How to do portraits with two speedlights? LONG!

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Greetings!

There's a lot of information here, provided to best illustrate my assets to help get the best advice possible. I apologize for the length of all this, but I'm new to trying to get get serious with my speedlights (as I now have two TTL lights). Some of this may be irrelevant, so thanks for bearing with me!

I have an upcoming portrait session with about 20-30 graduate students (each shot separately) and I'd greatly appreciate some advice to help improve the photos I'll make -- and also to learn things that I can apply to the future. I've recently acquired some new equipment and would like to use it properly to get better shots.

This is one of the jobs I get on a yearly basis -- I photograph incoming Physics graduate students. In the past few years I've shot these photos a couple of different ways. I have usually used a solid white background for a variety of reasons. Last year, I was limited to a very confined space, with a distance to my subject of around six feet. I used a D300 handheld tethered to an SB 600 on a light stand, with an SB-80DX on a slave trigger behind the subject, aimed at the background (white foam board) using a piece of black foam board to try to keep the light off the subject. I started with the SB 600 using a large bounce card, and I believe I eventually hung a full 40x60-inch piece of white foam board behind me and bounced the SB 600 off of that. I was using TTL (not BL-TTL because the flash wasn't on the camera). One of my goals was to try to blow out the background completely or almost -- at least to avoid a shadow behind the subject. The results were better than I'd previously achieved, but I still wasn't satisfied.

So, circumstances have changed and here are my assets this time. I have a D7000 (still have the D300 as well), an SB 700, SB 600, and SB 80DX, a small (11-inch square on the front) softbox with a custom-made opening to fit the SB 600, and a small shoot-through umbrella. One option I have is to use a 20-foot sync cord (I forget the number, but it is the cooly cord that attaches to the camera's hot shoe). I'll have the light or lights on tripods (I hate light stands and have at least five tripods). I have plenty of white foam board. I plan to use either a Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 or a Nikon 55-300 lens.

I have a different room in which to shoot this year. It's 19.5 feet x 12 feet. There's a 12-foot x 4-foot (4-feet wide in the middle; it tapers to about three feet at either end conference table in the room. The table is too large and heavy to take out of the room; it had to be assembled inside. Currently there is 4'8" between one of the tables and the wall, and 3' of space on the other end. Windows measuring six feet tall (from about two feet above the floor to the ceiling) cover most of the exterior wall, which faces north. The windows will be to the right side of the subject as I currently envision setting things up.

My current plan is to mark an X on the floor for the subject to stand, right at the end of the table. I could also seat them on a stool, which would place them slightly closer to the background. I was planning to put a large piece of white foam board on the table as a reflector (unless I shouldn't). I'll be shooting these images as head-and-shoulder portraits, and I plan to shoot from the other end of the table. If I shoot handheld, I'd certainly choose the Nikon lens. If I mount the camera on a tripod, I could use either lens. Is there a reason to choose one over the other? I suspect I'll be shooting at somewhere between 130 and 150mm, more or less, so either lens would give me plenty of reach.

I'm undecided whether I want to go with the white background this time. In the past, I've done that because I have sometimes had a need to extract the subject from the background to make a composite, but I don't do that all that often these days. I don't have any real muslin backgrounds, but I do have some images I generated in Photoshop that I could use -- I have an Epson 9800 printer and enhanced matte paper on a 44-inch wide roll I could use to make one. For now, let's presume I want to use the white background and, either way, I'd like to eliminate or at least greatly minimize shadows behind the subject. The background will be on the wall, about four feet behind the person I'm shooting. I'd also like to have decent modeling on the subject's face. Previous methods have produced adequate results, but I'd like to do better than adequate.

My first choice is to use the SB 700 and 600, triggered wirelessly with CLS using the pop-up flash on the D7000. I'd prefer to shoot at ISO 100 or 200 but am not married to that idea. I could probably buy umbrellas to use with the speedlights I have, but that's probably the only thing I can afford to purchase. Of course, Pocket Wizards would be ideal, because I could use the SB 80DX to light the background and still use both my other speedlights. But there's no way I can get those at present. So the other option would be to use the sync cord with the SB 700 and then I could use the SB 80DX on the background (my slave trigger has a delay that will make it sync with the TTL delay, but not the CLS pre-flashes). I would be able to secure the cord to prevent any of the lights from toppling over. I do have two light stands, but they appear in the dictionary next to the term "rinky-dink" and are at least 20 years old. I think they'll fall over if you look at them suddenly. I have plenty of tripods, and I can use chairs to give them a height boost if necessary. I'm thinking I'll want have the speedlights close to the subject. Some of the students will undoubtedly be wearing glasses (in-house policy is that if a person normally wears glasses most of the time, they should wear them in their photos). Also, a significant number of them will likely speak very little English, so my ability to give instructions to some of them will be limited.

Can anyone give me advice as to which set-up is likely to give me best results, and given the layout of the room I want to use, what are some likely light placements/recipes I should try -- i.e, where to place the lights and how to try varying the light output? The shoot is scheduled for August 20, so I have time to find a guinea pig and try some things out ahead of time, but I can't spend all my time on it so I was hoping to eliminate obvious blind alleys. I'd really appreciate any help from those of you who are much more experienced with speedlights.

SSB
 
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Just rough thoughts as I was reading, but if budget is a concern, certainly forget about Pocket Wizards (seems unthinkable). You don't even need radio triggers, simple cheap optical triggers work fine in such a room. All but your SB-600 already have great ones, but see http://www.scantips.com/lights/slaves.html for some $12 flash foot choices. But you must still trigger one of them some other way anyway, which could be the SB-600. Hot shoe cord (fill light must be close to the camera anyway), or you can get an inexpensive adapter to use PC sync cord.

You don't need TTL for such work, you want a manual flash setup. TTL can change things unexpectedly (subject turning head, or different subjects, etc). In such fixed situation, after you set up manual flash, and adjust it right, then it is right for whoever sits in front of it. If you have the budget for pocket wizards, instead spend some of it for a handheld flash meter (like Sekonic L308S or L358) to easily adjust each light level individually to known and EASILY REPEATABLE values (the setup next time). Set the fill light a good one stop less than main (ratio), both metered individually at the subject. Then meter both together for the camera aperture, it will be about 1/3 stop more than main alone.

White backgrounds get tiresome fast, and really need a light on them to make them white. I understand you mentioned extracting the subject, but that time doesn't make sense in any volume setup. Plain is good though, and middle gray is popular, and does not have to be lighted (but lighting does give control to create choices).

