Category Archives: Equipment

Experimenting with Outdoor Macro Photography Using Flash

20130510_Flash_Macro_089We haven’t been working very late into the Friday afternoons at the office lately. So, last Friday (May 10, 2013) I headed home about 2:00 PM. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, even though the temperature was above average – it was going approaching 90 degrees (32 C). I didn’t want to just sit around in the house surfing the web… I wanted to go out and make some photos!

The sky was a clear blue, with virtually no clouds. I thought that might help make some great downtown photos, but I didn’t want to deal with the hour long Friday afternoon rush hour traffic to get home. It was fairly breezy, so I didn’t want to try and do some macro photography of flowers wagging madly in that wind. Or did I?

Earlier in the week, I had attended Syl Arena’s Speedliter’s Intensive Workshop that he held here in Austin. Syl is universally recognized as the world’s renown guru on Canon Speedlite flash photography. If you are a Canon shooter, you simply must buy, read, and re-read his Speedliter’s Handbook.

Now I certainly wasn’t in the mood to be walking around my neighborhood with my heavy Canon 5D Mark II camera, the 100mm (non-IS) macro lens, and a 580EX II Speedlite. I was however, willing to try something new with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera. I thought I’d go out and try to stop the flowers in their tracks by using flash….

Now the rest of this blog is aimed toward my photography-oriented friends. If that’s not you, then feel free to stop reading right here and just scroll down through the photos. I’m about to describe the gear and the technique that I used to make these photos….

Since it was nearly 2:30 PM, with the sun high in the sky and no clouds in site, I doubted that I would need the f/2.8 aperture of my new Olympus 60mm macro lens. Instead, I decided that I would take my more versatile Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens, which also has a macro mode. (When in macro mode, the focal length is fixed at 43mm; 86mm equivalent on a full frame sensor camera.) On top of that, since it was so dang bright, I put a circular polarizer filter onto it.

Using a low ISO of 200, a small aperture opening (higher f-stop number), and a circular polarizer would normally require the shutter to stay open much longer than one would normally want – if their goal was to stop the motion of a flower wagging in the wind.

I intended to find out if using the very short duration burst of light that a portable flash emits could be used to stop that motion. I grabbed my Olympus FL-600R Wireless Electronic Flash and strapped a Small ExpoImaging Rogue FlashBenders reflector onto the top of the flash unit.

Since I didn’t want to use the flash while it was mounted in the hot shoe on top of the camera, I also grabbed my Canon OC-E3 Off-Camera Shoe Cord. One end of the cord attaches to the hot shoe of the camera, while the other end attaches to the base of the FL-600R flash unit. And yes, the Canon cord works perfectly with the Olympus camera and portable flash.

(I also have a virtually identical cord; the Vello OCS-C6, which is about half the price of the Canon cord. I keep the two cords together in identical zip-lock baggies, and I just happened to pick up the Canon cord.)

I put a spare camera battery into my right pants pocket, and 4 spare AA batteries in a holder into my left pants pocket.

OK, so that was my gear. My camera settings were to operate the camera in manual mode. I wanted the lowest ISO, which is 200 on this camera. I wanted the highest shutter speed, while not exceeding the sync speed of the camera, so I set it to 1/200th of a second. (The sync speed of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is actually 1/250th of a second, but I couldn’t remember that, so I played it safe and set the shutter speed to 1/200th of a second.)

OK, so ISO was 200. Shutter speed was 1/200th of a second. What was my aperture? That was the variable that I played with!  I adjusted the aperture until the meter reading in the electronic viewfinder indicated anything from -1/3 stop down to -2 full stops below a proper exposure. In other words, I was simply underexposing the photo – until I got the flash involved. (Yes, I suppose I could have operated the camera in shutter priority mode and just dialed-in some negative exposure compensation.)

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Before heading out into my neighborhood, I went out our back door, onto our deck (patio) and set a custom white balance in the camera. I thought that the direct sunlight would have the same color temperature as the flash, and that they would be about 5500 degrees Kelvin. My WhiBal card indicated differently, and later Lightroom agreed with the camera that there was no color cast with the Temp slider at 5950 and the Tint slider at +3. That’s where I left the white balance on all of the photos that I took later, except for the ones with bright yellow petals. On those, I cooled down the temperature to 5350 degrees Kelvin.

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You can see in the photo above how dark (underexposed) the background is. That is what I was trying to do. I was intentionally adjusting the aperture so that the background would be slightly underexposed like that.

