The Top 10 Ways to Use the Live Preview on Your Digital Camera: Tips, Tricks and Tutorials

The Top 10 Ways to Use the Live Preview on Your Digital Camera: Tips, Tricks and Tutorials
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Live view LCDs have been on our digital cameras for several years now. The first digital compact to include a live view was Casio’s 1995 QV-10. However, DSLR users had to wait until 2006 when Olympus launched the groundbreaking EVOLT E-330. Today, there are very few digital cameras that do not have a live preview, and the technology continues to develop. Here are 10 of the best digital photography tips to make the most of the LCD on your digital camera.

1. Better Macro Photography

Getting that perfect macro photo is no mean feat, and there are many factors that come into play as you pursue the goal of how to improve your macro photography. One way to make this an easier task is by using your live view LCD screen. Framing your macro picture on the live view screen is a lot easier than having to look through the viewfinder, especially when photographing outdoors at unusual angles. A live preview takes the pain out of squinting and crouching, and may even let you take photos of subjects you never thought possible before.

2. Get a New Angle on Life

If you have a flip out LCD like the Nikon D5000 (pictured) or the Canon SX1 IS, then you have a great advantage in what you are able to photograph. How about a picture above a crowd, or around a hard to reach corner? Just flip out your LCD and shoot away. In this way you will end up with pictures that many traditional cameras are unable to take. Even if you don’t have a flip out LCD, you may still be able to maneuver your live view camera over a railing or through some foliage to capture a photo that you would not have been able to get with a viewfinder view.

3. More in focus, More of the time

Many digital SLR cameras let you zoom in on your live view picture to check how sharp the focus is on your composition. With this zoomed in view, you can check how well the camera’s autofocus has dealt with what you wanted to have in focus. If it is not as sharp as you would like, you can switch to manual focus, and rotate the manual focus ring on your camera until you have the optimum focus for the chosen point in your picture. This is a great technique for critical focus on macro and landscape photos, and is a great way to ensure that your live preview camera is giving you the sharpest photos possible.

4. Creative Composition

Getting your landscape picture to look like the pros will take practice. However, one way to help you catch up, could be to use your live view camera to help you compose the perfect scene. Scanning the horizon with your live view will help you pick that perfect spot, but you also have the advantage of being able to see the ‘bigger picture’ at the same time with your own eyes. Compare what you see with your eyes with what you see on the live view. Sometimes your composition will look better on the live view screen than it does with the panoramic view your eyes gives, and sometimes it works the other way around. Experiment with your natural vision vs. live view and improve the composition of your photos. You should also check to see if your camera has a grid overlay that outlines your scene to help you align it with the rule of thirds. This can be made to appear in your live view to help further with framing.

5. Preview White Balance

Digital Photography Book Vol. 3

This great tip is one I learned from reading Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography Book Volume 3. You can preview the effects of a white balance change directly on your live view screen. Does your exposure look to orange? Scroll through the white balance options offered by your camera in live view mode, and your screen will give you an instant preview of what each will do to your final picture. Are you wondering what creative effect a tungsten white balance will produce? Preview it in live view to see if it is what you thought. You need never worry about the right white balance again.

6. Light Up Your Night Photography

Low light and night photography takes patience and perseverance. However, the darker it gets, the harder it can be to see your chosen subject through the viewfinder. This is where the live preview on your camera really comes into play. No longer do you need to squint at what you think you can see through the viewfinder, just turn on the LCD screen and get a nice, bright image of what you have pointed your camera at. From here you can adjust your composition and perfect your camera settings. Just remember to turn off the LCD before you take the picture. Otherwise, you may end up letting unwanted light into the viewfinder, and that could upset the final exposure.

7. Candid Street Photos

Street photography is done best when it is done candidly. You will capture the most natural expressions and reactions when people are unaware that they are being photographed. How better to disguise your presence than shooting a DSLR with live view? If you have a flip out LCD, you can sit the camera on your lap and pan around for the best shot with your live view screen. When the camera is not up at your eye level, you are less likely to be noticed by the people you are photographing, and your street photos will be much better for it. Once you try it, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to improve your street photography using this method.

8. Perfect Exposure


If you have a live histogram on your LCD you can make adjustments to your exposure and see the results live on your LCD screen. Most digital cameras will give you a histogram after you have taken a picture to show what your exposure was like for shadows, highlights and midtones. However, a growing number give you a live representation of this on the live view screen. This can be very helpful. For instance, if the histogram shows that you are clipping your highlights, you can dial back some exposure compensation until you have a better balance of exposure. Best of all, you also get to see the effects of the changes straight away on the LCD. This way you can get the photo right first time, instead of repeatedly taking the picture and adjusting settings to get the correct exposure.

9. Photoshop Preview

Many digital photographers like to edit their work on a photo editor like Photoshop Elements or Capture One. However, your DSLR with live preview can often be used to mimic many of these effects live, and in-camera. Wondering what a particular scene will look like in black and white? Change your LCD to show black and white and see. Canon’s ‘picture styles’ or ‘my colors’ let you do other creative things like isolate one color in the frame, lighten skin tones, or even swap two colors from the same scene! It is by no means a replacement for post production editing, but it can be a useful tip for beginners who are still experimenting with the effects they want to create.

10. Movie Magic

Even the most seasoned of photographers would likely agree that some moments are just best captured on video. Think about baby’s first steps, a sports event, or games played at a family gathering. The trouble is, many of us forget that we have video on our cameras! I know that I often forget about the HD movie capabilities of my Nikon D90. So, don’t think about it after the event, think of it during the event, and use your DSLR with live preview for creating some movie magic. Some digital cameras even allow you to add special effects to the movie mode, like filming in black and white, or in vivid color. Preview these on the live view screen before you get started to see if it is the effect you want for your video.


The next time you get your digital camera out, remember that your live view contains a world of creative possibilities that are just waiting to be discovered. It deosn’t matter whether you have a DSLR with live view, or just a simple digital compact. A little inspiration goes a long way. So what are you waiting for?!