Pros and Cons of Chimping – What is it and how it can hurt or help you?

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Whether you are an amateur taking photos with your smartphone or a pro using a DSLR, if you make digital photographs, you do chimping. It doesn’t matter if you’ve heard the term or not it could be hurting your photographic practice so keep reading to learn about the pros and cons of chimping and how to use it (or stop using it) to your advantage.

Chimping Tutorial Intro - Pros and Cons of Chimping - photo of a DSLR camera screen

What is chimping?

There’s no doubt that digital photography has many advantages. One of them is being able to see the result of your shot immediately instead of having to wait until you got your film developed. This practice is commonly known as chimping, since Bryan Peterson coined the term and it became popular.

However, it’s not all good. If used without much thought you may not be taking full advantage of it or even worse, it could be working against you.

So, chimping is simply the act of checking your images on your camera’s LCD screen. It doesn’t necessarily imply what you do after that. You may delete some photos, you may do some adjustments to your settings for the following shots or you may even stop taking any more photos because you’re satisfied with what you’ve got. That’s where it gets tricky.

Pros and Cons of Chimping

Pro #1

If you change the conditions dramatically and need to readjust your settings it’s very helpful to find out immediately if you got the shot right. Here is an example.

It was a bright sunny day so I was photographing outside with an ISO of 100, f-stop of f/5.6 and a shutter speed of 1/250th. When I walked inside a room it was obviously much darker. But because I was looking at the beauty of the walls and the play of the elements and design I just snapped a photo without thinking about the change of lighting. Needless to say, it came out extremely dark.

Fortunately, however, I did some chimping, realized the issue and adjusted the ISO to 400.

Chimping Tutorial Outside Inside - Pros and Cons of Chimping - comparison of two photos

Con #1

Things look very different on your camera’s small screen as compared to the big screen of your computer. You might think the photo you just took is perfect but that’s not always the case. For example, this image looked good when I was chimping on the camera when I shot it, but once I downloaded it back home I realized the focus was not really sharp.

Chimping Tutorial Soft Focus - Pros and Cons of Chimping

When zoomed in on the computer this image is clearly out of focus, but it looked sharp on the camera.

Pro #2

If you are looking for a really concrete shot or effect you can immediately know if you are achieving it or what you need to adjust in order to get it by chimping and reviewing the image on the camera.

For example, I wanted to capture the movement of these ice skaters. This is always a tricky effect because you need to set the right shutter speed so it doesn’t freeze the subject or leave just a smudge if it’s too slow. If you are interested in learning how to do this I invite you to check out my tutorial, “How to Have Fun with Shutter Speed and Added Motion Blur”.

You also need to move the camera (panning) at the same speed of the subject so this is an exercise where you need to try many times and definitely do some chimping.

Chimping Tutorial Slow ShutterSpeed Blur Movement - Pros and Cons of Chimping - skaters

Con #2

Another con of chimping is you can miss out on the perfect moment, that once-in-a-lifetime shot because you were looking at your screen instead of paying attention to the scene.

Here, for example, I wanted to capture the elephant throwing the dirt with its trunk. But I looked at my screen (and snapped) a second too late and all I got was the dirt cloud and the trunk almost all the way down.

Chimping Tutorial the Decisive Moment - elephant

Fortunately, elephants do this a lot, so I just had to wait a little bit longer (without taking my eyes off them this time) and got the photo.

Chimping Tutorial the Decisive Moment2 - elephant spraying dirt

Tips

If you have some time to review your photos and you’re sure you’re not going to be missing a once in a lifetime opportunity, then go ahead check, but do it well. Zoom into your image especially on any risky parts, like the shadows and highlights, to see they still have detail as well as your focus point to see that it’s sharp.

Chimping Tutorial Critical Points Zoom Review

Use the Histogram

When you are chimping, check your image but don’t forget to review the histogram as well. It should have a good range from black to white with many grey tones (unless you purposely went towards one end of the spectrum).

Most DSLR cameras have this feature integrated. On mine (a Canon 70D), for example, you access the histogram by playing the image, then clicking on the info button and it gives you the histogram by color channel and the general histogram.

Chimping Tutorial Histogram In Camera Review

Even after reviewing your photos and deciding you have what you need, do some extra shots. For example, I went to photograph a temple so it was mostly about architecture photos. After walking around it and shooting every angle on the outside, I went inside and did some shooting there as well.

I figured I had all I needed to head back to the city. Fortunately, I never put away the camera when I’m out for a shoot, especially in a new place. So when I was walking down the stairs I found this little girl in a traditional costume just resting from all the tourist attention she was getting. Never close the door to possibilities!

Chimping Tutorial Extra Shot

Finally

One last thing, reviewing and deleting the photos you don’t want can save you space on your memory card but having the screen on consumes a lot of battery so make sure you keep a good balance. No use in having lots of battery life if you don’t have space for more photos and equally useless to have an empty card but no battery to shoot!

