Sunday, July 08, 2012

Do Not Over-think. Be Yourself.

I think after all the gear review saga and previous consecutive weeks of me being drained by paid assignment  photography jobs, I finally have some time to breathe, and do what I want, shoot and shoot on the street for myself only. This weekend's shutter therapy session was a much anticipated one, and I was joined by a group of beautiful friends, Luke Ding, Scott Chung, Kenyrl Loke and Dan Loke. We attacked the streets of Chow Kit, KL, my favorite street hunting ground. Not surprising, I came home with tonnes of images that I really like. I have said it many times, and I will say it again, there is just something about Chow Kit and me, the place always provide me with very good photography subjects and opportunities. 

All images were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko Digital Lenses 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 and 50mm F2 macro

Drag



Loaded Bike

Market Buzz

Early Birds



Since I have been overly obsessed with the previous M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 lens during my review sessions, I decided to prioritize shooting with my lovely wide angle lens, the Zuiko 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 this time, even when I am attacking people on the street. Moving in close and capturing more of the environment surrounding the street subject can prove to work in an interesting manner to, if the subjects within the frame and its background are carefully composed. I am not going to argue which lens is better than which lens, especially when so many street photographers strongly suggested that wide angle lenses are well suited for street photography. Yes, I acknowledge the importance of shooting wide, but I strongly believe that shooting on the medium tele-photo range can give you some very interesting photography perspective, especially when you need some working space between yourself and your subject. Knowing how to blend your set of photographs together, having wide shots and tele-photo shots, both can go hand in hand, resulting in a much more dynamic presentation of your set of photographs. In case you have not known me, I prefer to view photographs in a set or series, rather than standalone image. 

I also think it is important not to over-analyze a situation, or over-think a photograph. Just make it happen. Click the shutter button, and get on with the next image. Having too many considerations while producing a photograph may not necessarily make the photograph better. Many times, simplicity works. That is what I like about shooting on the street, you get to control nothing of your photographs. You cannot control which direction the light comes from, or where to place your subject. The scene you are presented with, you have very limited flexibility to work with, and you have to act very quickly to capture the "moment". It is a combination of how good you are at finding good photography subjects, identifying potential opportunities from just random and ordinary images, yet at the same time you have got to work fast enough before that window of opportunity passes by. Hence, you do not have the luxury of time to think and think and think. You just have to shoot and shoot and shoot. How fast you react to the situation determines on how high your hit rate is. I find it best to set aside the worries of all the technicalities, and just concentrating on spotting the subject content (expression, story, idea, message, emotion) and work strongly on composition to bring out the best in the image. Everything else comes secondary.  Of course, when you intend to shoot on the street already you must be able to operate at least your camera basics efficiently. If you still wonder what metering mode to use or what ISO does to your shutter speed, I am afraid it is best not to wander along the streets aimlessly. 


Twin Towers

Taking the Shortcut

Recycle

Stop and Read

Cantilever Design

Bedroom

Bundling Fruits

Phone and News

Relax 

Pushing Hard


Where Noodles Comes from



If I were to stick to the rules set out by street photography critics, I think I might have given up on shooting the street already. I might be slammed for shooting portraits with eye contacts. Or worse, I am not working on a "project" or having something specific, or a theme to work with each time I am on the streets. The fact that I shoot at very random things is a painful mistake, there should be some sort of consistency or coherence in arrangement of photographs, especially on the street. Perhaps, what people see in my street photographs are nothing more than just portraits shot on the streets. Or worse, mere random snapshots that carry no weight or meaning in the world of street photography. As some photographers put it, "just photographs on the street, not street photography". 

First and foremost, I do not participate in such street photography group, hence I am not bounded by their rules and regulations. Second of all, I do not shoot those images to please any of those photo-critics, and I do not seek their approval. Thirdly, when I shoot, anything at all (not only street), I choose to shoot what I want to shoot, I choose to shoot it the way I want to, and I choose to be myself. The outcome of my photographs may not necessarily fit into the universal mold of what is right and wrong in terms of photography rules, but seriously, I never believed in being chained down by such rules which in reality only restricts freedom and true creativity. 

The bottom-line is, I am doing what I am doing, because I can, and I want to. 

So I have portraits of people smiling at me, because I love to see smiles in people. I want to capture that magical exchange of emotion: brief but straightforward show of friendliness, a true human emotion that is so simple but compelling. I shoot the street with a slightly longer than usual lens, because I respect the comfort zone of the people on the street, and I do not wish to intrude rudely into their personal space without proper consent. Yes, I interact with my subjects sometimes, because I believe in blending into the environment I shoot in, so that I become connected with my subjects and my subjects will show that connection in return in the images that I shoot. That human connection is what makes or breaks the street photograph. This is what I want in my photograph, regardless whether if it was accepted by the "professionals" or "rule-makes" or not, it does not matter to me. 

