I was facing a dilemma. Not a big deal, as I did have a fall-back position. The Nature Conservancy in Kansas had given me an assignment to photograph a couple of ranches in Western Kansas. These two particular ranches had made the effort to preserve habitat for a myriad of species and documentation was needed. Access was only one day at each ranch. It would be easy to just grab my DSLR’s, a brand I have been using since 1970, but for the past 18 months I had been shooting with only my Olympus Micro 4/3 equipment. Do I do my first assignment outside my comfort zone? Was I really uncomfortable with the Olympus equipment? I don’t burn bridges but I have been known to dismantle them. Now was the time to make the break and go completely mirrorless on an assignment.
I packed way too much gear for this job but I really had no idea what was in store for me. I did understand that we would be in vehicles, both full size pickups and four wheelers so too much was a better option than not enough. Turns out that well over 65% of the images were taken with the 12-100/4 PRO lens. A few with the 40-150/2.8 PRO and several with the 7-14/2.8 PRO. I also shot with the Leica-Panasonic 100-400 for some images where getting closer was not an option. It was too late to rent the 300/4 PRO or it would have been the lens of choice for the super-telephoto requirement.
For camera bodies, I carried my two Olympus EM-1 Mark II’s plus my EM-5 Mark II, each fitted with a different lens.
Documentary photography is fairly straight-forward, just document what is there. The trick is to make simple things look good. Composition is truly an important aspect of the images as is light quality, direction and quantity. I only had access during the “regular working hours” so the quality of light had to be dealt with. Generally the quantity of the light was plenty. There were times I waited for a passing cloud to soften the shadows. Most of the time I relied on the dynamic range of the Olympus sensors and a little post processing in Adobe Lightroom to open up the shadows or cut back on the highlights.
So what to photograph? Since this was a survey of what is there I basically shot everything I could find including old buildings and ranch structures, plant life and as much of the fauna as would reveal itself to my lenses. Turns out that I covered exactly what they were looking to document. Ten of my images graced the inside of the Kansas Nature Conservancy’s annual report and I also had the front and back covers.
Going forward, I have since started selling off my DSLRs and lenses with the funds redirected to pick up the 300/4 PRO lens to round out my bag.
Sure, the big gear is impressive but I am not out to impress anyone except editors. I have never had a publication ask which camera I used, how much my backpack weighs or even what settings I used. They don’t really care. If the image conveys the information they are seeking then all is right with the world.
Luckily for me I was fairly familiar with the area I would be documenting, rolling grasslands with sandy hills and limestone outcroppings. There was a prairie dog town on one ranch which meant probably burrowing owls. I took advantage of all the public roads in the area before and after access. As a bonus, the guides had an intimate understanding of what was there and what made the lands unique. Anytime you can tap into local knowledge and experience you have a good chance of getting the job done correctly.
Grab your Olympus gear and get out there!