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I Shutter to Think

I admit it. I'm in favor of chimping, the act of checking out your images on the camera LCD screen after shooting them. To me, it's an integral part of my composition process. I press the shutter to take an image, then examine and think about the results to see if there's anything I could do better.

Of course, the camera back LCD isn't the only means of seeing your composition cropped in a rectangular frame. One of the advantages of any single-lens reflex camera over your typical "consumer" camera is the presence of a through-the-lens viewfinder that very closely matches what the camera sensor will record when the shutter gets pressed. The light path that would ultimately get projected onto the sensor is instead reflected up into a prism that send it to the viewfinder. Not all SLR cameras have a full 100% viewfinder coverage, but they're all close. But even the best optical viewfinders have a hard time exactly matching the framing of the final image. The exact edges of the viewfinder frame will shift side to side, up and down, as you move your head around in relation to the position of the eyepiece. For this reason, I've found the viewfinder to be an unreliable guide for final tweaks to a composition. It can get me awfully close, but if I have any question as to exactly where the frame edges will fall, I use the LCD back. By taking a quick test shot, I can verify whether a potentially intrusive tree branch will be visible in the final image or not. With just the viewfinder, it depends on where I position myself. With a test shot viewed on the LCD screen, I can be certain.

Most modern cameras also feature some form of Live View that that can show you the exact image that your sensor sees. Indeed, it is the image, in real time, being registered by your sensor. I love Live View, especially for shots where its difficult or downright impossible to get my head to the viewfinder, but it doesn't take the place of examining a test shot on the LCD or a remote screen. Live view is live, so things are constantly changing. This can yield a false sense that things look good when they might not. Look on the left side of the frame and examine it closely. Yup, everything looks good. Now check out the other side of the frame as well as the top and bottom. Carefully examine how everything sits in relation to everything else in the frame. By the time you've satisfied yourself that each individual component of a Live View image looks good, time has passed. When I've got the time to do so, I can easily spend upwards of a couple of minutes making sure things are as I want them, and no unduly distracting intrusions complicate the situation. The only way I can be sure is to actually take the shot and examine the result.

Firing the shutter and studying the result has another, perhaps less obvious advantage too. So long as cameras take flat, two-dimensional pictures, I find it extremely useful to evaluate shots via a two-dimensional medium. The camera back LCD screen qualifies, but not the viewfinder. Even though you only use one eye when looking through the viewfinder thus impacting depth perception, everything you see though it will probably still look more like the real world than it does a flat picture representing the real world. The viewfinder may help find worthwhile subject matter for photography, but the flat LCD screen is a better tool for composing worthwhile photographs.

Back in ye olden days of film cameras, it was not at all uncommon to find something obviously wrong in an image only after getting the developed slides back from the lab. I used to think, "if only I had noticed that at the time." Once I'm back home with the developed slides, there's little I can do except hope that at least some in the box fared better and I didn't goof on too many. Maybe I might not always have been able to solve that particular problem, but I'm betting at least some of the time I could have. A slight move to one side perhaps, a stray cigarette but right in middle of beach gravel, or a more photogenic flower ten feet further on down the trail. Part of learning anything is learning from your mistakes, and film photography made that feedback loop much harder to establish. I had to notice such an issue next time, since this time had in fact already passed into memory, and into photographs. I remember what a godsend it was back when I switched to digital, that I could finally see the resulting images in time to do something with whatever could be learned from studying my results. Something not quite right? If I was lucky enough, I could find a way to improve the issue and shoot again before the light changed.

So, I admit, I value studying my images on the camera back LCD screen. I value chimping. I value pressing the shutter release and considering the merits of what I shoot. That is to say, I shutter to think.

Kind of catchy, isn't it?

Date posted: June 3, 2018


Copyright © 2018 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Chimping: The Rise of the Planet of the Apes?
In Defense of Chimping
More Things I've Learned From Being a Photographer

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