As the sun sets on this final project, I am left to reflect on my journey over the past three months. There really is nothing like a project to make time fly. I feel like it was only yesterday that I won the golden ticket and received an acceptance email from Olympus inviting me to the Break Free Program. Since then, my life has changed in many ways and I’d like to thank the team at Olympus, my mentor Lee Hoy, and the entire Olympus family for all their support and guidance throughout this adventure. It has been a real delight and a rewarding challenge to be part of this program and I am excited to share my final project with you now.
Having deadlines helped push me to go out every day in search of something new. As a language teacher, I always tell my students that they need to practice their language every day which I also believe applies to photography. You need to do research, learn all the buttons on your camera, play with your settings, experiment with your angles, and practice daily. After two months with my E-M1X, I actually started dreaming about it, and as I explained to my students, if you start dreaming in your target language, that means that something has clicked and you are on your way to fluency. I believe it is the same for photography.
When I started this project, I was focused on wildlife and trying to understand the ecosystem and the behavior of the animals on my local New Hampshire pond. In no time, however, I began to meet people to connect with as well.
During the pandemic, I have been teaching online and haven’t seen many people since March, so it has been refreshing to talk to the locals, most of whom are regular observers of the pond. When they see my gear (cameras and dogs are the best conversation starters), they are curious and eager to engage in socially-distanced exchanges. They all have a new story to share about the beavers and the wildlife they have encountered or how this area used to be. They come to exercise, spend quality time with friends, family, and pets or simply reconnect with nature, just outside the city limits. Some have a special connection to the area because they helped protect it from a development project while others visit the pond after work to get away from the buzz of their day and relax while watching the comings and goings of the wildlife. The beavers, of course, are the main attraction, but many come in hopes of catching a glimpse of the elusive Great Blue Heron.
One thing I have learned is that sometimes wildlife doesn’t always show up when you need it to. I was really hoping to capture a bobcat, a coyote, or a moose but unfortunately, it was not in the cards for this project. Despite increasing my hours at the pond, finding new trails, and patiently waiting, tracks and excrement were the closest I could get to these animals. But even now that my project is over, the search for these animals is not and I will keep looking until I am rewarded. Another more common animal I was hoping to photograph was an owl. I’ve attended a few owl releases here in New Hampshire but have never seen an owl in the wild until one day, I caught a glimpse of my first barred owl. What an amazing privilege to be able to observe such a beautiful bird, silently slaloming through the forest trees. Since then, I have seen or heard a couple of barred owls near the pond.
Capturing my first barred owl photo would not have been feasible without the help of the M.Zuiko 100-400mm F5.0-6.3 IS. Having such reach while capturing wildlife photos is really incredible. It is also an easy lens to use with a very smooth barrel and, as with all Olympus lenses, it is mind-bogglingly small without compromising on quality and sharpness. I successfully shot a lot of my B-roll footage with this lens on a tripod or on the ground, because with such reach any small movement will impact the video and stabilizing it in post-processing doesn’t always work well. At 2.46 pounds, this lens is extremely light for its reach and it even fits in my 6-liter daily camera bag.
I have kept my camera bag on the small side, which helps me be more creative and able to break free, as the name of this program suggests. This is one reason why, after one year of shooting, I switched to Olympus. I was just too frustrated with my previous camera which had one issue after another and was just too heavy. I found myself traveling and only taking one or two lenses because I couldn't carry more.
Now, thanks to my Olympus gear, I look forward to traveling and I am not limited to one camera and one lens. The best camera is the one you have in your hand not the one sitting on your shelf. I also know that I can rely on my gear and that it won’t overheat or not function properly when it’s too cold. It also helps that this compact camera is packed with amazing features you don’t get with other cameras. Live Composite, Live ND, Starry Sky AF, in-camera autofocus – all features that make getting out and being creative even easier.
So, what is next for me? Well, my project for the Break Free Program is over but continuing to capture the ecosystem of this pond is definitely not. As Tesni Ward, a UK Olympus Ambassador did with her badger project, I will keep track of my beaver friends as winter closes in. I am also planning a trip out west with the Toyota Sienna van-conversion I did last summer. As soon as it is safe to travel, I will head to Yellowstone and then go down to Texas to meet my mentor Lee Hoy in person. I really can’t wait for this. I have learned so much thanks to him and I am encouraged to continue on the path of becoming a better photographer. Along with Lee, I will also keep in touch with the Olympus Break Free Program participants and, who knows, maybe we can collaborate on something in the future.
As a last word, I would like to thank the Olympus team and family for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and encourage all of you to pursue your dream and work hard to reach it. I hope I can continue collaborating with Olympus in one way or another in the future. Olympus does so much for us. If you follow them on Facebook or Instagram, you can take part in challenges, share ideas, and showcase your talent as well as get inspired by all the educational videos the Olympus family provides. The world is full of beautiful moments, so let’s go out and capture them!