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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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