Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Month of January

I know it is too soon to do any sort of reflection, but I do think my month of January has been rather unusual in my photography adventures. For 2013, I told myself to be more open minded and explore photography opportunities outside my own comfort zone. I dared myself to take up new challenges, and try new things. 

Me speaking at a Sony User Gathering, sharing on Street Photography. 
Photo credits: Hadi Nik, Kevin Ng and John Shum

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Alpha Studio Experience

In my not so many years of dabbling with photography as a hobby, I have never had a chance to shoot in a studio setup before. It was therefore not a surprise when one of the recent Sony workshops on Studio Shooting was announced I immediately signed up for a spot. It was held at Pudu Plaza this afternoon, and conducted by the famous Kevin Ng, a passionate Sony photographer. 

I have mentioned a few times I am not exactly a good portrait shooter, but since the beginning of 2013 I have told myself to be more open minded and dared myself to explore new territories. That also means, I should not say no when I have the opportunity to do something which I rarely or never did. Studio portrait shooting may be one of the most common and popular kind of photography, and there is much I can learn and pick up from this workshop. 

All images were taken with Sony Alpha A350 and DT 50mm F1.8 lens

Part 1: Glamor Cover Girl Style 
Low Key 


Monday, January 28, 2013

Thaipusam Shooting Spree

About two years ago, I joined a few crazy friends to shoot the Thaipusam celebration of Hindu Indians in Malaysia at Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur. The odd thing that happened was the choice of shooting right in the middle of the ungodly early morning hours, and we left before sunrise. You get the idea... caves, before sunrise... very, very dim, poor, lousy available light, and I got away with mediocre (I would like to think they were mediocre, but now looking back those shots were nowhere near decent) shots. I vowed to myself to return one day to shoot Thaipusam again, but in the glory of warm, golden morning light glow, where available light quality just could not be any better than this !

I was asked by Luke Chua to join him to shoot in the morning of today's Thaipusam celebration. I met up with Ronnie, Peck Yah and Lonny at ungodly 4.30am in the morning and Ronnie drove us all the way to Batu Caves, parked at quite a distance away from the epicentre of the celebration activities and we walked about 2km to our destination. Along the way we were joined by Marcus, and subsequently I met up with Luke Chua outside of Batu Caves, just next to the river. Out of nowhere, Tennyson Lee decided to show up !! And he has got an interesting new toy, I was so jealous. I also bumped into the Sony gang, Meng Keat and Joseph, both happily shooting Thaipusam away with their amazing Sony Alpha A99 full frame cameras. Unexpectedly, I also bumped into Amir Ridhwan, whom I have not seen in a long time !! Spotted Amir was with an OM-D mounted with the OM 90mm lens. What a combination !

All images were taken with OIympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko Digital 50-200mm F2.8-3.5


Friday, January 25, 2013

Coconut Smashing

It was one uneventful public holiday in Malaysia which I stumbled upon an Indian ritual of coconut smashing which I have never heard of before. Growing up in Kuching, East Malaysia (Borneo) where Indians are the minority there, I was not very well versed or exposed to their culture and tradition. Hence it was quite an interesting sight for me, for the first time, witnessing an interesting ritual of coconuts being smashed just outside a Hindu temple at Petaling Street. Joining me this session was Kenyrl Loke. 

I did some digging, and this was no doubt a practice done in conjunction with the coming Thaipusam (Sunday 27h January 2013). This is the beauty of living in Malaysia, we have multi-cultural background, hence photography opportunities never run scarce. 

All images were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko Digital 50mm F2 macro lens. 


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Slow Down Your Shutter Speed

Often modern day photographers obsess over fast aperture lenses, going for crazy F1.4, F1.2, or even the F0.95 lenses, for the sake of accomplishing as shallow depth of field as possible, or in the aid of shooting with available light only. I too, admit to the allure of having bright lenses, and have been crazy about the Sony prime lenses that I have, the 35mm F1.8 and 50mm F1.8. However, using the widest aperture is not the solution to all photography problems. I have always preferred to shoot almost wide open for every shot, for simplicity sake, but there are exceptions where aperture is not the main priority in bringing out the best in an image. 

