Hi, I’m Ivor, a professional photographer, photography coach and newspaper columnist based on the Northumberland coast. An avid Olympus user since buying an OM-2n 35mm film camera back in the 1980s, Olympus UK invited me to tell you a bit about my Olympus journey. I’d like to share some of my photography hints with you too.
Two OM-D E-M1s sit in my camera cupboard. My main camera for professional work is the Mark II and that is backed up by a Mark I. The latter I use for demonstrations when delivering photography training courses. I only recently acquired the Mark I, having swapped it with a friend. She has tiny hands and found the even smaller size of my E-M5 Mark II suited her better. The hybrid focusing system of the E-M1 was more compatible with my collection of excellent, old Olympus E-Series lenses, so we both won. My wife also has an E-M5 too, which I borrow when I want something small enough to slip into a jacket pocket.
A piece of advice I always give is never to ask advice about what camera to buy; people always recommend what they use. Always get your hands on the camera and try the ergonomics first. This is one of the great advantages of Olympus’s Test and Wow scheme. Have you tried that yet?
Despite my advice, I nevertheless do get a tingle of satisfaction that lots of my clients follow my lead and buy Olympus and are so pleased with their purchases. (I am not on commission!) When I ask them about their choice, they gush about the size and weight and the convenience those bring. They then go on to speak about how impressed they are with the image quality. The very same reasons I still choose Olympus cameras.
Camera ergonomics are so important. The E-M1s fit my large hands perfectly. They are comfortable to hold and I am never accidentally hitting the wrong buttons. I’ve found with some bigger cameras my nose presses uncomfortably against the back of the camera. Not so with my OM-Ds.
Their compact, robust design also makes them the perfect camera to take with me on my early morning cycle ride or on outdoor adventures. The OM-Ds are ideal for candid photography too. I can shoot documentary photos at weddings or street photographs without my subjects noticing. Furthermore, they do not get in the way when I’m delivering training.
Lucky enough to live on the amazingly photogenic Northumberland coast, much of my personal photography is inspired by the sea. The weather sealing is essential for my sunrise seascapes. I never worry about blown sand or sea spray, the ruin of many other coastal photographers’ cameras. The OM-D’s articulated live view screens are an absolute must for me as my camera is often held inches from the ground. I can compose a shot without lying in the wet sand. If you don’t already do it, next time you photograph, take a toddler’s or worm’s eye view when you take a photograph.
The Olympus lenses are amazingly sharp too. Furthermore, the telecentric optical path of the Micro Four Thirds system means little or no light drop off at the edges and corners of the frame, which is great for minimalist landscape photography.
Besides their versatility and the quality of the bodies and lenses, I am also taken by their looks. Artists’ tools should be aesthetically pleasing; beauty inspires creativity. I think the OM-Ds are the best-looking digital cameras ever made; E-M10s and E-M5s are pretty and the E-M1s handsome. Is there any more attractive combination than an E-M5 with the 45mm f/1.8 lens attached?
Another advantage of Olympus cameras is the huge range of settings available across all their models. It’s so frustrating when trying to teach a client a technique finding their camera does not have the settings to support it; I never have that problem when they own an Olympus.
When planning my next seascape photoshoot, I’ll always check the weather, the sun or moonrise times and directions, the sea state and what the tide is doing. This not only guarantees the best opportunity to get the photo I visualise but also keeps me safe, essential when shooting stormy seas alone from a deserted, rocky beach in winter where there is no phone signal.
Spend a little while before a photoshoot anticipating the light and changing the settings accordingly. With my OM-Ds, I usually set the cameras for seascapes, wildlife and portrait shoots and assign them to Custom Modes (Mysets on the E-M1 Mark I and the E-M5 Mark II). I can be on the Farne Islands capturing images of birds and then spot a seascape. Quickly turning the mode dial I know the camera is ready to shoot.
I often shoot in aperture priority. This may come as a surprise because professionals are supposed to shoot in manual mode, aren’t they? With the back dial changing the aperture and the front set to exposure compensation, I have every bit as much control as I would in manual mode, and the camera immediately gives me a good starting point to work from. I can quickly adjust the light coming into the camera, relying on the histogram in the electronic viewfinder to accurately judge the exposure.
Aperture mode is quick. Even on a carefully planned photoshoot, I might spot something needing fast reactions to capture. Adjusting both the shutter and the aperture in manual mode takes time and I might otherwise miss the frame.
The OMD’s incredible in-body image stabilisation (IS) allows me to handhold these cameras in low light. Not using flash is exactly what I need when shooting a wedding or indoor event. With Olympus lenses, I leave IS auto and it never lets me down. Another advantage for me is that I can often leave the tripod at home because the IS negates the need for it.
For fun, I have a collection of old film lenses and adaptors to fit them to my camera. I’ve found some fantastic legacy lenses at car boot sales and charity shops for as little as £5. The IS works with those too, although I do adjust focal length setting in this case. Vintage lenses give a completely unique feel to a shot. Some are pleasantly soft, while others render colours differently. We don’t always have to seek optical perfection. The following image was shot a couple of years ago using a vintage 200mm f/4 lens on my E-M5 Mark II
Photographers should never stop learning. I’m often reading books and blogs or browsing other people’s galleries and analysing the shots.
It’s strange, the images I enjoy the most often receive fewer “likes”. The same goes for my images, I sell fewer of the ones I am most proud of. I guess most people want to see pretty, easy to enjoy pictures. I do get that. But personally, I like best those where I can see the photographer has thought about and worked at the shot, producing something a bit different from the rest of the crowd. Especially so if the image tells a story and it has atypical choices of exposure or composition.
The following image was shot handheld. Setting the ISO to 64, I wound the aperture down to f/22. That is further than I would normally ever use. This, plus 3 stops of over-exposure gave me a 0.6 second shutter value. This high-key image contrasts the fluid movement of the young children playing in the waves with the self-conscious young woman looking on, dressed in black, detached from the play.
I’ve provided photography courses for folk suffering from mental illnesses. Getting outside in nature, exercising, working with others and being creative can really help with recovery. What is more, photography helps us all stay in a good state of mind. I find Olympians (my term for Olympus-owning photographers) are invariably friendly and supportive. The various Olympus online groups and forums all seem great places for encouragement, fitting perfectly into the #BeKind era that I hope we are migrating towards.
Collaborating with other friendly photographers and artists can make a huge difference to your creativity. I have a few friends that I venture out with, but I do also enjoy photographing solo. What could be better than placing the first footprints of the day on a chilly beach and capturing the golden sun as it rises above the horizon?
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