Monday, August 31, 2015

Malaysia BERSIH 4.0 - Cry of Malaysians

Important Note: In case you have not noticed I have blogged about Bersih 3.0 previously, you can read my coverage here. 

Before I begin, allow me to clarify a few things. Freedom of speech is dead in Malaysia, all media is censored, and controlled by the ruling government. Any attempts at speaking ill at them will result in the said media, be it mainstream publication or a harmless online blog, much like this one you are reading now, silenced. The control over what is being written and published is absolute. Therefore, I shall compose this blog entry carefully, as I do intend to continue blogging in a foreseeable long future. 

If you have followed what has been happening in Malaysia, you will find all kinds of news pointing toward corruption and abuse of power by the current government. I shall not go into details about the accusations (made by Wall Street Journal and several other fully valid, legitimate parties. both locally in Malaysia as well as outside), but it has come to a point that the people can no longer sit still and not do anything. As a Malaysian, I too am faced with deep frustration at the current state of the country, which I have mentioned recently, is falling apart. 

Therefore, Malaysians got together for this one gigantic rally, Bersih 4 (you can read more here) to show our protest. You can also read the full objectives and demands of the Bersih 4 rally in the provided link. Bersih 4.0 happened at Dataran Merdeka and all locations adjacent to it, or leading to it, on 29th and 30th Auguest 2015. The nation celebrates the Independence day tomorrow, 31st August 2015. 

The theme of Bersih has always been Yellow. Hence, if you find that the photographs are on the warmer side of color balance, it was not the white balance issue. Joke aside, it was quite mind blowing seeing so many Malaysians all dressed up in Yellow, came together hand in hand, Estimated attendance was about 300,000 strong Malaysians. 

I brought along the new Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II and M.Zuiko lenses 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 and 45mm F1.8 to cover this event. 


Interesting things and activities did happen from time to time, and the crowd was never bored. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Insect Macro Photography

Note: Before anyone starts asking, the focus bracketing feature in E-M10 Mark II does not work with my usual macro shooting technique. For the focus bracketing to work the camera must not move when the bracketing was in action, and tripod use is a must. 

In the very beginning of my early adventures of photography, I started with insect macro photography, something I did fairly often. Macro photography is probably one of the technically more demanding types of photography, it is an all rounder in getting all your photography basics right. You have to take care of accurate focus, steadying your shots with proper hand-holding techniques, trying different techniques to gain magnification and more importantly, the use and control of additional lighting which usually require diffuser or reflector. 

After shooting a little bit of insect macro last weekend (for the OM-D E-M10 Mark II review), the itch to hunt for insects returned, and I decided to do a little macro shooting this weekend. In this blog entry I shall share my techniques and execution of insect macro photography. 

Before proceeding further, kindly take note of the following important points:

1) For new comer to photography, do not skip your basics. If you still struggle in understanding the relationship between shutter speed, aperture and ISO, then make sure you master these very fundamentals of photography before venturing into macro photography. 

2) My techniques are not entirely made by me, I devised it based on information I have read, observation of other macro photographers as well as my own limited experience in shooting. Each time I go out I did trial and error experimentations. It is still work in progress, hence my technique I am sharing is not perfect, and there is plenty of rooms to improve. 

3) My technique may not necessarily work for you. There is no right and wrong, there are more than one ways to accomplish the same goal. Pick what works for you best. 

WHAT I USE FOR MACRO PHOTOGRAPHY

1) A camera, of course, and my own camera is the OM-D E-M5, I also use any other OM-D cameras. For this weekend, I have used the new OM-D E-M10 Mark II. A camera with a viewfinder, ability to do macro, or attach a macro lens, and have wireless flash control capability. 

2) A macro lens. I used Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro. 
You need a true macro lens for the large magnification. For Olympus 60mm I get 2:1 magnification in 35mm equivalent format. 

3) External flash, fired off camera. I had the Olympus FL-50R. 
I have tried many methods of flash use in macro photography and find using wireless flash to be most practical. Most of the insects do not just sit on top of the leaf posing nicely for you. They often hide underneath the leaves, behind the branch, or sticking vertically on a tree trunk, with their face looking down to the ground. With flash being attached on top of the camera, I have no control of where the direction of light will fall, and often not successfully light the parts of the frame that I want. By moving the flash away from the camera, I can position in anywhere I want, and this has allowed me to shoot at very difficult angles. 

