Those That Were Left Behind

I was once asked by a friend: "Robin, you shoot every single weekend. And in every session you shoot on the streets, you come home with, say, more than 50 photos, and perhaps, more than 100 photos, who knows? You only selected 20-30 photos the most for each entry. What happens to the rest of the photos?"

Yes, indeed what happened to the rest of the photos? Sometimes, when my fingers were terribly itchy, I could go trigger happy and come home with 200-300 photos easily. Nonetheless, many "professional advise" on the net would advice you to simply select your best of the best of the series, and do all you can as if it is the matter of life and death to hide all your flawed images. Good photographers only show good photographs, and know best how not to show their bad photographs. Is that not true? Some can go even more drastic that you only choose the cream of the crop and compile it into a small portfolio. 

For the sake of presentation, and for the sake of creating strong impression for your photography work, I agree, it is all about editing, picking the best and leaving the rest behind. I have been doing that too, no lies here. I believe every single photographer who are sane would do the same too, we all have that fragile ego to stroke, and be extra cautious not to let anything open for attack, and hoping that we get "good critics and comments". In the process of sifting through hundreds of images, some images that may have been just ok, have been shoved aside, only allowing the higher perceived standards pass the selection. The photos must have perfect technical execution, interesting composition, strong subject matter and compelling visual interest and story to tell. Anything less than the photographer's own set standards will never see the light of the day. 

No, I am not going to argue with that, it is perfectly fine. It is only human to show our best. Why would we want to show our ugly side, right?

I like this panning shot due to the variety of speed between the man who pulled the baskets against the faster passer-bys. However, I would have preferred if he did not look into my camera. For this kind of "being there" scene captures, I want it to remain natural. The eye contact just killed it. 

The baby raised her hands, as if asking for help, or someone to carry her. And the way she was placed lying on the mothers legs was very interesting. However, her hand covered her face !!

The reason I did not select this image in the first place was because the facial expression lack the "ooomph" factor. You know, like how some photographers always emphasized on the "character" and the "reaction" and the impactful expression and so on. This one just looks so.... plain and ordinary. However, I like how relaxed he was, when I was shooting him. I like the fact that he was comfortable with me around, being so close to him. 

This was a very spontaneous shot. My camera was already set to "panning mode", but as I saw the bike passing through a very narrow lane full of walking people, I made a quick snap. It came out alright, but the composition, the shutter speed, the timing, were not perfect. 

I composed this shot so that the homeless man crossing the main road would have a strong arrow in the foreground. The original composition was achieved, but the background of the homeless man was too distracting. There were too many things going on at the back, too messy. 

I love sun-burst, or star burst, or whatever you want to call that effect. I shot against the light with very narrow aperture for this to happen. However, my lens was VERY dirty, and there were many dust spots all across the frame. They were too messy, but after B&W conversion and apply a little bit darkening, it does not look too bad after all. 

Not all images should be panned. In this images, it would have been stronger if the old lady with a walking stick in the background was not blur. 

A typical backlit situation. I did not have time to turn on my pop-up flash, it was a very sudden shot. But what made this shot work, was the expression in the boy's face, as he was shooting with a PEN. 

Nonetheless, in the process of just selecting the best of the best, sometimes, we might have overlooked ordinary images, which were great on their own. One photograph may have strong subject matter and beautifully composed, but because it was shot at high ISO and have ugly patches of chromatic noise all over, the photographer decided not to use that photograph because he is afraid that he will be gunned down: because his photographs contains noise which is a no-no in today's strict standard of digital photography that everyone abides to, and also because that could show the inadequacy of his photography equipment, again, which could hurt his ego. The imperfections were not tolerated, and as we set our standards higher and higher, some potentially good images were pushed aside, just because we start to care about what others might think of those flaws that have been captured within the frame. Imperfections always exist, one way or another. I have learned the hard way that many times, it is the imperfections that make some images work the way they are. Chasing perfection is what most photographers do, but perfection is so far away, is it not?

