Thursday, October 20, 2016

Understanding Subject Content Choices

As I shoot on the street often, almost on every weekend doing my weekly shutter therapy sessions (whenever we do not have an Olympus event), I have collected a large amount of random images. I generally would walk around with no particular end-goal or objective in mind (unless I was reviewing cameras and lenses of course, that is a different story) and end up with a series of disconnected, disorganized and chaotic frame of work. In the midst of all the randomness, there were repeated ideas, themes, composition styles and specific subjects that I have consistently kept an eye out, and captured again and again on the street. I am sure if you have followed me on my shutter therapy adventures here in this blog (which I should be updating more often), you will find these patterns happening again and again. I want to take a closer look at these recurring messages, understand them and discuss the meaning behind the redundancy in this blog entry.

I think it is crucial to understand yourself if you do want to improve in photography. Your photography, whether it is your conscious decision or not, does reflect a part of who you are, and your unique identity. While ideas and contents can be easily copied and plagiarized (now this is even more rampant in the age of Instagram/Twitter/Facebook), personal style in photography is something that can only be developed and seasoned over time, and it becomes a signature that the photographer imprints in his photographs that his viewers can often immediately recognize. Before you can reach that far in photography journey, it is prudent to take a step back and study on your own progress, scrutinizing your own preferences of photography execution. This is what I am doing here, and I am sharing my thoughts on what I felt, wanted to tell, and reasoning behind what I normally shoot.

I know I have a lot of photos of cats but cats are just cats and I have taken images of cats on the streets because they love me and I love cats and I must play with them and I should stop talking about cats. Moving on...

I think this is a rather straightforward one, that anyone can easily guess why I was so drawn to birds. My name, Robin itself, is a bird, and men have deep fascination with things that can fly since forever. One of the movie quotes that have always been stuck at the back of my mind was from the movie Batman Forever (I know, I know, not the finest Batman movies out there, but it was still a cool movie), Alfred gave a prudent advice to then an injured Dick Grayson, saying "broken wings will mend in time, one day, the Robin will fly again". When I heard that line, it struck a chord in me, and this was so true in so many levels, because temporary setbacks happen so often in our lives that we easily lose hope at times, feeling helpless and cannot look beyond our difficulties. Just observing the birds flying, I find it calming and reassuring that just like the bird, I will one day be able to break myself away and just soar high, fly far away from whatever mess I have managed to get myself into. Birds easily symbolize freedom. 

Finding matching items within a frame is a common street photography technique, one that is often used and repetition itself is interesting to watch. Just like my photography journey, I am still finding myself in this life I am in. There is so much uncertainty, so many things that I do not know, and I am unsure of what the future holds. In the midst of all the confusion and instability surrounding me, seeing similarities among-st all the variations of subjects makes perfect sense to me. They evoke the sense of unity, the understanding that hey there are things that are just the same, or seeking familiarity. I too, like many other photographers, seek similar-minded photographers to share our passion, stories and joy. No two people are the same, but aren't we connected by establishing at least a common interest? That is me saying, me too, at times actively seeking that connection with people, connection with other photographers who speak the same language. That is also the reason why I still continue to blog, that I can speak to an actual audience! Aren't we all the same? No photographer should be an island. 

Portrait of Strangers
God knows how many strangers in KL have I shot (now that sentence did not come out right, but yeah photography-speaking, I took photos of the strangers). Strangely, the excitement of approaching strangers, the thrill as I was making the images happen and the after-glow satisfaction that I felt when I reviewed a portrait of a stranger that I truly personally like are never, ever getting old. I felt the same every single time I was out there shooting. While this was not exactly recognized universally as street photography and at certain dark corners of street photography discussions posed portraits on the street could be frowned on, they never discussed about the connection that you make when shooting these portraits! They were short, direct, intentional, purposeful and sweet at the same time. I took just a moment of their (strangers) time, and we have that mutual trust and acknowledgement toward each other for that very brief moment. I chose to shoot direct strangers head-on because every single stranger has a different face, it is new all over again, though the composition and execution is the same. No two smiles are the same, no two facial expression convey the same emotion. Yet the strangers are people too, human just like I am, and I am seeing them through my viewfinder/live view. There is a lot more going on here than me shooting them, could I be looking for a mirror to my own self?

Placing subjects into shapes such as boxes or triangles is also a popular street photography composition style, something I have frequently adopted in my shots. This has a lot to do with my engineering practices, we often try our best to categorize, classify and isolate problems or issues, before we can figure out a solution. Therefore when I am on the street I like to visually separate my subjects and I find many ways to do that. Just like how I compartmentalize my engineering problems, I frame my subjects with rectangles or other shapes, sometimes even shadows or colorful background. I need to be able to see the subject clearly and the subject needs to stand out from the scene I was shooting. 

Motion Blur 
I often emphasized on the creative use of slow shutter speed to add that extra "oomph" in the street photographs, or any photography in general. It is an inexpensive way to get better photograph and also can create really unexpected results sometimes. Living in a fast-paced modern city such as Kuala Lumpur, everything is moving so fast and I wish at times I could just slow things down, or pause the time to catch my breath! I think speed and timing are extremely important in a lot of aspects in life. The one thing that man cannot control (at least for now) is time. Yet photography is probably the only tool that can immortalize one particular moment! How cool is that? 

