Around the wet markets

If you have been following my articles for a while now you may have noticed that I shoot a lot in local Malaysian wet markets. Even my mum finds it hard to believe that I spend so much time in actual markets though I go not with the intention to buy fresh meat and vegetables but to hunt for photography opportunities. Almost every new camera or lens review has featured a few sample photographs taken at various wet market locations in Kuala Lumpur. I want to explain my fascination with the wet market and why I keep returning to the similar spots early in the mornings.

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Robin’s stylistic experiments: monochrome squares

It is no secret that I prefer to shoot in color for my street photography but I do have a special adoration for black and white for very specific situations. With the right lighting condition and sufficient contrast in the frame I tend to favor black and white. I then decided to do a specific outing just to shoot everything in black and white. Initially I did not plan to do square crops for all images in this series, but a few images called for square composition which worked well. For consistency, I cropped everything to square.

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Snapshots from Malaysia’ independence day celebrations

To all Malaysians, Merdeka!

The National Day celebration for Malaysia takes a different tone this year following a recent and significant shift in the political landscape (as documented by MT here). I braved the insane traffic and impenetrable crowds to experience Malaysia’s 61st Independence Day celebration. Following two full days of back to back intensive wedding shoots, I was physically and mentally exhausted, but that did not deter my spirit to get up at an ungodly hour in the morning and be at Putrajaya (the celebration venue) in time to get close enough to the action. I did not have any particular story to tell or a pre-determined outcome for this series of photographs. When the celebration started I knew I was too mentally drained to command anything out of the ordinary so I decided to just go with the flow, enjoy the immense positive vibes alongside fellow Malaysians, shout the word “Merdeka” repeatedly at the top of my lungs and maybe, maybe be lucky enough to get some interesting snapshots.

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Digital classic: Robin reviews the original Canon 5D in 2018

The idea of shooting with a Canon 5D (from 2005) has been on my mind – and I wanted to answer the question “what if I started out with a Canon 5D instead of an Olympus Four Thirds system?”. Larger image sensors provide greater latitude in high ISO shooting and dynamic range, but a camera and its user experience cannot be judged on the spec sheet alone. Having a chance to extensively test a full frame camera, even an obsolete model gave me the opportunity to better understand the advantages and shortcomings of different systems. Special thanks to Nurul Munira Rohaizan for loaning me her Canon 5D.

Before we dive in, let me be clear that this article is not meant to be a full frame vs cropped sensor argument. Some comparisons will be made between using the Canon 5D versus Four Thirds/Micro Four Thirds system but in the context of practical shooting differences. Lets keep the discussion pleasant and not stray too far into an endless debate. I am sure many readers have wondered what my thoughts on full frame cameras are? Therefore, I am answering those questions here from my own personal standpoint. At the end of the day, I believe that we choose the tool that works best for our own shooting needs.

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Postprocessing: Robin’s approach

I do minimal post-processing and very quick edits for images used in articles published here and on my own blog. Strangely, many readers have asked me for my “secret sauce” that I apply to my images and requested for a video showing my usual post-processing routine. Before making that video, I asked for specific requests from my readers via a post on my own Facebook Page. Taking into consideration the numerous questions, I have made a short video.

A quick disclaimer: I am not associated with Capture One Pro, the only reason I am using this software is the efficiency of handling Olympus RAW files. I still prefer Olympus Viewer 3 to optimize my Olympus RAW files (color balance, sharpness/details, noise reduction, etc) but that software is just unbearably slow for anything practical. I found the Capture One Pro to work significantly faster than Olympus Viewer or Lightroom. You can see how short the previewing and processing time of Capture One software is in the video above.

Disclaimer #2: Let it never be said mingthein.com is not democratic even though one of us works for C1’s competitor 🙂 In all seriousness, workflow is a very personal and goal-oriented thing: depending on the task at hand, I might make one pass through PS, tether/convert in Phocus, use a combination of Autopano Pro and/or Helicon and PS, IG’s filters, LR mobile, or even Olympus SOOC JPEG. Best tool for the job as always… -MT

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Attempting the blood moon

The above image of the Blood Moon was shot at the start of a total lunar eclipse phase at 3.45am on 28 July 2018 as seen in Kuala Lumpur. The red moon was not perfectly clear due to slight overcast condition hindering visibility. I only had about 15 minutes of shooting time before heavy clouds completely covered the moon during the eclipse. I have not encountered a lunar eclipse before and this was my first time witnessing an actual “blood moon” phenomena, hence I thought it would be interesting to share my thoughts and shooting process to acquire that one shot, which I have come to love despite its apparent imperfections.

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Exploring Pak Peng

I have always been fascinated by old buildings that are still perfectly functional, maintaining decades old interiors and retaining the same overall atmosphere. The Pak Peng Building is a shopping mall that’s nearly half a century old and is now half vacant with a few traditional businesses still occupying the building. Back in the 60s and 70s, the Pak Peng building and surrounding establishments on Madras Lane were one of the hottest spots in town for entertainment. This remnant of the past was intriguing to explore, and I took the opportunity to create a mini photo series documenting scenes inside Pak Peng.

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Shot discipline revisited by Robin: macrophotography

One of my favorite posts by MT and an absolute must read is “The Importance of Shot Discipline”. Everything in that article is strongly relevant when it comes to my attempts at insect macro shooting. Each factor plays a significant role in getting the shot: timing the shutter just right, nailing accurate focus, achieving sufficient depth of field, stabilizing the shot, watching out for diffraction and paying attention to the off camera flash. I have to make sure I do not forget any of these variables as any single screw-up means I will have an unusable shot.

A few friends who’ve tagged along for my macro shooting sessions have been impressed by my high hit rate despite shooting at full magnification of the macro lens. To understand my insect macro shooting technique, please read the article I have shared previously here. There is no simplification of the shooting process, and there is no compromise possible if you want to achieve the best results. The only way to efficiently get great results is through persistent practice.  Not just practice until you get the shot right, keep practicing until you don’t get it wrong anymore.

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Seeing the shot – Robin’s view

In the spirit of sharing more of what I normally do during my shutter therapy sessions, I came up with this idea of showing what happens immediately before and after I shoot an image*. Utilizing the Olympus specific feature “movie + photo” mode, I was able to capture video footage and a full RAW image file simultaneously. I thought it would be fun to see the moments leading up to the press of the shutter button. After all, timing is crucial in street photography and in this video compilation you will see a lot of blink and miss it moments.

*Note: this is somewhat similar to MT’s How To See video series.

I had to work with an older Olympus PEN E-PL7 camera because the movie + photo mode was unfortunately not available in the E-M1 Mark II. I am inviting you to come along with me to my hunting grounds and see what my camera sees. In the video you will also see how I frame my subjects, interact with random street portrait subjects and anticipate moments before they happen. As a bonus, there is also evidence of how cats on the streets love me.

I hope that you will see that street shooting can be super fun, exciting and totally unpredictable.  If we show respect and are courteous to people around us, they will respond in kind. A genuine and warm smile can go a long way, and keeping a positive attitude can help make you more approachable and look less like a threat to your street subjects. Things happen so fast and you have to be quick enough to react and execute your shot reflexively. It is perfectly okay to miss some shots but keep that optimism going and soldier on to the next opportunity.

Let me know if you find this video helpful and would like to see similar content in the future. I had a lot of fun doing this and am excited to hear your thoughts.

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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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