Important Questions Photographers Should Ask Themselves

When it comes to improving photography skills, I find that a lot of newcomers are asking all the wrong questions. I understand that learning about your gear, how to fully master your cameras and lenses and get the best out of them is important, but photography is an art form and there are a lot of other important things to learn and consider, outside of just gear obsession. In this blog entry I want to discuss the more critical questions that you should be asking yourself, if you are a photographer and you want to take your game to the next level. 

I have also made a video on this topic, for those of you who prefer to listen to my voice while multitasking, doing other things at the same time. I am not here to judge, so I provide options. 

The most common question that I get is - what is your camera settings for this image? How did you manage to capture this photograph? More often than not, it was the how, the technique, that most people are interested in, especially beginners and newcomers. I understand that technicalities cannot be avoided, but allow me to steer you off to a more important question that can make all the difference - what are you shooting?

The subject content in your photograph is the most important consideration of your photography. You must know what you are shooting. Most people don't pay enough attention to this and just worry on getting the shot, without knowing what they are doing in the first place. Deciding what to include in your photograph is the most important thing to do, and you should do that first before deciding how to capture the image. The problem with not deciding your subject first - your images come out looking empty, with no focus, no emphasis on important subjects, just random sunset, another landscape shot of the buildings in the city, another normal scene on the streets, another portrait of a beautiful model, but nothing else significant. 

Decide on the story that you want to tell, do you have an idea that you want to express? Or is that feeling or emotion that you want to convey through your photographs? Photography is a powerful medium to tell stories and you can use that to your advantage, if you know what the story is that you want to tell first. If you are shooting portraits, what is it that you want to tell about the people in your photographs? If you are shooting a location landscape, what is special about this location that you want your viewers to see? The "what" is a very powerful question that you must not ignore, it will make all the difference!

I certainly hope it is not due to peer pressure. My friend has one, I want one too. It looks cool to own a DSLR or mirrorless camera, let me get one, just because I can afford it. Nothing wrong with that of course, but I hope if you are serious about photography, you will evolve beyond these initial reasons. 

The worst trap that I have seen a lot of photographers fall into, is the FOMO (fear of missing out). They see some YouTuber celebrity use a new camera and they must own that. Oh wow that is a new shiny looking drone, let's get one. The YouTuber shows some nice drone footage, and everyone wants to be able to fly a drone and get that eagle's eye footage. But why? Why do you want a drone? Just simply because you saw another photographer doing it and you want to do the same?  You got some nice aerial shots with that new expensive drone, and that's it? What are you doing with the drone after that? Are you going to tell people that the reason you are doing photography is because you got influenced by that celebrity YouTuber who has 1 million subscribers? You have got to be able to think a little bit further beyond that, figure out your own reasons for purchasing any gear. 

Everyone comes into photography from different background, and picks up the camera and shoots for different reasons. Your photography may not be the same with mine, and that is perfectly fine, but you need to know your "why". Understanding yourself is the key to improving your craft. If your purpose of buying the camera is to capture precious moments of your newborn baby growing up, then you should be focusing your learning or skills on family portraits, or capturing moments. You need to have a genuine reason to do your photography, then you have a genuine room to grow. 

Answering Missed Questions from Rob Trek's Live Stream!

Several days ago I went live on Rob Trek's channel as a guest, and what a fun session that was! We talked about why I don't use full frame, a bit of my past as an Olympus employee, a bit of what we want to see in the future of Olympus cameras, and of course a lot of photography talk as well revolving photography projects, curation and how to be a better photographer in general. Rob is such a sport to have me on board, so special thanks to Rob Trek! As most live session goes, we could not answer every single one of the questions asked, so I have looked back at the chat log, and here I shall reply the ones that we have missed out!

My response will be in bold RED

Olympus/JIP Update: Changes To Imaging Business in Malaysia

Olympus Malaysia has just made an announcement on their official pages on the changes that will happen to the imaging business in Malaysia. In case you have missed the announcement you can go to  their Facebook post here (click). Considering that I am based in Malaysia and I do have quite a huge number of Malaysian readers, I thought it would be great to go through these changes and discuss them here in this blog entry, just to keep everyone updated. I have also just had an online meeting with the Olympus team last evening, I have been prompted about these updates ahead of the announcement today, so I shall share what I do know the best I can. 

