There Are No Shortcuts

It all began with blue skies. It was the blue Perth sky that drew my gaze so deep that it almost did not break for minutes long, as I lied down on the soft, white sand of Cottesloe beach, facing upwards to the blank, clear, open, cloudless, deep, impossibly blue endless sky. There was something about Australian blue skies that can change the way you think and feel. It was there and then that I decided to shoot more and more with my point and shoot camera, Kodak Easyshare, and the journey of my photography began.

Yes, I started shooting with a digital compact camera. Does it really matter that I did not shoot with film, or never started photography with film? I will never find out. Was my learning process somehow skewed or was there anything missing from my adventures in photography? The film purists would have a long list of argument to bring forth and defend the reign and supremacy of film photography. It did not bother me so much. Photography is photography, whichever medium you choose to shoot. As long as the shutter clicks, as long as you create an image, you have gone through the process of photography.

I did not jump straight into DSLR photography. It took me four long years of wandering in the desert, discovering myself, the passion for photography, the joy of capturing moments, and the experimentations on the technical handling of the digital compact cameras before I finally acquired my first DSLR. By the time I had my DSLR, I already knew what shutter speed, aperture and ISO settings do, and how to control them effectively to achieve my desired photographic outcome. The learning process continues, from basic photography techniques to more advanced controls and execution. There was a constant struggle of being technical and the exploration of art. I took my time to learn, step by step. I was a slow learner. It took me years and years to improve, learn and become who I am, and do what I can do today, all beginning from a single, puny, humble, 3MP no zoom, no macro mode, no AF, digital compact camera, Kodak CX7300.

I did not take any shortcuts.

All images were taken with Olympus PEN E-PL1 and M.Zuiko 14.42mm Mk1 lens.

I made mistakes. I allowed myself to make mistakes. I learned from my mistakes. I studied my photographs, and continuously questioned myself how I can do better the next time I go out to take pictures. I read materials online, tips and tricks on achieving specific desired photography effects.

I experimented and I practiced.

And practiced.

And practiced.

And practiced.

I kept on shooting. I have killed three compact cameras in the span four years (2004 to 2008). I never said "oh I got tired of shooting" or this photography is getting boring. I did not give up when people said my photographs sucked (yes, you do not know how it hurt when it happened). I did not give up when my friends looked down on me when I first picked up my entry level Olympus DSLR E-410. People laughed, because it was not Canon or Nikon. People laughed, because it does not look like a serious photography equipment. People laughed again when the ISO performance and dynamic range of Olympus cameras did not match the offerings from peer competition. I was bruised and battered along the way. Yet I continued shooting. The will to shoot, the passion to create more images, and the joy of pursuing that better photograph never stopped. I walked on, and on. Who cares if I was only using a single kit lens, with slow F3.5-5.6? My peer Olympus friends talked me down on my standard 14-42mm kit lens. One friend (not sure if he was a friend at all) gave a cruel remark, saying "I sold off my 14-42mm during my first week of encounter with the lens, it was a crappy lens, I can't do shit with that lens. So much distortion, not sharp at all, totally useless in low light condition". Yes, it still hurts when I looked back at those tragedies.

Did I give up on Olympus and jumped to "better" cameras? I asked myself, will I be a better photographer by getting better cameras? Obviously the answer for the two questions are the same: NO.

I did not take any shortcuts.

Sometimes it annoys the heck out of me when someone purchased a DSLR or advanced camera system and immediately expected professional like image quality. They thought their skills would jumped up 30082% by using the same equipments that their idol photographer (insert some infamous photographer's name here) is using. They thought by subscribing to advanced photography magazines, attending photography seminar and workshops conducted by professional photographers and shooting something imitating the previous results of their idol photographer can make them the next big thing in the photography world.

If only photography is that easy !!

All the photographers (who made it big) have the same message to me, and I gladly share it here: it takes a lot of time, hard work, consistency and practice to get in shape, and be a good photographer. Never skip practice. If you have more excuses not to shoot even if you have the spare time, do not expect to improve much further. If you find walking under the hot sun just to do a simple photowalk a bit too troublesome and tiring, then obviously your passion has been misplaced. You do not need to have a solid reason to pick up the camera. You have a camera, and you shoot because you want to shoot. You shoot because you enjoy shooting. You improve in photography step by step, every single shutter click you make, you go one step further, no matter how small the step is.

