1. Welcome to NikonCafe.com—a friendly Nikon camera & photography discussion forum!

    If you are thinking of buying a camera or need help with your photos, you will find our forum members full of advice! Click here to join for free!

Question from a portrait beginner

Discussion in 'Studio Equipment and Lighting' started by Rich Gibson, Dec 2, 2005.

  1. I am planning on setting up a modest portrait setup for occasional work with family and friends. I have a D2X and D2H, several candidate lenses (50mm f/1.2, 20-70 mm f/2.8 and 85mm f/1.4), a SB800 and a portrait canvas backdrop and good steady tripod.

    I think a second flash would be the final item (remember, nothing elaborate). Any suggestions? A mount for both flashes? What 2nd flash will I need? Another Sb800? How do you connect them; with a cable?

    Thanks, Rich
  2. MontyDog


    Jan 30, 2005
    #1064 - You have an error in your SQL syntax;
  3. Steve S

    Steve S

    Feb 1, 2005
    SE Florida
    I may be shot for heresy for saying this,

    but Rich, if you're going to have this setup to use primarily at home, why not drop $325 (total) on an Alien Bees AB400 and a Softbox, then get a multi-reflector? You could still use the SB's for fill and background lighting if you wished. The lightstands for them are the same $, and you don't have to buy the adaptors that the SB's need. As good as the SB800's CLS is, it can never hope to match the soft, wrap around lighting a real strobe with a softbox offers. Now, don't get me wrong, they are good *portable* solution, but you can pack up a single AB400 too. I will admit, I have seen *good* shots with a multiple SB800 setup, but none that compare to a real AC powered strobe/softbox combo. The recharge time at less than full power is just a second. Just ask Charles Wilt, he'll tell ya, he recently made the switch. Hope this opinion doesn't ruffle anyone's feathers.
  4. I can see now that "quick and dirty" is not a feasible term to apply to portraiture. Any books/tutorials which display & explain products, setups and techniques?

    Thanks, Rich
  5. shootman

    shootman Guest

    The big difference between small hand held flashes and flash heads, be they monoblocks or power pack units, are the choices of light modifiers.

    An SB-800 will never be able to match the quality of light that a single head in a softbox can. There just isn't enough grunt behind an SB unit to effectively light a portrait with a 36" x 48" soft box. At the price of the 800 you can do better with a power pack and head combo.
  6. JeffKohn


    Apr 21, 2005
    Houston, TX
    I think you can do quite well with a couple of SB-800's if you're starting out. Power requirements when shooting digital are less than in the film days for a couple of reasons: 1) You have more DOF so you don't have to stop down as much, and 2) If necessary you can bump the ISO a bit without image quality suffering. To be honest though I haven't had any problem shooting ISO 100 with the SB-800's.

    There are modifiers you can use with a flash. I have a Photek Softlighter II, which is an umbrella with a front diffusor panel. It's provides light that is just as soft as a similar sized softbox.

    The nice thing about flashes is the extreme portability, especially if you want to shoot outdoors or on location. Also, the flashes are dual-use since you can use them for things other than portraits. I just can't justify separate studio lighting for the amount of portaits I do. If you already have an external flash, adding a lightstand, umbrella, and maybe a reflector is a really cheap way to get started and figure out if this is really an area you want to invest more money in.

    IMHO the reason to get into studio lights is if you're going to be doing serious studio work where you need the faster recycle times and the ability to use all the other modifiers like barn doors, snoots, grids, etc. But that's just way beyond my needs right now.
  7. MontyDog


    Jan 30, 2005
    #1064 - You have an error in your SQL syntax;
  8. No expert either, but a user....

    I have a SB-800 that I use as the master, usually off camera on a stand with an umbrella. To connect to the camera, I use theNikon SC-29. This light acts as my fill and I typically keep it close to the camera axis. It's also possible to disable the flash and use it only to trigger other SBs.

    I also use 1 SB-600 as my main light on a stand with various modifiers. It's triggered by the master and is wireless.

    I have a 2nd SB-600 that I'd use as either a background light or hairlight. Unfortunately, it hit the floor during a shoot recently so is out of commission.

    You can get away with just one flash and use a reflector. Might make things easier to have a 2nd light. Once you get comfortable with them, then add other lights like background and hairlight.

    It's great to be able to make all necessary adjustments to the lights from behind the camera. No wires and very easy to do! The greatest advantage is probably portability. I'm planning on upgrading to "real" studio lights soon but these have been invaluable for me to learn.

    Here's a recent shot I took using the two Speedlights in the configuration I mentioned above. I was quite pleased with the results.
  9. jjdesanto1


    May 1, 2005
    Warwick, N.Y.
    John DeSanto
    Rich: I think you've gotten some solid advice here. I'm no expert either, but I went down this path a couple of months ago, so here is my advice:

    Since you already have one SB-800 already purchased and paid for, you might as well continue down this road. You could buy one more flash - and I'd recommend the SB-600 since it's basically the SB-800 without commander mode - and a pair of light stands and umbrellas. Let's see the total: 1 SB-600 would be $200, for two lightweight lightstands figure $80 total, two basic 45-inch umbrellas would set you back $30 each. That's a grand total of an additional $340 for a basic setup.

    I believe both of your bodies are CLS capable and if either has a pop-up flash you could fire the strobes using commander mode on the camera. Otherwise you'd need a sync cord - sc28 or sc29 would do nicely - to fire the SB-800 which would then fire the SB-600 remotely.

