Olivier Lavielle: ‘I am a photographer, not a professional equipment carrier!’

‘I am a photographer, not a professional equipment carrier!’


Photographer Olivier Lavielle is best known for his work on old cars and planes, but he has another great passion: Africa, with its many different countries and cultures, and its astounding fauna and flora. He’s written about what drives him for LUMIX stories.

LUMIX GH5 with Leica 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 shot at ISO 320 1/640 sec f/9

After several hours’ flying, with two stopovers (Africa is worth it, and Namibia even more so), the Airbus A330 flew low over the Namibian savannah. No matter how well I know this country, it continues to be new and unbelievably surprising. That’s why I always ask for a window seat on the plane. Even before setting foot on the fertile soil of Southern Africa, the view is already magnificent…. As the plane makes its final approach, it is escorted by herds of gnu and springbok running below through the tall grasses of the southern savannah as summer comes to an end. Welcome to Windhoek, the charming and peaceful capital of one of the most beautiful countries in the world: Namibia.

LUMIX GH5 with Leica 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 shot at ISO 400 1/640 sec f/9

A warm farewell for our pleasant Dutch aircrew, one form to fill in, a smile in immigration and here we are with a chat-ty customs officer, ecstatic at the sight of a brand-new LUMIX GH5. The customs officer wonders if I’m a professional… I smile. Always the same thought process wherever I go. Unless you have a lot of heavy, bulky equipment, you’re not a professional! I point out to him that I am indeed a professional photographer, not a professional equipment carrier, and we laugh. In the past, I always used reflex cameras for all my work. But at the tender age of 40, I was a little bit tired of carrying those heavy tools around the world. Pana-sonic saved my back! I still wonder why I loaded myself up with so much gear before, without being any more effective. Despite the several plane transfers required to get there, I had no problems boarding with just my two LUMIX GH5 cameras, and the full range of excellent LUMIX Leica lenses including, above all, the Leica 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3, which, for the first time, enabled me to photograph animals at an equivalent of 800mm. Crazy!

The next day we are up and about long before the sun rises. I say ‘we’ because on this trip I am accompanied by Romain Sarret, filmmaker and director, an expert in video who uses the LUMIX GH range. So here we are, travelling along a rough track, looking for our next subjects to photograph. The first volunteers soon appear. Above the trees, giraffes, the gossips of the savannah, are anxiously looking to see who is encroaching on their territory. They stretch out their swaying necks inquisitively over the treetops. As soon as you leave the main roads for the bush tracks, Namibia transforms into a real Garden of Eden for animals. Elephants, rhinoceros, cheetahs, leopards… We have immortalised almost all of them.

LUMIX GH5 with Leica 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 shot at ISO 400 1/2.000 sec f/6.3

Immortalised… This word takes on its full meaning today. Wonderful, handsome, majestic and necessary to the survival of our own species as they are, these animals are today threatened with extinction. That’s where my work as a photographer starts. That’s where everyone like me who has a camera also has a responsibility. The responsibility to immortalize so that no one can ever say, ‘I had no idea’. That’s what I try to record in my photos: happiness and sorrow. In the hope of touching some hearts.

It is always a wrench to leave such a paradise. But you have to leave to experience the joy of returning. Namibia is a jewel, a nature reserve the size of a country. As we board the Dutch plane to return home, it felt like we arrived only yesterday, and I realized that Namibia has bewitched me once more.

[instagram] @transworld.photography