Chimping and Pixel Peeping Are Not Dirty Words (Podcast 440)

Chimping and Pixel Peeping Are Not Dirty Words (Podcast 440)

We often here people throw around the words Chimping and Pixel Peeping with negative connotations, suggesting that doing either of these things makes you a lesser photographer. In a fun sense, I think it’s fine, and can often just be camaraderie, but I cry fowl to the negative use of these terms, and today I’m going to explain why.

Firstly, let me explain my understanding of where the word “Chimping” comes from. I’ve heard that this comes from the action of looking at your camera’s display after shooting something that excites you, and saying “Ooh! Ooh!” like a chimpanzee. I don’t know if this is true, but it sounds viable to me.

The word is basically used to mean someone looking at their images on the back of the camera, often inferring that doing this makes you look like a beginner, unconfident in your ability to reach an optimal exposure, or through fear of having missed the shot. The notion of telling people not to use the wildly wonderful technology now at our fingertips, is mind-boggling to me.

Why would you not use a tool that enables you to check your results and ensure that you are doing things right? Don’t get me wrong here–it is not a good idea to look at the LCD after every frame or burst of exposures, because depending on the type of photography you are doing, that could cost you dearly. If action is unfolding before your eyes, and you grab a few frames, then start Chimping, you’ll be unaware of what happens next.

Be Ready!

The best way to avoid the need to chimp at a critical moment, is to ensure that you have your camera set up before the action starts to unfold. For example, there is a 20 minute burst of activity at the Akan Crane Center in Hokkaido, when they throw fish out for the cranes at 2pm each day.

In reality, the cranes only get a small number of the fish, because White-Tailed Eagles and Black Kites, along with the occasional Steller’s Sea Eagle turn up at this time every day to steal the fish, and the Crane Center also gets even busier at this time, because all of the photographers in the area also turn up for this spectacle.

Eagle Eye

Eagle Eye

I’m doing this all day of course, but especially as 2pm draws near, I ensure that my exposure is set how I want it on both of the cameras that I’m shooting with. I double check that my auto-focus mode is set as I need it to be. I shoot a test shot, in manual mode, pointing down and filling the frame with snow, and ensure that the test shot shows me that the image has been recorded with the rightmost data but up to the right shoulder of the histogram, where it needs to be. This ensures that when the eagles swoop down and have the snow in the background, it won’t be over-exposed.

Then, I calmly wait for the eagles to arrive and the action to begin. Unless I can see a noticeable change in the light falling on the scene, I don’t need to look at my camera’s display after every burst. I trust that it’s all good. If the day I’m there has patchy cloud, I might have to adjust the exposure during the frenzy, but I generally already have the two extremes mentally noted, and can easily switch back and forth. I will then just quickly check my histogram again and ensure there are no blinkies (highlight warnings) flashing when there’s snow in the scene, but that takes a couple of seconds, and I’m back to shooting.

The point is, be ready, so that when the action unfolds, even if you have to make a few changes, you can do it quickly and calmly. Then, when the frenzy is over, it’s OK to take a moment to look at your LCD again, and breath a sigh of relief that you nailed that shot that you hoped you’d got. So again, of course you don’t want to be chimping at the expense of getting your shots. Be prepared, and remove the necessity to risk losing shots through checking your images.

When the pace of shooting is less frantic, depending on conditions, I chimp much more than when shooting fast paced wildlife. For example, for landscape photography unless I’m trying to get a critical moment due to lighting etc. I generally check much more often. In fact, I generally use Live View when shooting landscapes, as that not only condenses a three dimensional scene down to two dimensions, enabling us to see the scene as the final photograph, but you also often get a Live Histogram, which can of course help you to decide on your exposure before you even release the shutter.

Use the Technology to the Full!

This is another example of using the current technology to the full, and again, why would you want to restrict your photography and your art by forcing yourself to not use this technology. Really, if you choose not to chimp because some opinionated photography big-wig tells you it’s not cool, then you might as well also set your ISO to 100 or one of the other old film ISOs and leave it there for the entire shoot. Hell, if you want to ignore progress, how about superglueing your camera’s focus switch into manual mode and stop using auto-focus while you’re at it.

Please don’t misunderstand me here either. If you find yourself chimping because you aren’t confident of your ability to set your exposure. there’s nothing wrong with that either! If you still need help figuring out how all of this works, use the display for exactly that!! The instant feedback of digital is exactly why we’re finding so many photographers just starting out that are producing incredible work, and that’s fine in my opinion.

The technology is rapidly moving to the background and enabling talented artists to learn how to create the images that they want without having to wait a few days for the film to come back from the lab before they can see if their experimentation worked or not.

Pixel Peep My Butt!