4) Mini Softbox attached to the external flash unit. I had recently acquired the Gamilight Box 21. 
I have previously created my own diffusers or reflectors, from all kinds of materials, including shoeboxes, but they did not last very long and I could only used the fragile constructions for a few limited times. Now I decided to not go through so much trouble each time I needed to shoot macro and just bought a proper mini softbox. Gamilight Box 21 was the only one I could find within short notice, and it was not expensive, and got the job done decently. 

1/125sec. F11, ISO200, Wireless Flash fired

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II Review

Important Notes:
1) I am an Olympus Malaysia employee. 
2) This is a user experience based approach review of a camera. I spent considerable amount of time shooting, and I am writing this blog review based on that shooting experience, with plenty of sample photographs to show and support my findings. 
3) This is not a full technical analysis review site. There are many of such sites out there, I am not equipped with sufficient expertise and equipment to perform elaborate technical tests. 
4)I may be biased (who isn't?) but that does not mean I cannot shoot photographs, share them, and write about my experience using the camera, all which are still valid. Do not just rely solely on my review alone, there will be plenty others available for you to make a more rounded conclusion. 
5) All images were shot in RAW and converted to JPEG directly via Olympus Viewer 3 software. Very minimal post-processing were applied (minor exposure compensation, white balance tweak, etc). 
6) Important image parameters: White Balance Auto (warm color off), Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation = 0, Noise Filter = OFF, Gradation = Normal

Today, Olympus is launching the new Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II, the second generation of the premium compact E-M10 series in the OM-D system line-up.

The OM-D series is aimed at professional and serious enthusiasts wanting more from their camera and expect the best of the best that the system can offer. Characteristics that define an OM-D include large Electronic Viewfinder (EVF), powerful image stabilization system, DSLR like controls and features (twin dials, plenty of shortcut customizeable function buttons, good ergonomics and handling etc), high performance in terms of AF speed/camera response, as well as the final image quality results delivered by the camera. E-M1 and E-M5 series are weather-sealed, while the E-M10 series, including the new E-M10 Mark II is not. It is crucial to note that the OM-D E-M10 Mark II is not a direct replacement of E-M10, and sits comfortably between E-M5 Mark II and E-M10.

The key highlights of the OM-D E-M10 Mark II:

1) Powerful 5-Axis Image Stabilization 
Continuing the tradition of the OM-D strength, now the E-M10 Mark II has 5-Axis Image Stabilization, much like the elder siblings E-M5 Mark II and E-M1. The Image Stabilization works in both still and movie recordings.

2) Small, light-weight, premium quality construction
E-M10/E-M10 Mark II is the smallest of the OM-D series, but still fully built in metal body and high grade material.

3) Large Electronic Viewfinder (new OLED design)
E-M5 Mark II and E-M1 share the same LCD viewfinder (0.74x magnification), but the E-M10 Mark II is slightly smaller at 0.62x, with high resolution of 2.36 Million Dots and 100% frame coverage.

4) High Performance (fast AF, OM-D image quality)
Olympus AF system has been known to be super fast and accurate and this continues in the E-M10 Mark II. The E-M10 Mark II also uses the similar image sensor and processing engine (Truepic 7) as the E-M5 Mark II, so I am expecting the camera to deliver very similar image quality.

5) Creative Shooting Features 
Art Filters, HDR Mode, Color Creator, etc

For full specifications please visit the official product page here (click). 

I like the new design of the E-M10 Mark II. It looks cleaner, simpler and more straight to the point. I'd pick silver if I were to choose one. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

35mm Adventure at Pudu Market

In the continuing effort in learning 35mm photography, I brought the beautiful Fujifilm X100 to Pudu Market, the largest wet market in Kuala Lumpur (and possibly Malaysia). I do not remember using much 35mm perspective in this market, my favourite perspective has always been 50mm, especially shooting in this market. Nevertheless knowing that I will work with very tight space, a wider coverage is always a plus point and having more fitted into a frame forces me to consider my shots more carefully before pressing the shutter button. The market setting is possibly the messiest place to achieve clean composition. 

Joining me this morning was the new friend from Germany, Stephan as well as the KL streets regular Nick. We started earlier than usual, to catch the beautiful morning light, and that really did pay off. The lighting on human portraits were fantastic, and there is almost a magical glow thanks to the beautiful morning light. 

Gigantic Fish
We were lucky to have come across these two friendly market sellers. We did not approach them, they saw us with our cameras, and immediately asked us to come to them as they picked up those huge fish!


