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Photographing landscapes with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II

This is the second article in a four-part series discussing the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. Click here to read my first article, discussing the use of the camera for events. In future articles, I’ll discuss using the camera for portraiture and advertising.

While my bread and butter might be event photography, in my spare time I photograph landscapes and travel imagery. Everything from long exposures to walking the streets, I love to photograph it.

Landscapes (and some cityscapes)

When I started out doing nighttime long exposures with my Nikon D800, I picked up a NiSi ND filter set and have loved having that in my bag whenever I go shooting. I’ve since converted that system to fit my OM-D E-M1 Mark II, which gives me the ability to capture long exposures at any time of the day, with a 3-stop and 10-stop ND filter setup.

I usually shoot wider with my landscape shots, and I almost always shoot on a tripod.

What impressed me the most with the E-M1 Mark II is the color that was achieved in my photographs. Out of any camera system I’ve used (Nikon and Panasonic), the colors I get out of my Olympus photos are the truest to the scene. They’re well-saturated but balanced, and just have a certain pop to them that’s difficult to describe.

The landscape results I’ve been able to achieve have truly been nothing short of remarkable. And don’t just take my word for it — take a look at Photofocus guest contributor, and Olympus visionary, Jamie MacDonald, and his landscape work.

Resolution

When it comes to landscapes, I had one concern. Would the 20-megapixel sensor provide enough resolution for a large print? I can tell you that it definitely can. And if you want a super high-resolution photograph, you have that option too, with the E-M1 Mark II’s High Res Shot mode. This captures eight frames in RAW format, shifting the sensor slightly with each photograph taken. It then puts those frames together for a large, 80-megapixel photograph. If you shoot in JPEG, you can get the same effect, but end up with a 50-megapixel image.

The photographs below don’t do this justice, but trust me — these photos are amazingly sharp on the big screen when at full resolution.

I tried this when I went out west after WPPI in February, photographing things like waterfalls and mountains in Nevada, Utah and Idaho. The high-resolution photographs are absolutely stunning and even sharper than what my old D800 full-frame camera produced.

The cool thing is that it works for long exposures, too, meaning I can have a super high-resolution photograph with the light trails and moving clouds that I love, or I can put on my ND filters for an even longer exposure.

Obviously, when you use High Res Shot mode you have to be on a tripod, but with landscapes, I find that I like to take my time.

Image Stabilization

What shocked me when I first started shooting with my E-M1 Mark II is the image stabilization capabilities. On a shaky bridge, leaned up against a glass barrier in Las Vegas, I was able to capture a 2-second exposure of traffic on the Las Vegas Strip. Quite the first shocking impression!

Since that photograph, I’ve used the built-in IS in both the camera body and lens to create other 2-second exposures when I don’t have my tripod handy.

Live Composite

One of the unique features with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is Live Composite mode. This lets you create a long exposure and track the development of it. Perfect for star trails, fireworks and more, I tried this out when looking for meteors earlier this year up in Northern Michigan. While I failed to see any meteors, playing around with Live Composite mode was really cool, as I could see exactly how my photograph was building, and stop it at any point.

Following Jamie MacDonald’s instructions, I determined the proper exposure in Aperture Priority mode, then switched to Manual mode and set my camera to Live Composite (as shutter speed) and set up the camera to the correct shutter speed.

A base image is then generated, and as new light is introduced into the image, it gets composited into the base image.

Gear of choice

Other than my NiSi ND filter setup, I usually use the following lenses for landscapes:

I’ve also started to use the 12-100mm f/4 PRO lens, which I have circular ND filters for. This gets me a great range and allows me to travel with just one or two lenses, rather than also packing my 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens. Because I’m usually shooting at a higher f-stop number, the 12-100mm fits the bill perfectly.

Travel

I consider a lot of my everyday shooting travel photography. Even if it’s in my hometown, I treat is as if I’m in a new area, always looking for something fresh to photograph. I’ll regularly walk around downtown and photograph things in windows, textures I find on buildings and more. Over the past year, I’ve begun regularly photographing for Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., our city’s downtown development organization. This has allowed me to see the city even more and discover new things.

When it comes to this type of photography, I go a little outside the box. I use different gear — usually prime lenses. This challenges me to think creatively and play around with different angles and positions like I wouldn’t otherwise do.

Depth-of-field

While I certainly photograph some wide overview shots for my travel work, I also like to focus in on one particular aspect. This means I love to play with blurry backgrounds, otherwise known as depth-of-field. This is another reason why I use prime lenses, as it allows me to separate what I want to focus on from the rest of the scene a little more easily, due to the lower f-stop numbers.

While a lot of full frame camera supporters complain that micro four-thirds sensors don’t allow for those creamy, silky backgrounds, I really haven’t noticed much of a change. If you know your gear and how to work it, you can produce the same look and feel in a micro four-thirds camera as you can a full-frame camera.

Gear of choice

As I mentioned above, my gear for travel photography is different than the rest of my bag. I’ve started incorporating both the 12-100mm f/4 PRO and 17mm f/1.2 PRO lenses into my workflow, both of which have been loaned to me. Otherwise, I usually photograph with my 45mm f/1.2 PRO lens.

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