To Chimp or not to Chimp?

Here is a collection of essays and thoughts from working professionals and photo educators on why and when they use a camera's LCD panel. Some call it "chimping" and we hope that their thoughts help you understand when a tool works best.

Tony L. Corbell corbellproductions.com
Published January 20, 2014

To Chimp or Not to Chimp

"Who needs a light meter? I have digital."

There are a lot of people that have adopted the above statement about their work in photography. Photographers throughout the world go to work everyday without a light meter and they are buying houses and cars and generally doing just fine. So, why is it so important to have the "meter" discussion? It's very simple. The answer is to simply eliminate un-necessary computer time. Period.

Look everyone, photography is an art. And it is an emotional and often very personal art. However, it is a science first and as a science, requires precision. Not guesswork. Imagine a cabinet-maker without a measuring tape. Do you think precision might play an important role in his or her success?

Having spent 34 years working as a professional photographer I have come to respect the quality of the image more than just about anything, with one exception. Time. I've come to understand that you can't get it back and you can't make more of it. So use it for good stuff, not bad stuff.

Stop guessing your exposures, stop chimping after every picture, stop fixing your files after every shoot, and start metering. You'll be glad you did. I guarantee it.

Joe Brady joebradyphotography.com
Published January 20, 2014

Before I go off on any rant on the "dangers of chimping" (defined as looking at your camera's LCD screen immediately after every shot) let me first define that I have nothing against looking at the results of a photograph on the camera's LCD screen. The LCD is a wonderful learning tool and will tell you a lot about composition, expression and what might be improved or explored in the scene.

I certainly check portrait images for expressions and closed eyes and I also love sharing great captures with my clients. Checking the LCD will also tell you if your lights are not firing or if some setting on the camera is really wrong – this is all great information to have. That said, there are a couple of times where chimping has a negative effect and one time where it's really a bad idea. Let me explain.

When shooting portraits, meter the scene and your lights at the spot where the subject will be. Once you have this information, you won't have to worry about camera settings and you can concentrate on the subject. When shooting landscapes, the same elements apply – take your readings, set the desired aperture and shutter speed and start shooting.

So where does chimping become a problem? Two areas that can be hurt by constant chimping are the flow of the shoot, and the failure to capture that great moment. Let's talk about flow first.

When shooting a portrait session, the flow of the shoot is very important to both the photographer and the model. Once you have your lights set and metered, and your focus, shutter speed and aperture are defined, it's time to start shooting. When you are working with an experienced model, they get into a flow of movement that is natural and fluid. This produces graceful, smooth shape and expression without stress. For the photographer, the same flow begins to set a rhythm and when both of you get into this flow, the results are beautiful.

When you are photographing someone who is not a professional model, you can help to bring him or her into this rhythm by having your subject move a bit. Talk about what you want your client to do as you move with them. If you start chimping during this process, it's like slamming on the brakes. Everyone ends up with a mild case of photographic concussion and you in essence start from scratch with every shot. If you've ever been in a car with a standard transmission and the driver doesn't know how to use a clutch, you're experiencing a similar effect. Even though the jarring might not be quite as severe, the chances of getting that perfect pose and shape are greatly diminished.

The other danger of constant chimping is that you are going to miss the great moment. When photographing an event like a wedding or even during a portrait session, one of the best photographs you can make could be called "the moment in between the moments". It's that unguarded letting down of defenses or posing that truly begins to reveal the essence of the subject. If you are too busy chimping, you're going to miss these perfect moments – capturing these shot is one of the elements that can separate a good photographer from a great one.

The one part of chimping that is a really bad idea is to judge color and exposure by relying on the camera's histogram. Once again, the histogram is a tool that needs to be considered as just one element out of many. It's one thing if it's a bright sunny day and your histogram is all smushed (that's the technical term) over to the left – obviously something is wrong. It's something completely different when you are using a meter to evaluate the scene and you start trusting the camera over what your light meter is telling you. Remember that the camera is giving you a histogram based on light reflected back through the lens. If you are photographing a landscape with an evergreen-covered mountainside, the histogram is going to be pushed way left. If you are on the beach or in the snow, the histogram will be way to the right – regardless of what color clothing people are wearing. You need to consider what the histogram is telling in relationship to the scene you are looking at through your viewfinder.

The beauty of a handheld light meter is that it measures the light falling on the scene rather than what is reflecting back into the camera. It is not fooled by dark or light backgrounds, by clothing color or the light reflecting properties of materials. Learn to us a light meter and trust what it is telling you – your exposures will be perfect and that will allow you to concentrate on the subject in front of you.

Go ahead and check your LCD as you get started, but once you're ready to let it rip, trust your instincts, trust your meter and let it flow!


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