Perhaps the best $35.00 I’ve ever spent on my photography was not on something immediately thought of as a photography device. I have had a Google Chromecast since 2013 when they first came out and it remains a tool that has helped me grow and enjoy my photography tremendously. I seem to be in good company too as Google reports having sold over 30 million Chromecasts and has now just released their third-generation device. So, if you’re not one of those, perhaps it’s time to “get on the stick” and read about Eight Reasons you ought to have one as a photographer.
So what is a Chromecast? My first-generation device is shaped like an oversized flash thumb drive with a male HDMI connector on one end and mini-USB socket on the other for connecting power. The second and third generations are shaped more like a small puck with connecting cords and better work with TVs where the space between connection sockets is tight. The newer generations have also increased speed and capabilities with a variation, the Chromecast Ultra, having 4K Ultra HD capabilities when connected to a TV with that capability. Google is the developer of the Android operating system and so the Chromecast capabilities are a bit richer when using it with Android devices, but it will also work with iOS devices too.
So what does it do and why do you want one? There are many uses for the device, but the common denominator for all of them is to provide a way to watch what you might otherwise watch on your computer, smartphone, tablet, or other portable device on what is probably the biggest and best screen in your house – your TV. It’s not that you can’t view this content on those smaller screens, but like the difference between watching a movie on your TV or in the theater, which screen gives a more enjoyable experience? Yup…The Big One.
This article is not intended to teach you how to connect your Chromecast or use it. It’s actually quite simple and there are loads of online tutorials to assist you with that. Instead, I want to tell you how having the device has benefited my photography.
1. Online Tutorials
We are indeed fortunate to live at a time when so much free instruction on any topic you can think of, is all at our fingertips. There are multiple places online where photography tutorials are hosted, but the king of such sites is YouTube. YouTube works beautifully with the Chromecast. Once you have your Chromecast installed, it becomes an extension of your WiFi internet connection and so anything you can view on Youtube, you can “cast” to and enjoy on your big screen TV. So what is there for photographers? What isn’t there??!! Tutorials from some of the world’s top photographers abound. I essentially first learned Lightroom editing by watching Serge Ramelli’s YouTube tutorials. I’ve watched plenty from Anthony Morganti too. Of course, my first exposure to Improve Photography was on YouTube and watching Jim Harmer’s tutorials. The list of favorites continues to grow over the years. I follow Nick Page and Thomas Heaton for great landscape photography stuff, Tony and Chelsea Northrup for a variety of photo topics, and the large collection of topics on the B&H YouTube site. Over on the Adorama TV site, Bryan Peterson and Gavin Hoey are favorites. You gotta check out Jared (Fro Knows Photo) Polin too. SLR Lounge has some great stuff. I can’t begin to name all the photographers and sites I’ve visited and enjoyed. This list could go on forever and I constantly find new things.
A great feature of the Chromecast with YouTube is the ability to create a Queue of videos to watch. Find the first one, add others to the Queue, and you can have a whole evening of photo tutorial education and entertainment! If you decide you like a certain photographer and want to see all their new videos as they release them, Subscribe to their channel and you’ll be notified when new things are posted. Come across a tutorial but don’t have time to watch it right then? You can also add videos to a “Watch Later” list. Watch them when you’re ready whether nice and big on your TV with the Chromecast or maybe on your smartphone when you’re having to wait somewhere!
I invite you to start exploring the wealth of photography tutorials available on YouTube. Whatever it is you want to learn, I can guarantee you can type it into the Search field of YouTube and find something about it. Use your Chromecast and watch it big and beautiful on your big screen TV. Free instruction from the world’s top photographers? A no-brainer I think. Why watch anything else?
2. Photo Equipment Reviews
Considering buying a new piece of gear or trying to figure out what it is you need for that special photo project? As there are YouTube tutorials, there are also reviews for about any kind of piece of equipment you might be thinking about. See the equipment in action and find reviews not from the manufacturer, but by fellow photographers who can give you unbiased thoughts on how a piece of equipment performs, or doesn’t. Then when you are ready to buy, search for the best deals and even make your purchase online, all while still viewing everything on your Chromecast.
