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A Guide to Wireless Remote Photography

a guide to wireless remote photography

What makes a wireless remote (also known as a remote release) so special? Should you use one in your own photography?

In this article, I explain the precise benefits of wireless remote photography. I also discuss when you should use a remote (and when it’s better to stick to the old press-the-shutter-button standard).

By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know why remotes are great – and whether you should buy one for your own camera.

Let’s get started.

What is a remote in photography?

Camera remotes, also known as remote releases or wireless releases, have one primary purpose:

They let you trigger your camera without touching the shutter button.

And this offers two benefits:

  • It allows you to avoid any camera shake from pressing the shutter, which in turn leads to much sharper photos
  • It lets you trigger the shutter from a distance, which can be highly convenient

And as you’ll see below, these benefits are a big deal for plenty of photographers.

Now, working with a remote is simple. You generally attach the remote receiver to your camera’s hotshoe and connect it to your camera via a cable. Then, when you press the main button on the remote, your camera will take a photo!

wireless remote attached to a camera

Note that there are technically two types of releases: remote releases and cable releases. In this article, I focus on remote releases, but cable releases – which connect physically to your camera via a cable – offer many of the same benefits and are often much cheaper, so if you’re on a budget, a cable release is a reasonable choice.

When to use a wireless remote: 6 scenarios

Below, I break down the situations when a wireless remote will come in handy, starting with:

1. When working at high magnifications

If you shoot at high magnifications, your depth of field – that is, the amount of the shot that’s in focus – will be razor thin. To capture a sharp photo, you must get your focus point exactly right, yet even if you mount your camera on a tripod, the vibrations from pressing the shutter button can mess with the focus and ruin the image.

But with a remote release, you can mount your camera on a tripod, set the focus, then take a few steps back.

And you can fire your shot from a distance! As long as you stay still and work with a sturdy tripod, your image will turn out tack sharp.

(Pro tip: If you’re shooting with a DSLR, make sure to activate the mirror lock-up feature or shoot in Live View. Also make sure to activate your camera’s electronic shutter, as the action of the mechanical shutter can also cause vibrations.)

capturing macro photos with a wireless remote

2. When capturing self-portraits

Self-portrait photography is a lot of fun. It’s also very frustrating; you must set your camera’s self-timer, hit the shutter button, and then run into position – which means you have no time to prepare yourself when posing.

But with a wireless release, you can simply hold the remote against your palm, then strike your pose. When you’re ready to shoot, press the remote button, and – voila! – you’ll get your image.

Note that you can even combine the self-timer and the remote: Just set a two-second timer, click the remote, and drop it out of the frame. That way, the remote doesn’t appear in your shot, but you still have plenty of time to prepare yourself.

By the way, a remote will double your self-portrait output. You won’t have to keep running back and forth to the camera, but can instead take a shot, pick up the remote, take another shot, pick up the remote, and so on. Easy, peasy!

bird nest self-portrait with wireless release
Before I had a remote, this type of self-portrait was very difficult to pull off.

3. When capturing long-exposure photos

Long-exposure photographers swear by their remotes, and for good reason:

A remote allows you to fire your camera with zero camera shake, assuming – as I discussed in an earlier section – that you have your camera’s electronic shutter activated and its mirror out of the way.

That way, you can capture gorgeous long-exposure photos that feature moving clouds, moving water, car light trails, star trails, and so much more.

Simply set up your camera on a sturdy tripod, dial in the right settings, step back, and fire the shutter with the remote release!

This is useful for cityscape photographers, astrophotographers, and landscape photographers, to name just a few.

long exposure at night
A long exposure photo, taken under the light of the full moon.

4. When photographing skittish wildlife

This form of remote photography is rather specialized, but it’s an easy technique that’ll get you incredible images, so it’s definitely worth learning.

You see, skittish wildlife – such as birds and squirrels – is often difficult to approach with a camera.

But if you put your camera in position, then step away and wait for the wildlife to explore, you can often capture some stunning shots.

(This is also a useful technique for capturing wildlife that isn’t safe to approach. You can set your camera on a tripod, then sit in a nearby vehicle with your remote.)

I encourage you to experiment with wide-angle lenses. Wildlife may come within inches of your camera setup, and a wide-angle lens will offer a truly breathtaking perspective.

5. When doing time-lapse or star trail photography

Some remote releases offer intervalometer functionality, which allows you to capture a series of shots within a specified interval. For instance, you can use an intervalometer to fire the shutter every 30 seconds, as is sometimes done in star trail photography.

You will pay extra for this feature, but intervalometer remotes aren’t too expensive, and it’s a great tool for the budding astrophotographer or time-lapse shooter.

Plus, you can always set up your camera, start your remote, then sit in a warm car while your camera and release do all the work.

Note that working the intervalometer feature of your remote release may take a bit of experimentation – you may even need to read the manual – but in the end, it’ll be worth it!

6. When faced with physical difficulties

Sometimes, you may want to capture a shot (or two, or three)…

…but you don’t want to get in position for more than a few seconds.

For instance, you may need to assume a physically difficult pose, such as crouching, kneeling, or bending to the side. Or you may need to stand in water or lie on the cold, wet ground until your subject comes by.

In all of these cases, a remote release will be a huge help. You can set up your camera on a tripod, then sit or stand comfortably while you wait for the right compositional elements to appear. When they do, you can fire the release (still feeling comfortable!) and capture a perfect shot.

colorful lights in the park at night remote shutter release

Should you purchase a wireless remote?

Wireless shutter releases are great, but they’re not a necessity for every photographer.

I encourage you to purchase a remote release if:

  • You shoot long-exposure photos on a regular basis
  • You want to do time-lapse or star trail photography
  • You photograph landscapes
  • You shoot macro subjects
  • You want to shoot wildlife from a distance
  • You want to capture stunning self-portraits

And as I discussed above, a remote release can be useful in various other situations, too, such as when you’re struggling with the physical requirements of capturing a photo. If that sounds like something you might experience, then I’d suggest purchasing a remote release anyway; you can keep it in your bag, and if you do find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, you can whip it out and get your shot.

(One piece of advice: Remote releases require batteries, so be sure to pack plenty of spares. You don’t want your release to die in the middle of a photoshoot!)

On the other hand, if you only ever shoot handheld – for instance, you like to capture sports or wildlife in action using a telephoto lens – then a remote release is probably a waste of money.

remote shutter release trigger and receiver

Remote release photography: final words

long-exposure photo with writing in the air

Now that you’ve finished this article, you know why remote release photography is so great – and you know whether a remote release is right for you.

So if you need a remote, get one! And have plenty of self-portrait, long-exposure, and time-lapse photography fun.

Now over to you:

Do you plan to purchase a remote release? What will you use it for? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Stacey Hill
Stacey Hill

invested in her first DSLR back in 2007. While having many adventures out and about in the South Island of New Zealand, Stacey took to blogging about her experiences learning photography. Recently she discovered the fun and creative possibilities to be had with Photoshop. She can be found having an opinion all over the place here.

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