OK, so if you thought that was a bit of a rant, you haven’t heard nothing yet. The word Chimping seems to be used in a negative sense, but mostly in fun, but the other topic I wanted to touch on today, is those that get incredibly vocal and defensive about “Pixels Peeping”.

Pixel Peeping is when you zoom in and view your images on your computer at 100% to check the critical focus and sharpness of your image. Again, having the ability to do this, is really just using the technology now available to us to the full, and anyone that tells you that it’s wrong, in my humble opinion, is basically saying that you shouldn’t care about the quality of your images.

And, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the more vocal people are about this, the less they care about the quality of their images. In fact, let’s take this a step further. It’s quite possible that in some cases, it’s not so much that they don’t care, it’s that they care very much, but aren’t actually able to shoot sharp images, through a lack of technique, or there may be very valid financial circumstances forcing them to use lower quality equipment, or it could just be plain laziness, deciding not to set up the tripod when it was actually really necessary, for example.

I do of course feel for someone that can’t necessarily afford a sharper lens, but do you know what I absolutely have no time for? It’s people that take it upon themselves to spend their valuable time trolling the forums and message boards telling people that Pixel Peeping is evil, simply to bolster their own egos, and make them feel better about their decision or circumstances.

I have noticed over the years, really, that the people that spend the most time telling others why they don’t need this, or shouldn’t do that, are those that would actually really like to get their hands on the item in question, or know that they should do the action in question, but have chosen for one reason or another not to do so.

It’s like when digital camera resolution started to climb, and all of those with lower pixel counts were vocal at every opportunity to tell the rest of the world why it wasn’t necessary. This happened both in the Canon and Nikon camp. The Nikon guys were adamant that 10 megapixels was all you could ever need, but then were all over the higher megapixel bodies as they started to come out, and look at how long it took some people to get a D800! Some stores were sold out for months trying to fulfill orders.

I had Canon user friends that got very vocal about not needing to upgrade to the 5D Mark II, with it’s 21 megapixels, as the 12 they had in their Mark I was plenty, but then were blow away by the extra detail being captured when they finally broke down and switched to the Mark II.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

ChimpYou know, what I would really like to see is people just be happy with what they have. Of course, 10 megapixels is enough if you don’t need any more. If you don’t print large or crop your images for example, then 10 megapixels really is all you need, and if that’s the case, just be happy! Surely if you really are happy with what you currently have, you shouldn’t need to waste all that energy putting the world to rights.

I would love a mirroless camera system for example, but right now, it doesn’t make financial sense for me to buy into a new system. I have a lot of investment in Canon bodies and glass, and some that for now, cannot be replaced by a mirrorless system, so I can’t switch fully, and running two separate systems just doesn’t make sense.

Does it mean that I have to take every opportunity to tell people why they shouldn’t buy into a mirrorless system though? Of course not. I’d love one, so it would be stupid of me to say that! But I really believe that this is exactly what happens all the time. Maybe even at a subconscious level some people really do dislike mirrorless or whatever else it is that the decide not to buy into, but deep down they know they want it, or they fear it, and they have to protect their own feelings by beating it down. And this, is closely related in my opinion to people that use Chimping and Pixel Peeping in a truly negative sense.


OK, so before you rush over to my Web site and start typing out your heated response to today’s episode, here’s my disclaimer. I am not saying that every image has to be tack-sharp. Of course an image can be less than technically perfect and still incredibly beautiful. I also agree that sometimes, when it’s a toss up between getting the image and getting a technically perfect image, the former almost always takes preference over the latter.

What I am saying though, is that when your aim is to create an image and you intended to have at least a certain part of it sharp, then dismissing the need to check as Pixel Peeping, is the same as saying that you don’t really care about the quality of your work. I’m not necessarily saying that this is a bad thing either.

I’m sure there are people that really just don’t think critical focus is really that important, and that’s fine too. But again, if you are happy with that decision, just be happy. You don’t have to spend your time telling the rest of the world why they are wrong.

And yes, of course I realize that I’m using this Podcast to tell you my views on this, and you could argue that I shouldn’t as well, but you’d probably be missing my point. To summarize, I’m just saying that we live in a wonderful age. Photography and photographers have never had it so good. We have amazing technology available to us today, and I think that anyone that says we should push that aside probably has an alternative agenda that may well not come from a positive place.

Anyway, enough of that. By the time I release this episode I’ll be at the end of my first day in Iceland with this year’s tour group, including some new faces and some old friends. We’ll all be old friends by the end of the two weeks of course, so I’m really looking forward to it. It was all that I could do to create this episode before I left, so unless I am able to record something on the road, there probably won’t be an episode next week, so sorry about that. I’ll be back the week after though for sure, so keep that subscription locked in, and I’ll see you soon.

Show Notes

Music by Martin Bailey.


Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.