I find it rather humorous how people can refer to certain look and feel to photographs that look "Robin Wong". Truth to be told, I have not successfully developed a distinctive photography style yet (unlike established photographers, such as Ming Thein and Steve McCurry, one look and you know those are their photos), and I am still in the process of experimentations, trying out different techniques and shooting methods, deciding what works and what do not. I believe photography is a dynamic process that require us to continue to study, dare to try out new and different approaches and push beyond our boundaries of comfort. Growth in photography takes time, and I, like everyone else am still learning.
However, I have received so many comments here, as well as email and requests on my FB Page asking me to share my "magic settings" or post processing tricks to produce the images I always show here. No one put it better than Tom Hogan when he blogged about "There is no such thing as Magic Settings" (click here to read). I agree with Tom, there really is no special technique or settings that work universally, every scene in photography condition changes, and no matter how we optimize the camera it will never be the same being used at different locations and by different photographers who obviously have different preferences and mindset. I think it is very crucial to acknowledge that what works for me, what I do and practise in photography may not necessarily be the most suitable choice for you, or any one else. Also, there is no right and wrong, just different approaches to get to where you want to.
Since the requests have been made multiple times, I shall share what I can in this blog entry. No I will not give you that "cheat sheet", instead I will share my thoughts and experience from my shooting background. Why I did certain things in specific manner, and the logic behind my choice of general camera control and setting.
All images in this blog were taken with Olympus OM-D E-M1 and M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 lens. .
Sweet and Yellow
1) Your camera does not know what you want. You have to tell your camera what you want.
One of the most common misconception made about cameras, is the ability of the camera to read the photographer's mind and automatically produce images that he imagined so beautifully in his mind. No matter how sophisticated and intelligent the camera is, it is after all, just a mere mindless tool, with no heart, no emotion and no thoughts, obviously. It has some processing capabilities, much like a small computer built into the camera, to calculate a few relevant parameters to aid you in photo-taking. Metering, autofocus, are calculated based on an average value. For most cases, the average value given by the camera is good enough, and will almost get you what you wanted, but there are also times when the average values (shutter speed calculation, focusing) deviate from what you wanted to accomplish, hence the images will not come out as expected, for example having underexposed/overexposed images, or images out of focus.
Some camera users do not understand how the spot metering works, and just because some of their professional photographer friends told them that spot metering gave you better control over difficult lighting conditions and will be more accurate, does not mean it will help you much if you do not even know how to use it properly. Wrongly spotted metering area will constantly give you inconsistent exposure results, again a classic case of expecting the camera to know what you want.
Another example is the trend of not using flash. Yes, I know flash will not be the most flattering option, but not having flash and using high ISO combined with slow shutter speed in very dimly lit condition will only yield disaster. The camera does not know you are not putting it on a tripod, and shooting hand-held. The camera cannot decide how fast the shutter speed is needed to freeze that running kid. The camera does not know that seeing high ISO grain is equivalent to end of the world for you.
You have to insert your own input.
2) What your camera sees is not what you see. You should see through the camera's eyes, not through your own.
This problem is inherited from DSLR traditional optical viewfinder, which is an OLD technology being stagnant and not improving for decades now. What you are seeing through the optical viewfinder of a DSLR is basically a mirrored (corrected of course, if mirrorred it would have been a reversed image) image of light through the lens, which is very close to what your eye sees. Yes, it was great having the ability to judge framing and composition based on the lens' coverage, but what the camera sees, processes and ultimately spit out for you will not be the same as what is seen through that optical viewfinder. In fact, no one camera in the world is able to reproduce 100% similar image taken in comparison to what was seen through our naked eyes.
In modern cameras such as mirrorless Olympus system, you have inclusion of Electronic Viewfinder and Live View. Electronic Viewfinder is basically showing you a processed view, from the image sensor itself, and displaying results which is live and as what the camera sees. What you see through the electronic viewfinder and live view is what you get from the camera. You can judge exposure balance (whether it is bright or dark), white balance, and focus accuracy through the electronic viewfinder, having live feedback as your settings change. This offers a whole world of difference, enabling you to instantly see your results even before shooting. I know there are many Optical Viewfinder loyalists, and I understand that the EVF and Live View technology is still evolving and not perfected yet. But ask yourself this, what else can you do with an optical viewfinder? There is not much more to improve on, but the electronic viewfinder is quite a recent addition in the digital photography world, and is getting better and better in every release of modern cameras.