The magic happens when I turned on the flash. By putting the flash unit into the automated TTL (Through the Lens metering) mode – instead of manual mode – the flash puts out enough light until the camera thinks it has seen enough light needed for a proper exposure at the current aperture setting. When the camera and flash working together in TTL mode seemed to underexpose or overexpose the object in the foreground, the only control that I had for me to alter the result was by dialing up or down on the Flash Exposure Compensation setting.

I also had to aim the light. In the photo above, it’s pretty easy to see that I was just learning how to deal with this technique. It appears that I was holding the light too low, which resulted in some less than ideal shadows on the petals themselves.

The flash head will automatically widen or narrow the beam of light that it emits in order to cover the field of view that is seem though the lens. The flash was being told by the camera that the focal length of the lens was set to 43mm, so the flash was auto-zooming it’s head to create the relatively narrow beam of light to cover the area that would be seen through a 43mm (86mm equivalent) lens would see. The flash unit had no way of knowing that it was not mounted into the hot shoe on top of the camera, though. I changed the setting on the flash unit to manual zoom and changed it to a much wider beam of light by changing the zoom setting to 25mm (50mm equivalent). That gave a much softer bounced light off of the FlashBender.

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This is two-handed photography. I was following a technique where Robin Wong recently described how he does his fabulous macro photography of insects in Malaysia. (Be sure to click that link to see how he does this.) Robin appears to trigger his flash wirelessly, and although the flash that I was using could also be triggered wirelessly, I was using the Canon OC-E3 cord – the camera and flash don’t know that there is a cord between them.

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With the FlashBender mounted onto the flash unit, I was bouncing the flash off of it. Just like bouncing flash off of a ceiling or a wall, which makes the light source (the flash) much larger than when aiming the flash head directly at the subject. While I do have the Large size FlashBenders, I was using the much smaller Small size. Unfolded, the Small unit measures 10” x 7” (254mm x 178mm). I had the ends curled in, but not to the point that I had made a tube, or snoot, out of it.

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I mention that for two reasons. First, the size of the white surface that I was bouncing the light off of was still about 6″ x 7″ (152mm x 178mm). When I brought it in close to the flower or bee that I was photographing, the relative size of my light was getting to be huge in comparison to the object that I was photographing. That results in very soft shadows. And remember, these photos were all taken in direct sunlight, in the middle of the day!

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Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

The second reason that I mentioned the shape and the closeness of the FlashBender is this: The shutter speed of 1/200th of a second was not what was responsible for stopping the motion of the very busy honey bee. Instead, it was the much shorter duration of the burst of light emitted by the flash that was freezing his motion. Since I was underexposing the photo between -0.7 and -1.3 stops in most of the photos, the flash only had to add enough light the bring the exposure up by about 1 stop.

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Since that flash unit was being held very close to my subject, it didn’t really have to put out much more than just a puff of light. The less light it puts out, the less time the flash tube is emitting light, and therefore the duration of the burst of light was probably only about 1/1000th of a second. That is what was freezing the motion of the very busy bees and the constantly wagging flowers!

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Again, the only two adjustments that I was making were the aperture (to get me to an underexposed ambient light exposure) and the Flash Exposure Compensation (to manually influence the automated TTL operation of the flash unit). Sometimes I significantly underexposed the background, and sometimes not so much. Sometimes I wanted the flash to put out more light, and sometimes I didn’t.

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In the photo above, I had my flash unit underneath the flower, and was bouncing the light up onto the underside of it. You can see the black Velcro edge of my FlashBender in the lower right corner of the photo. I could have removed that in Lightroom (or Photoshop), but then I wouldn’t be able to show you this “trick”!

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In this photo, this blossom was on the end of a very long, spindly stalk, and it was wagging back and forth very wildly. It was coming toward me, and then going away from me. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 was having a terrible time of trying to focus on it. I just stood there and ripped off a dozen or so photos of it, and hoped that at least one of them would look sharp on my computer monitor. (Two of them did.) So, even with an electronic flash to help freeze motion, the dang camera has to focus on what you want it to!

I also had another new to me experience with this camera while shooting this way. I could see the results of my underexposure in real time by looking into the electronic viewfinder. Obviously that made everything pretty dark, so at times it was difficult to see what was going to be in focus. But, the instant that I would push the shutter button down halfway, two things would happen. First, the image in the electronic viewfinder would instantly get amplified and lit-up by the electronics to what would appear to be a normal exposure, and then (if you were lucky) you would see the focus lock indicator blink (which I had fixed to the center of the screen).

I don’t normally have the Autofocus Assist Beam turned on, but it was about this time on this walk that I decided to turn it on. It didn’t seem to help much… with my setting the autofocus to Single Shot Autofocus, it just didn’t help much with quickly moving objects – and with a macro lens, everything seems to move rather quickly. I seemed to have the most trouble focusing on red colored flowers.

