One camera feature a lot of photographers underuse is the Live View screen on the back. While it’s slower to line up a shot with Live View rather than just looking through the viewfinder, there are a few advantages. Let’s look at how you can use the Live View screen to take better photos.

See the Whole Image

Have you ever taken a photo looking through the viewfinder where you carefully cropped out some distraction on the very edge of the frame then, when you looked at the photo later, whatever that distraction was is still on the edge of the image? The reason for that is your camera’s viewfinder only shows most of the image. Generally, it’s about 95% (or 98% on better cameras). Here’s what that looks like.

While it’s not normally a huge deal, it does mean that you’ll sometimes need to crop away otherwise good pixels to get rid of a distraction you didn’t see in the viewfinder. With the live view screen, you see the whole image all the time.

See How Things Will Really Look

Not only do you see the whole image, but you also better see things how they’ll look in the final image. The viewfinder shows you the light that’s entering your camera and bouncing straight off the mirror to your eye. So that enough light gets through, the aperture is kept wide open. You won’t see if your image is correctly exposed or how the depth of field looks—at least until you press the DOF Preview button.

RELATED: How to Nail Exposure on Location When You Take Photographs

With the live view screen, your camera displays how the photo will actually look—or at least, a very good approximation of it. With longer shutter speeds, the live view screen won’t show any of the motion blur.

Zoom in to Get Focus

One of the best ways to nail your focus exactly where you want it—at least for subjects that aren’t moving—is to manually focus using the Live View screen. Set your camera up on a tripod, switch your lens to manual focus, then hit the magnify button on the back of your camera until you get to the maximum zoom—it’s normally 10x.

RELATED: How to Manually Focus Your DSLR or Mirrorless Camera

Now you can carefully fine-tune your focus. It’s basically the only way to take good star photos.

Work in the Dark or With ND Filters

On dark nights or when you’re using neutral density filters, the optical viewfinder becomes pretty much useless. You can’t see anything through it. With the Live View screen, however, you can crank the ISO up to 12800 or even 25600.

The preview will look pretty noisy and bad but, as long as there’s a small amount of light, it should give you enough of a view to focus and compose your shot. Just remember to turn your ISO back down after.

View a Live Histogram

The histogram is a really useful tool for seeing how light levels are distributed in your images. I’m a big fan of checking your images’ histograms occasionally to make sure you’re not blowing your highlights or crushing your shadows.

When you’re shooting using Live View, you can even check out a live histogram while you line up a shot: normally, tap Info a few times, and it will show. It’s a great technique if you’re taking photos somewhere the light levels keep changing dramatically.

The Live View screen is really handy for slow, deliberate forms of photography like landscapes. Accurate focusing, a proper preview, and the histogram make it much easier to take better photos. That’s not to say the viewfinder isn’t without its uses: it’s quicker, works better in bright light, and is much easier when you’re handholding your camera. One of the most interesting things about mirrorless cameras is that their electronic viewfinders combine the benefits of both.

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Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like The New York Times and on a variety of other websites, from Lifehacker to Popular Science and Medium's OneZero.
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