A Day in Ulu Tamu

I have been rather occupied lately, with the wedding assignment spanning the course of more than two weekends consecutively, the first one in Bali, and subsequently at Kuala Lumpur, cutting me off my usual supply of shutter therapy for nearly three weeks. By now, you would know that a Robin without his usual dosage of shutter therapy is a grumpy and unhappy Robin. Therefore, after all the assignment was over, I promised myself a relaxing weekend to rejuvenate and recharge myself, which of course includes loads and loads and loads of shooting just for myself only. You have no idea how itchy my hands were!!

It was close to weekend that I was invited by a dear friend Gerald for a full day out shooting to Hulu Selangor area, to explore a Orang Asli (native aborigines) settlement at Ulu Tamu. Initially I declined the invitation because I wanted to spend time just by myself only. After giving it some thought, I changed my mind to join Gerald, Yeow and Mun Keat for this day trip out of Kuala Lumpur, mainly for the following reasons: 1) I really need to spend time with friends, especially those friends who have been there for me, and supporting me all these times, declining their offer would have been just plain selfish on my own part, and 2) A shooting session far, far, far away from the hectic and busy Kuala Lumpur sounds tempting. Hence, we made our way early morning to this Kampung (village) which is near Batang Kali district.

All images in this entry were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko Digital lenses: 11-22mm F2.8-3.5, 50mm F2 macro, 50-200mm F2.8-3.5

Mun Keat trying out the much-discussed 45mm F1.8 on his E-P1. Oh, you just got to love that skin on his E-P1 !!

A perfect breakfast to start the day. Mi Goreng and some weird tart with preserved york inside, which tasted good but costs RM6 each !! Shop was located near Batu Caves.

The curious Orang Asli kid that greeted us upon arrival at Ulu Tamu.

The children were mostly curious and would flock around us.

Village life means, living in a closely knitted community where everyone knows everyone.

Yes, I still do a lot of headhots.

I find spontaneous and unprepared poses worked best in this series. Natural is the key element.

If you aren't close enough, your picture is not good enough, right?

The children formed their own small clan.

Documenting the lives of Orang Asli was indeed an interesting experience. We roamed around the kampung area freely, the surrounding neighbourhood, as well as entering some of the houses. Most of the houses were built from timber, which was quite a contrast to modern style concrete houses which were commercially available everywhere else in this nation. The kampung was equipped with basic infrastructure and fascilities such as connecting roads to the other towns and highways, and having standard water supply. However, the lifestyle of the village people were stripped down to basics, with simplicity being the center of everything.

I seriously believe that local photographers in Malaysia should do their part to contribute in preserving the unique and colourful diverse cultures in this country. Photographers have the power to capture fragments and pieces of the cultures, which may then be collected and published into a plethora of platforms that may reach a wide audience to promote awareness of such beautiful identities of people residing in the country. If we do not do our part, the modernization will slowly but surely eat away chunk by chunk of what made our country so special in the first place. Sadly, most new-comers to photography here would prefer to travel to Europe to shoot that Eiffel Tower, or shoot some sexy under dressed bikini girls. It is saddening to see that they do not realize photography is so much more than that, and there is so much more they could do with their camera.

Scenes from around Ulu Tamu.

Growing up in a village.

Growing old in a village.

Living in a house built with walls full of holes.

Peeping through

Their eyes sparkle !!

Say hi to the aliens.

Stuck at the door.

Film cameras being used on the day. None of them were mine.

Hainanese Chicken Chop for Lunch, super delicious !!

The main challenge shooting this session was the unfamiliarity with the place and people. It was my first time visiting this Orang Asli tribe, and we did not exactly know what to expect, since information was not readily made available for our prior research. Not knowing the culture and background of the people made it rather difficult for us to navigate our ways around the people. We were mostly staying on the safe side, taking precautions not to annoy or insult the locals there. This was not in a public, street areas where I can shoot and attack my victims openly. A kampung is a collective residential area, meaning the whole land is a private land, and logically we have trespassed into a private property. Therefore, seeking permission to take any photographs was crucial, and this should not be ignored. Nonetheless, we were really fortunate because everyone seemed really happy and did not mind us walking around shooting anything we fancied. Perhaps, they are already used to photographers and tourists visiting them.

I brought the Olympus DSLR E-5, together with three lenses: 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 for all my wide angle coverage, the 50mm F2 macro for close up portraits and some macro shots when needed, and 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 for long zoom shots. The problem I had was mostly the limited dynamic range of the camera, which struggled to handle mid day direct sun, and lots of backlit situation was encountered.

After Ulu Tamu, we had a walk around Kuala Kubu Baru town area.

Mun Keat in action !!

Yeow, proud and happy of his new equipments, a National Geographic bag, and a ermm... dunno what canggih camera strap.

We found an Indian Temple. So we explore it.

Bells at the main entrance to the temple.

