put down the monkey (or stop chimping)

“Chimping”, or the habit of checking the image on your screen so you can, detect errors, or bask in the glow of your success, is a big creative disconnect, but a habit many of us are guilty of.

One of the best features of a digital camera is the screen provided for instant review, or optionally pre-shutter fire modifications. The big problem is the disconnect it can cause by being too often viewed, sometimes after every frame.

Imagine you were reading a book and had to look up a work or term every sentence. The book would easily loose it’s appeal as you break your flow. An even better example may be a conversation being translated into another language every few words and back again. How well would you be able to keep your train of though, your empathic and creative connection?

Chimping has much the same effect.

You emotionally connect with your subject, take an image or two, then break that connection to look at the resulting images, effectively closing the circuit. Even worse is the dreaded magnification of specific points, where you can become engrossed in the screen, forgetting where you are. You have broken not only your creative connection to your subject, but they have possibly broken their connection with you, feeling like they are trying to have a conversation with someone distracted by their mobile phone. It may even be they loose confidence in you, due to your constant need to second guess yourself.

Each time you break and come back you loose the ability to move into the image. You literally take a step away from the process, paying more attention to things that are more the provence of post processing. When a job is important, it is very tempting to double or triple check your results. I know there is no excuse for walking away obliviously without the image in the digital age, but better images come from deeper involvement. Save your reviewing until after the shoot, not during.

Good technique and a strong visual connection should allow you to feel confident you are getting the image (mirrorless cameras add the more empathic benefit of “pre-chimping”), allowing you to stay immersed in the subject or “in the zone”. You can creatively move forward* image by image, taking multiple, connected steps towards a better composition.

 This image came a split second after a a couple of shots of the group before. I was tempted to “chimp” to see if I had grabbed anything of worth and would have completely missed this girl (dancing to a tune only she could hear, at odds with the stoic faces around her). Shame I missed the front foot, but at least I got the moment.

This image came a split second after a a couple of shots of the group before. I was tempted to “chimp” to see if I had grabbed anything of worth and would have completely missed this girl (dancing to a tune only she could hear, at odds with the stoic faces around her). Shame I missed the front foot, but at least I got the moment.

The perfect shot can be elusive. It is surely a lot more elusive when you continually interrupt the process.

Street photography in the style I adhere to is a release from this. Grabbing fleeting moments often does not allow a second bite at the cherry. It is freeing and satisfying. I get the shot and move on. No point in checking until I get back to my hotel room or home, because I cannot repeat the fleeting compositional “shape” of the image. This often allows me to be satisfied with what I do get also, perfect or not.

*A vision of a photographer with a strong cockney accent saying “work it baby, work it” comes to mind.