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. 


The Shanghai Sisters at DBKL - Women's International Day Concert

About a month ago just before the nation-wide lockdown imposed by the government, I attended a mini concert happening at the city council, in support of my friends The Shanghai Sisters performing in conjunction with the International Women's Day. I was not the official photographer, so I was attending as an audience. I did bring my gear with me, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III and M.Zuiko lenses 12-40mm PRO and 40-150mm PRO, just enough coverage for a mini concert. Since I did not move about and could not get super close to the stage, I was not expecting any particularly great shots as opposed to what I normally can accomplish having full access as the official working photographer covering the show. Nonetheless, it was a night full of fun, great music, live entertainment, and I seriously miss the times when things were normal. I only hope that the lockdown situation is lifted soon. 


I made a video sharing my tips on shooting a mini concert environment, I will not repeat this in my article here since I have also blogged about live music shooting several times before. However, as I will share the images here, for those who are extremely impatient to sit through the video and just want to view the images. 

Do check out The Shanghai Sisters:
https://www.facebook.com/theShanghaiSisters/ https://www.instagram.com/theshanghaisisters https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCe3EijGtiRnuvVdQj3lnk2A


How Shooting Macro Boosted My Photography Growth

For those of you following me and this blog for many years now, it is a known fact that I have started macro photography very early in my younger days of photography learning. I picked up insect macro photography from the first year I bought my first DSLR, and have been practicing it very frequently ever since. I have found that shooting macro helped me significantly in my early tears of of developing as a photographer and I am sharing my experience and benefits I have gained here. I am sure shooting macro can also help boost your photography growth if you are currently starting out and are very new to the photography universe. 


If you want to learn more about my techniques on shooting macro, you can check out my video sharing my full insect macro shooting execution here (click). Alternatively, you may also choose to read the blog article version here (click). 

Special shout out to a friend and someone who have inspired me a lot to pick up and do macro photography, Amir Ridhwan. Do check out his Flickr site showcasing many wonderful photographs of Malaysian spiders. It is impossible to see his work and not be inspired to shoot more macro. 

It was because of my first few outings with Amir that got me super excited about macro, and soon after it became a weekly endeavor, hiking up forest reserves outside of the city area just to hunt for those tiny critters. I admit part of the fun was in the hunt and seeing some small creatures that I have not seen before, and having the ability to capture their portraits and bring those photographs home was like a superpower. The shooting process was addictive, together with the thrill and the rush of doing something physically intense. Yes, you do sweat buckets and burn tonnes of energy doing a session of insect macro photography. I sometimes wonder if I sweat more in an hour's intense insect macro shooting or a two hour tennis match. 


Basic Portrait Photography Tips

Considering the entire country is under lockdown and there is nothing much I can do, I was digging through my photography archives and found these set of portrait shots of Carmen Hong that I have taken for the review of Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III quite recently. I thought it would be a good idea to explore simple, lifestyle/casual portrait photography and I can certainly share some tips on how to do that here. Carmen is an amazing friend and a talented photographer herself and of course she uses Olympus system. She has volunteered to be the model to test out the new Eye/Face AF tracking feature on E-M1 Mark III which helped greatly in my review of the camera. Special thanks to Carmen for being such a sport, and also Jackie Loi for some behind the scenes footage of me in action in the video. 


For any portrait photography, it is crucial to maintain a healthy and open communication between the photographer and model. It is important to listen to the model and not get her to do anything uncomfortable during the shoot. I highly encourage the photographer going into any portrait shooting to prioritize respect above all else. 

This is not a professional portrait shooting tutorial, but this may be a good guide for you if you are new to portrait photography. Remember, there is no right and wrong when it comes to shooting people, and my tips are aimed to simplify the shooting process by addressing some critical considerations that a portrait photographer should take care of. 

1) Use longer lenses
I highly recommend to start with telephoto lens for portrait shooting. The longer lens helps to get rid of excessive perspective distortion which can render very ugly looking human images. The perspective exaggeration due to wide angle use normally cause disproportionate looking limbs, legs appearing longer or shorter and also head looking weirdly big in comparison to the overall body size. To maintain a more flattering look on the subject, a long lens helps to minimize any odd perspective. Also, a long lens typically means you have less background to work with, having the compression effect to your advantage, aiding cleaner and simpler composition. On the other hand, a longer lens can create shallower depth of field, able to blur off the background more effectively than wider lenses. My primary lens for this particular shoot was the Olympus M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 and also 45mm F1.8. 