Umbrellas are fantastic and inexpensive. See http://www.scantips.com/lights/umbrellas2.html about mounting speedlights.

But white foam reflectors can work fine, if you can mount it. Basically an umbrella is an easily mounted reflector, so duplicate that setup (flash aimed away from subject). Soft light is good, and big and close makes soft. At least big and close for the main light. Less important for fill light, it is flat frontal light anyway, bare flash could work, but umbrella is standard.

Other standard stuff: I think you will surely want one main light (umbrella) about 45 degrees high and 45 degrees wide, from your subject, and pretty much close as possible to them (just out of camera view). And the fill light ought to be as close to the camera lens axis as possible, which means it is back near the camera to see around it. Or BEHIND the camera, just over it, is a good popular place for fill. It's idea is to NOT make a second set of shadows, but to fill (lighten, soften) the main light shadows, what the lens sees, but leaving some for soft graduated tones to define the subjects shape. See http://www.scantips.com/lights/setup/
 
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Just rough thoughts as I was reading, but if budget is a concern, certainly forget about Pocket Wizards (seems unthinkable).
Yes, either you misunderstood or I wasn't clear -- I realize Pocket Wizards or something similar might be ideal, but they're definitely out of the budget. I was actually trying to head off suggestions of buying such things. Often when I ask for photography advice, someone starts "trying to spend my my money" -- and I have little, if any, to spend.
You don't even need radio triggers, simple cheap optical triggers work fine in such a room.
I presume you were thinking of ways to use all three speedlights I have. If I take the SB 80DX out of the equation, can't I set the D7000 to fire the other two in manual mode, as opposed to TTL?
I understand you mentioned extracting the subject, but that time doesn't make sense in any volume setup.
Perhaps not, but I've done it for 10-plus years and I'm pretty good at doing it fairly quickly, using alpha channels to build a mask. The only exceptions are usually the one to three students per year who ignore or forget the plea they'll be given to wear a shirt that is something other than white or a pale pastel. Your suggestion of using gray is good idea, however, and I'll probably give that a whirl.
Umbrellas are fantastic and inexpensive. See http://www.scantips.com/lights/umbrellas2.html about mounting speedlights.

But white foam reflectors can work fine, if you can mount it. Basically an umbrella is an easily mounted reflector, so duplicate that setup (flash aimed away from subject). Soft light is good, and big and close makes soft. At least big and close for the main light. Less important for fill light, it is flat frontal light anyway, bare flash could work, but umbrella is standard.
So, are you saying I could consider putting an umbrella on the fill light? Are we talking shoot-through or reflected? Is there no use for the softbox I have?
Other standard stuff: I think you will surely want one main light (umbrella) about 45 degrees high and 45 degrees wide, from your subject, and pretty much close as possible to them (just out of camera view). And the fill light ought to be as close to the camera lens axis as possible, which means it is back near the camera to see around it. Or BEHIND the camera, just over it, is a good popular place for fill. It's idea is to NOT make a second set of shadows, but to fill (lighten, soften) the main light shadows, what the lens sees, but leaving some for soft graduated tones to define the subjects shape. See http://www.scantips.com/lights/setup/
Very interesting -- thanks for the links!

I should add that I have a good set-up as far as mounting umbrellas and speedlights on the tripods I have -- I have access to a very well-equipped machine shop, with a couple of people there who are photographers and understand what I want to accomplish. I don't need to buy stands right now, which is good since I can't afford them. Any suggestions for good, inexpensive umbrellas without all the mounting hardware?

SSB
 
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Also, if my existing softbox is too small, I'm not afraid to build one using black foam board. It would only be for indoor use like this and not very portable (the room I'm going to use is next door to my office), but if I make one and get decent results, it might convince someone to let me buy a better one at some point. What size would be optimum for use with a speedlight? I know you can make one and cover the front with white silk, but are there other easily attainable materials that would work?

Of course, I have been reading at the links you provided, and see that you generally prefer umbrellas over softboxes for speedlights. It makes sense -- the main advantage to using the softbox would be that I have it. But I also have white foam board, and as you say, I can use it to make a reflector (I'd mount it on the same custom mount I would use for the umbrella. If did that, how large a piece of foam board would be ideal for this use?

SSB
 
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I presume you were thinking of ways to use all three speedlights I have. If I take the SB 80DX out of the equation, can't I set the D7000 to fire the other two in manual mode, as opposed to TTL?

Sure, the newer flashes do manual flash too. The only issue would be triggering the SB-600 remotely if manual mode (no slave, no PC port, but it has Manual mode), but you can buy inexpensive foot mounted PC cord or optical slave accessories for it, to add that. The SB-700 has the optical slave, but not the PC connector. Not a thing wrong with optical slave in any reasonably normal size room. The slaves work better than the commander system, because they are a simpler signal, triggered from full working power level of the others, closer others, any other, instead of minimum power binary decoded data from only the commander back at camera.

(Excluding the digital slaves with delay to bypass preflash, then) Manual flash is the only way your D7000 or D300 can use the SB80DX (due to iTTL). But if all flashes are manual flash mode, then it works as well with them as any of them. Same as any of them, you do have three flashes.


So, are you saying I could consider putting an umbrella on the fill light? Are we talking shoot-through or reflected? Is there no use for the softbox I have?
Fill normally has umbrella on it, but since it is back by the camera, there is less need for it. I am a strong advocate of reflected umbrella, IMO, the only proper use for shoot-through is at subject distances like 12 inches, when reflected cannot be made to work. Except for this extreme closeness, I think the reflected always wins.

Notions: http://www.scantips.com/lights/umbrellas3.html

I should add that I have a good set-up as far as mounting umbrellas and speedlights on the tripods I have -- I have access to a very well-equipped machine shop, with a couple of people there who are photographers and understand what I want to accomplish. I don't need to buy stands right now, which is good since I can't afford them. Any suggestions for good, inexpensive umbrellas without all the mounting hardware?
Wow, certainly sounds enviable, and good to go. There are many inexpensive umbrellas, it is not necessary to pay the higher prices. I'd suggest 40 or 45 inches for main, not a small one. B&H house brand (called Impact) are good for the price. Get the black cover for reflected use. I like Smith Victor or Photogenic, but all are imports, and really, they are all about the same, and anything not embarrassingly crummy should be fine. It is a reflector.

Of course, I have been reading at the links you provided, and see that you generally prefer umbrellas over softboxes for speedlights. It makes sense -- the main advantage to using the softbox would be that I have it. But I also have white foam board, and as you say, I can use it to make a reflector (I'd mount it on the same custom mount I would use for the umbrella. If did that, how large a piece of foam board would be ideal for this use?

