Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sometimes, WHAT Matters

We have always been spammed with constant reminders on the importance of choosing the right gear and executing the appropriate techniques to obtain that perfect photograph. We are so focused on the technicalities of camera settings and which lens combination that would work best for a certain shooting situation. We have put too much emphasis on applying the best tips and tricks to achieve the biggest impact in photography, may it be professionally or just for a hobby, that many of us have lost sight of what truly matters sometimes. No, it is not about the best cameras and photography equipments, it is not so much about the techniques. It is all about “WHAT” we choose to photograph. Simply put, the photography subjects that we placed within the viewfinder of our camera, before we make that magical shutter click happen.

Being drawn into the photography crowd, like many others I have been obsessing on getting that next best lens, with the promise that my photographs will come out that much better. That is true, if you define and measure photography standards by the bokeh, sharpness, distortion, noise-free-ness and all those technical mumbo jumbo. You may achieve the most beautiful bokeh, the sharpest image with amazing amount of details captured, with zero distortion and noise present, but if your photography subject does not stand out, your photograph simply lacks appeal at the end of the day. If that happens, no matter how technically perfect you photograph was, being taken with the most expensive and best camera and lenses, with the correct camera settings, it cannot detract from the fact that there is not much value in that photograph, because the subject chosen in the first place was worthless.

Whether you own a twenty thousand dollars worth of gear setup or just a plain point and shoot compact camera, it is crucial to develop the sense of knowing, and seeing “what” to shoot. Your photograph may not be of stunning quality (probably poor colour, not so sharp, high ISO noise, etc etc) but if you have a compelling content that draws the attention of the viewer, I strongly believe that is one good photograph. No matter what photography genre we are looking at, may it be prestigious weddings, or a simple snapshot of a flower, choosing what to photograph is crucial to either make the shot, or break the shot. The difference between two photographers, one who actually knows what he photographs, and one who actually has no idea what to photograph, can be quite striking. Just take a walk along a simple street, and the earlier photographer can come home with tones of photographs, but the later would end up with none, because he could not see what was there to photograph.

So WHAT is there to photograph? This is entirely open to the photographers, there is no right and wrong to your own choice of matter and photography contents, but what really bakes the cake would be how your viewers think of your photograph in the end. I am sure the following list have been mentioned and written before elsewhere, but it is just a short list of what I have in mind in my recent shoots:

1) Something out of the usual

2) People and their actions

3) Facial expressions

4) Emotions, stories and tales

5) Something that caught my attention

6) Children and their innocent look

7) Uniqueness of Malaysian culture

8) Ideas, messages

9) Relationships between people and people, or people with his environment

10) Humor, something funny

That was just a quick list of the items that ran in my mind lately, and there are actually heaps more to be explored. Everyone sees things differently, and that is the beauty of photography. No two photographers can come home with the same image (unless either one intended to copy, or plagiarize). Everyone has their unique way of interpreting something, and they have their own views. The possibility of photography opportunities, anywhere it may be, can be quite endless.

Often, I get quite irritated when I hear people telling me they do not know what to photograph. If you really love photography, and you have a heart to shoot, you will find something to photograph. I also get complains of people not wanting to do the same thing, for example, walk down the same street or photograph a similar event (fashion show, dance, etc etc). I do get the idea that we do have to try out something new, and move on to something fresh, but if you can find that something new and fresh then by all means, go and explore. But you cannot tell me that walking down the same street, shooting the same events again wont be as exciting as the first time. That is just plain untrue, because I find going back there the second time to be even more exciting. It is all about what to photograph, and having familiarized myself the first time around, I am all ready to pounce on the photography opportunities the next coming session.

We do have to step back, slow down, and really open our eyes to what is around us, before clicking away to oblivion. Being alert, and knowing whats happening around you helps you identify what to photograph. Of course, you do not have to go all out and attack every single thing that moves, you have the freedom to stream down the subjects that appeal to you. If it caught your attention, it might as well stand out for the others too.

I wish the world would stop freaking out about what is the best camera and upgrading to which lens. I wish people would fuss less over the complicated advanced camera settings setup to achieve that sophisticated image effect (that requires a tripod, five flash units, five light stands, giant diffusers, a fat lady’s underwear and probably a gun to kill yourself if all the setup did not work). There are so many photography opportunities out there. Just grab that camera (any camera is a good camera), go out there, really, really open your eyes wide, see what is all around you, and start making great photography happen.

So, what have you photographed lately? Do share !!


  1. Ah, good, interesting, absorbing shots - I was just about to blog on a similar, related subject.

  2. Hey Ananda,
    Thanks !! Looking forward to that entry of yours.

  3. LOL, the hand inside the chicken through the back is so wrong. Haha.

  4. Hey Jason,
    Thanks to that hand we can have our chicken in peace aahahah

  5. This is the best entry I´ve seen so far from you, Robin!! Very expressive captures, great!

  6. SvenReinhold,
    You are being too kind !! Thanks. The photos were all taken at a wet market in Pudu, KL.

  7. Speaking of upgrading cameras and lenses.. I recently upgraded my IXY 25IS to a Canon H series.. The only problem is, the new camera sucks =(
    DSLR might be the next step..

  8. Cyril,
    it is time !!! Just know that if you need any advise I am here for you bro.

  9. Just went out for a photo walk with Hamidah (my wife), and Zuleikha (our daughter, 6) yesterday, and I restricted myself to use the kit zoom of my E-520 at a fixed setting of 24mm all day. The first three images were with a fixed and manual OM Zuiko 1.8 50mm from the afternoon and morning before that, but the rest was all at 24mm.

    No street shooting like you have it, because on a Sunday around here, there simply aren't many people on the streets, at least not in a quiet small town like ours. So I've tried to still keep my eyes open, and take what I see.

    The test is in German, but the photos have English titles:

    Thanks for viewing,
    and cheers,

  10. Hey Wolfgang Lonien,
    I have just gone to your site, and wow, those are really wonderful photographs !! That has proven two things: 1) Olympus cameras are capable, even the unpopular 14-42mm really shines in the right hands, such as yours. 2) The photographer's vision is more important when it comes to making good photography happen.

  11. Wow thanks Robin - that is too much of an honour :-)

  12. love ur street photography shots

  13. hey wolfgang lonien,
    You deserve it !!

    Hey Funkye,
    Thanks !!

  14. Robin,
    u make me dont wan 2 buy chicken fr market aledi lah after see tt hand at inside chicken fr de back.AMY LI

  15. Amy just go eat at kfc haha