KL Street Shooting - A Different Approach

I think it is crucial for a photographer not to just stay stagnant with one particular shooting style and not experiment with different approaches or techniques in photography. I have seen a handful of narrow minded photographers who think they are so sure of what they are doing and just fully concentrate on their own specific methodology. I do not think there is a single best solution when it comes to art, and we do have to constantly update ourselves, daring to try different ways of doing something and often the best results are the combination of multiple alternatives of approaching the same subject.

My usual set up for street photography is: OM-D or PEN camera with either M.Zuiko 25mm F1.8 or 45mm F1.8 lens, and usually in full colour (because I love glorious colours). I would do close up portraits and tight composition of certain scenes, and I will plan my shots carefully with precise execution (having the focusing point at the exact location of the frame I want in focus and fervently adjusting the exposure compensation to get the right balance of brightness, etc).

For this particular session, I have done something rather different:

1) I used the PEN-F and activated the Monochrome Profile Control, using Mono Profile 2 for most people/usual street subjects, and Mono Profile 3 for buildings and sky scenes. 
The main reason I went all black and white in this session, is to eradicate the constant consideration and thought process that involves colour. This way I am simplifying my workflow to just focus on the subject, minus the distractions of colour in the frame.

2) I chose the 17mm F1.8 lens, providing an equivalent of classic 35mm perspective, something much wider than what I comfortably work with
This is not exactly a new experiment, as I have used the 17mm lenses (both the 1.8 and 2.8 pancake versions) quite frequently recently. While this is not my favourite focal length to work with, I find it challenging to myself to compose using 35mm classic perspective, and sometimes it does yield rather interesting results.

3) Instead of using Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority, I switched the mode dial to Program. I decided to trust the camera on the metering too (Evaluative/Pattern)
Because, not having to think too much about which F-number and what shutter speed to use helps me not to obsess to much about the technical part of the photography execution, we are paying so much for modern cameras these days, I would think that the camera should be able to work for us and not fail us!

4) I left the ISO to Auto (with high ISO limit of ISO6400). Normally, I will change the ISO settings necessarily to compensate for varying lighting conditions.
The default monochrome profile 2 in the PEN-F added so much film grain that you cannot even distinguish if the photo was taken with low or high ISO settings. Furthermore, the highlight and shadow settings were pushed to the extreme by default, shadow -6 and highlight +6, effectively blowing out the highlight and clipping the shadow regions, crushing whatever available dynamic range in the photograph. It is good to remove yet another variable to think about as I was shooting.

5) Usually I would painstakingly select the focusing point (single point) but for this session, I left the AF to be fully controlled by the camera (activating all area) and turned the Face Detect AF on
I still would not recommend this for usual shooting (or anything that requires critical focus) but Henri Cartier Bressan said sharpness is a bourgeois concept, so...

6) I shot in JPEG. No RAW this time. Just JPEG and I set the compression settings to Large Super Fine. 


Lone Walk

Entry Point

Kuala Lumpur

In Your Hands


Crossing the Stream



Under the Table

Not only my set up was different, my shooting approach was modified as well. I employed a "run and gun" style, walking and snapping my shots instantaneously without much consideration of exposure and focus accuracy, and left those work to the camera which I hoped would not fail me. While I did not get 100% accuracy hit rate (I was not reviewing the camera anyway, so I can get away with underexposed or slightly out of focus shots) the simplicity of not having to go through so many steps was liberating. I saw something interesting, I reacted immediately and most of the time I got the shot. No I have not come to the stage where I stick the camera inches away from a stranger's face and fire an overpowered flash directly onto the eyes.... that probably will not happen in my street shooting. I sure hope not. 

The PEN-F monochrome profile control has sooooooo much to love for. I am not a big fan of film grains (seriously, I do not see the magic, and how these grains add any value to the images) and I almost decided to turn the film grain off. On the other hand I also considered the fact that the settings were already pre-adjusted for a reason: the monochrome profile 2 was to simulate a certain film look, with high contrast and grainy outcome. Also this shooting session was doing something I would normally not do, so I decided to stay with the original preset of Mono Profile 2 in the end, and you know what? The results were not too bad at all. While these photographs were not pixel-peeping worthy I do admit there was some organic feel to them that I normally do not get from my ordinarily clean and sharp looking photographs. 