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Just to play around with the flash in a different way, I set it to FP TTL Auto mode, which is what Canon calls High Speed Sync flash. The photo above was taken with a shutter speed of 1/320th of a second, and the next one was taken with a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second.

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In FP TTL Auto mode, the flash unit turns into a very high frequency strobe light. I don’t know how fast the Olympus FL-600R pulses, but the Canon 580EX II pulses at 30,000 times a second! That effectively turns your little flash unit into a strobe that starts flashing before the first curtain of the shutter opens, and continues flashing until after the second curtain has completely closed. Of course, the flash unit cannot pump out its maximum intensity of light while it is doing that, but like I said before, I had my light so close to my subject that I just needed it to put out a puff of light anyway.

You can tell in the previous photo that my light was just outside of the left side of the photo. The Inverse Square Law is definitely in effect here!

That last photo, the flower of the plumbago plant was just 6 inches (15cm) off of the ground. This is when I was really glad that I didn’t have to get down on my knees, bend over and look through the viewfinder while holding the camera in my right hand and the flash in my left hand. Instead, I tilted the rear LCD (it’s really an OLED panel) up, let the camera strap around my neck hold the camera at the desired height, and used my right thumb on the shutter button.

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OK, so the FP TTL Auto works just fine, but I didn’t really need to use it, so I set the shutter speed back down to 1/200th of a second. As the photo above shows, even at f/11, and on a Four-Thirds sensor, you just don’t get a lot of Depth of Field when using a macro lens at close range.

The one thing that I really need to improve upon is my composition. Almost all of these photos have the subject in the center of the frame. In self-defense, there are two factors that also lead me down this monotonous path…. First, I set my autofocus point to be the one in the center of the  frame. If I didn’t do that, the camera would tend to focus on the part of the flower that was closest to the camera. In general that would be OK, but that makes it virtually impossible to focus on a bee, or other object that is not the front object. The second factor is that these flowers, and bees, were almost in constant motion. It doesn’t take much movement, when shooting at these close distances, to have 1/3 or more of the flower end up being cut-off as the wind quickly accelerates the flower from where it just was. There were several flowers that I tried to photograph that afternoon, where I was not successful in getting the entire flower into the picture – so centered in the frame is what I usually walked away with.

Now this next photo is unusual to me. A cloud came over us, dimming amount of sunlight. To get my ambient exposure down to about -1 stop, the aperture was f/10 and the shutter was a relatively long 1/50th of a second.

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As soon as I took the photo, the review image that shows up in the electronic viewfinder showed violet flower in an electric, iridescent color. I don’t know if the slower shutter speed had any effect on that or not. It seems that the white balance contribution between the ambient and the flash was the same as all of the other photos, but something was making the flash turn these flowers into something psychedelic. Maybe I had spent too much time photographing the poppies down the street….

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This is the yellow flower of the prickly pear cactus, and they look like they are going to put on a spectacular showing this year. Cactus flowers are easy to photograph, simply because they don’t move very much when the wind blows!

Not knowing what the heck was going on with the colors (all of a sudden), I bounced the shutter speed back up to 1/250th of a second to capture this trio of lantanas.

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I was almost home, so just to get familiar with the modes of the flash, I set the shutter speed to 1/500th of a second (aperture f/6.3), and had the flash in FP Auto TTL mode for this single lantana bloom.

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It is worth repeating this: these photos were taken in the middle of the day, under what is considered to be extremely hard lighting conditions. Look again at the photo directly above, and see if you can spot the hard edge of the shadows. I can’t.

I was pleased to see that I had found a way to freeze the motion of the wagging flowers, without having to take a dozen photos and the toss out the blurry ones later. As long as the camera would achieve focus and then snap the shutter before the flower (or bee) had moved out of the range of focus (depth of field), the flash would freeze them in place for me.

I would like to mention that this was the very first time that I have ever wished that I had a more substantial grip area on the camera. I’m sure it was because I had been shooting for nearly two hours by holding the camera in only my right hand. My hand was beginning to get stiff and somewhat sore. I had been holding the camera with two fingers and a thumb – while my third finger was on the shutter button and my pinky finger was curled into my palm underneath the camera body.

Next time I will attach my Really Right Stuff BOEM5 base plate for the Olympus OM-D E-M5. Maybe it will be enough extra area to hold on to.

Just three houses from my home, I spotted this “camo lizard” on my neighbor’s driveway. I popped my lens out of its macro mode zoomed it all the way out to 50mm and walked as close as I thought I could get to this little guy and snapped this photo. Even the soft sound of the shutter on this mirrorless camera was all that it took to have him scurry off to safety under their car.

