Shutter Therapy

Shutter Therapy is a phrase I created several years ago and one I use frequently throughout my articles. I don’t remember defining it, and, inexplicably, the phrase is now widely used by many friends and photographers, in Malaysia and around the world. With a little time on my hands post-Olympus Malaysia, I found myself introspecting on what Shutter Therapy was, what it signified when I started using the phrase, its origins and why I set time aside for some Shutter Therapy every weekend? This post is a result of that introspection and my attempt to answer these questions.

In early 2008, I purchased my first DSLR, an Olympus E-410, and in some ways, this marked my deep dive into photography. Almost a year later, my father passed away and I found myself in Kuching, my hometown and a Malaysian city, feeling rather depressed. I needed to get out of the house and find a way to deal with the miserable emotions that surrounded me. I figured photography was a good option since it required enough concentration and mental effort to occupy my mind – and it worked. When I was out shooting, I felt free, mentally unhindered by negative emotion, and discovered a sense of satisfaction when I managed to get a shot I wanted and liked. That well of positive emotion was extremely powerful, and self-reinforcing. After that first shoot, I was home, looking through the photographs when it struck me that the short, impromptu photography session was best described as “therapeutic”. In other words, I’d just experienced my first dose of Shutter Therapy. The therapeutic quality stuck and I quickly found myself craving for more each weekend. Soon, I realized that photography had evolved into an obsession.

The subsequent association of Shutter Therapy with street photography was accidental. By the time 2009 came around, I found myself immersed deeply into photography and trying my hand at all the genres open to me – from studio portraiture with models to fast-paced fashion shows, and the one that I was most involved with, was macro photography focused on insects. After two years of pursuing bug photography, I realized that while I had developed a strong technical grasp of photography and the gear, I had not developed my artistic sense. Sure, my images were sharper, properly lit (controlled or ambient) on the subject and had accurate white balance, but my composition was poor and my images did not tell a compelling story. The problem was no longer “how to shoot” but “what to shoot”. Realizing that I needed to improve my “seeing” skills and push artistic development, I took a break from insects and looked at an entirely different genre – street photography. I started to use the Shutter Therapy phrase more often and started to actively describe my weekend street shooting sessions as shutter therapy sessions. Now, when I invite friends out for a Shutter Therapy session, it usually means shooting on the street.

So back to the original question, what is Shutter Therapy?

In my view, Shutter Therapy is when you go out with a camera and have fun shooting. The keyword here is FUN. For the experience to be therapeutic or cathartic, you need to have fun while you’re shooting. When I’m out and about on the weekends indulging in some Shutter Therapy, I shoot what I like, and the subjects that attract my attention at any given moment. This freedom to shoot what you like and experiment is important, and forms an integral foundation for Shutter Therapy. There are no strict rules in place and even the generally accepted restrictions of street photography are done away with. Shutter Therapy can be as short as an hour or last the entire day and it isn’t restricted to the weekend alone. It can be indulged in solitarily or with a group of friends, provided everyone is out to shoot some images and have fun. I personally avoid having too many people in the mix, as it becomes a large social gathering where there is more talk than camera action. The kind of gear used is not a point of consideration, an iPhone is just as welcome as digital MF as long as you’re making images that you’re happy with. I personally prefer smaller cameras and lenses, but remember, it’s about being true to your preferences and goals.

What are some of the benefits of practicing Shutter Therapy? In my opinion,

  • Fun fun fun! The anticipation of heading out on a weekend morning, to get out there and shoot some photographs. It’s an excitement that is difficult for me to explain, but one I’m well aware of and look forward to.
  • Keep the mind and muscles sharp. An understanding and mastery of the technical bits and the gear require constant exercise. This helps keep reflexes and muscle memory sharp, not to mention a sense for timing and a familiarity with the gear. Photography is much like sports (anything that requires hand-eye coordination), the more you practice the more efficient you are at what you do. While I can control camera settings and the basic exposure triangle of shutter speed, aperture and ISO controls with ease now, I get rusty and inefficient if I don’t use them for a long period of time. I, personally, don’t intend to spend time relearning what I know – I just want to keep building on top of it and getting better.
  • Improve your photography. Like most things, improving your photographic output does not happen overnight. It takes patience, sweat, heartbreak, and significant (some would argue immeasurable) time and effort. The most effective way to improve, is to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. There are workshops, online tutorial and guides a plenty and there are photography books written by professional photographers, you may even have a great photography mentor, but you can only reap the benefits of all these aids by going out and spending time shooting.
  • Improve productivity. I generally allocate less than half a day (the first half usually) for Shutter Therapy, and am done by lunch. This leaves the rest of the day to meet friends, run errands, catch a movie, or simply read a book at a cafe. Shutter Therapy rarely gets in the way of my weekends, and instead continues to be a highlight of my weekend, even after all these years. I plan my sessions around other commitments for the day. And the best part for me, is at the end of each Shutter Therapy session, when I know that I have a new set of images for an article and to share with all of you.
  • It’s free. Assuming you already have a working camera and lens (kit lens is perfectly fine), there is no cost of entry. You can just grab your gear and indulge in a little Shutter Therapy at any time!
A great Shutter Therapy session should end with an equally great cup of coffee.

