Friday, December 31, 2010

The Final Shutter Therapy Session of 2010

Today is a sudden, unexpectedly declared public holiday in Malaysia, which was a huge welcome anyway. Any rest day is a good day, and what better way to spend this glorious last day of 2010 than, shutter therapy? The morning sky was wonderful, and together with the great Jasonmumbles we attacked the streets of Pudu. It has been a while since I last did a proper street shooting session, and it was quite refreshing to just clear my mind off everything and just focus on getting the camera to work for me.

Pudu has always been my favourite photo-hunting spot. There were so many people, especially in the morning, and so many activities happening especially in the market area. This is also one of the safest, and friendliest photo-hunting spots amongst my usual street shooting locations. If I were to bring friends to shoot along with me, most likely I will start with Pudu first. Another bonus point about Pudu would be the abundance of good local food available here, for feasting before, and of course after a joyous and fruitful shooting session.

I think I have talked too much in my previous few entries, hence to balance things up, I shall just let the photographs speak in this entry. All photographs were taken with Olympus E-5 with 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 or 50mm F2 Macro. Images were processed in Picasa and ACD See 7.

Clearing the table for the next customer. A usual scene on local hawker food stalls along the streets here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Camera Wars

There is a huge war brewing out there, Nikon D7000 vs Pentax K5, and how everyone is saying those two cameras are far ahead in terms of high ISO-noise performance and dynamic range over Olympus E-5.

It has come to a point that people are actually bashing each other up in such discussions that they have lost track of what they were doing in the first place: to find the “right” camera.

Do take note that I did not say the “best” camera. There is no such thing as the “best” camera, or which camera is better than which camera, those comparisons will be endless and mundanely pointless. So what Pentax K5 does better than Nikon D7000 In terms of high ISO performance? So you have to dump your newly purchased Nikon D7000 and go for the supposingly “better” Pentax K-5, because the review websites tell you that it has this much better dynamic range and that much better high ISO performance down to 0.0001% accuracy? Oh how about the users of older D300s or D90, oh no, D7000 and K5 are the latest and “best” cameras, they must sell off their gears and upgrade too, so what? So that their photography skills can evolve suddenly and become better photographers: just because they use the latest and most capable gear?

It is frustrating to watch the world going head over heels over specification wars and complain about even the tiniest things, like how badly the button layouts on the Nikon D7000 are. I wonder when everyone will wake up and realize that there is in fact no such thing as perfect camera. Different manufacturers and different models of cameras have their own unique design considerations, and every one of the cameras have their strengths and weaknesses. Just because the reviews say that one camera is not performing on par with another camera, it does not mean that camera was useless and should be ignored !! It all really comes down to what you want, and what you would choose as the “right” camera. I reiterate, there is no such thing as a perfect camera. However, you have to decide what is “right” for yourself.

KL Night View from Legend Hotel 8th floor

Olympus E-5 with 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 (I finally used my original standard kit lens, since a friend borrowed my 11-22mm over the weekend).
13second, F/8, ISO100, anti-shock 2 sec, IS off.

You see, I belong to the old school kind of shooter, though I was born into the digital photography age. When I shoot, I do not go ridiculously crazy over high ISO. Whenever I can, I would use the lowest setting possible, because, I only use what I need to use. Don’t tell me you will be using ISO3200 under broad sunlight outdoors. Don’t tell me you will be using ISO1600 when you are doing your studio photography works, where you have total lighting controls from fixed light sources. To me high ISO will be reserved for certain difficult situations, that I have no choice but to push it. Yes, I know having the flexibility to shoot at clean images with great noise control is something that everyone in the digital era dreams of, I do too, but it is only applied to certain situations, not all. The message is clear, if you are shooting constantly at ISO3200 and beyond (ISO100,000????) then obviously you should be looking elsewhere. If you are like me, shooting at ISO 100-800 at 80% of the time, then I do not see any reason how Olympus E-5, or any older models such as E-3 and E-30 cannot stand up against competition.

Photography is a hell lot more than just some high ISO noise performance. People always love to quantify and measure. They want to put numbers down, so there is reference and ranking. They want to compare. They want to label which is better and which is worse. Let me ask you this question: would you feel more secure and happier, if you own a “better” camera? So if you are having a less than perfect camera, you feel insecure and inadequate? Then when you look at a better camera your friend is holding in his hand, you go “ahhh I wish I am using that camera, my camera is not as good as that one”? If this is true, I am afraid, no matter what camera you use, you will not be satisfied, because there will always be something better out there, and it gets better and better in the future. You justify your own photography works based on your gear. Oh my photography work sucks, blame it on the camera. You let your photography equipments decide how good you are. What happened to the eye behind the camera that matters?

