Chimping Nonsense

I recently had a student in one of my classes at BetterPhoto.com who ran into a pro that told her to quit looking at the LCD, to quit "chimping", and just photograph. You will run into old school folks like this that are preaching nonsense because they want to still live in the days of when they grew up in film. The LCD is a valuable piece of technology that can really help us all take better pictures.

You could live without a speedometer and just pay attention to what is going on around you, but you would often have the wrong speed and you would not be as aware of what you are doing. The technology of speedometers is good and helps, so why not use it? The same thing applies to the LCD. This is amazing technology that allows us a truly instant image (more instant than the old Polaroid) and that can help us "measure" our work, just like a speedometer, so why on earth would one not want to use it?

That this could affect battery life is very old and outdated information (it used to be a big deal -- 10 years ago!), but today, that has negligible effect. With the cameras I shoot today, the Sony NEX cameras, the LCD is always on if you are shooting because there is no optical viewfinder, and batteries last a long time. If you aren't using the camera, turn it off.

I recommend setting your LCD review time to 10 seconds or something close to that (LCD review is when the LCD shows you your image right after you have shot it). This is set in your camera menus, though camera manufacturers put this in different menus for some odd reason. The default review time is way too short for nearly all cameras.

If you don't want the review on that long, you can instantly turn it off just by pressing your shutter button lightly. That means you have the ability to have it on 1 second to 10 seconds, just depending on when you lightly press that shutter button lightly. This gives you the option to see it well enough to quickly evaluate your shot, such as composition, sharpness, correct white balance or exposure.

I can't tell you how many times I have seen that little image show up and it gives me ideas on how to improve the shot while I am there. Sometimes it is as basic as forgetting to change the white balance setting, but often it shows me that I need to reframe, to move left or right, or do something to make the photo better interpret the scene.

This "chimping" labeling is just silly, and don't let anyone intimidate you with it. It is true that too much looking at the LCD can be a problem if you are shooting action because that can cause you to miss some of the action. Other than that, why would you not want to use technology that actually helps you be a better photographer because you can quickly see if you got the composition you wanted, your exposure is okay and so forth? A lot of the "pros" who look down on reviewing images and want to call it "chimping" are folks who have never completely become comfortable with digital photography.

The image you see here is from the Shenandoah National Park, a woods near the Jewell Hollow overlook shot after sunset.

About Rob Sheppard

I am proud of the work I have done as a photographer, author, naturalist and nature photographer, editor and videographer. I love the natural world, and that can be a native bee in my native plants garden as much as a visit to a national park. I am a husband of a beautiful and smart wife, a father to my outstanding son and daughter, and one who lived in Minnesota most of my life, but now loves the variety and very long growing season of Southern California. I have written and photographed a lot of books and magazine articles but what is most important to me about them is knowing that I have helped people become better photographers and gain a better connection to nature. I work to help people connect with photography and nature through speaking and as a workshop leader, too. All of this has gained me a Fellow award with the North American Nature Photography Association. Many people knew me as the long-time editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine and I am still connected with them as a contributing editor. A short list of some of the books I have done: Landscape Photography: From Snapshot to Great Shot, Magic of Digital Landscape Photography, The Magic of Digital Nature Photography, National Geographic Field Guide to Digital Photography, The Power of Black-and-White in Nature Photography and Reports from the Field (an iBook). My website is at www.robsheppardphoto.com; my blogs are at www.natureandphotography.com and www.mirrorlessnature.com.
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22 Responses to Chimping Nonsense

  1. Steve says:

    Old I am but my problem with this is that so many people look at the LCD while holding the camera in outstretched arms to take their photo instead of using the viewfinder and holding the camera steady against their face. Also, it's pretty much a waste to try and shoot using only the LCD in bright sun. Guess I'm saying, it depends, no hard and fast rule.

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      Now you are getting at a different issue (though I do work with a camera, the Sony NEX that only has live view). Image review is what you get after you take the shot, and it occurs on all digital cameras. Image review is something you do to examine and evaluate your image after you take the photo -- that is what folks refer to as "chimping."

      If you have a traditional DSLR and shoot with the viewfinder, then the LCD review comes on immediately after you shoot and rarely will you hold that away from your eye since the camera was just up at your eye. For most nature photographers shooting early and late in the day, the LCD is not hard to see because the light is not so bright then. Live View shooting is difficult during the middle of the day when it is bright -- for my camera, I use an EVT (electronic viewfinder) then.

      Rob

  2. Rick Redfern says:

    When I am looking at the viewfinder I am usually looking at the histogram to make certain my exposure and the histogram is "to the right" for my exposure. While I am sure that most old time digital users are aware of the concept, maybe it's time for you to cover it again. In as few as possible, "the to the right concept is that the majority of the histogram is favoring the right side of showing of the histogram." Why? The detail of an image is in the highlights. Too much to the right and your highlights are gone… forever. Experiment with it and you will understand. I also find myself using my light meter less and less outdoors and use it mostly for the studio environment where detail is ulraimportant

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      The histogram can be a very important part of your review. I wish that so many manufacturers did not give a small, reduced view of the image while displaying the histogram. I like to see the whole image right away, so my camera goes to that. I will check the histogram as you note when I feel the image needs that checking. Again, the LCD review really helps me know that. With practice with any camera, you can learn to "read" an image on an LCD to know if you are badly off in exposure or not so you can check the histogram.

      What you are describing is essentially how Ansel Adams exposed, which was to be sure bright areas were exposed as bright areas. The easiest way to ensure that is to look at the right side of the histogram and make sure there is no large gap there.

