The optical viewfinder in your Canon DSLR offers a bright, crystal-clear image of the scene you’re photographing. Easy on the eye, it makes photo composition and focusing a breeze (see the 10 rules of photo composition – and why they work). The one thing it can’t do, however, is give you a totally accurate picture of the final image you’ll capture.
What you’re looking at through the viewfinder (learn How to use your viewfinder: free cheat sheet) is the scene as it is in reality, not how the camera ‘sees’ it. As light enters the lens, it’s simply reflected by a mirror onto the viewfinder arrangement. The effects of exposure, ISO, white balance and other camera settings aren’t visible in this image, as these are only applied once the mirror flips out of the way to expose the camera’s imaging sensor to light when you take a picture (see The right way to set up your camera).
It’s for these reasons that technical errors can occur, with the image being under- or overexposed or focusing being slightly off. It’s often necessary to play back the image, zoom in to check for sharpness, make exposure adjustments and take another shot.
The Live View shooting mode available on your EOS camera removes the element of doubt. It effectively turns the camera’s LCD screen into a giant viewfinder, giving you a live preview of the image. Once you activate Live View mode, the mirror is locked up, allowing light to constantly hit the sensor.
The resulting image is streamed from the sensor to the camera’s rear screen, with the effects of any adjustments you make to current settings visible in real-time: what you see is what you get (more or less).
The camera settings available to you in Live View are comprehensive. Exposure adjustments can be made using aperture, shutter speed, ISO or exposure compensation, with the image becoming brighter or darker to reflect the changes as you do so. A live histogram can be superimposed on the image to help you judge exposure accurately, too (find out How to read a histogram).
Usefully, the Auto Lighting Optimizer strength can be altered, while the white balance and Picture Style can be tweaked to change the mood of an image. Note that these three settings only affect JPEGs permanently – Raw files can be adjusted later in the likes of Canon’s free Digital Photo Professional or Adobe Camera Raw software.
Live View enables you to magnify the image by up to ten times, making it unbeatable for judging critical focus when shooting with a shallow depth of field. Because you’re viewing the image on a backlit screen, you can even do this when light levels drop to the point where you couldn’t normally see anything through the optical viewfinder.
How to brighten or darken images in Live View
Step 1: Live histogram
Once you’ve set your EOS to Live View mode, press the INFO or DISP button on the back of the camera until the exposure histogram appears in the top-right of the screen.
Step 2: Adjusting exposure
If the exposure is incorrect, press the Av+/- button and turn the top dial anti-clockwise (Canon 600D type DSLRs) to apply exposure compensation – watch the on-screen indicator.
Step 3: Darker pictures
The histogram shifts to the left and the exposure compensation readout at the bottom of the screen shows that this shot has been underexposed by a stop.
Step 4: Brighter pictures
Turn the dial clockwise to add positive exposure compensation. The exposure simulation (‘Exp.SIM’) indicator will flash if the preview no longer truly represents the final image.
Live View options
To activate Live View mode on your EOS, press the button with the white camera symbol on or next to it (it’s usually accompanied by a red dot). You’ll hear the mirror lift up, the viewfinder will turn black and the image will appear on the rear screen.
You can make many adjustments to the way Live View is set up through the camera menu. Current DSLRs, such as the EOS 60D, have a dedicated Live View section in the shooting (red) menu. However, for older EOS cameras, you’ll need to head ‘Live View function settings’ in the second set-up (yellow) menu.
Options are fairly limited in this earlier incarnation of Live View. However, it still includes useful features such as being able to change the duration of the metering system once the shutter is pressed halfway.
Focusing with Live View
There are many focusing configurations for Live View, but the basic three are phase-detection Quick mode (which flips the mirror down briefly to use the AF sensor), contrast-detection Live mode (a slower AF system based on data from the sensor) and Live Face Detection mode. But for precise, sharp focusing, you can’t beat manual focus (find out How to use manual focus).
Simply move the magnification frame over the most important detail in the Live View preview, then press the ‘+’ zoom button – once for 5x magnification, twice for 10x magnification.
Twist the focus ring to fine-tune focus, then press ‘+’ again to zoom out to normal view. For additional sharpness, activate one of the ‘Silent’ Live View modes (in the 40D upwards), which reduces vibration caused by ‘mirror slap’ in normal Live View shooting.
Get an even bigger Live View
The large, bright rear screen still not big enough for you? Then try shooting with the camera tethered by a USB cable to a computer.
The EOS Utility software that came with your Canon enables you to see the Live View feed on your computer screen, complete with a set of controls that allow you to change the aperture, shutter speed, ISO and other settings on the camera, as well as firing the shutter.
You can even choose to save images to both the memory card and the computer, thereby giving you an instant backup of your files.