Monday, June 30, 2008

The Pop-Up Flash Is Evil, Or Is It?

The portrait at left was lit entirely with a pop-up flash! O.K. not really, but it was the most important piece of the puzzle. For those of us using bodies with a pop-up flash I would hazard to guess that 99.99% of us set the pop-up to "--" and never look back. Why do we do that? We were taught that 1)the pop-up flash is a worthless underpowered auto mode users crutch and 2) on camera flash is to be avoided like the plague. So what happens when you run out of remote flash units? Most of us do not own an unlimited supply of speedlights. I would dare guess that most readers own an average of 2 speedlights. Because let's face it they are not the cheapest things in the world of photography.

Let's take a look at the picture. The first thing is to notice that I shot at 1/200 at f/8 in order to bring down the ambient daylight in order to get the nice blue sky (Saturation was bumped a bit in post). So as we know that leaves us with a mostly dark subject. The main light is coming from camera right, in front of the subject and just a little higher, from a SB600 on 1/8 with no modifiers. The fill is camera left slightly behind the subject via unmodified SB600 at 1/16. So here is the problem. I only owned two SB600s at the time, and while the subject was mostly lit the bottom of his boot and the front chrome were way under exposed. What to do?

Now you see it, huh? I set the pop-up flash on my D80 which was commanding the two SB600s to manual at 1/16. I couldn't even tell you how low of a power that actually is. I mean think your pop-up flash has a GN of something like 30. So 1/16 is pretty weak, but it works perfect here. It lit the bottom of the boot showing the tough tread and Harley logo. It also had the added effect of putting some catch lights on that nice polished chrome!

A theme which I will be repeating not just in this blog, but in the group discussions as well: "Know how to use all of your tools."

When your back is against the wall you will know where to reach.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Semi-auto TTL mode

I argue, and push, and reiterate at least 10 times per week to others that CLS does not mean TTL. It is not a set it and forget it system unless you make it that way. You have to use the best tool you have. The one on your neck.

To folks who are new to the world of flash and off camera flash the thought of having to figure out flash power, f/stops, and just how the crap does one balance flash with the ambient are all overwhelming thoughts. Ah, then here comes CLS with promises of TTL so we don't have to think. So bang set it to remote, point it at the subject and you let the camera take over. And less then desired results ensue, much like a lot of auto modes. So how do we get folks who are shooting full bore TTL to take the first steps to learning how to control their light? Enter the friendly variables of EV Comp and the TTL settings in your commander menu.

So let's take a look at the above image of my lovely wife who will kill me when she sees this on the net. This was shot on a relatively bright beach later in the day heading into sunset. I set my camera to A (aperture priority) to let the camera figure out my exposure. Let me add here I generally have Auto ISO set to OFF. I set the metering mode to matrix. This is an important step. If I had been set to spot or center the camera would expose for my wife's nice midtone shirt. The result would be a blown out sky. So I took a test shot. The camera was still trying to expose somewhat for my wife resulting in a slightly blown out sky. I dial in -1.3 EV comp simply by pressing the +/- button and turning the dial. The result was a dark beach, dark wife, and a nicely rendered sky. With my ambient set to where I like we can now deal with lighting the subject. I had one SB600, no modifiers, no gels set to remote group A channel 1 hand held camera left. I set my D80's pop-up flash to commander mode. In the commander menu I set my pop-up flash to not contribute by setting the mode to the two dash mark "--". I then set group A to TTL. The next setting was to set the TTL compensation. This is important because setting the EV Comp to -1.3 overrides flash power settings. If I left TTL with the compensation set to 0 in the commander menu the result would be an underexposed subject. That's just the way Nikon did it, accept it, live with it, embrace it, curse it only in secret away from your camera. So I set the TTL compensation to the inverse which is +1.3. Result, properly lit subject. The last step in this picture was to zoom the flash head in some. I don't remember exactly but it was some where around 50mm probably. Why? Well I did not want her legs to be lit which keeps your attention on her face. Control your light!

This is not as complicated nor is it time consuming to set up. And the beauty of it is the flexibility it gives us. If I had been shooting portraits on this beach or models I would be changing my flash power, aperture, and shutter speed trying to keep everything in check. With this type of setup I could have shot for 30-45 minutes under ever changing lighting conditions without ever touching a setting, and just focusing on my subject and composition. So long as I wanted this type of look. I know the die hard full manual folks will still not want to do this, and that is fine. Just remember it is one more tool. Even the most experienced shooters using this system over full manual could squeeze a few more frames out during the shoot. And to everyone shooting TTL scared of the manual world. Look at this as a stepping stone towards learning how to control your light, and make it work for you. Take the concept, extrapolate, and repeat.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Easy Creative Shots

I think we all are looking for something that ads a little style and creativity to our work. Sometimes we forget the tools which we actual hold in our hands. Take the case of when your flash fires. Who....what you say? Well I think most people keep their flash firing when the shutter release is first pressed, and to be more specific when the shutter first opens or first curtain sync. So why not change it up a little bit? Just hold down your flash button, rotate that command dial until it says "rear". The results are at the left simply shot with an on board SB800 with the diffuser cap on and pointed at the ceiling.

So what is really going on here? Well, obviously there is some motion blur but why? well we are mainly exposing the available ambient light and creating the blur. The flash then fires just before the shutter closes. This freezes the subject in the last spot creating a sharp image of the subject with the motion blur. You can go over board, over expose the ambient and just end up with a big bright mess of blur!

You want to see what a portrait of a stationary subject is like with rear sync? Check out Joe McNally's Blog for a pretty creative environmental portrait. How do we know Joe was using rear sync? He says in the post
The shutter was dragging pretty good for the ambient backlight, but she stays sharp cause the strobe dominates the foreground.
Plus if you read his book you know he pretty much leaves his camera on rear sync!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Start Of Something New

Welcome to the start of the new Nikon CLS blog on I hope that this blog will be a gateway into the world of Nikon's Creative Lighting System. I will be bringing you the basics, how-to's, tips, tricks, and things I fine interesting on a daily basis. Over the next few weeks I will be constructing the pieces of this blog to provide quick links to the information you are looking for. It will start with equipment descriptions and journey into basic usage. Hopefully along the way I will be able to bring you some videos of actually using CLS gear ranging from how do I turn it on to getting into remote mode menus. This way everyone from the newest newbie on has the same base to work from. From there I hope the videos progress into how to get the most from your CLS strobes. I'm excited and I hope you are too as we build the internet's premier CLS usage blog.