Off-Camera Flash; Create Directional Light With A Simple Setup Page 2

The system goes way beyond just getting exposures right in TTL. It allows you to vary or compensate the flash output in up to three groups. Let’s say you have a three-light setup: one as a main, one as an accent, and one as a background. You have all the lights in Group A. You look at the image and decide the background light is too bright. No problem, just put that light in Group B (on the flash and on the camera or Commander unit), dial in -1, and the flash power will be cut down, all from the camera. There are even four different channels you can choose from in case you are working in an area like a sporting event where there might be several photographers using Nikon units and you don’t want to be firing each other’s units, always an awkward moment.

Here’s one of the images from the car shoot featuring Stefanie Heitz. All units on auto TTL except one in car which is not visible in this image, set on its own channel at -2. (Nikon D300, Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens set on 72mm, f/6.3 at 1⁄125 sec, ISO 400.)

How has all this changed the lighting game? Wedding photographers are using multiple off-camera flashes to create dramatic wedding day photos. By combining high-speed sync with the CLS, you can take amazing images outdoors by using the flash as the main light and shooting at f/4 for looks you’ve never seen before. Newspaper photographers and photojournalists can quickly create dramatic lighting on the fly. For me, it’s meant eliminating the need to lug large units on location.

(Top): Here’s our location in daylight. Pretty blah. We’ve got light on the model but it’s flat, front lit, and there is no dimension to it. (Model: Stefanie Heitz.) (Above): Things look a little different here! We’ve got a Nikon SB-900 mounted on my Nikon D300 as the Master unit. The unit here is used as a Commander and not as a light source. There’s an SB-800 to camera left as the main light, an SB-800 on a stand in the background angled to light the wall, and another SB-800 on a stand behind her to separate her from the background. All units are on TTL. The flash lighting the wall was put in Group B and set to -1 so it wouldn’t be too bright. The other lights were in Group A with no compensation. The Master and Remote must be set to the same channel to communicate with each other. You can then make adjustments to each group from the camera by placing different units in different groups. Amazing! (Nikon D300, Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens, f/5.6 at 1⁄60 sec, ISO 400.)

So, if you’ve only been using your shoe-mount flash unit, I suggest you take these advanced rigs out for a spin. They offer amazing versatility and sophisticated features that just a few years ago would have been unthinkable. For most images, you’ll find that what you can have built-in will elevate your flash photos from mundane to exciting.

Take a look at some of the shots I’ve made recently using the off-camera setups to see just what I mean.

This image shows the dreary day we were working in along with some of my fellow photographers. The person to the far left is skimming flash light across the car. There is a flash inside the car and another behind the model that you can’t see. The person to the left is holding the main light flash; the person to the right is aiming flash to accent the dress. An SB-900 unit is being used as the Master unit on-camera with no flash (Commander mode only). That’s a total of six flash units!

For more information on the Nikon equipment used in this article, visit

Steve Bedell has been a portrait photographer for over 25 years. To subscribe to EPhoto, a free e-mail newsletter with tips for photographers, contact Bedell via e-mail at: Also ask about his lighting DVDs.