Every camera has its own place. There really is no need to label which is better and bash another brand, and make a total fuss out of it. Learn the characteristics of your camera system, ask yourself, why you chose it in the first place, what are its strengths, and weaknesses. Make full use and exploit its strengths, while working around the weaknesses with your own techniques to truly bring out the best in your photography work, supporting your photography vision. More importantly, learn to be happy with the gear you use, take some pride in the camera system (every camera system has a long history, something to be proud of) and concentrate on the core of photography.

If Olympus Malaysia did not decide to present me with a complimentary E-5, I would not be able to afford one for probably one to two years to come. That does not matter, because I still have my faithful, reliable and still fully functional Olympus E-520, a bruised and battered entry level DSLR, which I have grown very fond of. So what if it is not the best camera, so what if it is old, so what if at ISO800 the image on E-520 exhibits more noise than ISO3200 on the E-5? There is a whole world of limitations shooting with the E-520, yet I love using it. After using Olympus E-5, do I feel that E-520 is useless and unworthy? Hell NO !! It is still a DSLR, it has the strong characteristics that define what Olympus is and stands for. I love it, and a point that must not be neglected: I thoroughly enjoy using it.

So enough of the comparisons and pointless bashing already. Yes, this camera is better because of that, and this camera can do something that the other camera cannot. Just pick one camera system, fall in love with it, and start shooting.

After all, photography is all about photographs, NOT cameras !!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Olympus E-5 Video @ Jalan Masjid India

Merry Christmas !! How has the joyful season celebration been for you guys?

I woke up to a grey sky Christmas early morning, and I decided to sleep in further. I woke up dangerously near noon, and I forced myself out of the bed because I have had something I wanted to accomplish on this very day. I have been thinking long and hard about what I wanted to do this weekend, and I decided to do something a little different than usual. Olympus E-5 that I have came equipped with video recording capability, and I thought to myself, why not give that a try?

Initially I have planned to do a street shooting session, so instead of street shooting in photographs, I did it in video. I purposefully chose Jalan Masjid India, a very vibrant place in Malaysia for a few reasons:
1) It is safe to walk around, and people here are generally friendly
2) The open air market attracted plentiful of people, flooding in from everywhere
3) I seldom cover this area before in my previous street walk sessions

A Walk Along Jalan Masjid India

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pop-Up Flash to the Rescue

It was a Sunday which was rather unplanned for, that I dropped by Times Square to have lunch and catch up session with a friend. Obviously I brought my camera along, and intended to do some street shooting initially, but decided not to after looking at the terrifying stormy weather out there on the sky. I only brought my Olympus E-5 together with 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 and the tele lens 40-150mm F3.5-4.5, leaving the external flash behind. My 50mm was with another friend who loaned it for a wedding he was shooting that very same weekend.

And then I bumped into this event at Times Square: Comic Fiesta, where hundreds of anime character wannabes cosplaying themselves into the characters they adore from selected favourite anime/comic. I thought to myself, great, this just had to happen at the time I decided NOT to bring my external flash.

I went to the 14th floor, where the Manhattan Ballroom was situated. I scouted around the place, and to my horror the lighting condition was VERY bad. It was mostly dark, and the lighting was setup across the hall in such an uneven manner that having a properly lit photograph was quite a difficult stunt to pull. I did try gathering as much light as possible, bumping my ISO up to as high as 3200, but the result was just plain unsightly. There were harsh shadows in the face and all around the cosplayers, the skin tone was disgustingly ugly with greenish and yellowish tint, and the photograph came out very flat and unflattering. I almost decided to run to the exit, until I thought to myself, hey, why not use the built in camera Pop Up Flash?

An example of the horrible photograph taken without Flash, just ambient light at High ISO.

ISO2000, no flash.

OMG I cannot believe I just posted this horribly taken image !! Just an evidence to show how useless this situation can be, without flash.

You see, I am sure a lot of DSLR users will come to a universal agreement that the pop up flash unit in the camera is rather useless. In Scott Kelby's book for the beginners he mentioned jokingly that the reason any camera manufacturers would even include the pop-up flash was to allow the user to experience the horror of the pop-up flash results that they get so frustratingly annoyed by it they would automatically buy the real external flash unit after that. I cannot agree more. Generally I would avoid using the Pop Up flash that throws too much frontal light casting a lot of problems people normally hate in people photography: 1) oily skin and washed out white spots 2) Heavy shadows cast on the backgrounds 3) Unnatural looking photograph, with overly dark background and blown foreground.

