Live-Tweeting an Event with a DSLR and an iPad

Many of you know that I’m a social media consultant in addition to being a photographer. This unlikely combination of occupations came about after going into photography professionally following a 25-year career in the computer industry, then spending more and more time answering questions about how I was using the Web to engage people about my work, to the point where it was obvious my knowledge of the online world was in high demand.

Hula performers at Old Lahaina Luau
Hula performers at Old Lahaina Luau as originally shot, ISO 6400, f/10, 1/60 sec., Nikon D7000, AF-S DX VR Zoom-NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED

Now there seems to be a demand for the two things as a package. More often than not these days, I’m asked to live tweet events and contribute my photography to a collection of assets being shared online, adding to the feeling of “being there” as the photos are viewed in near real time. These photos subsequently find their way into the press and other venues as people who saw them approach me afterwards.

In Instagram, tap the button that takes you to your photo library.
In Instagram, tap the button that takes you to your photo library.

When I first started doing this, I was carrying a laptop around, shooting with my DSLR, then finding a corner to hide in every so often to import the photos, do whatever retouching I could do quickly and post them to the Web. Then came the iPhone, and better yet, the iPad. Apps like Instagram hit the scene, along with a multitude of other stunning ways to share your work instantly.

Today, I own an iPhone 4s, which has a really nice camera with a wide aperture and great low light response. I love it. I use it a lot, even when I have my DSLR with me. Sometimes, it’s just the right camera for the job. I look forward to the day when the camera in my pocket is all I need.

But when I really have to adjust the aperture, shutter speed or ISO manually, or need a fast lens with some reach, right now there’s no beating a DSLR. So the goal for me became to be able to carry a DSLR around and be mobile enough to shoot and share without too much other gear (like a laptop.) If I could couple my iPhone to the DSLR, I’d be set. But sadly, there’s no clean and convenient way to do that yet. But with an iPad, I’ve developed a pretty reliable worklow.

What you need:

  • Permission to shoot at the venue!! If there are signs all over the place that prohibit photography, respect them if you’re not an authorized photographer! Those signs are there for a reason. Don’t be that guy (or gal.)
  • A DLSR with a low noise sensor that shoots at very high ISO’s. As of this writing, my current weapon of choice is the Nikon D7000 for these situations. It’s fast, lightweight, versatile and has a fabulous sensor.
  • The photo you're looking for is most likely in Last Import. If not, look in Photo Stream instead.
    The photo you're looking for is most likely in Last Import. If not, look in Photo Stream instead.
  • A flash unit, though in many cases, especially in a theater environment, you can’t use it. Again, respect the rules! This is what the high-ISO/low-noise capability in your camera is for. Also, remember that the effective range of a flash is 6-10 feet, depending on make, model and conditions.
  • If the action is on a stage, you’ll need a lens with a good zoom range and some reach—something like 200mm with as wide an aperture as you can get. You want to be able to grab shots from afar without being disruptive. A 70-200mm f/2.8 is great, but it might be a little heavy to be hauling around all day, so perhaps something more lightweight like an 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 might do just fine.
  • If the action is more close range, then something like a 17-55mm f/2.8. Sigma makes an 18-50mm f/2.8 that does a fine job.
  • An Apple iPad with sufficient storage. My policy is if you’re using it for photography, go with as much storage as you can get.
  • An Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit. Maybe two of them, just to be safe. This is the key piece of equipment that gets the photos from the camera to the iPad.
  • A card reader to use with the  iPad Camera USB connector (if your camera doesn’t use SD cards.)
  • Alternatively, an Eye-Fi which comes with an iPhone/iPad app, but it may be less reliable or convenient, depending on the availability or quality of your wifi connection.
  • A go-to iPad app to tweak your images if needed. There are a few I like, such as Photogene, Snapseed and Adobe Photoshop Express.
  • All the photo sharing apps you need to share images with your friends and followers. This might be email app if all you’re doing is posting to Posterous, or something like Instagram (which runs just fine on the iPad even though it’s an iPhone app.) For posting to Flickr, I’ve taken a liking to FlickStackr.
  • Portable connectivity, either built into the iPad, or something like a Verizon Mifi. This is the other key ingredient. No Internet, no sharing.
  • A sling bag or something similar (small and simple) to carry your iPad, Mifi, chargers and Camera Connection Kit.
Old Lahaina Luau hula performers as shared on Instagram.
Old Lahaina Luau hula performers as shared on Instagram.

What you do:

  1. Shoot
  2. Import
  3. Share.

Sounds simple, but it isn’t always.

Here are a few tips that might help:

  • If the action is a production on a stage, make good use of the gorgeous existing light the stage crew is working so hard to provide. It’s more than enough light to capture what you need.
  • Unless the light source is consistent and measurable, set your white balance to auto and trust the camera.
  • Shoot right the first time. If you have to edit or retouch, it’ll slow you down. The idea is to get the shot out to the Web as fast as you can.
  • Pay close attention to your depth of field. Decide what’s in focus and what’s not, and set your aperture and focal point accordingly. Know the hyperfocal distance of your lens.
  • Set your autofocus so you can predict what it’s going to do.
  • Keep your shutter speed at something like 1/100 sec. or above to minimize motion blur (unless blur is what you’re after.)
  • Based on the above, adjust your ISO accordingly, as low as you can manage. Lower ISO = less noise.
  • Compose with the knowledge that the app you’re using to share will probably crop. Shoot with an eye toward what it will look like on a social network.
  • When you pull the card to import the images onto the iPad, have another one handy to swap back in right away. Nothing worse than a cardless camera when something good happens. My D7000 allows for two cards, so I always have one in the camera.
  • Shoot JPEG or the images will take forever to import, and won’t work with most apps you’ll be using to share them with. (In my case, I’m able to shoot RAW+JPEG and only download the JPEG’s to my iPad, then import the RAW files into a computer later. Depending on your camera system, your mileage may vary.)
  • Do not erase the card after importing! Carry more cards if you need to. I like to do a final import of everything onto a computer afterwards, just to make sure I don’t lose anything.
  • Decide how you’re going to share the photos, bring up the app, go to your albums, choose the photos, add effects if necessary and share.
  • In my case, I like to create a repository on Flickr so I can create slideshows or embed them into blogs later. It’s also makes them easier to find when someone comes to you and asks to publish them. Unless the Flickr Photostream is what my followers are watching as part of the event, I usually do this after the fact in the comfort of my office. This gives me the luxury of organizing and editing the photos in Lightroom as well.
  • Which brings me to my last point. Remember to organize all the photos from the event in the tool of your choice, (Lightroom is mine) backup and archive.

If someone has a workflow that involves non-Apple devices, such as Droids, please share it here. I’d love to learn how you do it.


  1. says

    Thanks for a great article.
    Most newspaper in Scandinavia displays a live feed of photos and video clips taken by their staffed press photographers. Visitors on the site can then share photos/videos on social media.
    It might not be the exact same demand as you are describing, but the photograph workflow is similar.

    Photographers then use a wifi transmitter attached to the camera hooked up to their smartphone (personal hotspot) or a battery powered 3g/4g router.

    Sorry for self promoting:
    Shootitlive is a service where photographers have an account and upload the photos/video clips. The editor at the site embeds the player and photos/videos appear on site a couple of seconds after they’ve been snapped on site. The editor can rearrange, delete, or moderate before it goes live.
    If you like to try it out, it’s free to use (and ad-free)

    Martin, co-founder Shootitlive

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