Saturday, August 14, 2010

What You Shoot is What You Are

Have you ever wondered, why two photographers at the same place, using the very similar set of equipments, shooting the very same subjects, but in the end produced very apparent different images? One was possibly less outstanding and appealing than the other. Yes, many factors may contribute to such a variation of photography output, which is pointless to jump into an open debate, but let me direct your attention to a more personal level: the photographer himself. Yes, the photographer is the main dictator of what his photography outcome should be, hence he is the reason why his photographs come out the way they do.

I have come to a realization that who we are is strongly reflected in our photography works.

This should not be mistaken as a tool to read the photographer’s minds by studying and analyzing his works, but one can evidently observe and pick up traces of a photographer’s individuality, and pieces of his life which may be purposefully, or unintentionally represented in his works. A photograph is after all, a powerful communication tool. It expresses what the photographer sees and feels, and it conveys messages and stories. Those stories may very well be what the photographer wants and chooses to tell. It is interesting to find out that the stories in the photographs usually reveal more than what the photographers may have intended.

Carrying garments.

Watering the Rambutans.

Push and Pull

1) Your photography works show your current state of mind

Your mood, your feelings and train of thoughts all work hand in hand in determining your performance in whatever things you do in life, with varying degree of effect from person to person, and at different circumstances. However, very strong emotions, such as depression, sadness, anger, joy or even happiness can be powerful influence over the end product of our photography works. Photography is an emotional expression, to a certain extent. Our mind’s eye is automatically synchronized and instantaneously opened to visions of photography subjects reflecting our current state of mind. When our mood shines brightly, we tend to find photographs that resonate with laughter and smiles. When we are burdened and stressed, we sub-consciously seek photographs of heaven-laden labors. Our mood is evidently captured, and displayed throughout the series of photographs in that particular session.

Some people are able to hide their feelings and emotions better than others, but suppressing and compressing those emotions will also result in a very different output: a photograph which is void of feelings. Viewing a photograph with no emotion is like watching a love story with no chemistry.

Eating up public space.

Morning nap.

Morning paper.

2) Your individual traits are also your photography traits

Are you a lazy person? Do you think too much before making a decision? Do you lose sleep if people think negatively of you? All those traits, common imperfections or characteristics define humanity. Photography is human. Our imperfections and characteristic also define our photography works.

There are a certain group of people who expect to get maximum result at minimal effort, and taking all the shortcuts they can get. Hence, they buy the most expensive equipment, hoping that their expensive equipments can compensate their non-existent photography skills and still be able to elevate their status to match their peers. Their insecurity is clearly shown in how they approach photography, and how they present their works.

There is another group of people who believe in being lucky, and just do as many trials and errors in life in hope that out of many trials, something good might happen. It does not matter how many reckless mistakes or destructive consequences they have to overcome, because they believe in chance. This belongs to the group of photographers who do not think before they click the shutter button. They leave their photography output to chance. So why take so much control? Randomness can yield very unexpected results, and they just simply shoot their cameras on every single thing, even a pile of rubbish, which they think there could be a slight chance to come out artistic. They don’t care if their 1000 shots only streamed down to 10 usable shots. Yes, their random and unpredictable nature is detectable through their way of aimlessly and carelessly handling of the camera.

Cutting hard.

A police traffic officer.

A failed panning shot. I shall find more interesting subject to pan next time.

3) Photography is a measure of human ego.

Yes, I confess photography is a hobby that can store up a massive amount of ego in a person.

Don’t agree with me? Go and tell a photography friend that his photographs are awesome, that you love the colors of his shots, how sharp his images are, how you love the way he composed his photographs, I tell you, his ego will be inflated into something so humungous that even whales and elephants will be scared to death at the sight of that gigantic ego. In stark contrast to that, you try to highlight to your same photography friend that, hey, that photo is slightly out of focus, maybe a little bit on the overexposed side, looking dull and uninteresting, and you do not find anything nice to comment about, or just that his photography style does not seem to appeal to you.

I think you might just have found the quickest way to lose a friend.
Yes, it is either you stroke their ego, or you break them. Be very, very careful when you comment on those “sensitive new age photographers” (I call them “snap”pers).


Coffee-Shop on the five-foot-way

Morning market.

On another similar note, a photographer’s equipments may also symbolize his ego. As if to make up for the lack of something in his life, he has to patch things up with massively expensive gears. Lenses after lenses, camera bodies after camera bodies, the buying never ends. The larger, heavier and longer their… err… I mean.. lenses are, the more confident and secure they feel when they go out shooting with friends. Seriously, it does not matter if you have the largest and longest penis in the world, but if you suck in bed, your sex-life will be pathetic, no matter what. Alright I am digressing here, but what is with the obsession of everything big and heavy? My goodness, photography is NOT SEX !! Stop comparing each others’ tools and how it makes you happier to have a better camera than your friend.

Be happy with what you have, accept you for who you are, brush that ego of yours aside, and at least go out and make some good images for goodness sake.

