Breaking the Stereotypes

It was nearing the weekends, that a group of my friends made street shooting photography plans, having a discussion on Facebook. I was inside the conversation. Initially I mentioned that I would not be joining the shooting session due to work obligations, and by now I think most of you who know me know that I work on Saturdays. However, today was a little different, since there was no critical works that require my presence at site, I excused myself from the site (officially I am not required to work on Saturdays by my office, I have to work only if there is activity on site). Therefore, without announcing to anyone, I just decided to pop out of nowhere to surprise the group of friends at their meetup point this morning. The look on their face was worth the trouble of getting up early !!!

I armed myself with the Olympus DSLR E-5 with two lenses: 50-200mm F2.8-3.5, mainly because I am still learning how to use this lens, and familiarizing myself with the handling and 8mm F3.5 Zuiko, a lens which I have been underutilized since the review works of the Olympus PEN E-P3. The fisheye provided me the wide coverage in case I wanted to shoot anything wide, while the telephoto zoom lens 50-200mm is the main lens I was shooting with at all times, attacking my subjects from a safe distance. I had no particular aims in my mind this particular session, I just wanted to blend into the group of friends who are also equally as crazy (if not crazier than me) in photography, and hunting on the streets. I wanted to enjoy myself walking the streets again, shooting whatever subjects that caught my attention.

All images were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 ED or 8mm F3.5 Fisheye

Morning warmth.

Every teardrop is a waterfall - Coldplay

Red on Green

Environmental warrior.

Malaysian Weather

Fruits vendor

Good Morning Kuala Lumpur
8mm Fisheye, distortion corrected in Olympus Viewer 2.

Me attacking a cat. I seldom see photos of myself in action. The output of the above frame is as shown in the following image below.
Photo courtesy of Blu-By-U.

OMG that thing goes "CLACK CLACK CLACK!!!!"
The surprise response of the cat as I released the shutter button. This image is an outcome from the previously shown image where I was in action.

We started off with breakfast at Yut Kee, an Old Hainanese Restaurant at Dang Wangi, and from there on we walked towards Kampung Baru, shooting the Malay Village which was smacked right in the middle of a developed Kuala Lumpur City Center, situated about less than a kilometer away from the Twin Towers. This was one street ground that I seldom cover because I prefer shooting here with a group of friends, mainly for safety reasons. It appears that the folks here were super friendly, and ever full of smiles, willing to be photographed. We encountered almost no rejection from the people here, and I must say this was the first time I got this many shots out of Kampung Baru shooting. Perhaps traveling in a group softens the atmosphere, and many smiling faces somehow opens up the connection better in certain unexplainable ways. After Kampung Baru, we walked to Chow Kit, my usual hunting ground before we wrapped the day up.

I know many would questioned me, why use a telephoto lens on the street? Many would say that it is inappropriate, and wide angle or standard primes would have done a better job instead. I can agree to that statement to a certain extent, but I must also argue that a telephoto lens does have its place. For instance, it is an excellent portrait lens, creating superb bokeh and compression effect to throw away unnecessary backgrounds. If you worry about feeling disconnected from the subjects, well, I managed to draw in their direct eye contact, and the connection comes straight from the way the people look at you through the photograph. Yes, tele lens is not for every single shooting conditions, and its applications are limited, but so what if I cannot shoot with it at all situations? I do not have to capture every single thing on the street that I come across, I only have to point my camera at the things I want to photograph. The long zoom provided me safe working distance, people are less threatened by a photographer shooting at them from a distance, than say, pointing a wide angle lens right in front of the face. Which one is more intimidating?

Portrait of a young Malaysian boy. Sorry, composition was a little off, emphasis on the bokeh instead of the subject. Ok ok, I will get over this and go back to normal I promise.

Such innocence.

Kentucky Fried Chicken

Gem seller.

A nyonya, simply means, a Chinese by roots, but live a lifestyle of local Malays, blending in their daily activities, and vending at Malay marketplace.

Kids helping out to wash daddy's motorbike.
Fisheye lens with distortion correction applied.

Another headshot. Man I am loving more and more headshots.

Gathering of the leaves.
Fisheye lens with distortion correction applied.

There are so many stereotypes being created by the forefathers of street photographers that dictates many rules, which many new photographers these days would seek out and follow to the letter blindly. For example, street photography should be black and white. I acknowledge the fact that black and white images are powerful, and impactful at the same time. They convey the message woven in the image more efficiently, especially when it comes to portraits and human facial expressions. However, I do not think black and white is relevant at ALL street photographs. There are certain circumstances when colour can be stronger, and would have done a better job in telling the stories. Some die hard shooters will say colour images are not street photography. I would care less. It does not really matter to me which medium you choose to present your photographs, if your images speak out to me, it is doing its job just fine. My life is full of colours, and I intend to show it that way.

