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.