Flash Photography

Shooting Portrait In A Dark (Night) Or Low Light Condition

It is comparatively easier to take portrait shot in bright day light than in dark or low light condition. Taking portrait shot in dark or low light condition is challenging because you have to adjust two lights while taking picture; one is ambient light and the other one is flash light. In daylight shooting, you don't have to worry much about flash light (except fill light) and you don't have to deal much with shadows and colors of different lights. But while shooting in dark, you have to be extra careful with presence of very few or no ambient light, different artificial colors (street lights or other artificial lights in the environment), colors of those lights, shadows etc. Taking portraits at night is difficult but fun as well. As I mentioned earlier, you have to understand how ambient light and flash work together. Ambient light is whatever light present in the environment and flash light is artificial light produced by using light strobe or flash gun. The flash light has a very short duration and thus shutter speed has no role in the overall exposure it gives. You have to remember that aperture controls flash lights and shutter speed controls ambient light; this will make life little bit easier. But having said that, it doesn't mean that aperture can't be used to control ambient light. It's just simple and easy to implement if you remember those theories. Therefore, any shutter speed slower than the maximum shutter speed (also called Flash Sync Speed) can be used with flash. Please keep in mind that different camera model has different "max sync speed" value for shutter; usually 1/200th of sec or 1/250th of sec.


Focal Length : 55mm  Shutter Speed : 1/60th of sec  Aperture : f/4   ISO : 200

You can experiment with different aperture value to adjust flash lights and change shutter speed to change the brightness of the background. The longer the exposure, more ambient light passes through the lens and hence producing brighter background. Sometimes, while working in auto mode (TTL flash), you might not get result you want and it's better to control your camera and flash manually. You also have to be careful about the choice of the lens. Normally, longer lenses are preferred for portrait shot.

Few things to experiment

1. You can try wide open aperture to create nice and soft bokeh in the background which also helps throwing confusing background out of focus. You may have to adjust your light settings because wider aperture allow more light into the sensor.

2. Location is not that much important for portrait as your main subject covers almost entire frame (most of the time).

3. You can also try off-camera flash so that you can play with direction and quality of lights.

4. You can also use colored gel which gives different mood to the photographs depending on which color you are using.

5. If you get lots of shadows, you may want to try bounce flash instead of straight flash.

6. You can also use kicker flash (normally used behind the subject which helps to separate subject from the background).


Focal Length : 55mm  Shutter Speed : 1/5th of sec  Aperture : f/4   ISO : 1600

You can see the difference in Shutter speed and ISO value (among these two photographs) which changed the amount of light coming to the sensor and hence changing overall brightness of the picture. You also have to be careful about choosing ISO value; higher the ISO value, more digital noise (grainy dots) will be present in the image. If you want to learn more about the ISO and the digital noise, you may want to read my previous posts Understanding ISO in Digital Photography and Dealing with Digital Noise.

Five Different Ways Of Connecting External Flash To Nikon D7000

Nikon D7000 comes with a built-in flash which does pretty good job most of the time; specially when your subject is close, and you just need to fill the light. The power of the built-in flash is not enough to use it as a main source of light and this is when external flash comes handy. Nikon's every new DSLRs support external flash units but in addition, Nikon D7000 gives some extra options to connect external flash unit. Basically you have five different ways to connect an external flash unit to your Nikon D7000.

Nikon SC-29 TTL coiled remote cord

Nikon SC-29 TTL coiled remote cord

1. Mount on the accessory shoe: You can connect your flash unit to D7000 by sliding a compatible flash units into the accessory shoe, also called hot shoe. When you slide your flash unit to hot shoe, D7000 automatically detects Nikon speedlights and you can control it's function using camera menu options.

Nikon AS-10 TTL Multi-Flash adapter

Nikon AS-10 TTL Multi-Flash adapter

2. Connect to the accessory shoe with a cable: Instead of mounting your flash directly into accessory shoe, you can also use Nikon standard cables; Nikon SC-28 or SC-29 TTL coiled remote cords to connect flash units with Nikon DSLRs. These coiled remote cords have an accessory shoe on one end of nine-foot cable to accept flash, and a foot that slides into the camera accessory shoe on the other end, providing a link that is the same as mounting flash directly sliding into hot shoe. But using these cables gives you flexibility of placing flash units into different orientations than being fixed on top of the camera. It is useful when you want to experiment with direction of lights using wired connection between flash units and camera.

