There are many situations in which having a camera tethered directly to your Mac could be advantageous. Captured images are sent directly to the computer, and in many cases you can even control your camera's settings and trigger the shutter directly from your desktop.
Many studio photographers love to shoot tethered. The photographer can focus on the subject while an editor or art director watches the images appear on screen as they are captured. There is no waiting for the photographer to finish a shoot, load the camera's card into a card reader, and begin downloading to the computer. The images are sent to the computer instantly after each frame is shot, and what's more, they can be backed up as soon as they are on the machine, adding an additional level of redundancy and security.
But studio photography is not the only application for a tethered setup. Time-lapse photographers can take full advantage of the intervalometer (a mechanism to control the tripping of a shutter at regular intervals over time) function that is included with many digital capture applications.
Tethered shooting can also be very useful for remote camera operation. By using a WiFi connection (or a very long data cable) and a radio remote trigger, the photographer can easily grab images captured with the remote camera as they are shot, directly to the computer.
Tethered shooting in Aperture is actually quite simple to set up. This article on Apple's Pro UK site describes a simple solution. Essentially, the author has you download a small application that when combined with your camera's capture software (they use the Canon Utility) allows for easy tethered shooting via Aperture. You press the button and after a few seconds the image pops up in Aperture's viewer.
While this method is an easy and quick way to set up tethered shooting, it can be made even easier. By using Automator instead of the article's downloadable application, you can set up tethered shooting with Aperture and incorporate additional Automator actions. In fact, once you learn the basic steps, you can, on the fly, create workflows that match your personal needs for just about any situation you may encounter.
Let's say, for example, you have a pile of items you want to sell on eBay. You have to take pictures of each item and prepare each picture for use on the Web. However, you still want to shoot in the RAW format because you think some of the items shot on a clean background might make for good stock images. With a tethered setup and Aperture, you could easily watch your images appear on screen as you shoot--making adjustments and checking focus as you go. At the same time, with the flexibility of Automator, you could create a workflow that not only handles tethered shooting, but also prepares web-resolution images, and even uploads them to your web server.
Sound complicated? It's really not. By following a few easy steps you can set up Automator and Aperture and be on your way to a streamlined, tethered workflow.
To begin, there are a few requirements to make the process actually work. First of all, your camera needs to support tethered shooting. Most digital SLRs do, and many even include WiFi support, but nevertheless, check your camera's instruction manual to make sure tethered shooting is possible.
Secondly, Aperture itself does not support tethered shooting. So you will need another application to do the work of getting your image files off of the camera and onto your computer automatically. If you are shooting with Nikon or Canon DSLRs you can use their corresponding capture software: Nikon Capture and Canon's Digital Photo Professional. For Canon users, in addition to DPP, you will need EOS Capture.
Another great software option for tethered shooting is Phase One's Capture One. In addition to being a great RAW processor, Capture One supports tethered shooting for a wide variety of DSLRs as well as many high-end, medium-format digital backs. If you don't want to shell out $500 for their flagship software, Phase One also offers Capture One LE for about $100. Both support tethered shooting and you can download trial versions from their website.
If all you want to do is automatically trip your camera's shutter from your computer, the setup is even simpler. Image Capture (included with your Mac) features a Take Picture Automator action with support for a large number of popular cameras. Combined with the Automator Loop Utility, the Take Picture action makes for a really simple time-lapse setup--more on this below.
Finally, you will need a data cable or WiFi connection kit for your camera. Most DSLRs come packaged with either a FireWire or USB cable. This cable can be used for importing images after a shoot, or for controlling the camera in a tethered setup.
Many pro-level DSLRs have the ability to utilize an accessory WiFi connection kit. Both Nikon and Canon offer such a kit for about $300. Once set up, the photographer can send images over a WiFi network directly from the camera to a nearby computer. Images can even be directed to an FTP server if one is available on the WiFi network.
Once you have installed and set up the capture software for your camera, and attached your camera and tested it out, follow these easy steps.
First, make a new folder somewhere on your computer's hard drive. I made a folder called Tethered and placed it in my Pictures folder. This folder is going to be a special holding place for images as they come off your camera before being imported into Aperture.
Second, open Automator and create a new workflow. In the Automator library, click the Aperture set and find the action named Import Photos. Drag this action into your workflow.
Figure 1. Import Photos action
The Import Photos action has a number of options. These can all be customized for your own personal preference, but for the sake of this tutorial, use the following settings.
Where it says "Add to:" select New Project and enter "Tethered." This will tell Aperture to make a new project called "Tethered," and will continue adding images to this project as you shoot.
Normally, when you create an Automator workflow, you simply save the workflow and run it when you need it. In order to invoke Automator automatically you will need to select "Save As Plug-in...."
Figure 2. Saving workflow as a plugin
This will bring up a dialog box, which will ask you a few questions:
1) Enter "Tethered" in the Save Plug-in As box.
2) Where it says "Plug-in for" select Folder Actions from the drop-down menu.
3) Where it says "Attached to Folder" select the Tethered folder you created in the beginning of this tutorial, and you're done.
This process will turn the Tethered folder into a "hot folder." Whenever a file is placed in this folder, the Tethered action will automatically run and the image will be imported into the Tethered project in Aperture.