2) Make Sure The Eye is in Focus
I know a lot of photographers are taught to use center focus and recompose method, but this technique should not be used for critical portraiture work, especially if you use long lenses with wide open aperture. Shooting with, say an Olympus 45mm F1.8 at a close up distance, the risk of miss-focusing due to focus and recompose is extremely high. I highly recommend that you shift the focusing point and place it exactly at the eye of the subject in your frame. Olympus cameras generally have reliable face/eye detect AF, but other than E-M1 Mark III, I still manually move my focusing point each and every time I shoot any portrait shot. For E-M1 Mark III, especially for this particular session, I just relied on the camera's newly upgraded and improved face/eye tracking AF, it nailed the eyes consistently throughout the entire shooting duration. 

All images in this blog entry were shot with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III and M.Zuiko lenses 12mm F2, 45mm F1.8 and 75mm F1.8


Long lenses create a more proportionate look on human subjects

Use of longer lens can render shallower depth of field, combined with wide aperture. 

With a longer focal length, there is less background to deal with, having that "telephoto compression" effect. 

For more "professional looking" result, always opt for longer focal length. I'd highly recommend the Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 (or the F1.2 PRO if you can afford that), or the 75mm F1.8



3) Use wide angle lens
This may contradict the first tip, but if you have an interesting background that can add to the story, to create an environmental portrait, then using a wide angle lens, such as at 14mm or 12mm wide end of your lens can be an effective way to tell a story. Just be careful not to fit anything that may not necessarily add any value to the photography, shooting wide angle is challenging because often times you may accidentally include something that can destroy the image. Just watch the frame from edge to edge and corner to corner, and make sure the background builds up the story, not take away the story. 

4) Adopt Creative Composition
To make an interesting portrait photograph, you can always make use of the environment and your surrounding to amplify the impact of your final image. For example, I always like to add reflection into the frame, finding reflective surfaces such as a puddle of water, a window, glass or metal walls to make the image a bit more dramatic. I also play with lines, repetitions, patterns, geometry, light and shadow, or anything interesting within my frame to add something extra to the composition. 


I always find ways to include a reflection to make the shot look more intriguing. 

Whenever there is a repetitive line, it works very well for composition too. 

The neutral grey tone and the vertical lines work very well against Carmen's flesh tone as well as her red dress that pops out of the frame. 

Playing with shapes and framing here, placing Carmen in the middle of the arch opening of the building, creates a natural framing around here. 

Repetition and framing used in this simple composition, Carmen is placed in between two columns, which immediately highlights her in the frame. 

Leading lines is a tried and tested technique, have been overused but is super effective way of drawing attention to your subject. The line of the hand-rail leads you directly to her right arm, which then points to her face/head. 


I don't use wide angle a lot, but if you have an interesting background, wide angle can help make a strong visual story-telling. 

Just be careful not to include distracting elements if wide angle is used. 

5) Lighting
For simple, outdoor portrait, I generally keep my setup minimal and I do not carry a lot of gear with me. I don't quite like to use strobes or flash on outdoor shoots, unless I want to create certain effect or look, or if it is demanded by clients. I also do not like to work with reflectors, I have seen many wrong execution of reflector causing light to shine unevenly, causing very unnatural looking skin tone. When I was shooting Carmen in this session it was an overcast day, the clouds completely covered the sky. The light was flat, even, dull and honestly quite uninteresting. Nevertheless, that meant that I can have very nice and pleasing looking skin tone. Else I would have to find shades to do most of my shoots, and find creative ways to work with harsh light. 

6) Communication, and shooting with LCD screen
Communication is key in any portrait shooting, you have to interact with your model. One way to improve your communication is not to shoot through your viewfinder all the time. When you shoot through your camera's viewfinder, you are blocking your face, the model, posing while looking at you and listening to your direction cannot see your facial expression. There is no eye contact. That is poor communication if you ask me. One simple and effective way to improve this situation is take the camera away from the eye level, use the LCD screen and when you talk to your model look her in the eye and make sure your instructions are clear. Any improved communication can enhance the outcome of the portraits you are taking. 






I hope you have found these sharing useful, and if you have friends who are starting out on portrait photography, why not share this blog post with them? If you have more tips to share about basic portrait shooting please leave them in the comments. 


