Ricoh GRD – Tokyo Strobist and Shoestring Lighting

There are many thing to do in Tokyo, but on a Monday night after riding the metro one needs to relax. One of my favorite relaxing activities is the impromptu self-portrait session with a digital camera. This session focused on using off-camera flash with the Ricoh GRD. But here’s the problem, while checking in for my flight to Tokyo I was made aware of the fact that I was 15 kilos over weight, I’d either have to dump half my baggage or pay great fool-damned weight penalty.?While tossing things out of my luggage at Zurich I tried to cut it down to the essentials. The crampons and ice axe had to go, but perhaps a bit more regretful was leaving behind my light stand. Yes, I’ve made a habit of taking various cameras and at least one flash everywhere I fly to. As a compromise I kept the umbrella and flash bracket, thinking I’d find a solution in Tokyo.

Shooting in a cramped dorm room in Tokyo can be a bit limiting. With a desk, bed, and bookshelf there’s pretty much no room to do anything. I wanted a clear background and that meant setting up in the hallway. The cramped hallway presented an interesting shooting situation.? At only four feet wide, there was really no room for a normal camera to focus and capture the subject (me). Ah, but I had in my possession the fabled and non-standard wide angle Ricoh GRD digital camera. I setup a tripod and decided to go with the GRD and the 21mm add-on lens. This gave me a wide angle setup perfect for the cramped hallway.

For the lighting, I had a set of Gadget Infinity radio triggers to trip my old Contax TLA280 flash. The Contax flash was fired on manual mode into a 40 inch umbrella, in the narrow hallway this provided a rather large body of light, perfect for the random portrait session. However, without a stand, it’s pretty hard to set up an umbrella anywhere. To solve this problem I borrowed from my climbing mind and decided the best course of action would be to suspend the umbrella and flash (with bracket) using two shoelaces from my running shoes.

In my experience, the Ricoh GRD has been awesome for mountaineering and city shooting, but I’d never used it with off-camera strobes before. One difficulty with self-portraits is triggering the camera. The GRD has a nice interval timer, I set it for a 5 second delay and started shooting after a few test shots to get a nice exposure setting. Doing off-camera flash with the GRD was totally painless. Using the interval setting the GRD refocuses for each shot and will keep shooting till the battery runs out or the SD card is full. Five seconds is perfect for changing poses and waiting for the camera to focus.

Compact digital cameras are generally ignored with it comes to flash work, and usually have horrible small flashes that create unnaturally ugly images. The Gadget Infinity radio trigger is very small, and fits extremely well on the GRD hotshoe. It means you have the freedom to take a small flash wherever you’re going and bounce it or diffuse it for awesome lighting on the fly and create excellent flash photos, even with a point and shoot digital like the GRD, Canon G9, or any digital with a hotshoe.

The extreme wide angle of the GRD was very cool to work with. The GRD has an awesome lens, and worked extremely well in the tight confines of mine small dorm room. I took to shooting myself in various combinations of the clothes I brought to Tokyo. It’s not rocket science, the images aren’t fantastic art or crazy creative, but I like them and plan to expand on the wide angle portrait technique.


Traditional portrait guidelines call for a camera with a focal length around 85mm (in 35mm format). Wide angle lenses are generally not used since distortions in the face can be considered unflattering. I found the 21mm GRD lens just awesome for portraits. The advantage is, with a few movements forward or backward and left or right, you can control which parts of your body are slightly distorted, made larger or small due to the distortions inherent in the lens. This means you can easily modify the subject of your portraits by making parts of the body larger or smaller, distorted or normal. Positioning various parts of your subject in the distorted range of the lens can dramatically increase how the subject is communicated to the viewer of the images.

I had an awesome time shooting with the Ricoh GRD and off-camera flash for the exposure. The wide angle 21mm lens gives the brave photographer a number of creative opportunities to portray your subject in ways not possible with traditional mid-telephoto lenses. The compact size of the GRD means you can set up anywhere, and break the myth that flash and small compact cameras doesn’t work.

If you found this information helpful and would like to experiment for yourself, check out Strobist for lighting info with off-camera flashes.

3 thoughts on “Ricoh GRD – Tokyo Strobist and Shoestring Lighting

  1. Erica says:

    You and your heavy luggage. Your hallmates must love you!

  2. Mark says:

    Hey, when you travel you want to be ready for any situation. With me that includes everything from going out to staying in, climbing a mountain, doing a photo shoot, or chilling with a coffee and my journal. It was better than Bolivia, remember my two large North Face duffel bags plus hard camera case plus backpack. I think I’ve improved quite a bit since that trip.

    The hall is actually in my room, so there’s no crazy flashes keeping the others awake.

  3. Andrew says:

    Seeing this post made me so happy. I recently bought a speedlite from a local camera shop to use with my Ricoh GRD3. I'm thinking of buying a cheap Yongnuo and diffuser and attaching it to my GRD3 via hotshoe cable. It ought to be fun to shoot with (and a brilliant spectacle) at parties

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