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Getting the Chimp off Your Back

A Guest Post by Jeff Guyer.

Chimping“Chimping.” We’ve all done it at one time or another. For the few of you who aren’t familiar with the term, let’s just say it has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with family day at the zoo. In the photographer’s lexicon, “chimping” is the act of checking every image on the back of the camera immediately after every capture. Click…check…click…check. You get the idea.

More mysterious than the chimping itself, however, is the question of why? Does everything really change that much from frame-to-frame? Is it really worth missing a potentially great image because you’re constantly checking the shots you already have? If you nailed it on DSC_7427, do you really still need to check DSC_7428? Photographers who don’t chimp will often chastise those that do, chalking it all up to a lack of talent or experience.

I DISAGREE!!

There are plenty of extremely talented, highly experienced (and very successful) photographers in the world who can’t help but be drawn to the warm glow of their LCD after every shot. As someone who not only works as a full-time photographer, but also teaches photography, for me it all comes down to confidence. Regardless of whether we choose to admit it, at one time or another each and every one of us loses confidence. And that, my friends, is where the whole thing starts.

The digital era truly revolutionized photography. While most of the advancements were positive, I think the instant gratification that the LCD provides also created a stumbling block. In the days of film, you either got it right or you didn’t. If you were smart you bracketed your shots, and if you knew your way around a darkroom you could make certain fixes, but when all was said and done, you either got it right or you didn’t. Digital, however, changed that– allowing us to cast away our light meters, dive right in, and check our work as we go. A good thing, right? Not entirely, because new-found convenience has also, to an extent, eroded our confidence. One photographer went so far as to tell me recently that LCD actually stands for “Lowers Confidence Dramatically.”

So, what do we do about it?

Do what I do. Take a day or a weekend and shoot like you’re shooting film. Start with gaffer’s tape and cover up your LCD. Make sure to use a tape that won’t leave a sticky residue behind. I see this troubles you. It’s ok…breathe…no need to hyperventilate. Everything will be okay– I promise. I do this with all of my students and haven’t lost one yet. Got that screen covered? Good. Now make sure you’re in Manual mode and get out there and shoot a “roll” of 24 images– 36 if you’re feeling daring. Trust your knowledge of exposure. Trust your grasp of the fundamentals. Trust the light, the colors, the shadows. Most importantly, trust yourself.

After you’ve shot your “roll,” pull your card and DO NOT sit down at your computer. Take it to the drug store and have your images printed. Don’t do it yourself at the kiosk. Drop it off, get a cup of coffee, and come back in an hour. Now it’s time to check your prints. How did they come out? As you expected? Better? Worse? Most of us are our own toughest critics, but try looking at these prints objectively. What works and what doesn’t? Was your shutter speed spot on? Was your aperture too narrow? Did you have focus issues? Take notes.

Now you finally get to put your memory card into the loving, warm embrace of your card reader. Be sure to open your images in a program that lets you review the embedded metadata and compare it to the notes you’ve taken for each image. So much of what you need is right there in the image data– from shutter speed and aperture to ISO and focal length. Do this often enough and you’ll find something else.

Your confidence.

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To be clear, I’m not saying that every photographer checking their LCD is doing so because they lack confidence. Portrait photographers are making sure smiles are right and eyes are open. Sports photographers are thinking ahead to which images they’ll upload to their editors at halftime. We all have any number of legitimate reasons to double-check ourselves. Just promise me that you won’t become so reliant on your LCD that you miss out on why you picked up a camera in the first place.

The great thing about this exercise is that it works its magic regardless of where you fall on the spectrum. Beginners, hobbyists, seasoned professionals, and everyone in between will benefit from learning to trust what’s in their head at least as much as they trust what’s on the back of their camera. Will it get the chimp off your back? Maybe, maybe not– some habits are very hard to break. But while you’re trying, at least you’ll carry him with confidence.

Jeff Guyer is a photographer based in Atlanta, GA. In addition to shooting portraits, architecture, sports, weddings, and just about anything else that pauses in front of his lens, he also teaches a Digital Photo Challenges class for kids. Follow him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/guyerphotography or on Twitter @guyerphoto

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