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Lens Talk: Olympus M.Zuiko 9-18mm F4-5.6

Following up my article (and video) of the Olympus M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 Mark II mini review, I thought why not do something at the complete opposite end of the spectrum - an ultra wide angle lens? I have also asked for a loaner unit for the Olympus M.Zuiko 9-18mm F4-5.6 lens and I have spent an entire afternoon shooting with this underrated lens. Being so small, light and compact, this lens deserves a bit more attention, and here is my mini review of the Olympus M.Zuiko 9-18mm lens. 


The Olympus 9-18mm was originally designed for Olympus DSLR cameras, there was a Four Thirds Zuiko version of the lens. When Olympus initially made that lens, they were very proud of their achievement especially in the Dual Super Aspherical (DSA) lens element used in the 9-18mm lens. The DSA lens element was particularly difficult to design, make and mass manufacture, with the center of the lens element being extremely thin and fragile. Olympus prides themselves to be able to overcome the challenges and included the DSA into their 9-18mm lens, making the lens truly small, compact and light yet with no image quality compromise, delivering sharp images. The same DNA is also found in the later M.Zuiko version of the 9-18mm made for Olympus Micro Four Thirds system, having similar DSA lens element. 

The lens is extremely small and light. It is about the same size as an Olympus prime lens, such as the M.Zuiko 25mm F1.8, which makes it quite incredible, being a zoom lens and having an ultra wide angle coverage. The lens weighs only 155g, being so compact and light, the Olympus 9-18mm matches the smaller bodies such as PEN E-PL9 or OM-D E-M10 series very well. Perhaps some will be quick to point out that at 9mm (18mm in 35mm format) is not exactly very wide in the world of ultra wide angle lenses, but 9mm is still a lot wider than the typical coverage from the Olympus kit lens 14-42mm EZ lens or even the M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lens. While I do not see myself using ultra wide angle lens that much, but I admit there were critical times when that extra width can make a difference, and having the 9mm wide coverage can be a lifesaver. When you need it, you need it, there are just no other solutions that can replace a true wide angle lens. 


Lens Talk: Olympus M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 Mark II

I have been receiving numerous requests for me to do something with the Olympus M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 Mark II lens, and I finally got my hands on a loaner from Olympus Malaysia recently. I thought why not have some fun shooting some cute animals at the National Zoo and at the same time invite you guys to come along with me for this short shooting adventure? No animals were harmed I promise, just camera shooting away with my trigger happy fingers. I brought my E-M1 Mark II and made a mini review of this lens, which is a budget super telephoto zoom lens that should sit high on your consideration list if you want to start shooting wildlife, bird or sports without the need to break the bank. 


The Olympus 75-300mm is made plastic, but the lens body does feel solid and there are no creaky parts. The lens does not have internal zoom, it extends out when zooming to the longer telephoto range. There is no zoom creep when the lens is fully extended, the lens holds its position without falling back in when pointing the lens upward. The lens is light - weighing only 432g, having a compact and lightweight construction makes this lens such a joy to handle. It should match any Olympus cameras perfectly, and handling was not an issue. I was shooting at the zoo for more than 3 hours, hand-holding the Olympus 75-300mm lens on my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II camera body. I did not feel any strain or got tired from this combination, the lens felt perfectly balanced and using it for long hour shooting was not a problem. 


Practical Composition Tips For Beginners Besides Rule Of Thirds

Rule of Thirds has become the default go to recommended guide for beginners when it comes to composition but I personally believe there are other more practical tips to help you compose your images better. Composition is an important consideration for all photography, it can either make or break the shot. I have nothing against Rule of Thirds, I think it works for most cases but I also believe composition is more than just drawing some invisible lines in your frame and place your subjects along these lines. There are other more important things to consider doing proper composition if you want to step up your photography game, and I am exploring these practical tips. 


1) WHAT IS THE MAIN SUBJECT?
Too many newcomers to photography focused on how to shoot the subject, not many asked the more important question - "what is the main subject?"

The techniques in shooting can only get you so far, if you have not identified the main story, the idea,  message or emotion that you want to convey in your shot, that image will end up looking quite empty. Instead of thinking too far ahead, I strongly suggest you identify the main subject first, and do all you can in ensuring that your viewer's attention is drawn to that main subject. 

2) TAKE CAMERA AWAY FROM EYE LEVEL
We all love shooting from the viewfinder, but when we do that, we create images that look very ordinary and plain because everyone is standing at almost the same height and seeing the world through similar perspective. Therefore, one effective way to immediately create images that look a little different is to show them from a different level. Move the camera away from the eye level and start using the LCD screen to compose your shots. Most cameras these days do come with some sort of tilt or swivel screen which allows easy shooting from the waist level or even lower. Go as low as to the ground level to create some impactful shots looking up, or climb stairs, a hill or anywhere giving you a higher vantage point overlooking a vast area for a more dramatic outcome. Go high or go low and you will see that the composition will be stronger than just shooting everything through the viewfinder. 