3. View Your Own Photos
It happens. You’ve been taking photos for years and have shot tens of thousands of images, hopefully, some really excellent favorites. But time goes on, you move onto other things and the photos are stored away on your hard drive, often forgotten and unseen. They may as well be in a shoebox sealed in a storage locker somewhere. You and others surely aren’t enjoying them as you could. I’m not sure if this would be my first or second favorite thing about my Chromecast – The ability to run a constant Slideshow of My Images stored in various places. Because the show brings up the images randomly, I’m never sure what will come up next and I’m often surprised and delighted to see a shot I’d long forgotten about.
Google Home, the app that runs in conjunction with the Chromecast, has a feature called Ambient Mode. You are able to select the source of your images, the albums you wish to show, how long each image remains on the screen (from 5 seconds to 10 minutes), and what overlays you might also like displayed, (the current time, temperature, your name and the album name, the device name, wifi network, etc.) These can be individually turned on or off.
The sources of the images can be your Google Photos albums, the “Art Gallery”, (which contains Featured Photos, Fine Art, Earth and Space, or Street Art), or a new Experimental Section, which at this writing contains your Facebook Albums or those on Flickr. So I can choose which images show and exclude those I don’t want in my Ambient Slideshow, I create Albums in both Google Photos and Facebook. I can then flag only the albums I want to show, excluding those I don’t want.
Once set up, the Chromecast Ambient Mode simply cycles through the images. I don’t need my phone or another device to control it, it simply taps into the internet via my home wifi and runs in the background. Because I also have my smartphone set to immediately save images to Google Photos when they are taken, those too will be added to the mix if I flag that group. Ditto the albums I have in Facebook. Things I add there can immediately and without other interaction be added to the “playlist.” Often when I’m relaxing with a cup of coffee I will simply sit back and let the slideshow of my shots run using the Chromecast in Ambient Mode to randomly display images on my big screen much like those LCD “photo frames” you see, but bigger, much better, and displaying the thousands of images I have stored out in the “Cloud.” It’s great to see long-forgotten favorites come up and relive the memories connected with those shots.
4. View Other Photographers Shots
I mentioned using the Chromecast and Google Home to view the “Art Gallery” in Ambient Mode. Within that is the Featured Photos collection, which has images from photographers from all over the world. The images come from images posted on Google+ and could even include your photos if you have shared them publicly online. I won’t get into what is a controversy for some, the fact that Google could use your photos without payment here. Of course, they indicate that if one of your photos is chosen, you will be notified and that you also have the option of flagging your Google+ albums as “don’t share.” Read this if that concerns you.
My point in bringing this up is that I will often use this feature of the Chromecast/Google Home as a means of inspiration. Looking at quality images done by other photographers is an excellent way to inspire you and increase your “visual vocabulary.” Simply sit and watch the slideshow of photos and you’ll see some excellent images, gain ideas, and become motivated. If you also have the Google Home Ambient Mode displayed on your phone or tablet, you will be able to click it and “drill down”, learning more about the photo, the photographer, the location, and seeing where it was originally displayed. If you see a particularly stunning shot it’s often nice to then seek out more images by the same photographer and what else they may have posted online. If you’ve posted images on Google+ and one is chosen, consider the millions of others that will have a chance to see your shot with your name attached!
5. Show images to your photo clients on a large screen
Perhaps you are a portrait, wedding, or other photographer working professionally and would like to be able to show your images to your clients big and beautiful. A great way to do so is to upload your images into a Google Photos Album. Mark it private if you like so that only you can see it. Then, have your clients come to your studio where you have a big screen TV set up with a Chromecast attached. Because you can cast directly from Google Photos on your portable device to the Chromecast, you will be able to bring up the album on your phone or tablet and “cast” it to the large screen. Big, impressive images are always a great way to increase sales!
