Portable portrait lighting with Olympus E510 & flash/strobe

Written by Gary on October 1st, 2008

There are several requirements for portable portrait lighting:

  • a portrait lens if you wish to blur the background
  • a key light – the main light that will light the face
  • a fill-in light – a light to fill in the shadows and thus modify contrast, hopefully without adding its own shadows
  • optionally a hair light or kicker rim light

I use a Ring Flash here, but you could use the built-in flash instead, it just give more shadows as it is further from the lens.

With the E510 we do not have the joys of wireless TTL automatic flash exposure, so we need to stick with manual flash if we are going to use more than one flash, but I prefer it that way anyway.

Of course, if you have the E520 or E3 with the R Olympus flash units you could go down the wireless TTL route as an additional option to my proposal here.

A further issue is that we can’t use the Ring Flash in TTL mode as the pre-flash prematurely fires other flashes (at least with my optical triggers), so I am resorting to full manual exposure and trial and error.

When doing complex things like this and people are involved, it is best to test things out and standardise your procedure so when the time comes, they don’t lose interest and get bored or frustrated.

Thus, in the name of standardisation, here is a setup I propose:

  • Olympus E510 with ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro + macro adapter + Olympus Ring Flash
    • the Ring Flash is handy here as it will fulfill three roles:
      • triggering the other flash(es) optically
      • providing a catchlight in the eyes (but at this distance it won’t be a beautiful ring as in the glamour magazines) – and hopefully not too much red eye as we will be under-exposing this flash
      • finally, the almost shadow-less fill-in lighting
  • a second flash with an optical trigger attached
    • I use a Metz 45CL-4 on its W (1/64th output) setting inside a Westcott Apollo umbrella softbox held ~1.5m from the subject – but you can use any flash/umbrella/bounce option you want
  • optionally, other manual flashes with optical triggers, eg a flash with a snoot attached for hair light

Now how do we set exposure for each when we don’t have a flash meter?

Let’s set the E510 to ISO 100, auto WB or daylight, manual exposure mode, 1/180th sec (the flash sync speed), f/2.5 (you could use any aperture but then you would have to adjust the flash outputs accordingly, and in case you want to use a wide aperture to blur the background, f/2.5 is a good aperture to start with).

Set the Ring Flash to manual mode and dial down the output to 1/256th second so we can see the effect of the other flashes.

Set the output of your main flash (or its distance to subject) until you get the exposure just right when checking your histogram.

Now do the same for any other flashes.

Ensure you are at the desired distance to your subject (as changing this will alter the effect of the Ring Flash).

Finally, adjust the output of the Ring Flash until you get the fill-in level to your desired aesthetics – you will probably find its between 1/256th to 1/16th when using f/2.5 and dependent on effect needed.

Write down these settings and perhaps make lengths of string so you can quickly reproduce the flash to subject distances.

Now, to tweak this a bit, you can adjust the shutter speed to longer duration to allow adjustment to ambient light exposure of the surroundings (as long as you are not in bright outdoors as this may require smaller apertures to allow a shutter speed at the flash sync).

Hope this makes sense, have fun with experimenting – if you have a macro lens with ring flash, you may as well use it for portraits as well as your macro work.


2 Comments so far ↓

  1. jof says:

    I have smthing i want to clarify. I using an E510 and been looking for a trigger. by what i understand from your statement; by using the ringflash…it can trigger other flash also (in this case will it trigger my FL-36).
    or will i still need a trigger and a receiver to do this.

    btw I have found a compatible wireless trigger for E510 at http://www.gadgetinfinity.com/home.php

    Hope you can teach me, as I am really interested in doing a strobist perspective.

  2. admin says:

    those are the Chinese radio triggers I use. OK but sometimes they don’t trigger and limited distance – but I prefer them to optical, especially outdoors in the sun when optical wont work.

    If you use the ring flash to trigger other flashes you must have it in manual mode (not TTL as this will create a pre-flash which will prematurely fire your other flash), and you need an optical trigger attacjed to your other flash (eg. your FL36).