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Camera & Flash Cookbook for Any Lighting Situation

Russ MacDonald (Arkayem)

Keywords: nikon, speedlights

I am often asked how to set up your camera and flash for a given lighting situation. This article will give you a 'cookbook' approach that should lead to excellent results.

NOTE: For this post I am assuming regular flash sync - Not Auto FP High Speed Sync

NOTE: On some speedlights, including the SB-400, SB-700, and the built-in Pop-Up flash, there is no selector for i-TTL and i-TTL|BL. To switch between these two modes on these speedlights, you switch the camera metering mode. Matrix and Center-Weighted force the speedlight into i-TTL|BL mode. Spot metering forces the speedlight into regular i-TTL mode.


Use your camera to measure the light! Here are the steps:

1) Camera in Manual mode
2) Flash turned OFF
3) Fixed ISO 400 (not Auto ISO)
4) Aperture: f/4.0
5) Aim your camera at the area you want to measure
6) Adjust the shutter to zero the meter

The resulting Shutter speed then will indicate the ambient lighting condition you are in as follows:

1) Low Ambient Light: Shutter 1/30th or less
2) Medium Ambient Light: Shutter 1/30th to 1/250th
3) High Ambient Light: Shutter above 1/250th


I. LOW AMBIENT LIGHT: In low ambient conditions, your flash will be primary and essentially the only light on the subject. The ambient will contribute only to the background exposure.

Recommended Initial Settings: Camera Manual, Flash i-TTL, ISO 400, f/4.0, 1/80th shutter.

The flash system will control the exposure of the subject no matter you do to the ISO, Aperture, or Shutter (within the range limits of the flash).

The shutter will primarily control the background exposure. Increase the shutter to stop ghosting at the expense of a darker background. Decrease the shutter to brighten the background, at an increased risk of ghosting.

The aperture will primarily control depth of field. Widen the aperture to decrease depth of field, increase background exposure, and increase flash range. Narrow the aperture to increase depth of field, decrease background brightness, and reduce flash range.

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