The journey is long, and the learning process is incremental, at very, very unnoticeable intervals. It is a long term goal. It is like working out, you do not expect to trim down to a six-pack abs from a 45 inch waist in just two weeks !! No matter how expensive your gym equipment is, no matter how many steroid pills and fat burners you swallow, it still takes a tremendous amount of effort, energy and time to burn the fat, tiny bit by tiny bit away. It is a long, frustrating and painful process, but the end-result is worth it.

No, there are no shortcuts.

Professional tennis players do not become instant international top players when they suddenly decided they wanted to be. They have trained, long and hard since young, tender age. Professional photographers do not become famous and internationally successful overnight. There are many failure stories, multiple painful experiences, many bad turns in life that finally led to where they are that we all so admire them to be.

My encouragement is simple, keep shooting. You cannot improve if you do not shoot. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Learn from your mistakes. Do more trial and errors. Open your mind. Take in ideas. Explore the world. Enjoy photography as a lifestyle. You do not need to purposefully motivate yourself to shoot, you should be motivated enough to shoot if you intend to improve.

And always remember, there are no shortcuts.


  1. shiok ah reading yr blog...very good...

  2. You've lead me to a right road buddy, I think I've walking on a shortcut by your sharing ><" & from now onward i should start to shoot JPEG & try to know about the exposure triangle, RAW just made me rely on machine & programs.. & I realize an outing just 2~5photos looks great is already enough.. & from that I can know more about the real meaning of Exposure Triangle ♥ I just take a shoot this noon with 20mm pancake at f3.5 & realize the sharpness is overkilled me.. I've been using the 20mm & forget about the amazing kit lens I've inside my pocket, the kit lens is definitely what we need to start from, & you're right.. know your equipment is far better to get a high-tech camera but you dont know how to fully utilize it <3

  3. Kenyri,
    Glad to hear that you are starting from basics. the kit lens is a good lens. Do shoot with it more often.

  4. Agreed! DSLR too advanced for me. Moved up from a point-and-shoot to an E-PL2 and starting to try out the PASM modes. Hopefully in the future I'll be pulling of shots like yours!

  5. well your photos are great now. i say "whatever" to the haters. i know people who have canon/nikon cameras and they MAY have a technically correct photo, maybe, but their images STINK. they suck donkey because besides the technical part of photography, they haven't learned the artistic part.

    the only reason i don't dump Olympus is because getting another system won't make me better. i may in the future get a canon for the higher mega pixel count and for NOTHING else. i want to be in galleries in the future and need the option of making larger prints. whatever i get, it will always be secondary to my beloved Olympus gear. the system suits me (minus the high prices).

  6. I used to use the highend canon dslr for weddings/nature. I sold everything after m4/3 came out and it helped me realised Olympus colours are wonderful and no need to PS anymore, just shoot jpeg. Altough I have move to x100 now, I still kept a value-added E-30 now.

  7. Hello Viv,
    Thanks for the compliments !!
    Just keep shooting and you wont go wrong. You will surely get better.

    hello V,
    Thanks so much for the support !! Indeed there are so many things about photography, and artistic part is important.
    I do agree that the higher MP is important. I have mentioned several times that 12MP may be just sufficient for now but definitely not tomorrow. Hope Olympus is listening.

  8. Hello James,
    Wow, from a Canon user who sold everything and moved to Micro 4/3, that is a rare find !
    The E-30 is indeed a wonder by itself. Seriously looking forward for its replacement model, hopefully Olympus will come up with something soon.

  9. I started with film photography. As a kid, I used film point and shoot cameras and then moved on to my father's old SLR. Did I learn a lot about photography? Maybe - struggling with a manual light meter, aperture and manual focus can certainly be fun. It was certainly better than the incredibly crappy first Olympus digicam I had!

    But looking back at a great trip I did with the SLR and a big box of slide film, I wish I would have had a good digital camera back then! Because for learning, there is no better tool than a digital camera (let's forget the dark digital PS ages). Why? Robin, you got it right: practice. Not thinking about film costs made that possible for me.

    I still wish I had all those pictures I could have made in the past. And I almost envy kids and adults starting photography today, because it's so much easier to do.