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The last thing that I would like to mention here is about my batteries. I took over 340 photos in under 2 hours. All but about 5 of those photos were flash photos. I never had to change the battery in my camera, or the AA batteries in the FL-600R flash unit. I never would have predicted that! It just goes to prove that you can overpower the mid-day sun with little puffs of light.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

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Lighting Set-up for Portraits at Curves

This post describes the equipment in my portable “portrait studio” that I set-up at the neighborhood Curves facility for their 10th anniversary celebration. To walk through it, I’m simply going to describe what you see in the photo above, and the crappy iPhone photo below.

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

Before I get into the equipment, I want to draw your attention to the far right side of both of the photos. There, affixed to the large mirror on the wall are several of the photos that I had taken for the Curves Member of the Month photos back in 2011. If you look close, you may even spot the two portraits of Barb that I showed at the beginning of my previous blog post.

OK, now on to the lighting. As you can see, my whale gray backdrop was positioned halfway in front of a floor-to-ceiling window that was allowing lots of morning sunlight to come streaming in. To make my backdrop more opaque, I simply draped a king-size bed sheet behind the backdrop, and used 4 red handled A-clamps to hold it in position.

The facility was brightly lit with probably 100 banks of fluorescent lights in the ceiling. The sunlight was streaming in from the window on the left. I wanted to use my small portable Canon 580EX II Speedlites to illuminate the people in the portraits. To complicate things further, all three of those light sources emitted a different color (spectrum) of light. How the heck was I going to make these women look good under such conditions?

To start, I put up a round reflector on the left side of the photos above, to block the sunlight from coming in from the window and directly hitting the model, who would be sitting on the posing stool that you see in the middle of the set-up. The round reflector is a Creative Light 5-in-1 Reflector, which is 47″ in diameter. I put the black cover on this reflector facing the posing stool. I used a Paul C. Buff RBH2566 reflector kit mounting arm to attach the reflector to a standard light stand. I have wasted good money on three other such arms in the past, and this one is not only the best that I have used, it is also the least expensive!

As for the fluorescent lights, I borrowed the step ladder at Curves, and climbed up to disable the two light banks that were directly overhead of the set.

At this point, the ambient light was what it was, and I was just going to have to deal with it. The way that I deal with it, is to “kill it in the camera”. What the heck is that?

I wanted to underexpose any picture that would be taken with just the ambient lighting. To make the digital sensor of my Canon 5D Mark II the least sensitive to light, I set the ISO to 100, which is where this camera also captures the most detail that it is capable of. The “sync speed” of this camera is 1/200th of a second, so that is the fastest shutter speed that I would be allowed to use later, after I turned on my flashes.

With the ISO at 100, and the shutter speed a 1/200th of a second, the only thing left that I could use to control the exposure was the aperture (the diameter of the opening in the lens that light passes through).   So before I turned on my flash units, I took a few test shots, where I adjusted the aperture down to a small enough opening that any photos that I took would be severely underexposed – effectively killing the ambient light “in the camera”.

The photo above was taken with the aperture set at f/ 5.6. Notice that this is the same photo at the very top of this post – except in this photo, the flashes were not turned on. You can see the white bars of the exercise equipment, and you can see the gold star balloon on the right in both versions of the photo. So, even without the flash, there was still some of the fluorescent lighting that was going to contribute to the exposure, but it wasn’t going to be very significant.

I could have made the aperture smaller by setting it to f/ 8 or even f/11, but that would mean than when I did turn on my flashes, they would have to put out twice (from f/5.6 to f/8) or even 4 times (from f/5.6 to f/11) the amount of light. That would drain the 4 AA batteries in each flash unit twice, or 4 times, as fast.  By  leaving the aperture at f/5.6, I was expecting to get at least 100 flashes before I would have to change the batteries.

So those were my camera settings: ISO 100, shutter at 1/200th of a second, and the aperture at f/5.6. About the only other thing to mention about the camera itself is that I put the camera into “mirror lock-up mode”, and I use an electronic cable release to trip the shutter.

I put the camera on the tripod, and put a Speedlite in Master Mode into the hot shoe of the camera. This Master was set so that it would communicate and send commands to the 4 Slave units I was going to use, but this Master would not put out any light that would contribute to the actual exposure. I pointed the Speedlite up towards the white ceiling, so that it could bounce its control pulses of lights to the Slave Speedlites that I was about to use.

The lens that I chose to use that day is a Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens. This is not a high end Canon “L” lens (L for luxury), but it is still a wickedly sharp lens. The 85mm lens on a full-frame sensor camera, like the Canon 5D Mark II is a allowed me to back up about 6 to 8 feet (2 to 3 meters) from the models, and that’s about all the space that I had to work with before I would be bumping up to the exercise equipment.

