Is the LCD Screen Killing Your Artistic Vision?

Is the LCD Screen Killing Your Artistic Vision?

It happened. After wrestling with lighting, posing, finding the right angle and composition, and bringing out that perfect moment, you finally caught the shot. It's everything you saw in your head and more. This! This is what it's all about. You've got the butterflies in your stomach that accompany that feeling when you've managed to get your art out into the real world. "Can I see it?" Oh no. "Sure," you say, doing your best to sound enthusiastic. "Hmm...it's nice, but I look fat. Can we try something else?" "Of course we can," you say, "let's switch it up." All the while you're thinking in your head that it was perfect as it was.

With the coming of age and subsequent proliferation of digital photography, it's become normal to show off your work, whether it be to a client, art director, or loved one, immediately after the photo has been taken. While this can be a boon to creativity, helping to refine an artistic vision by a creative team, it can also be crippling for the artist, as it's easy to fall into the trap of having "too many chefs in the kitchen." Speaking for myself, as I've grown as a portrait artist, being flattering to my subject has become less important than the overall image I'm creating. I want to create a great portrait and sometimes that doesn't make the subject look pretty. I'm ok with that, but convincing the subject can be difficult.

At what point does catering to your subject dilute your process? If you know that you've got the shot, should you keep going if your subject doesn't like the way they look on the back of the camera? Does it make you a diva who is difficult to work with if you tamp down on considering the opinions of others? The answer, of course, is that it depends.

Context is king. If you were hired to shoot a campaign for an ad agency, it's time to check your ego at the door. More than likely you'll be shooting tethered or have an art director or three breathing down your neck. Part of the process will be collaborating with stylists, props, agents, models, location managers, and the like. You have to work together. And sometimes that means your opinion of what "perfect" is goes bye-bye. Of course, as the photographer, it's your show. But being open to opinions, critiques, and suggestions is part of the process. It's their dime and their opinions should be respected.

But, what about personal work? When I'm shooting people for personal projects, if I'm working digitally, I almost never show them my LCD. Why? Because I don't particularly want their opinion. Now, that may sound harsh or diva-ish, but let me explain. The issue of letting people see your work right as you take the photo is relatively new. Let's think back to the days of film. Now, of course when shooting commercially, polaroids were the name of the game. You still collaborated by using instant film to check your exposure and vision with team. But with personal work, it's about you. Think back to works by some of the great portrait artists. Look at the subjects. They have bags. They have wrinkles. They have bloodshot eyes and grey hair. There are fat arms, cellulite, and awkward, real moments. But that's what makes them real. Would some of those moments be the same if the artist had tried to pose the person to be flattering?

For me, it's all about being honest with the subject up front. When I ask someone if I can take their portrait, first of all, I usually shoot film so they can't see anyway. But even while I'm proofing with a digital, I don't offer the screen. We live in a post-Myspace culture, where many people want to be photographed from above so that they look slimmer. I've been asked to shoot from that angle many times. I always say no. I don't shoot that way. If they'd like me to take a photo with their phone during the shoot, I'd be happy to! But that's not what I'm shooting today, please and thank you! Be polite. But, be firm. 

We live in a day and age of instant gratification. People have no qualms about giving their opinions of your work, whether appropriately or not. When you're working in a team, be open and accommodating. But when you're shooting for yourself, do it for you. Stand strong in your art. Don't dilute your vision unless it's absolutely necessary.

Log in or register to post comments

14 Comments

Anonymous's picture

I recently switched to only shooting film and this was a big part of the reason. I'm confident in my images and technical ability but always dreaded showing my subject my LCD. I find it kills the rhythm of the shoot. I mostly shoot people who have never been photographed professionally and are very critical of the way they look in a picture. Even if I think they look great the subject can pick themselves apart easier than anyone else can.

It may seem drastic but going back to film was so nice in this regard. It's sets the expectation right from the get go and they know they can't see anything. They just have to trust me and I find that helps them get out of their nervous state and give me some more genuine poses/looks.

Same thing, although instead of film i picked up a Leica M-D, it really frees me up from the "show me the picture" problems.

Anonymous's picture

whoa money bags! haha how is that camera? i love the minimal design.

