Dear Benice,

I’ve recently moved to film after many years of shooting digital. Please, can you help me rid myself of my chimping habit?

Yours looking-to-you-instead-of-my-screen-for-help,

Nate Thwack
Poncho, California, United States of America



Dear Nate,

First off let me extend a warm hand and a heartfelt welcome to you on behalf of the film community. I won’t get into the grubby film versus digital argument here, but one thing’s for certain; shooting digital does seem to get people into the kind of bad habits that you need a Nun with a crowbar to beat you out of.

I’ve often thought that chimping is a lot like masturbating.

Many people seem to do it far more than you’d think they’d need to, and it’ll probably turn you blind but without it, people just can’t seem to relax. And anyway, as long as no-one sees you doing it too often, what’s the harm? I’ve been led to believe the word “Chimping” actually comes from the fact that male Chimpanzees are notorious for their need to constantly check to see if their little primate pecker is still where they left it, dangling safely. Knob-clutching was an early alternative name for the practice, but it never got a firm grip.

The reason for the compulsive winkle checking is the same as the one for looking at that little screen after every shot; it’s chronic insecurity, dear. Sure, your monkey nuts might have been there a minute ago, but what about now? And yes, your previous state-of-the-art-super-computer-powered-camera might have nailed the 3000 exposures you took this morning, but what if it’s ballsed up this single vital frame of a tree? And how could you live with yourself if you didn’t check?

Ironically, of all the times in the history of photography when you’d think you really wouldn’t have to check anything, surely it’s now. Super-accurate autofocus, metering and other fancy-jiggery-pokery means your camera is definitely smarter than you are; and the moment it can figure out how to steer the tripod all our days are numbered.

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Chimping on a modern camera is the kind of insulting behaviour that will probably kick-start the robot revolution. One day some torpid lump shooting a Canon 25Dx MkVII will glance down just once too often, and will be greeted by a message in big red letters saying simply “YOU REALLY THINK YOU KNOW BETTER THAN ME???”

Still, kicking any habit can be hard, even when the object of the compulsion is removed, leaving you to look like a proper divvy staring at the back of an analogue camera. There are however a couple of approaches for getting over it, depending on your desired outcome.

If you just want to break the habit of looking down forever, then you need to put something on the back of your camera where the screen would be if it were digital. Make sure you use something that will cause you anguish and distress whenever you look down at it. Jeremy Clarkson in a bikini maybe, or some rotten kid putting sticky chocolatey fingers all over some expensive Leica lenses. A close up of a cat’s arse, maybe? Whatever does the trick, really.

One drawback of this approach is that it might leave you unable to look down at your hands EVER, which for some people will make counting to 10 a real challenge. The other problem with this method is it leaves you to suffer through your insecurity in silence, wrestling with the uncertainty of whether you cocked it up or not until you finally get the film processed.

The solution is, as always, simple. Best of all, those poor dears still shooting digital can use it too, and it just might hold back the tide of the robot uprising. All you need to do is write something broadly encouraging on a piece of paper and stick it to the back of your camera. Then whenever you look down to see if you’ve got the shot, you’ll get rewarded with the message “Nailed it!” Or “Wow! Great Shot!” Or, “You really captured the sh*t out of that moment!” Or whatever it takes to nurse your fragile sense of self-worth through the day.

Will it make your pictures any better? Of course not, no more than chimping ever does. Either you caught the moment or you blew it, and by looking at the back of anything you’re missing even more of them. It will make you feel better though, and by the time you get to see the actual picture, you’ll have long since forgotten what you were trying to capture anyway.

Hey, you might even still have a residual warm glow from all the utterly artificial and meaningless positive reinforcement. It’s just like having instagram comments on the back of your camera.




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About the author

Avatar - Benice Shofil

Benice Shofil

It's Benice, not Bernice. Let's get that straight. I was born in was known as Czechoslovakia in June 1932. My parents were immigrants who named me after the area of Prague where they first met. I studied in both Prague and Leipzig, and spent 50 years working...

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