The old flaw of not seeing images live through the optical viewfinder has been mitigated in the evolution of Mirrorless System. What you see is what you get is a powerful capability and will give you less error and higher chance of nailing your shots.
3) Set your EXPOSURE as accurately as possible.
If your images are constantly underexposed and overexposed, you will lose image quality as you correct them in post-processing. It is also a cue for you to reconsider your shooting techniques, and question yourself why are your images always not accurately metered.
I will not comment on how you get your exposure settings right, whether through full manual control (setting all parameters independently, ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture), or Programme, Aperture and Shutter Priority, as I believe you should not get anything too far from the actual results you seek, if you understand how they work and know how to use them to your own needs. I personally shoot with Aperture Priority for most shots, and will use Shutter Priority when shooting images capturing motion (both fast and slow). I rarely do full manual shooting, unless I shoot with an external flash (different conditions) or shooting macro (which is a completely different topic). When shooting Aperture, Shutter Priority and Programme, the "exposure compensation" is your best friend. Some may argue using different metering options will give you better results, but I would say, use the exposure compensation to get what you want. Do not be afraid to go crazy with exposure compensation, I have compensated a backlit situation up to +2 EV to get what I want (note, it is to get what I want, not what is considered right).
Again, if you have "what you see is what you get" ability in your camera, such as an electronic viewfinder, it will be a lot easier to evaluate what settings are necessary and how much exposure compensation is needed.
Having accurately exposed image will yield you best color and image detail capture.
4) FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS
Based on my observation, almost 70-80% of soft images, images that were not as sharp as they should be, where due to out of focus, even by just that slight margin. Pin-point accurate focusing is extremely important to obtain the sharpest image possible.
One popular focusing technique is having the focusing point set to the center of the screen, then lock the focus there (by half-pressing the shutter button) and the recompose the image before fully pressing the shutter button. This technique will work best if your subjects are not too near to you (10 meters and away) but if your subject is placed relatively close to you (say 1-2 meters away) and you are using a large aperture lens, such as the Olympus 25mm F1.8 lens, then using the focus recompose method will give you inaccurate focus, due to shift in focal plane. This explanation will get very technical, if you want further clarification, kindly do more research on Google. The solution to this problem is to set the focusing point to where you want to focus and make sure your subject is focused correctly.
Another reason for miss-focusing, is having back or front focus issues with cameras and lenses. Not bashing DSLR here, but it is true that DSLR (using Phase-Detect AF) has much higher tendency of missing focus, either by front and back focusing. This is a simple fix if the camera offers AF Fine Tune adjust in the camera, but this option is only available for higher end DSLR (more expensive ones), not for ALL DSLR especially the entry and mid level. It can be frustrating not being able to get accurately focused images all the times. If you are using cameras employing "contrast-detect AF" (most mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras), the focusing is always accurate and does not suffer any focus inaccuracy.
Subject movement can also influence your focus accuracy. That man standing there, even if he moved by a few centimeters backward, you will get a slightly out of focus image if you were shooting with F1.8 and F1.4 lenses. Take multiple shots of the same subject, just in case. No matter how reliable you think your continuous focusing is, there is still chance of missing focus. Always take more shots just in case.
A lot of people complained that they were not able to reproduce the sharpness in their images in comparison to what they see on my blog, well, did you ensure painstakingly that every single image you took were in pin-sharp focus? I do not have 100% hit rate. I do have misses, not because of the camera's fault. it can be me setting the focusing point wrongly, or the subject moved. At the end of the day, of course I only show images that are fully in focus.
5) Do your best to get rid of Camera Shake. Always watch the minimum shutter speed
This has to be a conscious decision, deciding the minimum shutter speed required for hand-held shooting. I apply the rule of thumb of 1/focal length as a minimum shutter speed. Whenever I intend to push the shutter speed slower, I will always be extra careful. Surely the Image Stabilization will help in steadying your shots, but it is not magic and will not 100% get rid of shake. For critical shots, I will still make sure I shoot at comfortable minimum shutter speed. How you hand-hold you camera is also important, generally it is crucial to use both hands to hold the camera steady. The best option, which may not necessarily be the most convenient, is to mount the camera on the tripod.
