The Direct Approach

There must have been countless discussions, arguments, philosophies and rules on the best technique and method to go about shooting street photography. Some require you to wait at one corner for hours just to get that decisive moment (I think decisive moments are overrated) to come into your planned "stage" or background. Others will get you hiding in the shadow and being "invisible" so that your presence is not noticed. The extreme ones will get you out in the open and shock your subjects by firing your flash, pointing your lens just inches away from your subject's face, to obtain that "wonderful expression" or reaction to your unexpected attack. Many would idolize HCB (I am starting to have issues with HCB worshipers, seriously) and say you must have excellent eyes recognizing geometrical balance to be incorporated into your composition, or else your shots lack "art".

If you ask me, what works for my street shooting? I'd say, the direct approach. Full Stop. 

All images in this entry were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko 50mm F2 macro lens. 

Smiling Indian Lady

Two Newspaper

Moving Things

Concerned Citizen

Unnatural Colour

Many Heads

Morning Look

Baby and Sister

I  just go straight up to my subject, be polite and friendly, offer a smile that tells my subject "I am not a threat, and I mean no harm", point my lens at the subject and fire away. And usually ended with a nod (gesture of thank you) or said it out loud "thank you". Sometimes, I just go near and fire away without my subjects knowing, and walked away. I may shoot from a distance, or I may go incredibly near. I decide on the spot, what works and what not. I may preserve the natural undisturbed scene, or I may even engage in a conversation with my subject. I shoot whatever that attracted my attention, and I make images that I like. I do not care if those images would "compare to what the general street shooters" would qualify as great street shots. 

I do not seek approval or qualifications. 

I shoot because I want to shoot, and I love doing it, the way I want to do it. 

I shoot, with a very simple, yet direct approach. 

What is wrong with that? 

Morning Blur

I can see myself through his eye !! 100% crop from previous image

Walk in white

Different worlds


Bus Stand

Buff Photographer. 
I shot him because 1) I do not see many photographers shooting in Jalan Masjid India or Chow Kit area 2) He shot me first !! So I shot him back 3) He had one of the brightest smile I've seen all morning. 

Me and Shutter Therapy.
Found a mirror so I did self-portrait. 

If you waited too long, you might not even realize your "moment" has passed, and you might accidentally (not an accident if you choose to ignore actually) miss many photography opportunities. If you are too shy, wanting to hide away you might not get close enough to have photographs with sufficient impact and drama. If you go too near and attack your subjects too close you might come home with a broken nose and a shattered lens. Hopefully not a broken shooting spirit. If you wanted to become like HCB, well, good luck. That dude has invented the wheel, trying to reinvent the wheel wont make you look good either. The most important thing is to be yourself, do what you feel is comfortable and right, keep that shutter clicking, and be happy with your process of photography. It is crucial not to read too much, over-analyze concepts that would never be practical in real life, and close yourself from a world full of photography opportunities. 

Keep an open mind. Keep things simple. 

I still like my direct approach. Maybe you should try it too. 


  1. This might be a cliche question, but i still wanna ask, People reactions are unpredictable, so how you handle it actually, especially when people don't like you taking his or her picture?

    1. Hey Amiruddin,
      Usually I do not get rejection, but if for some reasons people refuse to have their photos taken, just smile, and walk on to find your next subject. You will ask for trouble if you keep pushing it. I admit you need a thick skin to engage first, but hey, after a while it comes naturally. The most important thing is be polite, and show your friendliest smile.

    2. yup, i'm trying to develop my skin, so that it will be thicker every time i'm going out shooting....=)

    3. Lets shoot together some time, one of the weekends.

    4. Hi Robin & Amiruddin,

      I'm back in Qatar at the moment, and trying my hand a little in the local Souqs. Here, you have to be incredibly cautious about taking a stranger's photo. Especially women, you just don't do it. Local men also don't usually want their photo taken. One Qatari was a bit upset with me the other day (he was smoking a shisha pipe on the other side of the street). So I went over too him, and showed him that I had deleted the photo, we ended up having a good chat (and sharing the shisha!). Smoking the peace pipe, literally! He didn't want any of his wives to know he was smoking......

      Being direct and honest is the answer, as Robin says. Pretty much the same rule applies to everything in life!

    5. Hi Tom,
      Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts. I must remind myself that my readers, many of them do not come from Malaysia. Usually, the things that happened around me that inspired my thoughts were written within the local context only, and I have no way to verify their validity if I were to shoot elsewhere. Thanks for pointing that out. Indeed, people might not respond as positively as Malaysians. But you were right, being direct and honest still works !!

    6. TQ Tom for the tips. and Robin, i'm really hoping that i could go out with what you call shutter therapy session. Let me find a suitable time to do so....=)

  2. very beautiful pictures , i realy like the all set , they show your talent and the 50mm talent too .