3) CREATIVE FRAMING
There are many ways to direct attention to your main subject in your photographs that does not require drawing crazy many invisible lines that do not make sense. Forget the lines. Look for more practical methods to frame your subjects and here are some suggestions - use lines, patterns, repetition, color and geometry, the art basics for composition. Most of the creative framing opportunities are right in front of us, we just have to spot them and use them effectively to frame our main subjects in the photograph. Being able to see and identify these opportunities may present a challenge for many as they may not know what to look for in the first place. Then train yourself to see things more beautifully and do your best to find the beauty even in the simplest and normal every day things. Photography is not about capturing epic moments or visuals only, photography is also about finding beauty even in the most ordinary things, and should be a continuous effort that is done consistently. 

4) PAY ATTENTION TO THE BACKGROUND
I have observed many images that are greatly composed but somehow the photographer did not pay sufficient attention to what goes on in the background. The background can mess up your shot. Ask yourself if you do want to include the background to your main subject, which background to include if you have a choice (most of the time you do, by shifting the angle away to a different direction where you point your camera at), and how much background you want in your image. Avoid strong glaring colors like red and yellow that may distract the attention away from the main subject easily. Avoid unpleasing looking objects like rubbish bin or anything messy in the background. If the background adds to the main subject constructively, supporting the story-telling element, such as an environmental portrait, then compose the background carefully to enhance the image. Otherwise, take the background out and include as little as possible. 







5) FILL YOUR FRAME BUT ALSO LEAVE A BIT OF SPACE
If your photography is not good enough you are not close enough, the famous saying has been repeated countless times and still holds true. Fill your frame and your main subject will immediately become dominant. However, do not go too close, do leave a bit of room to breathe. In some cases when it is difficult to predict the movement of the subject (sports shooting, birds flying, etc) framing the subjects too tightly may unintentionally chop off some important parts of the subjects. Also, having a bit of room to breathe is not a bad thing, you may crop in a little during post (don't over do it) or straightening a slightly uneven shot will benefit from that extra bit of headroom. 

That's all I have to share in this blog entry, I acknowledge these are simple tips, but I am sure they can be effective in bringing out the best in many photography situations. I sure hope you have found them useful, and if you have more to add, please share in the comments below. 

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Real Reasons Why You Are Not Improving In Photography

Progression in photography is not always linear. It is a steady growth that requires us to take baby steps and improve gradually over a long period of time. I have observed some photographer friends being stuck in a place and not sure what to do to get out and move forward. Some of them ran out of ideas and inspiration to shoot, or worse, the desire to pick up the camera and use it. Some have burned out, or got tired of the hobby and decided photography is not really what they wanted to do. If you want to continue to play this game called photography and you want to move on to the next level, here are some tips that I can share on why you are not improving in your photography game. 


1) YOU CONSUME MORE THAN YOU PRODUCE
We live in the era of digital media dominance, we are blasted with buffet of images served right in front of our eyes. Whether you browse the internet forum discussions on photography, reading camera reviews on websites, or scrolling through the endless feed on Instagram and Facebook, there are too many images that we see day in and out. It is great to explore photography work published online out there, be inspired and learn what good photography is. Here is a more important question we have to ask ourselves - what is the ratio of time between consuming images and making images? Do you spend as much time shooting as viewing images? Is it 50/50? I think in reality, generalising most modern camera users these days, the number is closer to 90/10 - 90% consuming and 10% producing. That is a generous estimate. 

My point is, knowing good photography, seeing what others are doing is not sufficient, you have to do the work, you have to clock in the hours. I always use pornography as an analogy. Just because you have watched countless hours of porn does not make you any better in bed, if you do not have adequate real life experience. Similarly in driving a car, you can read the driving manual 100 times over and watch videos on YouTube on how to drive a car but if you have not had enough practical experience actually driving a real car, you won't improve any further. I am not saying stop consuming images, or viewing so many images is a bad habit, far from it. I am merely suggesting tipping the ratio a little heavier to the producing side. Spend more time shooting, and you will have no choice but to get better. 



