Extra Light

Time to start lighting things in the cool strobist off camera flash way?

The first thing in the list- light itself. After reading loads of babble on the internet, I figured that the reasonable thing to do here is to go for SB-800 (nowadays being replaced by it's big cool bro SB-900). Worse case I could use it on my D70s with all the iTTL functions from Nikon, best case it is so flexible and light that I would not mind carrying it around in the back pack all the time.

So, the baby arrived. Powered it up with four Energizer 2500mAh rechargeables. While the batteries are still rather new they last for about 300-400 shots, depending on how much output is needed. Setting it up as a remote wireles flash is no big deal and does not need to cost you anything extra. Use the built-in camera flash to trigger it. For D70s the settings are:

flash:set to remote slave/channel 3/group A
camera:CSM Menu/19 Flash Mode/Commander Mode/TTL or manual (depends on your taste)

I have no idea about other camera (like D90, D300, D700 etc.) settings, but you surely can use the off-camera flash in this manner with all Nikons that are above D70 except for the pro cameras that have no built-in flash that is used as a trigger.

There are two really annoying things about this way of triggering your remote flash.

First, if you use it in bright daylight it might not fire. Which is quite frustrating and makes you loose some shots that could've been really good... Also while working outside you have to make sure that the flash sensor 'eye' is facing the camera, otherwise it will most probably not fire even on a cloudy day.

Indoors this setup would be great, because one way or another the light form on camera flash bounces from all the walls and hits the sensor. Inside ambient light is usually not so bright to interfere with this process too. But there still is the second downside to using this setup and it is catchlight from the on camera flash... Gahhh... It's always there in peoples eyes. Waste time with Photoshop? No thanks! So I ended up covering it with my hand. Imagine preparing the shot, adjusting the camera and then quickly covering the flash to hide the catchlights... And then the same thing again... And still having to keep in mind that there is that damn light sensor on the other flash if you're outside... That was more than enough for me.

Radio triggers it is! Again lots of time browsing. Pocket Wizard seems to be called the industry standard. I bet there is a darn good reason for that (reliability is the one named most). But one transceiver costs 1/3 more that Elinchromes Skyport transmitter and receiver put together (at least in Sweden)! So the choice was kinda easy :)

Got the whole Skyport Universal Set and it looked really good, all kinds of cables in it- apparently all I would ever need. Well no! There is no PC-mono cable included and that one is the one you need to connect the receiver to SB-800. Ghhh... One horrible evening of sitting around toys and not being able to play with them, then quickly back to the shop day after.

So in the end, here is how the whole setup looks like (picture taken under tungsten/daylight mix with a mobile phone...:) )

Plug the cable into your flash and receiver, set the flash to manual and adjust the power/zoom. Put the transmiter into hotshoe of your camera and you're good to go (channel/group settings for triggers are in the manual; read it; the default works too). The flash will be triggered every time you press the shutter release button. If you want to change to the rear/front sync just do it the same way as you would for the built in flash.

With Elinchrome radio triggers life became much easier. No worries about where your flash is as long as it lights the things you need in the way you need it. I have not tried testing at how far distance it would still be reliable, but I have not had the real need for it so far and as for the distances I work at, EL-Skyport does it's job like a charm.

If you found some comments about their antennas and the fact that they seem flimsy, those are true. But it stopped bothering me now and even thought both transmitter and receiver are in my backpack all the time, I did not manage to brake them yet.

Otherwise they do their job perfectly and as expected. The only times I had the flash not fire were when it wasn't recycled yet... Nothing to do with the triggers.

All in all there is possibility to buy cheaper stuff (3rd party flash, eBay triggers and others that naturally lose quality with price...), but if you are looking into the above gadgets and wonder if they work together- yes they do. And yes, it is worth getting that flash off your camera!


Lighting J in Berlin

Jörgen is a good fella. We work together as geeks. While doing some work in Berlin this summer we could not miss our chance to create his portrait, showing his huge interest in history. Where else if not Berlin?..

So, we picked the biggest site of them all. At the time we arrived the sun was all the way up. Seemed quite boring. Managed to talk the guys to grab a beer while we wait for some better backlight. Could not wait long enough, but you can already see the sun shining through the back of the gate.

Trusty old VAL David was holding a bare SB-800 to the left of the camera, a bit above J's eye level. The flash was triggered by on-camera flash of D70s. I sinned and did not note the settings, but those don't really matter too much. The background was underexposed by a few stops and J got blasted with correct amount of light, making him stand out in the picture, having the bright light of the future in front of him, with knowledge of history behind :)

Good luck with the timing again. The place was crowded and we managed to squeeze a shot when there were no people in the frame, except for one lady with baby right under his left arm. Was easy to remove her with The Gimp. Otherwise there was no hard PP done on the image, slight adjustments for the clouds that got a tad burned even with under exposure and that's it.

Triggering off camera flash with the small built-in of D70s might be unreliable sometimes, especially when it's really bright outside. But more on this issue in the future!


Main sources of education

Here is the main batch of links for ya. I've learned a lot from these guys. There is a lot of stuff to read, but most of it is worth it!

The main dude- Joe McNally and his blog. What he does amazes me all the time. Good source of inspiration. And he finds really neat ways of using Nikon (and other) lights. And the amount of them in some cases! Respect!

Legendary strobist.com. Read him. Do your best and use the tips in real life. Worth it 100%.

Chase Jarvis. The new star in my horizon.

Not too long ago came across Planet Neil. Good stuff on using minimal amount of artificial lights.

The above ones can be visited daily... A guy has to have his heroes... :)
Dave Black updates his page monthly. Very god pictures with all tech details you need.

These next two... ammm... Remember the "read with grain of salt" thing? Well, go to your shop and get a new bag of salt.

Lighting Technique Forum (and others) on dpreview.com. Loads of BS as in most forums, but if you have some time to waste, you might find some nice stuff there.

And the all time web photo contraversy Ken Rockwell. If you need aditional info on your Nikon (and nowadays he reviews Canon too) gear, you'll find it on his website, but don't forget the salt you bought the other day... Cz you might end up reading some rant about what a waste of time TV is :)



Well, this whole blog idea is the big news for today... Really feel that I need some place to share some thoughts and "give back" to the comunity.

Most of what I've learned so far photography wise is coming from all the great people posting their thoughts on the internet. Check the "Links" category to get some hints on websites worth visiting.

The "giving back" thing... It's Chase Jarvis that started this mess for me...

Will try to write down all the goods I come across or learn on my way to becoming a better photographer. Hope this will help at least someone looking for info and trying to understand the complexity of simple light.

Don't know if it's worth reading? The answer for myself was always in the pictures created by the babbler. Look at my photos on mgrigas.com and make up your own mind if this blog is worth your time.

Keep reading, enjoy!