Olympus FL-LM3 Mini Flash

The tiny flash FL-LM3 that comes with most Olympus OM-D cameras is underrated and deserves a bit more attention. This little clip on flash proves just how innovative Olympus can be as a camera maker. The attention to detail is impressive and it shows just how much Olympus cares in giving the best they can for their consumers. Unfortunately not many people have written or discussed about the Olympus FL-LM3 flash so I thought it is time I dedicate a blog article and a short video to showcase just how awesome this tiny dude is. 


Olympus FL-LM3 was first introduced during the launch of Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II camera back in 2014. Ever since, the FL-LM3 flash has been included with most top tier Olympus cameras, such as E-M1 Mark II, PEN-F, E-M1X and E-M5 Mark III. However, for some bizarre reasons (please don't ask me), Olympus decided not to include this super handy little flash with their latest flagship the E-M1 Mark III. 

Here's a list of reasons why I think the Olympus FL-LM3 flash is genius:

1) BOUNCED-FLASH WITH TILT/SWIVEL HEAD
Typically the default built in pop up flash that comes with a DSLR, or any flash attachment that comes with mirrorless cameras are almost an after-thought with poor implementation and almost useless function. These flashes are usually fixed in position and fire directly on camera, straight in front of subject resulting in harsh, ugly and unpleasing looking outcome with burned highlights and deep shadows in all the wrong places. Usually, to dramatically improve flash photography, all you have to do is upgrade to an external flash that allows you bounce capability - swivel the head around to fire the flash at a larger surface, bouncing the light off onto the subject. This will produce a more even, flattering light, especially on human portraits. 

Olympus takes the best bit of an external flash - tilt/swivel head to allow bounced flash photography and make that available in their tiny FL-LM3 which comes with most of their OM-D cameras. Straight out of the box, without spending more money, you can have the benefits and capabilities of a bounced flash!

Olympus FL-LM3 is so compact, but do not underestimate what it can do.

Typical direct flash photography - harsh/undesirable result

Tilted the flash head to bounce off side white ceiling, the result improved significantly. 

2) POWERFUL
For a tiny build and small footprint, this FL-PL3 packs quite a big punch. It is perhaps not the strongest "built in flash" out there, but the rated power of GN9 at ISO100 is nothing to scoff at. Certainly if used correctly it is powerful enough to light up the entire medium sized room. Olympus also managed to increase the power output from their previous FL-LM1/FL-LM2 models, which were rated GN7 at ISO100. Of course the tiny FL-LM3 was not supposed to be used for vigorous flash photography, if flash is an integral part of your shooting workflow you should definitely consider getting a dedicated external flash, which provides much more power, flexibility, control and creative freedom. 

3) NO BATTERY NEEDED
The cool thing about this tiny attachment flash, though it is somewhat an external flash, it draws power directly from the camera's hotshoe mount connection, and requires no additional battery to operate. I have seen cases where my friends brought their awesome external flash and as they power the flash on, the batteries were blinking low, or worse, they forgot to even bring their batteries for the flash. Less things to worry about, the FL-LM3 works fine just being mounted at the top of the camera. This can be a practical, life-saving back-up solution in incidents where the batteries for your external flash runs out, or fails. 

4) FULL MANUAL CONTROL
I don't understand why some camera manufacturers (not going to name brands here, else people attack me mercilessly) decided to exclude full manual control function for their built in flash, or the attachment flash that comes with their cameras. I think the ability to control exactly how much flash output I want to fire is extremely crucial, even for beginners or newcomers to flash shooting. The last thing we need is an overblown image due to wrong/inaccurate metering which can happen, and just by having the option to override the camera's decision can make or break the shot. Thankfully for all Olympus cameras, even the lowest level PEN Lite series allows you to take full control of flash shooting. 