    Hope this helps.
  10. rbsmith


    Apr 13, 2005
    Saltillo, Ms
    I don't have any info to add. I am just watching this thread with interest. I have 2 SB800s. Are there any specific suggestions on umbrella, stands, connectors and such. Brands, size and best place to purchase.
  11. marc

    marc Guest

    hello rich

    i just bought my 4th sb800, as my person at b&h ( who i have known about 5 years, ex shooter, and camera rep) said, why do you want to play with cords, wires power etc.

    just use the sb800's, i bought 4 bogen clamps and two stands, already have 4 different cords including sb29.

    you can purchase umbrellas, diffusers, whatever and shoot sb800's tru them, just like regular studio lights

    i used 1 on camera sb800 and a second, on a clamp , bounced from ceiling to take some photos of chroal group on stairs, came out very well lighted.

    you can use sb800's in multiple modes, you can fire in maual, or ttl

    you can mix and match, there is tremendous flexability, and all you need are the flash heads, some way to mount them and a bag to carry in.

    you can set up inside, outdie anywhere you please, you are restricted only by your imagination.

    it is wonderful, and even just adding one sb800, makes a world of difference

    also remember nikon is bringing the su800, this will allow you to take the strobe off the camera, then you really have flexibility.

    much cheaper and easier in the long run,

    just my thoughts

  12. Hi Rich:

    I thought I would pop in and add my .02...
    I have been using the Sb800 system for quit a while now and it works quit well. Having (3) units with 2 on stands and on the camera is a huge advantage over just having 2 and being forced to use one as a master.

    The down side to the flash units is power... as others have said, they just cannot do what a studio light can do. Even more than the lack of power is the fact that you don't have the ability to (see your light) before you click the shutter. Yes you can fire the guns and some folks call that a modeling light. But my brain need more time than that to figure out if I’m getting the light were I want.
    So yes I use the SB800 system and will be added another gun to my bag very soon only because I like the ability to place these guns in strange places and create lighting effects that one might not get using anything else.
    But I’m also shopping really hard for a good set of studio lights that add to my ability to do creative things.

    I'm not sure if these thoughts are of much value.... but that's my .02
  13. jjdesanto1


    May 1, 2005
    Warwick, N.Y.
    John DeSanto
    Hi rbsmith

    I went the light and cheap route with stands and umbrellas since this isn't my primary source of income. I bought two lightweight lightstands from B&H:


    and two cheapo umbrellas from the same place:


    You'd also need umbrella clamps for the top of the lightstands:


    They're easy to carry and quick to set up. Once you've learned the basics you can always upgrade to something better. Hope this helps!
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 2, 2005
  14. I have a pair of SB-600's but they really don't get much use. I thought it'd be nice to have a portable set for location shooting but they're definately not strong enough to use outdoors during daytime as main lights, and even then it's difficult to get the right look without modifiers (which negates their portability).

    I highly recommend getting a set of Alienbees. For a little more than an SB-600, you can get a B400. Even the B1600 is just a tad more than an SB-800. In studio I'm using 2 X1600s and 2 B800s and it's a very effective and flexible setup. Just make sure you have enough room.
  15. JeffKohn


    Apr 21, 2005
    Houston, TX
    For lightstands, check the Amnova store on Ebay. The price will tend to vary from auction to auction, so you just have to keep an eye out for a good deal. Usually you can get a lightstand for under $20 though.

    This clamp works well with the SB-800: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/controller/home?O=WishList.jsp&A=details&Q=&sku=42160&is=REG (just use the hotshoe mount that came with the SB-800 in place of that little silver mount in the picture).

    And here's the umbrella I use: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/con...ls&Q=&sku=42418&is=REG&addedTroughType=search
  16. Steve S

    Steve S

    Feb 1, 2005
    SE Florida
    No wires on strobes necessary

    if you use the hotshoe mounted SB800 to trigger the wireless slaves on the strobe(s), then there aren't any wires to deal with at all. I think some of you are thinking Rich wants to be mobile with his setup, but he only mentioned a "modest studio setup...and a portrait canvas backdrop...". That's something we need to keep in mind when offering recommendations. From what he's said so far, I take it he plans to use it at his home.
  17. marc

    marc Guest

    i think, i understood

    most are recommending, studio strobes, i am just showing the flexibility of sb800

    i certainly, like to keep it modest.

    when replying, i try not to spend others funds

    just give some info, based on my own experience, or what little knowledge, i pocess.

    good luck rich.
  18. Henry Goh

    Henry Goh

    Mar 17, 2005

    A scalable approach: 1 Alien Bees + 1 softbox + 1 reflector or foam core. That should keep you busy for a few weeks. Then if you are comfortable, consider adding ABs and modifiers like beuaty dish or umbrellas or more softboxes. Having too many lights at the learning stage was overwhelming for me and until I realized that I had to switched everything off and only one light was on, did I truly started learning about lighting.

    Hope you enjoy your studio exploration.

  19. Jeff Mims

    Jeff Mims

    May 25, 2005
    Back when I was doing portraits, I used Photoflex brand, reflectors, and softbox. I also had a White Lightning 600 flash unit. White Lightning (Paul C Buff & Co).is based out of Arkansas, and also sold stands, softboxes..lots of accessories.
    They are a good company to deal with..and their website is:
    Hope this helps.

  20. CliffCheney

    CliffCheney Guest

    Actually their web address is:


    I used to use them as well. Inexpensive with good warranty support... I have had at least 6 of them blow-up on me. When I say blow-up I mean huge popping sound with smoke. Really scares the stuffing out of your models.

    I am trying to upgrade to elinchroms now. But, if money is tight, the UltraZAPs and their other White Lightning lights will get the job done most of the time.
  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.