Just me maybe. Some people do want softboxes for speedlights. It doesn't make much sense to me, but some light does come out of them, and they like them. It may in fact be a diffused fabric diffuser, and that's good and useful, but if a focused speedlight, it seems not quite the same as a softbox, and umbrellas are probably larger. But if light comes out, it should work. Many things work, could bounce it off a ceiling or wall.

Size is the same idea for softboxes or umbrellas, bigger is better, to a point. The standard rule of thumb for soft light for portraits is that the optimum is a light about the same dimension across as it is from the subject. It should then light an area about that same size there, a guarantee to be very adequately soft. 40 inches big at 40 inches distance is fine for a 40 inch subject area. We can easily do that up close, but it gets hard at full length or group distances, so the notion often gets left behind, but the greater distance does not need so much soft anyway. And this is speaking of a maximum of soft for ladies and children, and a harder more contrasty light is deemed adequate to show the character of us tough males anyway. B&W photography will want to use more contrast than color, we have to tone it down some for color. All that is just talk of course, about any result you get can be great.
 
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Wayne, I misspoke (or miswrote) --- the third flash I have is the SB-28DX, not the SB-80. I got curious because you made reference to the SB-80 have a built-in optical trigger, and the reason I'd bought a slave trigger for what I wrongly remembered being the 80 was that I had researched it and found it did not have such a trigger. But the net effect is still the same, since I do have a separate slave trigger for it.

And for what it's worth, I also have a old SC-17 which has sat for years mounted on an F3 that's still haunting this office. I'm not sure I've seen it fired in the nearly 14 years I've worked in this office. I don't know how useful it would be today -- but thankfully I see that it was stored (by my former co-worker who was here for 37 years) without batteries. So, presuming it is functional (and it is as far as I know), is there a use for it in this scenario? I know almost nothing about this particular speedlight (other than its funky mount), but I will read up on it ASAP.

Sure, the newer flashes do manual flash too. The only issue would be triggering the SB-600 remotely if manual mode (no slave, no PC port, but it has Manual mode), but you can buy inexpensive foot mounted PC cord or optical slave accessories for it, to add that.
Wayne, I do have one of those foot-mounted cords -- I believe it uncoils to nine feet. I know that the coily nature of the cord means it is predisposed to pull on a light stand and send it crashing to the floor, but I can tie it down to prevent this, at least in this case.

So if I did that and used the cord to fire the SB 600, then you're saying the SB 700 has a built-in optical trigger? Then the advantage to that is that I could use all three lights. And the advantage to using CLS (using my D7000's pop-up flash as a commander to fire the two newerflasdhes in manual mode) is that I could adjust the light output from the camera, but lose the use of the SB-28DX? Correct?
Wow, certainly sounds enviable, and good to go.
Well, what they've created is in no way a standard umbrella mount. It uses an old flash bracket I had collecting dust as a base. I may get them to make a copy of said bracket (functional copy, not an exact duplicate) at some point. I'll try to post a photo in the near future of the Frankenstein setup we've created.
There are many inexpensive umbrellas, it is not necessary to pay the higher prices. I'd suggest 40 or 45 inches for main, not a small one. B&H house brand (called Impact) are good for the price.
Naturally, the convertible Impact umbrella in that range is backordered until five days prior to my shoot! Any opinion on this one? http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/63319-REG/Westcott_2016_Umbrella_White_Satin.html?
Some people do want softboxes for speedlights. It doesn't make much sense to me, but some light does come out of them, and they like them. It may in fact be a diffused fabric diffuser, and that's good and useful, but if a focused speedlight, it seems not quite the same as a softbox
The softbox I have (and the shoot-through umbrella as well) were originally part of a kit with a pair of Rokunar strobes. The guys in the machine shop made a plastic insert that fits into the original circular opening on the softbox, with a new opening that fits the SB-600. It has a silky white fabric on the front and the interior sides looks like a silver foil material. So, I think it is a real softbox, albeit a small one. These things were already in this office when I started working here almost 14 years ago, so I really don't know how old they all might be. We primarily used the strobes for years after I arrived, though I myself used them sparingly and almost completely without knowing what I was doing (this used to be a two-man office, but now it is just me)! I couldn't find any provision to adjust the power on the old strobes, and they had become quite erratic in the last couple of years; one fires continuously, every five seconds or so, and the other sometimes refuses to fire at all, even though I replaced the sync cords and such. I wanted something a bit more portable anyway.

SSB
 
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And for what it's worth, I also have a old SC-17 which has sat for years mounted on an F3 that's still haunting this office. I'm not sure I've seen it fired in the nearly 14 years I've worked in this office. I don't know how useful it would be today -- but thankfully I see that it was stored (by my former co-worker who was here for 37 years) without batteries. So, presuming it is functional (and it is as far as I know), is there a use for it in this scenario? I know almost nothing about this particular speedlight (other than its funky mount), but I will read up on it ASAP.

SC-17 is a hot shoe extension cord, so maybe you meant a SB-17 flash. Old flashes ought to be powered up awhile every several months, to reform their capacitors, to prevent their failure. Same is true of old radios, etc, anything with electrolytic capacitors in them. Sitting for years without power is not good for them.

The SC-17 is the old version of the SC-28 cord. They are the same and still work fine, I still use two of them today. The only difference is the new cord has the rotating lever to drop a locking pin in the hot shoe, where the old cord has a clamp wheel on top. You can still drop the flash pin on a SC-17, the pin is spring loaded, and it holds fast, even if not in a hole.

Wayne, I do have one of those foot-mounted cords -- I believe it uncoils to nine feet. I know that the coily nature of the cord means it is predisposed to pull on a light stand and send it crashing to the floor, but I can tie it down to prevent this, at least in this case.
I know what you mean, any cord tension pulls the light stand over. You can heat the coiled cord in hot water, and then two of you stretch it tight, maybe a couple of times, to more or less straighten it, a bit kinky maybe, to maybe 8 feet, that won't tip the light stand. I have never done, but others have.

So if I did that and used the cord to fire the SB 600, then you're saying the SB 700 has a built-in optical trigger? Then the advantage to that is that I could use all three lights.
Yes, the optical slave is called SU-4 mode, manual page D-18. It is a really good optical slave, manual flash only. You set the power level there in its menu.

