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Photographing portraits with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II

This is the third article in a four-part series discussing the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. Click here to read my previous article, discussing the use of the camera for landscapes. In my final article, I’ll discuss using the camera for advertising.

I photograph a lot of different types of portraits. Just a few weeks ago, I was hired to photograph the downtown tree lighting, which involved me taking photographs of Santa, Mrs. Claus and guests at a rapid pace.

But I’ve also shot several corporate portraits, and a few family portraits as well.


I approach portraiture a little differently than other photographers I know. Being that I photograph a lot of events, I treat a portrait session like an event. Heading into an event, I have an idea of what the ideal shots are going to be, and what the different angles are that I’ll need to cover. I do the same with a portrait session.

Whether it be on a grey background, in an office or outdoors, portraits need to isolate the subject from the rest of the scene. In almost all instances, you want the focus to be on the person’s face.

Comforting the subject

When I used to have a full-frame camera, I came across a lot of people who were a little intimidated by what I was carrying. In a sense, they were afraid to have their picture taken. They couldn’t see my face, and they couldn’t try to relate in the environment they were in.

Enter the Olympus E-M1 Mark II, and this has now changed. While I still do a lot of my portraits handheld instead of on a tripod, I do so in order to relate and interact with the client. With the smaller footprint of the camera, it helps me to seem less intimidating, which allows the subject to open up and get some genuine smiles much faster.

With strobes

I use strobes with basically all of my indoor portraiture work, while outdoors, I rely on things like reflectors and diffusers to help me modify the light. Specifically, I usually use two AlienBee B800 strobes with white parabolic umbrellas that I shoot through, angled to face the subject. Then I stand in the middle. It’s a simple setup, but effective. Plus it gives some great catch-lights.

The camera works with the strobes just as you’d expect here, coupled with my PocketWizard PlusX transceivers.

While my AlienBees don’t offer High-Speed Sync, there are several other strobes on the market that offer this for Olympus. The Godox AD200 is a popular choice by Olympus users.

Finally, while my portraiture work is more traditional in nature, Olympus Visionaries Tracie Maglosky and Joe Edelman are great examples of what can be done with the system. They both incorporate some great lighting and props in their photographs, making for a really unique and personalized experience.

Gear of choice

Just like with my travel photography, I like to use prime lenses for my portraiture work. Sometimes, though, based on space, I do need to go a bit wider. My lens of choice is the Olympus 45mm f/1.2 PRO lens, but I also occasionally use the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens and 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens.

Group photos

While I do a lot of corporate headshots and portraits, I occasionally take some group photographs as well. If inside, I’ll always use my AlienBee B800’s with white parabolic umbrellas angled to face the group. While every group wants a standard, posed photograph, sometimes we have a little fun, too.

For group photos, I usually have to go a bit wider, meaning I’ll almost always use the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens.

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