Wireless flash on Nikon DSLR – basic and advanced setup

You can use the SB-600, SB-800, or SB-900 as wireless flash, controlled through infrared (requires line of site of the sensor on the flash, or near a wall the signal can bounce off).


Switch the flash to remote (see the manual for the SB-600 menu).

Leave the default as group A. There can be multiple flashes in groups A, B and C. The purpose is you might want to set group B to +1EV to be twice as bright as group A.

Leave default as channel 1, of possible 4. I set to 3, so to not interfere with other photographers and their flashes.

On D7000 or D90

\Custom settings menu

\Flash settings

TTL is the default (refers to built-in flash or attached external flash).

Choose CMD (commander) mode.

Put group A as TTL and built-in flash as double dash — for off. Press OK button (pressing anything else to exit the menu doesn’t save the settings).
The built-in flash needs to be up for the wireless flash to work, since it acts as a pre-flash and does not appear in the photo.

Alternately, set group A remote to Manual. 1/1 is a good starting point, you can then figure “okay I am about one stop (1EV) too bright so I can go to 1/2 power, or move the flash further away, or set the aperture darker by one stop om f/4 to f/5.6.” Or that “1/1 power is too weak, so I must move the flash closer or double ISO from 200 to 400.
Again, press OK to save the change to power as 1/2 or 1/4 etc.

You can add an additional wireless flash to group A, B, so you have two wireless flashes triggered by the built-in flash.


In the above basic setup, the built-in flash of the camera can be a pre-flash, not in the photo. If it was On (as a strong/main or a as a weak/fill flash) then it would be the master while the wireless flash is the remote.

If you have two flashes, you can have the SB-900 or SB-800 as the master flash on the camera; plus SB-900, SB-800 or SB-600 as a remote flash. The advantage is that the master flash will not be limited by the sync speed of the camera (see end of article) and also you get to use the flash’s red AF light cross-hairs to focus in low light rather than the camera’s light bulb (which is obscured by the lens in the way). This cross-hair appears even when the external master flash is set to not fire with –.

Put the SB-900 or SB-800 in master mode. It does not matter whether the camera has been set to TTL or CMD mode, or what the numbers are in CMD – the settings on the master flash’s screen override this.

So on the flash’s menu, set the on-camera flash to TTL or — (off), or even MANUAL by using the Mode button. Press the top left button to go to the next line and set group A to TTL or MANUAL. The buttons of the menu take a while to get used to, so again, read the flashe’s manual if you are stuck.

How I use this set-up practical – I like to have the SB-900 on-screen menu as my master flash on TTL 0EV to balance with the the remote SB-600. Or maybe master as -1EV or -2EV, if I want it to fill in the remote main flash to light a group photo evenly . Or master flash off, if I want the harsher look of a lone remote flash.  I set the remote SB-600 to TTL 0EV. I sometimes to the diffuser dome on the SB-900 and a mini softbox on the SB-600.


When using my flashes for a portrait shoot rather than a party, I put one or both flashes on stands with umbrellas or get an assistant to hold one. In this controlled situation, I set the main remote flash on MANUAL as 1/1 power on the camera’s menu. Then I see what I need to do regarding ISO, aperture, flash distance from the model, and diffusion (losing about 1 to 2 stops when shooting with an umbrella). I prefer to use the flash at 1/8 or 1/4 power, so that it recycles quickly, my batteries don’t run flash quickly and the flash doesn’t overheat (the SB-900 has a thermometer warning come up and it stops working).

Once the main remote flash is set, I introduce the second remote at maybe 1/4 power as a fill.


Sync speed is the shortest possible shutter speed a camera can use with flash. For the D90 it is 1/200 (with Focal Plane FP high speed sync set on in the menu), D7000 1/320 (set as 320* in a menu for FP sync) and I believe it is 1/250 for D700 etc.

The built-in flash working alone means that the shutter can’t be set to 1/250 on the D90, even in shutter priority mode. In bright daylight, this means you aperture will be f/13 or similar – which means your small built-in flash will be very weak even lighting up something 2 metres away, and it also means you can’t do any artistic looks with the background blurred at f/2.8.