The usual important things to look out for, good lighting, careful composition and framing, approaching strangers and timing the shot still apply, no matter what kind of street shooting technique you choose. If the lighting was bad, no matter what kind of black and white style you employ the images will still look flat and uninteresting. If your framing is poor and composition weak, your story and message will not not get across. While the entire process is simplified, there is still no shortcut when it comes to overall photography execution. 


Waiting Area


Portrait of a Stranger 1


Passing by

Portrait of a Stranger 2

Friendly Foreign Labors 1

Friendly Foreign Labors 2



Danish making use of low angle shooting

A recent selfie of me, in black and white! It was a little out of focus but who cares?

I hope you have enjoyed these photographs as much as I have enjoyed shooting them! I probably will not use this method permanently, but I might give this experimentation a few more trials and see how I can adopt certain parts to improve my own street photography game. 

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  1. Ah, yes sharpness is a bourgeoisie concept - I see you are using a similar method to me. Impromptu. Quick

    1. Ananda, come back to KL the streets here miss you haha.

    2. I was thinking of coming to KL midyear to see my mum and sis as well as you. But it turns out midyear is also a seriously busy time. Looking to have a rest sooner or later. By the way, I had a look at my blog and discovered a similar theme / title - have a look http://anandasim.blogspot.com.au/2016/05/when-image-quality-isnt-focus.html

  2. Where is the end "flat white" coffee?

    1. I do not think the photo of the flat white looks good in black and white. and I am keeping the theme of black and white consistent, so the flat white did not make it into the final cut.

  3. Some of those top images (from the start through the cats) are pretty cool. Nice work.

  4. It's good to change up the process from time to time - nice work Robin!

  5. I _totally_ enjoyed the change of look! I'm especially a fan of untoned b&w, I prefer this so much.
    Kudos for trying something different and out of your comfort zone.

    1. Thanks pbasswil, part of learning is to move out of comfort zone and try different things. I am still experimenting and it is sure fun doing something unusual for me.

  6. I applaud you for trying something different and challenging your creativity. While I prefer your "regular" work, the results you achieved were very pleasing.

  7. hmmm, am I the only one that doesn't dig this set?
    I have followed for a while Robin but I don't like these.
    I usually admire you and watch in amazement how some of your images "speak" to me, but these don't
    Too much contrast, not enough information, fuzzy and grainy; and I am so far remotely distanced from pixel-peeper.
    The subjects are fine (although not as refined as other times) but honestly I think the standard is much lower here.
    In my experience a bit of time to compose and focus leads to better, more thoughtful results than run-and-gun.
    I hope this style doesn't become your regular one.

    1. I have the same opinion, there no subtility in grey tones, too contrasted, maybe was it better to have a raw version to be developed and compared. Maybe better to control the camera and not the invert.
      A link I personally like : http://petapixel.com/2016/05/24/23-ninja-tips-street-photography/

    2. I really like them, but then I used to spend a lot of time with rolls of Ilford FP4 and developing and printing them to give contrast and grain.
      That was on my good old trusty Olympus OM2 SP.

      Thanks to happenstance coming across Robin's Blog, and largely to Robin's great enthusiasm and ability put words and pictures to webpage, I've just this month bought an OM-D E-M5 II and have to say I am loving it. :)

      Thanks Robin, and keep up the good work!

  8. I love good B&W photography, and many of these photos are first rate! It speaks well not only of the Pen F, but of you as well! But I would be interested in hearing about what you leaned from this shoot! What would you have done differently if you decided to make B&W a bigger part of your work?

  9. I always use "P mode" with selected ISO (100-400), it's most reliable way to get good shoot in fast changing street conditions. Some pro photographers says "use manual mode, use manual lense" and so on, but for me this way seems impossible.