On the top of the world

Green

Low Cost

Natural Light

Life

Being Small

Breakfast Folks

Closed, but not deserted

Weighed down

Sky is not the limit


The main struggle I see in most new street photographers, is trying too hard to do something that they do not really want to do, or shoot something that they do not quite understand, just to fit into the rules set by the fore-runners in street photography. Remembers, rules are just rules, they can be bent, broken, and changed over time. Rules can make you a better photographer, and at the same time rules can also restrict you from further growth. It is not prudent to place too many "Dos and Don'ts" in your list of how to be a better street shooter. Lets not think too much. Just go out, open your eyes, and really see. Spend more effort in capturing what you like. Shoot what moves you. Pay more attention to what catches your attention. The best photograph that you will ever be able to accomplish is the kind of photograph that speaks volumes about you. No, I am not at that level yet, and I am slowly struggling to move toward that direction, step by step. 





38 comments:

  1. Nice, man. Can't wait to shoot with you next weekend.

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    1. Thanks Ananda !! Can't wait here too.

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  2. Very well written and shot. 8am was too early for me today, grrr. Hahah.

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    1. Thanks Aizuddin. No worries, that was too last minute also. Next time then.

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  3. A great photograph very rarely differentiates itself from a mediocre photograph, merely by its adherence to a cookie cutter template. Rather, these rules have been distilled from what people consider to be pleasing or captivating imagery. As such, they are little more than a common denominator. The uniqueness of a particular photograph, and often its greatest appeal, lies in the aspects that fall outside of this recipe and which cannot be transcribed into rules and guidelines. Once you manage to develop the elusive photographer's eye, and are able to inject that uniqueness into your work, you have transcended the need to stick to a predefined plan and greatness will ensue, regardless of whether or not the rules have been observed.

    Good article and wonderful photos Robin, as usual!

    Roy.

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    1. Hey Roy,
      Thanks so much for the very kind comments. Also for sharing your thoughts on the subject matter. Developing the "elusive" photographer's eye is the difficult part, there really is no guideline or rules to help us getting that. You were right, once the artistic vision is in place, everything else just seems to fall in place nicely.

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  4. Wanted to mention that your captions are a big part of the enjoyment of your photos, Robin. When you label the image you saw as you selected it out from the on-going flow of life on the streets, you teach a small lesson in universal humanity. Thanks again for the lovely photos.

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    1. Thanks for the kind comments Reverend. I never realized my captions played any part at all !! Sometimes (not all) what is written in the caption was actually what I already have in mind when I was shooting the photo.

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    2. I couldn't agree more. I have found myself lately trying to come up with one, two, or three word titles for the images I shoot. I think the title Robin provides gives us some insight as to what caught his eye when he took the photograph.

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  5. Nice work Robin - love the stop and read photo :-)

    Cheers
    Shaun

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    1. Thanks Shaun !! That is my favourite too ! Did you manage to venture into that part of Chow Kit during your photo-walk there?

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  6. Stunning images, always the first thing to do to begin the day anticipating new blog entry from you. You rock, Robin

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    1. Thanks Eric, just sharing some photos and thoughts !

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  7. Hello Robin,
    Thank you for sharing those meaning images and thoughts. I agreed with your thought with those rules and I was once shot only 8 images in 3 hours walk. Think too much and follow strictly to the book.
    Now I let the street tell it's own story and I open my eyes to captured that story.
    I did walk the street on Sunday from 9.00am to 12.00nooon covered Petaling Street and Jalan Masjid India after absent for 3 weeks which make me sick (headache and fever) for the past one week. It's my first Sunday walk as my wife is work on this particular Sunday.
    One thing I realize that when I walk the street and shoot, my headache flee...no wonder you called it a 'shutter therapy'. It's really a therapy. I would like to ask your permission to use this word 'shutter therapy' instead of my normal words 'Knowing the street session' in my blog.
    Thank you and may you have a great day.
    John Ari Ragai

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    1. Hey John,
      Thanks for the kind words, and yes "shutter therapy" is free to be used by anyone !! It is therapeutic to shoot on the streets, it helps to keep our perspective in check too. There are many truths in life being shown on the street, and that can refresh our thoughts and emotions too.

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  8. Best Quote Of The Day :
    rules are just rules, they can be bent, broken, and changed over time.

