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).

SINGLE REMOTRE FLASH SETUP

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.

MASTER AND REMOTE FLASH SETUP

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.

CONTROLLING TWO EXTERNAL FLASHES MANUALLY

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.

NOTE ON SYNC SPEED

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.

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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.

Lightroom 3 lesson – lesser known tips

Black and white filter

Below is a photo taken at a club with flash and a long exposure, close to a second. When you choose Black and White in the top right near Basic develop settings, a filter is applied based on the strength of certain colours in the photo. In this situation, a straight colour conversion to -100 saturation seems to darken or hide the blue ambient light, while the auto B&W filter brightens the blue/purple channel.

Colour, saturation zero.

Colour, saturation -100 (or Black & White with filter zeroed).

Black & White with filter on auto.

Another way to change the brightness of certain areas is to leave saturation at -100 and then change the white balance. Skin tones become dark and unnatural at cold white balance settings. For photos of a band on stage, changing the white balance in black and white can even seem to change the direction of the lighting, such as having red lights from the left brightened and blue lights from the right darkened at a warm white balance, then the opposite at a cool white balance.

Shortcuts

  • Press F twice for full screen view.
  • Control + Tab to hide or show side bars.
  • Press J to show clipping.
  • Right click on the background past the edges of a photo and change the colour from white through black. I leave it on black with pinstripes.
  • Control + Shift + Alt + E: exports the selected photo(s) with the same settings (size, folder, output sharpening etc.) as the previous export.
  • Confirm cropping by pressing Enter on the keyboard. instead of clicking Done.
  • Press X to rotate the cropping outline by 90 degrees.
  • Press O to cycle through overlay modes. The default is the a big grid. The rule of thirds is very useful and there is a variation on the rule of thirds which can centre and strengthen compositions. The Golden Spiral is also great and I find it often more suitable when cropping 4:3 rather than 3:2 ratios.
  • Press Shift O to rotate the overlay (there are many ways to display the Golden Spiral.

If you have tagged a photo, cropped it and edited it, then the picture and the bottom will look something like this, which each icon indicating the step was performed.

The bar at the bottom of the screen

If you are in Develop mode and click on the tag icon, you will be taken to Libary view and the tag section. Similarly, clicking the +/- button will take you back to Develop mode and the middle one goes to crop view.

A full list of keyboard shortcuts is viewable on the Lightroom 3 help website here.

Check out the lesson I wrote for automating lens corrections on import: here.

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.

Concert Photography Tips – DSLR settings

You can see a growing of many list of concerts I have taken photos at, mostly small dimly lit clubs and couple of large stages in Cape Town, South Africa. I took the photos in this article with a D90 and a Nikon 18-105mm kit lens or a  Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8, edited in Lightroom.

Dim stage with a slow kit lens

LA Cobra - 18mm, 1/80, f/3.5, ISO2000

A kit lens that comes with the camera will typically say f/3.5-5.6 which is considered “slow” as you have to use longer exposures (meaning blur) or higher ISOs (meaning noise) to achieve as much light as a higher quality low-light lens (read on for that).

  • Aperture: 3.5 is the best at a wide angle, your lens will be forced to f/4, f/5, f/5.6 or f/6.3 as you zoom. So for bright photos, stand closer, zoom less and crop more on your computer.
  • Exposure: 1/125, 1/100, 1/80 or even 1/60 if you already have a high ISO and have something to lean on to stablilise yourself, you have a VR or IS lens,  or the band is standing fairly still.
  • ISO settings: Turn AUTO ISO Off so that it stays at a value you fix. I prefer ISO 800, I use 1600 at some venues and if its really dark I use 2000 or 3200. Those last two mean you should probably turn the camera’s noise reduction to High, or leave it off and use higher values in Lightroom 3 etc.
  • Mode: Manual

Dim stage with a low-light lens

Stonecollar - 24mm, 1/100, f/2.8, ISO800

  • Aperture: A zoom lens with f/2.8 on it will stay wide open at that aperture throughout the zoom range so that you don’t lose brightness as you zoom. Even better can be a prime lens such as 50mm f/1.8 or 30mm f/1.4.
  • Exposure: 1/160, 1/125, 1/100 or even 1/80
  • ISO settings: Usually 400 or 800, sometimes having to resort to 1600 or 3200 at some venues but still achieving professional and fairly noise free photos.
  • Mode: Manual, or Aperture priority with an EV of say -3.