6) Shoot RAW. Use Olympus Viewer 3
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to shoot RAW, because RAW will store ALL information which can be easily retrieved and reproduced in your final images.
Then, Olympus Viewer 3 is the BEST software out there to optimize the output of Olympus RAW files. The output from Olympus Viewer 3 is visibly better than any other photo-processing softwares, in terms of fine detail reproduction, color balance as well as high ISO noise suppression (while maintaining good amount of detail). I know that Olympus Viewer 3 is slow, laggy, buggy and probably has two dozens more issues that put everyone off and dropping their consideration to integrate it into the photography workflow, I fully understand. I cannot deny the fact that I seriously love the output of the Olympus Viewer 3, consistently giving me excellent JPEG files.
So how come my high ISO image samples (in my review blog entries) show so little noise and yet still maintains so much detail? Olympus Viewer 3. NOISE FILTER OFF (most of the time). Noise filter can be added to further suppress the noise, but at the expense of some details of course.
How can I achieve such incredible sharpness, looking at 100% crops? Did you apply any kind of sharpening? Olympus Viewer 3. NO SHARPENING ADDED. When I set to noise filter off the images always, always come out SHARP.
The photographs have great color rendering. What software was used to process the images? Olympus Viewer 3. I adjust to correct my white balance manually sometimes.
Carmen doing a Selfie with a random kid
Trying out the new Art Filter in E-PL7, Partial Color
7) Having sense of what works, and WHAT Good Photography is.
This is a subjective topic, so I shall thread lightly. There is this important aspect of photography, called "artistic sense". Not everyone has it naturally, some people are gifted with strong artistic sense (they can make wonderful images with very limited experience in photography), there are those who do not originally have artistic sense, but trained to gain better sense (I fall into this category), and there are some (quite a lot actually) that no matter what they do, how desperate they are, the artistic sense is difficult to come to them.
Understanding how a good photograph should look can help you prevent from doing certain things that do not work while shooting. Or more importantly, understanding what a good photograph is, and what does not work will surely help you minimize mistakes in taking photographs. The painful truth is there are many people (especially newcomers) who do not know what is good or bad photography, and just blindly click away expecting somehow, miraculously the images they took will garner many likes in Facbook postings or Flickr Groups.
For myself, it was not easy to develop the artistic sense, it took me many years to learn a few simple things, and even today, sometimes I question myself if I had any at all. How to develop the artistic sense? Immerse yourself in artistic things, listen to music, watch stage art performance, see paintings, read, appreciate poetry, and more importantly, understand yourself and be yourself. While no one can be 100% original, but having ample amount of artistic inspiration will surely help motivate you into pushing your creative boundaries.
8) "Robin Wong" style does not exist
I do not have any secrets. I do not hide anything or hold anything back. Friends who are with me, shooting with me, and see the whole process of shooting to blog here, will understand that the "Robin Wong" look is a myth, and I am glad to debunk it here.
See steps 1 to 7, they were usual steps and I have shared them here in blog writing (supplemented with tonnes of images) all this time, nothing is new, nothing is more. There is no special sauce that I use. There is no mysterious technique.
What makes me different from many others?
Perhaps, I shoot a lot MORE than others.
There are so many considerations to making a good photograph, and surely it is not logical to make a full list of items to check when shooting. Nevertheless, my principles and beliefs have been stated here.
I do not trust the camera, I control the camera and manipulate it to get what I want.
I always remind myself that what I see is different from what the camera sees, and I will see my images from the camera's point of view. (EVF or Live View, with What You See Is What You Get)
I strive to achieve most accurate exposure that I want
I make sure my images are in tack-sharp focus, and steadying the camera the best I can to prevent shake.
I shoot RAW and process my images in Olympus Viewer 3 for best high ISO noise control and fine detail reproduction.
If you have followed all these steps, you should be able to achieve the results I normally display here (there are surely many variables to take into account, such as lighting, choice of focal length, etc).
Carmen Hong in action, with E-PL7
Jackie, also trying the E-PL7 out. He has the silver one.
Jackie, Carmen and Emily shooting that poor little baby. Emily uses an E-M10 which she has purchased recently.
Oh... and most importantly...
9) Have Fun while shooting. Enjoy SHUTTER THERAPY.
If you fail to do just this one step, EVERYTHING else before this does not even matter. Trust me.
If you fail to do just this one step, EVERYTHING else before this does not even matter. Trust me.
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