5) WIRELESS FLASH TRIGGER COMMANDER
Yes, that tiny flash can serve as a commander to trigger other Olympus external flash units wirelessly off camera. I use this primarily for product photography as well as insect macro shooting. The ability to have the light off camera, control the direction of the light and how it falls onto the subject can significantly change the way your photographs look. This little dude is the commander that triggers the other flashes optically. I have shared my step by step guide on how to do wireless flash shooting with Olympus system before, so if you want to find out more, do check out my insect macro photography article here (click). 

6) WEATHER-SEALED
The FL-LM3 flash is fully weather-sealed against dust and splash to match the reliability of flagship Olympus OM-D cameras. If you have watched the video I have also poured water directly onto the flash. This sets the Olympus flash apart from other manufacturers who have weather-sealed bodies - you are required to tuck in the pop-up flash for full weather-sealing. Olympus allows you full use of the flash even in harsh shooting environments. 

Do bear in mind that the Olympus FL-LM3 is NOT compatible with all Olympus cameras. Generally cameras that are newer than E-M5 Mark II is compatible with the FL-LM3 flash. Here is a full list of cameras (at the time of writing) that are compatible with the FL-LM3 flash. 
E-M5 Mark II
PEN-F
E-M1 Mark II
E-M10 Mark II
E-M10 Mark III
E-M1 Mark II
E-M1X
E-M5 Mark III
E-M1 Mark III (though not included in the box)

Do you use the FL-LM3 flash in your own photography? Share your thoughts and experience!

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How Covid-19 Affects Photography Landscape

Currently most parts of the world is under some form of lockdown to control the spread of Covid-19 pandemic and this obviously has taken a huge hit on all businesses, including the photography industry. I want to explore and discuss in this blog entry the impact of the Coronavirus on the camera business, how is this going to affect the professional photographers as well as the general photography community. I have also made a video of the similar topic, if you prefer to see me rant on screen, go to the video here (click). 

Some disclaimers first, what I am about to discuss here reflects solely my own opinion. I do not represent anyone else or any company in writing this piece. My opinion is subjective, so feel free to disagree with me. 



Let's start with the camera makers. They are taking a serious hit, no doubt, and it is showing. Since camera retail is not considered as "essential business", camera shops are forced to shut down in many countries practising lockdown or some sort of movement control. This has been going on for months, and even after the lockdown is gradually lifted, due to continual social distancing measures and general fear of contracting the virus, the camera retail will continue to suffer. There is also an incoming, inevitable economic crisis and everyone will be more reluctant to spend their hard earned cash on gear. A lot of things will have to change, else the camera companies will be in trouble. 

Camera sales has been declining sharply year after year, even before the arrival of the pandemic. Many blamed smartphone dominance but I have argued there are other real reasons that caused the fall of camera sales, read the article here if you have not (click). The Covid-19 pandemic may not necessarily introduce any new problems that were already not there, it does however accelerates the problems at a much faster rate. The camera sales will see an even larger drop. 

Any product launches that were planned for any time now or near future will most likely be postponed until further notice. There is no point releasing a product now when everyone is reluctant to spend. The cost of launching a product, and the failure to maximise the impact of the hype during the official release will damage the sales in return. Even if there is any company that is bold enough to launch a new product now, the availability of the product will be moved much further into the future, obviously. Do not read too much into rumor sites, whatever that was planned can be easily changed, it is just plain business making decisions. 

Moving forward, sales and marketing strategies have to quickly change from traditional model to online platforms. While some modern countries like the US and European countries see a huge portion of camera sales dominated by online shopping, this is not the case for the vast majority of the world. Take Malaysia and Singapore for example - most people still go to physical retail stores to buy their cameras. The camera brands will have to make the quick switch to online selling now, the move is more crucial than ever to guarantee survival in the near future. 

