Many DSLRs, and a handful of compacts, can shoot tethered, meaning that you connect the camera to your Mac via a USB cable and then control the camera remotely. With this setup you can save files directly to the hard drive, preview the images on the computer screen, and control your camera from afar.

When to tether
Tethered shooting is useful for situations when handheld photography isn’t ideal. If you want to shoot birds visiting a feeder, for example, but don’t want to scare them off, put the camera on a tripod and snap the pictures from your MacBook a safe distance away. 

Tethering is also handy when you need to position a camera in an awkward location, such as up high. Some studio photographers use tethering to show clients large image previews on the monitor as they shoot images. 

Finally, tethering is helpful when your shots create large files and you want to save them directly to the hard drive instead of having to constantly swap memory cards.

Tethering is primarily used with DSLRs, though a handful of compact cameras, such as the Casio EX-F1 (£650, www.casio.co.uk) can also do it. Read your camera’s specs carefully before purchasing to make sure that the necessary Mac software is included with the hardware.

Use the right software
With the right software, tethering is very easy. Canon includes EOS Utility, its application for remote-control photography, with its new DSLRs. Connect your Canon DSLR via its USB cable, launch EOS Utility, and choose Camera Settings/Remote Shooting. Click the Remote Live View Shooting button, and you’ll see the world through your camera’s lens on the Mac’s display. Here you can change the camera settings, such as exposure compensation, white balance and ISO. 

You can tether Nikons too, but those DSLRs don’t come with the necessary software. You can buy Nikon Camera Control Pro 2 (£129.99, www.nikon.co.uk) for remote shooting, or try a third-party application such as Sofortbild (payment requested; www.sofortbildapp.com). You can also use Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom (£232.65, www.adobe.co.uk) with two free plug-ins from Mountainstorm: LightroomTether and StudioTether (www.mountainstorm.co.uk). You can also use Aperture 3 (£169, www.apple.com/uk) to tether certain Nikon and Canon cameras to your Mac. 

Other camera brands also support tethering with proprietary software, such as Olympus with Viewer2, available to E-System and PEN users as a free download (www.olympus-europa.com). If you’re shopping for a new DSLR that you’ll want to tether, be sure to investigate the software options available to you before making the purchase.

iPhones get in on the action
DSLRs don’t get to have all the fun. You can also tether an iPhone to a Mac with the help of Aperture. You don’t get the remote-shooting function, but the images you take with the iPhone’s camera will download directly to the Aperture library of your choosing for instant viewing and storage. 

If you don’t want to manually fire the camera on your tethered iPhone, you can use software such as Joby’s free Gorillacam app
(www.joby.com/gorillacam) to set up interval shooting. 

You can also use an iPhone or iPod touch as a remote control for tethered Canon and Nikon DSLRs, using DSLR Camera Remote from OnOne Software (www.ononesoftware.com). The pro version (£11.99) lets you use your iPhone to change camera settings, view captured images, and look through your camera’s viewfinder. With the lite version (£1.19), you can trigger your camera from far away if your Mac and iPhone are on the same WiFi network. 

Share images on a network
If you’re running Snow Leopard, you can share your tethered DSLR or iPhone with other Macs on your network. Open Image Capture, select the connected camera under Devices, and then check the Share Camera box in the lower-left corner. Go to another Snow Leopard Mac on the network, launch Image Capture, and you’ll see the camera in the Shared list. You can view images on the camera’s memory card and copy them to the Mac. 

There are many alternatives to holding your camera and pressing its shutter button to record an image. For those situations where a hands-on approach isn’t practical, tethered capturing can be a great alternative.