My Usual Camera Settings for Street Shooting

One of my blog readers, Mithun Kumar from India was visiting Kuala Lumpur for holidays, and he was asking if he could join in my shutter therapy session. Of course !! He has just purchased his new spanking Olympus OM-D E-M5, and together with a large group of friends, we attacked the streets of Pudu, Kuala Lumpur this morning. Joining us also this morning was Ananda Sim, an Olympus shooter who currently resides in Melbourne, Australia but also having his holidays in KL. 

All images were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko Lenses 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 or 50mm F2 macro

Recently I have been receiving emails and comments asking what mode I am usually shooting with on my camera, especially when I am doing my shutter therapy. To be honest, regardless of what mode you choose to shoot with, it does not really matter actually, and it all comes down to your own shooting style and preferences. No one technique or set of controls can be better than others, they must be tailored and customized to obtain the results or photography outcome that you seek. 


For majority of the time, I shoot with Aperture Priority Mode. My reason was obvious, I wanted shallow depth of field, and I wanted to blur the background off to isolate my main subject. It was only sensible to shoot with Aperture Priority mode, where I can directly control the aperture, usually being set to be opened to its widest. When I needed more background to support my main subject, as I shoot with wide angle, I would then stop down the aperture to perhaps F4, or F5.6, and sometimes F8 if needed, to rake in more depth of field, capturing as much zone in focus as possible. Also worth noting that most Olympus Zuiko lenses that I use perform at their optimum sharpness being shot at F4-5.6 (the sweetspot). So the main question I ask would be how much depth of field I need for my subject when I was shooting. 


I set my ISO setting manually, I never let the camera decide. I guess there is just that part of me that did not trust the camera to choose the right ISO setting, nothing wrong with the camera, just me having trust issues. Shooting under bright sun I shoot only ISO200 or lower if needed, and as I moved to the shades, I would slowly increase the ISO setting to 400 or higher to compensate for the lack of available light in order to achieve sufficient shutter speed. Nevertheless, there are many recommendations to just leave the ISO to auto, since the camera these days are getting smarter, and can decide the best suited ISO setting to match the shooting condition. I always, always watch the rule of minimum shutter speed = 1/focal length. For example, as I am shooting with 50mm lens, I made sure my shutter speed would be at least 1/50sec or higher to prevent hand shake. If I were to freeze human movements, I might need to make sure my shutter speed stays over 1/100sec, or faster, depending on the movement speed. 

Friendly Stranger

Canned Drink

Waiting for Something


Love What you Do

Sparkling eyes

Genuineness in Question


Metering is a tricky business. I always reminded myself that whatever the camera reads will never be 100% accurate, as the data being calculated and used to determine the aperture and shutter speed used would only purely based on weighted average. Whether it is multi-pattern (multi-zone, or matrix), or center-weighted, the average reading may not exactly represent what the photographer wanted to achieve, and this is particularly true in tricky lighting situations, when back-lit is involved. I choose to use center weighted, because I normally place importance to my subject's metering only, neglecting the surrounding lighting. Even so, the metering sometimes may hit and miss, and it is completely up to the photographer to "fine-tune" the metering based on his judgement on site. You have got to develop a quick sense of knowing whether your photograph is under-exposed or over-exposed, and the Exposure Compensation control (+/- EV) will be your next best friend to get that accurate metering. No, I do not trust histograms. When the histogram shows fully "balanced", trust me the photograph's highlight and shadow will never be truly balanced. Experienced shooters will refer to the histogram for quick readout, but never trust it completely. Trust your own eyes as you see the review on the LCD screen, trust your own sense of judgement as you shoot and adjust accordingly. 


All the panning shots, or shots with intended blur were taken with Shutter Priority mode, where I purposely slowed down the shutter speed to introduce motion blur. As I was setting up the camera for panning, I turned off the Image Stabilization, set the focusing to continuous-AF (C-AF) and then shoot in burst mode (5 frames per second). Taking control of the shutter can really produce interesting results. Nonetheless, as you can observe my panning and blurry photographs in this blog entry, my execution of slow shutter techniques still require plenty of work. There were mistakes in focusing and the composition was not as clean as I have hoped for. 


I am not a continuous focus shooter (unless for panning shots, as described earlier), I shoot with single AF, one shot at a time. I do not believe in machine gunning, or firing the shutter aimlessly. Even on moving subjects (my subjects don't move that fast) I still trust the camera to be able to immediately lock focus and capture the motion, and the camera rarely failed me. 


