Two Key Questions

This article shares two key questions that I do my best to ask myself… and answer… when I’m out in the field with my camera gear. I’ve found these two key questions have helped me make the most of the photographic opportunities that present themselves.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-2000, cropped to 3609 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 4.2 metres

Am I challenging myself and my camera gear?

Like many photographers I find that I can fall into a rut from time to time. When this happens I seem to lack enthusiasm and passion for what i’m doing with my camera gear. A general malaise can creep over me, resulting in lower levels of energy and creativity.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-800, cropped to 2658 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 67.8 metres

If I allow these feelings to take hold I end up having a less than enjoyable outing with my camera. And, I usually come home with far fewer usable photographs.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 308 mm, efov 616 mm, f/8.5, 1/4000, ISO-1250, full frame capture, Pro Capture H, Subject distance 5.6 metres

Asking myself these two key questions retrospectively is not good enough. By then I’m back home and my photo session is over. I’ve wasted both time and opportunities. To be meaningful I need to ask these two key questions while I’m in the moment with my camera gear. That way I can get myself back on track, be more productive, and creative.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 280 mm, efov 560 mm, f/8.4, 1/4000, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3390 pixels on the height, subject distance 5.2 metres

Challenging myself and my camera gear can involve a wide range of factors.  From a personal perspective a number of factors can come into play. Here are just a few of them… these are sub-questions to the bigger one noted in the heading above.

  • Am I considering the available light and the best shooting angle possible given the conditions?
  • Am I working hard at capturing my photographs correctly in camera in terms of composition, exposure and focus?
  • Am I pushing my ability to handhold my camera gear at slower shutter speeds?
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-200, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3966 pixels on the width, distance to subject 14.9 metres
  • Am I copping out by telling myself that I can fix my laziness in the field through post processing?
  • Am I using my feet enough to get the most out of my camera gear, or am I using the focal length range of my zoom lenses as crutches for my own laziness?
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2653 pixels on the width, subject distance 69.8 metres

There are other issues when considering my camera gear and its capabilities. There are more sub-questions related to gear.

  • Am I using the IBIS performance of my camera as well as possible given the photographic conditions?
  • Am I missing photographic opportunities because I have not adjusted my camera settings quickly enough? (this is key when using Custom Modes)
  • Am I using the best ISO setting possible given shooting parameters?
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 370 mm, efov 740 mm, f/8.7, 1/1600, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2001 pixels on the width
  • Am I operating my camera to maximize my chances of success? This could include using ETTR, focus/recompose, and other techniques.
  • Am I trying to capture difficult photographs that would challenge the auto-focus ability of my camera or am I letting those opportunities pass me by?
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 545 mm, efov 1090 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-640, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 1801 pixels on the width

Depending on the camera gear we have at hand, and the subject matter we are attempting to photograph, these considerations can vary for each of us.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 420 mm, efov 860 mm, f/8.8, 1/2500, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4099 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.2 metres

Am I purposefully and thoroughly observing my surroundings?

Being aware of our surroundings opens up a wealth of photographic opportunities of which we may not be immediately aware. We’ve all faced situations when we’ve left home with specific photographic objectives in our mind. Sometimes conditions change or birds/wildlife does not appear as expected. This can cause us to trudge home in a disappointed state.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/8.1, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H, subject distance 7 metres

By purposefully observing our surroundings we can often see opportunities that we weren’t originally expecting to be present.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.7 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H mode, subject distance 24.8 metres

These could include other species of birds or animals. Or perhaps some dramatic lighting that helps to highlight a commonplace behaviour.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 483 mm, efov 966 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-640, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 3331 pixels on the width

You may notice a common bird repeating an uncommon action.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 228 mm, efov 456 mm, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-320, subject distance 2.5 metres

We may notice a plant, flower, berry or leaf of interest.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/13, -1 step, 1/1600, ISO-5000

Or perhaps a subject that demonstrates a specific concept like courage or perseverance.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, -0.7 step, 1/4000, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H

Even the most common of birds when captured at the right moment can create an interesting composition if we harness our powers of observation.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/320, ISO-3200, subject distance 245 mm, handheld focus stacking used, out-of-camera jpeg adjusted in post

Looking for details in our surroundings can lead to us creating a photograph, the opportunity for which may have only lasted for a few seconds.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/1000, ISO-2500, subject distance 215 mm

Noticing small movements can lead to photographs.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro with 16 mm Kenko extension tube, f/5.6, 1/800, ISO-6400, Hand-held Hi Res Mode, subject distance 190 mm

Sometimes even little gems hidden inside other larger subjects can become apparent to us.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 334 mm, efov 668 mm, f/8.6, 1/2500, ISO-1600, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3429 pixels on the width, subject distance 3.7 metres

