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.

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.

Photography interview with Deepika Hatton

An online interview with Deepika Hatton currently her final year at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland, Australia. It was part of an investigation into Creative Industries for a case study. The case study is intended to provide aclearer understanding into the photography industry and what it takes to break into this field of work.
1) What education did you take before getting into this industry?

None.

2) What did you do to find work in the industry?

I printed business cards, I watermark my photos often. I do good work and then people recommend me to others.

3) pre requisites for the career : Passion, dedication, equipment, time management?

passion I think. If you don’t love photography, you won’t be putting your effort into being the best you can be and being creative. Patience is needed to cope with the times when nothing seems to be working out for a while. Of course for sports, concerts, etc. certain equipment will get you highly printable photos and a higher success rate of sharper photos (given movement of the subject). But you still need to understand your equipment and have an instinct for moments and timing. If you are doing something in easier conditions, such as a daylight model shoot, or a party or a landscape, you can get professional results with entry level equipment if you know how to use it really well.

Planning is important to avoid double booking events and to make sure there is enough time to edit and send photos on a deadline.

4) day to day activities and monthly activities that occur?

I like to go out and take photos for fun of things around me. I get asked to a lot of events/parties, at least one a month I would say. Every couple of weeks I do a model shoot and I used to go to concerts a lot.

5) After graduating University/ Colledge did you find it esasy to get a job yes or no? and why?

I am still studying Marketing at my university so I am not into photography fully. It is easy to get work as a photographer, but typically in parties and not in specialised areas.

6) What advice would you give to someone starting up a portfolio : online, facebook, hardcopy? and what makes a good portoflio and why?

It should be short – www.michael.currin.co.za my DeviantArt portfolio limits to 4 galleries with about 18 pictures each. I only put my best photos on there and I update every few months. If you want to post hundreds of photos from events etc., put them on your personal Facebook page, photography FB page, or on a blog.

7) Whats the biggest learning experience you have faced / dealt with in this industry example: travelling, money, changing jobs?

Working with people is very difficult. It’s easier to do jobs or photos for fun which don’t require a team of make-up, stylists etc. but sometimes you need them and have to work around when they are late or they are busy that day.

8) Do you take on interns / trainees? if so, what jobs are they given?

I have occasional requests for someone to be my apprentice, though I can’t take on everyone and it would be unfair to choose only one. So I have a few friends who ask for advice online or in person, also sometimes I go on a daytrip with to teach them about their camera on an interesting location.

9) How long have you been a phographer for / where did you first start out?

I got my first camera at the end of 2007 but I have only been taking it seriously since I upgrade to a semi-professional quality camera at the start of 2010.

10) Do you think the photography industry is dying out because of amature photographers? yes or no and why?

I like how information and equipment is a lot more freely available because their are so many people demanding it as customers and businesses are providing it. I have at least 10 photography books and I know of several camera stores in my area.

However I have heard that professionals find it more difficult to get work then there are so many amateurs who are increasing their skills and sometimes getting great results with budget equipment. I think this will mean professionals have to work harder to be seen as the best and very creative. No one says it is easy to make money in photography (except if you are brilliant at weddings or something, but that takes years), so if professionals can’t make it then they might have to have a second job to keep someselves going.

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

Nikon
D3100 (entry level)
D5100
D7000 (semi-pro. replaces older D90)

Canon
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

 

Interview for Rands & Sense magazine

For the Rands & Sense magazine of 2011, I was interviewed by Stephanie Craig of the Commerce Students Council (University of Cape Town) about my photography experience.

Knysna harbour

Knynsa harbour large version

1) How did you get started with photography?

I worked with Sony compact cameras since 2008. I decided around the start of 2010 to upgrade to a bigger DSLR to take photos of dark situations like live bands. After a few months, I began taking photos for Big Concerts of bands backstage and I got to do my first fashion shoot. I started to get a lot of requests to cover events and parties and did a few band shoots with local bands like Captain Stu. My involvement in journalism came towards the end of 2010, when I joined the Varsity newspaper, UCT Thursdays and the Ikey Rugby magazine.

