Short and Sweet Shutter Therapy to Keep Me Going, and Sharing What Goes On Behind Each Shot

Haze is back with a vengeance. It cleared off after a series of heavy rain last week, but my oh my, when it came back, the haze was twice as bad as it was before, or worse. Outdoor activities are ill-advised, which meant cutting down on my street shooting. I managed to have a super short session last Sunday, a quick walk at Chow Kit just before lunch. Thank goodness I am not doing any important review blog entries at the moment, the smokey blurry city skyline is not exactly the best test subjects for any cameras or lenses. That mystical de-haze filter on Lightroom? No, that won't help either. 

I shall just post up the few photographs I managed to shoot and, add some thought process and ideas behind them in the description that follows. 

Steel Bridge
I decided to take the lazy way out this time. Instead of waiting for that perfect moment and click the shutter, you know, how the pros would tell you the importance of quick reflex and recognizing the peak of the action, I thought hey why not just use sequential burst mode to shoot continuous 9 frames per second and I am pretty sure at a leisurely walking speed I would NOT miss the moment. I know, I know I should be ashamed to rely on technology to get the shot. You know what, it is crazy hazy out there, I just want to get the shot and get out of there soonest I can. I agree photography cannot be rushed, but this is an exception I am willing to make. 

Plastic Heads
I have shot this particular location before, but not with a foreground/additional subjects. I think this shot is very much uniquely Malaysian, the local Malay women here wear headscarf or a culture called "Hijab", something commonly practiced in Muslim communities. I did not plan for this shot to happen, as I walked by this location, I saw a boy running toward the plastic heads and I quickly aimed the camera and framed this (I had about 2 seconds to react before this shot happened). I had about one second before the kid got out of where I wanted him to be (I did not want him to be at the center, you know how photographers always throw their subjects off-center) and with that one second I changed my aperture from wide open to F4.5 (I was at Aperture Priority), and snapped the shot. Focus was always quick on Olympus cameras, so it was not an issue. The challenge was visualizing the shot, composition, subject placement and all the necessary adjustments in camera before pushing the shutter button. Is it not a godsent blessing that with such advanced AF system in most modern cameras now, we have one crucial thing to worry about. If you still have issues missing shots due to slow and unreliable camera AF system, you must pick up an Olympus camera and give it a go. If you still miss, man, I tell you, no AF system in the world can save you. 

Now this is a very difficult shot to make. The reason the framing was square, was to avoid the ugly looking tree to the right of the frame (you can still see some small portion of the leaves). This is my biggest problem utilizing wider lenses. I just have too many things to exclude from my frame. I want to keep my images as clean as possible, with as little unnecessary clutter as possible. That tree did not add any value or meaning to the photograph, it did not enhance the overall composition, and it serves generally as an ugly distraction. I could not get rid of it entirely. Usually I would just exclude shots like these, but I thought why not show it here so I can rant on about the thoughts that do so often run through my head when I shoot!

Portrait of a Stranger
Oh yes, here it is again, the usual headshots of strangers I do week after week. Anything special in this shot? Maybe not, nothing out of the usual but to me, every single person I photograph up close is unique. I do not just simply walk up to someone and shoot. Normally I shoot the faces which actually did call out to my attention. There are features in the face, maybe something which I find fascinating, that I thought was worth shooting. This man was doing his weekend grocery shopping at the local morning market and we chatted for a bit. 

Noodle Maker
I don't just exclusively shoot super close up shots. when the background is interesting enough I will include them. The problem is, most of the time, the subjects (portraits of human beings, or even cats) are exciting and beautiful at the same time, but are positioned against horribly looking background which I tried my best to avoid, hence the super blurry/creamy bokeh I did with wide open aperture of my prime lenses (typically the Olympus 45mm F1.8 lens). I do admit the best looking street portraits are the ones that do include some element of story-telling, and that can only be achieved if the background is seen, at least partially, or enough to construct the interaction with the main subject. I was late to shoot the noodle making shop and this man had already finished up the whole process in the morning. He was tending to some paperwork before closing down soon. It was a Sunday after all. 

