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If you are new to photography you may have heard the term ‘chimping’ wondered what it is. And is it a good thing or a bad thing?

What is Chimping?

Let’s answer the easy question first. Chimping is the term used to describe the act of looking at the images on the back of your camera as you are shooting. It can particularly the act of stepping through what you have shot, but it can also mean having a quick glance down at the screen after you have taken a shot.

Why is it called Chimping?

The name was allegedly coined in September 1999 by Robert Deutsch when writing for SportsShooter newsletter, he described seeing sports photographers bent over their cameras flicking like chimps. See: Most people now associate it with photographers reviewing their images and going “Ooh.. ooh… ooh” with approval at them.

Modern use of the term

While there are some who would still maintain that it is only chimping if a person is making the chimp noises, these days it tends to be used to refer to any looking at the back of a camera during or immediately after a shoot. So a quick glance down to check the histogram after hitting the shutter release may, by some, be thought of as chimping.

Is Chimping a good thing or a bad thing?

As with so many things there is no hard and fast rule here, it not about good or bad, it is all about the appropriateness of its use. There are definitely times when you shouldn’t be chimping and there are definitely times when it will help your photography.

5 times when you should NOT be chimping

  1. When taking your eye of the action could cause you to miss a shot – the classic example of this is sports photographers. If you spend your time looking at the back of the camera you run the risk of not seeing and not capturing the most critical bits of action. Imagine explaining to your photo editor that you didn’t photograph the goal because you were looking at the back of your camera
  2. When neither lighting nor settings have changed – You’ve checked the first shot, everything is exposed correctly. If the lighting is the same and you have not adjusted your settings then you do not need to look at all the subsequent images to confirm the exposure is correct. Instead just concentrate on getting the shot. The classic example of this is studio work once you have got your settings and lighting right you don’t need to look at every single image. Instead you should be concentrating on building the rapore with your subject and getting the best out of them.
  3. When you are preventing other photographers from shooting – I admit this is a pet hate of mine, photographers who stand in the optimum position for making images reviewing their shots. I’ve seen this both in a studio group shoot while others are waiting to work with a model and when travelling effectively blocking the view of the scene that everyone wants to photograph. Please just move to one side to check your images.
  4. In an unsafe environment – If you are a travel photographer you may end up photographing in countries or cities that have high crime rates. If so get your shot quickly and put your camera gear away again – you don’t want to be drawing attention to it by spending a lot of time “ooh-ing and arhh-ing” over your images.
  5. When you can’t retake the shot – There are times when you either got the image or you didn’t, there is no second chance to get the shot. That image of a person getting soaked by a wave, the person jumping off a cliff into the sea, the batsman being bowled out. What is there to be gained by looking at the image? – it will not change the facts you either got it or you didn’t.

5 times when you SHOULD be chimping

This really comes down to one factor. If the knowledge you gain from looking at the back of your camera will enable you to correct an error then it’s good to chimp. Here’s 5 examples of that:

  1. To check exposure – looking at the display on the back of the camera to ensure that you have everything correctly exposed is a good thing. Especially if you are looking at the histogram to make sure that you haven’t got any clipped highlights.
  2. To check focus – if the image you are creating has a very shallow depth of field you may need to zoom into the image on the back of the camera to ensure that your subject is critically in focus. If it isn’t you need to retake the shot
  3. To check lighting – If you use speedlights or studio strobes you can’t see what the lighting will be like until you see the image that is created. Check it on the back of the camera, use the histogram and adjust if necessary
  4. In rapidly changing lighting conditions – If you are shooting in an environment where the lighting is constantly changing keep checking that your settings are keeping up with this. This can be something like clouds constantly hiding/revealing the sun. Or in theatre photography the lighting across the stage may not be even so as an actor moves you may need to adjust your settings to keep the shot correctly exposed.
  5. To check the composition – I have put this last because it is something that I encourage beginners to do but it is something that more experienced should need to do less. When you start out in photography you need to learn how the scene in front of you translates to a 2D image. The best way to do this is to compare reality with the image you have created. Do you need to compose it differently? Does your subject need a different pose? As you become more experienced you should need to do this less and should try to reduce the number of time you need to chimp for this reason.

Until next time, keep MAKING great images,


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