Yes, I have cut down many images, because they contain many flaws, or I did not think they could "pass" my own standards and judgement. However, within the past hour or so, I have reviewed the set of images from the past four to five street shooting sessions at Pudu, Chow Kit and Petaling Street, and I found some images that I liked, but never made it through my initial selection to be used on this blog entry. Why dig out those photographs, since they have failed in the first place, and contained some mistakes which I intended to hide? I guess, I have to look pass some of those mistakes, and asked "why the hell did I want to capture that image in the first place?" I did see some opportunity, something that moved me, something that caught my attention, something that I thought was worth shooting, hence I made that click happen. Not everything turned out the way we pre-visualized it, and of course, in street photography, we have very little control over very spontaneous moments that happen in the blink of an eye in front of us, unexpectedly.

In this entry, I have shared the reasons I was drawn into those subjects, why I wanted to capture them, and why I thought they were flawed. Even though those images did not make it through my initial selection for their respective blog entries earlier, as I gave them the second glance, I do like them very much. Not my best photos, but I still like them, just as much. The mistakes were mine, so are those photos. 


  1. Robin, I enjoy your blog and photographs (I was just recently introduced to them because of your reviews of the E-M5). I'd like to share my thoughts on your post. I agree with your premise, which is to say that part of effectively photographing life as it happens is freeing ourselves from our preconceived notions about technical excellence. Truly outstanding images might (or might not) have the whole package, but they might not be any less compelling in their storytelling. From my perspective, I quite like the first last last images that you've shared with us.

    In the first, I think that the fact that the man is looking at the camera adds a great deal to the composition. I understand why you prefer subjects just going about their business in your photos, but in this particular one I think that the image would have been boring had he not been looking in your direction. His face tells us something about him and his story. The strong graphical element of the crates, the moving scene behind him, and his facial expression make this image enjoyable to me.

    In the last image, I like the contrast you achieved by not using a fill light and we can still see the boy's expression anyway. The overexposure of the background with the underexposure of the face not just makes for a striking contrast, but adds to the intimacy of the moment you captured. I like it and don't think I would have liked it as much with fill.

    Thanks for sharing all of these.

    1. Hello Steve,
      Thanks for sharing your kind thoughts, and also your encouraging remarks.
      It was my own preference to have the man in the first picture to look more natural, but you do have a strong point that the eye contact adds a lot of drama, and the fact that he was looking at me reveals his facial expression.
      Also about the least image, it was just too contrasty, I guess it was a neither here nor there kind of case, not black enough to be a silhouette shot, and on its own it seems out of balance. Yes, I agree with you, what makes the shot work was the fascination in the boy's face as he was operating the camera.
      Thanks again for sharing !!

    2. i totally agree with that first image.. what kept me in the frame for a long time was my wondering what was going thru his mind, when he was being captured.. was the photographer making fun of him ? was something funny ? what did he find so interesting about my cart ? etc etc..
      one expression is worth a thousand words..
      i sell myself short all the time.. and speaking of Time magazine.. i've seen plenty of street/war shots where the subject was looking in the camera....
      well done .. dont be so humble...
      i love your lousy images.. keep them coming.
      and if you dont have enuf of them, i have a recycle bin with thousands in it..
      :) steve

    3. Hello Stephen,
      Thanks for such kind words !! You were being too generous really. I am sure within that recycle bin there are many treasures too.
      Also I agree on the eye contact adding the element of curiosity. Interesting way to look at it.

    4. you are most welcome. may i suggest you post a page of pics like this page using smaller dimensions ? it takes sooooooooooooo long to load.

  2. very enlightening article for me as newbie which i always end up selecting a few images out of hundreds.hehe. mistake happens and we learn from it to improve ourselves.Thank you for sharing. I have dozens of images hiding inside recycle bin.

    1. Hello hafeez,
      Thanks for the kind comments. We must allow ourselves to make mistakes in order to learn and improve, so do not be afraid !! I think we should all try not to be so "perfect", and accept that sometimes it is ok to be flawed.

    2. Robin, all your photo are great.

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