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.
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!).
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!
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!
Hi, 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