When Eric Rock was 16, he took his first paycheck, gave it to his mom and had her buy him a camera. From that first Minolta camera, through the years of using film and full-frame Canon cameras, Eric eventually landed with Olympus.
“The move to Olympus came in a transition from full-frame to micro four-thirds,” Eric said. “I was doing natural history and photo trips. My mentor showed me at the time a Panasonic GF1, so I decided to give it a try to see if it met my travel needs. I wanted to travel light. It met most of my needs for people and cultural documentary, but way short on wildlife.
“I started noticing Olympus was releasing lenses, and I gravitated more toward them. But it wasn’t until the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO came out [that I switched]. I couldn’t believe they could design a lens like that, based on what I knew from the old days of film. It’s still my favorite lens to pick up.
“That’s when I set my full-frame Canon stuff down, and said, ‘let’s see how long I can go without using this.’ A full year later, I hadn’t touched it.”
Experiencing the wild
While his journey is similar to many photographers, he’s had experiences that many of us rarely get to see. Now as an Olympus Educator and photo tour leader for Joe Van Os Photo Safaris, Eric travels the world, taking groups of photographers on wildlife workshops, often photographing his favorite subject — bears.
With his OM-D E-M1X and E-M1 Mark III in tow, Eric relies on a few of his favorite lenses to get the shot — namely the 300mm f/4, the 40-150mm f/2.8 and the 12-100mm f/4. He also regularly uses the MC-14 1.4x teleconverter.
When Eric started out documenting wildlife, he shot everything and anything.
“Everything was fair game — a fish, a flap … you just photographed everything. Nowadays, I tend to focus my attention more on areas or species. If there’s a species I want to photograph, I’m going to go right to the books. I try to learn as much as possible before even going out. I look at what other people have done. I’ll ask [friends] what their insights are and maybe an area where they’ve found certain wildlife,” he said.
“Then, it’s about focus. I try to put myself in that situation as much as possible. I try to shoot every day. If I’m focused on a particular goal, I’ll learn more in that tunnel of what I’m thinking about. But if I go out with a more open mind, I tend to learn more about the overall ecology or wildlife that I’m among at that time.”
Enhancement through technology
When it comes to tools that have made Eric nail his shots, he relies on technologies like Pro Capture as well as game-changing autofocus.
With Pro Capture, the Olympus camera uses electronic shutter mode, and starts recording images as soon as you half-press the shutter release button. It stores these images in its memory, only writing to your memory card when the shutter button has been fully pressed. It allows you to better anticipate the moment, especially with fast-moving animals.
“I have a lot of bird feeders at the house, and when birds come into perch, it’s a blast,” says Eric. “Without [Pro Capture], I’m lucky if I get a little foot or a little bit of a tail leaving the scene.”
And with Olympus’ autofocus technologies, it makes Pro Capture all that much more effective.
“I’ve watched all this change in increments and I always felt we were never given the next full level every time autofocus moved from one level to the next. Until now.
I was just photographing hummingbirds and dragonflies. I never thought that I could catch them in the viewfinder let along focus on them — and nail the shot. It’s been a game-changer.”
Always challenging himself
While Eric has photographed hundreds, if not thousands, of bears, he’s always challenging himself (and his workshop group) to go beyond the ordinary.
“[I try to] always kind of step back and say, ‘OK, I got that shot. Next I want to have a little fun with [the bears],” he said.
“And so, whether it’s myself or if there’s a group with me, I’ll have them setup and practice panning shots with these crazy young bears that are burning all this extra energy. So I’m trying to challenge myself that way, try new techniques and bring back techniques that I’ve used in the past and relearning them.”
In terms of prepping for wildlife, Eric says it’s important to practice, practice, practice. Whether you have a cat, dog … or even a tiny human running around.
“If you’ve got a cat or a dog or even a fast little kid with a bunch of candy … practice. The last thing you want to do is get out in the field and have to fuss. This should be second nature because with wildlife, you may not get a second chance for that shot you’ve been waiting for.”