      Rob

  3. Jim says:

    Great article. Maybe it's true of all artists, but photographers in particular seem to be extremely divisive. Visit any photography forum and you'll see the same exhausted arguements: "Canon v. Nikon", "Film v. Digital", Raw v. Jpeg", "Primes v. Zooms," "CF v. SD", Adobe RGB v. sRGB v ProPhoto RGB", etc., etc. For some reason, many photographers suffer from the syndrome of "my way is THE way".

    Obviously you don't want to constantly refer to the LCD after every shot, especially if you're working with a model, but to ignore such a valuable tool "just because" is ridiculous. It offers not only information on the exposure of the image in general, but can tell you if you're clipping color channels. That's important to me when I'm doing landscape photography and for example, I want to make sure I don't clip a vivid sunset.

    As with anything, moderation is the key. Use it when it benefits you, but not as a crutch.

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      Thanks, Jim. There is a lot of that "my way is THE way" which is sad. I think it comes because photography, like all of the arts, has no arbitrary "finish line" of good or bad like a track race. So one way of dealing with your own insecurities (and I believe we all do this at one time or another) is to define your way as THE way.

      Rob

  4. Mike Houge says:

    I agree with Rob and Jim- lets learn to use all the tools we're given and we'll all be better at what we do. Thanks Rob- great article.

  5. For me, photographing and editing have to be kept separate: I find it much too disruptive to try to evaluate my images as I make them. When I'm in the field the most important thing is to stay in the present, be aware of my environment and try not to miss something that may turn out to be critically important for my images.

    I'm an SLR user and the only thing I refer to on the LCD is the RGB histogram to make sure I'm getting everything possible out of the sensor and I usually do that before I start making images to evaluate my exposure for the current lighting conditions (using ETTR, expose to the right).

    There may be more of a temptation for photographers who don't use a viewfinder to jump back and forth between photographing and editing, but I would have to resist that or risk losing my sense of the place or subject and that sense is the most important thing for my images - editing comes later, just keep shooting.

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      Good thoughts, Frank. One has to find what works best for you. The problem I see is that some photographers want to put down people who use the image review. I talked to Jim Brandenburg a few years ago, and he feels that the use of the LCD review of images gives a more organic approach to photography. This is not about "editing" as you go, but truly about being connected with the subject as you shoot. What Jim means is that you can look at your subject, then at the LCD review and make changes while you are with the subject, changes that are true to how you are experiencing the subject compared to how the camera is interpreting it. For me, that is so important. More than once I have changed my composition because I found that the image as interpreted by the camera is not doing what I really want it to do as I shoot. Many photographers (including Ansel Adams at times) used Polaroids to check what the image looked like because what we see and what the camera sees are two different things. The LCD is simply a way of helping us better see how the camera is interpreting the scene.

      Rob

  6. Calvin Hall says:

    Actually I agree with the sentiment to "stop chimping", but in the context that too often while still in a photo op, people are admiring the shot they just took, and miss a great opportunity because they are not paying attention to their subject.

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      Exactly right, which is what I say in the blog when there is action. The problem is that some photographers look down on anyone using the LCD review as somehow being "less" of a photographer, and I really think this is mainly baby-boom long-time photographers who want to hold onto their "expertise" of the past by discounting people using new technology.

      Rob

  7. Steve says:

    I love being part of a forum where people can intelligently express their ideas and opinions without insults, name calling, threats, etc unlike so called social media sites. Photographers must be better people :)

  8. dale risney says:

    Although I favor film photography, I will agree the LCD can help the photographer improve the desired image......beyond the technology afforded us today with digital, I feel the best photographs are shot first with a plan to capture a subject of interest at the best possible moment with the confidence that comes from learning the camera and all its capabilities. The best photos are the ones that the photographer feels are the very best

  9. Michael Guncheon says:

    I compare using the LCD (particularly the histogram and magnification) to a chef who constantly tastes the food as they are cooking.

    Even though they are a professional, and have made the dish many times, the good ones still taste and taste and taste. That way they know the finished dish will be good.

  10. Hi Rob
    When I heard you discuss this same topic at Photofest in Sedona, I was relieved a bit. As a new photographer, trying to learn as much as I can from the Pro's I'd felt the distain of the LCD. And at first, I may have been a bit too dependant on it to the point where I wasn't fully comfortable with the viewfinder. Now, I used either depending on the scene I'm looking at and determining what I "need" to take the best shot. I've learned to do...what is best for MY photography.

    But no doubt, the LCD for me, is a HUGE tool compositionally. What I see thru the viewfinder and what I see on the LCD to me can be completely different. And before I take my final approach...it will be after I've checked the LCD version.

    As a painter, staring at the paper/canvas for hours, sometimes my brain needs a different view. I will take the painting and look at it in a mirror because this different viewpoint will sometimes bring clarity to unbalance and compositional flaws. The mirror is a tool, just like the LCD, that just adds a different dimension to "seeing"

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      Thanks for the note, Valerie. Great ideas. I had never made the connection before about painting, but with painting in the field, you are constantly going back and forth between the scene and the canvas (my sister is a painter), and this back and forth makes you work better. That is definitely like using an LCD with the scene in front of you.

      Rob

  11. Greg Anderson says:

    When I shoot with my Canon S100 in bright sunlight, I often use my Hoodman loupe. Not only can I clearly see the LCD, but holding the camera/loupe against my eye helps stabilize the camera. I find myself using live view more and more with my DSLRs as well, especially when I'm shooting from a tripod and waiting for the perfect whatever.

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