On the ground marketing activities have all been banned, since no events or large gatherings are allowed. All forms of photowalks, touch and try events, workshops are cancelled. These activities are morphed into online streaming and tutorial classes, Olympus launched their "Home with Olympus" campaign, releasing many video on tips and tricks for using Olympus specific features and photography in general. Other camera brands are doing similar activities on their online platform as well. This is the critical moment for the camera companies to engage their core audience and do whatever they can to retain their loyal customers. There is no point spending unnecessarily on efforts to reach out to new user base or switch over other brand users at this point of time, even if they want to, they may not dare to make the move just yet. 

Some rumors are flying around saying that camera companies will slowly die off, and the recent "Olympus Imaging Korea Shutting Down" news fueled that even further. Some YouTubers and conspiracy theorists have too much time in their hands to spread fear-mongering half-truths and ludicrous analysis of the current situation. The doom and gloom prediction is too far stretched out. What happens in a country does not represent the global brand in general. Olympus Korea has had their long history of struggles when it comes to camera business in that particular country. The last I checked Olympus was still sitting comfortably at number one spot of mirrorless camera sales in Japan. Camera companies are resilient, they have been around for so long, some more than a hundred years. They know what they are doing, and I am sure they have been preparing and restrategizing as the pandemic hits to ensure the brand survival. 

Personally I am not too concerned about what happens to the camera companies, we can only observe and speculate, there are bigger troubles in the photography world that worries me. 

Professional photographers are hit the hardest in this list of discussion. Myself included. My calendar is wiped clean throughout the year. I do mostly event coverage, wedding shoots, portraits and lifestyle photography, and they all require me to travel and shoot on locations. Most of my jobs are also events and large gatherings of people, hence it was no surprise the business is completely purged due to the Covid-19. I am not alone, most of my photographer peers also report the same predicament, I am sure this is a universal issue faced by many professional working photographers everywhere. There is a need to change, quickly adapt and do things differently. I also think it is prudent not to put all eggs in one basket, and diversifying income streams is more important now than ever, and it is not too late to start. It is no surprise, and sad to say that unfortunately some photographers may run out of business as the lockdown and pandemic situation continues. The fate of photographers as a profession is looking very gloomy. 

As for myself, please do not worry too much, I am doing fine here. I have enough reserves from my previous jobs and projects to keep me going for quite a bit of time, and I will continue to adjust and adapt to make the best out of what I can to move forward. Thankfully I have had some huge shoots just recently before the pandemic hits and I will survive this crisis, I am confident I will. 

I have also shifted some of my focus to growing my YouTube channel since about a year ago, and I am glad I have done so. The channel is going strong and does bring in a little bit of steady income every month, that helps a lot. What people don't see is the amount of effort and time spent on making YouTube videos - typically it takes about 2-3 hours shooting duration for a short easy tips or sharing video, and the shooting duration may stretch to 1 day or more for heavier videos like new product reviews. Add that to about another 3 hours of post-production editing for a simple video, or half a day for longer videos. Factoring in brainstorming, script writing, preparations and even taking time to respond to comments and emails after the video is posted, I have dedicated no less than 3-4 full days a week doing YouTube since I started this journey. It is no secret that I have shifted my life balance to revolve around YouTube, and it was one of the better decisions I have made recently. 

If you have enjoyed my video tutorials, sharing on tips on how to use Olympus cameras and my photography rants, please to consider to support me, you can buy me a coffee (click) or simply donate to my PayPal account. Any amount of contribution goes a long way, and we should never underestimate the power of coffee. It has kept this blog alive for more than 10 years, and kept my shutter therapy going on. All I can promise in return is to continue making more content, publishing here on this blog as well as my YouTube channel. The work never ends. 

It is interesting to observe what else is happening to the rest of the photography industry. Large events are severely struck too, for example photography festivals and trade shows. Photokina, the largest photo trade show that has been running strong for decades was shut down in 2020 due to the Covid-19, the same fate followed CP+, another relatively large trade show. We cannot blame this exclusively on the pandemic alone, even before the Coronavirus outbreak began, the trade shows and festivals are shrinking year after year, and the evidence is alarming. Major camera brands, Olympus, Nikon, Leica and Fujifilm all pulled out from Photokina, and this announcement was already made public in late 2019. As I have mentioned earlier, the problems are already there, the Covid-19 crisis just pushes the severity of the symptoms a few notches further. 

