What to do in times of a pandemia

Well I can hardly give any tips of what best to do in a “lockdown” kind of situation, when you can’t or at least shouldn’t really leave the house. I can only tell you what we’re doing:

  • we went shopping of Friday after my work already, so we were through with that early on. It also helps if you enter the supermarkets as a single person, not with a whole family. Better for the distances we should keep…
  • reading is always good – my current favourite fiction author is Haruki Murakami as you might know if you’re reading this blog once in a while
  • listening to music and/or watching TV is what I’ll guess what most people would do, and of course we’re also doing that. Long running series like “Doctor Who” are good tips if you like that
  • If you’re a computer geek, get involved into some free and open source project – write some code or documentation, or share some tips via an own blog or Youtube or whatever
  • We’re the lucky ones, at least Zuleikha and me – we play instruments. Plus we are both members of Wikiloops where you can play with other musicians from all around the globe for free if you like. All you need is some way to get your instrument or voice into a computer, which is usually done with some kind of audio interface – see here for some examples. And Wikiloops just lifted its time restrictions, so even as a new user you can now start down- and uploading at once, without having to wait (or to pay).
  • If you are creative in another field – I consider myself a portrait photographer for instance – then do this at home as well. Take photos of your family, or in case you’re alone, take self portraits. There’s always something new to learn, and if it’s only about lighting.

Other than that I haven’t done much this weekend, in fact I wasn’t even out of the house except to feed the birds:

Bird food, Mörfelden-Walldorf 2020

As I’ve read, the rate of new infections with SARS-CV2 aka the Corona virus is slowing down here in Germany. So maybe (and hopefully) it helps if everyone is staying at home or at least keeping a safe distance. And while it’s still way too early to speak of or to hope for a trend, we can still carry on and wait this out, shall we?

Be safe. Stay healthy. And thank you for reading.

A photo of Tuna from today (March 21st, 2019)

Switched on two of my studio strobes and took my camera out, then I got down on eye level as usual:

Tuna the cat, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2019

Taken with the “kit zoom” at 31mm, but cropped a little more during post production. Midtoned as usual.

Thanks for viewing.

One with flash again



Studio strobe with beauty dish left of object above the table, studio strobe with standard reflector right of camera, ca. 50cm lower than the other one. Measured and set aperture was 5.6 at 1/160th of a second.

Thanks for viewing.

How to gain over 8 stops

I often take photos with room lights, tho our energy-efficient LED room lights aren’t really that bright, at least not when measured with a camera. Often enough the camera has to go all the way up to ISO 2500 (which I’ve set to the uppermost acceptable level, the Olympus E-PL5 will show everything from ISO 3200 as boosted or amplified anyway). Still I often don’t get really hand-holdable pictures, even with the very good in-body stabilization of our Olympus camera, and with fast prime lenses wide open.

So today I looked at the lights (one small reading light in the corner of our living room, and an over-the-table light in our dining area, and thought about the studio strobe with the beauty dish attached to it which is almost in the same position as that dining room light. What if I could use my small compact flash at about the position and pointing into the same direction (which is down) as our reading light?

Had to test it of course, and it really looks almost the same:


Study: emulating evening room lights with flashes

So this is ISO 200 with 1/160th of a second and the lens wide open at f/1.4 – with the room lights I would have had some 1/4 to 1/5th of a second at ISO 2500, or about 3 seconds at ISO 200. So even with boosting the shadows a bit afterwards, and with selecting “Auto gradation” in the OV3 raw processor, I still gained over 8 stops of light. And that is way more than you could get with switching your camera to the best “full frame” model you could get (like a Nikon D4s or a Sony A7s, both of which can go to ISO 400k or so). Even if you consider ISO 3200 on these cameras as practically noise-free, you’d still have shutter times of maybe 1/8th of a second – not enough for anything breathing.

Lights are much more important, and make a much bigger difference than any “dream camera” you could think of. Just try it.

Thanks for reading.

Setup shot

Today Mitchie told me that her father wants some new photo of Zuleikha, so I offered to help with the setup. I built up this for them:


Setup shot for a Mitchie (photographer) and Zuleikha (model) portrait session

What you see is my grey background, 1.35 meters wide, and two studio strobes (one with a beauty dish from the front, one with an umbrella from the left, beside the background). What you don’t see is a third compact flash on a small tripod behind the armchair. This one was gridded and pointed directly onto the grey canvas background.

Mitchie got some good shots, and if she’ll upload some onto her Flickr page I can show them here as well.

Thanks for viewing.

Fill flash means underexposure

As photographers we often work with props, and also with stand-in models. In the company we have a mannequin to test lighting setups with, here at home I often ask Zuleikha for one of her figures, dolls and such. So for the following example / demonstration I used her teddy.

As photographers, we are also constantly on the lookout for good light, but if there isn’t any, or too less of it, we know that we have to make our own light. In this example, I wanted to show and share some of my thoughts about mixed lighting, using the available daylight together with some that we can create ourselves.

First thing to consider is the light temperature. Daylight has about 5600K, so if you want to mix artificial light without any heavy filtering together with daylight, you’d also take some light which is in the same colour temperature range – in this case, I used flash.

Second thought is that light actually adds up. You cannot trust your camera’s metering (which doesn’t “see” the flash before it actually happens/fires) and add light after you meter. So you have to underexpose both the ambient and also the flash light – in sum, this would give you a “right” level of exposure again.