Making it a practice to ask myself these two key questions, “Am I challenging myself and my camera gear?” and “Am I purposefully and thoroughly observing my surroundings?” have led to the creation of many photographs that I would have otherwise missed. Most importantly these two key questions have helped me experience the joy of photography on a day-to-day basis.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Crops are noted. This is the 1,053rd article published on this website since its original inception.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 359 mm, efov 718 mm, f/8.7, 1/2500, ISO-1600, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3228 pixels on the height, subject distance 3.9 metres

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18 thoughts on “Two Key Questions”

  1. Hi, I’ve been out with the M1X and 100-400 with 1.4 tc and can’t get the same results as you for bif, my keeper rate is maybe 60%. Could you give me or point me to how you have you camera set-up for that? If you have a book I would be glad to buy it.

        1. Hi Brian,

          My E-M1X estimates the subject distance. This information is in the EXIF data. I store all of my photography files in Windows Explorer and the subject distance is visible when I check a completed file. I right click on a file which reveals ‘Properties’. I then click on ‘Details’ and the subject distance is visible. There are likely ways to view this data through other software that reads EXIF data.

          Tom

                1. Hi Brian,

                  I’m not sure if the software used to work with RAW files in post makes a difference or not. My process is DxO PhotoLab 4, PhotoShop CS6, Nik, then Topaz Denoise AI.

                  Tom

  2. Great post, really enjoying your blog and I find it puts forth some great subjects. Your bird images are awesome, that 100-400 lens looks spectacular.

    1. Thanks Steve… I’m glad you are enjoying the articles.

      The M.Zuiko 100-400 is an excellent lens. I typically use it with the M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter for the additional reach. Being able to handhold at an efov of 1120 mm is awesome.

      Tom

      1. Tom, you have probably been asked before, do you have any concerns about future of M43. As I embark on this journey, I just worry a bit, because of the state of the camera industry.

        1. Hi Steve,

          The state of the camera industry is of concern to many people, especially since volumes have been in a bit of a free fall since 2012 or so. I don’t have any specific concerns about OM Digital and its line up of cameras and lenses.

          FWIW here’s some of my rationale.
          1) Olympus took a huge financial hit when the company finalized the transfer of the Imaging Division to OM Digital. That likely means that OM Digital acquired the division for a very attractive price and probably started the business with a very low level of debt. That should help start things off with the best chance of success.
          2) From what I’ve read OM Digital did a good job cutting costs. For example, I think overall corporate head count was reduced from roughly 6,000 to 2,000. That should significantly lower operating expenses and fixed costs. They have also shifted some of their distribution from company owned to distributors in some countries. This should also help lower operating costs.
          3) Demographically the average age of camera owners is increasing. Not that many younger people are buying dedicated cameras, and those that are tend to be interested in niche subjects like birding, nature and sports. As photographers got older they will likely be more interested in smaller, lighter camera gear. These market factors should be positive for M4/3 and OM Digital specifically.
          4) OM Digital appears to be continuing with the development of computational photography. I firmly believe that this is the future of dedicated cameras and will be far more important than sensor size.

          I suppose almost any camera company could fail given the contraction of the market. Most of the current line up of camera manufacturers are not focused on cameras as their core business. OM Digital is one of the few. Canon is mainly a business machine maker (copiers and printers). Fuji is a huge conglomerate with some emphasis on heavy machinery. Sony is more of an entertainment company than anything else. Panasonic’s core business is skewing toward auto battery development and manufacturing for e-vehicles. Cameras are more of a sideline for most companies that are in the business. Whether they will continue should the market continue to decline will be interesting to witness.

          On a personal basis I had no reservation investing in OM-D and M.Zuiko products. I fully expect that what I currently own will more than meet my needs for the next decade. After that *shrugs* I’ll have to evaluate where my interests lie.

          Tom

          1. That is a great response, it eases my mind a bit. My exact reason for this experiment wit Micro 4/3 is the weight issue. I am 67 and some of this equipment was just becoming a chore to carry. I am not that much into tripods and do a lot of my images from a kayak. I am looking forward to what I can achieve.

            1. Hi Steve,

              I’m glad the reply was helpful. I’m a bit older than you are so I certainly understand the weight/size considerations… although my Olympus kit is much larger and heavier than my Nikon 1 gear.

              Tom

  3. Inspiring advice how to stay motivated, avoid burnout, and freshly re-engage with subjects and one’s gear to capture compelling photos. With impressive photos as evidence.
    Thanks.

  4. Tom, how do you know the focus distance is something like “67.8m”? is the Olympus including focus distance in the EXIF?

    Nice article, and you are correct in your advice.

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