Every year, I plan one or two big photography trips. I’ve done a couple of landscape trips, but for me, they’re never quite as satisfying as travelling to another country to photograph its culture. My trip to the Omo Valley in Ethiopia was my biggest and most ambitious project yet even though it lasted just eight days. It was a very intense shoot with a lot of preparation going into the trip beforehand.
That included thinking about my camera outfit. I have a full-frame outfit, but with the usual headaches of weight and space, I picked out the OM-D EM-1 Mark II for its great features set and rugged construction. Being dust and splash proof I figured would be key attributes to have on this trip, so I borrowed one to check out its image quality and quite honestly, the camera’s 20.4-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor really impressed me with its resolution and sharpness. For lenses I packed the 7-14mm F2.8, 17mm F1.2, 25mm F1.2 and the 40-150mm F2.8. The 17mm and 25mm lenses I picked because they give the full-frame equivalent views to the 35mm and 50mm which are my favourite focal lengths.
“This was the first image we took on the trip and it is one of my favourites,” says Tommy. “We met 18-year-old Woinshet as we were driving towards the Omo Valley. She walks 5km every day to fetch water and wood for her family. She was in a rush so we only had a few minutes to get the shot with the sun setting in the background. Thanks to the OM-D E-M1 Mark II’s five axis image stabilisation system I was able to shoot at 1/13sec on the 17mm lens with no problem but even at that shutter speed I needed ISO 1000.”
I’m even more impressed now that I have thrown the camera system into a challenging real world situation, complete with sandstorms and often really tricky, contrasty lighting.
If you’re going to take portraits in Ethiopia, my advice is to hire a guide. Without a guide, I wouldn’t have been able to get 90% of my pictures. Also, take enough money to tip your subjects, especially inside the villages. I spent around £50 in tips for all the portraits I shot.
I shoot in manual exposure mode in available light and with flash. I know that once settings are dialled in for a particular scenario, images won’t differ slightly as I move around. With flash, I get the background exposure right, then set the flash to fill to give a balance between the foreground and the background. On occasion I thought there would be no way of recovering deep shadows but the Raw files surprised me by what was possible without noise issues.
“When we arrived at the Hamer tribe village I scoped out potential backgrounds and found this house just being kissed by a low sun. I knew I wanted a shot in that spot with the family that lives in that house for added context. I wanted some separation and depth too, so got them to stand away from the house. The women were very natural in front of the camera. All I said to them was either look at the camera or face away. Perhaps the small camera was less intimidating which helped their natural-looking poses.”
One of the main reasons I go on these shoots is to take myself out of my photography comfort zone. The best art is the art you make when your head is just above water and when the pressure is on. My next trip is to Asia and I can’t wait. I’ll definitely be taking the Olympus system: it’s the perfect travel camera.”
“I got a place on an Olympus photography workshop, run by John Nassari, and it was my first time using the kit,” he explains. “I was really impressed with the pictures, so I decided to switch over to using the Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II, and five Olympus lenses.” A lot of different things impressed him about the camera. “The first noticeable thing was how lightweight it was,” he says. “The weight of the mirrorless equipment compared to old-fashioned DSLR equipment is astounding.” He also appreciates the range of Olympus lenses he’s now able to use in his work. “With my previous manufacturer, I was nine times out of ten shooting on a 70-200, but one of my Olympus lenses is equivalent to 80-300, with a constant of F2.8,” he explains. “So I get an extra 100mm zoom on the Olympus lens without compromising on the aperture. And that lens is just
“Balancing contrasty light with flash can be very awkward. This shot was very tricky. I had to be accurate because the boy was much closer to the flash than his dad. My first few tests had a well-lit boy and an adult in darkness, or vice versa. We spent ten minutes on the set-up until I was satisfied, then I just needed to wait for the boy to look towards the flash, not his dad, as his face would have been in darkness. After a patient wait for the right moment I got a shot I was really happy with.”
About the kit
For his trip, Tommy Reynolds took Olympus’s flagship camera, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II. This innovative and remarkable camera rewrote the rules of what was possible when it was launched. The ability to shoot full resolution 20.4-megapixel Raw at 60fps in single AF mode and 18fps with full AF and autoexposure is incredible and opens up boundless opportunities.
But there’s even more. In Pro Capture mode, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II lets you go back in time thanks to its large buffer that has the capacity to record up to 35 shots. Partially depress the shutter release in this mode and the camera starts capturing images and storing them in the buffer but without actually recording them.
It is only when you fully depress the shutter release that the images – up to 35 – already in the buffer are written to the SD card as well as the shots you took in real time. Speed is just one aspect of the OM-D E-M1. Among a long list of features, there’s a fully featured exposure system, autofocusing with a 121 point system and five-axis image stabilisation in a portable, robust weather-proofed body that accepts Olympus’s range of dedicated M.Zuiko lenses.
See more of Tommy’s work on his website, Facebook and Youtube.
Article featured in Photography News Magazine in Issue 56