Chimping Your Way to Better Photography

"Chimping" refers to the habit of checking your photos right after exposure using the LCD screen on the back of your digital camera. (Copyright 2009/Andrew Boyd)

"Chimping" refers to the habit of checking your photos right after exposure using the LCD screen on the back of your digital camera. (Copyright 2009/Andrew Boyd)

I was thinking recently about what has changed the most in photography during the last decade, and I’ve come to the conclusion that chimping is one of the most significant things.

“Chimping” refers to the act of shooting a photo, then immediately hitting the “Review” button on your camera to see the how it came out on the camera’s LCD screen. Much like a curious chimpanzee will hold and examine any new object,   photographers caught looking at their images immediately after shooting were said to be “chimping.”  News photographers were some of the first shooters to acquire digital cameras with good LCD screens, even before today’s ubiquitous point-n’-shoots got them. It first became common about 10 years ago to see groups of sports shooters on a football sideline, right after a big play, all staring down at their camera backs like a bunch of monkeys.

Photographers in Toronto chimping away. (Photo by Zun Lee/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/rogueinterventionist)

Photographers in Toronto chimping away. (Photo by Zun Lee/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/rogueinterventionist)

Now of course every digital camera comes with a big LCD screen and a new generation of photographers is developing that knows nothing else. I think these screens have done more to grow and improve photography than any other single development, bar none (with Photoshop coming in a close second, but that’s another post!).

Polaroid back for a Hasselblad 120mm camera. The Polaroid film was expensive and the process of shooting with the back was slow and cumbersome.

Polaroid back for a Hasselblad 120mm camera. The Polaroid film was expensive and the process of shooting with the back was slow and cumbersome.

Why such a strong statement? Well, ‘back in the day,’  I personally owned 35mm, 120mm and 4×5 film camera systems. For each system, in addition to lenses and camera backs and/or film holders, I had to purchase Polaroid backs. You simply could not shoot efficiently in studio/commercial settings without them.

Commercial, advertising and all magazine editorial work was all shot on transparency (slide) film, a positive product. The exposures with slide film were extremely critical, very little margin for error, or your shot was ruined. And the slide film was expensive! So before doing your exposure bracket (which was still required), we all shot “Roids” to confirm what our light meters, flash meters and best guesses were telling us about the shot. Did I mention that the Polaroid film was expensive too? Without the Polaroid, you really were always making educated guesses when strobe/mixed lighting was involved.

Now flash forward to today. The digital photography revolution has reached a level of image quality that should cause each of you to jump up and down  and shout “Nirvana!”  Photography has never been so accessible and inexpensive to so many shooters.

And why are those LCD screens so important? Instant learning curve. Instant feedback loop. Instant Polaroid back!

The biggest impediment to any learning curve is the time involved in the access to feedback.

Physicists work with underground accelerators on experiments that might take months or even years to design. Finally, the big day arrives and the experiment is run. Then the data must be collected and analyzed…again, days or weeks or even months may be involved. Finally, results are obtained. Maybe the results are good, maybe not. But this is a painfully slow way to learn!

Don't ever be embarrassed to "chimp." This is another great tool for you to use. (Copyright 2009/Andrew Boyd)

Don't ever be embarrassed to "chimp." This is another great tool for you to use. (Copyright 2009/Andrew Boyd)

Now contrast this with our photography today. LCD screens produce instant, available results to each experiment. You learn SO QUICKLY what works and what doesn’t! This is truly fantastic, the most radical change in the photographic education process ever!

So don’t let anyone ever razz you about “chimping.” This is simply a wonderful tool, literally at your fingertips, which you should use to confirm your approach to whatever you are shooting. No more flash meter, no more expensive Polaroid film, all gone. Hurray for chimping!

