Should You Still Be Chimping?

Should You Still Be Chimping?

In digital photography, chimping is when you take a photograph, look at the LCD screen, and then adjust your exposure settings (ISO, aperture, shutter speed) if they are a bit off. In this article, I will tell you why you shouldn’t be doing this.

What is a Lightmeter

A bit of photography basics here but the exposure of an image is adjusted with aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. Each of these can make an image darker or brighter, but each also comes with secondary and tertiary effects such as grain/noise, depth of field, etc. To expose an image correctly, you have to not only balance each of these three values, but also figure out how adjusting a particular value will change the aesthetic qualities of the image because of the secondary effects of that given value.

As an example, if I want more light and make the aperture wider then the depth of field becomes narrower. This is great if I’m happy for the background to be out of focus, but if I want everything sharp and in focus, I’m probably better off increasing ISO instead. Of course, this comes with the detriment of having more noise.

I recently purchased the Sekonic LiteMaster Pro L-478D-U Light Meter. I think a light meter is a must have piece of gear if you are working with film cameras.

Most digital photographers will lock in two values and then figure out what the third one is. So for example, if I’m shooting a portrait outdoors and it’s bright and sunny, I’ll start by keeping the ISO low at 100 because I want to minimize grain. Next, I’ll consider how much of the foreground, subject, and background I want in focus and adjust aperture; for me I don’t like things to go extremely blurry so usually somewhere between f/5.6 and f/11 is a good place to sit. This means that my “wiggle room” is only for shutter speed, for which I consider the reciprocal rule; on the 85mm I’d not go over 1/100sec. Usually outdoors on a bright sunny day though, I can probably bring the shutter speed to be much shorter than this. There is a bit more to this with consideration to lens length and the reciprocal rule, but that’s probably outside the confines of this example. I guess my point is, I tend to think more in terms of ISO, then f-stop, then shutter speed. If this weren’t enough, I’d probably come back to ISO and adjust that when I couldn’t adjust shutter speed any further.

This is all fine and good where I can take an image, see what the exposure is like, and then adjust as needed. What a light meter does is I can simply put in two of the most important values, and it will tell me the exact input for the third value.

Why You Shouldn’t Chimp

If you’re using one or two lights or are outdoors, you can absolutely chimp if you are shooting digitally. Generally, with modern sensors, you can get away with being even a half stop or a stop off of your exposure and then just adjust afterwards in Capture One (or Lightroom).

This image combines continuous light and a strobe.

When working with multiple lights in a studio setting, I find myself often "building up" the lights. This means that instead of having multiple lights turned on all at once, I’ll put one light on, see what it looks like and figure out what power it needs to be at. Once I’m satisfied with that one light, I’ll turn the next one on. So on and so forth until I have all the lights I wanted on for that scene.

As soon as you start adding three or four or more lights, things become complicated though. This issue is only further compounded if you are mixing strobes with continuous light. If power on one light is a little wrong from where you need it, it becomes increasingly difficult to figure out which light needs adjusting.

Chimping With Film

Over the pandemic lockdowns, I had the luxury to work from home. I also had the luxury of a lot more time on my hands and slowly but surely built up a film kit. My bright idea was that I could figure out the exposure on my digital camera, and then simply copy those settings over to the film camera. This was great, in theory, but in practice, I wouldn’t recommend it. Me being me and loving to jump into the deep end, I started out on a large format camera and working at those sizes, between film, developing lab costs, and getting the images scanned, a slight mistake on exposure costs over $40 per image. That is not a fun place to be, I don’t want to be there.

As soon as I purchased a light meter (albeit two years in), the difference in correctly exposed images was immediately noticeable. Every single image I metered with a light meter was correctly exposed! I simply put in the film speed and the aperture I wanted to photograph at and voila! This is what the studio light settings should be. Or alternatively, voila! This is what the exposure time should be when shooting outdoors. It was magic. Well, actually it was light meter technology at work.

Conclusion

Chimping is something we’re all guilty of. I’m certainly not one to look down from my light meter high horse, I’ve only been on it for two months. My point isn’t so much to tell anyone what to do; but rather highlight the few situations where having a light meter is much better than not having it. I still chimp when I’m shooting simple setups strictly digitally. But when I work with more complicated setups or am shooting on film, the capabilities inherent with using a light meter are not only obviously apparent, but crucially important for a more streamlined workflow.

I guess it really comes down to how and what you are shooting. As someone who entered photography on any serious level through digital cameras, light meters are still this great new thing. I imagine someone who started natively in analog and film would have different opinions.

Do you use a light meter in your workflow? Why or why not?