I thought Id kinda of like it, but now it goes with me everywhere, its like shooting film, no worries about chimping or if I got a shot perfectly. Its just shoot and go on with life. I have yet to use it for any of my paid gigs, don't know if I'm ready for that as it blows highlights easy. (I have a 645z for my studio work, and used an EM5II for events and personal walk abouts, but now Im probably just going to use the M-D instead, just have to get more glass as I only have one lens for it, the Voigtlander 35mm f/1.7). Haven't had much time to use it, but I threw some pics up on IG https://www.instagram.com/leicamdshooter

gabe s's picture

I think part of the issue is that what you see on a 3 inch screen, is going to be completely different than what you see on a phone or computer screen. Maybe not completely different, but its an unedited version of your vision. I find myself telling people that what they see is going to be different when its on screen. "Here is a preview" is what I typically say.

Yes it is. I had the opportunity to shoot two special and historically significant vintage race cars a couple months ago. I brought two things, my Olympus EM10 and my Bronica ETR. I used the EM10 for the moving shots and then the stationary ones, I pulled out the ETR. As I was metering and contemplating one shot, someone walked up and took 10 photos. It was not that I was working slowly, it was just that with unlimited space and an LCD screen on the back, they felt that they could rush through everything rather than setting up a good shot.

Shooting more film has made me a better digital shooter as well. I know think more and I hardly ever look at the screen on the back anymore. I have even taken to using small 1 GB memory cards to reduce the wasted frames.

Anonymous's picture

this is exactly why I ditched everything digital and went back to film. My wedding work has gotten 10 times better because of it. I'm slow and methodical about my shots. Also I'm now all muscles from carrying a mamiya rb67 around for an 8 hour wedding every weekend.

Dusty Wooddell's picture

I feel that as professionals, we have the option to show our clients images as they're captured, or NOT show them. I wouldn't show an insecure client the LCD during a set unless it was to show them what not to do. We're not responsible for someone's lifestyle, which may have led them to gain more weight than they like to look at..... in which case, why are they modeling to begin with? If your subject isn't happy with the way they look, it's not going to matter if you're shooting digital or film

Jon Wolding's picture

I usually don't show the screen to subjects... because, in most cases in my experience, it interferes with direction and always slows things down. At the same time, I do my best to not chimp once I get the exposure right - silently ogling the back of a camera doesn't help a potentially nervous or uncomfortable subject.

There are a few exceptions to chimping or showing the LCD screen though: checking sharpness when shooting with wide apertures, technical shots that require precise timing/choreography, or if I think it will help with direction.

Anonymous's picture

When I shoot models, I will show them my LCD here and there if I think a particular shot came out well and looks good on the LCD. I think this is a happy medium because it gives me control over what I show them. Also, by doing this, I haven't had an issue of someone wanting to see the LCD or being upset that it differs from the final, edited shot.

Norbert Tukora's picture

Turn off your LCD if you feel that it's killing your artistic vision. It's an artistic decision, not a logical one if you do... But you don't have to write a trivial article about it!
Next up on Fstoppers, is GPS killing your sense of direction? Find out next week!

Anonymous's picture

I don't think it's trivial at all. I think it's a logical decision regarding an artistic outcome and, from my POV, a practical outcome. If someone insists on seeing the LCD screen, I'll show them but I'm still going to use the shot I envisioned. But it can, and usually does, affect the subjects comfort level. Sometimes pro, other times con.

Since 1980, photography, for me, has been a creative release; it is not a vocation. I enjoy photography. December 2013, I bought my first DSLR. It was neat to see the photos pop up on the LCD screen, but the novelty wore off.
I turned off image review on my Canon 5D III. I may review images afterwards, but I don't look at the screen after the photo to see if I nailed it.
I don't belong to the "selfie" culture. I've only had two selfies taken. One was July 2011 where I handed my Canon A-1 to two strangers to photograph me 20 feet away. One guy couldn't figure out how to focus the camera; his friend figured out how to take the photo. This past November, my wife and I had our photo taken with Christopher Ferguson. I handed the 5D to the assistant; she took a photo and chimped. Nothing happened. She took another photo and hit the review button and we got the "thumbs up".