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  9. Hey Robin....great story telling...one day you will leave behind a great legacy...I would love for you to shar your techniques around the B&W processing...it is magic and adds to your story telling...Cheers Ilias

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    1. Thanks for the kind compliments llias !
      In fact I have already blogged about my black and white processing. Please go to the following link:
      http://robinwong.blogspot.com/2012/06/my-custom-black-and-white-processing.html

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  10. "If I were to stick to the rules set out by street photography critics, I think I might have given up on shooting the street already. I might be slammed for shooting portraits with eye contacts. Or worse, I am not working on a "project" or having something specific, or a theme to work with each time I am on the streets. The fact that I shoot at very random things is a painful mistake, there should be some sort of consistency or coherence in arrangement of photographs, especially on the street. Perhaps, what people see in my street photographs are nothing more than just portraits shot on the streets. Or worse, mere random snapshots that carry no weight or meaning in the world of street photography. As some photographers put it, "just photographs on the street, not street photography. (.....) .. The bottom-line is, I am doing what I am doing, because I can, and I want to. "


    Hey Robin, As someone who only discovered street photography recently, I can completely sympathize with this paragraph you've written. These same attitudes I've encountered have turned street photography into a chore for me. It's almost as if some people have forgotten that, for hobbyist photographers, photography is actually supposed to be fun. Of course, this is the part where some "critics" appear and say that one should learn to take criticism, and that "brutal honesty" is best. Unfortunately, some guys (not all) seem to misuse the phrase "honesty" as just an excuse to be unnecessarily rude and condescending. I apologise that my comment here is not about your photos, but I wanted to thank you for articulating your thoughts on this matter and I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way. Regards, Justin

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    1. Hello Justin,
      Glad to know that there are people who can relate to what I am going through !! Sometimes those critics are just being selfish and rude, they say whatever they want to say without considering that others may not necessarily have the same opinion or agree with their own preferences. Photography is very subjective.

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  11. Robin> "The best photograph that you will ever be able to accomplish is the kind of photograph that speaks volumes about you."

    How true. And lovely photos as always. It's your style, definitely, which is cool.

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    1. Thanks wjl !! But I think my photographs are a little all over the place and too random, not really having a "style" yet. But working toward that direction.

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  12. Now that was a great morning read. Recently introduced a friend to photography as I was impressed with some of her camera phone shots. By no means amI a pro but she had an interesting concept on what she saw. I gave her my old e450 with the kit showed her some basics and gave her the book How To Photograph Absolutely Everything. We recently celebrated the American holiday of Independence and attended a fireworks display. She became constraint saying things like I dont know what to shoot. Im sending her this link right now... Simply so she can understand the same joy she got from her camera phone can be replicated by simply enjoying and interpreting what you see.

    Myself? Dusting off the old Freeman Patterson collection. Your like the younger 3.0 version. Thanks for the inspiring article and the two wonderful shots, Bedroom and Life. Also previous advice about the 11-22mm (My favorite period) and the EP2 will be heeded one day but aside from a few focusing snafus I actually love the pair!

    Sorry for hijacking but you've pushed me to get up and go shoot!

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    1. Thanks Christopher for such kind words !! I am glad you are telling your friend to take it easy. and really just shoot what she likes, that is the fun way, and fun is very important. SO generous of you to lend her your E-450 too !

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  13. Robin, I really like your style of street photography. Wait... you said that you don't have a style... and that you don't follow the rules of *real* street photographers. So what? Who cares?

    You do have a style, and I like your street photography very much! You provide a window to a world that I am completely unfamiliar with - and I find it fascinating.

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    1. Hey Gregg,
      Thanks for agreeing that we do not need to follow rules. I believe rules are there for very good reasons, but when it becomes restrictive and takes away the fun, I think we have to reconsider.
      Thanks for the kind words on my photos, well, the reason I said I have no "style" is because the photos that I took look very random and quite messy, in a way. No worries, in time we will all learn and be better !!

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  14. Thanks for the wonderful pictures (as always) and the even better commentary (also as always).

    I still wander with a point and shoot grabbing things (not people) out of focus. But I love it. If I listened to people setting rules or trying to sell expensive equipment, I would never venture out the door. Thank you for the original burst of encouragement to get out the door.

    Your gift goes way behind photography.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words Cathy !
      Just go out and shoot !! All the photo opportunities are out there, we have to go to them, they wont come knocking on our doors.

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  15. Love the picture "Weighed Down." Timing is everything -- as soon as she looks away from that scale the visual tension would have been broken and the picture meaningless. Instead, this little girl looks like she's wrestling with the concept of gravity or the weight of the world.

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    1. Thanks PS, that was a lucky shot !! I saw it slightly differently, I saw the child weighing the mother down, as opposed to the weighing scale that has nothing on it.

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  16. Great blog! I think it is good advice to favor getting your personality into your images at the expense of predetermined rules...

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    1. Thanks Brad !! Just sharing some of the random thoughts that came out from my mind. Personality is important, it is not easy getting it into the photographs. Still learning and experimenting here.

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