6. Cast Any Computer or Portable Device Screen
One useful feature of Chromecast is the ability to “cast” anything that appears on your computer or mobile device screen to the large TV screen using the Chromecast proving they both share the same WiFi network. On Android devices or PCs, the easiest way to do this is to use the Chrome browser. Typically you will see the Cast icon on the screen, which looks like a square with a series of “waves” coming from the bottom left corner. Using the Chrome browser, navigate to the screen or site you wish to cast and click that icon. As long as your device and the Chromecast are on the same wifi network, you will see the Chromecast as a choice of where to cast to. Pick that and the screen will be “mirrored” to the TV screen via the Chromecast. On iOS devices, it could be a little trickier, but still possible. Apps like Netflix or YouTube will typically have cast capabilities built in and so even on an iOS device like an iPhone or iPad, casting is straightforward. If you want to mirror the screen, however, you may need another casting app like Momocast. Not using iOS myself, I can’t test this, but these directions look simple enough.
So how might a photographer use this? I do quite a bit of photo instruction and teaching before groups and might have something on my laptop or portable device I want to show the group. If I didn’t mind a hardwire connection, I could connect my notebook PC to a projector and thus show the screen if say I was doing a Lightroom class. The other option would be to plug a Chromecast into the HDMI port of the projector and treat it the same as I would if it were a TV with the Chromecast. As long as the Notebook PC and the Chromecast were sharing the same WiFi connection, this would work fine and the notebook or mobile device wouldn’t need to the physically tethered to the projector. Anything on my notebook or mobile device could be mirrored and sent wirelessly to the projector.
7. On the Road with Chromecast
This one is a bit trickier, but doable and could be very useful if you are traveling and don’t have a Wifi internet connection where you are going. Example, you’re on a photo trip and staying in a hotel. You have your notebook PC and would like to view the images you took that day on the big TV screen in your room. Take your Chromecast with you. Preconfigure it so the WiFi it uses is that of the tethered mode on your cell phone. Here are the specific directions on how to do that. Once your notebook and the Chromecast are on the same Wifi network being provided by the cell phone, with the Chromecast plugged into the hotel TV in your room you’ll be able to bring the photos into the computer from your SD card, display them on the notebook, and mirror that to the big screen TV. The only caution here is since you'll be using your phone's data connection, be sure you have a good or unlimited data plan or run the risk of a big bill. Streaming images or video uses lots of data! I have yet to personally try this, (and am eager to try it), but the theory is sound and there’s every reason to think it would work well. Here’s a second tutorial on the same technique just in case something on the first wasn’t clear.
8. Live Camera Casting
So here’s one final reason you might find a Chromecast useful in your photography. First, let’s explain what you might be trying to do and then how you could use the Chromecast to do it. Say you are in your studio and you want to be able to have your client view your images as you’re shooting them, watching them on a big screen TV. If you could somehow wirelessly send the images from the camera to the TV, that would be the ticket, right? The setup here is based on a couple of things: A studio where you have a WiFi router connected to the internet. (I suppose you could use the technique above if you didn’t have that, which would likely work but add one more layer of complexity.) Then you need a big screen TV with an attached Chromecast. The Chromecast would be configured with a smartphone, both on the same WiFi network. Finally, you would need to have the camera connected to the Smartphone and able to have the phone view the camera images. Canon cameras can connect to a smartphone using the app – DSLR Controller. (You will need to do some research to determine how to work with Nikon cameras or iOS devices. ) So, with all those things in place, here’s how you do it.
Yeah, it’s kind of a specialized use for the Chromecast and won’t be for everyone, but I guess I’m the kind of guy who likes to discover the possibilities in a device and this certainly qualifies as a creative possibility.
If you really want to get exotic, the new Chromecast devices can also interface with the Google Assistant smart speakers and control the apps supported by the Chromecast with voice commands. So, for example, you could say, “Hey Google, Play Youtube Nick Page Photography video on Chromecast,” and it should work. Here are some other things to explore if voice control of your Chromecast intrigues you.