Hmm, not sure what this was, some Indian friends to shed some light?

A walk around town of Kuala Kubu Baru.

A great decoration.

Biker gang.

Shooting Kaki for the day !! Yeow, Robin (of course, I was the one holding the camera), Gerald and Mun Keat.

It was one really enjoyable trip, and the part that made the whole experience more meaningful was shooting together with a group of photography friends. We kept the shooting pace rather casual, with lots of time in between for us to sit down, have a sip of coffee (well, truthfully, more like tea and coke), and catch up with each other. Oh we had lots and lots of good food too throughout the journey, and being Malaysians, anything we do would not be complete without enough good food.

Thanks Gerald for organizing such a fun and memorable trip, and I am sure yeow and Mun Keat have enjoyed this trip as much as I did. I have come home with tonnes of photographs, and certainly, my excruciating cravings for shutter therapy has been eliminated, and I am a happy Robin once again.


  1. Great photos... 2 questions,

    1. Where did you friend get the leather skin for his E-P1 ? I badly am looking for one for my E-PM1.

    2. Was the film/analog Olympus there an OM2 or OM4-Ti ? Looks more like the latter. Those are the good ol days.

  2. Hey Calex,
    I shall ask that friend of mine to come answer your questions here.

  3. Hey Calex,
    My friend Mun Keat has replied:

    "1. Got my skin from this Japanese site: http://aki-asahi.com/store/

    2. That's an Olympus OM-1N"

    Hope that helps !!!

  4. Hi Robin,

    I'm curious about your kit, as I'm building up a Micro Four-Thirds system and I see that on this occasion you had a short zoom, long zoom and a prime.

    I have a 14-42 and 40-150 already. I'm thinking I need something short and a fast prime to finish things off.

    I'm trying to decide between the 12mm f2 or 9-18mm at the short end.

    I'm thinking the new Olympus 45mm f2 for a prime (although it doesn't have macro ability like your 50mm) or maybe the 20mm f1.7 (although slow focusing) or 25mm f1.4 (expensive!).

    Any thoughts as to whether I should go zoom or prime at the short end?

  5. Hello Newzild,
    For my micro 4/3, I only have the E-PL1 with kit lens 14-42mm.
    But I shoot primarily with my E-5, with 11-22mm, 50mm macro, 50-200mm f2.8-3.5, and the 8mm fisheye.

    It is very difficult to give recommendation on what lens for you, because it all comes down to your photography needs, what you shoot often, and your own shooting style and preferences.

    However, if budget is not an issue, I would suggest both 20mm F1.7 and 45mm f1.8. Both are very caoable lenses, giving fast aperture and good for low light shooting. They both can give you really good bokeh, which is desirable in most photography situations. Those two lenses are reasonably priced too.

  6. Hi Robin,

    Thanks for your quick reply.

    I'm keen on the 20mm, but apparently its focusing speed is relatively slow on the E-P3 (which I have), which negates one of the main strengths of the camera.

    By the way, I'm "Malaysian" too. Actually, I'm a New Zealander, living in Lumut.

    I enjoy reading your blog entries and find them quite inspiring - especially your PEN shoots at Jalan Petaling and the wet market.

  7. Hello again newzlid,
    Wow, you are in Lumut !! You must have been to Pangkor a lot then, great photography opportinities there. I would go there specifically for photography only one day.
    True, the 20mm is rather slow on the E-P3. For me (strictly speaking for myself only), I would prefer the 45mm f1.8, its the focal length I find comfortable using, providing longer reach so I can shoot from a comfortable distance away.

  8. Actually, I haven't taken the camera to Pangkor yet, but I must do it soon. Lots of hornbill birds out there, and I just bought the 40-150, which might just have enough reach as they aren't too scared of humans.

    Panasonic lenses are really pricy in Malaysia, but the Olympus 45mm is reasonably priced, so I might follow your suggestion and try the Oly for low light and bokeh.

  9. Hello again Newzild,
    Agreed, the 45mm is indeed a recommended lens, you wont regret having one.
    Hornbills !!! I have not captured a free and wild one yet. Do let me know when you captured one.

  10. Those are great pictures Robin. The portraits, the sparkling eyes, the baby "on springs" are especially awesome. Oh, and "Mun Keat in action" with the image reflected in his camera lens - clever.

  11. hello sam,
    thanks so much for the compliments!!! it has been a long while since I last shot just for myself and for the fun of it. it was a fun and fulfilling session. mun keat makes a very good portrait model!

  12. Hi Robin,

    My new 45mm f1.8 arrived today (I bought it partly based on your recommendation) and it has instantly become my favourite lens. I can't see myself using the 14-42 or 40-150 again for quite a while...

    It's very sharp across the frame and it is also capable of producing quite a lot of nice creamy bokeh, which is not usually a strong suit of M43.

    Like you, I wish it focused a little closer (it would be a good focal length for macro), but apart from that I'm lovin' it!