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How We Shot It

Simple Nikon CLS Wireless Flash – How We Shot It

By Matthew Saville on August 14th 2013

The Photo

MS2_0962-650(Click here to view a larger version!)

The Equipment and Settings

  • Nikon D700
  • Tamron 17mm f/3.5 adapt-all / manual focus
  • 1/250 sec @ f/5.6 & ISO 400
  • Manual Exposure, Manual WB, RAW
  • 1x wireless flashes , Nikon SB700
  • Infrared triggering and flash power controlled via the D700’s built-in pop-up flash

How We Shot It

This shot was pretty straightforward and the specific settings are not even what I want to discuss today, so I’ll get it over with quickly:  First I  took a couple test exposures without flash to get a feel for my ambient light and make sure it was slightly under-exposed.  Then I checked to make sure my shutter speed was below my sync limit.  ;-)  Finally, I used my pop-up flash to wirelessly command my SB700 at about 1/8 power, with the built-in pop-up flash set to “–” which in Nikon-speak means “off”.  Nailed the image with just 1-2 test shots!

Okay, that was easy, now let’s discuss the philosophy behind the equipment and technique.

Usually, advanced photographers with lots of experience using wireless flash will scoff at the notion of using built-in infrared wireless triggering, let alone involving a pop-up flash! (Heck, the Canon full-frame camera’s don’t even have a pop-up flash…)

Then, there’s this lens that probably is using an optical design from the 80’s.  It’s not flawlessly sharp wide open, it doesn’t have autofocus.  But it’s so tiny, it’s the same size as a 50mm f/1.8!

Yes, in high-pressure professional situations you need a system that you can trust absolutely.  It has to fire every single time without fail, and to deliver flawless sharpness at all apertures from center-to-corner.  That’s why we as wedding photographers invest years in finding the best wireless flash solution, (click here) …and why we invest many thousands of dollars on lenses. (click here)

…But what if you’re just hanging out with friend, having a good time, and you happen to encounter one of the most gorgeous sunsets you’ve seen all year? If you’re a purist, you may throw up your arms and say “well, since I don’t have my power packs and beauty dishes, I might as well not even bother!”  Epic fail!

This is where the “McNally Mentality” comes into play.  (Say that ten times fast!)  I’m talking about Joe McNally,  who is known worldwide for his talent at shooting gorgeous light and often using no more than simple “CLS” built-in wireless lighting setups.  His images created with simple built-in lighting features are a testament to what can be accomplished using whatever gear you have with you at the time!  (Read some of his blog posts about lighting HERE.)

I believe it is very important to have a compact, simple set of gear.  You are far more inclined to bring it with you in casual environments or on extended trips, compared to lugging around a complex lighting setup and a bag of hefty lenses.  My single hotshoe flash and 17mm prime lens, for example, only weigh a few ounces and fit easily into any small bag.

So I’m not encouraging you to use these simple / low-budget setups for your next high-dollar gig, unless in case of emergency.  But I am saying, don’t under-estimate their value in your everyday life and travels.  It never hurts to at least understand how the built-in features of your camera or flash work, so that you can use them if an opportunity presents itself.  The last thing you want to do is to just give up and not shoot a photo simply because you don’t have your entire kit with you!

The Post-Processing

Since this image is all about the color and the “pop”, I opted for a preset in the “Vivid Landscape” section of the SLR Lounge preset system, instead of a “Soft Portrait” preset.  Even though this is indeed a portrait image, it’s more of an action shot and the subject is male, so they can handle the slightly harder lighting.

All I did after applying the preset was drop the clarity down from +15 to +5, and then I burned (darkened) the grass a little using a simple -1 EV brush preset.  Done!  The colors are a bit saturated for sRGB, but they fit easily into the native ProPhoto RGB space so I’m not too worried about it looking weird online however if it were to be printed I would re-assess the colors at that time.

Take care, and happy clicking,
=Matthew Saville=

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Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

Follow his personal wilderness adventures: Astro-Landscapes.com

See some of his latest wedding photography featured on: LinandJirsa.com

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Rafael Steffen

    This is how you do great shots! Reminds me of Joe McNally!

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  2. Scottie Nguyen

    Did you have to use a trampoline to get him in the air like that ?

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