Empty Baskets

Conducive Environment

Are you Happy?

Market Buzz
Reminder to self: CLEAN THE LENS FRONT ELEMENT !!!!!!

Very genuine smile

Interesting eyes

If you have shot with me before, you will know one fact:


I know some professional photographers of seniors would comment negatively on photographers that chimp. To Chimp is a verb to describe the action of reviewing the image on the back of your camera, displayed on the LCD screen. I do not spend that much time reviewing my images, but I am very critical in making sure I get the shot, and I get it right. The main thing that I check as I chimp would be the accuracy of focusing. Not that I doubt the camera's capability, but there are a thousand reasons that can cause your photograph to be out of focus, even just by that slight bit. If you know me at all I am very, very, very particular on focusing accuracy. Chimping is the only way I can make sure I do not miss focus, and when I noticed something wrong in the photograph, I will quickly find out the source of the problem and rectify it. 

It is a good practice to review your shots from time to time, perhaps not after every shot, but maybe after a few shots. Making sure that the exposure was right (you might accidentally rolled the exposure compensation wheel to -3.0EV without realizing), white balance was accurate (to prevent nightmare of shooting everything in blue tint because you forgot to switch the white balance from Tungsten) and your general composition was alright. I believe in identifying the problems on the spot, and quickly make appropriate corresponding adjustments to optimize your results on the spot, in camera. This is the main advantage of shooting digital, instant feedback to tell you if you have done something wrong, or if there was a problem. Those naysayers would tell you it is instant gratification that is frowned upon, but I say it is insurance. Why take the risk if you have the chance to spot your mistakes and not have them in your final results? It is better to be extra-careful rather than be sorry later.

Mithun and Ananda Sim (right)

I have shared my most common settings as I shoot on the street. No, there is no fixed rules or set of must use settings, everything is subjective. As long as the settings you choose can help you to get the shots that you intended, that settings have got to be good enough. My choice of camera setup surely have helped me to grab the shots as you can see on my blog entries. 

If you do have more questions on how I use my camera while street shooting, feel free to ask !! 


  1. That Very Genuine Smile is lovely and that girl is beautiful - shows how beauty can transcend the workplace. Mithun looks really handsome and with a name like Ananda, yes you have to point out which one I am, there might be at least one Ananda who also comes from Bangalore.

    There were a few that got away today (other than my wallet). The Waiting picture I saw out of the corner of my eye but sifu Robin was already in action. I might have tried a different aspect - more negative space on width but glad you got him. My PL1 was acting as usual - grabbing focus on the wrong object in the scene and the shallow DOF that I use sometimes works against a successful shot.

    The shallow DOF that I use and the small f/no means that ISO pains me as well - if left on Auto ISO I agree with you, the camera follows a preset optimisation of f/no and shutter speed and when you want shallow DOF, not there, when you want faster shutter speed, not there even if you use Aperture priority.

    However not using Auto ISO means that at f/2, you can walk into bright light and you have hit too much light that the f/2 1/2000 sec cannot handle.

    The other factor in this scene I experienced was the choice of subject. The light can be very beautiful in certain angles but sometimes you want to shoot against the light the human face - so you have to up EV Comp by +1 - that takes a while to set up and then maybe too late. If next shot you don't take off EV Comp, then too bright exposure.

    Of course, if you say, only shoot one subject type per half hour then this does not become an issue.

    1. Thanks Ananda and Robin.... For making me look so (unrealistically) handsome ;-)
      This custom processing of B/W does make the images stand out... I should try it out in Lightroom!

    2. Thanks Ananda for the kind compliments.

      I do agree that the E-PL1 is not the quickest camera to work with when fast AF is needed. Sometimes, it does behave unpredictably, and yes constant checking is needed to ensure the right place was in focus. I have had similar issues when I am shooting with E-PL1. Once you got that sorted out, the images just come out brilliantly.

      The thing about shooting with E-5, using the F2, I still have 1/8000sec to play with, hence I rarely need to stop down. Of course, on the E-PL1 things are quite different. I do not understand why Olympus can't make it 1/4000sec at least, it was a very poor decision to limit the shutter speed that way, just to distinguish the E-PL1 from E-P1 and E-P2.

    3. Mithun,
      No worries, it was my pleasure to have you here in KL. You are indeed handsome, nothing to do with the black and white processing.
      Nonetheless, my custom processing tips is still experimental, and it is still flawed. I shall continuously improve it.

