Questions, questions (sigh) about CLS
I have two Alien Bee studio lights and I think I will be selling these and going to the Nikon CLS for portraits.
I tried it for the first time a couple of days ago for a shoot of a baby. I am shooting with a Nikon D800. I used the pop-up flash as a commander, and set one SB800 as a slave, about 3 feet from where the baby would be. When I took test shots with an adult before starting with the baby, the exposure was too dark. I had to up the ISO to 500 to get a decent exposure, and even then usually had to adjust up in Photoshop.
I have wanted to go with CLS for several years, but I must admit my understanding of the SB800 or CLS is close to nothing. I find it harder to figure out than learning the many different Nikon cameras, from the first D70 through D200, D300, D7000 and now the D800.
Harder than photoshop, but then I bought Scott Kelby books that gave me a leg up.
I have 2 SB800s. One of them has a bit of melting on the front plastic part because I guess I fired it off too many times in succession once. It doesn't seem to affect the use of it, because that's what I used the other day.
I want to have at least 3 slaves. Is it best to use one of the SB800s on the camera to trigger the slaves, or is it best to use the onboard flash so I can use both of the SB800s as slaves?
And if the latter is best, then which other speedlight should I buy for the third slave? I'd like to use the 3rd one for a hair light.
In the past couple of days, I have poured over the SB800 manual, but darn it, manuals are hard for me. That's why I like Kelby's books, because he lays the instructions out in easy-to-understand steps. I can do steps!
I "think" I have gleaned this. If I have one slave (A) off to one side, and the other slave (B) to the other side, but want to use "B" with a lesser power, I have to have those two flashes in a different group. Is that correct?
Then, of course, is trying to figure out how to set them for the varying powers. Through the camera menu or through the speedlight menu which is a total nightmare for me. Do I use flash compensation? When I shoot birds TTL, I usually have the flash compensation set at anything from -1 to -1.3. I think when I looked at my slave the other day, in that mode the minus/plus button didn't work. But then I was so nervous who knows. All help and suggestions appreciated, please.
Here is one of the images I took. I will add that this image has a softening fill layer over it, to give that soft dreamy look to that sweet baby skin. I did brush that out of her eyes. Meet baby Adelyn, age 4 months 3 weeks.
Attachment #1, (jpg file)
#1. "RE: Questions, questions (sigh) about CLS" | In response to Reply # 0
HBB Charter MemberSun 11-Aug-13 11:10 PM
A few brief comments, from my experience with my herd of twelve SB800s:
Don't feel bad, we all struggled with CLS. It appears you are already into configuring the SB800s. Great start!
1) In my experience, CLS is easier to use with one SB800 on-camera in master mode, where all group, mode, and power level adjustments are easier to make than is the case with the built-in flash using the commander mode menu.
2) For consistency, a third SB800 would be easier. Good used units are available. You can also use an SB700, or SB910 with your SB800s.
3) Yes, to set different power levels on the remote units they must be in different groups; A, B, or C. All units in a given remote group will fire at the same power level. Be sure they are all on the same channel; 1, 2, 3, or 4. Set up the remote group, mode, and channel configuration using the on-camera SB800 master. Each remote must initially be manually set to the desired group and channel number.
4) Flash compensation (power level) is controlled on the on-camera SB800 master, for each remote group, from 0 to + or - 3 stops.
5) TTL, manual, etc. mode settings for each group are made on the on-camera master.
6) The on-camera master power level is independent of the remotes. It can be set to OFF (---) if you do not want it to contribute to the exposure. It will still fire a low power, shutter closed preflash pulse and a shutter open image capture triggering pulse. This is normal.
See if this turns on the lights for you. If not, let me know and we can continue.
The image you included suggests that all three units were firing: on-camera master/commander and the two remotes which were firing at equal power , likely because they were in the same group. By varying the remote placement and power levels, you can produce shadow detail which will provide some depth to the image.
HBB in Phoenix, Arizona
Nikonian Team Member
Photography is a journey with no conceivable destination.
