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Multiple Flash Firing with Nikon’s Advanced Wireless Lighting System Using Pop-up Flash

Tips & Tricks

Topics Covered:

  • Setting Commander Mode for your Nikon camera and firing off-camera Speedlights using a pop-up flash.
  • Assigning multiple flashes to groups A and B to control from your Nikon camera’s Commander Mode.
  • Adjusting your flash channel, illumination pattern, and zoom position.

Compatible Cameras and Flashes (including Canon and Sony):

If you own or rent one of the following cameras, you may fire off-camera flash via Commander Mode using the pop-up flash on your camera:

D600, D800/E, D700, D300/s, D200, D90, D80, D70s, D7100 and D7000.

This system is compatible with the following Speedlights:

SB-910, SB-900, SB-800, SB-700, SB-600, and SB-R200.

No need for radio triggers or cables!

Canon shooter? You can do this, too, with the following cameras using Canon’s Integrated Speedlite Transmitter system:

7D, 60D, Rebel T3i, Rebel T4i, Rebel T5i, and Rebel SL1.

Canon’s system is compatible with the following Speedlites:

600EX-RT, 580EX II, 430 EX II, 320EX, and 270EX.

We’ll have more on how to set this up on Canon’s system in a later post. Don’t want to wait? This page will get you started.

For Sony users, the following DSLR cameras and flashes also have a built-in, pop-up flash wireless system:

A58, A65, A77, A700 with the HVL-F60M, HVL-F58AM, HVL-F43AM, and HVL-F42AM.

Adding Flashes to Your Scene

This portrait was taken with 1 off-camera flash inside a 28" Westcott Apollo Softbox. Taken at ISO 100, 1/200th of a second, f/10 at 24mm.

This portrait was taken with 1 off-camera flash inside a 28″ Westcott Apollo Softbox. Taken at ISO 100, 1/200th of a second, f/10 at 24mm.

I took the above portrait using a single SB-910 Speedlight inside a 28″ Westcott Apollo softbox. For variety, I decided to show a little bit more of the environment and add 2 more flashes to the mix to get the result below.

ChrisLee3Lights©AlexHuff

This portrait was taken with 1 off-camera flash inside a 28″ Westcott Apollo Softbox, 1 off-camera flash to highlight the lamp in the corner, and 1 off-camera flash to highlight the floor and ladder. Taken at ISO 100, 1/200th of a second, f/8 at 24mm.

When working in Nikon’s Advanced Wireless Lighting system, you can fire 2 groups of flashes using the popup flash on your camera.

To enter Commander Mode:

Press Menu > Custom Setting Menu > Bracketing/flash > e3 > Flash control for built-in flash

NikonFlash-1

The “- -” that you see above indicates that my built-in flash mode is set to not fire any capturable light at all. It will merely emit a series of weak light signals to trigger the remote flashes. Group A is controlling my key flash that is inside the softbox. Group B will control my other 2 flashes that I will use to illuminate certain parts of the environment.

NikonFlash-5

For my 2 environmental/accent flashes, I set them both to Remote (seen above in yellow).

I can control their power level through the Commander Mode menu in my Nikon camera, so I am not going to worry about the power level just yet. I am, however, going to check the following things on the flashes themselves:

  • What group my flash is in.

  • What channel I’m in.

  • My illumination pattern.

  • My zoom position.

 Flash Group

My key flash is already in Group A. I will now assign Group B to my remaining 2 accent flashes.

NikonFlash-2

To do this: Press function button 2 (seen above in yellow) > Spin the wheel until you are in the group you want (A or B).

Flash Channels

For all of my flashes, I want to be in the same channel. This is useful if you are in a spot with other flash photographers. They can be in channel 2 and then your firing won’t affect each other’s flash triggering.

To do this: Press function button 2 again. Spin the wheel until you are in the channel you want (1-4). Do this for all of your flashes. Also, make sure whatever channel you choose for your flashes it is the same channel as the Commander Mode in your camera.

NikonFlash-3 copy

Illumination Patterns

The SB-910 gives you three choices with different light falloff at the edges.

IlluminationPatterns

“Standard” is your basic widely-spread light. “Even” provides less spread than “Standard” but is still suitable for groups. “Center-weighted” puts its pop in the center of the image, providing sharper light falloff at the edges.

NikonFlash-4 copy

To do this: Press function button 1 (seen above in yellow). Zoom is selected. Press function button 3. Now your illumination pattern can be changed. Keep pressing 3 until you reach the illumination pattern you desire.

Zoom Position

Once your illumination pattern is chosen, spin your wheel to choose your flash zoom. The most common thing to do is to set your flash’s zoom to match your lens’ focal length. This ensures that the spread of the flash is ample for the lens you are shooting with. However, for a portrait like mine, I do not want ample light spread. Wider zooms, such as 24mm, produce wide coverage while longer zooms, such as 85mm or 105mm, produce narrower beams of light.

For more information on how zoom on flash affects your lighting, including a nice illustrative comparison, see Syl Arena’s Speedliter’s Handbook.

For my key flash, my zoom position is 24mm since I want some of that light to spill onto my backdrop. For my accent flashes, my zoom position is more like 85mm.

Now that my group, channel, illumination pattern, and zoom position is set on my 3 flashes, I can now control everything else from my camera. I go back into Commander Mode and change my flash power of Group A (key light) to 1/1 and Group B (accent lights) to 1/64. I could also choose to shoot Group A in TTL and Group B manually–you are not locked into one or the other.

Chris Behind the Scenes

To recap, in my final image:

  • I am shooting in channel 1 from my camera’s onboard flash, which is in Commander Mode and not producing any real capturable light.

  • Commander Mode is firing my Group A flash (key light) and Group B flashes (accent lights), which are set to Remote mode and have had their illumination patterns and zooms adjusted via their LCD screens on the flashes directly. From Commander Mode in my camera, I choose their powers–”A” being at 1/1 and “B” being at 1/64. I can adjust these power levels throughout the shoot.

While Nikon doesn’t specifically state in their user manual just how many flashes can be fired in Group A and Group B, word has it that it is 3-4 flashes per group using in-camera Commander Mode (more if you are using a Speedlight Commander like the SU-800 or another flash as a Master. Stay tuned for more on that subject later).

That is a lot of flash power that can easily be controlled from inside your camera in just 2 groups!

Additional Tip

What if your remote settings don’t look anything like mine on the SB-910 when you put it in Remote mode? Your Remote mode might be set to SU-4 instead of Nikon’s default, which is Advanced Wireless Lighting.

To get into Advanced mode:

Press MENU. > Scroll to WIRELESS. > Press OK. > Scroll to ADVANCED. > Press OK again. > Press MENU again to change your group, channel, and all the rest from above.

SU-4 is Nikon’s plain non-Advanced Wireless Lighting optical remote flash operation. It is a very simple system where your Remote flashes fire only when the Master tells them to and does little else. So what good is SU-4 mode? It is good for a lot if you are shooting with a camera that does not have Commander Mode nor a pop-up flash. You can still fire your flashes wirelessly so long as you connect a flash with your camera directly and designate it as the “Master”. Everything is controlled directly on each flash, fully manually. This simple “Master/Slave” system is great for those working with a variety of lights, including older flashes.

Stay tuned for more wireless flash tips here on our blog!

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Alexandria Huff is a portrait photographer based in San Francisco. Her tutorials can be found here on the BorrowLenses Blog, 500px, Shutterfly, Snapknot, and SmugMug. She specializes in studio lighting. Follow her work on 500px.

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