The Lumix Diaries: Macro Made Easy

Posted Mar. 31st, 2017 by Daniel J. Cox

There’s been a great deal of interest lately in a macro image I posted to Facebook. The picture was a close up of a beautiful orchid showing its soft pastel colors and elegant form. The technique is quite simple and easy to replicate with minimal equipment. The key to doing this right is the proper gear and positioning flash.

The soft pastel colors of an orchid shot with Lumix G85, 45mm Leica macro, and off-camera FL360 flash.

The main gear you will need is:

  • Camera body ( I used the Lumix G85)
  • Macro lens ( I used the 45mm Leica/Lumix)
  • Off-camera wireless flash (I used the Lumix FL360)
  • Flash diffuser (I used the Lumiquest pocket bouncer)

Let’s talk about setting up the camera. Many of you who travel with me know I’m a huge fan of the P Mode. P for professional I like to say. Kind of a joke but kind of not if you read more about why I’ve used Program since Nikon invented Flexible Program back in the mid 90’s. But to macro work, I switch the camera to Manual which allows me to choose a specific shutter speed and aperture, independent of each other. The flash stays in TTL which adjusts the light output for either a smaller or larger aperture on the lens, depending on how much depth of field I want.

A close up of the inside of an orchid flower. Costa Rica

Generally, I start out with about 125th of a second shutter speed and about F/8 on the Leica 45mm F/2.8 lens. You can go for even better depth of field by shooting at F/16 or F/22, but you will start to notice some minor sharpness issues do to lens diffraction. I will also often start with about 400 ISO and may go as high as 640 to 1000 depending on if I want to shoot at the smaller apertures.

Dan with Lumix macro setup. Costa Rica

Next most important item of gear is the wireless flash. You can use a flash that has a cord on it, but it’s so much less convenient and easy to work with. However, the technique I will explain for the wireless flash would work just fine with a flash attached by a cord. It’s just more difficult to move around with and also creates one more thing to snag or catch a beautiful orchid and break it from its stem. When working around animals and some plants I always feel less gear is better. Just one more reason why I love this setup that I’m using for macro photos.

Please forgive my poor drawing abilities but this little diagram is the best way to show how I setup the wireless flash for the photos in this Blog. My favorite way to light an orchid is from directly behind the flower.

Next item on the list is getting your wireless or corded flash set up for soft light. I do that by attaching either a Lumiquest Pocket Bouncer or the Rogue Large Diffusion Panel. Both items need a velcro strap that goes around the flash head that the panel or the bouncer will attach to. The Pocket Bouncer link above is to a kit that includes both the bouncer and the velcro strap. You can buy the strap separately, which is called the Lumiquest Ultra Strap, if you want this strap to use with the Rogue Diffusion Panel. The goal is to get something on the flash the soft light devices can hook onto.

Two of our Natural Exposures Explorers working in a greenhouse filled with flowers in Costa Rica.

Finally, we have to talk about the on-camera flash, which is what is used to fire the wireless Lumix FL360 flash when it’s being used off camera. Having a camera with a flash built in is a great benefit for this macro photography setup. The benefit of a built-in flash is why even when I was shooting the Nikon system I would always shoot Macro with a second tier, a so-called non-professional Nikon body, something like a D300 or D7000. Nikon always liked to tell those of us who wanted an on-camera flash on the pro bodies, “You don’t need one. Pros don’t want flashes built into the cameras.” I couldn’t disagree more. Lack of a built-in flash was part of the reason I only ever had one of the Nikon “pro bodies” while I had several of the second tier bodies. Thankfully, most of the Lumix cameras have a built-in flash, with the glaring exception of the new Lumix GH5 which does not have a built-in flash. Because of that the Lumix G85 will be my new go-to camera for macro photography.

OK so now that you understand why we want off-camera flash let’s talk about how to set up the Lumix wireless system. I created a short video to explain it in more detail.

So that’s about it. Macro photography is a lot of fun and not nearly has difficult as some people think. Wireless or even wired off-camera flash can make all the difference in getting quality images.