What is going to happen to future trade shows and photography festivals? No large gatherings are allowed, at least not for the near foreseeable future, art galleries are prohibited, exhibitions banned, traditional photography platform is making a huge shift and this has to happen now more than ever. Art sponsorship and funding are being significantly cut or withdrawn with larger donors and corporate companies restructuring their resources and re-prioritise how they spend their money. Of course, we are not saying art is not important, but when lives are at stake, when people are dying, when the virus is flying around everywhere, art is forced to take a backseat. Does that mean we just sit back and not do anything?

I observe something interesting happening locally here in Malaysia. KLPF - Kuala Lumpur Photography Festival, the annual largest photography event in Malaysia is moving the festival online this year. Yes, KLPF 2020 is happening, and it will begin in August, do check out their official FB page here (click). I don't know how the festival will be coordinated but things will obviously be done differently, and this will be the first photography festival in Malaysia to be made 100% online. 

The medium of photography has been evolving since the dawn of digital age, with online platforms and social media presence. Previously photographers need to have their work published or exhibited in galleries to be discovered and recognised as artists. That is not really the norm these days anymore, many photographers self-publish their work through powerful social media platforms - Instagram, YouTube just to name a few and have successfully made a name for themselves. If you are truly a great photographer, no matter where you go, your audience will support you. Some of the "elitist" photographers who only want to exhibit in prestigious galleries and see themselves as above other "social media photographers" or YouTubers will find themselves running out of avenues to show off their art. You can either drop the ego and see these online platforms as opportunities to grow your audience and continue to practise your craft and do what you love to do, or you can be angry and shout at the world for not appreciating what art is while photography is moving on, leaving you behind. 

For hobbyists and enthusiasts, photography as a hobby is also slowing down globally. Being stuck at home is not particularly inspiring camera clicking, as you are with your family or you are working from home, the camera takes a very low priority, and that is perfectly understandable. However, this is also a good opportunity to learn and upskill your craft. There are vast resources available at your fingertips, many great photographers are contributing and sharing their knowledge and experience. Many photographers are connecting with their followers via live-streaming, this is the perfect time to engage with your favourite photographers and absorb as much as you can. When all this blows over, and I am sure it will, photography will be more exciting than ever. I can't wait for that day to come. 

What is your take on the Covid-19 vs photography situation? If you have your own thoughts, please do share in the comments, I'd love to hear from you!


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Lightning Strikes Twice

Finally, after many attempts, I have a lightning photograph that I am somewhat satisfied with. Not perfectly happy yet, but good enough to share here. I did a blog article and an accompanying video (go see if you have not) sharing how to capture lightning with Olympus Live Composite mode just before this post, and I kinda wish I have this particular photograph as the final example of what can be accomplished. The image examples in that previous post was good enough to demonstrate how Live Composite works but definitely not something I was proud of. This time, the lightning striked much closer to where I was shooting from and the streaks captured were more dramatic. I finally got some vertical bolts!

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III and M.Zuiko 25mm F1.8
Live Composite used, F6.3, ISO200, shutter speed 2 seconds, shooting duration about 5 minutes in total. Camera on tripod of course. 

Don't ask me why the sky was purple. My science teacher would have answered it has something to do with ion particles in the air when the lightning happens that generates certain colors. I don't have the exact science explanation behind this, and I certainly do not have that much time to Wikipedia/Google it up. 

As I have mentioned in my previous article, shooting lightning also largely depends on luck. Now that I am still under lockdown in Malaysia and cannot move around freely to reposition myself, the view from my balcony will have to suffice. 