Nikon SC-26:27 TTL Multi-Flash Sync cord

Nikon SC-26:27 TTL Multi-Flash Sync cord

3. Connect using Multi-Flash cables: You can also use Nikon SC-27 or SC-26 TTL Multi-Flash Sync Cords to connect TTL flash units to each other or through the AS-10 TTL Multi-Flash adapter or SC-28 TTL remote cord for multi-flash operation. You may want to use this with older NIkon Flash units as it doesn't support i-TTL or D-TTL operation.

Nikon AS-15 Sync Terminal Adapter

Nikon AS-15 Sync Terminal Adapter

4. Connect to a PC/X connector: Nikon D7000 doesn't have built-in PC sync connector, but Nikon offers an optional adapter, Nikon AS-15 Sync Terminal Adapter, that clips into hot shoe and provides a PC/X connector which can be used with studio strobes. These adapters are useful when they are combined with a voltage limiter so that you don't need to worry about frying your camera with an older flash units that has a triggering voltage that's too high.

Note: According to B&H online store, AS-15 Sync Terminal Adapter doesn't provide high-voltage sync protection, and is not recommended for flash units that have more than 6v.

5. Connect using Wireless technology: Nikon D7000 has a commander mode option which lets you trigger most of the Nikon speedlight units wirelessly. Using commander mode, these speedlights can be triggered by another master flash in commander mode or by the RU-800 infrared device. You can also use third party wireless device such as RadioPopper JrX or PocketWizards wireless flash triggers which are pretty much dominant in the market.

How To Avoid “Deer In The Headlight” Lighting With Your On-Camera Flash

This post is written by Guest Contributor, Janet Ochs Lowenbach. If you are also interested in writing a guest blog, please reach out using the form in the Contact page.

There are lots of names for what an on-camera flash does to a subject:  Flash in the pan.  Powder in the face.  Deer in the headlights. They all mean the same thing, according to Duane Heaton, Sales Manager of Penn Camera in Rockville Pike, MD. “A small, on-camera flash provides very stark lighting conditions with harsh shadows, and it is very limited in the quality of lighting it provides; sometimes when the flash is so close to the lens, it produces red eye. Using an off-camera flash allows you to be more creative.”

Further, because of the digital camera’s inability to see a wide exposure latitude, you want to use a diffused flash (off camera) as much as possible to fill in the extremes of exposure. (To explain this example, film has an exposure latitude of 1:7, while digital cameras have an exposure latitude of 1:4.)

“When you add a second or even third light off the camera, you soften the light and the shadows, and minimize the extremes of exposure.” Heaton adds. “They give very directional light as well as energy to the scene.”

Nikon SB-900

Nikon SB-900

Placement of the off-camera flash depends on what effects you want to achieve. A nice portrait effect results from placing the off-camera light 45 degrees from the subject, where it produces that classic upside-down triangle on the cheek when the subject is looking at you.

Heaton says there is no single brand flash that is better than another. “Canon, Olympus, and Nikon flashes are all good and each is synchronized with its own brand of cameras. Nikon and Canon have been industry leaders for years because of the sheer size of their companies, and now Sony is getting it to the mix,” he adds.

You can use a flash that is wired to the camera, but with the latest technology, you can use a remote, either a generic radio remote or a wireless one specifically designed for working with your flash. Each of these will permit you to place your flash away from the camera and give you more flexibility.

The radio remote works up to a distance of 400 feet, but requires you to adjust the flash manually. A wireless system permits you to control each flash through the unit, with a TTL system that lets you make adjustments from the unit, without moving to it.

The key to the flexibility is, Heaton says, the fact that, “The popular pop-up flash can be used as a command flash that controls the off-camera flash or flashes. The pop-up can take on many different roles including acting as a fill or being solely in the commander mode with no effect on exposure.”

Heaton says you can use more than one off camera flash as long as you know how to control the light and the camera settings so that the camera and the flash talk to each other.

