So far, I am enjoying my new Speedlight (Nikon SB-700), but any good results I have gotten have been mostly luck. I'd really like to understand how to use it so that I can make intentional technical decisions (as opposed to relying entirely on accidents and tweaking).

Assuming that I have a decent understanding of ISO / Aperture / Shutter in non-flash photography, what would you recommend as a very first, hands-on step to systematically explore how to use my setup in flash photography?

I am perfectly willing to take 200 consecutive photos of the same object if you think it is instructive to do so.

(As part of the answer, I'm also looking for settings: TTL vs Manual vs Distance Priority? Manual exposure mode vs Aperture- / Shutter-priority? Center-weighted vs spot metering vs matrix? Slow/rear/no curtain sync?)


3 Answers 3


Easy. Strobist website Lighting 101

For specifics to Nkon CLS - Nikon CLS Practical Guide

For systematic assessment of ambient vs flash and other things, Neil van Niekerk's books On Camera Flash and Off Camera Flash

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you may be missing the spirit of my question. The Strobist site will no doubt be a valuable general resource to me, but I'm looking for a more specific answer -- more specific activites, and more specific to what I have. The Lighting 101 series talks about stands, clamps, umbrellas, general scenarios, etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – anon
    Commented Nov 26, 2011 at 0:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for adding the Nikon CLS site and book recommendations. I've been making my way through the website articles, and they are indeed a systematic treatment. I don't feel as lost anymore. \$\endgroup\$
    – anon
    Commented Dec 10, 2011 at 23:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MikeW - the Off Camera Flash link has died, can you re-link the book you're talking about? \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 19:51

The more systematic approach, I think, is the best way to really learn. If you can get yourself a manikin, or part of one, then you can play with a huge variety of settings with a portrait subject. With that, I'd be looking to be using manual mode and kind of go along with something:

  1. Move from the left to the right side of the subject at known heights relative to the subject
  2. At each position run up through the flash power levels (1/64th through full)
  3. Repeat the above adjust the height of your flash on the subject
  4. Repeat the above by moving the flash further away

For each shot, record light positioning and power information and the EXIF will record the rest of the information (shutter, ISO, and aperture). You can then examine the shots in comparison to your notes to see the effects of each move. Bear in mind that you'll make camera adjustments for the exposure, but let your shot be your meter and adjust until you have it. Great way to learn the relative impact of ISO, aperture, and shutter to your light output.

However, in all of this, it's just about taking some decent notes about your shot for each one and tying it to the result. You could be crazy thorough or run a few angles, either is good if you have notes.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ When you say "Move from the left to the right side" -- do you mean move the flash only, or do you mean that the entire unit (flash attached to camera) should move? Also, what do you mean by "let your shot be your meter"? Lastly, my wife will think that it is creepy that I am hiding in the basement taking 1000 photos of a mannequin. Any tips on how to deal with her? =) \$\endgroup\$
    – anon
    Commented Nov 26, 2011 at 4:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @anon - I mean move the flash, put your camera on a tripod. For metering, if you're manual, you won't really have any other option other than to look at your shot and adjust your camera unless you do the math ahead of time or you have a light meter. As for your wife, make her the subject for a while, she'll understand pretty quick... :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Joanne C
    Commented Nov 26, 2011 at 4:28

I'd start with playing with flash between the shooting modes, and seeing how flash behaves differently when switching the camera between P, A/S, and M. While you may have mastered the exposure triangle for ambient-only lighting, adding flash is a whole new ballgame, and something as basic and simple as switching your camera's shooting mode can have a drastic WTF?! impact. A and S assume you want fill flash (mostly ambient, little bit of flash), so unlike P&S flash cameras, you can still have very long shutter speeds. P takes the ambient light level into account and switches to using the flash as the main source of illumination in lower light levels. While M lets you do whatever you're gonna do.

Starting out with the camera in M, and the flash in M will give you more visibility into what's actually going on than being in, say, A and iTTL will, and may be faster for learning.

You'll also want to learn about FP flash (if your camera body supports it), and certainly about my max. sync speed if your body doesn't have FP flash capability.

I'd start with on-camera bouncing, with and without the black foamie thing.

Off-camera flash is nifty keen, but start small and simple with the least amount of equipment to me is the easiest way to learn the basics. Exhaust what you can do with a flash on-camera before you take it off-camera. Learn about tilt and swivel and what moving the flash head to change the angle of light can do; learn what adjusting the power level can do; learn what bouncing does vs. hard direct flash. Quality, direction, and quantity of light are your main controls to how the flash will appear in the final image.

Learn that while your ambient is controlled by iso, aperture, and shutter speed; your flash is controlled by iso, aperture, flash-to-subject distance, and flash power.

Try adjusting your shutter speed between shots to see what effect that has on the image. Learn how to drag the shutter.

Then mess about with iTTL and FEC, vs. Manual on the flash, and learn when you'd want to use one over the other. iTTL has advantages as well as drawbacks, and despite what those who've drunk the Strobist Kool-Aid would tell you, it's as useful a tool as having A and S modes on your camera body. You'll want to use i-TTL for run'n'gun event situations.


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