Men at Work
I have often taken photographs of men at intense labor. Pushing carts, carrying loads of heavy objects, or doing something physically challenging on the streets. I identify myself with these men, in our "work culture" where we do so much hard work day in and out and we question whether our life is worth thrown aside just for the sake of the work that we do. Earning a living usually costs the life itself, you spend most of the day time working for someone else, by the time we retire, I do not see myself having enough life to do the things that I want to do! I have always thought there is something inherently wrong with this system. 

Bright Colors
Somehow, I have many photography friends who would avoid bright colors in their composition and just stay with neutral, distraction free, gentler to the eyes colors. To me, I always play with bright colors in my images. While I generally wear plain and not so striking colors, everything else around me can be colorful. I see the world in full color and I celebrate the existence of color. The brighter, the louder, the more explosive, the better! My best photographs came from some of the most colorful festivals in Malaysia, namely Holi Festival (festival of colors), and Thaipusam!

Well, the repeated images of coffee, because I love coffee. And shutter therapy typically ends with a good, over-priced cup of coffee. 

Have you wondered why you took your photographs a certain way or why were you drawn to certain subjects of choice? Do share your thoughts!

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Day Out With Ming Thein X Frankie Falcon Ultimate Photographer's Daybag

Let's do something different for this blog, instead of just reviewing cameras and lenses, for the first time ever, I am writing about a bag! Not just any bag, but the newly launched Ming Thein X Frankie Falcon Ultimate Photographer's Daybag!

Ming Thein, a fellow friend and incredible photographer/blogger was super generous to loan me a pre-production unit of his personally designed camera bag which was done in collaboration with a renowned bag manufacturer, Frankie Falcon. When he showed me the bag it was love at the first sight: having just the right size and capacity to fit in cameras and lenses and just about anything you need to be on the move, and it comes in really sexy design and stealthy black finish. It is a camera bag that photographers need, want and more! When he told me I could borrow the bag for personal use, I was thrilled of course!

All photos of me using the MT x FF Bag in action were taken by Robert Sarmiento Evangelista and Van Ambruce Ligutom.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Alena Murang's EP "Flight" Launch in Kuala Lumpur

About two weeks ago, I managed to squeeze some time out of my hectic schedule to attend Alena Murang's EP launch happening in Timbre at The Row, KL. I arrived early and secured a front seat together with my friend, Jackie, and it was a great experience seeing a local Sarawakian talent performing traditional musical scores on stage, live on a Saturday evening. Alena's speciality is a traditional guitar like string instrument called Sape', which she incorporated prominently in all her music in the latest EP, "Flight". Many local Sarawakian artists were also featured on set, notably Amir Jahari who did a beautiful duet with Alena on the song "Ingga" which was sung entirely in a local Sarawakian language (or Bahasa Sarawak).

I brought along the E-M10 Mark II and several M.Zuiko lenses and shot the performance. I used mainly Aperture Priority, switching lenses when necessary (mostly between wide angle, 12mm F2 and 45mm F1.8). The lighting was not that good, with the light hitting directly from the front creating very unflattering outcome. I would have preferred if the main light was shined more from the side. Nonetheless, we were there to enjoy live music and truly Alena has made it huge with her debut album! She is also a painter and TV host for local stations, and have appeared as a speaker on TDxKL talk this year! The EP launch was a huge success with full house strong support from the fans, and I personally decided not to get my CD autographed in the same session as that would mean I need to battle the impossibly long queue!

Sape', a traditional Sarawakian musical instrument was Alena Murang's signature sound in all her music. I am proud to see a Sarawakian making it huge and took the opportunity to spread the awareness and love for Sape'! I cannot help but feel homesick when I hear Sape's tunes, which is always so smooth, soothing yet energetic and radiant at the same time. 

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Scott Kelby's Worldwide Photowalk 2016, Kuala Lumpur with Huawei P9

Last Saturday, I participated in probably one of the largest photowalks ever organized in Kuala Lumpur, the annual Scott Kelby's Worldwide Photowalk 2016. The photowalk was coordinated and led by a dear photographer friend, Raja Indra Putra, with locations covering Chow Kit, my favourite street hunting ground, all the way to Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman and Jalan Masjid India. There were 50 participants that registered and I made it to the last number 50 registrant! Of course, the actual turn up was more than 50 with a lot more local supporters and photography enthusiasts who decided to just join the fun without prior registering. That was very Malaysian indeed.

Having dedicated many shooting days to do my blog review for the latest Olympus M.Zuiko lenses (25mm F1.2 PRO and 30mm F3.5 Macro), I decided to take the weekend slow and easy, and put the more serious photography tools away. Instead, I just picked up the trusty Huawei P9 and shot along the streets with the P9 throughout the entire Scott Kelby's Photowalk! I thought there would be a few more people who would shoot solely on smartphone, but I was wrong, it turned out I was the ONLY smartphone user in this particular Scott Kelby 2016 Photowalk in KL! Everyone else had large DSLR or mirrorless cameras with them. I wonder what they must have thought of me, I must be someone who did not know what I was doing, using just a mere smartphone joining such a large, internationally recognized, prestigious photography event!

So how did the Huawei P9 fare in street shooting?

I have often shot portraits of strangers, and it was no easy task shooting close up portraits with a wide angle lens (27mm equivalent focal length). Thankfully for the wide aperture mode, I could easily create subject isolation with the simulated shallow depth of field effect, blurring the background off into beautiful, creamy bokeh. While the bokeh effect is not as good as actual large format cameras with large aperture lenses, I dare say that, for a simulated effect, this is the best I have seen from any smartphone camera. It is the best option we have!