Chimping is the aptly named industry term for when a photographer takes a picture and immediately refers to the LCD screen on his or her digital camera for the instant gratification that only it could provide.
The act itself is a cliche, it can be unproductive and with the right TV camera angle, you can often see rows of photographers at sporting events simultaneously enacting this ritual after big plays.
For years I’ve listened to war stories from veteran photographers about the days of covering big-time sporting events with film, a time when image review only occurred on light tables and seemingly was always way too close to deadline.
The tales evoke images of haggard old men traipsing up and down the sidelines of football games with cameras dangling from their arms and necks. The pockets and pouches of their vests and bags loaded with rolls of Tri X 400 and Fuji 800 film.
When the final horn would blow, it was off to “soup” your film in a crowded, dark room somewhere well within the depths of a stadium. Photographers would huddle over light tables to hurriedly sift through their strips of film. Prints were then made of a few selected images. Lastly, and to accommodate the presses, the prints would be fed through a drum scanner, which in turn created four separations — one black, a red, a green and a blue — to be transmitted in a fax-like setup to news organizations.
The whole process, according to my Journal-World cohorts Mike Yoder and Richard Gwin, was very tedious and could take up to a couple of hours depending on how many prints you were sending, usually three or four.
Up until the digital era, photographers were at the mercy of technology and time. Both dictated how much of an event could be reported to the public. As everyone now knows, quite a bit has changed. Drum scanners, Tri X film and film rollers are relics of the past. Photo vests with mesh pockets provide little use now other than concrete proof that anyone still wearing one is hopelessly unfashionable.
Improvements in technology such as wireless Internet, motor drives on cameras, auto-focus lenses and digital flash cards have enabled photographers to shoot more and send more.
The 24-hour news cycle requires that galleries of photographs be posted, and with urgency. So, there is a purpose to this constant state of review we call chimping. I can’t speak for all, but this photographer is not admiring hits and bemoaning misses, but rather editing through both.
Within most modern digital cameras is a function that allows you to assign a tag to “desirable” images.
After a game, for example, when you’ve shot hundreds or maybe even a thousand images, the good ones or tagged images can readily be called up by way of editing software like Photo Mechanic and pulled away from the rest of the outtakes.
Furthermore, it greatly chops away the editing time between when an image is shot and when it can be viewed by its audience.
I’ve often thought that the LCD screen and the immediacy it brings has been a great advancement for editing, but on the same hand a substantial detriment to really good photojournalism.
Much time has been saved with the benefits of editing, but, likewise, many good storytelling moments have been missed because a photographer’s head was buried in the back of his or her camera. But any good shooter knows when the coast is clear to chimp and when to stay engaged in the moment. Certainly, a good time would not be when the head coach is an inch from climbing down the throat on an official.