THE CHEETA IN ALL OF US
By MICHAEL PERKINS (author of the new image collection FIAT LUX, available from NormalEye Press)
IF YOU ARE IN THE RANKS OF THOSE PHOTOGRAPHERS who still shoot film on occasion, you will, in the return to your old analog ways, find yourself suddenly cured of a habit we all have acquired to varying degrees since the dawn of digital. The instantaneous feedback of the pixelated life has taught us the now-instinctual reflex of what is called chimping, or the practice of checking our screens immediately after every click, ostensibly to determine if we’re getting things right/wrong. The name of this syndrome may have come from the “ooh-ooh-ooh!” sound made by chimpanzees when they are excited…like when they nail an exposure perfectly and can’t wait to get a perfunctory agreement grunt from the next chimp over. All ape references aside, to look is human, or, as Tarzan discovered, there’s a little Cheeta in all of us (sorry).
Chimping has changed the rhythm of photography from shoot/shoot/shoot/shoot/wait….(and eventually)view to shoot/look/share/shoot/look/share(and occasionally) delete. There is no equivalent to chimping in the film world, since there is no way to instantly review one’s results. In anaog shooting, correction from frame-to-frame is a matter of calculation and informed guesswork, and the results….well, they kind of define the phrase “delayed gratification”, don’t they? Chimping is a product of the very opposite…..which is the utter obliteration of the space between desire and payoff. So is this a good thing?
Every time you sneak a peek at your screen, you are, however briefly, taking your mind out of “shooting mode”. You are also taking your eye off of whatever subject you just shot, which may still be developing or changing. It’s conceivable, then, that while you are reviewing a shot that may/may not be any good, a shot that may/may not be better is invisible to you, simply because you are not looking at it. In some instances, this may be no big deal. For instance, if you are doing a leisurely shoot of a landscape or a sleeping child, breaking the thought flow to review images in between frames may not be a problem at all. On the other hand, if you’re following a sports event or a flitting bird, you could easily miss out on what’s happening by cooing over what’s already happened.
Of course, it’s easy to make broad generalizations on the value/risk of any shooting rhythm, and, like the commercial says, ask your doctor is chimping is right for you. It’s principally interesting to consider its value, however, simply because it is such a recent part of photography, and one which has become part of everyone’s work flow largely without our being aware of its encroachment. Maybe it’s caught on for purely social reasons, like our desperate need, via social media, to post and be liked. That’s the part of chimping I most disdain; its use as an instant booster shot of validation, our bid for more immediate applause. I can’t say I’m without guilt in making use of it myself, but I love to occasionally work in an older medium in which you build confidence by making a plan, setting an intention, and focusing solely on making the picture, not drooling over how fast you might garner applause for the result. I will always fail at totally suppressing my own inner Cheeta, but I can dream, can’t I?