Friday, May 16, 2008

Wireless flash with the D60 pop-up flash?

One of the biggest concerns with a lot of potential buyers of the D60 was the fact that the pop-up wasn't able to control any of the Speedlights wirelessly for off-camera flash use. Although for most entry-level photographers this isn't a problem, as we learn and progress we often find certain features (or lack thereof) limiting.

Since some people don't want to go to the expense of buying an SB-800 or SU-800 to command an additional SB-800 or 600 (this is easily $600 worth of Speedlights), I wanted to share a little trick that I learned when I forgot to pack my SB-600 to use as a slave.

First of all, for those who are unfamiliar, off-camera flash is term that's use when you, that's right, take the flash off of the camera! Generally speaking most studio photography is done this way with big studio strobes, but in the past few years it's become more common for beginners and pros alike to use the smaller flashes that are designed to be mounted on your cameras hot shoe as an off-camera light source.

There are many reasons why you would want to take the flash off of the camera the main reason being that if you can move the light you have more control over the quality and direction of the light as well as being able to control where the shadow falls. When the flash is attached to your camera at the hot-shoe the lighting is coming straight at your subject which is usually not very flattering to put it mildly.

Obviously, you can't take the pop-up flash off of your camera (well you could, but then it would be broken), but you can use the pop-up flash to trigger another flash off camera provided that the off-camera flash is equipped with an optical slave. An optical slave is a sensor that detects the light from another flash and causes the unit to, well, flash.

There are quite a few different flashes that have built-in optical slaves, most notably the SB-800 and SB-26. Nikon offers a device called the SU-4 that attaches to some other Nikon flashes and allows them to be triggered optically.

On some of the other Nikon DSLR's (D70, 80, and 200) the pop-up flash can be used to wirelessly control any number SB-800's and/or SB-600's. The D60 along with other entry level Nikon cameras doesn't allow this option. Which is where my story begins:

I was shooting some portraits for the D60 Digital Field Guide, we were mostly shooting outdoors using available light. After the sun went down we ventured into Austin's oldest hotel, the Driskill. This hotel is pretty opulent and decorated with a distinct Western theme. It's very interesting, but there is little ambient light with which to photograph with.

Since I hadn't really expected to be doing any indoor photographs I had only brought one SB-800, I brought this to use for fill flash. We walked around awhile taking some pictures using bounce flash and the SW-10H diffuser when I came across the scene. As soon as I saw it I knew that it would call for very directional lighting and off-camera flash.

D'oh! I realized I only had one SB-800 therefore I couldn't use CLS. I thought on this for awhile and remembered than the SB-800 had an option called SU-4 mode. This mode enables the SB-800's built-in optical slave function. The SU-4 mode has two options, Auto and Manual, for this shot I chose manual the manual setting so that I had full control of the exposure.

So I set the SB-800 to the SU-4 mode and using the handy-dandy AS-19 stand that came with my SB-800, I set it camera left, over on a nearby bench aiming the head slightly up at the model. I set the pop-up flash to Manual mode using Custom Setting Menu #14 (CSM-14) and set the flash to 1/32 which is the lowest setting available. I did this to avoid having light from the pop-up flash falling onto the model. I composed with shot and holding the camera with my right hand I placed my left hand near the lens mount if front of the flash. This allowed me to block the light of the flash from reaching the model, but also allowed the light of the flash to trigger the SB-800. Incidentally, Nikon makes a device, called the SG-3IR that blocks light from the pop-up flash from adding to the exposure, it's available from most camera stores for about $12.

While I found it necessary to block the light from the pop-up flash, for this specific shot, this isn't an absolute necessity, the light from the pop-up flash can also be used for a bit of fill-flash to fill in any dark shadows. Using it as fill-flash will probably work best in instances where the subject is not near a wall or close to the background since the flash can cause unwanted shadows behind the subject.

Although I used the SB-800 as a hard light source in this shot this technique can be easily applied to a flash that's attached to a modifier such as an umbrella or a soft box, you just need to be certain that the optical sensor of the slave flash can see the light from the pop-up flash.

Although this is a very rudimentary approach to off-camera flash, it does work and can get the job done when in a pinch.


Christopher of Definitive Images said...

Great entry! I love this blog, you have a new fan.

ejlmp said...

This worked for my Nikon D60 with a hair light slave flash but, wouldn’t trigger a slaved Vivatar 283 flash in a Halo umbrella. I boosted the power on the D60 wo effect. Thanks.

J. Dennis Thomas said...

Hey Eric,

It's not a fool-proof plan, but it can work most of the time.

You do have to be sure that the optical sensor on the 283 is in direct line of site of the pop-up flash. If the umbrella is blocking the sensor it's most likely not going to work, as you probably already noticed.

I suggest you do some more experimenting with it. Sometimes using a mirror to reflect the flash over to the slave can work.

Bao Ngo said...

I'm going to try this with my D60 and the SB600. But I don't think the SB600 has an SU4 mode. Do I set it to Manual and then what?

J. Dennis Thomas said...

Bao, the SB-600 doesn't have an SU-4 mode so you cant use this trick with it unless you buy an actual SU-4 unit.


Bao Ngo said...

Thanks for the reply...I thought I was missing something. I'll look at an SU 4 I see they run about $60 on eBay.

J Lau said...

I finally set up my sb700 as a off camera flash from your short, precise advices, just a few seconds I make it. I've read so many pages before I read your page, spending days to find out the answer but all helpless. You're great. Thanks

greg968 said...

I'm having trouble synchronizing my SB700 with my D5200 with the SU4 setting. It seems the shutter is cycling before the photo is dark even though the flash flashed. I've tried various distances with the same result. Once I mount the flash on the camera my subject is well lit. Any suggestions?

J. Dennis Thomas said...

Sounds like you have the pop-up flash in TTL. Make sure it's in Manual.