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.

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.

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


How to choose your first DSLR camera

DSLR – Digital Single Lens Reflex

Some early cameras had to lenses, one to look through and one to take pictures. They are still around today. The reflex part is about having a mirror that flips or springs up when you take a photo, to expose the sensor. Compact cameras are usually mirrorless.

I can recommend dpreview.com as a start for looking at reviews.

Worldwide sales 41% Canon 40% Nikon. Nikon outsells Canon in Japan (they are both based in Japan). If you compare two models at the same price, picture quality and features are very similar and pros an cons even out . More Megapixels doesn’t make a better camera, just a new camera with bigger prints. Fast focusing and a fast burst rate (4 frames per second over 3 fames per second) would be better for sport. Consider the weight, feel and differences in features.

Personally I like Nikon for the bigger APS sensor (therefore less noise and more light) while Canons have a smaller APS-C sensor (slightly more zoomed in for sport etc) and although Canons are  known for HD video , newer Nikons have full HD video with autofocus. The high end Canon 5D II and 7D have full HD video but still lack autofocus.

I would suggest the new D3100 which is a slight upgrade to the D3000, so it will probably have improvements on the older Canon 1000d as well. If you have the budget or could wait to save more, I would reccommend a slightly more expensive camera like the Canon 450d or the Nikon D5000. Otherwise you could easily outgrow your entry level DSLR soon into its 3 or 4 year lifespan, and have a harder time getting good quality photos, especially if you start working as a photographer part time.

Instead of a getting a combo of 18-55mm and 55-200mm or something similar, I would also suggest a 18-105mm or a 18-135mm or even a 18-200mm lens. Those have a wide range so you don’t have to change lenses often.

Nikon and Canon both have large variety of inexpensive to professional lenses. Also in general it is a good idea to buy a Sigma or Tamron lens made for a Canon or Nikon, which is good quality but cheaper than a Canon or Nikon lens.

Read about the camera equipment on my other blog’s page: Michael Currin Photography – About.

Photography Facts

The first Kodak camera was unveiled in 1888 and Kodak was the first to invent a digital camera in 1976. (Armstrong & Kotler, Princples of Marketing, 2008)

Nikon was founded in 1917 as Nippon Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha which means Japan Optical Industries Corporation.

Canon was founded in Tokyo in 1937.

In 2007, DSLR sales worldwide were divided between Canon (41%), Nikon (40%), Olympus (6%) and Sony (6%). In Japan’s domestic market, Nikon had 43% and Canon 40%.

Although very difficult to measure in camera terms, the aperture of the human eye is about f/2 to f/8, with a focal length of around 24mm.