However, as much as I hate using the Pop Up flash, I was thrown into a circumstance, with a few possibilities:
1) Leave the event, and forget about shooting. Exit was nearby.
2) Shoot solely with available ambient light, and get 90% ugly looking photographs, with noise issues (ISO3200 was pushing it far for even E-5), ugly skin tone, and generally lousy photographs.
3) or, use the Pop Up flash, and work around the weaknesses. And pray for miracles.

I went with option no.3, and you know what, the results were not too shabby at all. I know the overall outcome was nothing stellar, there were still plenty of flaws that cannot be mitigated, but I would say, after working around twiddling with the camera settings, I did manage to get what I intended to achieve with the pop up flash, more or less. In such emergency situations like this, it was comforting to know that the pop-up flash still managed to salvage some otherwise, completely useless shots. Yes, the shots could have been better with external flash (with some kick-ass softbox diffusers and what nots), but it sure beats the crap out of photographs taken solely with the horrible ambient available light.

1/80sec, F/3.4, ISO1250, pop up flash fired

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Year That Has Been

It has come to the time of the year again, when any blogger would usually do a summary post to round up the happenings throughout the entire year, and share his reflections and thoughts on his journey so far. My blog has been around for five solid years now, I have never anticipated myself to last this long when I first signed up with Blogger. I am not showing signs of stopping, in fact, I believe I am merely seeing just the tip of the iceberg. Many great things have yet to come, and I am excited knowing that more opportunities will be opened and I shall not waste them.

What has happened through the past 12 months of my life? The year 2010 has been rather kind to me. Instead of describing my stories with endless words, allow me to use a selection of my past photography work being spread throughout the year 2010 to aid me in highlighting the points I want to tell here. Those photographs may not be anything special in particular, but they were certainly my favourites. I shall elaborate on why I chose the photographs, and what significant meaning they carry.


The incense coil was shot in a temple in Batu Pahat, Johor, which I have visited earlier this year. It was raining heavily. This is a rather special, symbolic photograph. The cruel and aggressive weather was fighting against the incense from burning. At the beginning of this year, I identified myself strongly with the incense coil, when I was thrown into a whirlpool of uncertainties. I was very clueless on my employment with the directions the company was leading me to, I was also very unprepared for the challenges I was facing in my growth in photography. How can I burn, if the constant wind was blowing at me, and the rain water kept splashing mercilessly?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Photography is Human

Photography is human. I strongly believe that the photography work strongly defines the characteristics and nature of the photographer. How much truth the photographer places in his photograph shows how honest he is. The strengths and the flaws of a person are evidently recorded through the choices of subjects he photographs. Ultimately, the outcome of the images speak for themselves, do you sense happiness or sadness looking at the photographs? I know this can be very subjective, but believe me when I say there is substantial truth linking what you can find through a photographer's work to the photographer himself.

It troubles me, because my street photographs have been somewhat looking rather depressing lately. I took a pause, slowed down my pace and really reflect on the photographs I have taken. I studied the images, I asked myself questions such as "Why did I choose this subject? What attracted me to this person? What can I find in myself to identify to this scene I have been drawn to? Why do I think this was interesting? What do I feel, and what messages do I get when I view those images?" The more I dig in the more I found the reasons why I photograph the things I photograph, and why I did them in particular few ways that I usually did. No, this should never be an excuse to go all "CSI" and over-analyze a photographer through his photograph. Do bear in mind a photographer chooses to tell you certain things he selectively chose to tell you through his photographs. Sometimes, just sometimes, subconsciously he may have revealed more than what he originally intended.

I strongly believe that a photograph is like a small window that we can peek into the photographer's mind.

The Lonely Man

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Morning on the Street is a Morning Well Spent

It was a glorious, sunny Sunday morning that I met up with Gerald, Yeow and Lee for a morning street walk at Chow Kit, my territory usual street hunting spot. I have shot here so many times that I do not quite understand why I kept coming back again. Perhaps the streets on Chow Kit have certain characteristics that I really like in the images that I capture. The people here do have particular lifestyle and local culture that are rather unique to this place itself.

