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Properly lit distant object

Russ MacDonald (Arkayem)

Keywords: nikon, speedlights, lighting, flash

One of the situations I run into regularly is that I am fairly far from a subject who is in a dim ambient setting, and there is something closer to me that will be affecting the flash metering. This could be a plant, a wall, another person, a wedding cake, or anything that can reflect the pre-flash pulses back to the camera.

For example, let’s say your subject is standing inside a dim room and you want to shoot a picture of her from outside the room through a doorway. If you simply set TTL on the SB-800 flash and place the subject in the center of the frame and shoot, the reflections from the doorway will make the system think your goal is to shoot the doorway and you will get a great shot of a slightly overexposed doorframe and the subject will be pitch dark. The doorframe will be slightly overexposed, because it is not in the center of the frame, but it will still cause the flash to reduce power drastically leaving the subject dark.

The trick is to first aim the head of the flash forward and remove any diffusers that don't push the little switch on the flash head (so distance information can be used by the flash). Then switch the flash to TTL-BL,  frame the shot and hit FV Lock.



SB-800 Distance Switch

Then, the distance to the subject is used in addition to measuring the strength of the reflected pre-flash pulses from the center of the frame. The flash sees that the distance is much farther away than the doorframe, so it increases its power accordingly. This usually doesn't brighten the subject fully, but it definitely brightens the subject far more than using TTL. Of course, once the subject is brightened to proper exposure, the doorframe will likely be blown out, but that can't be avoided.

The way to make this trick easy to implement is to start with the camera in Manual Mode and Matrix Metering and the flash in TTL-BL.

Then, switch the camera to Spot Metering. That will force the flash automatically into TTL which is usually best indoors in dim ambient.

Spot Metering doesn't do anything to the camera settings since Manual Mode has been selected. It only affects the flash mode.

Then, when you run across the situation mentioned above, switch the camera metering to Matrix, and the flash will automatically switch back to TTL-BL, and the shot will be exposed the best way possible. However, the flash may still need increased compensation to get the exposure on the subject exactly right.

If you don't want to remove the diffuser, another way to do this is to zoom in on the subject and hit FV Lock. The flash metering system will only look at what is in the frame center weighted. Then, zoom back out to include the doorway or whatever is between you and the subject, and take the shot. Of course, the doorway will be blown out, but that's normally OK in this type of shot.


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(14 Votes )

Originally written on August 19, 2013

Last updated on January 24, 2021

Russ MacDonald Russ MacDonald (Arkayem)

Awarded for his high level skills in flash photography

Richmond Hill, GA (Savannah), USA
Gold, 6156 posts


Robert Kim Holwick (hillsidekim) on August 28, 2013

Richard Day (rdayas) take a look here. It will probably help.

Patrick Galligan (pgalligan) on August 27, 2013

Thanks for another great flash article!

Richard Day (rdayas) on August 26, 2013

I hate to sound dumb but I don't see a TTL-BL setting on my SB800. What am I missing?

Robert Kim Holwick (hillsidekim) on August 25, 2013

Russ, I want to thank you for all the effort you have put forth, not only in this post, but in all the posts you have done that have helped me and countless others to better understand our flashes. The manuals for my current flashes are multiple times more difficult to understand than the manual on my first Nikon camera, the Nikon FA, which was a Nikon milestone. Again, many thanks for making all of this more understandable. My Nikonians membership again pays for itself. Thanks, Kim

William Richard Hollingsworth (hollingwD80) on August 23, 2013

Russ: The article is related to the SB0-800, but there is a similar switch on the 900, and 910. Will this work when using one of those as well? Thanks, Rich

Gerald Turk (turkgw) on August 21, 2013

Russ, you make my membership worthwhile. I have experienced this situation many times but never thought to switch to TTL-BL. Sometimes I have been able to set an SB-800 in a remote location but that often just doesn't work and it always takes a lot longer to set up. Thanks so much, Russ.

User on August 21, 2013

Thank you Russ. First of all, due to laziness on my part, I didn't know the SB-800 HAD a distance switch. Great thing to know. and secondly I have run into this situation a few times and now I know how to handle them. I will make a list of steps to follow and check it twice when I am shooting. Thanks, Ron

Richard Luse (DaddySS) on August 20, 2013

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Thanks Russ. A little tough for me to follow, this is one you have to do and practice to get comfortable with how it works. I'll give it a try!