Copyright Robert Vanelli

After the 2010 Las Vegas Photoshop World, I was itching to try a with a few new concepts on lighting I learned from Zack Arias. A perfect opportunity fell into my lap when I received a call from my buddy Robert Wicker. He had an assignment for a Senior portrait. He asked if we could experiment with Nikon’s command mode and Nikon’s CLS (Creative Lighting System) with SB 800’s more efficiently. His goal was to use one, maybe two off camera flashes outside with very little set up. It was a simple request, but instead of simple, we wanted to see how far we could push these small flashes to get big results.

Using only the on-board pop-up flash, we triggered the SB 800’s that were as far away as 30 feet. We used a shoot through umbrella as the key light. In some cases, we used another SB 800 with a diffuser as a hair-light.

Keeping the SB 800’s in remote mode, we were able to adjust the power from the camera. This enabled each of us to to adjust the power of the flash independently from each other. We decided to use the main flash at 1/4 power. This conserved batteries and kept the light source a constant variable. A simpler solution; put the SB 800’s in TTL mode, but again we wanted to experiment.

Zack’s One Light Concept

Zack Arias touched on the traditional Exposure Triangle ; ISO, Shutter and Aperture. He added two more variables when dealing with lighting; Flash Power and Flash to subject distant. He explained how Shutter Speed controlsambient exposure, whereas Aperture controls flash exposure. Using this concept, we narrowed down the variables and decided which would stay constant.

If you haven’t had an opportunity to take one of Zack’s classes either at Photoshop World or his One Light tour, I strongly recommend it! After you see him in person, a follow up would be his DVD on One Light.

Camera Settings & Flash settings

For most shots, we started our settings with ISO at 200, flash power to 1/4 power, and shutter speed at 1/160. That left two variables, aperture and flash to subject distant. Once we set the light in place, we adjusted our aperture for the proper flash exposure. During the shoot, we adjusted one variable at a time. If we wanted the background darker and more saturated, we would increase shutter speed. If we wanted more or less light on the subject, we would either stop down or open the aperture. Each of us could increase or decrease flash power from our camera without effecting each other. Rarely did we have to do this, but the fact we could was pretty cool!

Understanding these variables made it easy for us to focus on composition and interaction with the model. Not thinking about our settings allowed us to become more creative.

Command Mode (Nikon D300s, D300, D200)

  1. First, turn on your camera.
  2. Enter the menu mode by pressing MENU
  3. Using the multi selector, navigate to the CUSTOM SETUP MENU (the “pencil” icon)
  4. Navigate to the Bracketing/Flash sub menu (e)
  5. Navigate to Flash cntrl for built-in-flash (e3)
  6. Scroll down to Commander mode
  7. Using the multi selector, change the mode on built-in-flash so “–” appears.
  8. Change the mode on Group A to M (manual) Comp to 1/4 (quarter power)
  9. Change Channel to 1 CH
  10. The pop up flash must be up to send the signal to the flash units

* Note: these settings must be the same as the Flash unit.

SB 800 set up in Remote mode

  1. First, turn on your flash.
  2. Enter the submenu by pressing and holding the “sel” button for a few seconds.
  3. Arrow right (the “single tree” button) to get the upper right square highlighted.
  4. Push the select button again.
  5. Scroll down (“-” button) until “REMOTE” is highlighted.
  6. Push “sel” again to select.
  7. Push and hold “sel” for a few seconds to get out of the submenu.
  8. Your flash will now say “REMOTE.”

Setting the Channels and Groups

  1. Pressing “sel” will toggle between Channel and Group.
  2. With the CH highlighted, pressing the top or bottom arrows (“+” or “-“) scrolls through the numbers 1-4.
  3. Push “sel” to select CH 1
  4. Do the same for GROUP, selecting A

Your flash should read CH 1 Remote Group A