After grabbing a quick and light breakfast, we walked our way from Masjid Jamek to Chow Kit, and attacked the streets with our cameras. All three of the others, except me, used Olympus PEN, which is supposed to be a preferable weapon on the streets due to its lighter size and much smaller size, in comparison to a DSLR. I have shot alone on the streets for so long now, it was quite a refreshing experience to have people around me as we move along the not-so-safe corners of the backalleys. At least I know my friends have got my back, just in case. I have mentioned many times, and I need to remind myself that KL streets are not exactly very safe to walk around with thousands of bucks worth of gear. Nonetheless, the photography opportunities are so worth the risks, that was the reason why I never failed to hunt on the streets week after week.

Nasi Lemak seller. Breads and cereals are not that favorable here. Nasi Lemak is the Malaysian breakfast.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hunt and Kill

It was late Friday afternoon that I took notice of a night macro outing organized by Amir, who loved to hunt for spiders at Kemensah Forest reserve which is located behind Zoo Negara. I have been there a couple of times before, here, here and here. Desperate for some macro actions, I decided to join Amir and a group of macro crazy people for this adventure into a jungle in the middle of the night. We started around 10pm, and came out from the jungle after 1am.

Instead of flooding this entry with dozens of photographs, this time I shall only showcase the few that I really like. I have become more picky on my final presentation lately, hence I shall not spam this place with digital junk.

All photographs taken with Olympus E-5, Zuiko Digital 50mm F2 macro, and FL-36R flash being fired off camera wirelessly. For more information of my macro setup and techniques, please kindly refer to my previous entries on macro.

1/60 second, F/8, ISO 200, Wireless TTL Flash fired Off-Camera

Friday, December 10, 2010

Photographs, or Words?

I have so many thoughts and ideas in my mind that I want to get them out and blurt everything here. I have intended to write about the inspirations and motivations that drive me in street photography, and why I love hitting the Kuala Lumpur streets so much that I kept doing it over and over again every single week. On the other hand, it is the time of the year again, that a mandatory must have summary of all things happened throughout the year on this blog and my life in general should be posted. I have also many other opinions pertaining to the Olympus E-5, which is still quite new to me, to share with you all.

I have come home from a long day of work under the burning Malaysian sun at a construction site, and as I typed now my mind was actually begging my body to just lay down still on my comfortable bed and not think about anything at all. However, before shutting myself down, it just felt like something was missing, that I must post up this blog entry. I guess it has become a routine for me, and if I skipped this, it would make myself guilty somehow. Talk about discipline, I was quite amazed that I have been blogging for 5 years, and still consistently blog nowadays, though my life has undergone many changes, many dramatic ones along the way.

Instead of forcing my bruised and battered mind to come up with something witty and smart on my photography take, allow me to just share a batch of photographs which I have taken on my recent street hunt. Yes, it is Pudu again, and to some incredible extent, I have this weird, but interesting ability of not getting bored at the things that I love, or in this case, the places that I like to street-hunt. Pudu has always been one of my favourite grounds, and nothing beats waking up in the morning, clearing the early day off anything else, but street photography for myself only.

Smoking conversation after grocery shopping.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Shooting With Art Filters

Ever since the Olympus E-30, Art Filters have been introduced to DSLR as an instant one touch in camera processing capability to instantaneously transform ordinary looking images into artistic results. The similar feature was also included in all current Olympus PEN line-ups, and of course the latest DSLR Olympus E-5, which I am currently using. I have to admit I am not really a fan of the Art Filters, and I do not really believe in letting the camera handle my post-processing job. If I were after certain artistic effects I would rather do the processing myself after shooting.

Nevertheless, having the Art Filters in the camera, and not using it is like having that free chocolate bar when you purchase a box of instant coffee and not eat it. Hmmm, that was not a very good example, but you get the idea. Hence, I decided to go out one day, and just shoot primarily with the Art Filters. This basically went against my usual photography style, and normal presentation of final images. Yes, it is something different, and I say, why not?


A light bulb under broad daylight.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A Day Out in Pulau Ketam

A friend and professional photographer David Chua organized a day trip to Pulau Ketam (loosely translated to English as Crab Island), a place not too far from Klang. The intended participants were mainly targeted at existing Olympus PEN and DSLR users, but it was also open to anyone, with or without cameras, or anyone with different camera systems. On the day itself, 21 people turned out for this event, which was quite a large number considering the casual nature of the event organization. I have had quite a number of friends whom I know who joined me for this occasion, namely Chun Chow, Frederick, Jason Lioh (aka the infamous Jasonmumbles), Ivy Soon, Yong TM, Michael Wong, and last but not least, a very kind and generous chap, Gerald Wong who offered to fetch me all the way from my place to the island and back.

A view from the jetty at Pulau Ketam.