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There are 8 comments on this post…
  1. jgmOn Aug. 20th, 2017

    I found the video on setting up my G85/FL360L for off-camera flash to be very helpful. I’m wanting to shoot macros using the flash-off camera, with the camera to manual (ss 160, f 11). How do I control the intensity of the on camera flash pop-up flash? Can I control both the intensity of the pop-up flash and the off camera flash manually? Thanks in advance for any insights.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 20th, 2017

      JGM, when I shoot the Lumix wireless flash I almost always set the on camera flash to off via the Wireless flash menu option. This doesn’t actually completely turn the flash off; you will still see the on camera flash fire even with the wireless setting set to OFF. However, it’s on camera flash is putting out just enough flash, talk to the remote flash you want to fire. That’s how the wireless flash system works. The on camera flash connects to the off camera, wireless flash. via Infrared light beam. Therefore, even though you have the on camera or commander flash set to off, it still fires some light.

      When you shoot the camera in manual mode such as 1/160th of a second with an aperture of F/11, the wireless flash should be set to TTL. The camera stays in the manual but the flash is in Auto and will then give you the proper exposure. It’s a semi manual, semi auto setup that works very, very well. Let me know if this is all understandable. Hopefully so but it is difficult to express in a written way without being able to show you first hand.

  2. Rich BallOn Apr. 4th, 2017

    Dan – Thanks for the video on the flash. I will be playing more with mine now.

    A few comments and hints on macro photography. The 45mm Leica Panasonic lens is great but fairly expensive. The Panasonic 30mm macro is a very fine lens as well and far more affordable. The Olympus 60mm is also very good if not a little quirky in the AF operation. Another option I find to be very good is a “58mm Canon CLOSE-UP LENS 250D”. This Lens works on the Panasonic 12-35 f.2.8, the 35-100 f2.8, the 14-140 f3.5 and the Olympus 75 if you have one of those. It an achromatic lens and has multiple elements in and has quite good performance since it was designed to work with Canon lenses. It is relatively affordable at around a $100 depending on who you buy it from. Don’t mistake this lens for one of cheaper diopters available from Hoya, Tiffen or others. There is a 500D version in these lenses available as well but I don’t find it as useful. There are other diameters available but the diameters are limited to those that work with specific Canon lenses.

    Another option is extension tubes. A look on Amazon or Ebay will give a person a lot of options. I have used them in other formats and they can work well. One of these days I might play with lens reversing rings as well – They are quite inexpensive on ebay.

    Getting a sharp photo in the macro world is alway hard when your shooting hand held. We all sway a little when standing (it gets more pronounced the older you get – another one of those things they don’t tell you) – it helps to use burst mode when you take the picture to increase the chances of getting a really sharp one. As far as focus goes getting the AF to work can be tricky. It always want to start at the far away points. Sometimes putting a couple of fingers in front of the lens at about the right distance helps.

    Finally, I understand the desire to go far away and photograph exotic stuff. This time of year just going out and looking around at the weeds and what not can yield some really interesting photographs. Many have tiny flowers that are very well suited for micro 4/3 format.

    Hope these ideas help a little.

    Rich Ball

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Apr. 4th, 2017

      Thaks Rich. All great tips. The issue of swaying is a big one. It’s alway part of the macro equation and one of the main reason I prefer using flash for the vast majority of my macro work.

  3. Mike GOn Apr. 3rd, 2017

    Thanks for the great tutorial! What is the red colored flash on the body in the photo from Costa Rica?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Apr. 3rd, 2017

      Mike, the red light device attached to my lens is a headlamp. It’s a great way to illuminate the subject when shooting in the dark so autofocus is fast and accurate. The small amount of light the headlamp puts out does not effect the photo due to the flash being much more intense. The flahs basically drowns out all other light including that from the headlamp.

  4. jim HeywoodOn Apr. 1st, 2017

    Your how to do it stuff is really really good. I will be going to Gintner Garden in Richmond to again try to get some shots of Orchids; now that I am armed with this lighting info. I bought a tiny DMW-FL70 pana flash for the sole purpose of using on my GX 8 which also lacks a built in flash to fire the off camera DMW-FL580. thanks

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