2) Who taught you to take photos professionally?

I am self-taught, as are many professionals. When I am stuck, I read online lessons or the manuals. When I need inspiration, I look at other artists on website DeviantArt. I like to tell people that I think I get bit better with each photo and I take a lotof photos, so that adds up to plenty of experience in all kinds of situations.

3) What are your future plans? Is this just a hobby or are you going to turn it into a career?

I am studying Marketing at UCT and finish in 2012, so I still have time to decide. Photography is very competitive since there are many people trying to get known and be successful. Photography is my way of having fun and meeting people. I’d rather not turn it into a career, since I would end up choosing the assingments that pay the most (like weddings) rather than what I want to do.

4) Who would you say is the guy behind the lens?

I develop myself as I discover how the industry works. I strive to be an excellent photographer by visualising scenes before they happen while at the same time always being open to spontaneous moments, spectular shapes, unusual angles and beautiful lighting. I spend time learning how to market myself and how to co-operate and network with people. When doing band or model shoots, I find it is very important to direct the subjects politely and make them feel confident and comfortable. Forced expressions and poses tend to look unnatural – the best pose is often during the transition between poses, when I will say “Stop, hold that pose! Please.”

5). Why do you like photography? What attracts you to it?

I spend a lot of time working on pictures that may never get viewed much, but I do it to improve myself and to relax. When I have my camera with me at an event or party, I enjoy seeing the reactions of friends and strangers… when they see a photo that carries a lot of feeling or beauty, or when they laugh at photos I took of them and their friends.
Photography is also my escape. In Knysna over the mid-year vac, I went off by myself the one day to spend a couple of hours in the afternoon and again at sunset taking photos of boats in the harbour.

6) What is your favourite thing to photograph?

I get the most satisfaction from taking photos within in a challenging genre. Bands were my favourite for a long time, now my favourite thing to do is organise model portfolio shoots at beautiful locations such as a forest, field or train station.

Studio shoot

Studio shoot

7) What inspires you?

I don’t learn the names of famous photographers, but I feel inspired by certain unique or emotional styles of photography. I disect their technique and I apply to my own work such that I aborb as part of my style, then I take it further with my creative.
I try to assess the techniques and ideas used in music videos and films, so that I can incorporate into my own style to create something suitably epic.

8) What’s the worst part about being a photographer?

It’s very easy to get stressed by deadlines and when my photos are in demand, and sometimes feeling lost when I don’t know why or for who I am taking photos for. To cope, I try to focus on the things that make me happy and that keep me inspired.

9) What’s your biggest achievement to date with photography?

Getting to be the regular photographer for Big Concerts for over year is definitely the best thing that has happened. I get to take live and backstage photos of most of the bands that come from overseas to play at GrandWest to huge crowds.

10). What has been the best/worst/funniest thing you have shot?

Earlier this year, I took an action photo of a guy stage-diving into the crowd at the Mercury – with his pants around his legs.

11) What events did you photograph on campus that stood out for you?

Memorable events include seeing the RainbowUCT march, the DA talk in a lecture theatre before elections and RAG beach day which meant inflatable pools on Jammie Plaza.

12) Can people hire you or are you merely doing this for fun?

Most of the paid gigs I get are doing events like formals and birthdays, with the occasional band shoot on location around Cape Town. I enjoy doing portfolio shoots, but I prefer to work with experienced models rather than someone who is doing their first shoot.

13) What are your contact details? Where can people view your work?

My online gallery can be seen at www.michael.currin.co.za and my e-mail address is there.

14) Any advice to people just starting up with photography?

Learn your camera inside and out as well as the basics of photography. Once you know how to get things like the correct exposure, technically good and a sharp picture, look for appropriate times to be creative and go against those rules. Choose a striking composition or choose something unexpected to focus on and your pictures can stand out from everyone else to photographed the same thing.