    4. Ananda, I noticed the loupe hanging from your neck. Do you use it with the EPL1 for screen magnification to achieve better focus or to inspect the shots after you take them? Which brand and model do you use? Thanks!

  2. Nice to meet you guy this morning. Great photo again Robin.

    1. Kelvin,
      Glad to have you with us again !! It was an unusually large group this morning, we should do smaller group outings like our usual shooting sessions, with that I am sure we will get away with better images.

  3. Wonderful post, as usual. (I've been lurking here for a month or so.) The shooting tips are very helpful and I always love your shots.

    I was getting deep into photography as a hobby when I was in high school & college back in the 1970s, but left it for other things. Now I'm returning and catching up on the advantages that digital gives the modern photographer. Lots to learn, but lots of my old skills are coming back. I think I still have my "eye". (I have an E-PL3 and a couple of lenses. I found this site by searching for reviews of the new 75mm lens.)

    1. Hey dwainedibbly,
      Thanks for the kind compliments !!
      Glad to find that you are getting back to photography. It is a great and fulfilling hobby, and I am sure you still have the "eye". All we have to do is go out there and make images happen !!

  4. I find my mode use is similar. Aperture priority unless I purposely want a long shutter speed. There is a nice trick on the E-M5 for Auto ISO. You can set the low shutter speed for flash in the custom menus, and it will also maintain this minimum shutter speed before raising ISO. I have mine set to 1/100s for freezing kids and people. If I'm not shooting people or switch to a wide lens I use fixed ISO, but I'm comfortable that on Auto I'll get my shutter speed I want with my 25mm Panny or 45mm Oly.

    1. Hey Brad,
      Glad to find another guy with similar camera setting setup. It is interesting to find that Olympus (or any other cameras) are getting smarter and smarter, and having a separate setting for minimum shutter speed before raising the ISO. Indeed, this will prove very helpful in many situations.

  5. Sounds like you guys had a great time. Hope to make it to Malaysia some day. I see that Ananda Sim is wearing some kind of framing/viewing lens around his neck. Can you share the brand/type that is.

    1. We indeed had plenty of fun. Might have to ask Ananda to answer that question !! I did play with that viewing thing for a bit. Interesting device it was.

  6. Can you give a few tips on controlling EV Comp to make sure people face not under or over exposed.. Your tips i'm really appreciate

  7. With the EPL1 with v2 kit lens which isn't that fast (f3.5-5.6), Program Mode works well enough for my needs mostly, and just changing (increasing) ISO when light changes. Single AF focus lock (half press) off the face of subject and then recompose quickly to preferred composition, kept the exposures fairly accurate on subject, with center weight metering. When I briefly had the 20mm F1.7 Panasonic lens, Aperature mode would be best for changing depth of field and F-stop, as program mode kept it to widest f1.7 most of time. Next, selling version 1 kit lens and buying version 2 MSC kit lens helped a lot to reduce the amount of focus hunting that the EPL1 is known for. For EPL1, P, A, or S modes is used most for desired effects.
    For full-size DSLR and paid work, I actually prefer manual mode, as I have dials for both A and S available and large external flash on TTL and reviewing images for minor changes shot to shot.
    On the smaller PEN cameras, and relative exposure accuracy of camera, one of the semi automated modes P, A, S works great.

    I was at the new Dinosaur exhibit at ROM museum in Toronto with family and the PEN EPL1 with kit lens, and to capture the dramatic coloured lighting which was spot lighting on dinosaurs on display setting was 1600 iso and 1/15sec to get it, as coloured lights were dim. Wife wanted our children in front of the dinosaur displays in one photo, but no spotlights were on kids in dim lighting, only dinosaurs, so I needed popup flash. Regular popup flash defaults camera to 1/60 sec shutterspeed in program mode, and kids were bright but dinos too dark with this 1/60sec setting. Used Shutter Priority to lower shutter to 1/15sec (in allow more room ambient light to record) with popup flash enabled and spot focus AF/TTL off children position for popup flash. Kids were lit well, and dramatic lighting of dinosaurs also there again at 1/15sec, which I lost at 1/60sec. Versatile little camera. Next time, I will get a prime for this location. Hope this helps some of your readers who are learning photography.

  8. Robin - nice series of shots, and thanks for the non-pretentious, "real world" tips. Your B&W processing is gorgeous as well. And despite your reservations, I think your slow-shutter panning shots worked great!

    Adrian Van L - I was at that exhibit too, and you are right, the lighting was very difficult. Well done working through it. :)

    My Flickr (in case anyone's interested):

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