Its option called Auto there is something else, for multiple flash with film TTL. The film camera quenches the flash on the hot shoe to quit early to control TTL exposure. Auto mode "follows" that controlled flash, if sensor is well aimed at it, so that in that way, it does film TTL too. Film TTL quenches them all when the light is sufficient.

But NOT digital TTL, which uses preflash, etc. So SU-4 is manual flash only now.

And the advantage to using CLS (using my D7000's pop-up flash as a commander to fire the two newerflasdhes in manual mode) is that I could adjust the light output from the camera, but lose the use of the SB-28DX? Correct?
Right. And commander seems fine to me in most umbrella situations, but it is line of sight and minimum power command signals, and not really reliable at any distance, or background behind subject, etc. Optical slaves are generally much more reliable (but not versatile).

Naturally, the convertible Impact umbrella in that range is backordered until five days prior to my shoot! Any opinion on this one? http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/63319-REG/Westcott_2016_Umbrella_White_Satin.html?
Looks fine to me, I'm sure its good. My only objection is that it is $30.

I'm cheap, and they are all imports, and I use these, and they have always been fine:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/250418-REG/Smith_Victor_670139_White_Black_Umbrella_45.html


The softbox I have (and the shoot-through umbrella as well) were originally part of a kit with a pair of Rokunar strobes. The guys in the machine shop made a plastic insert that fits into the original circular opening on the softbox, with a new opening that fits the SB-600. It has a silky white fabric on the front and the interior sides looks like a silver foil material. So, I think it is a real softbox, albeit a small one. These things were already in this office when I started working here almost 14 years ago, so I really don't know how old they all might be. We primarily used the strobes for years after I arrived, though I myself used them sparingly and almost completely without knowing what I was doing (this used to be a two-man office, but now it is just me)! I couldn't find any provision to adjust the power on the old strobes, and they had become quite erratic in the last couple of years; one fires continuously, every five seconds or so, and the other sometimes refuses to fire at all, even though I replaced the sync cords and such. I wanted something a bit more portable anyway.

SSB
If you like it, and it works, that's all that matters. Just seems to me the speedlight has the focused fresnel lens, and is not bare bulb nor wide angle inside there, so its beam probably can only hit the front fabric, and not the shiny sides. My thinking is an umbrella does as much. Softboxes are nice in other ways too though... convenient to position them close, side spill is less, etc.
 
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SC-17 is a hot shoe extension cord, so maybe you meant a SB-17 flash.
I did mean an SB-17; I wrote that with an actual SC-17 (the cable) sitting on my desk in front of me, which probably explains my typo.
Old flashes ought to be powered up awhile every several months, to reform their capacitors, to prevent their failure. Same is true of old radios, etc, anything with electrolytic capacitors in them. Sitting for years without power is not good for them.
I presume there's no compelling reason not to throw some batteries in it and see if it fires anyway, though -- correct? If I find it does work, is there any value it could add to this situation or to the future?
You can heat the coiled cord in hot water, and then two of you stretch it tight, maybe a couple of times, to more or less straighten it, a bit kinky maybe, to maybe 8 feet
Okay; I'll keep that in mind.
Just seems to me the speedlight has the focused fresnel lens, and is not bare bulb nor wide angle inside there, so its beam probably can only hit the front fabric, and not the shiny sides.
I was wondering if it might make sense when using a flash with the softbox to make sure it is at its widest zoom setting and perhaps use the built-in diffuser, for what it's worth ...

Now, a couple of further questions ... once I settle on a beginning set-up, what's the best way to test it? I'm sure there will be lots of trial-and-error at first, which would likely try the patience of a potential guinea pig (and my own, but that can't be helped). Is there any sort of acceptable substitute for a person as subject in the early going of these experiments and corrections? And when I do move to a human vic -- I mean, subject, should I strive to choose someone who looks similar to the incoming students rather than someone with an unusually dark or light complexion in comparison?

I mentioned the six-foot windows in the room in my original post. Should I close the blinds on those or leave them open (since I cannot guarantee the light won't change -- and since I'll be shooting over the course of several hours, I can guarantee it will change)?

SSB
 
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I presume there's no compelling reason not to throw some batteries in it and see if it fires anyway, though -- correct? If I find it does work, is there any value it could add to this situation or to the future?

Can't hurt, may or may not work now, but sounds like there is risk that power up could pop a bad capacitor. Turn it on first time outside, carefully (stink, smoke). A few years is not all that bad, but several might be. Electrolytic capacitors can dry up inside. If it does work, you will want to exercise it a bit, and get a little time on it, firing it some and recharging several times, to help form it up, to get full power.

I an not familiar with it, but this site (offering much info about it) says SB-17 model has the dedicated foot for F3, but does have PC sync connector, and seems to offer variable manual power.

http://www.mir.com.my/rb/photography/hardwares/classics/nikonf3ver2/flash/sb15/index.htm

With the PC sync cord input, if mountable, it could be the triggered very low power manual flash which is only aimed at another light, instead of the subject, to trigger the other slaves. One slave would trigger the other slaves at higher working power.


Now, a couple of further questions ... once I settle on a beginning set-up, what's the best way to test it? I'm sure there will be lots of trial-and-error at first, which would likely try the patience of a potential guinea pig (and my own, but that can't be helped). Is there any sort of acceptable substitute for a person as subject in the early going of these experiments and corrections? And when I do move to a human vic -- I mean, subject, should I strive to choose someone who looks similar to the incoming students rather than someone with an unusually dark or light complexion in comparison?
Not sure of the range you mean, but I doubt complexion would be huge issue for setup, except hair color is important for background or hair light. Stuff always has to be rechecked when starting the session, but you don't need any subject to meter the flash where they sit, but if you want to see the lighting, you could be your own subject, sitting there with a remote camera shutter button. I do that setup before the subject is ready or arrives. A hair light is very individual however.

I mentioned the six-foot windows in the room in my original post. Should I close the blinds on those or leave them open (since I cannot guarantee the light won't change -- and since I'll be shooting over the course of several hours, I can guarantee it will change)?
Well, you don't want mixed lighting in your pictures. Sky light is pretty blue, incandescent is pretty orange, and you don't want much of that. The room need not be dark at all, normal room lighting is fine, but not bright is good. Maximum shutter sync speed is the tool to keep out continuous light, incandescent or even daylight in room. For example, if shooting at say ISO 200, f/8 and 1/200 second, try a test picture with the sync cord pulled out or units turned off, so no flashes fire. That picture should be near a black frame without the flash, but the flash makes it just right. True even with the incandescent modeling lights in the subjects face. And if near black, there is no issue. If not near black, close the shades some, till it is. But it does not have to be a dark room. The ambient is pretty dim compared to the flash.