Bright stage, any lens

Wishbone Ash - 42mm, 1/400, f/3.5, ISO400

  • Aperture: you can probably afford to use values like f/4 and f/5.6, or like f/8 and f/11 if the lighting is shining right at you, which will also give a starburst effect. These settings allow use to get more of the musicians in focus (wider depth of field) while also reaching your lens’s “sweet-spot” for sharpness usually two stops above the widest. e.g. on a f/2.8 lens the sweet spot is f/5.6, on f/3.5 it’s f/8
  • Exposure: you can probably use 1/200, 1/320  or 1/500 which will freeze musicians and their hair as they jump about the stage.
  • ISO: If the lighting is pretty constant, set AUTO ISO ON with values from 200 to 800 and set a value for  Exposure Value (EV) compensation at like -3 or -2. The ISO will change based on if you are aiming at a light or dark part of the stage. If the the lighting is changing every second so that your camera always gets the photo brightness way off,  you are better off setting ISO yourself (AUTO ISO OFF) and using Manual mode.
  • Mode: Manual, Program, Aperture Priority (e.g. f/2.8 for narrow depth of field), Shutter Priority (e.g. 100 for wider DOF or 200 for freezing action).

Small stage with flash

Heldervue with mixed remote flash (from below) and stage lighting - 24mm, 1/60, f/2.8, ISO500

I have only used my new flash (SB-600) so far at once concert and it was a dark venue with lights aimed at the guitars rather than musicians’ faces. But my flash was capable of lighting up the stage well, or the whole crowd when I aimed it over their heads.

I like to use handheld off-camera flash (remote) and bounce it off the low ceiling (works well even though its black).

I use the built-in diffuser camera most of the time since I am close to or on the edge of the stage.

The point of flash is to get sharp pictures (little or no blur) even in dimly lit enviroments, as well as using it creatively. An advatange is that you can use lower ISO values such as 200 to reduce noise, but even at 400 or 800 (which makes the flash seem to reach further) I had no problems of noise in the bright or shadowy areas. I used JPG and Normal Noise Reduction – when not using flash, I highly recommend using the RAW format unless you hate post-processing which involves touching up your photos without losing image quality.

So I suggest…

  • Aperture: f/2.8 or f/3.5 for narrow depth of field effect. This makes photos look more professional if the focus is right and the wider value will also mean brigther photos especially shooting musicians at a distance. Use f/4, f/5.6 or f/8 if you are close the musicians and you want more of them to be in focus (face as well as guitar, or guitarist and bassist).
  • Exposure: Using 1/60 (default in program mode) will let it a decent amount of ambient stage lighting but might get ghosting and blur on strumming hands. You can use a shorter value in Shutter Priority or Manual Mode, or set flash on Rear Curtain sync on the camera.
  • ISO settings: 200 to 800 should be fine. If you leave AUTO ISO ON, you should probably set Exposure compensation (EV) on the camera. Also generally set Flash compensation (FV) on the camera or flash to a lower value so that the flash lasts longer or pictures are darkened.

Reburn's singer showing front curtain flash ghosting - 24mm (cropped photo), 1/60, f/2.8, ISO400

Turn High Speed Sync on and it will automatically kick in should you use shutter values shorter than say 1/250 of a second, but it’s not really necessary for concerts.

I like to be able to change quickly between flash and non-flash shots with as few buttons as possible. So I set my camera up as follows: External flash is on, camera in manual mode at 1/60 and whatever aperture I need. Auto ISO is ON with values 200 to 1600, but stays at 200 while the flash is on. I turn the flash unit off, ISO changes to 1600 (because the scene is dark) and I change exposure to something like 1/100 (2 turns of the dial) and aperture to f/2.8 if it wasn’t there already.

Depth of field

Black Market Riots - 65mm, 1/100, f/2.8, ISO250

If you are using a low light lens (f/2.8 or faster), then depth of field will be much smaller (less in focus). This is great for artistic reasons (see the photo above) but if you don’t want that effect all the time, use a value like f/3.5 or f/4 when lighting is bright during a certain song, stand further back,t use the wide rather than zoomed end of your lens. Set AF-area to Single or Dynamic rather than Auto, then you can use  AF point system in the viewfinder to aim at eyes and faces, usually on the musician closest to you. Focusing in Live View seems to be slower and less accurate in my experience but helps alot when used with Manual focus (set on both your lens and your camera body) if your camera struggles to find something to focus on.

 

A good lesson I found on choosing lenses for concerts. Choosing Lenses For Concert Photography

 

Band photography – how to not miss “the shot”

All photographers know what’s like to miss the perfect shot when it happens in an instant, so here I identify my own mistakes which you probably share, then I address them with solutions. I spend most of my time photographing local bands in Cape Town, South Africa, but some of this advice is also based on my experience in taking photos of sport and people too.