These are glory days for photography!

selfport1aHi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

Related:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimping




Posted in: How To

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

24 Comments on "Chimping Your Way to Better Photography"

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  1. I am part of the generation who will never know life with out an lcd screen and I must say I chimp every time I take a photo. I could not imagine trying to figure out a proper exposure with a flash mount, with out being able to take a few test shots first and check them out. I always immediately look at my screen after every shot I take, its also nice for getting rid of bad photos to make room for better ones.

  2. Yes Jacob, life is good now for photographers, no? You might want to read my post about how things have changed. Cheers!

  3. Graeme says:

    I had never heard the term ‘chimping’ before this post but I love it. Is there any other way to do this? I think you’d have to be crazy to just take a shot and then switch off your camera. I used to and still do use film photography, mostly black and white with an old Canon AE1 but it’s so expensive these days to buy and develop a roll of film.

    I love how far photography has come. Let’s chimp our faces off!

  4. Nicolaj says:

    Such a shame digitial is soulless.

  5. Kevin says:

    Yes – as film is soulless to those REAL photographers still using albumin glass plates! 🙂

  6. Ravages says:

    Hello,

    Got here via Susheel’s blog (Beyond Phototips.)
    Like I mentioned on his blog, the Dslrs have definitely changed the game, and I, for one, am very glad for it. Good post this. LCDs and chimping does help flatten the learning curve.

  7. So much of the extraneous clutter that used to slow down actual photographic “seeing”–processing film, making contact sheets, darkroom work–is gone. Chimp and you know what used to take hours, days, maybe weeks to confirm about your shoot. There’s never been a more exciting time to be a photographer!
    Andrew

  8. I hadn’t heard of ‘chimping’ before, but I really like the term! I am in a very strong habit of continually checking my LCD, and ma thankful for such a good battery life on the 500D, otherwise all my chimping would mean hardly any photos…! Thanks for sharing a really good article.

  9. Digital photography, with the LCD screen, really has altered the ‘learning curve’ for all photographers. You get immediate feedback, see your results, make your corrections—it’s truly a revolution.

  10. I never thought that I would go to digital. Now I know I will never go back to wetfilm.

  11. I’ve never actually heard of the term chimping untill today… It’s funny… I wonder where the word originated from.. I love chimping!

  12. Hi Andrew,
    As someone who is old enough to have used film in cameras, I can appreciate your post. I always enjoyed taking pictures, but not like today. I am definitely a ‘chimper’ and have gotten many great shots by looking at my screen; making adjustments and shooting again.

  13. Yep. It’s like always having a Polaroid back, without the expense!

  14. I already do this but I had no idea it was called “chimping”. Ok, I won’t be embarrassed to chimp but I might not admit that’s what I’m doing!

  15. Margaret C. Young says:

    I must admit Keven that I also did not know that the right term for that is “chimping”. Good thing I am a reader of this blog.

  16. I’m definitely guilty of doing this from time to time. But if its better to know that yes, someone blinked lets take another. Now in any circumstance where you can’t recreate the shot and your just gawking, then yeah look up!! The world doesn’t pause along with you, lol….get those eyes up or things will continue to pass you by

  17. Rich says:

    I never knew it before but I am a chimp! Every time!

  18. Chimping has improved many, many chimp’s photographs, Rich!

  19. Lily Rose says:

    My name is Lilly, I’m a chimp, and I’m proud of it! Really, I simply must look at it as soon as I make it. It’s curiosity and common sense.

  20. Karen says:

    I completely agree! The immediacy of the digital format brings true understanding of fstops and appatures. When you’re able to see instantly the difference during manual shooting mode, it’s an extremely educational moment.

  21. That’s right, Karen. What used to take months to learn can be understood in an afternoon.

  22. I’m not much more than a happy snapper when it comes to taking photographs and I’m certainly guilty of “chimping”. My success rate when it comes to taking perfect photos isn’t all that great yet so I like to be able to see the photo I’ve just taken and then re-take it if necessary. It is especially great when I’m travelling because I want to get good photos and the chances are good that I won’t be able to go back to a place again.

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