Friday, August 21, 2015

Silent Scenery - "Play, Rewind, Repeat"

I have been a huge fan of Silent Scenery, and have been following them since the debut of their first album released in the year 2008. Their music is unique, one of its kind, and at the same time tunes that can be easily blended into our daily lives, becoming loosely described as "the soundtrack of your life". In every opportunity that I could find I would catch their performance live on stage and did my best to shoot photographs, and then video recording in later days. Silent Scenery has come a long way, having successful Asian tour (all over Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Philippines, just to name a few) and subsequently launched their second album in 2011. Unfortunately all good things come to an end as the members of the band parted ways and Silent Scenery was officially disbanded in early 2013. My heart was broken. I even could not make it to their finale show before their indefinite absence from the local music scene!

I think my biggest regret was not being able to do justice to their performance in my photographs, due to the lack of equipment (imagine shooting with an Olympus E-410 and E-520 in dimly lit cafe or bar, with just mere kit lenses back then), and my inability to shoot high quality videos (what is music if you do not have good video recording?). I have only recently started to polish my skills in shooting video of live music performance (mostly Ariff AB and a few other local artists) and I have learned and improved so much. I have even started to consider the audio quality of my recording a priority! I have always thought to myself if only Silent Scenery was still playing, I could have recorded much better videos with what I can do now (equipment wise, and skills). 

Then suddenly, a few weeks ago, the dormant Silent Scenery Facebook page pinged a notification on an upcoming event, some sort of a reunion show, playing ONE more time, one last time, together with their friends Lightcraft (from Indonesia), Telephony and Take Two (from Singapore). I cannot believe this was happening! Last night was the show and boy, it was a blast seeing Silent Scenery performing live again one more time. Though the evening was short, it was one awesome evening to remember. 

The venue was at Live Fact at Taman Danau Desa, and I went there immediately after work. I brought along the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II and M.Zuiko lenses 12mm F2, 25mm F1.8 and 75mm F1.8. Knowing that I can get near, the 12mm F2 is the primary lens, and 25mm was already too tight in many scenarios. Lighting condition was horrible (purple) but that was to be expected from such gigs. Though I originally intended to shoot more stills, somehow, instinctively in the final moments I decided to tilt my balance over to video recording. 

Here are the two videos, shot in full HD 1080p at 60 frames per second! Video was all recorded hand-held with only 12mm F2 lens. 

SILENT SCENERY - ANONYMOUS INTRODUCTION & FESTIVAL

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Food Photography is a Real Struggle for Me

I started this blog in 2004 (during my University days) with the intention of keeping an online diary, recording in detail of my every day adventures, where I went, whom I have met, what interesting activities I participated in, any exciting events that happened and most importantly, to remember the delicious food that I have eaten. As a typical blogger who regularly posted photographs of food once upon a time, I have often found myself struggling to shoot a decent photograph of food. The struggle is very real, I can spend 5 minutes in front of a beautiful plate of noodles under majestic available light and I have trouble nailing a good shot. What happens next? All the photos were discarded and never made it here. Only very selective few survived the brutal filtering process and these shots are being compiled into this blog entry. 

I know some of you will roll your eyes and say "oh typical Asians who shoot food photos" and this scenario cannot be illustrated better in this short done by WongfuProductions. Food is a huge part of culture and you can share that through photographs. I do think food photography is art and not an easy one to master. Evidently there are just too many "average" and well..... less than average food shots being shared. I have always envied my friends like Jasonmumbles (who no longer blogs about food, boooo), whom I have learned a great deal from, and more recently Anna and Carmen both always enthusiastically shooting and blogging about food in Malaysia. 

My biggest problem with food photography is composition. This is the first time I am compiling all of "ok can make it at least for this blog entry" food photographs together and they all look almost the same in terms of angle and perspective of view. I really should explore different composition options and more creative angles. This is easier said than done! I have in fact experimented with so many alternatives and they all come out... unusable. At the same time I have always wanted to take good food photographs. 

Why shoot food photographs you ask? Because I am a food lover and I believe we live to eat. I have frequently shouted: Shoot What You Love. 

Roasted Duck Slices at Roost, Bangsar
This image was shot at 40MP High Resolution with E-M5 Mark II and printed large 60"x40" for the use in Olympus events. This is the only image in this series that is entirely straight out of camera JPEG with no additional processing. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

About My Street Portrait Photography

If you have spent time exploring my older blog entries you will find that almost every week I will post some photographs from my shutter therapy sessions, which usually involved me and several friends shooting on the streets of Kuala Lumpur. From these street shots that I share, there would be a few portraits of strangers. In this blog entry, I shall share my thoughts on street portrait photography, and subsequently, my favourite photographs of these portraits. 

