Moving Out of Comfort Zone

The most often comments I received on my photographs would be on how beautiful and natural the colors are on my photographs. Or how sharp, and how pleasing the bokeh was rendered. Getting beautiful, sharp and bokeh-ful photographs do not require much skills at all. If you have not used an Olympus camera system, pick one up, you will be amazed at how amazingly natural and true-to-life the colors it creates, how sharp the images are due to the wonderful zuiko quality lenses, and also the bokeh due to large aperture prime lenses (such as the Sigma 30mm F1.4 or 50mm F2). The straight out of the camera JPEG files were already optimized for great colours and resolution that you only need minimal or no post processing at all to deliver very good images from Olympus camera system. 

Supposedly, we take away the great Olympus color, minus the super sharp output, and do not do any bokeh in the photographs, will I still be able to make good photographs from my Olympus camera? That was the challenge I gave myself today. To move out from my comfort zone. 

All images in this entry were taken with Olympus PEN E-PL1 and kit lens 14-42mm

In the morning light

Faster and higher

Two chairs


Open Phone Booth

Passing Through

I know how perfect my Olympus DSLR E-5 handles on the street, how I have come to be able to operate it even with my eyes closed. Hence I decided to use the PEN E-PL1 more, an underutilized camera which I have abandoned for a few months (unintentionally, because a friend borrowed the BLS-1 battery for an extended period of time). We all know the famous Olympus color, so I set the E-PL1 to monotone, shooting in JPEG mode at all times, so there was no turning back if I decided the original colours looked better than black and white. I know how I love the sharp 50mm F2 lens, with the great bokeh quality it delivers. So I used the kit lens 14-42mm on the PEN E-PL1: still decently sharp, but nothing "breathtaking" or out of the ordinary. Similarly with the kit lens, getting bokeh is a difficulty: it is either i completely just set aside the bokeh consideration of my images (come on, how much bokeh can one make with F3.5-5.6 lens?), or if I still wanted to produce some bokeh, I will need to move myself extremely close to my subject, out of my usual comfortable working distance between myself and my subjects. It is all about doing the unusual, and trying something different for a change. I still want to be able to make good images, without the wonders and whistles of the camera. I want to make good images, because I can, not because of what the camera or lens can do. 

So what can I do, without doing what I usually do?

I can try out something different, something I do not usually do. I explored different possibilities when it comes to composition. I used more wide angle shots, instead of tightly composed clean images. I incorporated more than one subject in one photograph, and worked to connect them so you will find interaction between the subjects. I played with highlight and shadows, using extremely harsh lighting. I also played around with slow shutter speed, to render motion blur, as well as some slight panning effect. For some unexplained reasons, I would feel "incomplete" if I did not come home with some good headshot portraits. I was stubborn as I was insistent to get some bokeh, so I went daringly close to the subjects, pointing the camera inches away from their faces to get those blur background. 

It was about an hour walk on the street, before it decided to rain. Together with the usual gang, we decided to head for coffee after the short shooting session. 

Did I come home with enough good images? Not as many as I have original intended, but those would have to suffice. 

Not long enough

Not Moving

Moving slowly

against the Direction



We all lust for better and newer photography equipments, no doubt (me included). Nonetheless, it is also a fact that the best camera that you have is the camera that you can bring with you at all times, and use it. It is that camera in your hands now that you can use to capture images, as you need to now. It does not matter if the images come out not as sharp as that new D800 with super 36MP resolution, or if your camera cannot shoot clean images up to ISO6400 like the Fuji X-Pro 1. It does not matter if your camera does not have blazingly fast autofocus like the new Olympus OM-D E-M5, or all the newer technologies. As long as you have that camera in your hands, that camera is capable of delivering great images, if you are determined enough to do so. Feeling insecure when comparing yourself, your camera setup against your peers, or what you thought you could have achieved better if you have better gear, will only hold you back from really going out there and make good photography happen. If you have the cash and if you see the need to upgrade and get better equipment, by all means, go for it, and do it. Hesitation, and all those sleepless nights thinking of whether you should jump or use a better system and how that might affect or improve your photography wont actually improve your photography at all. 

No matter how many times we are being reminded that photography is more than just gear lust, we still cannot run away from gear lust. Photographers are all humans after all. The only cure, is going out there with whatever you have now, and shoot. Shoot like you do not care about anything else, but your photographs. 

I am starting to look beyond the technicalities of the camera, and really find myself in my photographs. The photographer's capabilities should not be restricted by the capabilities of his gear. He should surpass it, because photography is not about what your camera can do by itself, but what you can do with your camera. 

So go out, and start shooting !! No excuses.