I should really tell more stories behind my photographs. You know how those award winning photographs from the international prestigious competitions that make completely no sense or bear no significant obvious meaning at the first glance, until you read their elaborately crafted sophisticated story in the caption/descriptions, printed next to the photograph in exhibitions. Mamak is basically a term used locally in Malaysia to describe Indian Muslims. The mamaks have established a food culture, something all Malaysians cherish, and we call these outlets Mamaks as well. Mamak food consist of wide variety, ranging from fried noodles, fried rice, mixed rice, and even all sorts of flat breads called roti canai. The workers depicted in the photograph may not necessarily be local  Malaysians (they could have hired foreigners as well) but when I was shooting this the word "mamak" was in my head. Initially there was only the guy on the left, but his friends came out to see what was happening and I asked if they would join in together for a photo. They said yes. If I had not had lunch already I must have gone in for a bite. 

Portrait of a Stranger 2
You know how scary the haze is, even in the blurriness of out of focus area using a prime lens, you can still see the thick haze. 

Sleepy Sunday
This, this image sums up how I felt when I was shooting. Part of me wished I stayed home and slept in. It was hazy out there, I should really not be out there at all. The reason why I am showing this, is to encourage many of us to actually shoot what we can relate to, or connect to. I see so many photographer friends shooting something which are completely not themselves at all, something that may be able to please others, or some kind of style to fit into the bigger crowd. Who cares if no one likes cat photographs, I love cats and I will shoot them when I think they are good enough to shoot. In this particular case? The scene resonated with what mood I was in at the moment. If that was not shooting the "moment", I do not know what is. 

Men at Work
Along Brickfields, men hard at work on a Sunday morning to paint the newly erected arches, just outside the Nu Sentral (KL Sentral, yes spelled as Sentral not Central). Not really sure if this was a good idea, or how the new arches will look like, but I think a lot of effort has been made to give this location a facelift. I do not really think it will be street photography friendly though. More messy, colourful yet distracting background to avoid. Oh well...

Empty Lane
I always admired friends who shoot regularly with me on the streets (namely Amir and Luke), both playing with highlight and shadow in their photographs, showing high contrast between the subject and background. The stark difference of intense blacks and whites in the photo resulted in super dramatic photographs, which often can be striking even at the first glance. You know, the "wow" factor and all. Looking at images made by my friends, sometimes I do feel my own photographs appear too "ordinary" and mundane. 

Flat White
A reason to keep on living? To be able to smell, sip and enjoy every single bit of awesome coffee goodness. 


  1. I live on the country side, when there is haze - and it is- not much to shoot...
    So your therapy is my savior ;)
    Yes, you should indeed add more stories. Very interesting for a European to get details about the life in Malaysia.
    My fav is empty lane. I do love the colors off the noodle maker. The stripes on the stranger's shirt add greatly to the impression.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. Well, the haze in Malaysia now is already at unhealthy ratings, and might just go up to hazardous levels soon. It might already be hazardous and the government may not be announcing the accurate air pollution index readings. thanks for the kind words though!

  2. Love the steel bridge shot. I believe sports shooters call that method "spray and pray". Sometimes it's the only option.

    1. Hah! Spray and pray, that is new vocab to me! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Good evening Mr Robin,
    I'm following your blog for a long time and I find the photos really fascinating, expressive and especially "simple", spontaneous and free of artifacts.
    In November I will be in KL and then I'll go to Borneo, shooting to animals and primitive ethnic groups ... with my Olympus forever!
    Thank you for what you do here...
    Roberto (Italy)

  4. Which Olympus were these shot with?

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  6. Awesome images Robin. But, could you add on the bottom of each images, with which camera, lens, shuttespeed, aparture, ISO you have shot. As exemple: (E-M5II, 45mm, ISO 200, 1/400, f/4.0).
    It would be very helpful for all, to see, how a lens (Oly or Pana) works with body. Thanks.

    1. Hi Jean,
      I only add metadata for my review blog entries. It is extremely difficult and just too much work to key in the data one by one manually for every single photograph. if it helps, i shoot at lowest ISO possible for each scene (mostly ISO200 outdoors), mostly wide open (F1.8) and at aperture priority, letting the camera decide the shutter speed. I use the exposure compensation a lot.

  7. "The problem is, most of the time, the subjects (portraits of human beings, or even cats) are exciting and beautiful at the same time, but are positioned against horribly looking background"......

    .I know exactly what you mean ...:):):)