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Shooting Lightning With Olympus Live Composite

One fine evening I got distracted by the lightning flashing in the sky repeatedly outside my window view from my workstation, and I decided to pay closer attention. I have tried shooting lightning before, not actively chasing lightning, but when there was a storm I would see if I can position myself to get a decent lightning strike, but to no avail as the lightning was always not within the framing possibility. This time, it was within reach and I decided to set up my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III on the tripod at my balcony (overlooking the same direction where the lightning was actively flashing in the sky) and I managed to capture a few decent shots. I thought, why not make an article on how to capture lightning using Olympus cameras?

Of course I did a video on how to shoot lightning with Olympus Live Composite, if you prefer to watch me ramble on YouTube you can see the video here:

The main problem with shooting lightning is the unpredictability of where and when the lightning is going to strike. There are a few solutions to this problem, the most practical one using a lightning detector/trigger system, a device that detects the change of ion charge in the air just before the lightning is about to strike and it trips the shutter release just in time to capture the shot. I don't intend to become a full time lightning chaser and whenever there is a thunderstorm I honestly prefer to just hide inside my house and maybe curl up into a ball on my bed, not living life dangerously going outside and be crazy. So this method is a no no for me, as I would probably use it once or twice and forget about ever having purchased a specialist equipment. 

The second solution is to leave the shutter open for a long duration of time to capture any lightning that will strike within the long exposure. This is quite effective, but depending on the lightning condition, if the sky was not completely dark and you leave the shutter open for too long, this will lead to overexposure, ruining the shot. The third solution which I did not discuss in the video was to use time lapse setting, having the camera to continuously capture a sequence of images non-stop and when the lightning strikes the camera will surely have successfully grabbed the shot. I believe many serious lightning chasers are using time lapse method and the cool thing about using time lapse is that you can then merge the many shots into an interesting time lapse movie that can be really dramatic. 

How did I capture lightning with Olympus camera? I used Live Composite setting of course, and it is closely related to the second solution - leaving the shutter open for a very long duration of time - instead of worrying about the risk of getting an overblown image, the Live Composite does it's trick to maintain balanced exposure, no matter how long the duration of shoot is.

This was the one shot that I was happy with.

I was hoping for a vertical lightning bolt to strike somewhere in the middle, but I had no such luck. But hey, there is always a next time. 


I probably should have used a wider framing for this shot. Oh well, maybe I will get luckier next time. 

I have blogged about what Olympus Live Composite is, how it functions, and the steps required to activate and shoot with Live Composite. In that article (click here), I was sharing about how to shoot Star Trail, but the explanations and how to step by step guide are every bit similar and applicable for shooting lightning, so I will just refer you to that article if you want to find out more about Live Composite. 

Olympus Live Composite is technically an advanced bulb mode. Instead of a single 15 minutes exposure image, which will most likely gather too much light even in the evening, the Live Composite allows the image to be taken at much shorter exposure duration - say 30 seconds each image. The camera will seamlessly and continuously capture image after image consecutively for 15 minutes, in total shooting about 30 shots of 30 seconds exposure each image (30 shots x 30 seconds = 15 minutes duration). The camera employs additive brightness blending in the composite mode, when merging the images together, the camera will compare the base image (first) against subsequent images, and any part of the other images that has brighter region than the base will be added into the first image. This works very well if you are shooting fireworks, light trails on the highway, star trail in the sky or in this blog, lightning in the sky. The brighter part of the sky due to lightning strike will be blended additively onto the 30 seconds image, successfully preventing the overall image to be overexposed. 

The cool part about Live Composite? The compositing of the images, and the effect of the light additive blending happens live and can be previewed in real time from the LCD camera screen, while the Live Composite process is still running. When the lightning strikes and that lightning bolt was captured and merged into the composite image, you can literally see this happen while the camera is still shooting. So far, this neat feature is only available in Olympus cameras, and some newer Panasonic bodies, but I am unsure if the Panasonic variants have the same full functionality as Olympus Live Composite. 

