Burger in Flash

I know there are many die-hard believers of available light photography, who would rather throw their cameras down 20 storeys high building than choose to use flash in their photography. 

I am a strong believer in available light. If you have seen even just 2% of what I have posted on my blog, you would see that more than 90% of what I shoot (street photography mainly) were done without aid of additional artifical  lighting. However, I do not deny the advantages of enhancing an image using flash photography. I certainly acknowledge that careful and strategic use of flash can open up a whole new world of possibilities. 

It all comes down to the ability of the photographer to understand the light, and apply it in his photography. Light is not perfect all the time. While most of the time utilizing available light may be the best solution, there are times the available light was simply terrible, or insufficient. Recognising that the light condition is poor, we have a few choices to make: 1) forget about shooting, lighting is everything, thus poor lighting = poor photographs 2) shoot anyway, and screw lighting. available light is king (you must be delirious) and 3) find ways to counter the poor lighting, for example, using flash!

I have encountered this situation while having dinner last night. I was served with a plate of beautiful burger, begging to be photographed (I know, I know, the internet is overflooded with food photographs, but do forgive me this one time to demonstrate my point in flash photography). I tried shooting without flash, and I did not get the shot that I wanted. No, the camera was perfect capable in shooting low light conditions, images came out clean despite high ISO setting, and I had an F1.8 lens so it was not an issue under low light. The problem is the light was poor, being flat, and uninteresting, with poor color cast. The initial image came out dull and honestly, not appetizing to look at. 

Olympus OM-D E-M1 and M.Zuiko 25mm F1.8
1/25sec, F2.8, ISO400, FL50R, TTL +1.3EV, bounced directly off ceiling

I decided to use the flash. 

1) I tilted the flash up 90 degrees so the head of the flash was facing the ceiling directly. The flash did not have any form of diffuser on it. It was direct ceiling bounce. The color of the ceiling was dark grey, hence I adjusted the EV compensation at TTL to +1.3EV (otherwise the image would be underexposed, due to grey ceiling). 

2) I lowered the ISO from 1600 to 400, thus obtaining much better image quality in the final output. I used 1/25sec shutter speed and ISO 400 (as opposed to minimum ISO200 and higher shutter speed) to gather a little bit of ambient light, so that the image would still maintain some of the original ambient light, blending in the flash output nicely, producing a more natural output. 

3) I can stop down the aperture (instead of shooting wide open especially in low light) from F1.8 to F2.8 so I can achieve more depth of field. 

4) The flash just enhanced the overall look of the image. Better tones, contrast and definitely much favorable colors!

In comparison to the original shot, as shown below without flash:

ISO1600, 1/40sec, F1.8

So there you go, flash is not your enemy! Knowing when and how to use them are important. Do you use flash in your photography? Do share your thoughts and experience. 


  1. Hi Robin

    Thanks again for a really informative post. I've had the same thoughts as yourself when shooting food photographs with available light.

    As it happens, I am getting an Olympus FL-36r tomorrow. It's the first time I'll have owned a flashgun of any kind so I can't wait to try it out and see how it might change the way I do my photography. Your article was timely! I'll try and use some of the tips and techniques you used there and see how I get on.



    1. Glad to know that you are getting the FL-36R! I started with the FL-36R, used it for a while, and finally upgraded to FL-50R for the faster recycle time.

  2. Flash is everything, indoors, during the dark season (and we Europeans live some 45 degrees further North than you).

    I decided to get 'el cheapo' manual flashes for my wife and for myself. Since I'm used to using studio strobes, and mostly measuring the light anyway, manual flashes aren't a problem for me - that would be different for 'run & gun' event shooters, like you sometimes do at weddings - here TTL is actually an advantage.

    The problem with artificial indoor 'room' light is that they lack lots of blue channel output. Yes you can correct that to a certain degree, but lifting the blue channel will also further increase noise. Colours with flash are much better usually, especially when you can make the flash disappear, and look like sunlight.

    Took me a long time to acknowledge that my 'available light only' approach (which I had when still using film) was not much more than an excuse not to learn how to light stuff. And once you start, it's real fun, and mostly the quality of your output will make a huge jump.

    Nice burger :-)


    1. Agreed with your points Wolfgang, also we have so much to learn from Kirk's wonderfully lit portraits

  3. Nice post - reminders mo need to get a flash for my E-M1, Robyn, can you suggest a suitable flash ?

  4. whoaaaa good tips for food photography!!! thankssss!

  5. Thanks for an informative article! It's always good to consider alternatives.

    I love flash as much as I hate it. I used the FL-50 with the E-1 and 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 and did just fine inside high school gyms. However, I generally avoid fill flash, though I'm willing to use continuous light. I'm planning to buy an LED panel to help me with evening portraits and video.

    1. Continuous light is great too! We just need to understand how they work and know when to choose he best solution for each condition!

  6. I used flash for burgers photographed for a veggie burger cookbook. The camera was a Canon 5D and the lens my favorite before selling it all was the Canon L 135mm f2.0 prime. It's as Robin found light was to flat. I needed highlights reflecting from the burgers and other items like green olives. See free pick of kindle eBook veggie power burgers by Cathy Gallagher or a slide show on website of softcover veggiepowerburgers.com

    Bob, the photographer, for Cathy the cookbook author.

  7. I've written a couple of blog entries about using the Olympus flash system. The first can be found here:


  8. Hi Mr Robin,

    What about FL600R? Is it better than FL50R? Looking forward for your feedback. I'm using OMD EM5.

    Thank you.