You can look up more details on high speed sync if you want, but it means that an external flash on your camera allows you to shoot as your camera’s limit (1/4000s on D90 and 1/8000 at D7000) by pulsing the light instead of doing a single burst (which is when the black bars appear from your shutter). This means you can shoot at apertures like f/2.8 with flash even in bright sunlight (since 1/200 f/2.8 would be severals stops too bright). The drawback is a loss of a few stops of flash power, depending on whether you are at 1/500, 1/1000, 1/4000 etc. If you can get the flash close to the subject, this is not really a problem.

If you put the built-in flash as a pre-flash as “–” with a remote on, you can use the remote flash with the FP sync option. If the built-in camera flash is on and you are shooting with remote flash again, you are limited to sync speed like 1/200. Anyway I don’t use the built-in flash as a or 3rd flash with my 2 wirelessflashes, since the quality of the light is still harsh and direct unless it’s used as a just noticeable weak fill.


Photo selection tips

I want to share some of my experiences in photo editing. Technically, editing photos has to do with choosing the best ones, not as in processing and adding effects. (A newspaper editor sifts through and selects content, rather than only fixing typos)

The first and the last photos of a sequence are usually the best

When I am taking a photo of unsual shapes such as a forest or broken buildings, my first shot is usually the best, since I usually capture the shapes I saw from that point of view which was the reason I lifted my camera to my eye. There may be some distracting or imperfect elements, but if these are not too obvious (or easy to crop out) then the photo is still a keeper. If the initial photo was good, it can be hard to walk away and come back and get the exact same striking composition and angle.

Unfortunately, my first photo of a sequence is often plagued with several issues.

  1. It may not have been in focus (autof focus was confused or you were just unlucky)
  2. blurred from handshake (urgency to take the photos), or have innappropriate aperture, or incorrectly exposed (due to sky or shadows).
  3. there may be a better angle (crouching) or spot (on a hill) which could produce a better image of the subject or scene.

Sometimes I want to refine the photo if I am not happy with it, or I want to take a few in case the focus or metering is a bit off. It helps to make gradual changes from one photo to the next to deal with issues, which means the final photos will be immensely better than the first few at the start (particularly if those first few had no clear subject or purpose).

There may be some distracting items (bit of sky at the top, white car in the background) which can be removed, I like refine the composition by stepping to the side, looking up slightly, removing distracting items or clutter.

I have a good memory and eye for detail, so I like to make a lot lot changes in one go, if the initial photo was disappointing in several respects. Such as choose a warmer white balance, change focusing to spot instead of auto, compensate EV down by 1 stop, turn VR on (it might have been off for tripod work) and maybe zoom in or stand closer.

Don’t delete photos on the back of your camera.

  • If you have the space on your memory card, you don’t have to delete photos. If you do delete something, it’s only saving you like 2 seconds when you choose to delete it on your computer rather (when you can retrieve from the recycle bin easily).
  • The standard preview is not sharp, unless you press the zoom in button (magnifying glass with a plus sign), which zooms in slightly. Also pictures look different in sharpness and maybe even composition or business, when comparing the small LCD to a computer monitor.
  • Colours are not reliable – my D90 has a magenta tint to the LCD and the D7000 has a green tint. This is noticeable when the D7000 photos seem a lot greener on the LCD than on a computer. And even when looking at the menus with the screen side by side of the two cameras, the D7000 is very green.

Over- or underexposure can be good

Don’t always disregard or delete a photo if it too dark or too brighter. Often a lot of detail can be recovered in processing a RAW file. They tend to capture more detail in the shadows than highlights, so if I want the sky and ground to be darker I will choose a photo that is underexposed by -0.3EV to or maybe -1EV, then brighten the ground will fill light or a gradient while keeping the sky a deep blue.

I like to use Lightroom3 for RAW processing by Adobe Camera RAW for Photoshop should be fine. I find that if photos of people are overexposed by 0.3EV or 0.6EV, you can decrease the Exposure value in the software and the colour will come back and the white shiny highlights on their face will disappear. Trying to correct for a whole stop (1EV) difference usually means the skin tones turn grey.

If a photo of people or a landscape is underexposed, increasing Exposiging in processing usually increases saturation (grass in the shadows becomes greener) and increased contrast. The contrast can be solved by decreasing Blacks value from 5 to say 3, or altering Contrast or Tone Curve.