Here is the video version of this article, for those who prefer to watch a video format instead of reading:

The most important change to take note is, the Olympus Malaysia camera division will close down, and they have appointed an official distributor to carry on the imaging business. The sole distributor company is OMD World Imaging Sdn Bhd, which is fully owned by YL Camera. For those of you outside of Malaysia, YL Camera is one of the oldest, largest and most respected camera retailers in Malaysia. I have personally shopped there and purchased many items over the past few years from YL Camera. I cannot think of a better company to take over the Olympus brand in Malaysia, and I fully believe that they are capable of keeping the business running, and ensuring a smooth transition process. OMD World Imaging will full take over everything starting 1 December 2020, ahead of the timetable of Olympus being fully transferred to JIP. 

A few other important changes to take note for Olympus consumers here in Malaysia, the current official service center in Kelana Square is being shut down, and will be fully relocated to Sunway Velocity Mall. This new service center will commence operation on 1 December 2020. All the current repairs, servicing and any product issues will be taken care by the new service center in Sunway Velocity Mall, under OMD World Imaging. Full support and after sales services will still be provided, this is ensured during the transition process. 
New Service Centre Location:
V06-06-02 Signature 2, Lingkaran SV, Sunway Velocity, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan.
New Operating Hours:
Mondays - Fridays: 9:00am to 5:30pm
Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays: Closed

The Olympus brand is not going anywhere, the sales of cameras, lenses and accessories will continue in Malaysia. OMD World Imaging being the official distributor is responsible to bring in the Olympus products into Malaysia, and then distribute to all the local camera retailers all over the country. If you already have a favourite retailer, the camera shop that you purchase all your Olympus gear from, you can still continue to support that retailer. 

One more important note - all the social media platforms, website and online store will be discontinued. OMD World Imaging will start new Facebook Page, Instagram account as well as new sites. Do follow the new links, because the old sites and pages will no longer be updated from today onward. They may even be shut down in near future. 

I want to talk about the closure of Olympus Malaysia's camera division. This affects me more than I'd like to admit. I was employed officially by Olympus Malaysia from 2013 to 2017, I have worked more than 4 years in Olympus, serving as their Product Specialist. My tasks were to engage customers on the ground level, organizing consumer events, photography workshops, product launches, touch and try events, as well as doing product training for everyone (staff, consumers, photographers, dealers), to engage photographers, media and take care of anything Olympus product related. I did enjoy my time working for Olympus tremendously, I have met many wonderful people, both from internal colleagues to the industry partners and friends. I have also learned so much from my time there, and have grown to be who I am today, largely thanks to my time in Olympus. 

Many of you may not know this, but I was sent to Japan for product training on a yearly basis. I have learned the trade secrets, understand the how the cameras and lenses work, the design and thought process of the engineers in making OM-D and Zuiko products - essentially these enabled me to be able to share my tips and tricks on Olympus products here in this blog and my YouTube channel. My level of product knowledge was unfairly higher than most people because of this exclusive training that I had access to, and believe me, I know a lot more secrets that I cannot even share here. If only you knew half of the things I knew, you will have a different level of appreciation and admiration for the Olympus brand. One thing I can say - Olympus is second to none when it comes to lens making, know-how and expertise in optics design, and overall lens manufacturing technology. You may choose to disagree with me, because you have not seen what I have seen, but if you have, I am sure you will see Olympus very, very differently. 

Therefore, it greatly saddens me to find out that Olympus Malaysia will exit very soon, and I will miss the people that I have worked with closely, and all the fond memories that I have had. It is one thing to leave the company, since I do still have a great working relationship with Olympus Malaysia, considering the fact that I am now an Olympus Visionary, but everything is coming to an end. I guess the saying is right - all good things do come to an end eventually. 