Why Shoot Strangers on the Street?

I do not exclusively shoot just tight portraits of strangers, in general that only accounts for about 10% of my shots during my usual street hunting sessions. I think street photography is quite a subjective genre that has been debated endlessly yet never been properly defined and has spawned almost ridiculous amounts of sub-genres and categories. I am not quite sure when and why I was attracted to shooting street portraits. I think it was a dare, or a challenge by one of my earlier blog readers who criticized me on my cold, soul-less street photographs that were (at that time) void of human elements, or more accurately put, there were no people in my street shots. I have learned tonnes and improved myself from these constructive feedback and comments posted on my blog (some can be quite brutal, but it helps that I am a thick-skinned typical Asian). Taking up the challenge I braved myself to approach strangers and shoot them as close as I can possibly manage. The feeling that I had after successfully executed the shot was nothing short of breathtaking. There was a thrill that I cannot describe in words, the sense of accomplishment, though just mere ordinary portraits of people that may not get me anywhere far in photography, but it was enough to satisfy my weekly shutter therapy cravings. I get more satisfaction in shooting one perfectly executed street portrait shot, than a hundred posed, arranged beautiful bikini-clad models by the beach (that most other photographers seem to prefer doing here in KL). 

I do not have a fixed purpose or final objective in shooting strangers on the street, unlike the popular works of Brandon Stanton in his Humans of New York, or undertaking serialized projects like Bruce Gilden in spreading terror on the streets. I shoot entirely just for the fun of it, and I enjoy shooting portraits. I think that is enough reason to justify me returning to the KL streets week after week. That way, I am not attached to any strings so I can do anything I want with my shots, and choose to shoot or not shoot anyone on the street. 

How Do You Approach the Strangers?

I normally choose my subjects carefully, and I do not just attack random people. I generally would not stop someone who is walking, or obstruct whatever the people are already doing on the street. For such close up shots I look for people who are standing still waiting for something or someone, or comfortably sitting down somewhere. I will always be careful not to disrupt those who are working or cause trouble if my presence is not welcomed. It works best when the people you want to shoot is at a comfortable position, and it takes a lot of body language reading and anticipation on my part to understand or predict if the subject of choice will agree if I were to ask for a photograph to be taken. If the person is busy, or doing something important, or did not look happy, or was obviously not in the mood to engage in a conversation with a stranger, I will give it a pass. 

I think what drove me to shoot close up portraits has something to do with the excitement that I get when I actually do have to interact with someone I am completely alien to. Nervous is an understatement but I have learned that a little sincere smile, and polite conversation can go a long way. Breaking the ice is not easy. I would establish my presence within the peripheral vision of the subject, before jumping straight in for the kill. I observe what is the response of the stranger with my inclusion within his comfort zone, breaching his personal space. People will react when you get so close, and with all the right signals I read, I then ask if I can take a photo. 90% of the time? A solid YES. 

I do engage in conversations, but normally brief, and quick. Sometimes, it was just a nod if it was ok for the photo to be taken, and no words exchanged. In some rare circumstance I would have a long conversation. 

Here is the thing, there are times I do get rejected. So what? Just smile politely, and move on. For every one rejection there are possibly dozens of opportunities waiting else where. Forget him or her, and focus on finding the next opportunity. The trick here is to stay positive and always be positive. Your facial expression, and how you present yourself is the key in getting the response that you want. People react to you the same way you treat them, especially if you are a total stranger to them. 

Some famous photographers would point out that for such street portraits the character would exhibit better without them smiling. I disagree. We smile when we see each other, especially amongst friends and family. There is magic in human smile that even science cannot explain. Animals have other ways of greeting one another, but for us humans, our smile is so unique and universally accepted as a peaceful language. Why exclude something that is so exclusively human, when you are shooting humans?



Sunday, August 09, 2015

Rewind: Olympus PEN E-P1

Olympus PEN E-P1 was the first Micro Four Thirds camera released by Olympus in the year 2009. This was a significant product for the company, marking the first step into Mirrorless Interchangeable Camera (MILC) world, and shifting of priority from the Four Thirds DSLR system to Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds. When the PEN E-P1 was launched, I was still happily shooting with the Olympus DSLR E-520, an entry level DSLR, even before I did my blog review for the E-5. Being the second released mirrorless camera in the world (first was Panasonic G1, about half a year earlier), this E-P1 obtained considerably huge amount of attention and scrutiny from everyone. 