One exception about maximum shutter sync speed maybe... if using speedlights, you may need their maximum power to approach f/5.6 or f/8. Speedlights are slow when at maximum power, and maximum sync shutter probably truncates them then, making them even less bright. My SB-800 if maximum power loses one stop at 1/250 second shutter - shutter cuts it off at maximum power. You may need shutter speed of 1/125 or 1/160 to not have much effect on the maximum speedlight power (easy to test). I am only speaking of maximum power, If they are reduced a little, even to 1/2 power, they are much faster, and not likely any issue.
 
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Can't hurt, may or may not work now, but sounds like there is risk that power up could pop a bad capacitor. Turn it on first time outside, carefully (stink, smoke). A few years is not all that bad, but several might be. Electrolytic capacitors can dry up inside. If it does work, you will want to exercise it a bit, and get a little time on it, firing it some and recharging several times, to help form it up, to get full power.
Okay -- I don't think I'll need it, but I'll keep it in mind and maybe test it out later -- or find some lackey to do it for me so I can make him think he broke it if it explodes! ;)
Not sure of the range you mean, but I doubt complexion would be huge issue for setup, except hair color is important for background or hair light.
Could you elaborate a bit on how hair color affects things, and what to do about it?
Well, you don't want mixed lighting in your pictures. Sky light is pretty blue, incandescent is pretty orange, and you don't want much of that.
The overhead lights are fluorescent, but I expect the speedlights would overpower that. If it is a concern, I do have gels I could put on the speedlights to match it. What do you think; is it worth the trouble considering, as you say, if I keep the sync speed as high as possible?
One exception about maximum shutter sync speed maybe... if using speedlights, you may need their maximum power to approach f/5.6 or f/8. Speedlights are slow when at maximum power, and maximum sync shutter probably truncates them then, making them even less bright. My SB-800 if maximum power loses one stop at 1/250 second shutter - shutter cuts it off at maximum power. You may need shutter speed of 1/125 or 1/160 to not have much effect on the maximum speedlight power (easy to test). I am only speaking of maximum power, If they are reduced a little, even to 1/2 power, they are much faster, and not likely any issue.
So, forgive my ignorance, but what is a recommended aperture range to shoot portraits? I presumed I'd likely be shooting at around f/5.6, and as I mentioned I expect my focal length is going to be somewhere around 150-175mm. Do you believe I'd get enough DOF at that range from f/5.6, or should I expect to stop down further? I'd obviously need to have the subject in focus (not just the eyes), but I don't mind if the background isn't so sharp. I could always increase ISO a bit to reduce the load on the flashes, but then I might begin to have to take the room lighting into account. And I'd rather use the lowest ISO I can. Is ISO 100 (native ISO for the D7000) going to be too slow? I'd greatly prefer to avoid exceeding ISO 400, in any event.

And then there's the question of procedure in setting things up and determining the best settings for each light. How, exactly, does one do this? Logic tells me I should get the main light correct first. This is complicated by the fact that I'm going to be using the SB-600 as my fill, but it is the one that will be connected directly to the camera via cable, and therefore the other lights won't fire unless it fires first (I suppose I could theoretically use the pop-up flash, but that just sounds like a way to drain my camera battery faster). So, here is my supposition: Set up the SB-600 on the cable in the approximate position it will have in the final set-up. Set it to the lowest manual power setting, presuming that setting will trigger the SB-700. Set the SB-700 to full power and fire a test shot. If that proves too powerful, set it to half power and try again. If that is not powerful enough, then the proper setting lies between full and half. If it is still too powerful, then set it to one-quarter and try again.

I expect you might be able to tell me whether you think it is likely all of this will be necessary -- common sense, FWIW, tells me that something closer to full power is likely to be correct for the SB-700.

Once I determine the proper setting for the SB-700, then it is time to do the same for the SB-600 as a fill light, and that the "correct" setting for that is something of a matter of taste. Then, finally, I should set-up and test the SB-28DX on the background. Speaking of which ...

Is there a simple way to modify the light on the background so that it doesn't reflect back excessively on the back and/or hair of the subject (I understand that any light I see on the background is by definition reflected, but I don't want the flash hitting them directly if possible)? Again, my main arsenal to modify it is likely to be black or white foam board, of which I have plenty.

I suppose that if I were to be shooting at f/5.6, that might be an argument in favor of using my 70-200 rather than the 55-300. The latter would be close to f/5.6 at maximum, whereas the 70-200 is a constant max of f/2.8 -- stopping it down a bit should get it closer to its sweet spot than the 55-300.

I'm trying to decide whether to shoot these in landscape or portrait orientation, to be honest, as well as whether I should have people stand in one spot or seat them on a stool. I might be able to coax a better pose out of them on a stool, but they'll tend to move it getting up and down and I'll have to reposition it after probably every person comes through. I can probably find a way to streamline that as well, though.

Wayne, I really appreciate your advice and assistance!

SSB
 
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Could you elaborate a bit on how hair color affects things, and what to do about it?

The main light or fill light or background light, you can simply meter them and set them to your preference, and that's what you will get, no matter who sits there. Can do this without a subject, the day before. But the hair light depends on the hair, black or blonde hair light very differently. You have to look at the actual result. One fair rule of thumb is that black hair can use maybe one stop brighter than the main light to have much effect, but light blonde hair maybe one stop less than main (to keep from blowing it all out - it is easy to overdo it, which is worse than none). Just check it, and do what you see you need to do, but you know black or blonde hair before you start.

The overhead lights are fluorescent, but I expect the speedlights would overpower that. If it is a concern, I do have gels I could put on the speedlights to match it. What do you think; is it worth the trouble considering, as you say, if I keep the sync speed as high as possible?
I sure would. Probably not bright enough to be a problem, but to know... then say you adjust your lights to shoot maybe f/5.6 and 1/200 second, whatever the numbers. Turn the flashes off, or pull sync cord or whatever, and take a picture with same settings, without flash. If this picture does not come out virtually black, then the ambient is affecting you, and you need higher settings to keep it out (maybe more flash power too). If it is black, then turn the flashes back on and have it, no problem.