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54 Comments
Kirk Darling's picture

It's aways amusing to see a young person's elated discovery of an old tool.

I still use a light meter for available light (I bought my first handheld meter back in 1970, a Sekonic Studio DeLux that I still own) and for electronic flash. Particularly for multiple flash setups, a handheld flash meter gets me to "right" before the subject even takes a seat.

But I also use mirrorless cameras with "exposure simulation" in the EVF as well as the rear LCD. Of course, I use that as well, and tweak exposure on the fly through the viewfinder as I shoot. Modern tools for modern times.

Ali Choudhry's picture

The more times change the more they stay the same!
Definitely great for multiple flash setups and to be ready to go before the subject gets there. Some of those "test" shots are great poses that are exposed incorrectly so this is a great way to counter that.

Glad you enjoyed the article!

Charles Mercier's picture

Having forever not doing so, I recently discovered chimping. In high contrast, super bright situations, I've discovered underexposure of about 2 stops with cool effects, especially when facing the sun in a shadow. With digital obviously, one can take multiple exposures to test it out.

winzehnt gates's picture

Since using a mirrorless camera with EVF I very seldomly chimp to check for exposure. I do chimp with zoom to check for correct focus if needed.

Sam Sims's picture

I mainly shoot street photography and the argument against chimping is it takes your concentration away from observing the environment around you. Thanks to modern mirrorless, it's easy to expose through the EVF. I always start with aperture, then shutter speed and lastly ISO, usually set to auto ISO unless I need full manual control. My camera's exposure is set to expose for the highlights. I use a manual Voigtlander lens and it's often tempting to chimp to see if I've nailed the focus. It's a good incentive to keep going out with my camera as often as I can to get used to nailing focus without feeling the need to chimp.

Robert Nurse's picture

Would tethering to Capture One be considered chimping? I use a light meter when using flash in a studio. But, even then, I still want to check the results and make adjustments. Once everything looks the way I want it to, I can keep going without metering or until remetering is necessary.

Ali Choudhry's picture

"Would tethering to Capture One be considered chimping?"

I think that might be a grey area. What do you think?
But I find a light meter to be helpful when shooting in a studio. Doubly so when shooting with many strobes or mixing continuous and strobe lighting.

Stuart C's picture

Often do it, and will continue to do so, why not use the tools that are available to us.... and most importantly of all, if it annoys a load of snobby old fuddy duddies then ill do it even more.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I hate the word chimping. I don't know why but whenever I see it, it makes me think it represents a really bad lazy thing to do. Possibly because it is so close to the root word "chump"

Which is unfortunate because contrary to what this article suggests there is absolutely nothing wrong with reviewing an image after taking it so that you can adjust the next image based on your creative vision. It is patently absurd to think that this is something that a photographer should try not to do.

A light meter does one thing and one thing only. It determines the exposure settings needed to achieve 50% grey at the position of the light meter. That's it. It can't make a creative decision. It can't tell you how to adjust based on desired creative mood. Sure it can be a useful tool but to say we should all be running around light metering everything is silly.

Furthermore, if you need to light meter using a digital camera, your camera has one built-in that you can use at range without running up to your subject with a separate device. The only reason for a digital photographer to ever use a light meter is when working with strobes that do not support TTL technology. Otherwise, just use the built-in meter, it works great.

Regardless though, I'd argue that "chimping" is still the best option for adjusting and setting up strobes because the goal of building a lighting scene is not to achieve perfect mathematical exposure but rather to achieve the ideal exposure based on the creative direction of the image you are looking to construct.

That said, I can see its value in film photography, especially when operating using expensive film. Film's slow feedback loop means every shutter press is a commitment. It punishes taking risks and experimentation. This is one of many reasons why personally, I have no interest in working with film whatsoever.

David Hoye's picture

Agree with Ryan. It's idiotic to think someone would spend thousands on a new camera and then ignore the gigantic screen on the back. It's a tool. This article appeared to be geared towards beginners ... evidence the primer on how images are made. It would have been more useful for beginners had the article explained in detail why light meters still matter ... and not just for film. Shaming people because they haven't spent another $350 on gear isn't helpful.

Ray Sheffer's picture

Yeah. How dare us use a useful tool these camera manufacturers made for us. Here i thought the whole point of the LCD screen was to see your photo exposure sharpness and composition and settings. But, i guess we shouldn't do that. I guess we should demand the camera manufacturers to stop making lcd screens and lower the camera cost.

Pete Harper's picture

Absolutely spot on, Ryan, David and Ray. I'm just about to complete a 2-year photography qualification and it has infuriated me every time one of the tutors has brought up this phrase. Then in the next breath thry say to 'expose to the right' and 'protect your highlights'; how can we do this without looking at the histogram?!

