The Olympus Big Shoot Experience

On Thursday and Friday last week I was fortunate enough to attend two days of the three day “Big Shoot Experience” with Damian McGillicuddy and his team. Over the two days a number of photographers and I were given an insight into how Damian and his team create and produce portfolio grade photographs.

I had a great time and I learnt an awful lot. It was also very nice to meet other photographers some like me who do this as a hobby and a number of them are working photographers who came to hone their skills working with a pro like Damian.

Olympus UK are very active in the training and trying in a real environment arena. They have a dedicated site which details the activities that they along with working Olympus professional photographers and retailers are involved in. You can access the site from here.

Details of the two days I attended are as follows:

  • Day One details here
  • Day Two details here

The models (Bexie and Pixie) were excellent and very patient working with novices like me who still find the whole direction rapport with models not as straight forward as others. This was an area that the working photographers were much better at; I still find this a little bewildering. 😦

Damian along with his Make Up Artist (MUA) Zoe work together to produce the shots and it was evident how they worked together. Damian explains what he is after and Zoe helps the model to create the overall look that is needed for the shoot.

I would also like to thank Aiden from Olympus UK who was there with a large number of Olympus bodies and lenses and was on hand to help with any technical issues that Damian or the delegates like me had. I remember Aiden from the LCE Photo and Optics show earlier in November and it was nice to have a few conversations with him. He like everyone else involved in the shoot was very nice and approachable.

Finally I would like to thank Jan who looks after Studio Antics and is very interested in keeping the interest alive long after Damian leaves to his next Olympus assignment; I hope to keep in touch and also get involved in some of the activities Jan is planning. I had no idea that this place existed and it will be nice to see some of the other photographers there again.

Day One
The first day was split into two halves and a shoot was prepared for each one.

I love the imagination that Damian has for each set-up he had a story to tell in each shot and this helps him and his MUA “dress” the model and design the set to portray that story. The story is very important as without one there is little point in taking the picture.

The first shoot involved a model who was playing chess to win (a Porsche) and after a quite lengthy set-up Damian achieved the look and lighting that he was after. He showed why he used a light meter and then explained about that the final medium in print had such a limited dynamic range (much less than the camera can produce) that he needed to ensure that the difference between the darkest and lightest part of the picture was within this limited range.

Although I took a number of photos throughout the two days this shoot provided my best and favourite photo, it has gotten many likes on Facebook:

I got quite a few shots in this first shot that are also very good too:


After lunch we then started to construct the second shot of the day, this took much longer than the first one as the lighting was more complex. I am less happy with my shot and the other versions that I have seen are better:

Day Two
On the second day we managed to get in three shots. Like the first day we spent some time configuring each shoot. It all starts with an idea and for the first shot the architecture of the building meant that Damian had to change the initial shots angle somewhat and once the lighting was in place and following a quick wardrobe change for Bex the best position was found. Once Damian had got his shot he let the rest of us have a go, here is my effort:

Following lunch we went back downstairs for the second photo, this time Pixie was in a very elegant Wedding Dress and once the set had been constructed and the lighting was fine-tuned Damian got his shot and again we all had a go:

Due to an even larger number of photographers for the second “half” day it took some time for each of us to have a go, I managed to take a nice one from the other corner of the room (camera left of original picture), it seemed that the flash went off as I was taking my picture (a total fluke), this shows Pixie’s beautiful back:

Once we were all finished with the second shoot Damian (after a small break) explained his third shot to us. We went into the Dining room and all managed to see the shot being constructed. During the lighting setup Damian needed the assistant of Boom Man (his assistant – James) to help throw flash light onto the rear wall. You can see a short (YouTube) video about this here, this gives an idea of Damian’s humour too:

The final speed-light was placed outside so it could throw a bit of light into the room through the window. Once the shot was set-up, Damian got what he was after and we all had a go with and without the coffee cup; my favourite is as follows:

Voigtländer 42.5mm f0.95 Nokton Micro Four Thirds Lens
One to the great things about these Olympus events was the number of lenses that you can try with your Olympus camera. Along with the Olympus lenses Damian also had a Voigtländer 42.5mm too (he actually used this on his third shoot). The limited depth of field at f0.95 is astonishing and using light peaking to focus is essential if you want sharp shots.

You can get an idea of this from this shot of the Chess Board:
This was taken in ambient light, and there wasn’t much of that in the room. The lens used to cost almost £1K but as it is more common it now retails for around £739 from WEX Photographic.

Other things
I learnt a number of good important points during the two days, you can have the vision created and produced by Damian for each shoot, you can have the same settings in your camera that Damian was using and the same advantage point, you can have the model proving a number of poses for your shot. You can have all of this and still fluff the shot!

During the event there was only a single 40-150mm f2.8 PRO lens there and this was Damian’s lens. Aiden used to have one too but had to give it up for another trade show (Olympus are hosting a lot of these at the moment), apparently there are only around 14 of these in the UK at the moment. I talked to both Damian and Aiden about my pre-order and although they couldn’t say for definite, that they had both been told availability starting in December – so I should get one. As a side note a non Pro announced on the Olympus UK Facebook Group that he had got one from the Leamington branch of LCE – this bodes well for me as my pre-order is with LCE too (albeit the Lincoln one).

There was no sign of the 1.4x tele-converter at the event so I may have to wait for this part as there are no firm availability announcements about this yet.

I played with many different lenses at the event from the 12mm to the 75mm and they are all superb lenses. The biggest surprise for me was the versatility of the 45mm f1.8 lens; this is the cheapest M.Zuiko prime lens and would be a fantastic addition to my kit. The few Olympus shooters that were there were surprised that I did not own this lens!

The training events are camera agnostic and don’t care which camera you use; if you wish, you can try an Olympus outfit but you are under no obligation to do this. I noticed that some of the photographers were really keen to give them a go (one or two did not take up this opportunity) and I see some possible new OM-D users on the horizon.

Finally, I also learnt an awful lot on how to use my camera over the last few days and I am starting to know my way around the menus and have just sorted to configure to the way that I shoot. I hope to eventually set up some of the “My Sets” which are the custom modes on the camera in the not too distant future.

If you get the chance to go to one of the Olympus My Space events – please go they are well worth it!