Instax + LP180: Using off camera flash for your instant prints

The Fuji Instax camera is a really fun throwback to the days of Polaroid and instantly sharing analog prints with your friends. I've really enjoyed my Mini 80 over the last year or so, but I suddenly realized it had much more potential after a little bit of testing in my studio late one night. 

I thought to myself: Can I improve the general photographic quality of the Instax print by building better lighting set ups? The camera has no PC sync jack or hot shoe, how can I trigger my strobes? Then it dawned on me. If I could redirect the on board flash and use that output to trigger the optical slave on my LumoPro LP180, I could override the camera flash and build much more interesting light for my fun little camera. 

Here's how to do it. 

Things You Will Need

  • Your Instax camera
  • A light meter
  • A manual flash with optical slave (LumoPro LP180)
  • A flag/reflector/foam core/grey card or some other means of redirecting the camera flash
  • Light stand and modifier (if desired)

Things You Need To Know

  • Instax film ISO is 800
  • You will be using the On Board Flash to trigger the optical slave on the manual Off Camera Flash
  • This tutorial is geared toward people who have the required equipment and a good understanding of Off Camera Flash use

Steps Overview

  • Measure output from the Instax on board flash
  • Create new light setup that matches output measured in step one
  • Shoot away while carefully flagging the onboard camera flash

You will need your Instax, a light meter, and your Manual Off Camera Flash - You SHOULD be using the LumoPro LP180

You may also need a light modifier, if you so desire. Shown here is the LumoPro Small Softbox. 


Step One: Determine your Instax output

Start by positioning your Instax in relation to your subject. You want to try to position the camera where you get the best results with the on board flash (referred to as "OBF"). I had mine about 3-4 feet away from Oxana, my studio assistant. Positioning the camera in the right place will allow you to meter the output that gives you the best results. The first time I set this up I remember the OBF reading about f8, this time it read f11, which was a little too hot, so I think f8 is about where the money is.

Setting up the Instax to read the light output on Oxana, my studio assistant. 

Meter reading. Don't mind my knuckle reflection. 

Now it's disclaimer time: I have no way of knowing if this is the right aperture for every Instax camera. While f8 is probably a good jumping off point, I encourage you to test on your own if you have the means to do so. Different studio set ups may yield different results. It's probably worth noting this was done in a pretty dark studio. 

Test the output by setting your meter to flash detection mode and pop the OBF by triggering the shutter. You will probably want to do this with no film in the camera because Instax ain't cheap. If you keep an empty film cartridge, you can trick the instax into thinking it has film in it and it will allow you to trip the shutter and trigger the flash. Do this a couple of times to make sure you've got an accurate reading. 

Once you have your meter reading, you can move on to step 2.

Step Two: Set your off camera flash to fire at the same output as your Instax

You have your meter reading, now it's time to set your OCF in your desired position and set the power to match the output of your Instax OBF. For anyone experienced in OCF, this step is not difficult at all, but there are some things to remember. First, make sure your LumoPro LP180 optical slave will be able to see the OBF from the Instax. Second, you can position your lights however you want, as long as the light hitting your subject matches the output of the Instax, your exposures will look great. You will also want to make sure your optical slave is set to trigger on the FIRST flash it sees. On the LumoPro LP180, this setting is S1. You will want to do a few test pops to make sure that your OCF can see the flash from your OBF. 

Set the optical slave on the LP180 to S1

Finally Step Three!

At this point, you're ready to start shooting. The final trick is to deflect the OBF light away from your subject with whatever flag/card/reflector you want. You do NOT want the OBF to have any influence on your subject, but you DO need the flash to trigger the optical slave on your OCF. 

VERY IMPORTANT: Use your card or flag or whatever to deflect the OBF away from your subject, but toward the optical slave on your OCF. 

Front View: Using this grey card to keep the OBF off of my subject, but bouncing it toward the optical slave of my LP180. 

From here on out, it's time to have fun! try different light set ups and experiment! These cameras are quite fun on their own, but with this method you can really turn them into a creative tool. Go create!

A few test shots using OCF with the Fuji Instax Camera and the LumoPro LP180. 

Giving Thanks

Life has kept from updating this blog for way too long, so here is a quick post from Big Bear, CA where I will be enjoying family time and giving thanks for the weekend. 

I am thankful for 3 things this year...

1) A job that I love

There are a lot days where the stress gets to me, but I am so grateful and thankful that I get to do what I love for a living. 