#2. "RE: Questions, questions (sigh) about CLS" | In response to Reply # 0
Mon 12-Aug-13 12:07 AM
To add to Hal's response, I avoid setting exposure compensation on the flash, not that it isn't overridden in CLS, but because it gets messy when you use a flash solo. With my four speedlights, I'm likely to pick any one up to use. In that case, I don't want to keep up with the settings on each individual unit.
Powder Springs, GA, USA
Nikonians Team Member
#3. "RE: Questions, questions (sigh) about CLS" | In response to Reply # 2
Mon 12-Aug-13 04:25 AM
Thanks for the in-depth answer! So it's better to have a speedlight on the camera. I did read somewhere than its light could be canceled out, non-contributing. I guess one could bounce that one off the ceiling, right? And the other speedlights would still perform fine?
Actually, on the above picture I only used one speedlight. I don't think I canceled out the onboard flash, anyway I don't remember doing it. So it may have contributed from straight on. Also, there was a window adding ambient light opposite of the speed light.
I think I'll have another SB800 before long. I looked at the SB910, but one review I read said the menu is very difficult. Since my SB800 has always had me a bit flummoxed in all regards except TTL, and only understanding the flash compensation, I hesitated to go that route.
I am determined to figure it out, though!
When I have a bit of time, I'll set everything up again and try using one SB800 on the camera. I thought everyone was always excited with the Nikon cameras having the onboard flash because of its use with CLS. Huh.
Scott, I guess what you are saying may mean that if I use the onboard camera flash as commander, then I would have to set compensation on each speedlight. Where if I put a SB800 on, it can all be done right there on the speedlight menu, right?
#4. "RE: Questions, questions (sigh) about CLS" | In response to Reply # 3
Mon 12-Aug-13 02:18 PM
Betty, no. I might have been misleading. When you set your flashes to remote, the commander takes over. As a side note, I don't set compensation on the individual flashes in order to spare me headaches when I use them on the camera. This way I don't have to zero settings every time I mount a solo flash.
I use the FEC on the camera body, since all my bodies have it. This I not a nicety for Dn owners. It just simplifies things for me.
Just think of setting your levels by group on your commander unit.
Powder Springs, GA, USA
Nikonians Team Member
#5. "RE: Questions, questions (sigh) about CLS" | In response to Reply # 4
Mon 12-Aug-13 03:32 PM
>Betty, no. I might have been misleading. When you set your
>flashes to remote, the commander takes over. As a side note, I
>don't set compensation on the individual flashes in order to
>spare me headaches when I use them on the camera. This way I
>don't have to zero settings every time I mount a solo flash.
>I use the FEC on the camera body, since all my bodies have it.
>This I not a nicety for Dn owners. It just simplifies things
>Just think of setting your levels by group on your commander
OK, set the levels on the commander unit, which would be the SB800 on my camera. I don't know what you mean by the "FEC on the camera body", I don't know what FEC means.
I just purchased a good used SB800 in the Nikonians "I Want to Sell" forum. So that will give me three of them.
Will this work? One SB800 on the camera, using that flash to bounce off a reflector for the shadow (left) side of a person.
2nd unit set to camera right at full power, maybe shooting through my umbrella.
Third unit as a hair light, maybe using a snoot, which I don't have yet. But may make my own.
I think using only the three might be effective used this way. Any thoughts as to this arrangement, people?
One more question. I really can't afford a pocket wizard, so will the commander unit on my camera still fire the other units from the reflector bounce?
#6. "RE: Questions, questions (sigh) about CLS" | In response to Reply # 5
Toby01 Nikonian since 19th Nov 2012Mon 12-Aug-13 05:14 PM
Your proposed setup should work pretty well. The slave sensors on Nikon flashes are pretty sensitive, so as long as you are indoors, the reflected command flashes will be picked up just fine. I believe FEC means Flash Exposure Compensation.
