What is ‘chimping?’
Chimping is defined as the act of looking at your camera’s LCD screen immediately after taking a photograph.
Being able to review your photo just after you’ve taken it, and not having to wait for a film to be developed, is one of the pros of the digital camera
Yet there is also an argument against that.
I recently heard well known photographer, Nick Carver, in an interview with Thomas Heaton (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhRlHhr44WI), say that one of the reasons he likes film photography is that it keeps him from being tempted to look at his screen after he takes a photograph.
This comment got me thinking about the term chimping and whether it’s a good or bad idea in photography.
There are pros and cons to chimping.
Pros of chimping
#1 It gives you an opportunity to review your photo
I used to do this a lot when I started photography. I’d take a photo then have a look at the screen to see if it came out as I had hoped. This gave me an opportunity to correct any mistakes such as a distraction on the edge of my frame, a badly focussed shot or even a poor composition. It meant that I didn’t go home with a set of useless images and a sense of disappointment.
This is one of the reasons why I think chimping might be a good idea when you are learning photography. We all make mistakes when learning so checking our images gives us a chance to get it right before we leave a scene, especially if we might not return there frequently. To have an opportunity to rectify simple errors by moving to the side a little and taking another shot or realising when we look at our image that the subject might look better from another perspective, enhances our progress as learners in photography and is an important element in our beginners toolbox.
#2 It helps you critique your images
The second reason I give in favour of chimping is that it can help us become critics of our own work in a positive way. We learn to recognise how our images should look and what mistakes we might be repeating. For example, I tended to have distracting objects in my frames. A stray piece of grass might have blown across the image, there might have been an unsightly wire that I hadn’t noticed or maybe a person walked into the frame at the wrong time. By checking my shots, I was able to learn what I was doing wrong and try to eliminate these distractions when I am taking my photographs.
#3 We can delete photos that we don’t want and save space on the memory card
Obviously, if we constantly check our images ‘on the go’ we will spot those that we don’t want and will be able to delete them immediately, thus freeing up space on our memory card for more images. In this sense there is a definite ‘advantage’ here over film photography. I often had a film developed only to discover that some of the images were useless. Undoubtedly, if I could have deleted these in the field I would have done so.
Maybe I should have chimped here, then I might have noticed the pole behind the horse's head. Not ideal!
Cons of chimping
#1 It spoils the ‘flow’ of photography
I put this as the first reason against chimping because I used to overdo checking my images and found that it was beginning to spoil my flow. Instead of focusing on what was happening around me, I was too concerned with checking to see if I got the previous image right. Often, particularly with a subject that might not be stationary, I missed the next moment by looking back on a previous one. I learned the hard way that I was blocking the chance of a good image by constantly looking back and I was spoiling the moments by constantly checking the screen.
#2 It puts emphasis on getting the product right rather than enjoying the process
The second reason I don’t like chimping, especially after every shot, is that I feel it puts more emphasis on the product than on the process. Others may feel that this is a pro of chimping but for me process is important. At times I can lose myself in the art of making images, I can forget time and just be fully immersed in what I am doing. When I am in the photography ‘zone’ like this, I am not so concerned with whether my images are perfect, I just enjoy making them. By having this attitude, I practise my learning with a greater sense of enjoyment and ease, and I find that some of what I have been learning comes naturally when out with my camera and I really don’t have to constantly check whether I have got everything right.
#3 It increases battery consumption
From a practical point of view, having the screen on and checking it constantly will consume a lot of battery power. One of the pros of chimping might be that checking images and deleting unwanted ones will save space on the memory card, but if this act results in ending up with no battery it’s not a great advantage.
There are mixed feelings about chimping among those in the photography community.
For a professional photographer who uses film to ensure that he doesn’t do chimping there is a strong bias against the practice.
For a learner it may initially have its uses.
Personally, I find that when I am in a location that I am not likely to return to I try to take a set of images, mentally critiquing as I go along, then take a break to check through the set for any obvious mistakes or adjustments I can make to give me a more pleasing image.
When I am close to home I try to just shoot and keep shooting, stay in the flow of image making, and, knowing that I can go back to these locations on another occasion, I will enjoy the surprise of not seeing the images I’ve made until I view them on my computer screen at home.
On this occasion the sun was sinking fast so I took as many photos as I could with the sun lighting up part of the rocks while causing a reflection in the sea. If I had stopped to check each image I would have missed a lot of opportunities
If I want to push myself to come down firmly on one side of the argument I would say that my overriding feeling about chimping is that it breaks the photography flow, it puts the focus on the product rather than the process and, to some extent, when I engage in the practice I feel that I am putting an emphasis on looking for perfection rather than progress, and that is not what I want from my photography.
From that viewpoint I do think that too much chimping will spoil our photography experience.
But in certain circumstances it does have its uses, so, as with most things, a sense of balance in using chimping, and a clear awareness of why we are chimping, is required.
What do you think about chimping?
Do you do it?
I would love to hear your views in the comments below