The Viewfinder and the LCD Screen

by William Lulow

Today’s DSLRs and most digital cameras offer two ways to preview the image you are taking. Except for the “Live View” function, the LCD works AFTER the image is recorded while the VIEWFINDER is used BEFORE the image is taken. It was always difficult to see the whole viewfinder in the 35mm format. It was easier to use a ground glass viewer such as the ones on medium or large format cameras. It’s always been harder to put your eye up to the eyepiece and look at much else except what you’re aiming at. So, composition and detail become harder to see when the camera is up to your eye. Ground glass cameras made it much easier to see the whole image. Therefore, composing a shot was actually much simpler.

These days,  I often use a laptop computer or an  iPad to view images when I’m doing a studio shot. It allows me to spend time looking at the image in detail. I can then change things within the frame to make stronger compositions or to make sure that everything I want in the shot is there. Looking at the camera’s LCD is the next best option. I encourage photographers to get used to looking at the LCD carefully after each shot. You can enlarge a certain area of the image to make sure it is sharp in PLAYBACK mode, but it is still sometimes difficult to examine the whole shot. So, try to spend more time on checking the LCD. When we used to shoot catalogs on large format view cameras, we would often make what was called an acetate overlay which was placed on the ground glass itself to make sure there was room for an AD’s copy and other images (called “small views”) that were to be part of the overall layout. So, composing the image took much more time to accomplish.

I realize it’s not always convenient to hook up your laptop especially if you’re “on location,” but the lesson it teaches is that in order to work carefully you need to slow down the pace of your shooting. Digital cameras make it so easy just to rattle off 30 or 40 images that it takes one’s mind off concentrating on making the kinds of pictures you want. It is one of the pitfalls of being able to make pictures so easily. We often forget to concentrate. That’s why my advice has always been to try to slow down the recording process. One of my assignments is to make a good photograph with just one or two exposures. Compose a shot carefully so that everything is the way you want it.

When photographers were shooting with film that had to be developed and printed, it was a different story. Sometimes we would shoot 4×5 sheet film and at upwards of $5 per sheet for film and processing (upwards of $9 per sheet for 8×10), it forced you to think very carefully about the kinds of images you were making. Today, shooting is cheap. As a matter of fact, there is no processing cost. The cost comes in the wasted time on images that are not composed or even exposed properly.


This was a cover shoot that relied on a fairly careful composition. The shot below was an ad that was also carefully composed, but that wound up being tweaked nevertheless:

ManHattanBridgeWelder011S_WEB             ManhattanBridgeWelderAd

So, try to slow your shooting down and think more about each shot. You will find that the percentage of really good shots you get will go up.