So chimping is not a good or bad thing in itself, it’s more about how you use it. Let us know in the comments what are your chimping habits and share some of your tips!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Ana Mireles is a photographer and artistic researcher. She has been awarded and exhibited in Mexico, Italy, and the Netherlands. Through theory and practice, she explores the cultural aspect of photography, how it helps us relate to each other, the world, and ourselves. She has also a passion for teaching, communication, and social media. You can find more about her and her work at her website or acquire some of her works here.

  • Jurgita Pk

    Thanks for tip. I use it only to see if my settings were good (not over or under exposed, iso, etc….) But NEVER EVER delete the photo only by seeing it on the camera screen – when you download them to your laptop for processing – a lot of them look way different – you can actually delete a great shot like that. To avoid space shortage – have a spare memory card.

  • Ana Mireles

    I’m glad you liked it 🙂 I agree with you, such a big difference when you see it on the computer that it could be a huge mistake to delete on the spot.

  • These are pretty useful tips. I used to Chimp photos after a day’s shoot. It helps me to reduce the workload of chimping in my computer. It also help me to save some space in my memory card.

  • Carsten Schlipf

    Also deleting files in Camera is a very, very bad idea. This increases write operations on the card unnecessarily and increases the risk for a failing card and therefore loss of all images a lot.

  • Carsten Schlipf

    Don’t get how not chimping would have avoided the unsharp image. Chmiping and zooming in could have make you notice the issue and take the shot again, however.

  • Yes @carstenschlipf:disqus I’m pretty sure that is exactly what the author meant.

  • exactly, good point

  • davesalpha

    I often chimp mainly to keep an eye on settings because I often will shoot with different settings like adjusting white balance to suit the situation I’m shooting in or to be a little more creative to get the image I want. I used to just hit the reset to factory settings but with my new a99 ii there are just too many menu settings.

  • Ana Mireles

    Great info, thanks for sharing!

  • Ana Mireles

    I don’t know the a99 but some cameras offer personalized profiles that might be useful for you. In any case I think it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on your settings when you change conditions. Thanks for your comment!

  • BlackEternity

    I turnend off the auto review on my camera because I want to capture multiple images in quick succession.
    I try to chimp when I feel I’m done. Not in the moment. I take multiple shots with different settings if the subject allows me to do that.
    And I never EVER delete ANY photo on my camera if it is in focus. As soon as I see that the whole image is messed up -> Blur, camera shake or movement due to low light, I delete because there is no counter-measure. But I always keep everything until I come home and review my pictures. So many times I could rescue the images due to RAW editing.

  • eldeane

    Or – you can step into the future and buy a mirrorless camera like a Sony Alpha or Fuji. This way you get continuous live view on the LCD or Electronic Viewfinder. What you see is what you get. So any adjustments you make before you take a picture are seen in the LCD or EVF. This ultimately makes you a better photographer – fewer missed shots (time taken while chimping) and more accurate exposures – since you make adjustments before taking the shot and not having to take ‘test” shots, chimp, make adjustment, take another shot, chip and hopefully get the final adjustments right. Get them right the first time with a mirrorless camera. OLD moving mirror DSLRs are out of date.

  • RJP

    I just never really understood this “issue” – its a digital camera!!
    The screen on the back? — that’s one of the tools it provides.
    I once had someone “explain” to me that Ansel Adams never chimped – DUH!!
    The tips in this article on how to correctly use the preview actually cure all of the CONS
    So, you know, it’s a 21st century tool and, hey that’s where we are!!

  • PA

    The definition of chimping posited here does not agree with the definition in DPS’s linked glossary. I would offer that reviewing the histogram or other such actions does not qualify as chimping as long as it is not obsessive or greatly hinder the photographer from capturing images.

  • Joel

    Totally agree, and I would add that Ansel Adams is a bad example for that “explanation”. As far as I know he usually worked with a large format film camera, and would have used a ground glass plate to adjust focus and composition before taking the image. He may not have chimped after taking the photograph, but he sure would have done a lot before exposing the film!

  • michael summer

    you must have one of those miracle mirrorless cameras that never ever have glare on the LCD screen and always look as bright and crisp as if your viewing it in a darkroom…

  • PDL

    I rarely chimp for two reasons.
    1. It takes your eye off of the subject and your attention away from what you are trying to capture.
    2. I shoot in theaters and concert halls for non-profit groups. Having the LCD flash on and off is like shining a light into the eyes of the audience. It is bad form and it could lead to me losing the gig. I know what I am doing and I don’t need to check every last image.
    Now that I have your attention, I do chimp on occasionally and I chimp with purpose. I use it to check the histogram and look for overexposure blinkies, even when using my P-TTL flash. However, once I have a good setting dialed in, I will move those settings into manual and shoot as necessary without chimping.

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