I hope that helps clarify Shutter Therapy for you. Over the years, it has become an integral part of my identity as a photographer. While other photographers, prefer to and excel at writing about specific techniques or the philosophy of photography, my approach to photography and the view I chose to share is one that looks at the lighter side of things. I don’t claim to be a comprehensive photography expert, and may not have a long list of accolades and awards from competitions and societies like Magnum or Nat Geo, but I have managed to do one thing better than anyone else: ensure I have fun and maximize my experience from each Shutter Therapy session. I may not be a world famous photographer, but I will be a happy one if people know and embrace Shutter Therapy!

This is an experiment you should try at home and one you might get addicted to!


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Images and content copyright Robin Wong 2017 onwards. All rights reserved


  1. Michael J. says:

    Just wanna say thank you so much for all your writings, explanations, advices and last but not least for your time sharing all the beauty things what photography is all about. Greetings from Thailand

  2. Dear Robin, you are being (systematically) read by a Dutchman in France. Keep on doing your great job!

  3. Hi Robin! More of these articles, please! Your readership has followed you to your new blog home and is eagerly awaiting your posts and photos plus captions. I regularly recommend your photos and articles to my photographer friends. Now with Ming Thein’s resources and perspectives on the same page this has become the go-to spot on the internet for expanding photographic skills and knowledge. Thanks again!

  4. Florian says:

    Hi Robin ! Thanks for this great post. What do you think is the most important to focus on during Shutter Therapy sessions as a beginner ? I mean, things that are important (according to you) in order to improve quickly and have fun. Florian.

  5. Robin, I’m always cheered up by your therapy shooting adventures. I was curious about something you wrote in this article about doing away with the “generally accepted restrictions of street photography” when you are out shooting. Could you talk more about what you consider those restrictions to be? I’m still uncomfortable walking around pointing a camera at total strangers; how do you deal with that? As always your shots are just astonishing. Thanks.

    • Thanks for the kind words. There are many street photography conventional practices out there, depending on which group you are in. There are the conservative ones, staying strictly with 50mm or 35mm field of view, and long focal lengths are frowned upon. Also, they disallow any interaction with the scene, leaving it completely untouched and candid. I break these rules, obviously!

  6. Ricky Gui says:

    Interesting. I have never heard of “shutter therapy”. In recent months i came to develop my own photography style of “Photography Therapy Zone”. I have yet to come out with a final term. But, that is my very own therapeutic process.

  7. Nice piece, and beautiful images that you selected (and I hope you talk a bit more about your style/vison in some future posts). Your post did get me to wonder how many people find therapy in “post processing”. I would love to say that I look forward to sitting down and both managing and processing my images, but I just cannot honestly say that it give me the same feeling that going out and shooting does. I am sure I am not alone, but I do wonder if there are as many folks that enjoy being behind the computer as much as being behind the lens?


    • Hey Ken, for me I prefer to spend more time outside to create new photographs, and much less time post-processing. I do however, enjoy photography as a complete process that includes post processing as well.

      • I agree. I just thought it was funny that you never see anybody posting about post processing therapy. If I had to pick an author for this type of post, I would have to say that Ming would be a strong candidate, mostly because he seems so efficient and good at it.


  8. I must say this little article brought a smile to my face. Your title rings so true with me.
    Lately my own shutter therapy is shooting film again. Very satisfying personally.

  9. Love it, I will start calling it this, great photos too.

  10. I love how it captures the lifestyle and the world that it’s in, so different to what most of us are used to seeing everyday. (Depending where you live)

    • That is the unique thing about photography, at different locations around the world you do get different outcomes. It is never the same!

  11. Robin, when you used the term “Shutter Therapy” I instantly knew what you meant. I am sure many others did too. It is completely accurate for so many of us to whom photography is more then just an art, job or hobby, but also a way to restore and maintain balance in our lives. You just gave a really good name to it. Speaking of which I need to get some myself right now. 🙂 Thanks for all you do and share. I am sure your collaboration with Ming Thein will be great. The two of you together cover a big part of the photographic spectrum.

    • I think Shutter therapy is a universal thing, anyone can enjoy it, anywhere in the world! And yes, it is also a reminder to myself to not get too stressed out with life, and go out to have some fun!