Here are some images of my ex-colleagues, the team that I worked closely with in Olympus Malaysia

During the meeting with the Olympus team last evening, the question about the status of Olympus Visionary program for Malaysia did pop up. We did not get a definite answer, and it is not up to Olympus Malaysia to decide this anymore. Whether the contract for my Visionary status will be renewed or not depends on the new company, OMD World Imaging, as well as JIP after they have taken over. Contractually, I will still be an Olympus Visionary until the end of this year. At this point of time, I don't know if I will still be one in 2021. 

There are two possible outcomes - the first one being the more optimistic one, JIP/New company will renew my contract and want me to continue to work closely with the brand as an ambassador, and after reviewing the contract and everything is agreeable, yes, I will jump in and continue being an Olympus Visionary, no second thought! I have been an Olympus Visionary for 2 years, and I think everyone knows that I am sort of the unofficial Olympus ambassador for many years before that. You all know how much I love the brand, and how much I love talking about Olympus products. 

The other outcome, which is not that optimistic, is the decision not to renew the Visionary contract, and honestly, that is also perfectly fine with me. I know a lot of you are deeply concerned and I am very thankful to have an audience that genuinely care about me and my well-being. But hey, I cannot be an Olympus Visionary forever! Also, I am not going anywhere. Just because I stop becoming an Olympus Visionary that does not mean I will stop shooting, or making new content. I am a photographer, it is in my bones to continue shooting, creating new photographs and share them here! I will be here updating this blog and my YouTube with new content, that is not going to change, I will share as much as I can, about Olympus products, about photography, and whatever that I think will benefit you beautiful people!

Of course I will continue to use Olympus. Considering the seriously of Covid-19 pandemic which I don't foresee going away any time soon, the photography business has taken a huge hit. I will be honest - I have no more shoots for the rest of this year. I did manage to somehow secure quite a few jobs earlier when the lockdown was lifted in June, and business was slowly recovering, but now the government decided to do another round of partial lockdown, prohibiting all events and gatherings, I basically lost all remaining jobs of the year, they are all effectively cancelled. Knowing that I have zero income from my photography business, it would be stupid to invest in a new system! The sensible thing to do is to continue to use my current Olympus OM-D system, to minimize cost to the business. The Olympus OM-D is more than sufficient for my professional photography work (I can't speak for everyone), and definitely it will continue to be more than sufficient for a very long time. 

So, Visionary or no Visionary, Robin Wong is here to stay, I will shoot, shutter therapy goes on, and you won't see me go away just yet!

That's all the update I have to share about new changes to the Olympus business in Malaysia, and also how I felt about the closure of Olympus Malaysia. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask. I cannot promise to have all the answers though!

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A Quick Street Walk With Kamlan 50mm F1.1 II Before The Semi-Lockdown

As I have mentioned recently, some parts of Malaysia is under partial lockdown to combat the spread of Covid-19, Kuala Lumpur, where I am based is included. Technically the government did not forbid us to move about, and photography is not banned unlike the previous lockdown imposed from March to June earlier this year, where all movement or activities which were non-essential were completely disallowed. Nevertheless, it still feels uneasy going out, moving around if I do not have something specific or important to do, and doing street photography seems really selfish. Considering the frontliners are fighting their lives and knowing well, the government is this close at shutting down the country, with attempts of the current prime minister to declare state of emergency. Things are quite messy at the moment, so I thought it is best I avoid myself moving about too much. That means, no more shutter therapy for the time being. 

I did however have quite a few fruitful street shooting sessions just before the lockdown, and I managed to shoot with the Kamlan 50mm F1.1 Mark II lens which I thought was quite a fun lens to use. I'd probably not use this lens for anything serious, but for personal shoots, why not? A little manual focusing slows down the whole shooting process, and with the aid of focus peaking and magnified preview nailing sharp manual focus shots is not as difficult as most people would imagine. And I do like that the lens comes with so many issues and imperfections, which reminds me boldly that photography is not about perfection all the time, and I have to focus on the subject I am shooting, and the story I am telling. 

Here are the shots taken with Kamlan 50mm F1.1 Mark II on my own Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. 

