“Chimping” is a term used by some photographers to describe the habit of other photographers who they deem to be looking at their rear LCD screen on the camera too much. But the information on the back of your camera can be really useful, especially if you are someone just starting. Here is my argument for chimping and some ways you can use your LCD screen effectively.
What Is It?
Here’s the Wikipedia definition: “a colloquial term used in digital photography to describe the habit of checking every photo on the camera display (LCD) immediately after capture.” I think it can be argued that if you replaced “colloquial” in this definition with “derogatory,” you would have a better sense of the way it’s sometimes viewed in the online world.
And why the term “chimping”? I don’t know for sure. I guess chimpanzees like shiny things, like screens. As do most humans.
Why Is It ‘Bad’?
The term came about from the viewpoint that looking at your LCD screen too much can be detrimental and cause you to miss a shot that’s in front of you, which, fundamentally, is good advice. You don’t want to be caught checking the back of your camera to see how your last shot came out only to miss a special moment that is happening now.
But I think some have taken it too far, even taking a position that looking at the back of your camera at all is a bad thing. I’ve even heard of some photographers who have taped a piece of cardboard over the back of their camera to avoid the temptation of looking at the rear LCD. That, frankly, seems absurd. Why would you spend thousands of dollars on a digital camera only to cut yourself off from one of the important tools that it provides? At that point, selling your digital system and going back to film might be the best option. You would certainly save yourself a lot of money in camera gear.
Making Use of Your Screen
A useful analogy might be thinking of the LCD screen on your camera like the rearview mirror on your car. You have to strike a balance between concentrating on the road ahead of you and glancing in your rearview mirror to check the situation there. Ignore the rearview mirror, and you run the risk of changing lanes and smacking into a car that’s coming up on your tail. Look at it too much, and you get caught looking behind you when a situation develops on the road in front of you that requires your immediate attention, like a sharp corner or someone stopping right in front of you.
So, let’s consider the useful information on your LCD screen. Of course, this varies a bit depending on whether you’re shooting with a DSLR or a mirrorless system. But the fundamental principles are still the same.
For myself, as a landscape photographer, the histogram is one of the key things that I use as I’m shooting. Seeing that my exposure is where I wanted it to be, or that my exposure brackets for HDR are within the range that I want them to be, is valuable information. If I’m photographing a scene where the light is changing continually, I tend to put my camera on aperture priority and check the first exposure to make sure things are looking good before I continue. And I check back periodically. I may also be bracketing for an HDR exposure. In that case, I make sure I’m getting a good range on my histogram for each shot. Again, if the scene is changing quickly I may set my bracket to a greater number of shots, say seven instead of five, just to be sure. I would much rather have extra images that I can discard later rather than not enough to produce an effective HDR image in post.
Another way I may use my screen is to double-check my focus. I can zoom in on particular areas if I am concerned about critical focus. I would rather do this and run the risk of missing a shot while I’m doing that than to assume everything is as I planned and discover later when I open the images in Lightroom that I missed the focus that I wanted and the opportunity is gone. Focus peaking on your display is a great tool as well, but keep in mind that it can be fooled. So, a double-check by zooming in can be useful when it matters.
I sometimes also use my LCD screen to check composition and the overall effect of my choices there. Sometimes, looking through my viewfinder, I might be concentrating so much on my main focal point in an image that I’m not paying enough attention to how it comes together as a whole. I find that seeing it on the screen gives me a different view. This is also why I like using both my viewfinder and the back of the camera. I tend to see the image differently with each one.
Granted, I’m primarily a landscape photographer so my subjects are mostly more static. But the light can change quickly in a landscape scene. Clouds can move in and out, and the sun and moon move surprisingly fast across a frame. So, while I’m not photographing fast action sports, the landscape changes faster than you might imagine. For me, it’s been a process of gaining experience and a sense of when I can check the camera and when I need to just keep rolling.
So, if you are someone who is just starting, don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t look at the back of your camera after taking a photo. Do what you need to do to gain a greater comfort level in the craft, and as your expertise grows, your need to look at the back of the camera will probably decrease. Over time, you will learn what is the best balance for you between using the tools at your disposal and not being too distracted from what’s developing in front of you. A working method that makes sense for one person may not work for someone else. So, if you see posts and comments that speak of chimping, just take it as one person’s opinion. Happy shooting!