Deliberately overexposing on your camera can work well for high key portraits on location or the studio. I find evening light or cloudy weather suitable for this, since the soft even lighting on the face suits balances with the naturally high contrast look of high key. The eyes and mouth have more emphasis, imperfections on the skin tend to disappear and the background goes light and dreamy.

ISO control tips for Nikon DSLRs

I have figured out two tips for making ISO adjustment easy on Nikon cameras. I have used this on D90 and D7000, I don’t know if it will work on others.

TIP 1: How to set ISO without pressing the ISO button

If helps to set the ISO with your right hand only if you need the other for focusing, supporting the lens, etc. So here is what you can do.

  1. Custom Setting Menu
  2. d Shooting/display
  3. d3 ISO display and adjustment
  4. select “Show ISO/easy ISO”

Now, if you are P or S mode, the aperture dial (scroller near the On switch) changes ISO. If you are in A mode, the shutter dial (thumb scroller) changes ISO.

TIP 2: How to switch to/from Auto-ISO quickly

Under My Menu, I have customised position 1 as “Auto ISO sensity control” and position 2 as “ISO sensitivity settings”.

That saves me having to go into the ordinary menu, but I wanted to do something even for efficient.

Press the Info button and go to “Assign Fn button”. Choose “Access top item in MY MENU”. Now, when you press the function button with your right hand 2nd finger, you will skip all menus and get an option on the screen to turn Auto-ISO On or Off. I find this invaluable when switching between high ISO ambient shots and flash (low ISO) photos.

LR3 Lesson – set the FB caption for photos, when you import them from your camera

Edit: In 2013, it seems this method no longer works for automatically captioning in Facebook.

When you upload photos to Facebook, is there an easy to set the captions of all them so your name, your link or the date is included? Yes there is and this lesson teaches you how to do just that, for existing photos in the Lightroom3 library photos. Then I show you how to set it up for future photos you import from your camera.

Below: the caption “Photo: http://www.michael.currin.co.za” is automatically replicated for all the photos when uploading to FB

screenshot from Facebook

Screenshot showing the link as caption in FB

To set caption that for all the photos in the folder (or your whole library if you want)

  • select the photos in grid view (Ctrl-A for all in folder)
  • the caption field will say <mixed> if some of the selected photos have different or missing captions
  • type a caption / choose a caption preset
  • you get this dialog.

(You could use Sync Metadata function instead.)

Now, when you export those photos as a JPGs from Lightroom3, the caption can be viewed in the EXIF data in a photoviewer or Windows Explorer. An especially useful part of setting the caption is that when you upload those exported photos to Facebook, the caption will be filled in already.

You could of course set the caption for a bunch of photos in Windows Explorer. But the advantage of Lightroom is you can apply your Caption Preset to photos automatically on import. When importing photos from your camera or hard drive, set the caption to your preset, as below.

Import dialog, bottom right

This will be applied to all the photos imported in this batch. It should hopefully become your default caption on each future import as well. It’s a good idea to save it as part of an Import Preset (below), which defaults to your last chosen Import Preset. This one below is for importing photos for my External hard drive (letter J). The develop setting includes a split toning I like to add to a lot of my photos.

Import dialog

Thanks for reading, let me know if the instructions are clear enough. Be sure to check out my other lessons on Lightroom and photography.

Slow shutter night landscapes

Here is my method for daytime landscapes which is also suited to long exposures of at night of cars.