At that distance, with that 85mm lens set to an aperture of f/5.6, I was going to have to pay careful attention to what the camera would focus on. I wanted to use autofocus, because even though I was going to have them sit on the posing stool, I was expecting that they would be swiveling back and forth as we experimented with more than one pose. I was going to be dealing with less than 1 foot (~10cm) of depth of field (front to back in focus). If the camera focused on the front of the model’s blouse, her eyes could be 6 inches behind that, and therefore not very sharp – and her earrings would certainly be getting blurry. I also knew that I would have to really be paying attention to this later in the day when I had a mother and daughter couple shot, and that the last time slot was the largest group of the day – a family of 4.

Since the camera and lens were set-up, the next thing that I worked on was the background lighting. I wanted the gray backdrop to be lit consistently (the same for every shot) and I wanted a vignette effect (a darkening of the corners of the photo) to surround the head of the model.

I put a Canon 580EX II Speedlite on a small light stand (the right-most stand in the two set-up shots above). I put it into what Syl Arena calls “free agent” mode. This is a mode that allows you to shoot with both E-TTL and Manual control of Speedlites at the same time. This is all described on page 148 of Syl’s book “Speedliter’s Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlites”.

To get the vignette effect, I first put a large ExpoImaging Rogue FlashBenders onto the Speedlite and bent it into a shape that I thought would create somewhat of a spotlight onto the backdrop, directly behind the model. I never could get the somewhat uniform spotlight effect that I was after, and so after about 10 minutes of trying, I took off the FlashBender, and replaced it with a ExpoImaging Rogue 3-in-1 Honeycomb Grid unit.

I used the 45 degree honeycomb grid, and the spotlight pattern was easily obtained!  All I needed to do now was to dial in the amount of light (intensity) that this Speedlite would put out each and every time it fired.

Even though it is a trial-and-error effort, because I was using a whale gray backdrop, it is a very simply process. I would simply put the camera on the tripod, and take a photo of the backdrop. Since it was gray, I wanted a large spike on the histogram (on the back of the camera) to be positioned a little to the right of the center of the graph. (I wanted it to be brighter than 18% gray.) So I would take a photo, look at the histogram, walk over to the flash and dial up or dial down its power setting, and go back to the camera and take another photo, look at the histogram, rinse, and repeat. It only took a couple of shots to determine that I wanted this Speedlite set to 1/4 power.

Normally a well lit backdrop is sufficient to separate your model from the backdrop, but I like to do a little more. I like to use a “hair light”. This is seen in the two set-up photos above as the little light on the end of a small “boom arm” that puts it high, near the middle of the backdrop. The stand that I use, is a black Manfrotto 420B Combi Boom Stand, which Syl Arena had recommended. You definitely need to use a sandbag as a counterweight to the boom arm, and I also add another one at the base, since the entire rig begins to get rather top-heavy.

I also put this hair light Speedlite into the “free agent” mode, and attach the ExpoImaging Rogue 3-in-1 Honeycomb Grid to it, using the 45 degree honeycomb. I used the same method described above to get the power level set the way I want. I used a small step stool so that I could change the power lever on the back of the Speedlite, without changing the position of the light (which can be very frustrating). I asked Barb to be my model, and had her sit on the posing stool while I took several photos to try and dial in the power setting of the hair light.

In the photo above, the hair light was still a little too “hot”. You can also see how the light on the backdrop is creating a big spot of light centered behind her, and that it is creating the vignette effect (darkening of the corners). This photo is actually out of sequence, (because I had my main and fill lights also firing, which I will describe shortly), but I use it here to support my story.

With the camera in Manual mode, and the background and hair lights in free agent mode, they were not going to change – ever (well, not until the batteries in the flashes were run down).

Now it was time to set-up the main and fill lights. These two lights are “inside” of the two black umbrellas that you see to either side of the posing stool in the two set-up shots above. Instead of shooting the flashes through a white umbrella, I like to bounce the light off of the inside of the umbrella. I use a somewhat unusual 45″ Bowens Silver and White umbrella.

If I put these lights into manual mode, I could put them in position then use my light meter and dial in the amount of flash output they would need to produce to get a correct exposure with my camera’s aperture set at f/5.6. There are two problems with this, though.

The first problem is that my Sekonic L-358 light meter doesn’t work well as a flash meter with my Canon 580EX IIs. When the master Speedlite sends out the “pre-flash” burst of light, it triggers the flash meter, instead of the “real flash” that occurs just milliseconds later.

