THE OM-D E-M1 RAISES THE BARRE
BY GAVIN STOKER
“Idealised perfection”… a phrase attributed by English National Ballet production stills photographer Arnaud ‘Cookie’ Stephenson to the elegant limbed stars of the stage. But one that is arguably equally applicable to the Olympus OM-D E-M1.
Some 50 lucky photographers who responded to an online invitation via www.olympus-imagespace.co.uk were invited to test out the OM-D range plus a vast variety of prime and professional lenses – including 45mm (90mm equivalent) and 75mm f/1.8 (150mm) – as guests of ENB for an afternoon, taking in rehearsals for the Nutcracker at the impressively opulent London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane.
With Olympus’ imaging support squad dispensing kit and advice in equal measure, Arnaud and fellow dance photography specialist Sisi Burn were on hand to provide encouragement and professional tips and tricks. The aim was to enable those of us less experienced with shooting fast-moving live events in tricky lighting to get the best possible results with the Olympus gear.
Plié –ing their trade
Having been shooting classical, orchestral, dance, opera and jazz performances for the past 20 years – including the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall – Sisi is a fountain of knowledge. “The reason for choosing Olympus’ OM-D series was based on the small size of the cameras,” she explained. “The other factors were the price and the quality, which is getting better with each new generation. Also, when I’m shooting orchestras, the really quiet shutter of the mirror-less models is a distinct selling point.
“At the Proms last summer I was using the E-M1 with a 35-100mm f/2, which is fantastic for being quiet and covert as nobody bats an eyelid. Plus the viewfinder is incredibly helpful with stage lighting as you can see exactly what’s happening and watch for when the light changes.”
Photojournalist and dance photographer Arnaud ‘Cookie’ Stephenson also shared his excitement at capturing ballet stars’ graceful movements with the equally fleet-of-foot E-M1. “I think dance photography is such a wonderful thing and so joyous to photograph – it’s the coming together of so many things that get photographers’ juices flowing; you’ve got light and motion and drama and it’s all played out in front of you in a controlled environment.”
Cookie also shared some of his favoured settings on the OM-D, with the hope of letting the rest of us achieve results somewhere close to professional grade.
“To freeze movement I shoot manual, wide open at f/2.8 and set my shutter speed to 1/250th or 1/320th sec. That is just enough to freeze a jump, even though you’re still going to see some motion in a foot or in a hand. Personally I can accept that.”
To get the best exposure, the photographer will set his OM-D to spot metering and auto ISO. “The OM-D’s range of ISO200 to ISO2500 should deal with most of the dynamic differences in light you might encounter. You can lock those settings, which then leaves you really free to concentrate on the dancing.”
Additionally, the Olympus’ opportunity of shooting in RAW gives the photographer the chance to decide later how he is going to handle skin tones. “Because of the huge variety of lighting you’re not going to see a true skin tone out there anywhere, so you have just got to look at it later and make a decision – there’s no right or wrong. If you purely aim for a perfect skin tone, the rest of the frame is going to look super psychedelic. Consider what feels right, based on how it looked at the time. Swan Lake for example is all lit in blue. I will correct a bit for that, but at the same time I’ll leave it looking blue, because it was.”
“But take this advice on board and then find out what works for you – because there’s no one absolute way to do this. You want to focus on the dance, think about connecting and timing, listen to the music for the dramatic swells that suggest something is about to happen, and watch the dancers’ legs and feet. They’ve spent their lives on achieving idealised perfection. And now, in the Olympus OM-D cameras, we have the tools to be able to depict that.”
Armed with such expert knowledge the stage was set for us to be able to avoid putting a foot wrong, and create some great ballet images. As they enjoyed coffee and mince pies afterwards, the consensus among attendees was that Olympus and English National Ballet had put on a great show; the OM-D right up there with the star attraction.
If you’re interested in attending any similar events in the future, keep an eye on Olympus Image Space for more opportunities over the coming months.