Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tip of the Day: Chimping

Chimping is not for everyone. It's not for beginners. It's not for die-hard elitists and photographers that are intractable. It's not for photographers that must have and use every piece of gear in their bag...

But if you can wrap your mind around the potential benefits of chimping, read on...

I realize that everyone has a different method of chimping. I don't use a lightmeter because I can chimp 3x as fast as using my lightmeter in the studio. How accurate am I with my exposures? Pretty darn accurate in the studio. My goal is to be about a 1/3 stop away from the top of the histogram. Call it margin-of-error. Do I blow highlights? Occasionally. But look at what I gain in time, flow, and additional confidence by not wasting the model's time on set... all while maintaining a conversation :)

While I'm referencing my experiences in-studio, the procedure is the same elsewhere. I'm usually setting the H3D to 1/500th shutter for sync (Because most of my strobes don't T1 at 1/800th at my power levels). Aperture-wise I'm around f/9 to f/13 depending on the modifier. Base ISO is 100 on the H3D. With the basic beauty dish gridded or gridded softbox on the X3200 I'm looking at something along the lines of 2/3 power. On the B1600 I'm looking at 3/4 power with about f/7.1 to f/9 on aperture. All of this is at my typical working distance for these strobes.

Usually when I take my first shot, I'm really close. It's simply experience. I have no variables to control since I'm in the studio day in and day out. Usually the next frame is "go". But let's say I'm off, well I just turn the dial on my RadioPopper JrX to compensate for the lack/abundance of exposure.

After the first shot I'm looking at my histogram along with my image along with the evenness of exposure across the frame. Primarily though, I'm looking at the hotspots on the skin along with the width (particularly the right side) of the histogram. I then attempt to "stretch" the histogram as far right as possible (via strobe power) without getting hot spots. I define hot spots by eye. They don't necessarily have to be blown, but if they "feel hot" I will turn down the power. I am also looking to provide the model a range of motion that won't blow highlights either (e.g. in the event she looks into the light etc.).
My goal is to give myself a good exposure with enough latitude to shoot the next 100 frames without checking the back of the camera. Of course, that never happens. I always check at the 99th frame and discover I've blown 99 frames' worth of highlights j/k :)

Chimping is highly subjective. I imagine each of us looks at something else and has a slightly different thought-process. I'm really looking at getting close. But I don't need an exact number. Remember that we now have lightmeters built into the cameras. And when your subject moves, your original readings are now moot anyway. It's better to understand the exposure dynamically than rely on a single set of numbers. Die-hard lightmeter users will say that I'm not taking multiple readings. While I don't have multiple sets of numbers I
am doing visual evaluations of the exposure across the subject to check for unevenness.

Chimping is part of the evolution of photography as afforded by technology. Chimping was impossible when cameras didn't have lightmeters built-in and now much more "affordable" with digital cameras. Again, don't get mired in the details. Your job is to get
the shot, not to get the perfect exposure.


  1. Well, while I agree that there is a place for chimping, my take on it is the use of both an extarnal light meter and chimp.

    What I do is if I wan't to use a certain F stop I can do it faster by taking readings with the light meter than learn when is the exposure correct on that specific f stop. Also when doing light ratios its a bit faster for me to just take the reading on the key light and then take the reading on the fill or accent.
    When I chimp is usually when I'm interested in seeing how the light looks on the model, that's something you can't do with a light meter. Or if the look of the ratio doesn't look pleasing to me on the lcd screen I chimp to adjust the power of the strobe.
    In the studio after a while you can get pretty good at guessing the light since the placement of the lights varies very little and its more or less a controled envirorment, but on location its a bit faster for me to meter and if needed after that chimp.

    As you mentioned this is very subjective, so that's my take on it...

  2. Yup very subjective. I actually don't know lighting ratios. I'm sure there's 3:1 or 2:1 rim/main and that sort of thing but primarily I just know what looks good on the model :)

  3. in the end this is what matters: "I just know what looks good on the model"

    As long as the result is up to par, chimp or no chimp...