Olympus OM-D challenge part 3: Light like a pro

If you've not been following our OM-D challenge photo story thus far, then a quick recap. At the beginning of January we were plucked from Las Vegas to observe a photographic adventure alongside pro photographer Damian McGillicuddy on a shoot in Death Valley.

Love and loathing, our photographic tale has playfully dabbled in murder and mistrust - if its possible to do so casually - and here, in this final chapter, we wind up back at the beginning when it all started. Part of the goal behind this adventure is about taking better photographs, and to get the inside line we chatted in greater depth with "Big Dog" McGillicuddy himself to get some top tips.

Getting technical

First up there's the kit. McGillicuddy is an Olympus man, so it almost goes without saying that an OM-D E-M1 was his camera of choice for this shoot. The title gives it away, doesn't it? But to get the most out of a scene it's all about controlling the light - being mindful of what's available and from which direction and how to complement that with additional lighting. 

READ: Olympus OM-D challenge: Fear and loathing in Las Vegas

"This was the last image in our series and we thought we would have a little more fun with this one! As we were working on the streets in deeper, darker Las Vegas, having the freedom of movement and speed on our side was the key to getting the shot.

"As I've been commissioned to shoot this story piece with equipment that is accessible for all, even without a huge budget, I've kept kit fairly minimal. Two speedlights [off-camera flash guns] and a reflective and translucent brolly as my modifiers to adjust the flash light.

"Even though lighting can sound daunting, the set-up for this shot [see main image] is quite simple once you know what you're doing. The main or 'key' light used was a speedlight fired through the 36-inch translucent brolly off to the left of the camera. On top of the camera is a radio trigger that talks to the flash gun to get it to fire in sync with the shutter.

"Then there's the warm accent light, to give that warm, golden colour to the skin. I didn't want to use stands for the lights because they're cumbersome, so instead this shot required more hands. A spare pair of hands - courtesy of Olympus UK marketing boss - kept the accent light held in place."

Mixing light

If you're thinking of starting experimenting with flash lighting then you needn't start out on the streets. It's best to set up scenes at home where you're comfortable to get an understanding of what is doing what, and you could begin by shooting anything from an action figure to a piece of fruit to get an understanding of lighting control before progressing onto human models.

READ: Olympus OM-D challenge part 2: Light, lenses, action | Part 1: Fear & loating in Las Vegas

"We didn't use a light meter for the shot either. Instead the E-M1 has a setting called Live Bulb that shows the exposure in real time - for as long as the shutter is open you can see layers build up on the screen," continues McGillicuddy.

Live Bulb works really well for long exposures, such as night landscapes or where moving subjects leave light trail blurs, to judge when to stop exposing. It's unconventional to use a long exposure for a portrait, but that's McGillicuddy's playful experimentalism through and through.

"We used the Live Bulb setting and through a little trail and error built up the ambient exposure visually. Doing so thinned out the shadow density because the shutter is open for longer, which means the ambient street lights provide their own glow to the image - and the two blend for a certain look. Because the main subject has been flashed strongly that 'fixes' it into the frame first, so the details aren't blurry. There is a little bit of 'ghosting' due to subject movement, but I think it adds to the drama - it's a little different and a technique I will be exploring further."

If you think this all sounds like a lot of fun - because it was - then to find out more about how you can join events and master classes and see the Olympus range in action, visit: www.olympus-imagespace.co.uk

Competition time

So there we have it: experiment, be playful with both available and introduced light and think up wild and whacky ideas to bring your shots to life.

In the process of this shoot we got to experience some forthcoming Olympus kit. And after waiting for a number of weeks, we can lift the lid on the Olympus OM-D E-M10 compact system camera.

And, lucky readers, your chance to win one along with an additional 45mm prime lens. And there are some runners-up Olympus camera prizes. It's free to enter, all you have to do is follow our three part story to find out the answers to the competition question. It's open until the end play 28 February 2014.

READ: Win an Olympus OM-D E-M10

Image copyright Damian McGillicuddy www.damianmcgillicuddy.com