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Remote Shutter Release: Why Do I Need It

by Luciana Lacerda (follow)
Blog (395)      Articles (166)     

Small and sometimes forgotten, a remote shutter release is a huge asset to photographers. It can help to keep noise and blur out of your photos when:
Shooting in low light situations, or with long exposures
Using a heavy and very magnified telephoto lens
Taking a self-portrait
Capturing movement or sudden bursts of light, such as lightning or fireworks.

To start, let’s explain what a remote shutter is. As the name suggests, it’s a mobile device to trigger your camera without physically touching it. If you’re not touching your camera, then there’s no risk of moving it, even by a millimetre. There are two kinds of remote shutters: with and without cables.

Types of remote shutter

Nowadays it’s pretty easy to find a wireless remote control that uses batteries and allows you to take your photos at a comfortable distance from your camera. Usually they are very small and easy to use. Earlier remote shutter release models had a cable that you pulled while it was attached to the camera, which triggered the shutter to open or close.

Mirror lock-up or self-timers are often used in place of remote shutter release cables and controls, but it takes longer to use them. Remotes and cables will enable you to shoot continuously without having to reset anything as you go.

As to whether wireless or cables are better, they both have their strengths. To use the wireless remote, it is important that you are in within a certain range of the camera for the signal to be picked up, but a cable allows you to go anywhere around the equipment. However, how far away you can stand from the camera will be limited by the length of the cable, which doesn’t always work for self-portraits.

Why use a remote shutter?

It’s common for people to think that a remote shutter is only useful for keeping the camera steady during long exposures, but it can help with other things as well:

In terms of security, you can use the shutter to capture close-up photos of dangerous objects, or in situations where it’s safer to be at a distance, like when photographing wild animals, beehives or during strong weather. You just set up your camera, zoom in on your subject, and use your remote shutter – just make sure your camera is protected from the elements that can damage it.

Image taken by Prescott Prem

When doing a time-lapse photography project, you can choose your shooting location and use the shutter release to take several different photos without altering the viewpoint, to create a slideshow or video. How many photos you need to take will depend on what you’re trying to capture. For example, are you trying to get the transition from high tide to low tide, or are you trying to capture the movement of the sun between sunrise and sunset? Transitions don’t need to be seamless - changes in light are inevitable, but the position of the camera and all of the settings (aperture, ISO, etc) must remain the same, and a remote shutter release can help maintain this consistency.

Some remote shutter releases have a intervalometer that enables you to set the camera to take shots at certain times, without having to press the button to fire the shutter (but these types are usually quite expensive).

You can also use a remote shutter release to try experimenting with multiple exposures, where the camera captures several moving subjects within the one frame. The exposures are then layered on top of one another in the final photograph, using the Image Overlay option. You can do this by editing everal frames into one image in Photoshop, similar to what has been done in the photo below.

Image taken by Don McCullough. This photo is a combination of 226 photos of boat traffic between 3:30-5pm under the Golden Gate Bridge.

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