Traditionally, if you’ve wanted to take a picture of yourself using your own camera, you’ve either had to ask someone to hold it, or put it on a steady surface or tripod, set a timer and then run around to the front of the camera before it takes the picture.
Modern cameras have supported remote controls – usually infra-red, or on a long cable – which let you remotely control your camera. This means you can set up your shot and then get into the frame in your own time. Remotes can be picked up for under £10 if you don’t mind going for an unbranded one, but it’s actually possible to make your own for free, with a piece of technology you already own – your smartphone. It’s not quite so straightforward, but it’s possible.
In this guide, I’m focussing on the technology available to me, namely my Canon EOS 450D (also known as the EOS Rebel XSi), my iPhone and my Mac, but this also works with Nikon cameras, other iOS and Android devices and Windows computers, albeit with slightly different software. It’s also heavily inspired by this article from Lifehacker.
Things you need
For this to work, you’ll need some pieces of kit, and some extra software:
- A reasonably recent Canon (or Nikon) DSLR camera. For Canon users with ‘prosumer’ cameras like mine, the 450D is the oldest supported camera – which is about three years old.
- An iOS device running iOS 3.1 or better – this can be an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad
- A Windows or Mac computer
- EOS Utility
- DSLR Camera Remote Free from the App Store
- DSLR Camera Remote Server
Step 1: Install all of the necessary software
Obviously, you’ll need to install the software before using it. EOS Utility is on one of the CDs that came with your camera. You probably should also update it online as well – for Mac users, here’s the link to version 2.10.4 which works in Mountain Lion. Curiously, the later 2.11 versions don’t work in Mountain Lion and instead crash at launch, which is rather unhelpful, and Canon hasn’t yet issued fully compatible updates.
You’ll also need to install the DSLR Camera Remote Server on your computer – this is the app which forms a bridge between EOS Utility and the app you install on your iPhone. Finally, install the iPhone app.
Step 2: Connect everything together
Connect your camera to your computer using the USB cable, and launch EOS Utility and the Remote Server. Make sure that both your phone and computer are using the same wireless access point, and then launch the iPhone app. The iPhone should automatically detect the server on your computer, using the magic of Bonjour, so select it. If everything’s okay, you should see a screen with some camera controls, and a button that says ‘Fire’ on it.
Step 3: Set up the shot
If you haven’t already, attach the camera to the tripod (ensuring it’s still connected to the computer and switched on), and then adjust the zoom, focus and any other advanced exposure settings. Or place it on a flat surface if you’re not using a tripod.
Step 4: Fire!
You’re ready to go. Get yourself in position, and, when you’re ready, press the ‘Fire’ button on your phone. Your camera should automatically take the picture. The photo will be stored both on the camera’s memory card, and also on your computer’s hard drive, and your computer will also show you a preview of the picture that you’ve just taken.
This is the simplest way to take pictures, but you can do more. Firstly, you may want to buy a longer USB cable, or get a USB extension cable, if you can’t get the computer close enough to the camera. Also, the free version of the DSLR Camera Remote application literally only lets you view the camera settings and take pictures – for a further £7, you can buy the ‘pro’ version which also lets you change the exposure settings using your phone, and will show a preview of your photo on your phone as well.
You could also set up a VPN system, which would, theoretically, allow you to control your camera from another location.
If you’ve never played around with EOS Utility before, then spend some time with it – especially its ‘Live View Shoot’ mode which allows you to use your computer to set focus, light levels and all sorts. If you’ve ever used the Camera+ app on your phone, then imagine that, but with the picture quality of your DSLR. It’s great.