I particularly get annoyed by some photographers who would quote and apply techniques or even emulate the shooting styles of the older generation famous (insert your photographer of choice) figures. It is not wrong studying their photographs, and try to instill inspirations and motivations gathered from viewing their photography work. However, they lived in a completely different era, with different world scenarios and well, everything was different !! They did what they thought was great back then, and their photographs stood the test of time. Are those techniques and styles still applicable in today's modern world? Of course, many of them are still relevant, but don't you think we should move on and create our own styles and techniques, based on our own time, place and world? I am seriously sick of hearing some Henri Cartier Bresson wannabes chanting some old famous sayings and keep comparing Bresson's works to today's photographers' works and say we have not progressed forward. Like I said, we lived in different times. For goodness sake, start opening our eyes to what is in front of us, and start capturing those beauty, instead of chasing images that are so elusive and far away, trying to replicate those would seriously blind you from all the available great photography opportunities. Just be yourself, and let your photography work show who you are, and your identity is your greatest weapon in your photography.

Me attacking the kids. The following image is the outcome of the above frames. Again, photo courtesy of Blu-By-U.

Happy three friends. Outcome of the attack as shown of me in action in previous image.

Some people just automatically smile for you. Smile is free and abundant in Malaysia.

Alvin, a very young photographer who started to pick up film photography recently, joined our photowalk spontaneously. Hope you had a great time dude !!

A portrait of Mun Keat, under golden morning light.

Gerald with his new OM 50mm F1.8 mounted on Olympus PEN E-P2

Yeow, trying to attack the cat with his E-P3 and a 12mm F2 lens. The cat looked at my 50-200mm instead. Heh !! Size matters bro !!

My style is still evolving, and I have not come to a stage where I can happily tell people I am happy with my photography work. I am not rushing. I am not pressuring myself or pushing myself too hard to be where I want to be ultimately. If I do so, the photography journey would have been torturous and less enjoyable. Photography should be fun, It should be my therapy. Therefore, I move on at my own pace, and always make sure I do not run before I can walk properly. It is crucial to allow myself space and time to grow, and improvement can only come through trials and errors.

Street photography is so fulfilling. Have you walked on the streets lately? Snap some photographs and share with everyone !!


  1. Robin's photography always amazes me. Really missed all the fun you guys had.

  2. Robin, why are you so absorbed about what other photographes think good street photography is? When you are defending color photography it seems like you are not sure about that sure about that choice. Please stop thinking about others preferences and shoot your style. Cheers :)

    BTW, I'm also a fan of colour street photography. Maybe 2% of my photos are converted to black & white.

  3. *When you are defending color photography it seems like you are not sure about that choice.

    - corrected that sentence :)

  4. Hello Simon,
    thanks. Do join us next time.

    Do try not to overanalyze things. I just merely share what was running through my mind. I was not "defending". I was just so sick of people stereotyping street photography as black and white. I LOVE black and white photography, do not get me wrong. I do think it is a powerful medium. But stereotyping street photography as black and white is not acceptable to me. That is my opinion. Hence I am free to share it.
    Nothing more, nothing less.

  5. Bartosz,
    As irrelevant as you may think it is, it is crucial to study and listen to others. We cannot just close ourselves from everyone else's opinion. Photography is communication, hence it is interaction with your audience. You have to listen to what others think too.
    Ultimately, the choice of style and preferences depends on each individual, but negating the needs to think about others, that is plain selfish, and photography is NOT supposed to be selfish.

  6. Dear Bartosz,
    No photographer is an island. What Robin said was correct. Not listening to other styles and preferences will only result in you living in your own little photography world that no one understands you.
    What Robin was defending was simply put: colour is necessary, and read his blog title "Breaking the Stereotype". Challenging the norm where black and white has been the stronghold of street photography for die hard fans, is what he was pointing out.
    I do not think he was insecure about his choice of colors. His Olympus colors has always been amazing (though occasionally a little too saturated for my taste, but still lovely nonetheless).
    Keep up the good work Robbin.


  7. Thanks Mark.
    Do not worry about Bartosz, I encourage free sharing of thoughts and opinion. Since we need to open ourselves up to opinions as you have just mentioned, I also must listen to his feedback. All is good.
    Thanks for the compliments. I love saturated colors !!!! So sue me. ahaha.