Figure 3. Setting the folder action
As an example, I used Canon's Digital Photo Professional to shoot tethered with my Canon EOS 20D, connected with its USB cable to my MacBook Pro. In DPP, I selected the Tethered folder I had previously created as my active folder, and then selected Start EOS Capture from the Tools menu. Once the interface for the camera was up and running, I clicked back to Aperture and selected the Tethered project.
With this setup, I am able to shoot with the 20D connected to my laptop and watch the images appear in Aperture. You can see the Automator action running in the Dock each time a new image ends up in the Tethered folder.
For Nikon and Phase One users the setup is essentially the same. The important part is that you direct your images to be saved to that Tethered folder.
Obviously, the workflow described above is pretty simple. It contains a single Action and simply dumps your captured images to a project called Tethered. For many, myself included, this is enough. After I am done with a shoot, I can go in and keyword, caption, and move my images to a new project for organizational purposes. Furthermore, my assistant can do this for me as I shoot. But one can see how easy it is in Automator to expand things.
With the Aperture set of Automator actions, you can easily set keywords and caption information on import. Just add the appropriate actions after the import action. You could also choose to have Aperture export a low-resolution version of each image to a folder using one of Aperture's export presets. You could even send each image to Photoshop via Ben Long's Start Photoshop Roundtrip action, available for download here.
Making time-lapse movies is easier than ever with a digital SLR. All you need is a sturdy tripod and an interesting subject. To make life easier, you can take advantage of Canon and Nikon's intervalometer functions. These special tools allow you to set up a camera tethered to a computer and have the computer control the interval between shots and number of shots taken. If you follow the same steps I have described above for tethered shooting, you can have your time-lapse frames automatically imported into an Aperture project. Within Aperture you can easily create a custom crop box for the format you are after and export the entire batch of images as a numbered sequence at the resolution you desire.
Using QuickTime Pro you can, in seconds, compile your individual frames into a time-lapse movie. If you don't have QuickTime Pro, you can also try making a time-lapse sequence in iMovie HD, iStopMotion, or Apple's Final Cut Express HD.
For fun, I made a really simple time-lapse movie of the beach in Portsmouth, Dominica. One evening I set up my camera on a tripod tethered to my MacBook Pro. I taped down the camera's focus ring and set the camera to Aperture Priority at the widest f-stop. I then instructed the Canon intervalometer tool (found under Tools in EOS Capture) to take a picture once every 15 seconds for about an hour.
Each image was imported to Aperture as it was shot. When the shoot was over, I created a crop-box on one frame to fit the dimensions of the HD format. I then used Aperture's lift and stamp tool to apply the crop to each image in the sequence.
Once Aperture finished cropping the images, I exported all the cropped versions to a folder using a preset I had set up for the resolution I was after. On export, Aperture renamed all the files numbered sequentially. I then opened the numbered sequence with QuickTime Pro and I had my time-lapse movie. QuickTime Pro allowed me to pick a frame rate and the resulting sequence of images turned out to be about a four-second movie, which you can view here. It was so easy that I can hardly wait to get out there and make more movies.
For an even easier time-lapse setup, you could take advantage of Image Capture in lieu of your camera's capture software to achieve easy time-lapse photography. The workflow consists of nothing more than the Take Picture action from the Image Capture set, followed by the Import Photos action from the Aperture set. You don't need to worry about setting up a "hot folder" for this one. Just download the Automator Loop Utility from www.automator.us, and download this workflow to your desktop.
Once you've opened the workflow and have made sure all the settings are correct, save the file and drag it onto the Automator Loop Utility icon. The Loop Utility will ask you where you want to save your applet and what interval you would like to use. It then creates a small application, which will run the workflow over and over again until you quit.
The only downside with the Automator Loop Utility is that the minimum time interval is 30 seconds. But if 30 seconds works for your project, it sure is an easy setup with no additional software or configurations to deal with. Just plug in your camera and run the app--it's that easy.
If tethered shooting, time-lapse photography, and customized workflows aren't enough to keep you busy, keep in mind that your "hot folder" can be used for all sorts of additional applications. Maybe you have a pile of slides you want to scan directly into Aperture. Just set your scanner to save each image to the Tethered folder and watch the scans appear in Aperture with all of your customized Automator actions applied.
I have included a few workflows, which you can use to experiment with tethered shooting. They are available for download here. The Simple-Tethered workflow is comprised of nothing more than an Import Photos action. When you open it in Automator, simply type "Tethered" in the spot for a New Project, save it as a Folder Action Plug-in, and you will be off and running.
If you want to make things a little more interesting, try the Extended-Tethered workflow. I set up this workflow to accomplish a number of tasks. First, I take care of the tethered shooting part with the Import Photos action. Then, I follow up by adding IPTC and keyword information. Finally, each image is exported as a small jpeg and transferred to a second computer over the network.
This can be useful when multiple people working in a studio want to quickly see how the shoot is going. It could also be used as a method of backing up your images as you shoot them by switching the Export Versions Action with an Export Masters Action. Replace the Move Finder Items action with the FTP Finder Items action and you can set up Automator to send those low-resolution images to your website for use on eBay.
As you can probably see by now, with Automator, the possibilities are endless, and more importantly, easy to achieve. Tethered shooting in Aperture is a snap, and when combined with additional actions in Automator, can be a doorway to new creative possibilities.
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