Looking at the images I do miss street shooting, though this was only shot some time 3 weeks ago. As predicted, the original timeline of the semi-lockdown which was supposed to end on 27 October, got extended for another 2 weeks, and I won't be surprised if this keeps getting extended for the rest of the year, perhaps even stretching to next year. And if the new infections/cases keep rising, a full lockdown may be imposed again, and I dread just thinking about that. Locking down the country, restricting movement to control a disease is one thing, but the economic death that awaits down the road may not necessarily be a better alternative. Well, what do I know? I am just a photographer, and an ex-engineer. I don't decide the fate of the country, or how people live their lives. 

It is coming to one year since the first outbreak of Covid-19 late last year, and we are not even close at winning this fight. I am starting to wonder if we ever will. I am also starting to think about the future - will photography be still a viable profession for me to continue pursuing, if this pandemic is not going to end any time soon? It is end of October and I don't have any more shoots coming in for the rest of the year, and honestly I am not the only one facing this troubling "empty calendar". Many of my peers have shared similar woes. 

It was a dream come true, having made it as a professional photographer, with association with Olympus being their Visionary (ambassador), and I do acknowledge the successes that I have accomplished through my hard work, some luck, and I have many of you beautiful people to thank for over the years. I am truly grateful to be where I am today. If I were to rewind time, I would have done exactly the same all over again and would not change a thing. This experience has been incredible so far and I won't trade anything else in the world for it. 

However, realistically I am not the kind of person who crosses the bridge when I come to it - that bridge may not even be there, or may have collapsed. I need to start looking a little bit ahead down the road. So the big question is - can I survive being a photographer if the Covid-19 pandemic drags on for another year, or two?

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Xiaomi's Poco X3 NFC - A Photographer's Review

I bought myself a new smartphone - a budget USD200 Xiaomi's Poco X3 NFC. This midrange phone has some sweet specifications - 120Hz refresh rate 6.7 inch Full HD LCD display, beefy 5160mAh battery with fast charging, latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 732G processer, 6GB RAM and 64GB internal storage. The main reason I decided to take the plunge was the incredibly affordable pricing of just under USD200, I got mine during launch from online retailer store at Shopee for RM799, with free shipping. The camera specifications are nothing to scoff at either - the Poco X3 features the latest Sony's 64MP image sensor. Since I have been using this Poco X3 for about a month now, I thought why not do a review for it's camera performance?

For those who prefer to watch a review in video format than read lengthy blog articles, here is a YouTube video review I made for Poco X3's camera. 

Some important disclaimers first. This is not a sponsored article and I have no affiliation with Xiaomi or Poco. I bought the Poco X3 with my own money, and it is my own smartphone that I do use daily for more than a month now. I am only reviewing the camera's performance from a professional photographer's point of view, and I will not be discussing other aspects of the smartphone. I am not a videographer and I believe other YouTubers or reviewers are more qualified to speak about the video performance. I will also not be testing the selfie camera because I believe we don't need the selfie camera and we can do without it in any smartphones. Stop making them already!

I have been shooting with the Poco X3 whenever I can, and I did bring it out for several shutter therapy sessions before the second partial lockdown happened in Malaysia (thankfully). I have tested the Poco X3's camera in several shooting scenarios - city landscape, close up food lifestyle shots, street shooting as well as night city scape. All the images shown in this blog entry were straight out of the Poco X3 with minor cropping and contrast tweak only. 

Poco X3 claimed to have a quad camera setup at the rear of the smartphone. I disagree. To me there are only two usable cameras at the back of the phone. The quad camera setup refers to: 1) Main 64MP camera 2) Ultra Wide camera 3) 2MP Macro camera and 4) Depth sensor. I just don't see how a 2MP macro camera is any useful in 2020, and we practically can't shoot with the depth sensor any way, it is ridiculously laughable how the marketing gimmick used by Poco/Xiaomi included these two as part of the camera setup. That left us with only two, truly usable cameras - the main camera and ultra wide camera. 

One of the key features of Poco X3 is the large 6.7 inch Full HD LCD with high refresh rate of 120Hz.