“The system is proprietary, or a closed loop, says Heaton.  So, you have to use Nikon flashes with a Nikon camera, a Canon flash with a Canon camera, etc.

Perhaps the hardest part of using flash in the TTP mode is the manual. You have to learn how to make the camera and the flashes talk to each other, but since the manuals are translated from the Japanese, they are often difficult to follow.  “Nikons are menu driven and very intricate; you have to know what button to push and this is hard to translate in a manual from the Japanese. There is an even greater problem with digital cameras.”

Heaton and his colleague at Penn give hands-on training in flash use. He also says there are many opportunities outside the store for classes and one-on-one training. The problems with manuals, he says has expanded the opportunities for teaching and education.

Nikon CLS Vs PocketWizard

There are two ways to control the remote flash units from your camera. One is using wired connection (using Nikon 4765 SC-28 for example) between the camera and the flash units and other one is wireless method to communicate between the camera and the flash unit. With the increase popularity of wireless technology, wired technology are rarely used these days. Also, wired technology is limited with the distance if you want to experiment with the distance and the angle of the flash units. In addition to that we have got lots of choices with wireless technology and can choose one of the many options available in the market. You just have to decide what you want to do and what you want to achieve and get the kind of device that works best for you. In today's post, we are going to talk about two wireless technologies which are dominantly popular and they are Nikon CLS (Creative Lighting System) and PocketWizard. Let's discuss what are the benefits of using one to another.

Nikon CLS Vs PocketWizard

There are some photographers who think CLS Vs PocketWizard is like Nikon Vs Cannon debate and they have their own arguments about these two devices. I am not thinking of taking side of any technology or equipment and will try to describe these technologies by doing simple comparison with different perspectives and it’s up to you to decide which technology works best for you.

Nikon SB-800

Nikon SB-800

1. Equipment cost

As of today, if you want to buy the complete set (FlexTT5, MiniTT1 and 804-709 AC3 Zone Controller) of PocketWizard to seamlessly control your flash units remotely, it costs around $497.00 on Amazon. And if you want to buy the Nikon flash units with CLS technology, SB-600 costs you around $320.00 and SB-900 costs you around $499.00. You do not have to buy a transmitter for SB-600 or SB-900 to work if your camera has a commander mode. Your camera's built-in flash can act as a transmitter when it is set to commander mode.

That means you will be spending extra money on PW if you already have the camera capable of controlling the CLS flash units remotely. But that investment worth every penny if you need an extra feature like extra distance range between the flash units and the camera or working in various angles which we will discuss next.



2. Working Range

If you plan not to put your flash units farther than 30 feet from your camera (adjusting angle to reach an infrared signal from the camera), it would be a wise decision not to invest money on PW. But if you are planning to play with different angle of lights and place the flash units farther than 30 feet, PW is the way to go. It gives solid control over the great distance. When used as a transmitter, the FlexTT5 can provide TTL auto flash at distances of up to 800 feet and conventional triggering up to 1200 feet with the aid of a flip-up antenna.

3. Control

Nikon CLS system has a limitation of distance but you can control the remote flash units from the camera whereas today’s PW can go up to 800 feet and works great with an auto FP high speed sync and iTTL mode. Nikon CLS systems are an infrared system and that is the reason many photographers argue that it doesn’t work if the unit falls into the direct sun light. Nikon CLS system works great if the distance and the working angle matches with the camera (line-of-sight) from where it transmits an infrared signal to the remote flash units. But PW works on radio signal and can reach up to 1600 feet.

Nikon CLS systems and PW both work great in an auto FP high speed sync mode and supports iTTL mode. So it is just a matter of the distance and the working angle whether you want to use the CLS technology or buy the PW system.

4. Compatibility

Nikon CLS system only works with the Nikon’s compatible flash units whereas PW works with any kind of system. If you have any flash units other than the Nikon, you can use PW to communicate between your Nikon body and the third party flash unit. All you have to do is, slide MiniTT1 into the hot shoe of the camera and slide your flash units into the hot shoe of FlexTT5. It is very reliable piece of technology and works great.

Note: Nikon CLS is not a device but technology built inside Nikon's advanced flash units like SB-600, SB-700, SB-800 and SB-900 which is used to communicate between the Nikon camera and the flash units.