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Photographing Food Tethered To A Laptop

Tethered shooting is the quite simply the ability to connect the camera to a laptop (or any computer) for the obvious benefit and convenience of a much larger display. I wrote about this setup in May 2009 just to find out if it worked well for 5D Mark II video, something I had no real need for other than to satisfy a curiosity. I write this post in the capacity of commercial food photography where the setup has served me well time and again including the AIKO Sushi shoot. Software required for this to work are EOS Utility, ZoomBrowser EX and Digital Photo Professional which can be found in the supplied Canon EOS Digital Solutions CD (updates). I tether from the 5D Mark II to my Dell Studio 17 notebook via a standard 5 meter long USB cable. The amount of photographic detail one can see from the high-definition screen makes the setup indispensable. Once you have the equipment sorted, the next step is configuring the settings in EOS Utility to ensure smooth running. There are screenshots below of settings I normally use based on my workflow.

A pair of Canon Speedlite 580EX firing into two 60" umbrellas provide diffused lighting while ensuring shadows are acceptably soft. Location: Spaghettini, Empire Hotel and Country Club.
It was a privilege to work with Executive Sous Chef Henry Tan and his team. His experience and attention to detail are attributes that sync well with my eye for detail in food photography. We collectively rejected shot after shot until we got the composition and details right on minimizing need for post-processing.

Anyone who’s looking for a budget tethering solution cannot get anymore budget than this setup—it’s practically free aside from the cost of the custom 5 meter USB cable—assuming of course, you already own a Canon DSLR and a laptop. At time of this writing, I am disappointed that you can’t tether to an iPad via USB cable. Wireless seems the only way possible and it’s not an ideal solution. Transferring large RAW/JPEG files wirelessly is slow not to mention the excessive cost of equipment outlay for that privilege. With the 5 meter USB cable, a 22MB 5D Mark II Large RAW file took as little as 2 seconds to appear on the notebook. This is pretty incredible, in my opinion, quicker if you’re shooting JPEGs.


I remember it was a little daunting preparing the applications for a tether shoot the first time. I think Canon defaults EOS Utility to Execute: [Starts to download images] the second you power up the connected camera. The following settings ensure you have control of when you want your shots downloaded.


Feel free to create a new folder for your shoot and check Download Images to have a copy saved on the laptop drive for good measure and Monitor Folder so new images are automatically displayed in the image software that’s linked to EOS Utility.


I chose Images not yet downloaded for reasons of performance. I have found the transfer rates from camera to laptop via USB connection to be quite dismal especially when you’re moving big numbers of large RAW files across.


You can link or pair EOS Utility to work with a number of image applications including Digital Photo Professional (DPP) for instant RAW image manipulation or Lightroom as documented by master strobist  Syl Arena.


Tethered shooting works both ways. You can use this control panel to remotely control the camera as I demonstrated in Tethering The EOS 5D Mark II. This is pretty awesome and the possibilities of how this can be applied I leave to your imagination. The control panel displays the camera settings real-time with an option of Live View shoot.


ZoomBrowser EX displays a shot of Japanese green seaweed with abundance of roe garnishing. You may not be able to tell from the 620 pixel image below but if you click on the larger image and happen to view on a high definition glossy screen, the details are amazing. I wouldn’t use anything less than a 17″ high def screen to create a long lasting first impression especially when working with a new client.

A final note: Understandably, working with a long cable comes with a certain amount of commonsense risk so tread carefully. Also, as you move back and forth between the subject and laptop, there’s a tendency for the cable to get twisted over time. A good thing about the software settings I use above is that you can easily unplug the cable, straighten it out and re-connect it and EOS Utility fires right back up, you pick up where you left off. For what it’s worth, I have evaluated an equivalent application called DSLR Remote Pro and the Canon EOS Utility and ZoomBrowser EX combo work far more consistently.

9 thoughts on “Photographing Food Tethered To A Laptop

  1. I love the set up. I never attempt nor consider to do a food photography but your photos somehow will guide me to my first tryout (later after work) after my mother done with the Wok 😀 Yeay!!

    Thank you Sifu!!


  2. All my product shoots gets the tethering treatment. Makes it very convenient for both client and photog.

    It’s a shame many pro Canon users here do not realize the significance of the free disc included in the box. While Nikon users need to pay for theirs.

    Excellent post, Jan.


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