  3. very beautiful pictures , i realy like the all set , they show your talent and the 50mm talent too .

  4. Robin,

    Like so many, here in the States and elsewhere world-wide, I happily discovered your site while doing research on my pending 0M-D purchase, but have found the consistent artistic (I do NOT use that term lightly) quality, and technical brilliance of your images, along with your insight, and astute, informative commentary a new pleasurable addiction (in the good sense).
    I look forward to each new entry, and I continue to enthusiastically spread the word of your site to friends and professional acquaintances, and they to their's -- and receive only thank you's !

    One lens that I will definitely be getting initially will be the truly magical 50mm f2 macro (and mmf 3 adapter, and ex-25 extension ring) used in this beautiful set.

    I am also awaiting with bated breath, the release of the 75mm f1.8 and the new 60 f2.8 1:1 macro.

    There are others, but I will limit myself to just one and a half questions this time:
    On the ultra wide side, what is your experience, considered judgement, and recommendation as to the 7-14mm choice between the larger, heavier, and much more expensive 4/3 Olympus (plus adapter) and the M4/3 Panasonic ? Is there enough, or indeed ANY, aesthetic magical edge or superiority that the Olympus has over the Panasonic regarding this particular 7-14mm choice ?

    Now the half question: what do you think of the grip, that is the use of half of it for greater stability and solidity of control ?

    1. Hello Ben,
      Thanks so much for the kind compliments, which I do not think I deserve. It was my pleasure to shoot and share with the community, and I believe my contribution no matter how small will benefit some people in a few ways.

      About the ultra wide angle lens, I would strongly recommend the use of Panasonic 7-14mm on your coming OM-D body. The main reason is obvious: it is the original micro 4/3 dedicated lens. The Olympus 4/3 DSLR version will have slow focusing issues being used via an adapter, and that itself would cause you a lot of annoyance especially shooting in lower light conditions. I have not done any comparisons between the two lenses to comment on image quality differences, but reviews online everywhere have suggested that the Panasonic 7-14mm is just as good, if not better than the Olympus 4/3 DSLR 7-14mm. Considering the Panasonic 7-14mm is about half the price of the Olympus, smaller, much lighter (more compatible being used with OM-D) I would say the choice is quite straight forward.

      I strongly recommend the purchase of the grip, if you intend to shoot for long hours (covering an event: wedding, or fashion shoot, etc). The grip adds a lot of comfort (especially if you have larger hands) and the extra bulk will help you stabilize larger lens better, eg the 7-14mm lens. I would say yes, get it !!

  5. Hi Robin,
    Great street images and thank you for sharing.
    On Saturday, I did venture into your territory of Jalan Masjid India and Chow Kit. It's a great area with friendly people and I did make a few friend along the way. The chess playing group in Chow Kit, they are fantastic.
    As for the lens, I am 100% with you on the 50mm which is 75mm on my Nikon D7000. Fast, Clear, Light and cheaper lens.
    On Saturday, I was testing my new Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 VC for candid street shot. The images are good but less intimacy with the subject due to wide angle. Too heavy for a long shooting session (5 hours) from Petaling Street, Pudu, Jalan Masjid India, Chow Kit and walk back to Pasar Seni.
    For the future, I will stick to my 50mm f1.8G for street and 17-50mm for Events and Landscapes.
    Direct approach, I love that as there is where intamacy and real contact occures.
    Smile and a Big 'thank you' are a must for me after taking a shot if the subject sees me or else 'see you next time'.
    On your images 'Different Worlds', on saturday I saw a young chap asking for protection money from him. That is cruel act.
    Thank you again for sharing of those thoughts and images.
    John Ari Ragai

  6. Hello John,
    Glad to hear that you were out there shooting with your camera. I am amazed, you actually went to Petaking Street, Pudu, Jalan Masjid India, Chow Kit and Pasar Seni, all in one session??? My goodness, that is really heavy !!
    I normally would just pick a place, and shoot not more than 2 hours. I would finish in an hour if I felt I have enough shots I am happy with.
    Nonetheless, I am happy that you explored the streets, and good to see that you are enjoying the 50mm. The 17-50mm is more versatile, but for long walk, its best to carry smaller primes.
    I am saddened to hear about the cruelty when that young chap you mentioned asked for protection money. Indeed, there are many sad stories in those streets that I usually photograph.

  7. Great set again, man love you're blog !!!

  8. There's nothing wrong with the direct approach, just like there's nothing wrong with any other approach that one prefers. You can make your point without putting other methods down just because you personally don't like or appreciate them.

    1. Hello Rob-L,
      I do not put other methods down. I am pretty sure I mentioned "he most important thing is to be yourself, do what you feel is comfortable and right, keep that shutter clicking, and be happy with your process of photography."

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