I know some barebones about photography but almost nothing about the gear market. I'm a tattooer, and I have an old D40 with a 35mm f/1.8 Prime lens I've been using for forever. I'm always photographing in subpar light, maxing out my ISO and aperture and still getting <1/60 shutter-speed, and I shoot handheld which is just blur city. I want to fix this, and not buy a stupid new phone that'll only last me two years if I'm lucky.

I want to take photos that are exceptionally CLEAN with soft shadows (and a tad of bokah where I wanted it). These videos got me thinking a 7' umbrella would be perfect: vid1 vid2

As far as mood, a little dramatic and spooky which I suppose I'll command in nuance with light positioning.

What I THINK I need is: (edited)

  1. An independent flash (alienbees?) Getting a speedlight
  2. A way to connect my D40 to the flash. I'm worried about compatibility.
  3. A 5-7' umbrella with stand.
  4. A way to make my D40 wireless so I can quickdraw upload to a cloud, edit on my phone (Raw to jpg [is there a phone lightroom? ;D]), and send to instagram throughout the day.
  5. Probably a new Prime lens, 60-85mm and minimum 1.8 aperture. Can't remember- are full frame lenses compatible with non-fullframe? answered
  6. The only thing I'm certain about is which backdrop I'll get. It's a collapsable one.

If I have to get a new body I will, it's just I'm probably the most lost on which I'd need. Willing to part from Nikon family. I'd like to spend almost no money if I can get away with it (duh), but I'd like to keep it all under 1500. Is this unrealistic?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Shopping questions are off-topic on SE as a whole. Can you maybe narrow the scope of this down to a single question? (You can ask multiple questions if you want). Related: What features should one look for when selecting a flash?; and the Strobist's runthrough of a basic lighting kit. Also, just getting a light off-camera is no guarantee of moody/edgy lighting. \$\endgroup\$
    – inkista
    Aug 14, 2018 at 6:13
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Rather than linking to your Instagram, can you post one or two examples of what you've got so far, and maybe an example of what you are aspiring to? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Aug 14, 2018 at 23:44
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ What does "Think Nike" mean? I imagine you have a specific ad campaign in mind, but Nike has done a lot over the years! \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Aug 14, 2018 at 23:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ The easy part of your question is part 5, yes you can use full frame lenses on a crop body. \$\endgroup\$
    – lijat
    Aug 15, 2018 at 18:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm Yes... on reconsideration, 'think nike' is grossly obtuse. Sorry :D I should know better. I'll change it actual references. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wooten
    Aug 16, 2018 at 17:22

2 Answers 2


You might just try using the cameras internal flash, without the umbrella. It could be a big help in this use. In the poor light, it will be much better than not using it, and it might well be all you need. It is low powered, but is all the power your use needs. Just be careful NOT to overexpose with the flash. Use TTL mode, and if it is too bright, use Flash Compensation (for example, like at -1 EV Flash Compensation) to turn it down if necessary. A few tests should make it obvious. I think you should try it first.

Perhaps you are already using it? Because you said 1/60 second, which is the automatic Minimum Shutter Speed With Flash in the auto modes (A, P, or Auto). If the 1/60 is a concern, the way to make the shutter faster with flash indoors is to use camera M mode, then you can set it higher, but you cannot set it higher than the D40 1/500 second Maximum sync speed. Not to worry, the TTL flash still remains fully automatic flash even in camera M mode (the camera M mode is only about the indoor ambient light level). The 1/60 will not matter anyway, the flash is brighter than ambient and much faster than your shutter. The 1/60 without the flash would surely be well underexposed in your indoor case, so it has little effect.

But to answer a couple of the questions:

  1. The Alienbees are a fine flash, but the D40 is ISO 200 minimum, and tattoos are a small area at a close distance, so Alienbees might be excessive power, overkill. A speedlight would be very adequate power for most indoor uses, and can be mounted in an umbrella (if desired). There are many great speedlights priced well less than $100, which would be very suitable.