All images were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko Digital 50mm F2 macro lens.

ISO100, F/4, 1/5sec

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Persistence

I often get the question on why I keep doing the same thing over, and over again. It started when I was shooting macro, I would shoot the same insects again and again, week after week, of course with different techniques and approaches. Same thing happened when I picked up street photography, I must have walked the same streets a hundred times now. I was persistent, and I would not stop until I get the results I sought out in the first place. Sometimes I think I will never accomplish the goals but each time I try, each time I shoot out there, I get better, though not noticeable, but it is evident. Only through perseverance, much practice  and tonnes of patience, I started to improve my artistic sense and knowing what works. 

The honest truth is, there is no shortcut. You cannot bypass the steps of going through all the failures, or shooting all the ordinary photographs, until you finally be able to achieve something beyond the normal photographs. I still find most of my photographs looking rather similar to what anyone else can find on the web when you just google street photography. I think it is the ultimate desire for any photographer to be known for his distinctive style in whatever he shoots, and it surely takes a lot of time for that to develop. No matter how many workshops you attend, no matter how much books you have read, you will not go much further, unless you put in more time shooting and actually making photographs happen. I know, because I have shot so much crap, and you can still find my digital junk photos all published here (proudly) over the course of many years in my archives. Some photographers would cringe when they think of their earlier work, but I do not care. I admitted I was not that great as a photographer, there still is a lot to learn and explore, and my progress throughout the years was well documented. Only through all those crap shots, failures after failures I began to evolve and grow. Into what? Well I am not too sure myself, lets hope we all have the chance to find out. 

All images were taken with Sony A350 and DT Lenses 50mm F1.8 and 35mm F1.8

Across the river

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Maybank Malaysia Open 2013: Datuk Lee Chong Wei in Action

A dear friend Aizuddin Danian provided me with Premier Season passes to the Maybank Malaysia Open 2013, a prestigious Badminton tournament happening in Kuala Lumpur. The season pass allowed me entry from 18th to 20th January, from the day of Quarter-finals on Friday, Semi-finals on Saturday and today, the Finals. I was only available on Sunday, and joining me was Jason Lioh. 

And I brought along my Olympus gear !!! Finally the DSLR E-5 gets some workout. Surely, the one lens to be used for this sports event was the Zuiko Digital 50-200mm F2.8-3.5. 

The entry Pass

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ming Thein's Photography Exhibition at Leica Store, Malaysia

Just about a few days ago while I saw a fellow Malaysian photographer, Ming Thein posted on his blog about his photography work being exhibited in Leica Store Starhill Gallery, Malaysia, and there would be an opening reception earlier this evening. I thought to myself it was a great way to start the weekend, by immersing myself with some amazing photography work done by Ming Thein in prints, and mingling with some like-minded photographers here locally. Ronnie and his lovely wife, Carolyn joined me and attended the opening reception earlier this evening !


Friday, January 18, 2013

The Tower

HTC One V

It was during one of my macro shooting sessions recently, when I just walked out of the Butterfly Park and making my way to the Masjid Jamek LRT station, I encountered the view of KL Tower from afar. I only had my macro lens with my E-5 for the day, because my sole purpose was to shoot macro, and nothing else. I needed to move around as light as possible, hence I did not bother packing other lenses. Then I realized there is another camera with a wide angle lens that was with me all the time, on my mobile phone of course. 


Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Cold City

Olympus PEN E-PL5, 17mm F1.8, single RAW HDR processed image. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Nick Davis Live at the Bee, Publika

Side Note: This blog has just surpassed 4 Million page views !! Woo Hoooo !! I hit my first Million last year in January, which means, in the past year alone I received about 3 Million hits. Sometimes I do wonder where did all of you come from? 

