I like Keira Knightley. She is gorgeous, but it isn't just that. There is something about her eyes, her penetrating gaze. Recently, she talked to Photographer Patrick DeMarchelier for the magazine Interview. You might have heard of it because she also posed nude for that interview, under the conditions that the photos were not to be photoshoped. You can read the interview and see some of the photos here.
During the interview, she brought a point that I've been pondering over the last two years. She said to DeMarchelier:
You know what? I think she is right. I see too many people focusing on the technically perfect photo in the most perfect light... but forget to see the person in front of them.
Chimping is the act of taking a look at your camera screen after taking a picture. It is useful when you adjust your settings at the beginning of the shoot. It becomes a hindrance after that. I saw so many bad habits over the last 10 years. I'm guilty of some of them too, but I have been working to get away from that. Here are some examples I saw and heard over the years:
- Photographer takes a picture, look at it and say something like: «no, it's not good» (or worse than that). Can you put yourself in the client's mind? He's probably wondering what he did wrong. Maybe the problem was with the camera settings. But how is he supposed to know when the photographer is looking at her camera instead of seeing his reaction?
- Photographer takes a picture, look at the screen and mumble to himself.
- Photographer takes some pictures, then spend 5 minutes looking at all the photos she took so far, while the client has clearly no idea what to do or say in the meantime.
- Photographer takes three pictures then show them to the client. He takes another 3 or 4 and stop to show them again. How can a person gets comfortable in front of the camera if you stop to show them your work every 3 or 4 photos?
I could continue like that all day, but you probably get the point. Chimping is now a crutch. Instead of taking 5 minutes at the beginning of a shoot to nail the exposure, photographers start shooting right away, and spend half their time looking at the damn screen. It is often worse with beginners who lack the self-confidence of a seasoned pro. They are so afraid to miss a shot that they look at the screen between every single shutter release.
It is interesting to know the opinion of someone who is usually in front of the camera instead of behind it. Many of my photographer friends hate to be in front of the camera. How can you know how your client feels if you are never on the other side of the camera? I'm getting side tracked here. Oh! Look! Squirrel!
Once again, Miss Knightley is right. We are obsessed with the image instead of the moment. We are obsessed with technical perfection instead of the emotion. The minute you lower your eyes to look at the back of your camera, you take a chance at missing the perfect moment. You might miss a look, a tear, a crooked smile, a raised eyebrow...
What can you do about it?
- Know your trade! Learn the technical aspect of photography until it becomes a second nature. When you know it enough, you won't have to think about it so it won't get on the way.
- Slow down! You don't NEED to start shooting right away. Talk to the person in front of you. Try to know him or her better. Talk about everything, anything.
- Shoot less! You don't need to take 350 photos in the next hour. Look around you and talk to your model. Look for the moment, the emotion.
- Go shoot a roll of film! Seriously! Borrow your dad's old Nikon or your friend's Canon. Rent a camera if you don't find anything. Lucky you if you have a friend with an old Leica. Try this at least once in your lifetime. Go out one afternoon with a roll of film. You will have only 24 or 36 shots and no feedback from the camera. It is frightening but liberating at the same time.
- Hide the camera screen! Go on a shoot with friend or on a photo walk with black tape over your camera screen. Shoot all day with the tape on. No cheating! Check your photos only when you get home.
That is one thing I love about mirrorless cameras. Since you are using an EVF, you see what you get even before pressing the shutter. You know your exposure settings are right, so you don't have to fret over that and you can concentrate on the moment. You devote all your attention to the person instead of the camera.
Do you remember Robin Williams in the Dead Poets Society? Carpe Diem! I'm sure he was not talking about the light. How can you seize the moment if you are distracted by technical stuff? Stop focusing on the tiny screen and start caring about the human life that stands before you. Talk to the person instead of mumbling at your camera. Care for her, get to know her, be genuinely interested in what she says. That's how you will become a better photographer. That's how your photographs will stand out. That's how people will have a crooked smile or a small tear rolling down their cheek when looking at your pictures.