  1. Mission accomplished, I'd say :)

    I love "In the morning light", "Not long enough" and "Not moving".

    1. Thanks Andreas !! It is still work in progress. Slowly, but surely getting there !

  2. your images and your experiences, inspired me. :)

    1. Thanks Ryou !! I am glad I am able to share my experience, but hey, we are all still learning.

  3. It's not the camera, it's the person behind the camera that counts. And you show here, with some fine shots, that happy axiom. My only complaint, (and purely personal), is your tendency to allow blown-highlights in your images. And working in jpeg, not raw, you are of course limiting their recovery in PP.

    1. Thanks Peter for reaffirming my point !! I intended the blown highlights though, I increased the contrast. I wanted the white to be pure white and black to be pure black. Yes, that was a personal choice.

    2. Photography is highly subjective, so my apologies for any criticism. (But I still think you could have kept the contrast, and max white/black and not allowed too much detail to be lost!!! :))

    3. No worries Peter, any criticism is appreciated. It is good to see and know what people think and their preferences.

  4. Blown highlights in black and white or sepia toned images, I think are well suited to this style of imagery and can add to dramatic or graphic quality of image by contrasts as Robin mentions. In colour images, on flesh tones/skin areas for portraits, personally I think, blown out areas sometimes could look odd unless only a small area. Rim lighting, hair lighting or side lighting can be blown out and look okay.
    Never the less, I am not afraid to let portions of an image, such as backgrounds, even in colour to blow out as long as the central part of the image subject, is in the correct tonal range that I like.
    Of course I am mainly a portrait photographer. Landscape/nature photographers probably like extended dynamic range with little blow out areas, except when done for artistic reasons.
    Great that we have lots of choices in style of imagery. The choices we make in capturing/processing the image make photography an art form.
    Nice work Robin.

    1. Thanks Adrian for such a detailed explanation of style and preference when it comes to blown out details. I agree, for colour photographs it has to be presented more cautiously, as the blown out colors might evoke "unnatural" feel, especially to skin tones and elements important to the main subject.
      I myself concur with your argument: making sure the main subject is properly exposed without any significant loss of details in highlight or shadow regions, and the background will not be a priority in this regard.
      Landscape photography is a different game of course, as the "balanced" look is crucial. I did blog about engaging HDR method whenever necessary to create the even-ness and balanced look recently.

  5. Hi Robin,

    You have got to be one of the best photography website on the net. Thanks
    Enjoyed reading your blog and photography very much.


    1. Thanks Arowana but you were being too kind !

  6. Great shots Robin. My favorite is Curiosity. It's magic when you can capture a nice moment which can happen in only an instance.

    1. Thanks Wataru. It happened in an instance, that was so true. I tried to recompose the shot from another angle and the cat decided to walk away !!

  7. Did you need any release forms for the people in your photographs or did they just publish them without.


    1. Sorry I didn't mean to repeat the question I asked previously.

  8. Robin this post is akin to what I have always preached the best camera is the one you have with you, the masses that change their camera at every new development never get to know what it or they can desperate are they to have the latest model, until the next comes along.

    The best selling point for me is the fact this type of camera is a wonderful tool for two reasons the first being the obvious, when you shelled out the dollar it must have ticked all the boxes, and the second and most important, this style of camera allows you to merge into the background. It doesnt scream look at me I'm a pro.

    This enables you to be perceived in the main as a happy tourist snapping away, which means those around you don't act for the camera and carry on regardless. I have always believd in the motto simplify, it lifts the burden of choice from you and enables you to look for the shot rather than the right lens whatever that is. I love going out with the EP3 and the panasonic twenty, it still produces great images and will do so for some time yet, hell I loved using my grd3 and that was the fixed 28mm this lack of "choice" doesn't stop you getting great images.

    No doubt when the OMD6 is launched there will be a boat load of OMD5's for sale purely because the 6 can do this or that not that youll ever get near this or that! What made you so desirous of the 5 will melt away like ice in the oven and you"ll only have eyes and desire for the 6. I will keep my ep3 and continue my happy relationship with it in spite of lure of the 5 et al.

    Its been a while since I posted but like the previous folk I do appreciate your honesty and refreshing viewpoint.

    1. Hello Shooter,
      Great to hear from you again. Thanks for the kind compliments, and also agreeing that photography is not all about equipments, and the best camera is the one you can bring with you at all times.
      You do have a strong point there, not having a "professional looking" camera works on the streets, people feel less threatened when they see you walking around. When you get close, pointing a smaller camera seems less intimidating than, say a gigantic full frame with a monstrous 70-200mm tele-lens (I do see this quite often). I believe your impression you give to your subject is important, because that determines how they perceive you, and respond to your camera.