So, forgive my ignorance, but what is a recommended aperture range to shoot portraits? I presumed I'd likely be shooting at around f/5.6, and as I mentioned I expect my focal length is going to be somewhere around 150-175mm. Do you believe I'd get enough DOF at that range from f/5.6, or should I expect to stop down further? I'd obviously need to have the subject in focus (not just the eyes), but I don't mind if the background isn't so sharp. I could always increase ISO a bit to reduce the load on the flashes, but then I might begin to have to take the room lighting into account. And I'd rather use the lowest ISO I can. Is ISO 100 (native ISO for the D7000) going to be too slow? I'd greatly prefer to avoid exceeding ISO 400, in any event.
I use DX, which is is more typically 60 to 80 mm for sitting portraits, not more than waist up. That compares to 105mm FX. The "rule" is not about focal length specifically, but instead that regardless if shooting head shots or groups, focal length should be whatever, so that camera ought to be 6 to 8 feet (or more), for proper perspective, to not enlarge noses, etc.

Your camera distance will probably will be limited by your speedlight fill light power, since it has to be back with the camera to see around it. Fill level should be less anyway, so probably no issue, but for distance, you could always put your strongest light at fill.

I shoot ISO 200, because that is minimum for my D300. I often use ISO 400 for bounce flash, because speedlight power is somewhat limited, esp for bounce, or in umbrellas. But one SB-800 at maximum power does f/11+ at ISO 200 in a close white reflected umbrella (2 feet to pole, 4 feet to fabric). Maximum power recycle is not much fun, but choices are possible. If the speedlght flash is at maximum power, then its duration is much longer, and then 1/250 second shutter probably truncates it, and costs you power (only if at maximum power). Something to check once.

Aperture is a preference, some think they need portraits very wide like f/2, and some prefer f/11 or so. For studio lights, I like sharper, about f/8, but speedlight bounce is often f/4 or f/5 (for power reasons).

f/2 seems inappropriate in the studio, you can control background other ways (distance is a good way). Otherwise (to me), more DOF seems a good thing. But speedlight power probably does need a bit wider aperture.

And then there's the question of procedure in setting things up and determining the best settings for each light. How, exactly, does one do this? Logic tells me I should get the main light correct first. This is complicated by the fact that I'm going to be using the SB-600 as my fill, but it is the one that will be connected directly to the camera via cable, and therefore the other lights won't fire unless it fires first (I suppose I could theoretically use the pop-up flash, but that just sounds like a way to drain my camera battery faster). So, here is my supposition: Set up the SB-600 on the cable in the approximate position it will have in the final set-up. Set it to the lowest manual power setting, presuming that setting will trigger the SB-700. Set the SB-700 to full power and fire a test shot. If that proves too powerful, set it to half power and try again. If that is not powerful enough, then the proper setting lies between full and half. If it is still too powerful, then set it to one-quarter and try again.
I don't think it matters which light you meter first, but the difference you set between them (ratio) is important. Fill a stop down, or down slightly more, is usually good for color.

I think your plan should work. Turning off the other lights to meter one is good, but you can stand so that your body blocks the meters view of the other lights. The Nikon SU-4 mode is exceptionally sensitive, minimum power should trigger it in any indoor case. Ebay cheapy slaves are less sensitive, at least when at more distant range.

If not using a light meter, see this about using the discernible detail in a white towel:
http://super.nova.org/DPR/WhiteTowelRatios/

Setting each light individually so the white towel detail is "correct" (equal at the subject), and then reducing power level of the fill light, say to 1/2 of that power (say to 1/4 from 1/2 power) for one stop ratio, works, in a known way.

If using a meter, I use a PC sync cord from handheld flash meter to which ever light I am setting levels on. Then meter button and cord triggers it to meter it. Then move that cord to the next light, etc. It does mean each light should have the connector. Different lights could have different connectors, requiring a couple of cords. The cord only has to reach from subject to light, 15 feet is more than enough for me.

common sense, FWIW, tells me that something closer to full power is likely to be correct for the SB-700.
Probably about right for like f/8 for the SB-700. The fill will be more distant, but also needs to provide less light.

Is there a simple way to modify the light on the background so that it doesn't reflect back excessively on the back and/or hair of the subject (I understand that any light I see on the background is by definition reflected, but I don't want the flash hitting them directly if possible)? Again, my main arsenal to modify it is likely to be black or white foam board, of which I have plenty.
Black background, you would not light of course. Colored backgrounds can be varied, but are often about the same as the main light.

White needs a little more exposure than the main light (maybe 1/2 stop more if incident) to burn it out at 255 to be even everywhere. It does not need to be more than to get 255. The 255 is to burn out the wrinkles in muslin, but a foam board probably does not require that. But background also needs to be maybe 5 feet back to be able to light it, and that seems enough separation to me (to be no problem) unless you over do the burning out.
Any reflected light at that distance should be well down from the close main light. On these matters, you can always take a picture at same camera settings, with only that one light on, to see exactly what it is doing. With a remote shutter, it could be you sitting there to test it.


I suppose that if I were to be shooting at f/5.6, that might be an argument in favor of using my 70-200 rather than the 55-300. The latter would be close to f/5.6 at maximum, whereas the 70-200 is a constant max of f/2.8 -- stopping it down a bit should get it closer to its sweet spot than the 55-300.
I use the 24-70 and 70-200 and they are great. My only complaint is that I am DX, and about 70mm is my ballpark for perspective, which makes these awkward. Then zooming out for a second person normally means changing the lens. :smile:

I 'm trying to decide whether to shoot these in landscape or portrait orientation, to be honest, as well as whether I should have people stand in one spot or seat them on a stool. I might be able to coax a better pose out of them on a stool, but they'll tend to move it getting up and down and I'll have to reposition it after probably every person comes through. I can probably find a way to streamline that as well, though.
Dunno, but it seems to me, portrait mode is good for portraits. :smile: Less cropping in the final, so more pixels remain. Unless maybe 2 or 3 people there.

Mark or tape some spots on the floor for the stool legs. I'm on carpet, and it never moves. Sitting seems more fixed. You probably have room height for standing, but the main umbrella is real tough for 8 foot ceilings, and pushing it for 10 feet. Plus, you need height for background height above the head, which is close for standing with 8 feet ceilings.
 
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It will work, about anything you do can "work". And silver is a bit brighter reflection when power is minimal, but with more contrast, more specular (as opposed to a diffused reflection which is more soft). Which might be a plus for pictures of pets with shiny fur, but a very common notion (and my own) is that pictures of people want to use a white umbrella (more smooth).
 
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Okay -- I ordered and have received a pair of convertible 40-inch umbrellas from Adorama for about $30 total-ish (don't recall exactly as it was a couple of weeks ago). Slightly smaller than recommended, but should be large enough for the fairly tight portraits I'll be shooting. If I can demonstrate competence with them, maybe I'll get some larger ones later. I'll only use one in my upcoming shoot, however.