It was a weekday evening, so what does an engineer cum out-of-place photographer wannabe do for entertainment? Find the coolest live music performance in town of course. I have stumbled upon Nick Davis when I was shooting a live performance for the Olympus XZ-2 review some time ago, and since then I have become addicted to his modern electronic infused with rock music. So I told myself if he was going to perform live in public, I must make it to show him my support. And so I did earlier this evening !!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Beautiful Visitors and Some Prints

Last Sunday I had the privilege to make two new friends, one blog reader from local Malaysia, and one visitor from the USA. Originally we were supposed to be shooting on the streets of Pudu that includes the large open air wet market where I have used for almost all my gear review purposes. Unfortunately, the sky rained like it never rained before for the whole morning, so we decided to just sit down and have some drinks instead. 

We also stopped by the camera store at Pudu Plaza, YL Camera and I chanced upon some sample shots taken with the latest Olympus cameras, PEN E-PL5 and Stylus XZ-2. Suddenly, I felt like the urge to explore those sample prints and as I flipped through the calendar styled flipcard, I found my own photographs, there in prints !! I remembered Olympus Malaysia did request a few photographs from my reviews to be used for advertising a while ago. It was such a pleasant surprise to see my own name under the photographs. I know this is not much, but simple things like this can make a very happy Robin, and I think the smile lasted on my face for the rest of the day. 



Sunday, January 13, 2013

112: The Rise of Malaysians

I was initially invited by Luke Chua to shoot alongside him on this interesting event, happening earlier today, the 112: Kebangkitan Rakyat. This was a rally for protest, mainly organized by opposition parties, in conjunction to the coming general election. Unlike the previous Bersih 3.0 which I have participated, I was not very keen on joining this rally. I have my own reasons which I shall not voice up too loud here as Malaysians do not exactly have freedom of speech, and if I was not careful enough this might just be the last blog entry you will hear from me and I will magically disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow. Therefore, I shall remain neutral on my thoughts, and just did my part as a photographer. 

Although I was not looking forward to this particular rally/protest, I did give it a strong consideration to attend as a photographer, not a supporter. When 911 happened, Steve McCurry did not just sit idly, instead he stormed right into the midst of the disaster and made his photography magic work. I knew this 112 event would be huge, could possibly be even bigger than the previous Bersih 3.0 rally. Things could get "interesting", and if there was a good photography opportunity, I would not want to miss it !! Hence, with the right intentions in mind I battled through the crowd of thousands and snap the photographs in this entry. I shall also describe the event as I experienced it, and some photography technicalities. 

All images were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko Digital lenses: 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 or 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 (non-SWD)

Holding on

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Phillip Mills: A Great Inspiration

It was about a year ago that I found out about Phillip Mills, an amazingly talented Piano player. I was searching for Jim Brickman's videos on Youtube, mainly his live performances recorded by any audience. I am a HUGE Jim Brickman fan, and I think his music was the closest thing to heaven that I have heard through my ears. I stumbled upon a video where Phillip Mills had an opportunity to play in one of Jim's concerts. There was a short interview introducing Phillip, and there and then I was awe-struck, because the interview, and what Phillip has accomplished did make me think and reflect on my own life and choices that I have made.

Here is the short interview, and then Phillip played "Timeless" from Jim Brickman's Escape album. It was one of my favourites, and Phillip played it so well, perhaps even better than Jim himself. Everytime I watched this video, I shed a few tears !!



Do take some time to check out Phillip Mill's music:

Not much later after that I discovered that Phillip and myself are born on the exact same day. We share the same birthday (26 December 1984). Another coincidence? Maybe, but it sure was interesting to find another person at your same age (more disturbingly on the exact same birthday) already accomplishing such great heights, and more importantly, doing something he loves doing, and being so passionate about.