In case you have not noticed, this is not exactly a “gear-head or equipment worshipping” friendly blog. If for some unfortunate reason you fall into that category of photographers, feel free to find other blogs and websites proclaiming the ideology of gear-whoring and brand worshipping to indulge in. They are everywhere, but here.

Early intimate conversation.

Watch that hand, old man !!

Oh my, that is a lot of SUGAR !!

4) Photography Vs Honesty

How honest a person is can also be seen through his photography works. Plagiarism is a very popular trait amongst photographers, especially newcomers. Probably this could be largely attributed to “hey I want to be able to do what that photographer can do too”. Ideas are easily duplicated, and with the advanced photography technology these days, combined with post-processing power, nothing is impossible to be manufactured again, and again. Originality is as good as dead. Photography has been reduced to a factory-line production.

I am not 100% original. In fact, I do admit, I look up to some good photographers out there, and try to copy, or do better than them in order to make myself happy. Sounds sadistic, right? Nonetheless, lately I have been firmly reminded by good photography friends, to find my path, to stand on my ground and more importantly to be able to produce works that I can proudly claim as my own. It is so much easier to take the shortcut, and do what so many others have done before, and yet loudly proclaim that I am the one who did those shots and at the end of the day, garner all the credits for myself. This is the question of honesty I was talking about. How much less of a human will I be? What kind of photographer will I be?

That is also why I do not quite get the whole ruckus going on out there, oh I admire that professional photographer and oh I want to be able to shoot like this expert photographer. Admiring and awing at a photographer’s work is one thing, but wanting to “shoot like” that photographer only proves another thing: you lack direction and ambition. Even if you truly asked the “so called master photographers” who “give lessons” and “tell you how to become professionals”, do you seriously think they would share their deadliest tips and tricks with you? Nevertheless, when you have achieved what you wanted one day, you are nothing better than a photocopy machine.

Are you being honest to yourself about your own photography work, or do what most Malaysians do best: plagiarize?

Iron that jeans.

Small and red.

Bare Skeletons.

5) Your photograph is how you see the world around you.

Everyone sees things differently. What you see, is what you capture in a photograph. Your camera and lens are just tools to help you capture your vision, but your eye has to guide the tools and compose your image. It is important to have a very positive outlook in life, and be able to see the beauty and appreciate the world around us. Photography is an expressive tool after all, and it expresses what we feel and think about the world around us. If you believe that an apple is ordinary and plain, your photograph of that apple would turn out ordinary and plain. However, if you think there is more to it to the apple, and you managed to see the extra details, you will be able to bring those extra details out and create a more dramatic photograph. I am still in a process to learn to see things differently, and not just pass everything by as ordinary and plain items. Simple things can turn out to be the most interesting photography subjects, if we can open our eyes and hearts to the beauty of those subjects.

Dinner, still alive.

What you shoot is indeed what you are. Traces of your intentions, your individual traits and your perception towards life as a whole are reflected in your photography works, and can be evidently seen by your viewers. Now the big question would be, how do you perceive my photography work? Do you get more positive vibes? How have they affected your feelings? I openly admit that I am still very new to photography, and my current works are full of flaws. There is a huge room for improvement, and it is a difficult struggle to tune down the volume of my ego, and humbly accept painful comments. Nonetheless, this is necessary for growth, and I want to grow.

Young, and younger.

If you can see what I see from my photographs, I think I must have done something right.


  1. Very sad to know but yet so true

  2. hey Rustie,
    The entry is more like a reminder to myself, not to fall into the "not-so-nice" paths of photography trends ahaha...

  3. nicely said :-)

    regrdng the 'seeing the world around you'.. i wish my eyes were a DSLR. could snap a nice moment in an instant.

  4. hey cyril,
    I believe this is the part where I go "OMG go get one !!!"
    ahahaha... but then, you have to believe me, as a compact camera user for over 4 years before using a DSLR, do not underestimate what it can do. All you have to do is grab that camera out and make that shot happen. No excuses !!

  5. Me wonders... If I keep taking food photography, does it mean my mind is clouded by food only?

    Oh shi-.....

  6. hey chong,
    nah, the choice of photography genre is entirely open. But your photo traits clearly demonstrates who you are: A food lover !!!
    Me food lover too !!! *raises hand.

  7. what about the kind of photos a non-photographer likes to look at? so if i like to see photos of u shooting babes does that mean...


  8. hey marcus,
    LOL !! It does not apply to viewers, only valid for photographers, who create images. ahahah

  9. Bartosz Dawidowski8/17/2010 10:18:00 AM

    Great photos Robin. Great read. I think that in some of these pictures a tad more warmth would be good. I mean warmer white balance. :) What do you think?

  10. Batosz Dawidowski8/17/2010 10:20:00 AM

    Oh, and have you read books by spanish phillospher Ortega y Gasset? He said that you are what you notice. "Tell me what captures your attention, and I'll tell you who you are". I love his books.

  11. hey batosz,
    Thanks man !! Yeah, I used to go slightly warmer WB, and I really love the golden glow of skin. Nonetheless, this time I just want something more "neutral" looking. Just a thing for the moment ahaha.
    I have not come across that book yet. Thanks for the recommendation, I will search for a copy. I am sure it is a great read.