In regard to the white background, I looked at some tutorials online as well as your remarks on the subject, Wayne. As you say, separation of subject and background appears to make things much easier. However, the space I have available proscribes my set-up. As I said earlier, there's a large table in the room that realistically cannot be moved -- it weighs a ton (or might as well weight that much). So I have actual space of four feet between the edge of the table and the wall. That translates, I expect, to about three feet between the back of the subject and the wall. That's all the separation I have, unless I ask the students to sit on the table. And I'm not going to do that.

This room that I'm using is really my only viable choice. I'll have to work on other things while I wait for students to arrive -- only about half of them show up on time. Some are way early. Some will be late. They'll usually arrive in groups of two, three or four. And one or two won't show up at all until another day. My own office is out of the question, really -- maximum shooting distance in here is only about six feet. The room I've chosen is next door. It's much larger, or at least vastly more open. There are one or two room that are larger, but they're on different floors. This is the only room where I can see other students who might arrive while I'm shooting and while I'm in my office working on other things. I can set up my equipment in the room and lock the door when I'm not there, so I won't have to worry about it. So this is the best I have.

I plan to do some practice runs next week, and I'll let you know how things go -- watch this space! :wink:

SSB
 
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Came in yesterday, set up my lights and camera and did some test shots with a model/guinea pig/stand-in. I think things are set, and it only took me about 25 shots to get things right (not bad, I hope, considering I've never done this before now).

The SB-600 I'm using as the fill light, like many of that model as far as I know, has a broken zoom feature and is stuck on its widest setting. I made a short snoot (extends about two inches beyond the lens of the flash) from black craft foam and silver tape, so as to concentrate the beam a bit for these mug shot-type portraits.

I swear, I'm a pretty intelligent guy, but sometimes when I get something in my head it doesn't let go of it easily, and I miss the forest for the trees. All this time, up until about three days ago, I was thinking in terms of accommodating the table in the room where I'm going to be shooting. I had it in my head that I needed to have the students at the end of that table and this meant the maximum separation I could get between subject and background would be about three feet, and I worried that was too close to prevent a lot of light spill from the white background onto the hair, neck and shoulders. It finally dawned on me that I could shove the table to one side and shoot beside it, and therefore I could easily move the students out to about five feet (or more if necessary) from the background.

Duh!

My test shots yesterday came out quite well, and I'm looking forward to a relatively smooth session today. Thanks for your help! And I'll let you know how it goes.

SSB
 
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If the SB-600 wide angle adapter is broken off (breaking zoom), see SB-600 manual page 54 about a menu to override the broken WA adapter.

Probably not the case of the M showing with the zoom value, but that's manual page 40.

Glad to hear it's going well, it all gets easier the second time. :smile:
 
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Okay -- I promised I'd come back and give you my impressions of how things went ...

I'd say that I consider the shoot to have been 89-91 percent successful. Arbitrary, to be sure, but it sums up that I was mostly pleased and will definitely continue with this method, after some tweaking.

I mentioned that I came in the day prior and did some test shots. I did not mention that in my tests, I used my SB-600 for fill and SB-700 as my main light. I had the SB-700 firing into one of my new convertible umbrellas. I had that on the better of my two light stands, with the SB-600 on a hot shoe cord and sitting on a heavy tripod about four feet in front of the camera and just to the left of the lens' angle of view. I was shooting at 200 mm, so I could get the 600 pretty darn close, and it was sitting slightly above the height of the lens. The SB-700 was, as you suggested, about 45 degrees from the subject, i.e., at the midpoint of an arc between the subject's left side and front, and at the midpoint of an arc between the top of the subject's head and the base of the head. I had that light about as close as I could get it without having the subject feeling he was wearing the umbrella as a hat. I believe I had the main light at half-power plus a bit, but I know it wasn't dialed up to full. Perhaps I should have written down my settings, but I think just having done this once will be more help next time because I plan to make changes that will change the settings anyway.

The one light I couldn't test the day before was the one I planned to use for the background. Silly me forgot that my slave trigger, sitting unused for over a year and possibly nearly two years, requires a battery -- and said battery was dead. Circumstances required I not leave to go in search of a replacement battery, so I ignored the absence of the background light. On my way in the next morning, I stopped at a nearby Autozone to pick up replacement batteries, and I had left everything else in place from the day before.

I set up the background light and welcomed my first vict -- er, customer. And my first few shots were horrible -- way too much reflection from the background (a large piece of Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper over white foam board). I made adjustments to the power and placement of the BG flash, and in about five minutes I had things to an acceptable level -- at least according to the LCD (not very trustworthy) and the histogram (better). After that, things went more smoothly, or so it seemed. Other than keeping a watch on the background light -- my slave trigger shuts itself off a bit more quickly than I'd like, requiring me to flip it off and then back on, I only needed a couple of exposures of each person. In reality, there was still too much light off the background, but I was able to correct it in post-processing. Had I foolishly stuck with the initial set-up, nothing would have saved the images. As it was, I still had too much reflection on the rim of the shoulders, collar, and the jawline of the subject, along with an overall loss of contrast. All of these were things I could correct later, but I wish I had gotten them right out of the gate. But my white background was at 255 in every single shot! Next time, I'm going to try some practice shots starting with the background flash alone, among other changes ... about which more later.

About halfway through the session, I made more adjustments. I changed from ISO 400 to ISO 250. Once I got rolling, I made all shots at f/11 and 1/125th. Most of my other changes were in the power settings on the speedlights. I had the background flash sitting directly behind the subject, but when I was making adjustments I moved it out farther from the background and closer to the subject. Under pressure I didn't think of this, but I could have reduced its output until it no longer reached a consistent 255, then gone back up a third of a stop or so. Next time ...

I still had the background giving too much reflection after making adjustments, but very close to right, at least after making my other adjustments. The second half required fewer post-processing tricks later.

So, changes next time? First, I'd experiment with the background light to have it give just enough light but no more. I'll move the subject farther from the background and let the inverse square law give me a hand as well. Subject was five feet from the wall, but I certainly could have had them farther away than that. I'll also experiment a bit more with the fill light; I think I could have had it turned down slightly from where it was, but I'm not sure yet -- it looks pretty darn close.

After working on the images in ACR, my post-production work was mostly concerned with actual retouching -- skin, eyes and the like. I had no backgrounds to mask for the first time ever! I was able to retouch all the images -- about 30 -- in about a day and a half of work. Everyone who has seen the results and registered an opinion claims they look fantastic.

