Over the last few months, I have been focusing (pun intended) my photographic interests. I am moving away from technique-driven (e.g., landscape, macro, etc.) photos to visual story-telling – particularly long-form documentary photography. One of the keys to visual story-telling is to be completely present in the moment. Chimping is one habit that keeps a good visual story-teller being present. The idea is that moments are passing you by when you are staring at the LCD screen on the back of your camera.
If you follow any of the big-time photographers on YouTube, you will find varying opinions on chimping. Ana Mireles gives a good breakdown of the pros and cons of chimping. For those who are street or documentary photographers, chimping is a big no-no. For others, like landscape photographers, chimping is perfectly acceptable – even a requirement.
Since I have been shooting mostly landscape photography for a while, chimping was important to check camera work, composition, and content. Now that I am shifting toward more documentary-type work, I need to get away from chimping and trusting my skills so I can stay focused on the scene, particularly when shooting street photography.
Today, I closed my LCD screen on my camera and did not allow myself to chimp while I went on a photo walk in my town square. Also, I forced myself to shoot with a 24mm prime lens instead of my trusty 18-300mm walk-around lens. I did not look at my photos until I returned home.
This challenge forced three things. First, I was more focused on what I wanted correctly exposed. While shooting, Bob Holmes was ringing in my head – “Expose for the highlights and let the shadows take care of themselves.”
Second, it forced me to “work the scene” more. Since I would not let myself see my work until I got home, I wanted to make sure I had multiple shots with which to work. When I chimp, I get what I think I like when looking at the LCD and move on. And, you know as well as I, when you get to your computer, you realize the image that appears on your computer screen rarely looks like what it did on the back of your camera.
Third, it forced me to stay in moment instead of letting the camera get in the way. Instead of fiddling around with my gear, I’m taking pictures – better pictures.
For the first ten minutes or so, I struggled getting used to the screen being closed. I have been shooting digital for six years, so chimping is definitely a habit for me. Anytime you try to change a behavior, your body actually experiences stress. I experienced it today!
The payoff was when I got home and looked at the photos for the first time. I remember when I got into photography in the late-80s being excited when I opened the envelop with my prints and seeing my photos for the first time. I felt the same way today when I downloaded my photos.
I am headed to Key West, Florida tomorrow for a short travel self-assignment. I am confident I will chimp when I take my landscape shots. But, as I work through my shot list, I am going to shoot with the screen closed.
This is certainly a practice I am going to make a new habit!