  10. hello christoph,
    thanks for resonating with my sentiments!! I have a lot of respect and admiration for those who started and had it the hard way. digital allows mistakes to cost almost nothing but also it creates reckless and less thoughtful photographers. nonetheless, whichever sides we look at, it all comes down to how the photographer handles his equipment and execute his vision. there are no shortcuts! practice is the key.

  11. I started with my mom's range finder Yashica MG1 with fixed 45mm f/2.8 non interchangeable lens back in 1977. An extremely basic film camera, which gave me many photos of my yester years, without which, there wouldnt be anything at all to capture those moments.
    Then my first SLR with Minolta 7000, and then Dynax 8000i. Those were the most memorable cameras i had, and the ones i shot my friend's convocation with some 18 years ago.
    My first digial camera, was in the early years of digital photography revolution. I was deciding between the Olympus Camedia C3040 (predessor of the legendary C8080) or Canon Powershot G1 (predessor to the G12 now). Both 3 megapixel ... i went for the C3040 because it has a f/1.4 lens. And boy was the camera and lens fantastic at that time. It was slow,.. very very slow, and laggy. Memory card included was 8MB. Yes you read correctly... 8MB not GB. But i took wonderful pictures then. The OOC jpeg then was already very very good.

    i wish i could take more picture then, and now. Somehow i envy the time and energy you have. These pictures of yours are fantastic.

  12. Hello Calex
    Wow, you have started since a long while back, and from film !! I have immense respect for those who discovered and grew in photography with film, you all learned things the hard way, and never took anything for granted.
    From your testimony, it seems like Olympus has been producing great SOOC JPEG images since their first generation digital camera, something admirable I must admit.

    There is nothing envious about me, really, I do not have that much time, and my shutter therapy sessions are usually very short. But I do discipline myself to go and shoot whenever I can.

  13. Yes. Film photography days were tough. You shoot transparency if you want good work of yours to stand out. Prints for negatives is always subjective to the labs you sent to. Depending on the chemicals they used that day. You can never guarantee how good your shot is unless you shoot transparency (slides). I don't don dark room myself. Cost was another factor as I can only afford so much film (or slides) a week or a month.
    Nowadays is different. You shoot first and think later. If you don't like the shot. You shoot again. And you edit using lightroom or photoshop.

    Neither C3040 nor G1 can be shot on raw. It's either jpeg or tiff. Those were the early days of digital photography. We have come a long way since then. With the wide DR of the modern digital cams nowadays. Someday flashgun will become obsolete.

    And your favorite art filter - pin hole .... Was once achievable on film. It's called vignetting :) and those were shots we used to frown upon. it is somehow an art form now.

  14. Calex,
    Wow that was plenty of work, and trouble too !! I believe it was all worth it, and the feel of presenting your photographs through slides was an entirely different experience.
    Pinhole, hah !! You noticed, and that must be a bad thing. I actually do not quite like the vignetting effect, just some habit which I started to pick up when I shoot with the PEN, not a good thing !!! Must remind myself not to overdo this. LOL.

  15. Hey Robin, Dont get me wrong. Your work is very very good. Nothing wrong using pinhole art filter to create vignetting effect to enhance your photo and present it the way you want to tell a story from a single shot. In photography, there is no right or wrong. :) Just like food. Some like it some dont.

  16. nice and inspiring article robin.

  17. Sage advice Robin, no doubt. I can concur with you here on all points. Only continuos shooting helps you to become a better photographer. Gear can help but its not even close to developing ones own vision. Thanks for sharing.

  18. I like taking photographs. When the picture comes to me. I don't take numerous pictures everyday just to get better. The situation and opportunity have to present themselves. For me, I take photographs when I choose to. Taking lots of photographs does not make one a better photographer. Opportunity, chance and inspiration. Sieze the moment; Carpe Diem! Live your life and capture it.

    Stay Hard friends!

  19. let me quote you back on your own words: Commenting anonymously is cowardly, and shows you have no balls.
    I agree with you. And you should know by now i know who you are.

    I hope you find peace in the pile of mess and ashes from the destrution you have created. I pray you see your own wrongdoings and have the courage to admit your own mistakes.

    You too, stay hard my friend. Oh wait, you said im no longer your friend.

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