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Canon Explorer Ulla Lohmann is taking her EOS 5D Mark III DSLR around the world with BMW Motorrad to follow in the tyre tracks of five riders, each of whom has won a place on the ultimate adventure with the R 1200 GS motorcycle. Ulla is shooting all five riding adventures – which take place across five continents – and will be blogging on CPN along with Basti Hofmann and filmmaker Romain de l’Ecotais about the experience of men, machines and megapixels.


Ulla Lohmann on machines & megapixels with the EOS 5D Mark III

March 2013

Canon Explorer Ulla Lohmann is currently working with BMW Motorrad on a series of five worldwide motorcycling adventures designed to highlight its best-selling R 1200 GS dual sport bike. In the first of a series of blogs, she reveals all about her trip across the country of Laos, in south-east Asia, documenting the action with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

Laos is such a beautiful country with amazing landscape. For me, it was one of the best photo assignments I’d ever been on because I got to see such fantastic views and meet so many great local people and share my work with them. That’s the power of digital photography – you get to share it instantly, and this was made even easier for me because Canon Europe sent me a SELPHY CP810 printer, which makes small prints that I can give to people when I take their picture. It’s powered by batteries and can even be plugged into a car cigarette lighter socket on the move.

Working in Laos was a real challenge for me, as I had to constantly make sure my cameras were kept well away from the dusty conditions. The local roads in Laos are not paved with asphalt so in the dry season the dust is incredible – from a distance it looks amazing when photographing from a long lens, but working up close on the back of a bike is a different story...

© Ulla Lohmann/BMW Motorrad

Midday in the mountains. Extremely high humidity and temperatures in Laos make travelling on a motorbike uncomfortable when wearing the correct protective clothing. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 17mm; the exposure was 1/1000sec at f/10, ISO 250.

I actually got quite ill during the trip because of the dust. It’s so fine it gets right into your lungs – not to mention your cameras, given half a chance. But I wasn’t taking risks and, besides, the EOS 5D Mark III has very good weather sealing so it reduces the risk a lot. Any dust that does land on the sensor is soon removed thanks to the dust removal function. Switch the camera on and off a few times and it’s gone. Perfect!

I was in Laos for two weeks with BMW, and every day I’d be sending over 20 images back to the agency in Germany who would make them live on the BMW website. I had to shoot a mixture of portraits and landscapes for not just the BMW Motorrad site, but also for the supporting advertising campaigns they wanted to do, too. That’s why I chose to work with the EOS 5D Mark III, because of the full-frame sensor with amazing detail. The images needed to be able to handle large blow-ups over 48-sheet posters.

My brief was to shoot images of the bike on its own, the bike in the landscape, full body shots of the riders, portraits of the riders, action shots of the bike going through water and dust, that sort of thing. A big list! It made for a big workflow challenge, but fortunately I had a good team around me – including my husband Basti, who was shooting behind the scenes images with an EOS 7D.

Tight schedules and workflow

As a photographer I am really spoiled in a place like this, as there are so many photo opportunities. The big problem, though – because of the large distances involved in the trip – was to select where we would be shooting. On so many occasions I would see an amazing view but we just couldn’t stop because we had no time, as we were busy travelling to the next destination. You just have to let picture opportunities go in a situation like that – but for me it is the hardest thing.

© Ulla Lohmann/BMW Motorrad

A delicate portrait of a young girl called Epoi. Her family lives in very simple conditions in the mountains where, according to Ulla, it's misty most of the time, resulting in beautiful flat lighting – perfect for portraits. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 70mm; the exposure was 1/60sec at f/4, ISO 4000.

The EOS 5D Mark III has some clear advantages over the Mark II although I took both bodies with me on the trip, using the Mark II as a back-up. What I discovered straight away about the [EOS 5D] Mark III is that you can get much more detail from the highlights. And shadow detail is fantastic too – a much greater dynamic range thanks to the brilliant sensor. In Laos the light was sometimes really flat during the day, only really getting amazing in the late evening, so a camera that could cope with the variations in light quality was a big help to me as I didn’t have time to post-process at all. I relied on the camera to do a lot of that for me.

I shot RAW plus JPEG with 32GB memory cards. The dual slots on the Mark III are very good, especially when you’re on the back of the motorbike and suddenly run out of room on one card mid-way through shooting. No problem though, I just switch over to the SD card slot and I’m very happy. I love that about the EOS 5D Mark III. Canon engineers have really thought about what a photographer needs and how they work.

I took several lenses with me, including the new EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, which is a fantastic reportage lens. Lightweight, super sharp and fast focusing in low light – a lens doesn’t get any better than this. It’s like an entirely new dimension compared to the old one I was using. It’s a great combination with the [EOS] 5D Mark III. I also had my EF35mm f/1.4L USM lens which is a fantastic documentary lens, plus an EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM and an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM zoom. I also had an EF2x Extender III which helped me pull in long shots of the riders far away. It was important to get shots like this that helped show the amazing landscape surrounding us. When you’re shooting with a wide lens close to the bike you don’t get a sense of scale so much. But an Extender on the EF70-200mm really helped me. And it’s better and lighter than taking a longer lens! I really had to think hard on what equipment to take.

I’m working with a videographer, Romain de l'Ecotais, on this project who has been using an EOS 5D Mark III to shoot movies... in the next blog he will tell you all about the filming challenges he had to go through on this amazing journey. But for the meantime, I hope you enjoy my pictures and I’ll catch up with you soon on my next adventure!

Ulla Lohmann’s kitbag for Laos

EOS 5D Mark II

EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
EF35mm f/1.4L USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
EF2x III Extender

Canon Speedlite 580EX flashgun
Canon MR-14EX Macro Ring Lite
Canon TC-80N3 Cable Remote Control
SELPHY CP810 printer

Biography: Romain de l’Ecotais

Romain de l’Ecotais

Romain de l'Ecotais is an independent filmmaker specialising in corporate and film documentaries, and has created films in a wide variety of situations, from the hot kitchens of Michelin-starred Chef Thierry Marx to Senegalese wrestlers in Africa. He is shooting the videos for the BMW Motorrad trip with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and will be blogging about his experiences on making movies in extreme conditions.

Biography: Basti Hofmann

Basti Hofmann

Ulla Lohmann’s husband Basti Hofmann is shooting behind the scenes stills and video with a Canon EOS 7D and will be proving back up support for Ulla as well as a strong pair of arms! Responsible for logistics, he is part of a team of backroom ‘heroes’ who make these trips happen with minimal technical problems.

Biography: Ulla Lohmann

Ulla Lohmann

Ulla Lohmann is a German photojournalist and documentary filmmaker with a BSc degree in Natural Resource Management. She works freelance for clients including BMW, National Geographic, GEO, Stern View, the BBC, The New York Times and many others. She specialises in documenting the changing world of indigenous tribes and in photographing erupting volcanoes, and some of her photo stories have been exhibited at the Visa pour l’Image international festival of photojournalism.