On Chimping, Chomping and Choking

Over the past fifty years I’ve worked with hundreds of photographers, from rank novices to exceptional pros. I have also led photo workshops and tours for many hundreds more. In each of these settings I get to observe photographers working landscapes, taking portraits, creating moods, you name it. So, I think I’ve earned the right to make some comments and suggestions on what I’ve observed. Here goes and please, if you recognize yourself in these tongue-in-cheek descriptions please do not take offense. Maybe just think of it as fake news or alternate facts.

The Chompers

First off are the chompers. These photographers, when they arrive at a scene, immediately jump out and start photographing, usually at a frenetic pace, running here and there to be sure to capture absolutely everything they encounter. I completely get photographers’ motivation to engage in this behavior. Who wants to miss out? But I would ask you to mull this over.

Unless you are a photojournalist on assignment, what do you hope to accomplish? What story are you trying to tell? If you haven’t taken the time to assess your surroundings, how will you add drama to your work? Will 300 mediocre images tell as compelling a narrative as one good one?

Chompers also tend to suffer from some genetic anomaly that causes their trigger finger to remain in near permanent spasm on their shutter release. So not only do they run around from spot to spot, but they take bursts of dozens of images at every stop. This is a variant of throwing messy stuff at a wall in hopes that something, anything, will stick. And, for the life of me, I can’t figure out how these folks edit their images. All 25,000 of them!

If you find yourself in this category, here are some suggestion you might want to consider. First, when you get to a location, take a breath or maybe ten. Look around. Observe. Get a feel for the mood. Observe some more. Turn around 360 degrees. Figure out what your storyline. How will you portray it? How will you add drama to the image? Okay, now start shooting.

Speaking of shooting, try putting your camera on single shot mode. This will force you to think more artistically. Train yourself by going to a spot near to home and limiting yourself to 36 shots, the maximum that an old roll of film held. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how your photographic art will improve. But, if you truly are a Chomper, you probably haven’t got this far in this blog.

The Chimpers

Next up are the Chimpers. These folks seem to be on the verge of an OCD meltdown if they cannot see the images they just shot within seconds of shooting.

I am not saying that one should never look at their screen to check lighting and other aspects of a good image. But any photographer who has shot with a group knows what I am talking about. On site, in the car or van, in the hotel lobby, this addiction is in constant need of a fix.

The cure for Chimpers is to basically go cold turkey. Unless you are a rank amateur, try to gain enough confidence so that constant chimping is unnecessary. That can only happen with practice, and lots of it. Sure, check your first few shots in a scene for proper lighting, focus and composition, but then concentrate exclusively on recording the very best images you are capable of making. Before you know it your addiction will lessen, people will like you, and the opposite sex (or whatever is your preference) will be irresistibly attracted to you.

The Chokers

For those of you who are thoughtful, mindful, zen-like photographers you didn’t really think I’d give you a pass, did you? These photographers are often the ones you see with the humongous tripods, gigantic medium format cameras, six outrageously expensive lenses in a heavy backpack, and hanging from every conceivable piece of clothing are a perverse assortment of accessory gadgets sold by Gary Fong. These folks always wear hats, are stooped over from their burdens and are constantly fantasizing about a shoulder and neck massage. Okay, enough about me.

Chokers are always out for sunrises. They are constantly in danger of petrifying in position as they ever so carefully, meaningfully, timelessly adjust their cameras for the perfect shot. As in one shot. Only one. Internal smile. Nod. Self-congratulatory pat on the back. And now they are ready for lunch.

My colleagues will think this is a memoir, so allow me to move on. Chokers would benefit from watching Chompers, although I do recommend a Valium prior to doing so. The thing is, Chompers don’t develop roots. By moving around they do accidentally find new angles, better compositions, you get my point. My suggestion is to not choke by staying in one spot and missing all the wonderful scenes around you. And, starting tomorrow, I plan to pop a Valium and get to work!

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