 2) NOT TRAINING ENOUGH
Photography is not too different from sports. Any competitive sports, say tennis requires the athletes to condition themselves regularly and sharpen their skills in the game as frequently as possible. Champions such as Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer did not just happen suddenly, they did not just decide to pick up the racket one day, play tennis for a few months and win a Grand Slam. They picked up the racket and played the game even before they hit puberty, and won their first huge title 10 years or more later. You have got to put in the work, the hours, you need to sweat, eat and breathe photography to go far in the game. 

If you are a professional photography then this article is probably not for you. For hobbyists and enthusiasts, here is another important question - how many hours of shooting do you do in a week? Are you a weekend warrior? Say, a shooting session with your buddies on a Saturday afternoon, perhaps 2-3 hours a week? How is that sufficient to grow your photography skills? Growth can only happen after a long period of time, through repetition of doing similar task, over and over again. You start by making sure you are able to get certain things right with the photograph. Then you keep practising until you don't get it wrong ever again. 

How good is your muscle memory with the camera? If you are blindfolded, are you able to operate the camera? I am not asking you to compose or frame an image, but can you turn on the camera, adjust the shutter speed, ISO or any other important settings without looking at the camera? You need to have quick reflexes, the camera control should be second nature and you can change the settings on the fly to accomplish your photography objectives when you shoot. Your mind should not be worrying about camera settings - you should focus your energy and thought process on the story-telling of your photography. There are a lot of other aspects that make great photographs - lighting, composition and moment to name a few. Train yourself to be faster and more efficient in operating the camera. Then you can focus on your artistic growth in photography. 


3) POOR CURATION
One critical mistake I have observed many people doing (even myself, I must admit) is not curating your own work. Curating process is not simplistic, but it starts by not showing too many photographs, and only displaying your best work. Great photographers may shoot great images, but more importantly, they know how to hide bad ones. You don't see their bad ones because of their curation. Learning how to curate our own work, being brutally strict on showing only the best of the best will push ourselves further and help us be a better critique on photography. 

One good way to learn about curation is to go to a photography exhibition. Visit an Art Gallery (may not necessarily be just photography, any art gallery is fine), and spend time observing and absorbing the art on display - the starting image, the ending image, the images in between, how the images flow from one to another, the consistency and how everything came together nicely to form a large body of work. I am not an expert in curation, it is a work in progress but to have a successful exhibition, the curation process can make or break it completely. 

Try to limit your series of images. Set a number - say 10 or 15 images. You may have hundreds of images to begin with, but slowly cut out the bad ones (you know you have bad photos, everyone does, even the greatest of us) and narrow them down to a few dozens. From the smaller pile, ask yourself which are the best ones. If you have a hard time deciding for yourself, as you are emotionally attached to your own images (they are your babies after all), then it may help if you get an extra pair of eyes to help your curation process. Bring a friend or someone whom you respect in the photography universe you belong to. 



4) LEARNING EVERYTHING - NO FOCUS
For many newcomers to photography, the hunger for knowledge is insatiable. You want to learn everything and anything you can get your hands on. The camera basics, the composition, lighting, post-processing, secret techniques, etc. You attend workshops after workshops, you buy many photography books and you watch endless tutorials online. Can you really absorb everything all at once?

The learning cup has a limit, once you pour too much knowledge into the cup too quickly, it is filled to the brim and any additional knowledge you try to pour in will be overflowed and you won't be able to contain or keep those new knowledge. I am not saying you should stop learning or limit your learning, in fact quite the opposite. Instead of learning everything that you can find, why not start to be more focused in what you are picking up, and slowly shape your learning to the direction of the photographer you want to be?

Say you want to be a street photographer, then pick up skills that are related to journalism or street shooting, attend relevant workshops and go on actual photowalks with other street photographers, instead of spending an afternoon learning how to style a plate of hipster food or attend a workshop on getting better at OOTD posing and fashion tips. Similarly, if you aim to be a successful wedding photographer, what are you doing spending so many ungodly hours shooting the Milky Way? Do not get me wrong, you are free to do anything you want to with your camera and spare time, photography is open for everyone to enjoy. However, if you truly are serious about your game, you will have a better focus and more directed approach in learning. 

We only have limited time in a week to spend on photography, to work on our own personal goals. Minus the hours spent on work (including professional photographers who to work on shoots), sleep, and other necessary activities like self-care and socialising, we are left with limited time for photography. Time is not infinite. Spend it wisely!


That's all my tips on how to overcome the plateau and continue to grow in your photography journey. Everyone is different and not all these tips may apply to you, but if you do have some useful advice I would love to hear from you, do share with everyone!

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