  12. Mosswings says:

    Shutter Therapy’s a great phrase. It should be the ground from which a photographic career grows and always returns. It strikes me that for Shutter Therapy to be successful the camera you use should promote the fun that you seek. Certainly one would not take a view camera out on the street to indulge in whimsy; it’s not a tool designed for that purpose. But a smartphone? Totally oriented towards the immediate, the opportunistic, the satisfaction of whimsy. Ming just wrote about this idea in a way with his “uncamera” idea – a simple, light, g85/12-32 that lets him concentrate mostly on composition and being in the moment. Sure, he can do a little shutter therapy with an X1D, but…

    I see Shutter Therapy exemplified across the web. Kirk Tuck slapping a simple lens on a low end but competent camera and walking around Austin, just enjoying the view and not worrying about the tool or going for broke on the technical stuff comes to mind immediately.

    I see Shutter Therapy in the difference between my wife’s pleasure in snapping what interests her with a Stylus 1, while I obsess trying to do the same “better” with my uber competent Nikon but more pleasurably with my smartphone. Who is the wiser? And who has found consonance of purpose and tool?

    Bottom line, Shutter Therapy happens when we stop trying to be Ansel and accept being ourselves, and the adequacy of our tools.

  13. That’s exactly how I feel about photography. Whenever I feel low I get out with my camera and take photos… very often in the same place, by the sea (South of France) but never mind, the sky and the light are always different. A good drug. Better than medicine or hard drugs !!! Thanks for your article Ming !

  14. A nice article, Robin. The bit about keeping your mind and muscle memory sharp struck a chord with me, I find that if I go weeks without shooting anything, the first 20 or so shots are always duds as I have to remind myself what I’m doing, particularly with anything involving people or moving subjects. Maybe I should try to build a weekly habit like you!

    • Thanks! And yes, keeping in shape is the key and stay disciplined is not easy. However, I usually like to warm up first during photowalks, the first half an hour will be trash shots, while getting into the “zone”. Once that happens, everything comes naturally!

  15. Grady Carter says:

    I have recently discovered that I can use (2) prime lenses to cover 95% of people photography projects that I shoot. That is the 28mm and the 50mm lens. The 28mm is a f2.8 Nikon AIS and the 50mm is a f2 Leica R Summicron w/ Sony A7 camera. It’s my go to lens/camera combination when I step out of the house towards my photography adventures!! What is your current lens/camera combo when you do “shutter therapy”?

    • My current setup includes two lenses, a 28mm lens and a 90mm lens. One to cover wide angle and another medium tele for a slightly compressed background. I am actually writing an article about my choice of focal lengths, coming up soon!

  16. Kristian Wannebo says:

    “Shutter therapy”
    A good word for most of what I (an amateur) have been doing with my camera(s) from the first one 55 years ago…

    My favourites:
    #3, #1, #4.
    ( And taken together they tell me a story about mankind…)

    • Thanks for the kind words, Kristian! I never thought of my photography talking about mankind, but now you are giving me ideas!

  17. mmmartin says:

    I love that you and Ming decided to team up. There’s a sense of balance between the type of writing each of you do—one more technical, the other more visceral, but both equally important. Cheers!

  18. Beautifull !!!

  19. I love the first photo 😊

  20. I am kind of new to photography Ming. Just bought a Fuji x100f….I am enjoying it a lot even though there is so much
    I don’t know…..Fun learning and I really enjoy your posts…..Shutter Therapy….great..I will keep this one to review..
    Always the best to you and your family……john

    • Being new to photography is perhaps the most fun stage that you will experience, so much to discover and so much to try out. Have fun with the Fuji, it is a great camera to bring about and just shoot what catches your attention.

    • You might want to take note that the blog “family” has grown; this post was written by Robin, not Ming.


  21. Ganesan says:

    i have see your some of tutorial i like this about ISO 5000 i try it i get a good result i want say about me I am also a MALAYSIA citizen with current IC can i came to KL kind i see you i am also very series hobby’s i start my Carrier i 1968 with yashika 120 that time learn whats happening in next i change to Nikon FM 2 Film base then in digital Nikon D 90 then now i having Nikon D 800 E its very best and good when i come to MALAYSIA how to see you please guide.

    Ganesan/ INDIA

    On Sat, Jul 1, 2017 at 9:30 AM, Ming Thein | Photographer wrote:

    > Robin Wong posted: ” Shutter Therapy is a phrase I created several years > ago and one I use frequently throughout my articles. I don’t remember > defining it, and, inexplicably, the phrase is now widely used by many > friends and photographers, in Malaysia and around the world” >

  22. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    And it certainly gives you the skill set and talent to take great photos, Robin! I cannot work out which one I like the most!

    • Hey Jean, thanks for the kind words, I do not think I am particularly talented (not like Ming of course), I consider myself a trained photographer. Went through tonnes and tonnes of shutter therapy to be able to get some shots right!


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