Shooting Studio Portraits with the Olympus OM-D E-M10. Or, Something Like That.

I had access to studio equipment last weekend, hence I thought why not do something completely different, something I have not done before for my blog reviews. Friend Carmen was generous enough to "volunteer" (more appropriately, becoming my victim of this experiment) as the model of the day. Kudos to being such a sport, Carmen!  

E-M10 and 75mm F1.8

E-M10 and 45mm F1.8

During the shoot, some thoughts came into my mind:

1) I suck at shooting portraits, that is no secret. Yes, I do a lot of street portraits but that is an entirely different animal. I just needed to connect to my street subjects, and rarely had to worry about how they pose or look at me, usually things just happened on the spot spontaneously all I had to do was shoot that moment. That very brief moment, when things were mostly unplanned. For studio portraits, I was merely getting my feet wet, and boy did I realize I still have a long, long way to go, 

2) I initially wanted to do comparison tests of the Panasonic Leica 25mm F1.4 against the new Olympus M.Zuiko 25mm F1.8 based on this studio setup, or at least using part of the photos in my coming review part. Then I realized the impracticality of doing so: I could not even shoot wide open (everything was stopped down to F8 or beyond). Furthermore, my habit of zooming into strangers eyes could be done without a second thought, but a friend, I have to be more careful, and there was that feeling of "wrongness" if I just blow up Carmen's eyes and show it here 100% view. Not sure how to describe this but I did not feel it was the right thing to do. 

3) I know nuts about lighting control. I think it would have been a better idea to start with something friendlier like LED lights, as strongly encouraged by Kirk Tuck and his amazing books (which I should be buying some and spend my time reading if I ever want to go anywhere with my lighting). I have participated in actual studio shoots before, but participating was completely different from setting everything up myself and being the one in control. 

4) While spending so much time figuring out the lights and technicalities, less effort was placed in communication with Carmen. Bad, bad thing to do. Not sure how the other pro photographers do it, I just don't seem to be able to replicate that. 

Nonetheless, the most important thing was, despite all the hiccups and difficulties, I did enjoy myself thoroughly! There was something about studio shooting that gets me, though I am no where good at it, I still want to do it. In time, with a whole load more reading and real experimentation, I hope I will be able to go somewhere. 

Special thanks to Carmen. Maybe I will do better next time. 

E-M10 and 25mm F1.8

E-M10 and 14-42mm Pancake Zoom lens


  1. Interesting that you feel hesitant about posting 100% crops of your friend's eyes. This would not occur to me, but I like that you are cautious about it.

  2. Nice results for your first try at setting up the lights yourself Robin. And no, LEDs wouldn't have made it any easier, at least not regarding colour balance (and they don't have a high CRI like flash does). But if you did this with compact flashes (without modeling lights), then you did very well indeed.

    To learn more about the lighting setups: there are currently two free courses, one by a friend of Kirk Tuck, whose name is Don Gianatti, the other at Lighting Rumours, where they even took one of my early shots as an example of a soft "Rembrandt" lighting. In case you or your readers are interested, have a look at (Don's site), and/or (Lighting Rumours)

    And yes, it's addictive once you get a nice setup. Then it's all between the model and you.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. Hi Robin,
    Thank you for gang up these three lens together i.e 75mm, 45mm and 25mm with the beautiful Carmen. They are awesome!
    Great images!
    Lighting? That's something that I really need to learn and practice.
    May you have a great day.
    John Ragai

  4. Great portrait shots from an amateur's eyes.
    Still waiting for your comparison on new Oly 25mm 1.8 vs Pan 25mm 1.4. I have 25 1.4 right now. Like everything about it except size and weight. If 25mm 1.8 is as good I am gonna switch.

  5. Hey Robin, this is a good effort regardless of your initial fears. A few days ago I did a shoot that required me to set up a quick makeshift portrait studio, as well as do some on-the-job environmental portraits. I believe it's very important for pro photographers to feel comfortable doing just about any type of job, so learning how to light somebody is quite a neat skill to have when ambient lighting and the environment don't lend themselves to the kind of portraiture that is sometimes required by a client.

    Over the past few months I have transitioned myself from being a well known Nikon shooter to the guy who now only shoots with Olympus, so for this particular shoot I had to use a pair of Olympus FL-600R flashes. I had one firing into a silver umbrella and the other bounced off the nearest wall and partially off the ceiling too. They were put into slave and manual mode which gave me the most reliable results. The Oly flash system is pretty similar to the Nikon CLS system, so you can accomplish quite a lot without having to invest in studio strobes (although I am going to be getting some of these soon because I have a high volume job pending approval and the small flashes won't be suitable for it). Here's a post I wrote about the shoot:

  6. Hey Robin!

    First of all, Carmen looks great, as always. Beautiful model, you can't go wrong. Second, a suggestion - KISS... keep it simple, stupid - as an engineer, you know that one! I'm no expert, but here's what I've been doing as I also try to learn studio portrait photography. Start with one big continuous light - a window is more than fine, especially if it has a translucent shade. You have such great ambient light in KL, at least when it's not raining! "God's Strobe", but I digress.. Shoot, shoot, shoot with one big light, pose your model, see how the light interacts with her. My wife has been VERY patient with me as I spin her around by the window. If you work with Carmen, you may need to bribe her with some kuih-muih.....

    Once you feel comfortable with one light and interacting with your model, start experimenting with a fill light that you can more around - can be a strobe, can be a table lamp (cheapo me, I use construction lamps, careful they are HOT), can even be a reflector off of your main lightsource. Of course, read a lot, observe a lot (look at the lighting in magazine ads! you can figure out most everything from the reflections in their eyes and the shadows along the nose), and never hurts to go to a class or a small group shoot - we have meetups here in USA just for studio experimentation. Good luck, I am sure that once you put your mind to it, you will be as successful in the studio as you have been on the street!



  7. Hi Robin,

    Thanks for the nice photos yet once again. And, yes, please do a comparison sometime of the Pany and Oly 25mm lenses.

    Happy Days in KL !!

    David in Seattle

  8. The portraits are not bad at all. Thank you for the pictures.

    Did you not want to give 100% crops of her eyes because of her colored contact lenses? I really do not see why, especially since you are not really "zooming in" on HER eyes then, at least not the 'naked' eyes so to speak. While I the unusual color makes the portraits a little more interesting, she certainly does not need to change the color of her eyes to be beautiful. Maybe she even anticipated your workflow to 'zoom in' and dressed accordingly? ;)

    Anyone who want to argue about whether or not she is wearing lenses, look at this picture, also from this blog:

  9. Hey Robin.

    I agree totally, the studio process is captivating but when your a street / documantary style of shooter it is a whole new game. However, you have done preety well.
    I had my first sub studio shoot at an Olympus Australia event held at AskMen showcasing the E-M1. I talk about it at the below link (delet it from the post if you don't want the link).

    It was fun and I have alot of learning and practice to do aswell. However, I need a model and a studioall of a sudden a street walk sounds so much more easy to organise.

  10. Lovely shots of a lovely model. And the old 6x6 is lovely as well :-)
    Very well done!

  11. Hi Robin...does the EM10 and EM1 81 focus points superior than that of EM5?I need your advice since I will upgrade my EM5 and according to DxOmark the EM1 sensor is even worst compared to EM10 and EM5 low light test.