Photography in Mongolia
What I took
After much deliberation, I ended up taking the following
- Olympus E1 DSLR (w/ battery and 2GB compact flash card), 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 lens, FL-20 flash, 67mm polarizing filter, spare battery, RM-1 remote control, hood for 40-150mm lens (all in toploading case)
- 40-150mm f/3.5-4.5 lens (in lens case)
- two spare batteries, battery charger and "Mongolian" power cable, USB card reader, 2 x 1GB + 512 MB + 256MB compact flash cards, spare batteries for flash (all in hard plastic case)
- 50mm f/2.0 macro lens (in lens case)
- a mini-tripod
How it worked
I used the tripod just once, for nothing important. I used the macro lens a few times, but there were only a few flowers so small the 14-54 didn't have enough magnification. If I were doing the trip again I'd leave both behind. A teleconverter would have been a lot more useful — extra telephoto reach and more magnification with the 14-54.
The circular polarizer I have is a "slim" one that doesn't take a lens cap... This was a real pain in the neck, as during the brightest part of the day I wanted it on the lens pretty much all the time.
Everything else worked wonderfully. There was a lot of dust around and I was really grateful for the E1's dust-shaker and weatherproofing. This was really brought home to me when I saw Patti carefully cleaning her D100, brushing out the battery compartment, the compact flash slot, and everything else — and she was only using the one lens, so she didn't have to worry about dust on the sensor! At the top of the Khongoryn Els sand dunes it was like a mini-sandstorm, in which I would never even have tried using my old P&S digicam.
Apart from the first few days of the Intrepid tour, when I just started on my third battery, there was no trouble charging batteries. Most Mongolian tourist camps have power, even if it's from a generator and only for part of the day and only in a central building.
I did an unusual amount of event photography, in the three musical performances we went to and in a trip to an Ulaanbaatar disco. Mixing flash and non-flash shooting, my two sets of flash batteries lasted fine.
I did a lot of street photography. The guidebooks warn that many Mongolians don't like being photographed, but I experienced no problems. Sometimes I just used the telephoto at a distance. At other times, waving the camera and looking quizzical produced a response — sometimes an immediate pose, sometimes a shake of the head, sometimes a varied response (one person in a group of three might move aside so the other two could be photographed). Patti's suggestion to avoid studied poses was to take photographs surreptitiously first and then ask, deleting them if the response was unfavourable: I did that a few times and only had to delete one photograph.
Most Mongolian museums and art galleries charge extra — sometimes as much as eight times the normal entry price! — if you want to take photographs inside. I never bothered paying for this, putting the money I might have spent getting crappy low-light photos through dirty glass towards buying a nice art book with professional photos.
I hadn't expected to use the telephoto so much: a surprising number of my landscapes were taken with the 40-150mm, many of them at 150mm. I also took a number of panorama sequences.
I took nearly a hundred photos of flowers or plants, mostly using the 14-54mm, but also the 50mm macro when I had time.