2) A beautiful new home to raise my family 

This isn't the best photo of the place but its what I have with me. We are so lucky and thankful to be in this beautiful home, and look forward to years of raising our children here

3) This amazing woman, and these incredible children

This is the most amazing woman in the world, no one even holds a candle to her. And these children are nothing short of miracles. I am so lucky to have them. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! If you want to share, comment on what you're thankful for this year. 

Do You Make Lighting Diagrams? You Should.

I am not going to pretend like I am in-tune enough with the physics of light to draw up lighting diagrams BEFORE a shoot. However, with almost every single image I create I draw a lighting diagram, usually after the fact. It's one of the most important things you can do as a photographer who works with off camera flash. 

The process of lighting a shoot is fluid for me. It generally begins with a concept and a rough idea of how it will be lit. This is almost always just a jumping off point. The quality of light may not be how I imagined it, or there might be other factors influencing the light in a way that I didn't think of. So I adapt to the result that I am getting and make adjustments until I get what I want. 

Once I have an image that works with what my initial vision was, I take a few minutes to sketch a light diagram. 

A page out of one of my books of lighting diagrams and notes from projects past. 

I consider this a very important part of my process. It helps me analyze what worked, and frankly helps me remember how a shoot progressed. I often include notes about how the shoot went, where my light power levels were, what the sun position was (even if it didn't figure into my image). I also sometimes include stuff that should be included in the EXIF data, such as lens, camera body, etc. I do this because sometimes meta data gets stripped, or other bad things can happen and it takes only a second to write it down. 

I think most importantly I do it because I like having a visual record of my work (aside from the actual images) that has some technical behind the scenes information, and also I find it therapeutic to write them in a notebook. Like with a pen. Low-tech to be sure, but oh so satisfying. 

This is a practice that I recommend to any photographers, amateur or otherwise, who aren't in the habit of doing it. My notebook of choice is the Field Notes Brand 48 page Graph Paper Memo Book. I don't try to hide that I am obsessed with this brand. Mainly because they're wonderful, but also because they are small, so they fit in any bag. They are durable, and I adore the design sensibility and philosophy behind the brand. 

Field Notes. The best memo books around. 

So do you make lighting diagrams? If you don't, I think you should. It will help your creativity, critical thinking and possibly be a source of inspiration for future work. 

Relevant Links

Field Notes Brand - The best memo books around

Strobox - A really interesting online diagram/photo sharing tool for photographers

Also read This Article on taking notes

Accessing Your Analytical Side

After my last semi-rant post about how geography impacts one's ability to be creative, I thought it would only make sense to follow it up with a post about accessing your analytical side, for the purposes of improving your process. For this post, I'm going to talk specifically about the Microsoft Office program Excel. 

If your goal is to work as a product photographer either full time or as a freelancer, chances are you are going to run into an Excel spreadsheet. It might be a printed hard copy, or a digital file, but it's still a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet will serve as your shot list, and hopefully contain everything you need to name your files according to what the production team needs. 

If they give you a printed copy, you COULD spend a bunch of time typing file names it, but that gets a little exhausting, especially when shooting a line of athletic shoes, where the files names could look like this:


This can get a little old when shooting 50-75 samples in a day. But there is hope! If you are willing to take a little time to learn how to use Excel and a few basic functions, you can make yourself a digital shot list, from which you can create your file names and copy and paste into your capture program (which for the purposes of this article is Capture One, and really thats what it should be anyway). 

The list you received might look something like this:

For the purposes of this article, the production team needs the images to be named: Style Number-Color

So we have our sample list, and we know that production needs the images to be named with the style number and the color, so like this: 1442-TAN

We COULD type that in manually, or we could learn a quick formula to auto create our image names so we just have to copy and paste into Capture One. 

A pretty simple formula to create the image name you need looks like this:

The formula you can use to create the image name you need

Basically Excel works with formulas that allow you to reference parts of the spreadsheet and use the content in the cell referenced. So what this formula does is takes the content of cell A6 (note the row and column designations) then with the "&" sign you are saying to add the following into the formula. You put your dash in quotes to show that you mean to add the text "-" and not a minus sign, then the content of cell C6 which is the color name. 

This is what you end up with:

The result is the image name you need for Capture One. 

Now all thats left is to copy and paste the image name into the "Next Capture Naming" field in Capture One, and there you go. Over the course of the day, you will save yourself the time of manually typing AND your names will be accurate to your shot list, no typos. 

This might be a little over the head of a person who has no prior experience with Excel at all, in which case it would be worth checking out any number of Excel 101 tutorials online (like this one). 

Once you have your shot list with all your image names worked out, you can do a lot with the list to help manage your workflow and give you some insights into your workload on the fly. 

Hopefully this is helpful to some. If so, and if you'd be interested in more posts like this, send me a message, or leave a comment.