If you use Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III, E-M1 Mark III and E-M1X, there is a B mode (Bulb) on the mode dial, turn to B and find the Live Composite mode (there are only 3 modes, Bulb, Live Time and Live Composite). 

If you use Olympus E-PL9 or E-M10 Mark III, turn the mode dial to AP mode (Advanced Photo) and find the Live Composite setting by navigating through the menu. 

If you are using any older Olympus camera bodies, such as E-M1 Mark II, E-M10 Mark II, E-M5 Mark II, PEN-F, E-PL8, then you need to go to the M mode on the mode dial (Manual), then adjust the shutter speed (typically rear command dial), slow it down until it reaches 60 seconds, then keep going you will find, Bulb, Live Time and finally Live Composite. 

As the compositing process is happening, images being merged, you can see the results and effects live, during the shooting process, as previewed on the LCD screen.  

I know this particular shot is not really that special, but I managed to capture quite a few motion elements all at once. The lighting, air plane flying by, traffic on the highway (bottom left) and also a short burst of fireworks!

Here is my shooting process in short:
1. Mount Camera on tripod
2. Activate Live Composite mode
3. ISO200, F-number almost widest, Shutter Speed 1 second (adjust accordingly to your situation)
4. 3 presses of shutter button - first to capture a base shot, second to start the live composite process, and third to end the shooting
5. Repeat until the desired effect is achieved. Luck is important. 

I know that my lightning shots from this session were not really that great, nothing to shout about, and honestly there are many better shots out there, but hey, I am doing this to share as much as I can about using Olympus cameras in different shooting scenarios. Shooting lighting can be fun, and I genuinely believe Olympus Live Composite is such a wonderful feature that can push the boundaries of creative photography processes. 

If you have not used Olympus Live Composite, you have no idea what you are missing out. Go find some beautiful stars to shoot star trail, or go up high on a bridge to capture light trails on the highway, shoot beautiful fireworks shots, or if there is a thunderstorm, capture the lightning!

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Unconventional Street Photography Tips

I have written about street photography many times over the years in this blog and I am not going to repeat my previous tips that I have shared. I personally think street photography is a lot more than just techniques and how to shoot to get the typical results. We can learn and imitate the masters, many have done so resulting in repetitive, redundant and somehow boring looking images inundating the image-sharing social media platforms. I want to explore how we can be original, work with our own strengths and uniqueness and find our voice, be different and stand out from the crowd in this blog entry. 

As usual, I did make a video about this topic. Considering the amount of effort, time and energy I have spent for each video that I made (typically ranging from 2-3 hours shooting duration, and add another 3 hours or more post-editing), almost an entire day is swallowed by a video production. Nevertheless I fully acknowledge that some of you beautiful people still prefer to consume my sharing in the form of writing, hence I am doing my best to continue to blog here. 



1. FIND THE UNUSUAL

Instead of emulating what other street photographers do, one of the quickest way to truly be yourself and differentiate your photographs from others is to constantly look out for something unusual. It is not about how a street photograph should look, it is not the technique or how to shoot an image, the style and approach can only get you so far. Focus on the subject content, find something different, something unique and a content that can be sometimes exciting or funny. Adding such powerful content into your photograph will surely add more "oomph" to your portfolio, since these rare subjects most likely will only happen once and can never be replicated, at least not that easily. This is my constant message, barking "you should emphasise on what you are shooting instead of how you shoot it" and I am not shy to repeat the same rhyme over and over again. Open your eyes and hearts, look around you, be wary of your surroundings and once you see something out of the norm, pounce with your camera. 

The images I am sharing in this blog entry are obviously recycled from my previous postings, what can I do, I have been stuck at home for almost 2 months now due to the nation-wide lockdown situation in Malaysia. It really pains me not being able to go out to shoot. Nonetheless, this also gives me an opportunity to look through my set of images, assess my current photography journey, and share some of these photographs here.