Historical challenge: Night Street Compact

Following up on the Low ISO Street by Night article (where I shot hand-held at ISO200 for the entire evening), I wanted to continue with the theme but switch things up – with a 10 year old point and shoot compact camera. In the previous article, the OM-D’s superior image stabilization was almost like cheating so let’s take that advantage away and replace it with a traditional tripod in this session. In 2008 I purchased, for RM299 (about USD70), a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8 for use at a construction site supervision (during my years as a geotechnical engineer). It has a tiny 1/2.5″ image sensor, no ability to shoot RAW, usable ISO with no higher than 200, just 8MP and a short, obsolete spec sheet. So what can we expect to get out of the Panasonic LZ8?

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Low-ISO street photography by night

High ISO is usually a necessity for shooting on the streets at night without using a tripod but I thought why not have a session, for fun, where I stick to ISO200 throughout? I was near Petaling Street with some friends and we all chose to employ different shooting methods. One friend went the usual high ISO hand-held route, while another friend had a sturdy tripod setup. I was the only one crazy enough to run around without a tripod and irrationally stick to ISO200…

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Le flaneur

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From Wikipedia: “Flâneur (pronounced [flɑnœʁ]), from the French noun flâneur, means “stroller”, “lounger”, “saunterer”, or “loafer”. Flânerie is the act of strolling, with all of its accompanying associations. A near-synonym is boulevardier.” A holdover from the class divides of 19th and early 20th century in Europe when the gentry could spend their time engaged in leisurely walking, observing and enjoying the cities, the concept might sound a bit indolent today but is actually still quite apt: these were the original street photographers, most of whom went without cameras. Fast forward half a century and we had the tourists; who perhaps could be thought of as serial visitors herded in predefined courses from important sight to sight. In parallel, photography went from an academic and scientific curiosity to being a mass-medium for personal recording, and then public exhibition. And then a means to show off: this brings us to the present day.

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Stepping back for context: wider street portraits

My photography buddies often ask me if I get tired of shooting the same streets in Kuala Lumpur, and my answer has always been the same: no, because I do things differently each time. While the background and setting remain the same, we can choose to vary our choice of subjects and the way we approach them. I have been shooting portraits of strangers for a while now, and I see my style changing progressively. Some of the changes are subconscious as you cannot do the same thing all the time and expect different results.

For a while now, my most used lens on the street was the Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 lens as it gave me medium telephoto coverage, a tight perspective for close up headshots and provided sufficient control over depth of field. It was a huge challenge to approach strangers and get so close for my shots, and I was happy that I pushed through this process and overcame self-doubt when talking to strangers on the street.

In contrast to that, I have been moving myself further away from the usual head and shoulder shots and decided to pursue a wider environmental style of portrait. Instead of 45mm F1.8, my most used lens now is the 25mm F1.8 on the streets.

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Robin’s less obvious street photography tips…

Despite the recent explosion of street photography related content and images, there are very few new and original ideas being explored. Phrases like “the decisive moment”, “if your photograph is not good enough, you are not close enough”, and “F8 and be there” have become clichés in articles on street photography tips and tricks. There is no dearth of self-proclaimed gurus or street photography masters, all offering wise advice, suggestions and must-do checklists to magically guarantee you an upgrade to the next level of artistic progression. I, on the other hand, take a more practical and no nonsense approach to street shooting. In this article, I share my thoughts on street photography – thoughts which may not be considered mainstream.

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Photoessay: Life in Osaka

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Today’s images are a stream-of-consciousness style set of observations of life in Osaka. I wanted to see if there were any perceptible differences from the audience side given these were not shot in my usual way, but rather a series of quick grabs whilst I was there for reasons other than photography, and with photography not as my primary objective. The usual (heavy) curation took place after the fact, which may perhaps dull the value of the exercise as the same biases are therefore applied to both more deliberate and these opportunistic sets. Is the way we see so immutably hard coded by force of habit and practice, that even when we are not trying, the result is indistinguishable? I leave you to let me know. MT

This series was shot with a Canon G1X Mark III and Nikon D850/24-120VR, and postprocessed with the Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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Tips from street photography workshops

One of the more rewarding experiences as a photographer is the opportunity to conduct photography workshops. I have been conducting workshops for Olympus Malaysia, and recently Panasonic Malaysia, that focus primarily on an introduction to photography – conducted in the form of a photowalk. Workshop participants are usually new-comers to photography and are looking to learn how to use their newly purchased cameras. Not only do I have to share photography tips and tricks, but I also have to be able to walk the talk and demonstrate, on the spot, how certain shots are executed. It is easy to talk, but shooting and showing instantaneous results is the challenging part. I’ve compiled a series of photographs below that were shot over the course of a few workshops, and used to demonstrate certain techniques live.

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Shutter therapy in Phnom Penh

Life has been incredibly hectic lately, so when my friend Amir randomly asked if I was down for a short holiday to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I immediately jumped at it. It was not planned as a photography trip and we were there simply to catch up with old friends and drink as much cheap beer as we could. However, it’s inevitable that I squeeze time for shutter therapy, especially in a city I haven’t been to before.

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Photoessay: Prague monochromes, part III

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On this visit to Prague, I was struck by the feeling that a lot of the people I observed were looking for something: it wasn’t so much a definite journey or objective or quest, but just a general sense that something was missing. Perhaps it was the tour groups that outnumbered the locals, or perhaps it was the subtle shift in the proportions of businesses: set up for and transacting mainly with locals vs. visitors. Don’t get me wrong; I realise that I too am a visitor, but there’s something about the mass hoards that gets my goat. Maybe it’s because they wonder around bovine and gawking and oblivious to consideration of anybody else, or maybe it’s because once you have too many of them – the whole feel of the place changes, and then it no longer becomes the place that motivated you to visit and experience it. I don’t think this is specific to Prague in any way, though I’d always felt the Czechs managed to hold on a little bit longer than some other places. In an odd way, once the balance flips in favour of tourists vs locals, the place feels the same as any other city that caters for tourists – other than the setting. In effect, a very large theme park. What I saw, and tried to capture, was transition. Maybe this is the new normal, everywhere…MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50C, and H6D-50c, various lenses and post processed with The Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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Street photography with the Olympus E-M10 Mark III

Traditionally, I always bring a new camera to the streets to shoot for review. For the recently launched Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III (full review here), I decided to shoot a different variety of sample shots which included sports, outdoor portrait and landscape. I am all game when it comes to doing something different to keep my reviews fresh. Still, since I had the E-M10 Mark III with me for a few more days, I had to satisfy the itch to have my shutter therapy on the streets. [Read more…]