use the FTP protocol. Start off by installing an FTP server on your computer (this may require some third-party software) then follow the WFT connection wizard for an FTP connection and add the FTP address (which can be either an IP address or text based such as ftp.editor.thepress) and your username and password.

When you are shooting in the field, you might find a public, wireless hotspot you can use. More cities are installing them for free use, but some internet providers also have systems in place (for example the WiFi hotspots you find in airport waiting lounges) where they can charge you for usage. If the hotspot is from a provider, then you will need to use a computer to gain access to the network as they usually require a password and ID to log in. If it is a free hotspot, then set the WFT-E2 to DHCP mode so the adaptor is given an IP address by the access point hotspot.

Remote editing

Idruna Remote Editing Software running on a host computer showing the status of the system.
 

Idruna Remote Editing Software running on a host computer showing the status of the system.

Now the technology is in place, remote wireless shooting is a viable solution for photographers across many genres. The next step, in my mind, is remote editing to free the photographer from the editing process and allow them to concentrate on creating images. To do this, you will need a third-party bit of software called Idruna Remote Editing System (IRES)

This works on a small laptop, a UMPC, a pocket-PC and some smart phones. It allows you to download small images to the computer from where they are sent to a server in near real-time using a fast mobile telephone connection (Edge, 3G or HSDPA).


The camera with a WFT-E2 unit attached and a typical pocket PC that I use for location shooting and remote editing.
 

The camera with a WFT-E2 unit attached and a typical pocket PC that I use for location shooting and remote editing.

An editor can be anywhere in the world watching the images come in and can then make selections directly from the memory card of the photographer on the other side of the world. For event, news and fashion photographers, there is no faster or more efficient way of delivering images to a client.