The good ol' "Using Olympus Flash" question

Started Dec 11, 2017 | Discussions thread
Ben Herrmann
Ben Herrmann Forum Pro • Posts: 19,942
Well, it depends on what the "dark space" includes...

By that, I mean to say that highly effective flash techniques often include the use of bounce flash, or some combination thereof.  That's why it is always important to gauge the colors of the walls and ceilings that the shoot will take place in.

Dark walls and ceilings (i.e. dark colored wall-papers or paint such as darker browns) can completely destroy a photo shoot as most of your efforts will result in completely underexposed shots (due to the fact that any reflected light is absorbed by the dark colors).  I've learned a long time ago how to deal with these situations.

So here are my detailed recommendations - and please let me preface my remarks here that indicating that I often have a 95%+ keeper rate with regards to indoor flash.  My goals are to have a very natural look - almost as if flash was never used.  And the samples below will reflect various cameras using the same or similar principles that will elaborate upon here.

1.  What ISO.  I always shoot at ISO 800 (in particular in darker colored rooms).  If the room is fairly light and the walls and/or ceilings are a white or a really light beige - then you may get away with ISO 400.  Use AWB.

2.  Observe the Room:  Make sure you do a good recon of the room or space that you will be using because if you're caught off guard and you didn't prepare, then everything could be lost.

3.  File Format:  For these flash shoots I always shoot in both RAW and JPG Fine.  Why?  Often-times, even with the best of flash units, erratic metering attempts by a camera (and this can occur with any brand camera) can result in either underexposed or overexposed shots.  So you need to have the dynamic headroom to make adjustments if needed, and typically, JPG's won't allow much for that.

4.  Things to add to a flash head:  Purchase a good flash modifier - now please read on here.  If the room is a non-nonsense basically white room with excellent lighting to begin with, then normal bounce lighting may be all you need (but not always).

a.  Position your subjects (if it's a formal shoot) in an area where the "bounced lighting" isn't interrupted by the likes of ceiling fans, hanging lights, etc.  This can ruin any degree of balanced lighting that you were trying to achieve.

b.  Now enter the flash modifier.  Right now there are a wealth of flash modifiers out there and these are often in the form of some type of cap that either clips on the top of your flash unit, or other modifiers which throw some light forward with the rest being diverted upwards.  IMO, the finest flash modifier that results in "almost" always superb, natural lighting (in most situations) is the wonderful Gary Fong Lightsphere unit.  Here's the link to that device:

I know, I know - it seemingly looks like some kind of table lamp turned upside down, but it isn't.  It actually works quite well if you use it properly.  It is sold everywhere - via B&H, Adorama, and the list goes on.  It works so well that I can get "bounce flash" styled natural lighting even in huge halls where the ceilings may be anywhere from 20-50 feet high.  It projects light in a 360 degree arch (and bounces some) and the end result can be astonishing depending on scene.  Other modifiers (i.e. Stofen Omni-bounce) work also,

5.  Shooting in Aperture Priority or Manual Mode:  For many cameras models, you can shoot in Aperture Priority Mode (i.e. Olympus, Panasonic, Canon, etc.).  However, for other cameras, it is best to shoot in Manual Model (i.e. Fuji).  I shoot in both styles depending on the camera I'm using.  I always try to keep my aperture at F/5.6-6.3 and no higher.  In Aperture Priority mode indoors, this means that at a minimum my shutter speed will be around 1/60 of a second - and always have IS engaged.  Now if you're using a camera and lens combination that doesn't have IS, then you have to be really careful - like using a tripod if the situation allows.

6.  Type flash being used.  I have over the years recommended to folks to have the use of several types of external flash units available to them.  That is one compact, lower powered model, a medium-powered model, and a high power, high GN model.  Why?  Your situations will change and having just one flash for all of them will have you eventually crying at the failed shots you may have to endure (i.e. using a low to medium powered flash in very dark conditions).  I've fallen in love with the Godox V860 II Li-ion powered flash unit.  This baby puts out so much light that it's pathetic, and the powerful Li-ion battery keeps on ticking.  At one photo shoot I shot close to a 1000 indoor flash photos and the Li-ion battery was near full.  It obviates the need for an external power pack - these are that good.  And the Godox V860II can be had for a pittance.