Yes a lightmeter is essential for film but with digital, technology has moved on and should be embraced. We have more control over exposure and post processing than ever before so we should be using it, not be called names or be shamed into not using it.

Ray Sheffer's picture

Exactly. I bought the R5 several months ago and the camera alone cost a little over $4,000 if you take taxes into account. Plus i had to get the ef lens converter which was another couple hundred. I damn well be using every feature the camera has on it since it cost me that much money and I don't care what the pros have to say about to chimping or not to chimping.

Rama Sivamani's picture

True the only time I would say chimping can be a problem is if you are shooting things where moments are potentially changing fast and in the time that you are chimping you may miss some key moments. At a wedding for example if you are chimping to see if you got a good shot during of them exchanging vows and then miss some key moments of them exchanging rings because you are reviewing images to see if you got a good one then chimping can be bad. But if you are shooting portraits or a genre or niche where you don't need to respond quickly to moments unfolding and changing in front of you then chimp away, use the tools and features to make sure you are getting good images.

Ray Sheffer's picture

Agree. I would also like to add that if you know how to read a histogram. You can see how well exposed your photo is through the LCD or the viewfinder. Giving you a up to date on your exposure. Which reduces your chances of chimping. Which is great on wildlife and sports where split seconds count.

Jonathan Casey's picture

There seem to be a few articles recently laying out what the reader ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be doing….

Sam Sims's picture

True. Everyone should shoot the way they feel works for them and buy and use whatever camera equipment they like for that matter. Some things seem to have become 'bad habits' in the photography community but the individual can do whatever they like. I only try to avoid chimping, as I mentioned in my comment, so it doesn't distract me from looking out for photo opportunities when out doing street photography but someone setting up a portrait shoot, for example, may want to check for exposure first.

Jonathan Casey's picture

Yes, I've missed a few shots getting over-excited and reviewing photos, I really try not to do that. Anyway yesterday I was shooting with my GFX and was reminded that it has ‘live chimping’ which you’d actively have to turn off and get a worse viewfinder image to avoid. I guess most mirrorless cameras are the same?

Richard Tack's picture

Those goddamn camera manufacturers; do you know how much money we could have saved if they had left those useless digital screens out of the picture? Histograms? Who needs them, do it in post and while your at it, fix any mid blink eyeballs. Should I use a polarizer? Simple; in a 6 x 3 pano grid, just take the entire 18 shot sequence over again with the P-filter.

David Pavlich's picture

Sheesh....WHO CARES!? It is obvious that finding content for FS is getting really difficult.

Tony Clark's picture

Nothing wrong with chipping, it confirms your composition, exposure, flash syncing and focus to a certain extent. It will also tell you that the files are writing to the cards. I want as much information as I can get up until the point that I can just shoot.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

--- "Chimping is something we’re all guilty of."

Guilty of? This makes it sound like chimping is a bad thing; something to be ashamed of. It would be foolish to not chimp via back of camera; viewfinder, or tethered, most especially if it's a paid shoot or if people devoted their time for the project.

chris bryant's picture

I haven't chimped for well over a decade.

Richard Tack's picture

Time to switch from film to digital, CB.

chris bryant's picture

I switched to digital in the naughties when I was a professional Chimper. Amateur photographer, professional chimper.

Jon Kellett's picture

I need to chimp sometimes. Viewfinder is much smaller than the LCD.
Then again, I'm not doing studio shoots of models.

I think the article would've been better received if the author noted that their advice wasn't intended for all genres of photography.

Ali Choudhry's picture

No advice is all encompassing. ;)

Jon Kellett's picture

So true but hey, the internet :-)

chris bryant's picture

Nothing wrong at all with chimping.

Mike Ditz's picture

At last count I have a 4 light meters, one flash meter, one spot meter and two just regular meters. The only that gets any use (a couple times a year) is the flash meter 3.

They are nice gadgets to buy, but for the most part meters are of little use with digital, but shooting with neg film, considering the per frame cost it might be worth it . If I was still shooting chrome/reversal or 4x5 - 8x10 film I would use one.
When you have the actual exposure on the back of a screen and a histogram, why would there be a need to take meter reading and interpret the reading to what you need?
If you take a meter reading of a snowman wearing a wedding dress eating vanilla ice cream you will need to know how to adjust the reading to get the right exposure. Chimping will show you wysiwyg.

If the internet was around back in the day, the article would be "Should you be shooting Polaroids?"

chris bryant's picture

Chimping! How very 2010’s.