The Olympus PEN E-P1 is now six years old. I was holding, and shooting with a six year old camera. I found it in the cabinet in office, and the camera just screamed at me, grabbing my attention. I was immediately attracted to the beautiful, retro, yet modern design of the camera. The metal build of the body was solid and reassuring as I held the E-P1 in my hands, and I like the smooth, cool feel of the metal. It was not a light camera, it has some heft, and as I slotted the battery in, turned the camera on, I just knew I must bring this E-P1 out for the weekend, and forget about all my other cameras at the moment. Who cares if the camera is a six year old dinosaur? The desire to test it out was unexpected, but I guess why not try out the first ever Micro Four Thirds camera from Olympus? 



Thursday, August 06, 2015

An Awesome July

Last month has been quite an adventure for me, and shutter therapy sessions have taken some unexpected turns. Instead of just attacking the KL streets on lazy weekends, I went out of KL, spending a weekend earlier in the month in Penang and then just two weeks ago, in Fraser's Hill. I have successfully, to my surprise put aside all the usual, frequently favored prime lenses and went on zoom shooting spree. In Penang I armed myself with the M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO, a lens which has become the staple lens for many professional photographers and serious hobbyists that I know personally. Then in Fraser's Hill I shot exclusively with the M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II which I rarely used. More importantly, I have dared myself to take the challenge of using 35mm focal length street photography, acquiring an old, used Fuji X100 just for that task. 

It has been an interesting, long month, and it felt great to be able to be this active in shooting again. 

I think I deserve an over-priced cup of coffee. 

Shot with M.Zuiko 14-42mm EZ pancake lens. Who says the kit lens can't do good photos? ok ok I admit I am getting addicted to coffee

I want to, believe me, to shoot as much as possible, to try out as many gear, and challenge myself to go further, pushing myself outside the boundaries. I have that desire to just shoot and shoot and I don't care if the images are not competition or exhibition gallery worthy. I just simply enjoy doing what I do and it has become an obsession. 

I am not sure if I will be able to keep up with this momentum. The country, my beloved Malaysia, is falling apart. I am not joking. If you are in Malaysia you will be fully aware of all the current news which bore nothing optimistic. I do not know what kind of news you get outside of Malaysia, but it is perhaps not the safest time, especially on the streets. There will be a huge protest rally happening on 29th to 30th August, with expected turnout of hundreds of thousands of Malaysians, and things can get ugly. And it is a sad fact that I must stop talking about the political scenario of the country as well as anything related to the government here, else I will find myself in jail. You can guess it right, there is no freedom of speech in Malaysia. If you need to find out more Google will be your good friend. 

Some of you may suggest that it would be an opportunity: shoot that protest, photo journalistic style. That idea did cross my mind but I must admit that I am no photojournalist and I do not pretend to be one. I am an engineer by training and safety has always been the priority in all my decision making. 

I will still go out and shoot of course, nothing can stop me, but I will be more selective and careful of the places I go to. One of the best solution would be travelling outside of the city, but I cannot afford going on such trips too often. 

Meanwhile, if there are not much updates happening here in the month of August, you have the following blog entries to munch on:

Fraser's Hill Bird shooting with M.Zuiko 75-300mm II

Robin Wong's OM-D Camera Cheat Sheet 

Penang Street Shooting with M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO

Quick Test of the M.Zuiko 14-150mm II

And my Fuji X100 adventures here, here and here.


Sunday, August 02, 2015

The 35mm Adventure Continues

I spent the entire weekend with only the Fujifilm Finepix X100, which was an old, 4 years old camera, but at the same time, it was rather new to me. As I have mentioned in my previous blog entry the main reason I acquired this camera is to take the 35mm focal length more seriously, and push myself further in getting comfortable and be able to work with 35mm. 

It is work in progress and I do not expect immediate results. However I must say I enjoy using the Fuji X100 tremendously, and I can understand how so many photographers are emotionally attached to it. Despite all the disadvantages of the old camera, having slower autofocus, laggy camera general operations, having less Megapixels, etc, I still find myself able to forgive all that, and just focus on shooting. I have slowed down my shooting process and put more thoughts in my composition, before I clicked the shutter button. 

As usual, I shall share images from my latest shutter therapy session.

Three Chairs