Here are some samples - taken by different cameras utilizing different flash units - but all have one variable in common - and that is the use of either the Gary Fong Lightsphere or some style "cap" flash modifier.

Captured with the Canon EOS M (18 MP's) w/kit EF-M 18-55 F/3.5-5.6 IS lens.  Flash used was the small to medium powered Canon 320 EX in bounce mode with the Gary Fong Lightsphere attached.  Although the room (and ceilings) were all dark wood paneling (inside of a cocktail lounge for a Christmas party), the light was still distributed naturally - which was a pleasant surprise.

Captured with the Fuji X-A3 (24 MP's) and the kit XC-16-55 F/3.5-5.6 IS lens.  Flash used was the Godox V860II-F (TTL for Fuji) flash unit and the Gary Fong Lightsphere attached.  Now this room was absolutely dark - all the walls were either dark brown and this small cove had just a brownish/greenish wallpaper as the decor.  All of the ceilings were brown wood paneling - absolutely horrible for trying to bounced lighting.  I brought 3 typically power flash units with me - two of them couldn't hack it.  But the Godox had the power to do the job.  Taken at a special event and I was the VIP photographer.

Captured with the ole' Panasonic DMC-L10 regular 4/3 camera (10 MP's) with the Panny--Leica Vario 14-150 f3.5-5.6 OIS lens.  Flash used the the ole' Olympus FL-50 with the Gary Fong Lightsphere attached.  Taken at a special event and I was the VIP photographer.

Captured with the Fuji X-E1 (16 MP's)  and Fuji 18-55 f2.8-5 IS lens.  Flash used was was the older Fuji (rebadged Sunpak) EF-42 flash with the Gary Fong lightsphere unit attached.  This room was very dark and wierd colors (olive walls), but when I saw this bride preparing for her wedding, I had to set her up with this image which became a big hit!

Captured with the Canon EOS M2 (18 MP's) and the awesome EF-M 11-22 f3.5-5.6 IS lens.  Flash used was the Canon 320 EX flash in bounce mode with the Gary Fong Lightsphere unit attached.  Even though the room in this winery building was huge, the conditions were fairly light with white ceilings.  This scene shows the tasting room of the Jones von Drehle vineyards in Thurmond, NC.

Captured with the Nikon D90 (12 MP's) and the Nikkor 16-85 F/3.5-5.6 VR lens.  Flash used was the Nikon SB800 in bounce mode with the Stofen Omnibounce cap.   This kitchen scene was very light.

Captured with the Samsung NX300 and Samsung kit 18-55 f3.5-5.6 IS lens.  Flash used was the Metz 44 (TTL dedicated for Samsung) and the Gary Fong Lightsphere attached.  Scene was a very dark restaurant/cocktail lounge with wooden walls and ceilings.

Captured with the venerable Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 (7.5 MP's) with Panny-Leica Vario 14-50 f2.8-3.5 OIS lens.  Flash used was the Olympus FL-50 with the Gary Fong Lightsphere attached.  Again - note - I still use many older cameras today.   Image taken at Old Salem Living History center in Winston-Salem, NC.

Captured with the Olympus E-330 Four Thirds camera (7.5 MP's) and the Panny-Leica Vario 14-50 f3.8-5.6 IS lens.  Flash used was the Olympus FL-50 with Gary Fong Lightsphere unit attached.

OK - surprise - here's a photo taken of my wife and I several years ago with the Nikon enthusiast P7700 camera (12 MP's) and the Nikon SB-400 flash with the Stofen Omnibounce cap attached.  I'm surprised this little flash was able to light up this area since it was at another Christmas party at a bar and cocktail lounge.

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Bernd ("Ben") Herrmann
Fuquay Varina, North Carolina USA

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