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#7. "RE: Questions, questions (sigh) about CLS" | In response to Reply # 6
Mon 12-Aug-13 07:26 PM
>Your proposed setup should work pretty well. The slave sensors
>on Nikon flashes are pretty sensitive, so as long as you are
>indoors, the reflected command flashes will be picked up just
>fine. I believe FEC means Flash Exposure Compensation.
Thank you so much!
#8. "RE: Questions, questions (sigh) about CLS" | In response to Reply # 7
Mon 12-Aug-13 10:13 PM
Toby is right about FEC. The button is on the left side of the prism. Depress it and rotate a command dial to set the compensation for the flash. When using a single flash in the shoe, I prefer that to setting the exposure in the flash. That can get dicey, if you don't remember to check the flash's setting, or you use different flash units set to different compensation levels. So I set all my flashes to zero compensation and use my FEC setting for solo flash and my commander when using CLS, but never the flash units themselves. That of course is my bias.
Your setup should work very well. It's when one or more flash heads are out of sight of the commander and the IR signals aren't reaching them, or you are outdoors in bright sunlight where it can be hit or miss. That's when you start to desire PocketWizards.
PocketWizards let you meter your setups remotely with the Sekonic L-478DR, give you hypersync, and ability to mix with some studio flashes. All of which you might have absolutely no interest in at this point.
Powder Springs, GA, USA
Nikonians Team Member
#9. "RE: Questions, questions (sigh) about CLS" | In response to Reply # 8
Wed 14-Aug-13 02:30 PM
Thanks, Scott. And yes, I have no desire for doing remote flash outdoors. I have gotten beautiful portraits in the shade, with one flash on the camera directed at a reflector for modeling.
I don't quite understand how to set FEC on several flashes from the main flash. Do I go to, for instance, Group A and set that one, then go to group B and set a different compensation? Is that how it works?
#10. "RE: Questions, questions (sigh) about CLS" | In response to Reply # 9
Wed 14-Aug-13 05:24 PM | edited Wed 14-Aug-13 05:25 PM by bens0472
FEC from the camera (the button on the left side of the prism) will adjust the relative exposure of all flashes up or down from their calculated exposure by the same amount. So, if Group A would otherwise expose at X output and Group B would otherwise expose at Y output, if you set a +2/3 FEC, Group A would expose at X+2/3 and Group B would expose at Y+2/3.
Once you finally "get" CLS, it's SO much fun and so easy to use.
#14. "RE: Questions, questions (sigh) about CLS" | In response to Reply # 10
Thu 15-Aug-13 01:45 PM | edited Thu 15-Aug-13 02:10 PM by Betty L
>FEC from the camera (the button on the left side of the
>prism) will adjust the relative exposure of all flashes up or
>down from their calculated exposure by the same amount. So,
>if Group A would otherwise expose at X output and Group B
>would otherwise expose at Y output, if you set a +2/3 FEC,
>Group A would expose at X+2/3 and Group B would expose at
>Once you finally "get" CLS, it's SO much fun and so
>easy to use.
Ben, you say FEC from the camera (the button on the left side of the prism.) You are talking about the camera body, right? And (lol) where the heck is the prism? Pardon my ignorance.
I'm writing all of these instructions down in my handy "how-to" notebook. Still waiting for the unit I recently purchased to get here, then I'll try it all out.
Edited to add: Another question. I usually shoot my camera in A mode for portraits. Using wireless, is that OK?
#15. "RE: Questions, questions (sigh) about CLS" | In response to Reply # 14
Thu 15-Aug-13 04:29 PM
The prism on any SLR/DSLR is what enables the image, in to get through the lens and up and out the viewfinder. The hump on the top of any SLR is generally referred to as the prism housing, the area of the camera body within which the prism resides. On DSLRs which have popup flashes, they usually retract out of the top portion of the prism housing.
So - it's the hump and the FEC button is the one on the front, left side of the hump with a little lightning bolt and +/- on it (on your D800, there are two buttons in this area, one which simply releases the pop-up flash and the one I'm talking about). This button, in unison with either the front or rear control wheel, controls Flash Mode or Flash Exposure Compensation. Have a look at the diagram on page 3 of your D800 manual and focus on #3.