  1. Focus on something a third into the scene preferably a point that is well lit and has good contrast, like a point on the road. You could try aim at the grass, but if the grass is in the dark in your photos then you camera will probably struggle and decide to focus to infinity. (regarding contrast if you try to focus on a plain white ceiling and you’ll find the camera has nothing of contrast to focus on, so focus on a light on the ceiling in that situation)
  2. Do trial exposures. No tripod necessary yet. Leave ISO on Auto and max of 3200 or higher is fine. Set your camera on Aperture priority at the brightest (f/3.5). Hold still, lean against something maybe and take a photo.You might get something like 1/8s or 3seconds, but the you will get an indication of exposure. If the camera sees a mostly dark sky, it will compensate by burning out the ground to bright highlights. If you have a street lamp in the middle of the photo, the camera could underexpose. Make adjustments to EV starting on 0, use positive numbers to brighten the photo and negative numbers to darken. Use hole numbers like +1, +2 and then refine further (+0.7, or +1.3 etc.). This process is easier with high ISOs and short exposures since you don’t have to wait 30 seconds to find out that your photo was 2 stops two bright.
  3. Set up focus settings. Focus on the point you want, set the switch on the camera (or lens) to Manual, put the camera on the tripod, to Vibration Reduction off (since not handheld anymore),
  4. Set exposure settings. set ISO on the lowest setting (such as ISO-200, and not on Auto) use Aperture priority at f/11 for maximum depth of field and lens sharpness.
  5. Set timer settings. Set the timer on (among single, burst, remote, timer settings). Go into the menu and set Timer to 2, 5 or 10 seconds (depending on wind and how low stable tripod takes to stop shaking once you push the shutter button). Set mirror-up delay in the menu to On. (exposure starts a second after the mirror inside flips up, to reduce vibration)
  6. Take a photo. The exposure will probably be 5 to 30 seconds. If you are really working in the dark or you are trying to get the stars in. Zoom in on the screen afterwards to check the sharpness.

Other tips:
Use manual white balance or choose one of the presets such as Tungsten for artifical lighting.
For the most flexiblity with adjusting brightness and white balance afterwards, take photos in RAW rather than JPG.

The reason for the aperture of f/11 other than having a long exposure, is that lenses are not their sharpest when wide open (f/3.5, f/5.6 etc.) and sharpness increases towards f/8, f/9 until a peak at f/11 is reached for most lenses. Then lenses suffer the diffraction effect as the aperture becomes a narrower circle. Image quality decreases from f/13 onwards and gets blurry at f/32.

If the scene is really dark and you need longer than 30 seconds at f/11 but the camera doesn’t go longer than 30 seconds, then rather set the aperture wider to f/5.6 or something. SLR cameras have a bulb setting where you hold the shutter down for as long as you want such as 5 minutes, but you would shake the camera unless you use a remote.

When editing in RAW, use fill light and lower contrast to make the black shadows not so dominating. Just don’t overdo it. Shadows make an image look solid and balanced, also grain and colour noise get bad when you brighten shadows too much.

First SLR?

I got a question from a friend about choosing a first DSLR camera. This is what I said.

Entry level cameras do lack features and more expensive cameras. But if you are looking at buying a cheaper camera and 2 or 3 lenses, or a more expensive one with only 1 lens, you’ll get more benefit out of more lenses.

For landscapes you’ll want an 18-55 (typical kit lens). About R1000.
landscapes and portraits 18-105mm R1500
portraits, sport, wildlife 55-200mm. R1800

Some of the Nikon cameras like the D90 or D7000 have a 18-105mm as a kit lens (of course you could buy a D3100 and instead of an 18-55mm, you could get camera body only and 18-105mm separately).

Also, if you want more freedom, the 18-200mm is a great range for about R3500. It’s a wide angle that zooms in over 10x, good for sport etc.

You can check prices on http://www.Orms.co.za as an indication
The latest range of cameras are as follows

D3100 (entry level)
D7000 (semi-pro. replaces older D90)

1100d (entry level)
600d (very similar to slightly older 550d)
60d (semi-pro, replaces 50d)

Those are in the R4000 to R13000 price range approximately, body only.

A similar article of advice I did for someone else How to Choose your First DSLR


Lightroom 3 lesson – The Golden Spiral

The golden spiral is a mathematical concept and is a composition tool. A lot of the time, if you compose a photo into thirds (intentionally or instintively or by accident), I think there is a good chance of finding a golden spiral in there somewhere, since the two concepts are closely related. This is explained here and here.

In crop view in Lightroom 3, press O to cycle through overlays other than the grid. Shift + O will rotate the spiral. It use it to make minor or major adjustments to cropping a photo. For me, the spiral often fits more neatly in the photo at 4:3 ratio rather than 3:2.

Beow are examples from my photos.

Uriah Heep 2010

Roger Goode 2011

Black Market Riots

college students - UCT Radio

college students