One more question: Is there any reason not to have the background SB-28DX placed as I did -- directly behind the subject -- when I am sure it will not be seen in the shot? Some online sources recommend placing the background light to the photographer's right and pointed at the background from a 45-degree angle. Is there something about doing it that way which would have mitigated some of the problems I did experience?

Thanks again for all your invaluable help. A couple of days ago I shot an children's event at church. I had the SB-700 on the camera and used ceiling bounce -- and about halfway through shooting, I changed it from iTTL to manual and got more consistent results. Three months ago I would have never even thought to try that, let alone actually do it -- to say nothing of actually having it work!

SSB
 
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Other than keeping a watch on the background light -- my slave trigger shuts itself off a bit more quickly than I'd like, requiring me to flip it off and then back on, I only needed a couple of exposures of each person.

Do you mean standby? That is tough on a slave flash, but flashes with standby normally have a way to disable it, so that it always stays on. Runs batteries down a little faster when you forget to turn it off. The SB-28 manual shows it, you hold down Mode as you press On/Off. Doing this more times toggles the STDBY indicator in LCD off and on.

The SB-28DX manual online is abbreviated. It shows the same STDBY indicator in the LCD (bottom right), but I found no text mention of it. Maybe it's the same?

One more question: Is there any reason not to have the background SB-28DX placed as I did -- directly behind the subject -- when I am sure it will not be seen in the shot? Some online sources recommend placing the background light to the photographer's right and pointed at the background from a 45-degree angle. Is there something about doing it that way which would have mitigated some of the problems I did experience?
Sure, whatever you want. Off-center will cause a gradient across the background, but it can be done intentionally for the effect. You can choose bright side to be on main light side, or not. Distance (flash to background) affects intensity of the gradient change, close is intense. In a small tight head/shoulders view area, you may not see much of the gradient change, but a wide view would see it.

Here is sort of a sample of a gradient, this one created mostly by standing very close to the background to block it.
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1263939/

Sounds like you have had an adventure, and have seen a few things. :smile: It gets easier every time, esp the after the first time.
 
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Do you mean standby?
I'm honestly not sure whether it is the flash or the trigger that is shutting down; I had presumed it was the trigger because turning it off and back on brought it back to life (and made the flash fire when the trigger was toggled back on). I guess it would make more sense for it to be the flash itself.
Sounds like you have had an adventure, and have seen a few things. :smile: It gets easier every time, esp the after the first time.
Yep! I was one of those "I really only like to use available light" people until about a year ago, and I only used flash when it was clearly mandatory, but I always did so grudgingly. But then I finally came to the conclusion that much of that attitude was a byproduct of not understanding how to use flash creatively. I don't like to let fear (and that's what it was, of a sort) keep me from a better mastery of my tools and my art, so once I recognized that as the culprit, I resolved to start learning more and increase my capabilities. I am, of course, far from mastery of it, but I do think that first hill is one of the taller and most intimidating ones. I secretly hope I never master photography completely -- not because of my own limitations but because of the art form's lack of them. I think it could get boring if I did, but I don't think there's much danger of that. The more we can do, the more we try that still exceeds our grasp. I like it that way. A creative person who doesn't make mistakes is probably not taking enough creative risks.

SSB
 
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I'm honestly not sure whether it is the flash or the trigger that is shutting down; I had presumed it was the trigger because turning it off and back on brought it back to life (and made the flash fire when the trigger was toggled back on). I guess it would make more sense for it to be the flash itself.

The SB-28 manual says it goes into standby at 80 seconds, unless disabled. It won't trigger if in Standby. Surely the Ready light goes out too, it is not ready. But if it were on the hot shoe (for communication), just half pressing the shutter button wakes it up, or keeps it out of standby. But for a slave or PC cord, you have to walk over to it, which gets old fast. Cycling power would reset it, or usually, just pressing the power button once does too. Joking, you could fire off extra shots to not let it be idle 80 seconds, but turning off STDBY seems best.

I don't know much about that model, but the SB-28 manual says holding MODE while pressing On/OFF will toggle STDBY on or off (indicator in lower right of LCD). My guess is SB-28DX is the same. I think the DX just means that it adds D-TTL for early digital cameras.

The other two flashes timeout too, but they have a menu you can change the time. But you said the SB-600 was connected to the hot shoe (via hot shoe extension cable), so the shutter button can wake it up out of its standby.
The SB-700 in SU-4 slave mode knows slaves ought not to time out. And neither of those would time out in the mode as Remote with the commander.. But the SB-28 doesn't know, unless you turn off Standby.

Yep! I was one of those "I really only like to use available light" people until about a year ago, and I only used flash when it was clearly mandatory, but I always did so grudgingly. But then I finally came to the conclusion that much of that attitude was a byproduct of not understanding how to use flash creatively. I don't like to let fear (and that's what it was, of a sort) keep me from a better mastery of my tools and my art, so once I recognized that as the culprit, I resolved to start learning more and increase my capabilities. I am, of course, far from mastery of it, but I do think that first hill is one of the taller and most intimidating ones. I secretly hope I never master photography completely -- not because of my own limitations but because of the art form's lack of them. I think it could get boring if I did, but I don't think there's much danger of that. The more we can do, the more we try that still exceeds our grasp. I like it that way. A creative person who doesn't make mistakes is probably not taking enough creative risks.

SSB
The flash is very available too, if you own one. Just get it out and turn it on. :smile:

The choice is a preference of course, how you want to work, but I see it as available light can only work with what's there (not often ideal), where flash can create more, and improve it. It does not take very long to pretty much just know what it will do. It gets easier and easier.

Frankly, if you are going to do much setup with three lights, multiple lights can be set very precisely, and greatly faster with a flash meter. You simply set each individual lights power to meter what you know you want it to be.. For example, maybe main light f/8, fill light f/5.6, and background light maybe f/11 if you want it one stop brighter than main to burn out white (with an incident meter, it will be very bright and white if equal, and really, only maybe 1/2 stop more is necessary to insure 255 all over). Then you know exactly what you have, and can create whatever you want, and you can easily repeat it again next time. Then meter once for the camera aperture.

People not used to meters and multiple lights assume that last step of metering for the camera is all there is to it, but that is very least of it. Setting up the lights right is the goal, knowing you have exactly what you want.

The incident light meter is very different than reflected meters, metering the actual light level instead of whatever happens to be reflected from the subject (of different reflectivity values, white dress, black dress, etc). Dress color does not matter to the incident meter, the meter is aimed away from the subject.
 

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