OK, so I could simply dial in the exposure by having Barb sit on the posing stool a bit longer and adjusting the power of these two lights (which can be done from the back of the camera – unlike the free agent mode slaves) – but there is another problem. I tend to move my main and fill lights around a lot. It seems like I’m either trying to avoid getting their reflections in the model’s eye glasses, or I want to bring them further up or farther back, depending on the features that I want to accentuate (or diminish) on the model’s face.

For these reasons, I like to keep my Speedlites in E-TTL mode for these two lights. I always set the lighting on the main light to be twice as bright as the fill light (a 2:1 ratio). Sometimes to “fine tune” that lighting ratio, I’ll simply move the fill light closer or further away from the model (than the distance of the main light to the model).

OK, so now with all 5 Speedlites on and operational, I had Barb sit on the posing stool, and I made my final adjustments to the lights. I dialed down the power of the hair light to its final setting of 1/8 -0.7 power. (That’s a funky way that Canon uses to describe a power setting that is 2/3rds of the way from 1/8 power to 1/16 power.) Her blond hair no longer seemed to be “blown out” at this power level. I also added +2/3 stop of Flash Exposure Compensation, which only effected the main and fill lights, which were in E-TTL mode.

I photographed one lady late in the morning, and two more in the early afternoon. During the late afternoon, during a two hour downtime, I recharged the batteries in my Speedlites. After that, as I was turning everything back on and making sure that my settings were all “good to go” for the two groups that were coming in, I sat on the posing stool and talked Barb through how to capture this portrait of myself.

The main light was to the camera left (my right side), and was set to twice as bright as the fill light, which was to the camera right (my left side). You can see a hint of the hair light on the top of my head – it really lights up my gray hairs – but more importantly, that hair light also lights up the top of my shoulders, which separates my gray shirt from that whale gray backdrop. Lastly, you can also see that the light on the backdrop is fairly well centered behind me, and is producing a nice vignette in the upper corners of the portrait.

Now I realize that my efforts are very “amateurish” as compared to any experienced and talented professional, such as Kirk Tuck. But I’m sharing what I have already learned, as maybe it will help someone less experienced than I am. I realize that I didn’t mention anything about posing, and I suppose that it’s because admittedly, that is something that I still need to learn more about.

I have heard back from all 5 of the ladies that I took portraits of, and they all seemed to be very pleased with the photos that they have seen. I am choosing not to include the photos of my clients in my blog posts, but I will soon include them in the “Studio Portraits” section of my “Photo Gallery” that you can find under my large banner at the top of my blog home page.

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Size Comparison: Olympus OM-D E-M5 vs. Canon 5D Mark II

My last several posts, except for the CowParade Austin cows, have shown photographs that I have taken with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera that I acquired in late May, right before Barb and I went to Ruidoso, NM for a week vacation.

This past Saturday morning I went to the Austin Shutterbug Club workshop on macro photography, and we were told to bring a camera, tripod, flash, and a macro lens (if you had one). I decided to bring my new little Olympus system with me.

Right before the workshop was to start, one of the other members, Jane, walked over and asked me if that was the Olympus camera that I had written about in my blog. I said well yes it was, and I took the camera off of my tripod and handed it to her to look at.

Jane had previously commented on Facebook how sharp the images from this camera had been, and she asked about that. I said that the amount of sharpening that I had done in post processing was basically just the default amount that Adobe Lightroom gives to this camera model.

Other than the sharpening, Jane was completely taken by surprise by the size of this camera. It was much, much smaller than she had anticipated, and I believe that she said “but it’s so small” at least three times during our brief conversation.

That’s when it hit me that most Nikon and Canon DSLR shooters hadn’t yet realized what these new mirrorless interchangeble cameras were all about. I know that I personally hadn’t given them even a glancing look before I had read Kirk Tuck’s blog about a year ago, when he made me aware of the Olympus PEN cameras, but he also stressed that the Electronic View Finder (EVF) was a big part of the “magic” that these cameras provided.

I have been firmly entrenched in the Canon 5D system for 6 years now (first the 5D, then the 5D Mark II). I have slowly acquired a collection of 8 lenses, 5 Speedlites, and all sorts of other accessories that go along with it. I have always liked these full-frame cameras in every respect, except for when Barb and I travel on vacation. Taking the camera, just a couple of lenses, and a tripod was still a significant amount of gear to pack and haul around.

In an effort to “lighten up”, I bought a Canon PowerShot G11 in the spring of 2010, and was going to see how well it could deliver on a vacation to Niagara Falls. Unfortunately, that camera never made it to Niagara Falls. It was stolen at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Good thing that I had also brought my Canon 5D Mark II, three zoom lenses, and my tripod.