Stuart C's picture

Keep posting, someone might engage in conversation with you eventually.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Lol, damn you. You beat me to it. :)

Stuart C's picture

Gotta love the seekers of attention.

chris bryant's picture

I don't want you to engage with me in conversation.

Andrew Eaton's picture

A flash meter can be very useful for basic setup, turning on groups and indvidualy taking readings eg backdrop and key light, it can also be used to balance flash to ambient light etc. Tethering is then used to fine tune lighting.

Timothy Roper's picture

The EVF in mirrorless cameras is basically a full time chimp mode, and many seem to like mirrorless cameras for that very reason. With strobes it's a different matter, but as others have mentioned, many people today like to shoot tethered, which is also full time chimp. It's just where the current technology is. Meanwhile, I'm happy to shoot film and use a light meter. But when and if I get a mirrorless, I'll use the EFV rather than a meter. Duh. Because I have shot some amount of video, and really like the exposure tools available for that. And I LOVE the false color tool!

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I guess chimping is free so why not use it. We used to do the same with polaroid with all types of film cameras to confirm our readings, let's move on, chipping is nothing new, nothing wrong to practice.

Martin H.'s picture

Fun fact: Most cameras do not only have a built-in lightmeter which can already tell you how to expose correctly. Also taking a picture and reviewing it (plus maybe looking at the histogram) is in fact a way of measuring the exposure.

I am not saying that there is no justification for buying a lightmeter. Yet this article completely fails to mention any actual reason why, how and when using a lightmeter is superior to reviewing the image on the LCD. In many situations it is not. If you shoot only in such situations, why bother carrying around yet another tool to measure the exposure?

chris bryant's picture

NOTHING WRONG AT ALL WITH CHIMPING.

CHIMP ALL YOU LIKE.

CHIMP UNTIL THE COWS COME HOME.

YOU HAVE THE FREEDOM TO CHIMP.

NO GUILT.

Tom Reichner's picture

Chimping is a tool that I find extremely useful, not only for exposure, but for detail resolution, depth of field, and composition.

I don't understand why the author said that chimping is something that we're all "gulity" of. That implies that there is something wrong with chimping, or that chimping isn't a proper, accepted thing to do. I don't like that type of negative closemindedness.

Jonathan Casey's picture

I agree. I can’t see that sort of preachy language having a place nowadays.

Kirk Schwarz's picture

What kind of an idiot would you be to buy a tool that improves your job... then refuse to use the best features?!

It's like a lumberjack turning up with an axe, then removing the handle and using only the head to cut down the tree, because that's how they did it in the Stone Age. Mate, buy a chainsaw!

Stuart C's picture

Hello Kirk, long time no speak, are you still involved with the FB photography group?

Fully agree with your comment btw

Kirk Schwarz's picture

Hey, it's been ages! No, I'm not involved anymore. Lockdown, baby, change of career and an insane amount of freelance, so I retired from the 'public eye' ;) How are you? Still managing to steer clear of FB?

Stuart C's picture

Yes mate, got an Instagram photography (and a bit of DJing) account and never been on FB since, basically managed to miss Brexit and Covid on there so feeling smug af haha :), I’ve made sure I only follow creative stuff on there to completely avoid any nonsense and it works pretty well.

What you up to now then? Still in media? Congrats on the baby.

Kirk Schwarz's picture

Also, remember when photographers used to take polaroids before the shoot because they couldn't instantly preview it on an LCD?

Maybe we should all go out and buy a polaroid too, and then smash the LCD with a rock to stop us from 'cheating'.

Also, we should all buy a polaroid - they're awesome!

Kent Tarbox's picture

Back in the day people used Polaroids to check composition, etc before committing to something on film. I am primarily a sports photographer and shoot some news so the action is typically fast, changing and unpredictable, so if you take the time to "chimp" and I hate that term, you are probably going to miss something. If you are in a more controlled environment, who the hell cares, chimp away... I guess it is my own fault for taking time to read a "what I should start or stop doing article" especially considering I started shooting in my early teens and I am now in my early 60's. My bad...LOL... and to everyone else, shoot how you shoot, chimp if you chimp and screw everybody else's opinion of what you should and shouldn't do.

M Hector's picture

I used a light meter with a film camera, but it used to annoy me to have to deal with a separate device from the camera, so I am glad that everything comes in one device with the newer film cameras (newer still being many years ago). What would be super useful these days would be an implementation of something like the Photopills app but with comparative live previews of say eight images with the three vectors of ISO, aperture and shutter speed at different combinations, whereby we could tap one and go.

Phil Adler's picture

When you say "should not" you're scolding. If I wanna look, I'm gonna look. Doesnt change the image captured.

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