Don’t Always Trust Your Camera’s LCD Screen

The Art of Chimping

Quite often I hear photographers complain that after they take an image and review it on the Camera’s LCD screen it looks great, but when they get home and look at the image on the computer it looks a bit flat and unimpressive. This is predominatetly amongst photographers that are shooting in the RAW format. This is very common and quite easy to overcome and it all starts with a simple piece of advice – Never Trust the Chimp!


Never Trust the Chimp!

OK, so what does our photography have to do with our furry little primate friends? Chimping is photography slang to describe the act of checking every photo on the display as soon as you shoot it. So in other words, you cannot trust everything you see on your camera’s display.

There are a number of things going on with the display that you should consider in order to understand what is happening to your image on the display. Firstly, your LCD screen has a brightness adjustment that is usually set to automatic in order to assist you in seeing your image in a variety of lighting conditions. So whilst you might think you have the exposure set to the right level, you may in fact be under exposed but the brightness of the display is compensating.

One critical point most photographers are unaware of is that although you may be shooing your images in the RAW format, the image you are seeing in the display is actually a Jpeg image and the camera’s processor is making adjustments to the contrast, colour and sharpness and a number of other adjustments. In addition to converting it to a Jpeg image, your image is also being adjusted in line with the Picture Style that your camera is set to apply to Jpeg images. This means that if your Picture Style is set to Vivid Landscapes and you are taking portrait shots your problem in not having an accurate image to view can be compounded.

Understanding what is going on with the LCD screen and a few simple adjustments can lead to a more accurate display.


Getting a more accurate display from your chimping

The first step is getting a more accurate display on your Camera’s LCD when shooting in RAW, is to change the Picture Style setting in the camera. The Picture Style setting is used when shooting jpeg images and is set to match the type of images you are shooting, such as landscapes or portraits. By informing the camera of the type of images you are shooting it can apply different corrections such as saturation, contrast and sharpness to name a few. In order to get a more accurate display when shooting in RAW, review your camera manual and select a picture style that makes the fewest adjustments. In Canon cameras this would be either the Neutral or Faithful Picture Styles.


If you can’t trust the Camera’s screen – what’s it good for?

In order to better evaluate the quality of the images you review on the camera’s LCD, I would also suggest setting you camera up to display the histogram along with the image, if your camera has this feature. The histogram will give you a more accurate indication of the exposure and contrast of the image and is far more reliable than simply viewing the image on the screen.

The fact that the image on the LCD isn’t a true representation of the RAW image we just captured doesn’t mean there is little value in chimping. There is additional information that you can find quite valuable when reviewing your image:

  • You will be able to confirm you are happy with the overall composition of the image.
  • Evaluate the overall structure of your lighting, confirming you are happy with the highlights and shadows.
  • Ensure there are no obvious distractions in your images such as poles or wires sprouting from your subjects head.


Picture Style-1One last bit of info you might find useful.

Now, when you import your images into Lightroom to be edited, they should look much closer to the images you saw when chimping your display.

Before you begin editing your image, there is a lesser know editing adjustment you can make to your image in Lightroom to see how your camera would have adjusted the image with the various Picture Styles. This adjustment can be found in the Camera Calibration panel of the Lightroom Develop Module. By clicking on the Profile drop down box you will get a list of the Camera’s Picture Styles which you can apply to an image to see how the camera would have edited the image as a jpeg. This adjustment is only available if the image is a RAW format. We cover that in more detail in our ‘Solving Common Lightroom Image Quality Issues‘ Blog


Happy Chimping!



The Complete Pixel runs regular Lightroom and Mastering Your Camera Workshops to assist you in developing your photography & post processing skills. For more information and upcoming dates and locations view our Lightroom  or Mastering Your Camera Workshops pages.


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Brian Bird
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