We later went to a friend’s 50th birthday party in Las Vegas in November 2010, and I knew that the casinos wouldn’t allow a big DSLR inside (even if I promised that I wasn’t going to take any photos), so I went without any camera at all. I saw so many fascinating photographic subjects while I was there that I vowed never to leave town without a camera again. When I got home, I ordered a replacement for the stolen camera; a Canon PowerShot G12.

I never have liked that camera. I don’t really know why. There are several reasons, but they all seem to distill down to the fact that it is inferior in every respect to the 5D Mark II. I used it only when I went somewhere that I didn’t think a big DSLR would be allowed (like on the tour of the Monrcrief-Neuhaus  Athletic Center).

Anyway, I finally solved my travel camera problem this past May, when I bought my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, four lenses, an external flash, and a small Gitzo GT1542T Traveller tripod.

Now here’s the big surprise – to me, anyway. This little camera system has quickly become my camera of choice. It’s because of the size and weight. The Canon 5D Mark II takes a slightly better photo, but you could never tell that by the size (resolution) of the photos that I post here on the web.

I do still use the Canon 5D Mark II for all of my commercial work. (But admittedly that is only about once a month). But for everything else, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is “good enough” in image quality at 16 Megapixels. It is smaller, lighter weight, and quite frankly, more fun to use.

Now I have deviated somewhat from my original purpose of writing this blog post. Like Jane, and myself until recently, I don’t think a lot of “serious amateur” photographers, fully realize what’s going on with these physically small, mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras popping up everywhere.

I am not going to try to convince anyone of anything in this post, but I do want to clearly show the difference in size between a full-frame DSLR camera and lenses to a “functionally equivalent” mirrorless interchangebale lens camera, specifically my Olympus OM-D E-M5.

Before anyone leaves flaming comments, yes I realize the DSLR can produce a higher resolution photo – but not by a huge margin. And yes, the full-frame Canon can produce a shallower depth-of-field at the same aperture setting. But if you’ve looked at the photos in my previous blog posts, you will clearly see that the Olympus can easily blur the background due to depth-of-field.

Other than that, the lens comparisons that I will show are indeed very, very close to each other. All that I am trying to show is the difference in the physical size, and you can infer the weight difference.

I have already written way too many words about this! Here are a few more photos that show the difference in size between the camera bodies themselves.

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

Note that in the next photo that I placed the Olympus slightly in front of the Canon, which make it appear larger, due to the perspective of the lens on the camera taking this photo.

In the next photo you can see the buttons on the back of the camera. Many reviewers on the internet feel that they are too small and too close together. I don’t feel that way at all. It is a bit awkward to get my thumb to hit the Play button, to the left of the Fn1 button, but I don’t need to press it very often. I do think that the buttons have a squishy or spongy feel, that I am not crazy about, but I do not have any trouble using any of them.

You can see just how much thinner the little Olympus is.

And here’s a nice feature that the Olympus has over the Canon – the OLED screen on the back tilts up about 75 degrees, as shown here, and it can also be tilted 45 degrees downward (handy when you want to hold the camera way above your head to shoot over the crowd).

In the next photo, I show the two “kit lenses”. For all practical purposes, they give me equivalent results. The Olympus lens is a 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3, which is equivalent to a 24-100mm f/3.5-6.3 on a full-frame camera. The Canon lens is a 24-105mm f/4.0, and of course I use it on a full-frame 5D Mark II. The Olympus has a wider aperture when the lens is zoomed to wide-angle, but it has a smaller aperture (f/6.3) when zoomed out to 50mm. I prefer the Canon’s constant aperture, but have always wished it were f/2.8 instead of f/4.0 – but to do that, the lens would have an even larger diameter!

And here you can see the difference in length and diameter between these two functionally equivalent lenses.

Here are the same two lenses mounted onto the cameras.

Remember that the object in front will appear larger than the object behind it in the photo.

And finally, here they are as I normally would use them: complete with lens hoods, and plates attached to the cameras for mounting them on tripods. The Canon has an L-plate, so that I can mount it in either landscape or portrait orientation without having to reposition my tripod ball head. The Olympus just has a base plate that runs the entire length of the camera. I like the ones made by a company named Really Right Stuff.

Here are a couple of prime (non-zoom) wide-angle lenses. The Canon lens is a 24mm f/1.4, while the Olympus is a 12mm f/2.0 (which is 24mm equivalent on full-frame).

Here I just stand them up, with the camera mount end facing up.

Put on the lens hoods, and mount them on the cameras.