  2. For a remote flash in an umbrella, there are three common ways to trigger them.

One is to use a PC sync cord between flash and camera. A hot shoe adapter like the Nikon AS-15 is a good choice to add a sync cord connector to the camera without one. It is $20, and there are some half that price, but the Nikon is good and very reliable. Many speedlights already have a PC connector for this sync cord, but similar adapters (but different, NOT AS-15) can be added to their flash foot to add a PC connector.

Another way is that many speedlights (but not all) have a built-in optical slave trigger mode (or an accessory can be added) to trigger the flash in sync by the flash from the cameras internal flash (internal flash set to low power in Manual mode, which could also be fill).

Another is a radio trigger set, which is a transmitter for the camera hot shoe, and a receiver on the flash foot (or PC connector), which triggers by radio. These are more reliable in bright sun at great distance, but overkill for your indoor close use, the sync cord would be my preference.

These remote methods (mostly) are all Manual flash mode, and are NOT TTL. But your setup sounds like it would mostly always be the same lighting situation, and manual flash sounds easy.

Actually four ways, you could use the Nikon SC-28 hot shoe extension cable for the remote flash, and it could even use a TTL flash too. However it is short, it can't be more than 3 or 4 feet from the camera, because the coiled cord tension would then be strong enough to tip the light stand over. The old style SC-17 cable is plentiful and inexpensive on Ebay, and it is exactly the same as SC-28 except it does not have the hole for the new style pin lock. It works fine anyway, the pin is spring loaded, so just drop the pin to lock it anyway. That's all I have, a couple of the old SC-17 cords, and they still work fine.

FWIW, these subjects are a lot of what my own site at https://www.scantips.com is about.

  1. An independent flash (alienbees?) Getting a speedlight
  2. A way to connect my D40 to the flash. I'm worried about compatibility.

I strongly recommend Godox here (sold under several different names, including Flashpoint by New York retailer Adorama). Particularly, they make a low-cost line of manual-only flashes with remote control.

Manual is fine because you are in a very controlled environment where you don't need an automatic system to rapidly adjust to changing conditions (automatic "TTL" flash is a big deal to wedding photographers, but won't be for you).

And by "low cost", I mean "under $100" for the AA battery versions, or under $150 for the lithium-ion ones, plus $50 for the controller. It's likely that two or three of these units will do what you need for your lighting setup, although if you decide you need more power for the main light there's also a $300 unit that will work with the same system.

Yongnuo also has a low-cost lineup, but it's a little more confusing and I don't have direct experience with that brand — you can read more at What are the Yongnuo flash naming conventions?.

  1. A 5-7' umbrella with stand.

I'd highly recommend a portable softbox over umbrellas. (Not the tiny 8" kind, but 20" to 36".) Umbrellas are nice because they're cheap and pack up small, but they're awkward to work with. You also probably don't need that large unless you are frequently doing full-body shots — you can put the smaller boxes close just out of frame.

The Westcott 2-Light Kit is my first recommendation — it's around $350 in stores. You can probably put together something similar a bit cheaper from various low-cost Chinese imports, but this is nicely made and (in addition to the Godox flashes) gives you everything you need to get started (including mounts and decent-enough light stands) easily under your budget, especially considering:

  1. Probably a new Prime lens, 60-85mm and minimum 1.8 aperture.

Nope. You don't need this. Since you're controlling the lighting, you will be able to get great results at f/5.6 or f/8, which you can do just fine with a much cheaper lens. Your 35mm f/1.8 is probably a bit short, but if you also have the kit 18-55mm kit lens, that'll do just fine. And using smaller apertures gives you more depth of field, which in my experience is pretty much always a boon when working with non-professional models not accustomed to posing.

Of course, if you want a new lens, hey, I won't stop you, but you probably don't need it for this.


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