We both started to discover Jim Brickman at about the same age, 17 years old. Philip heard his first Jim Brickman's music through Delilah Radio show, while I heard mine through the Catz FM in Sarawak, Malaysia. I remembered one of the radio DJ's had an interview with Jim through phone and not only I immediately fell in love with Jim's music, but also his personality and how he composed himself, answering the DJ's questions with so much warmth. Much like Philip did after he discovered Jim's amazing piano music, I too, started digging more and more about Jim. I remembered going to the CD store opposite the place I stayed without my parents' knowledge and used my lunch savings (in coins) to buy a Jim Brickman's album in cassette (I could not afford a CD). The album was Destiny. The cashier spent about 10 minutes counting all the coins I poured out onto the counter desk. My parents would kill me if they knew I spent my money so recklessly. But you know, it was Jim Brickman !!

After immersing myself in Jim Brickman's music, I told myself I must learn piano and play like Jim one day !! Being able to pour out so much emotion and feeling through music is surely a talent worth more than anything in the world, in my opinion. I envy those who are gifted in music, either vocally or being able to play musical instruments well. There was that spark in me, that wanting to learn and be able to play piano well. There was a time I wanted to be like Jim Brickman !! I was young of course, and everything seemed possible. 

Now, the difference between me and Phillip? He made the bold choice, he put in all his heart, all his mind and soul into piano, and in just seven years, he was already playing in Jim Brickman's concert. If you ask me, that is one dream come true !! That must have been one of the happiest and proudest moments for Phillip. 

I started to think, how and what I could have been, if I truly put everything into what I do. Surely great things will come, but persistence, perseverance and much hard work are needed, along with sacrifice and time. I did not make it in piano at all (perhaps it is not too late to start now?) but I did take an unexpected, and interesting twist in my life: getting involved in photography just four years ago. I am not exactly in a place where I can proudly say I have achieved my dreams and accomplished great heights, but I do feel like things are moving at the right pace, and the right direction. I have seen how determination and passion have brought Phillip that far. I only hope one day, the turn will come to me.

There are many people whom I want to meet in life, and Phillip Mills has just made it into my list. To Phillip, if you are reading this, thanks so much for your wonderful work, you have been an immensely great inspiration for me to be more passionate about what I am doing. I wish you all the best in whatever you do, and I sure hope to have the privilege and honor to photograph you one day !!

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Imperfections

It is only natural for any sane human photographer to yearn and lust for better gear, more capable and more "perfect" system in hope to take the photography into the next level. That better high ISO performance, faster and more accurate focusing and bigger megapixels. However, I have been reminded by a new friend I have met recently that the "grass is greener on the other side, only because it was fertilized with more bullshit". How true that statement is, and how applicable it is to myself and our general view on photography gear. Chasing perfection is not the solution.

Using the CCTV lens (C-Mount) 25mm F1.2 on my Olympus PEN E-PL1 was quite an interesting experience. The lens exhibits all kinds of technical flaws that all modern digital lenses tried very hard to eliminate. You get ugly barrel distortions, heavy chromatic abberations, soft corners, visible vignetting (more like corner chop-offs if you ask me, rather than light fall off) and very strong prone to flare and ghosting/haze. Worst of all, to use this lens, you need to painfully twist and turn the manual rings on the lens: the aperture ring, and the focusing ring, both together, to get the image right. Indeed, any modern lenses would have avoided such technical flaws, and have autofocus. In the CCTV's lens defense, it offers something rather interesting: the brightness of F1.2, rendering very interesting out of focus background (swirly effect) and at the same time, the center part of the frame, when focused accurately, can be very sharp. 

Why go through all the trouble? Well, photography is not about chasing perfection !! It is a lot more than that. There are many more elements that contribute in forming a good photograph. Not allowing myself to be burdened by the need to acquire technically perfect photographs all the time (which was the main goal in my insect macro shooting), I set aside my concentration to finding more interesting subject contents, and focus on the "photographer's vision". Surely there are many other things that contribute to better photographs, such as creative "artistic sense" and also composition. 