The following shot of Teddy was available light only, but underexposed one full stop:


As you can see, that gets you in the ballpark. The outside above our sofa is still overexposed (or “blown out” as they say), but that isn’t my subject, so I didn’t care. The dark parts like on the blanket or on Teddy herself (it’s a “she”) could use some fill. This is an out-of-camera image with saturation on “-1”.

One of my studio strobes was opposite of the room, with a standard reflector mounted, and it pointed onto the wall. I switched that on and measured the light on Teddy with the strobe at its lowest power output (1/32nd of what it can blast out, so that’s about 10Ws or so). That measurement told me I should use an aperture of 1.1 – but don’t forget that this would be when the flash would be used as the only, or the dominant light source, which isn’t what I wanted. Besides, I don’t have any Noctiluxes or Voigtländer lenses which can open up that much, and I also didn’t want a paper-thin depth of field which such an aperture would give you.

So I started with using aperture 2 like in the available light shot above, but the strobe was still a bit strong and “visible” when used that way, tho it was about 2 stops under. In the end, I used an f-stop of 2.8 to get what I wanted. I also changed the angle of the camera a bit, and in post-production (with Olympus Viewer 3) I reduced the saturation to “-2”, and set the picture output setting to “Muted” (instead of “Standard” or “Neutral” which the camera was set to). I often do that when photographing humans, to get better skin colours for the 16 bit .tif image which I create with the Olympus Viewer 3, and which I further “develop” to a .jpg using RawTherapee on Linux.

The resulting image was this:


Teddy with fill flash

As you can see when comparing these two photos, even with the saturation and the picture “profile” turned down, you still get much better colours, and it simply “pops” a lot more. In Teddy’s eyes you see that small point light source which the flash actually is, even when reflected over a wall. But while that gives away that you used flash, for people it also means that you’ll get a little “sparkle” into their eyes, which often makes them look better, and somehow more “lively”.

So what’s the summary of this? If you want to mix daylight with flash or any other artificial light, underexpose both of them. When using flash as a not too obtrusive “fill” like here, the rule of thumb for this picture would be: daylight at minus one, flash at about minus three stops. Of course this mixing of lights depends on what you’re trying to do, so go on and play around to learn it.

Oh, and the 10Ws remark shows you that you actually don’t need a studio strobe for this – any external compact flash like our 40$ Yongnuos could get that level of output easily.

Thanks for reading.

A VF-4 for Mitchie

We gave Mitchie’s VF-2 viewfinder to my brother Willi, for whom the E-PL1 is a totally new camera with it, as he said. And for Mitchie I ordered the newer VF-4 viewfinder which has a higher resolution and a bigger picture. It arrived today, and one look through it confirmed it: this is like an old Olympus OM – big, even brighter than its older film sibling, and with lots more overlaid information in the picture of course. Should be ideal to manually focus lenses for instance, but even the initial experience of looking through it confirms: this is big cinema indeed. I recently looked through a Nikon D700, and I definitely prefer the VF-4 (ok, that might be a bit unfair, because the Nikon had the 50-500mm “Bigma” lens mounted which isn’t as bright as our small primes of course).

To show you the difference, here’s a photo of both our E-PL5 cameras:


Tabletop with two cameras. (Almost) identical twins. Photo taken with Olympus E-520 and a ZD 50mm/2 Macro lens (and two studio strobes). More info about the photo is on Flickr (click on it).

Now I understand why everyone who tried it loves the E-M1. Or the E-P5 which comes with this same viewfinder. It’s compatible with “lesser” (cheaper but not necessarily worse) cameras like ours, but you might need a firmware upgrade – so in case you’re interested, don’t forget to consult the Olympus pages first.

Thanks for reading.


Got this as a present some while ago:


adidas® Victory League. Olympus E-PL5 with M.Zuiko 45mm/1.8 at f/5.6, two lights, both gridded. 1:1 raw conversion, quasi out of camera.

Thanks for viewing.

Just playing around with two lights

I was changing the standard reflector of the newer studio strobe to a gridded one, and played around with hard light. Then I used it as an effect light from the front, like here:


Fruits. Olympus E-PL5 with M.Zuiko 45mm/1.8 at f/5.

You can see it in the reflections that I was using two lights, and they were set up like this:


Setup shot of “Fruits”. Olympus E-PL5 with Panasonic 14mm/2.5 lens at f/5.

I had the side strobe with the socked beauty dish on 1/16th power, and the front gridded strobe at 1/32nd power, which gave me an aperture of f/5 at ISO 200. Could have gridded the beauty dish as well to get less spill onto the background (a 5-in-1 reflector/diffuser/light blocker). But even with a quick setup like this you’ll get some usable results.

Update: I just did that – a shot like this takes half an hour, together with setting up and removing the lights and background plus the few things that I do in post processing:


Fruits II. Olympus E-PL5 with M.Zuiko 45mm/1.8 lens at f/4.

As you can see, there are still two lights, but changing the sock to a grid on the beauty dish takes away 2/3rds of a stop of light. I decided not to adjust the light but the camera’s aperture, so now that side light is more an effect light, and the gridded light from the front is more of a main one. Also changed angles a bit, and all in all this one is lit a bit more on the “dramatic” side. Small changes and movements can make quite a difference.

In the end it’s all more or less a matter of taste – and for me it’s still an interesting way to learn to light.

Thanks for viewing/reading.