Saturday, September 21, 2013

Easy Camera Upgrade: Get a Remote Shutter Release

Everyone likes a quick and easy photography upgrade, and particularly one that is cheap, easy to use, and makes an immediate impact on your photography. A remote shutter release fits the bill.

This silky water photograph was shot with a corded remote shutter release.

There are many different varieties of remote shutter releases, but let's start with the most common. A corded remote shutter release plugs directly into a slot in your camera body and allows you to operate your camera's shutter. The basic version of this style of remote can be had for less than $6 USD. The one shown below is a generic brand that works with Canon Rebel cameras. There is also a version that works with Nikon cameras. This SMDV remote for $15 works with more advanced Canon cameras. The remote works just like your shutter button: pressing the button halfway will lock the focus, while pressing the button down completely will take the picture.

The final feature of this style of remote is the ability to lock down the button on the remote. This is useful in two ways. First, you can use the shutter with your camera in the ‘Bulb’ setting, and locking the button down allows you to shoot for an indefinitely long shutter speed until you unlock the button. Second, when the shutter is locked down, your camera will continue to shoot photographs, which is useful if you want to shoot a continuous series of photographs.

There are many different kinds of remote shutter releases. More advanced corded models allow you to shoot in specific intervals (amount of time between taking pictures) or specific numbers of photographs at a time. Cordless remotes allow you to trigger your camera from further away using either infrared (IR) or radio frequencies (RF). IR remotes may require a clear line-of-sight to the camera to work effectively. (If you are using an IR cordless remote while standing behind your camera, you may have to reach over in front of the camera and avoid getting your own hand in front of your lens. Some cameras have sensors in the rear as well to solve this problem.) Advanced cordless models like the Vello Wireless ShutterBoss utilize RF technology to trigger the camera with a range of 250 feet and no need for line-of-sight.

There are benefits to each step-up in terms of features and price, but if you are simply purchasing your first remote, I strongly recommend getting a cheap corded remote and worrying about upgrading later. (Full disclosure, I used to have an inexpensive IR cordless remote and found it so unreliable that I simply stopped using it and use my $5 corded remote for everything.)

Why Use a Remote Shutter Release?

If the low price alone wasn't enough of a reason, there are many uses for a remote shutter release. The most common use is in combination with a tripod to ensure stability and minimize camera shake. When you depress the shutter button on your camera, the motion of that action can shake the camera. If you want tack sharp pictures and are using a tripod for stability, then you also will want to use a remote shutter release to trigger the camera and avoid the possible shake from physically pushing the shutter button. (Learn more about how to Maximize your Tripod.)

Long exposure shot of a Ferris Wheel and YoYo swings

This long exposure carnival shot was taken with a tripod and a remote shutter release at f/13, 5-seconds, and ISO 100. I knew that I would need a tripod for the long shutter speed, and I used the remote to avoid transmitting any shake to the image. (Read about Long Exposure Photography at the Fair(e) for more on shooting this kind of shot.)

A remote shutter release was used to focus and then take this photograph. 

A remote shutter release also helps when taking 'selfies' or self-portrait shots. Focusing can be difficult when you are putting yourself in front of the camera, but a remote shutter release allows you to focus the camera while you are already positioned in front of it. For the self-portrait above, I used the corded remote release pictured earlier to focus and take the picture. I also used a 10-second timer setting on the camera, which gave me enough time to let go of the remote and keep it out of the photograph. (Read more about Shooting a Successful Self-Portrait.)

Sunflowers in the Storm, available for purchase

I shot this field of sunflowers using a tripod and a corded remote shutter release, because I knew that I wanted sharp, focused pictures and wanted the flexibility of using longer shutter speeds than I could handhold without adding movement. The tripod also allowed me to shoot a bracketed series of shots and determine my favorite exposure later. (For more on exposure bracketing, read All about Exposure and More about Exposure: how to fix common exposure problems.) This individual image was shot at f/11, 1/160, ISO 100 and was one full stop underexposed (-1 on the exposure compensation scale).

Three bracketed exposures compared

These are the three images returned by using exposure bracketing (from left to right, 0 exposure compensation, -1, and +1). The tripod combined with the remote ensures that all three images are composed exactly the same. I simply had to hold down the remote until I heard the shutter click all three times and then release.

Series of photographs shot with the remote's shutter locked down

A remote shutter release also allows you to lock the button down and take a continuous series of photographs. This feature comes in handy when you are shooting a rapidly changing situation and want to be constantly shooting and not changing your settings. The series of photographs above were shot at f/5, 30-seconds, and ISO 400. After dialing in these settings in manual, I used the remote in the locked down position to continually take pictures. This gave me the freedom to get out my LEDs and get into the picture myself. (I am responsible for the blue and red lights. You can read more about light painting and how to spin an orb here.) With the shutter safely locked down, I knew that the camera would keep taking pictures as long as I needed.

A remote shutter release is a cheap and easy photography upgrade. For the cost of a cup or two of coffee, you can get a corded remote and access to all kinds of new photography opportunities. See if it doesn't change how you shoot landscapes, self-portraits, long shutter speed images, and more!

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