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May 2014

Photographers reporting on news or sporting events have been quick to react and adapt to WiFi technology and at every single major event you can be sure there will be a wireless infrastructure in place which will be buzzing with images being sent from camera to computer. In the final part of our guide, we look at ways in which photographers work 'on the hoof' using derivatives of WiFi (such as Mi-Fi) and seek out advice on how they operate...

A Mi-Fi unit allows multiple users to share a single broadband connection. Perfect for small user groups in a studio environment.

Out in the field, connecting to a wireless router might be impractical. To get over this hurdle, many photographers are turning to Mi-Fi mobile broadband. Here’s a quick guide:

Q: What is Mi-Fi mobile broadband and how does it work? A: Mi-Fi units (or Mi-Fi dongles) are compact, wireless devices that enable multiple users to share a single broadband connection. Mi-Fi is owned and operated in the UK by the 3 Network, and the rest of the world by Novatel, and works by creating a localised signal, rather like a wireless router or a mini broadband cloud. They access 3G or 4G mobile phone networks and share that connection between mobile devices – such as phones, laptops and cameras. You will need to subscribe to a data contract for this service.

Q: How many people can connect? A: The broadband signal created by current Mi-Fi units can be shared with up to five users. In order to pick up the signal, the devices must be within a 10-metre radius of the unit. Future Mi-Fi technology is likely to offer a broader range as well as the option to connect to more users.

Q: How fast is Mi-Fi? A: Mi-Fi mobile broadband provides standard 3G connection speeds of up to 21Mb (mega bits), depending on the location. The arrival of 4G means users can access speeds well in excess of this with some services promising five times that of 3G.

Q: Mi-Fi vs broadband dongles A: Dongles need to be plugged into the device they are connecting to the internet. Mi-Fi units do not, meaning they can be stored in a pocket or located at the optimum position to ensure a good signal. Mi-Fis are also easy to set up with no software installation requirements. Just like dongles, Mi-Fis can also be used as external storage devices.

Real-world WiFi tips

Real-world WiFi tips

The theory behind the practice is all well and good, but WiFi truly comes into its own when your image magically appears on a screen or in front of client almost instantaneously. It brings photography racing into the 21st century with a rip-roaring bang.

Applying this principle in the real world requires preparation and a degree of planning. For instance, event photography generally presents a number of logistical problems. If you’re adding WiFi into the mix, it’s worth considering a few points.

  1. Don’t rely on laptop’s built-in WiFi; use a separate WiFi router connected to the computer running a FTP server.
  2. Check that there is sufficient wireless coverage throughout the area where the photographers will be working.
  3. Ensure that all cameras have manually configured IP addresses so there is no confusion as to each camera’s ID.
  4. Synchronise camera clocks.
  5. FTP mode allows files to be buffered in the camera if a connection failure occurs. These will then be transmitted when the connection is restored.

Of course, different issues will apply in different circumstances, but giving some thought to your WiFi set-up and how to connect to it should save you time in the long run. Before you know it, you will be taking images and sending your work without a wire in sight. Welcome to the 21st century.

Case studies

David Clapp on the EOS Remote app

© David Clapp

Light painting the Callanish Stone Circle on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Taken on a Canon EOS 6D with an EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens at 32mm; the exposure was 30secs at f/8, ISO 800.

Travel and landscape photographer David Clapp started using in-camera WiFi in 2013 when he borrowed a Canon EOS 6D for a trip to India. Initially, the camera’s GPS feature caught his eye, but after downloading the EOS Remote app, he saw even greater possibilities. “The main appeal was remote shooting - the idea that I could trigger the camera from a considerable distance away,” he says. “But the more I use this feature, the more innovative my photography becomes.”

As Clapp found out, this facility comes into its own when a landscape shot cries out for a solitary figure to bring scale to a composition. “Position yourself using the EOS remote app and shoot from your phone,” he says simply.

Apart from remote shooting, Clapp says he uses WiFi in a number of different ways. He even says Canon’s remote app can help him start the editing process as soon as he finishes a shoot. “I often switch on the WiFi and open up the EOS remote just before I jump on public transport. It means I can browse through the images on my camera without attracting attention to my kit.”

In a couple of months, Clapp had got to grips with the potential offered by WiFi. Last May he even used it to while light painting the Callanish Stone Circle on the Isle of Lewis. “I learned a lot about the power of shooting remotely on that trip,” he says. “For instance, I could stand 20 metres from the camera, switch on Live View, work out the best position to stand and trigger the camera again and again without returning to the camera. I was able to work faster than ever before.”

Finally, Clapp says the facility even allows him to keep his business ticking over on line. “I often take a screen snapshot of the EOS Remote, crop into the picture and post the image straight to Twitter,” he says. “Not only does it assist my business, but it creates a buzz and provides me with motivation.Something that quick can create a much needed backslap from friends and followers, as I continue my often solitary photographic pursuit.”

Andrew Redington (Getty Images) on using Mi-Fi

© Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Getty Images’ Andrew Redington’s workflow has been radically transformed through the use of wireless transfer of images using Mi-Fi’s technology.

Andrew Redington photographs about 20 golf tournaments a year. At a selected few, he uses WiFi. “We use it at most of the Majors, the Ryder Cup and a couple of other tournaments where we might give it a try.”

Out on the course, connecting to a wireless router isn’t an option, so like other Getty photographers, Redington uses the latest technology to wire his pictures as quickly as possible. “My camera talks to the Mi-Fi in my pocket,” he explains. “It’s just a question of setting it up in advance, firing up the Mi-Fi and, depending on the strength of the mobile signal, sending off the images. The camera will always talk to the Mi-Fi, it’s just a question of whether it will be able to send the images.”

Sending out images ‘on the hoof’ is a huge advantage for an agency staffer whose clients expect access to images as soon as the action happens. “It’s all about speed,” says Redington. “You can easily gain an hour by sending the image you want straight to the editor, whereas if you have to wait to meet up with a runner, which is difficult at tournaments, and then the editor has to go through the whole card to see that image, you’re losing time.”

He continues: “We’ve had instances when something has happened on the course and within 10 minutes the image is on a sports or news website. You shoot it, you ‘ping’ [transfer] it, the editor sends it and the clients’ find it. It really does make a massive difference.”

Connections with Dan Istitene, Getty Images

Dan Istitene and Andrew Redington from Getty Images have embraced WiFi and now work in a world without cables...

Someone who thinks a lot about network connections is Dan Istitene. As a photo editor at Getty Images, he spends most of his time working on content either in Getty’s London office or out on location. He also helps the Getty photographers get connected.

“It’s very simple really,” he says. “Once you have the transmitter connected to the camera and enabled the communication settings, the transmitter will be able to search for wireless networks. When you select your Mi-Fi, or wireless network, it will drag all the information into the camera/transmitter pairing and make it available for selection. That will be saved on the camera so you can always return to it.”

He continues: “Then it’s a case of telling the camera where to send the images which is done by inputting the IP address of our FTP server. Within the communication settings, you will be asked for a target server address and that’s where you input the IP address which basically tells the camera where the server you are sending the images to is located. That’s it.”

In summary

The world of WiFi is well and truly upon us, and workflow is changing as a result. As router speeds and wireless networks become faster and ever more reliable, photographers are quick to make the most of the advantages they offer, both in terms of the creative plusses and also the increased productivity that comes with working in a real-time situation. In a future technical article, we will go deeper into the workflow technology, looking at how sports agencies set up FTP servers on PC and Mac, and find out in detail about how they use WiFi in their coverage of big events.

Complete guide to WiFi