On your second question - what do you mean by "using wireless"? It's certainly ok to use the camera in A mode for portraits, I do it all the time. When you say "using wireless", do you mean you are triggering the camera wirelessly or that you're using the Advanced Wireless Lighting functionality of CLS?
#16. "RE: Questions, questions (sigh) about CLS" | In response to Reply # 15
Thu 15-Aug-13 10:16 PM
Sorry, Ben, by wireless I mean using the flashes wirelessly. CLS. I didn't know if I used A, P, S, etc. whether that would change the light somehow from shot to shot when the shutter was depressed half way.
As you see, I don't understand a lot about CLS and how it relates to the camera.
LOL, thanks for the explanation about the prism! Nobody ever accused me of having a technical bent. Artistic, maybe, technical...muh.
I usually spot meter. I assume by doing that, then pushing the FB lock, I'll get the exposure I want.
#11. "RE: Questions, questions (sigh) about CLS" | In response to Reply # 9
Wed 14-Aug-13 05:36 PM
A couple of other tips on using CLS and flash, in general, that I have found very helpful:
1) At some point, you'll want to learn to use FV Lock (Flash Value lock). Learn about what it does and how to engage it on your camera. On my D300, I have it programmed to the AE/AF button on back.
2) Know that flash metering only uses an area in the center of the frame that is about 6-8 mm in diameter. So, if you want to set the proper flash exposure, meter your flash (using FV Lock) with this area in your frame. This is useful to know when you might have your main subject (the one you want the flashes to illuminate) in the left or right side of your frame with something brighter in the center of the frame. With this kind of setup, flash metering in TTL might set a lower flash output that is actually necessary. The converse is true of course, too: If your subject is on the side of the frame and the center area of the frame is darker than your subject, then flash output might be over-calculated. This is where FV lock helps me a lot. I place the subject in the center of the frame, press FV lock to get the flash exposure right, then reframe and shoot. The camera keeps the Flash value set until I hit FV lock again.
#12. "RE: Questions, questions (sigh) about CLS" | In response to Reply # 0
I started with CLS and went to monolights in my small studio. While I had good results with my SU-800 and two SB800s I found when taking portraits of children the best expression was often the one just after the flashes fired. With my SB800s that expression occurred while the flashes were recycling. By the time they were ready the moment had passed. I much prefer the almost instantaneous recycle of my monolights. Still use CLS for most location work, so I'm not down on it. But for children I get better results with my monolight setup.
#13. "RE: Questions, questions (sigh) about CLS" | In response to Reply # 12
Thu 15-Aug-13 01:25 PM | edited Thu 15-Aug-13 01:35 PM by bens0472
I see your point and I think it's a good thing to consider, for sure, but in a home-studio environment (I frequently setup a portable studio in my home), I've rarely had to shoot my SBs at anything above 1/4 or 1/8 power, even when firing them into or through diffuser umbrellas or softboxes. At those power levels, recycle times are almost nil (You just have to stop every 5 minutes or so and let the flash cool a bit).
I think the bigger thing to watch out for w/ CLS is the ever so slight delay induced by the preflash sequence. In a studio environment where exposure requirements are unlikely to change much from shot to shot, I use FV lock to mitigate this delay. I take a first, measurement shot, adjust each group up or down for taste, take another measurement shot and if everything looks good, I use FV Lock to lock in the flash output. When I do this, it eliminates the preflash sequence because it tells the remotes "fire at this setting every time you receive a firing pulse until you are instructed otherwise". To "instruct them otherwise", I hit FV Lock a second time and the lock is released such that the next time I hit the shutter, the preflash sequence occurs.
There's a lot to CLS and there are certainly shortcomings (outside use in bright sunlight, reliable communication over long distances, unreliable communication with remotes located outside of "eyeshot" of the master), but I also think that in many cases, its shortcomings are only perceived and can be overcome with proper use and understanding of the system (but fully understanding CLS...something I still have not totally accomplished...take a good bit of learning).