By the way, here is my Behind the Scenes (BTS) photo. I used the Olympus with the 12-50mm lens to take this photo of the Canon G12 camera that I used to take all of the other photos in this post. I was using all natural light coming in from a large window to my right. I did use the G12 in Manual mode, and used my Sekonic light meter to tell me what to set the aperture, shutter, and ISO to on the little G12. I still had to add +1 stop of exposure to ALL of the photos in Lightroom for this post. Just another reason why that G12 and I don’t get along very well…

Now here are a couple of “identical” lenses. The Canon is a 50mm f/1.4, while the Panasonic is a 25mm f/1.4 (which is exactly equivalent). Yes, the Panasonic and Olympus Micro-Four Thirds lenses are completely interchangeable between their cameras. Both of these lenses are very sharp and produce excellent photos. Canon does have a 50mm f/1.2 lens, but it costs a fortune, and this one leaves nothing for me to desire!

Here they are with lens hoods and mounted on the camera bodies.

Now if I have ever taken your portrait, there is a very good chance that I used the lens on the left in this next photo. It is the Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens. On the right is the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens (which is equivalent to 90mm f/1.8). Like the previous two lenses, these lenses are extremely sharp and give great results!

Here they are mounted to the cameras. Note that I have removed the Really Right Stuff plates from the two cameras.

Let’s add the lens hoods.

Speaking of lens hoods, this is an area where Canon is definitely better than either Olympus or Panasonic. The Canon lens hoods are much deeper, so they function better. The Canon lens hoods can all be “reverse mounted” (turned around), while none of the Olympus or Panasonic lens hoods can do that. This makes them much easier to store in your camera bag. Finally, Canon provides the lens hood with the L-series of lenses (those with the red ring around them near the end), but even on the non-L lenses they are not terrible expensive. Panasonic did include the lens hood with the 25mm f/1.4 lens. But Olympus doesn’t include a lens hood with any of the 3 lenses of theirs that I have, and they are very expensive. On top of that, I ordered two of my lens hoods directly from Olympus, and they took 9 weeks to deliver them to me.

While I had those two lens hoods, that could keep the camera supported upright, I added the external flash units to both cameras.

Neither of these two cameras have a built-in pop-up flash, although the Olympus does come with a very weak removable “pop-up equivalent”. The Canon 580 EX II flash unit is significantly more powerful, in terms of the amount of light that it can produce, over the Olympus FL-600R flash unit. In all other respects, they both seem to have pretty much the same amount of functionality and features.

In the next photo, I show the macro lenses that I have. The Canon is a 100mm f/2.8, while the Olympus is the same 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 that I showed earlier. Huh? What’s up with that?

Well, the Olympus lens also includes a very ingenious mechanism, where you push the button on the side of the lens, and then slide the zoom ring forward until it “clicks”. That puts it into a 43mm macro (86mm equivalent). The Canon is capable of capturing a life size, 1x magnification image, while the Olympus only states that it can then focus down to 0.66 foot (7.92 inches, or 20.1 cm), and does not state its maximum magnification capability.

I thought it interesting that the Canon 100mm macro lens seemed to be about equal in three dimensional volume as the Olympus lens WITH the camera attached.

And here are both macro lenses, with lens hoods and cameras attached.

Here are 6 of the 9 lenses that I have shown earlier (I forgot to include the 45mm Olympus and the 85mm Canon – I never intended to put the Canon 100 macro in). The Micro-Four Thirds lenses are in the front, while the Canon EF lenses are in the back.

It is pretty easy to see that when you drop in 3 or 4 lenses into a camera bag, and carry it around on your shoulder for several hours, the difference in weight quickly becomes significant. It forces you to pare down the full size lenses, while there is very little penalty to “bring the whole set” of the Micro-Four Thirds lenses…

And also worth noting is that I usually also carry a tripod when I go out shooting. Now that I have a smaller, lighter camera, with lighter lenses, I can use a much lighter tripod too!

Here the Canon 5D Mark II, with 24-105mm f/4.0 lens is perched atop a Gitzo G1327 Studex carbon fiber tripod, with a Really Right Stuff BH-55 ball head with B2-AS II lever release clamp holding the B5D2-L plate screwed into the base of the camera.

The Olympus OM-D E-M5, with 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens is perched atop a Gitzo GT1542T Series 1 carbon fiber tripod, with a Really Right Stuff BH-30 ball head with LR clamp holding the BOEM5 plate screwed into the base of the camera.

This little Gitzo GT1542T tripod is sturdy enough to comfortably hold the Canon camera and lens, it folds up to only 16.7 inches (42.4 cm), and only weighs 2.2 lb (1 kg). Now THAT will easily fit into my suitcase.

So it took me a few years to come up with my “travel camera system”, but as you can see, I finally found something that I am very happy with!

Thank you for reading my blog.