All images were taken with Olympus PEN E-PL1 and CCTV 25mm F1.2 lens

Fly

Monday, January 07, 2013

Birds of Different Feathers

This has been an Olympus only weekend, and it was indeed refreshing to re-acquaint myself with dear old trusty OIympus DSLR E-5. Together with friends Jason, Ronnie and Carol we attacked the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park. It has been a while since I last put the amazing Olympus Zuiko Digital 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 lens to good use, and this was the perfect opportunity to give it a thorough workout. The lens never failed to impress me, each and every time I used it. 

I also believe one important missing link in the already awesome micro 4/3 lens collection would be a fast/bright long zoom lens. Yes, we have that Panasonic 35-100mm F2.8 lens, but it is short of two important aspects: at 100mm, it was barely long enough for many meaningful telephoto photography, and from the samples and reviews I have seen at various sources online, I have reasons to believe the image quality (sharpness, etc) still cannot match what my old Zuiko Digital 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 lens can offer. I am not entirely sure what is delaying Olympus or Panasonic, surely having such a lens, sharp and bright, would make it the best selling lens of the year. Telephoto zoom lens will always, always be in high demand. 

Surely, one of the few reasons I do not upgrade to the OM-D would be the absence of such a lens, which I do need for my shooting needs. I believe the images in this entry would illustrate my point clearly. Nothing beats using a bright aperture long zoom lens to shoot birds !! 

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Macro and Photography Technicalities

I did mention I wanted to do some macro shooting this weekend, and so I did. I arrived at the Butterfly Park just as it was opened, and I was among st the first few customers to walk in the main entrance. I came here almost every single time I was testing a new camera or lens, mainly because macro shooting was one easy way to test just how much quality pixels can be captured. I believe most modern digital cameras produce sharp images, but are those images artificially sharpened, or able to re-present meaningful fine details? The answer can be easily answered with simple macro shooting tests. However this session was not intended to test any camera or lens, as I was working with my own gear, and all I wanted to do was just to have fun with some tiny creatures. 

All images were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5, Zuiko Digital 50mm F2 macro lens, and External Flash FL-50R. For my macro setup and wireless flash/bounce technique, please read my blog entry here (click). 


Friday, January 04, 2013

Something Macro This Way Comes

I have been itching for some macro shooting lately. Perhaps it was part of me that was yearning to use the Olympus gear after all my street shooting with Sony. I do not just dedicate myself to street photography alone. The reason I do so much street photography is because it is a lot easier, does not require too much effort, and I can do it anytime. However, photography is such a vast ocean, street photography is just an island somewhere out there. There is so much more to explore, and I shall be running toward something more familiar to myself since my early days of dabbling with photography: macro. 

Macro photography requires a lot more planning, stronger fundamental understanding and control of camera, efficient lighting control and a great deal of stamina. The satisfaction from a great macro shooting session is worth more than 10 ordinary street photography sessions combined. This is true, at least for myself. On the other hand, macro shooting is a heck lot more physically exhausting and time consuming. 

The following shots were taken about 2 years ago, during my review of the Olympus E-5. 
All images were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and ZD 50mm F2 macro lens. 

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Lets Start The New Year With Shutter Therapy

Happy New Year 2013 to you beautiful people !! I wish you all the best in everything to come for this year. 

So it was a public holiday in Malaysia (and also most parts of the world), and that means it was the perfect opportunity for my much needed shutter therapy session, since I was not having enough last weekend due to a wedding photo-assignment. I met up with Kelvin, Brandon and Choon Wee, and we all attacked Pudu this morning. I could not think of a better way to start 2013 than having a fruitful, enjoyable shooting session, as well as catching up with some friends over breakfast. 

All images were taken with Sony Alpha A350 and DT 50mm F1.8 lens

Beautiful eyes. 
When I saw this young man, I was compelled to shoot him. There was something about his face that called out to me. I think he has really attractive facial features.