Watershed at Kirstenbosch, Cape Town

Be ready

As the action unfolds, you realise that your camera…

  1. is off
  2. is around your neck and not in your hands
  3. still has the lens cap on

Solutions

  1. If you know you have more than enough battery for the event, leave it on for a few seconds longer each time, or put in on in anticipation of the crucial moments.
  2. I can get tired holding my camera with a heavy zoom lens, but the least I can do is keep it around my neck while still holding it loosely with both hands.
  3. If I have a lens hood or filter on, I don’t mind leaving my lens cap off for a few minutes when I have nothing to shoot at the moment. Also I keep a lens cloth in my camera bag so I can wipe any dust or finger prints off straight away.

Planned shot of Just Jinjer's dreadlocks

 

Keep your eyes on the action

I have missed a few key shots on stage because I was too busy…

  1. checking the monitor to see if the previous shots came out alright.
  2. going through the last 10 shots to delete a few
  3. admiring the most recent shot, while something better happens.

Solutions:

  1. Wait for breaks in the action so you can review the image composition as well as settings. Choose Program, Aperture priority or Shutter speed priority, with EV compensation (like -4 or -5 on dark stages) and ISO limiting (e.g. 200-1600), then trust your camera for a while. If the light in unpredictable, or low, you’ll have to check image quality more frequently.
  2. I like to delete my bad photos on my camera as I find it more efficient than on my computer for a few reasons. But I try to avoid the decision-making of to delete or not, while the action is happening. In between bands is when I often take time out, to find my best shots so I can get more like that and to delete the bad ones.
  3. I know it’s tempting to look at a photo that you know turned out really well, but don’t let that take preference of taking another like it a few seconds later.

Focusing for mystery and interest

Stay in focus

With energetic events and moving objects, you might not get the right moment in perfectly focus because…

  1. autofocus let you down
  2. manual focus failed
  3. you got camera shake
  4. the depth of field is too narrow or misplaced
  5. you timed the shot wrong

Solutions

  1. autofocus let you down – If you choose the default version of autofocus mode, it will likely choose whatever object is biggest, brightest, or closest in the view. You can lock the focus and exposure with the AE-AF buttons or by half-pressing the shutter. More conveniently, I find when I want to keep the eyes and faces of people in focus, I set autofocus to the AF-point system. I then use the buttons to move the point around so that the face is in the top third of my photo, whether in portrait or landscape mode.  Also note that Autofocus will be less accurate in low light, so I like setting the AF point to the person’s face (which reflects) rather than their clothes or the background (which are harder reference points). I find the dynamic “3D” autofocus mode great sport or moving objects – while keeping the shutter half-pressed between shots to keep it locked on. (e.g. I have 11 AF points on my viewfinder, but it works differently and less efficiently in Live View. Live View also focuses incredibly slow in low light, but in good light it’s worth using for the facial recognition if it’s turned on).
    I caught this moment with rapid shot
  2. you got camera shake – I read an article in a photography magazine reviewing the difference an IS or VR lens makes and that feature is definitely useful especially at shutter speeds like 1/60 or longer (though it uses batter faster, it’s worth it). Still, it helps to find something to lean on – a wall, a chair, railing – to get sharp shots. By looking through the viewfinder against your face, the camera will be more stable than holding the weight out at a distance when using Live View.
  3. the depth of field is too narrow or misplaced – Since you’re shooting in low light, you’ll get narrow depth of field from a f/2.8 or f/1.8 lens, or from zooming in a lot. This can look very dramatic, make sure the focal point is spot on such as having eyes and face in focus (sharpening with a mask on the computer can help for misplaced focus). What usually takes priority over that rule, is focusing on what is nearest to the camera (as in the guitar back shot above, but not in microphone cases such as below).
    Focusing on the microphone blurs and softens faces
  4. I have missed a few cool shots because I was too busy thinking, “wow I can’t believe he’s jumping that high” or that “the chameleon is really catching the fly”. I have to work on remembering to take the photo. To catch quick movements like that, rapid shot /drive mode work well, but it’s really important to autofocus before the thing happens the since half a second it takes to autofocus could mean you miss the moment.

Other suggestions

If you know your memory card is getting full or your battery is running low, change it early during a calm moment so that your camera won’t let you down in a crucial moment.

My equipment:

  • Nikon D90, 2 batteries and a 16GB memory card
  • Nikon 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens
  • Sigma 24-70m f/2.8 lens
  • Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens
  • Sony H20

All photos in this post were taken by me. See my band photography WordPress blog at michaelcurrinphotography.