Do You look at Your LCD-Screen often after having taken a shot? Do You feel more secure when controlling the exposure and how the shot turned out immediately, rather than waiting? Then You have the Chimping syndrome that most photographers suffer from at certain times. You might not be familiar with the term “chimping” in photography, but You probably have seen other photographers who constantly check their LCD-Screen or suffer from that bad habit Yourself. Chimping is a habit that You try to minimize or get rid off completely. It can make You miss a shot or interrupt Your flow.
I present to You reasons and tactics to avoid chimping in photography to make You become a better photographer.
What is Chimping in Photography?
Chimping sounds like a very silly term. A term that most wouldn’t probably take as a serious problem. But Chimping can cause a lot of problems that can harm Your progress as a photographer.
Chimping means that You constantly check Your photographs after You have taken a picture. Rather than working the scene immediately, You look at the LCD screen to have a look at the previous picture. It is believed, that the term comes from the notion that people like to share their images with others and ask them to look at the picture as well. “Oh, Oh, Oh look at my picture”, which makes the impression of a Chimpanzee.
Now, not everyone who looks at the LCD-Screen is a chimp, but a lot of photographers have this bad habit to check every picture immediately. They can’t contain their curiositiy for after the shoot and rather use the time on the location to look at the screen rather than taking more images.
Did You realize how often You check the LCD-Screen Yourself? With a high chance, You do it more often than You should, so You should read the following tips very carefully.
Don’t miss the Decisive Moment
First of all, I want to explain why chimping is so bad in Photography and especially in Street Photography.
A photograph is the capture of a very fragile moment. The shutter saves maybe a 1/100s of a second. If You miss the crucial moment, it will never come back and You have missed the opportunity for a great shot forever.
Street Photography is even harsher. You can not ask Your model to re-take a pose again and try to replicate the exact same facial expression. If You miss a shot in a candid genre such as Street Photography, then You have lossed that moment forever.
Just have a look at Your best photographs. Imagine if instead of having Your eyes at the scene and taking that pictures, Your awareness would have been at Your LCD-Screen. Wouldn’t that be a harsh lesson to learn?
Now You might argue that in the very short time frame You check Your screen, You wouldn’t miss a shot anyway. But how do You actually know when You aren’t focusing on the current surrounding, but rather check the past picture? And if You are just looking at the screen for not even a second, why look at it at all?
Keeping Up the Zen Status
The second negative impact that chimping has, is that it interrupts Your flow as a Photographer. Photography is a creative field and it can’t just be turned on and off like a production line. The photographs that You take are the expression of Your mental state that You need to get into first.
I have talked about this topic a lot with other Street Photographers and all of them mention that they need a little “warm-up” phase to get into the right feeling for the street to reach their full potential. In that regards, Street Photography is like a sport, not in a physical way – although it can be exhausting – but more in a form of mental stress.
A chess player can’t just sit down and be at his highest level of play immediately. He needs some time to prepare for an important match and additionally, he needs to have some regular practice as well. Imagine a chess player checking his mobile phone during an important match all the time for. Would that make him a better player?
In the same way, we photographers should keep our focus on the next picture and try to find new creative ways to get the great shot we are looking for. Looking at the LCD-screen distracts us from that task and interrupts our workflow and the whole crative production line.
Try Out Film Photography
Chimping in Photography is a rather modern phenomenon. Digital Cameras and LCD-Screens made it possible that we can see the photographs immediately. Now I don’t want to argue, that it is a modern characteristic of photographers in general.
Instant polaroid cameras were sucessful for the very reason that they made it possible to “chimp” and share the images immediately. Who knows, maybe classic photographers such as Robert Capa, or Bresson would be chimpers as well. If they would have been, which classic photographs would be missing in the galleries?
Anyway, they were film photographers and had to wait to see the actual result of the shutter release and there wasn’t a way to chimp.
Therefore I would recommend You to try out film, not forever, but for a long enough time, that You don’t miss the screen and immediate preview anymore. It can be a very good learning experience to photograph and not being able to check the images immediately. You are detaching Your feelings more from the images and rather than a subject emotion, You are able to review the pictures more in an objective state.
Disable the Image Preview
Camera manufacturers are sometimes evil and they have built a feature that even supports Your bad habits by displaying the recent image for a fixed amount of time on the display. To not fall into this trap and even save some battery life, I recommend You to disable the preview feature.
Now You have to push some extra buttons and aren’t as easily mislead to look at every recent picture.
Chimp to control The Exposure in Uncertain Situations
Although I want You to avoid chimping as much as possible with this article, there are some reasons when looking at the screen can be helpful. Chimping is more the act of mindlessly staring at the display without even gaining useful information.
One area where the display can be helpful can be to control the exposure. Whenever You are out on the street, the light is never the same and undergoes a lot of changes. Normally, I have my settings when I start my walk and those camera settings are good as long as the weather or the surroundings don’t change tremendously. When You are walking from shaded places out to lighted locations, maybe trying to shoot against the sun, then controlling the recent pictures makes sense to get the right exposure.
Don’t only look at the screen. Use the histogram and every information available to adjust the settings, so that the “chimping” does actually provide some value.
Checking the Focus
A second viable reason to have a look at the previous picture would be to check the focus. In contrast to the exposure though, if You feel the need to check a lot of Your pictures because You are unsure if the focus was right on, then You should go for a different focus method. Zone-Focusing, for example, helps You in this regard and negates the need to look at the pictures to check the focus.
On the other hand, it can sometimes help to set the focus point elsewhere and to check if the focus is where it should be.
Conclusion on Chimping in Photography
Chimping is a very bad habit that we should try to get rid off. Constantly checking the display of our camera doesn’t help us to gather useful information, but rather interrupts our creative workflow and overall makes it harder for us to capture the “decisive moment”. Rather than spending the time to look for beautiful opportunities for the next great shot, we are living in the past, checking results we cannot change anyway.
To overcome this bad habit, try some film photography, which denies You the chimping experience and teaches You that it is a far better photography experience to wait for Your pictures than to have the immediate gratification.
Not looking at Your pictures immediately, makes You also less pressured and frees up some creative resources. Often times, pictures in the display look worse than they actually are, which makes us doubt our performance on the street. Therefore, we should avoid to chimp as much as possible.
There are a few exceptions where chimping can be helpful. When changing locations and the light is very different, then checking the recent pictures to adjust the settings accordingly can be helpful. The same goes for the focus adjustments.
Try to avoid chimping in street photography and if You feel the urge to look at the display, at least get some useful information out of it, that will help You in capturing the next best shots.
Are You a “Chimper” or want to share Your experience overcoming this bad habit?