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|| News Item: Posted 2007-04-25

#100: Chimping: Sign Of Our Times?
By Bryan Moss

Photo by Bryan Moss / Life in Corydon

Photo by Bryan Moss / Life in Corydon

Do you think Bryan Moss chimped after he shot this picture?
Chimping'... a series of photographers all looking at their screens like monkeys!
Robert Deutsch, USA Today in a 1999 article of the Sports Shooter Newsletter (

In the Film Age (kind of like the Stone Age of photography), I used to watch crowds of photographers at the end of the basketball floor put their cameras down after the ball had gone through the basket. Some picked up long lenses to follow the action to the other end of the floor, but many just waited until the players returned to their end of the floor.

I always wondered, why did they stop shooting? Were their arms tired? Was there some commentary about the play they needed to share with their colleagues? Were they just lazy?

Now when I watch the photographer crowds, their behavior is different. After a play ends, some pick up long lenses, but most immediately check the backs of their cameras to look at the pictures they just shot.

My question is still, "Why?" I'm a strong advocate of intuitive photography, and I believe that to enable your intuition, you must keep your camera focused on the event you're photographing. At all times. Shoot what's in front of you. Always. Don't give the conscious, logical, calculating (and boring) part of your brain an opportunity to seize control of the camera. Don't listen to the little voice that tells you something's not a picture. Shoot it. If it's not any good, you can trash it later.

It's simple. When you lower the camera to look at your past pictures, you're missing current pictures. Robert Hanashiro told me that during one NCAA tournament game, just for the fun of it, he took a picture of the Wisconsin basketball coach every time the photographer next to him was chimping. He says he ended up with a nice picture story that the other photographer never even saw.

I think the serious answer to the "Why?" about chimping is mostly curiosity, to see how well you did, to see how close you got to a good picture of a big play. And for one reason or another, a lot of photographers are after something specific, and if they look at what they shot, they can determine if they have it yet.

Back in the Film Age it wasn't at all unusual for a sports editor to order up a two-column of the star player. Once you had it, you could go back to the office. (A friend of mine once put a stack of prints upside down on that same sports editor's desk. The editor counted the prints, without looking at any of them, and said, "OK, that's enough. You can go." Ahh, the good old days…)

But the main reason to not chimp is because chimping severely limits your ability to get into the flow of the event, to get into a groove, into the Zone. You can't get immersed into what's happening if you're constantly stopping to look at the back of your camera. Looking at what you've shot is a way to see if you've done an adequate job. To find a picture that's good enough to make your bosses happy. But I think photographers should be like great athletes who constantly strive not to just be adequate, but to be outstanding.

It's the difference between the performances of an NBA team in a mid-season game, versus the performance of the same team in Game 7 of the championships. You want to be in championship form, and you can't be if you're constantly interrupting the flow of the event to chimp your work.

NOTE: Deutsch's article was about photographing tennis in an 11-hour-long stretch. In that time, there are plenty of gaps in the action to check your work. Nothing wrong with that. Being able to look at the picture you just shot can be a valuable tool, but too often it's overdone.

ALSO: In the interests of full disclosure, I acknowledge that I regularly chimp at the beginning of an event to make sure the camera is actually doing what it's supposed to do, i.e., recording pictures. And occasionally I do it to check a big play, but rarely.

(Bryan Moss has been on staff at some of the country's leading newspapers including the Courier Journal in Louisville and the San Jose Mercury News. He currently is the co-director of the White Cloud workshops with Mary Jo Moss: He is currently the editor and photographer on a hometown website he started, This is what's taking up his time these days. Adds Bryan: "For more alleged wisdom from me, buy a copy of my new book PhotoSynthesis, details at Among the topics it covers is how to get into the Zone when you're shooting.)

Related Links:
Book: PhotoSynthesis

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