SB-800 Outdoor Lighting Tutorial

[singlepic=344,320,240,,left]I feel really lucky! I’m off for 2 weeks! I’m going to a photography workshop in Calgary, Alberta. Of course the workshop is only 2 days so I’ve rented a car and I’ll be on a photo safari traveling to Lake Louise, Banff, the Badlands and many other natural treasures! I’ll be sure to share some of my photos when I return. Not to worry, I have a few posts ready for you. I’ll be updating the blog while I’m away to keep your brain fed. 😉 And just before my holiday I took a 3 day vacation last week with my girlfriend! We went to see some friends in Varennes (on Montreal’s south shore) and we topped it off with a day on Île Perrot (about 30 mins west of Montreal). We stayed at a lovely B&B that I would recommend highly called Angell B&B. Nicole is a great hostess and the breakfast is to die for! Miam, miam! 😛

On the island, there’s a small park with an old windmill that looked really cool. I wanted to shoot it at dusk to get a dramatic sky and to play with my SB-800s flash. Of course, the park was closed but we snuck in (as any self respected photographer would do!). 🙂 So we got to the windmill and I started doing my test shots (n.b. all shots are straight out of the camera without post processing except for the final image). Fist, I took a shot in P mode and I came up with this:


The windmill is properly exposed but the sky is way too bright even washed out at some places. The colors are dull and flat. This would be the shot most people would leave with. It’s not bad for a souvenir shot but not good for a WOW shot. So the next thing I did is go in aperture priority mode, set my aperture at the lowest setting, which is f4 on my Sigma 10-20mm lens. I then exposed for the sky and made sure is was underexposed by 2 stop. To do that, I simply adjusted my EV to -2. And this is what I got:


Great! my sky is perfect. Just the way I want it. But the windmill is almost in complete silhouette. Ok, lets light this sucker out! Let me try with just my pop up flash at full power (+2 EV) and see what I get:


Hey! Not bad for a pop up flash. I like this a lot better than my first overexposed sky shot even though it feels a little bit too underex. If I didn’t have my SB-800s with me, that would have been my final shot (better composed and less underex of course ;)). But since I have my trusty SB-800s with me…. let’s play!

Ok, let’s get technical for a bit. If you have a Nikon DSLR with a pop up flash, you probably have the option to put this flash in Commander Mode. If you don’t have the option or you don’t have a pop up flash, you’ll have to use another SB-800 or an SU-800 wireless speedlight commander on your camera and set it to Commander mode. Now set your other flashes to Remote. Make sure they are on Channel 1 and Group A. Now set your flash to manual at full power and at 24mm with the drop down diffuser on. Why at 24mm? So that the beam of light is wide enough to cover the whole structure. Oh, and make sure your pop up flash is up to emit its signal to the remote flashes.

All right! I then placed one SB-800 to camera right at 90 degrees to the windmill with a CTO gel (the one that comes with the flash) to give it that orange glow. Here’s the result:


You’ll also noticed that the sky is cooler than in the other photos. Nope, no Photoshop. 🙂 I just changed my white balance (WB) to Daylight for a slightly cooler look. I wanted to keep the warmth of the CTO (orange) gel so putting my WB to Incandescent would have removed all of the orange and the sky would’ve been too blue, unnaturally so. I could have stopped here because I love the image as is but I wanted some cool light on camera left. So I placed my second SB-800 at 45 degrees on camera left (without a gel). It gave this:


Interesting but for me, it removed the haunting spirit of the windmill that I aimed to create. It also lacked depth. So I moved it slightly behind the windmill to create more of a “hair light” effect. And voilà!


Here’s the final image straight from the camera. It took me roughly 10 minutes to go from the top shot to the WOW shot. 🙂 What a difference a few lights can do! I was really impressed at the power of the Sb-800s. I never thought that one flash would light the whole windmill. And here’s the final shot post processed in Photoshop CS3.


I my next Photoshop video tutorial, I’ll go through the post processing steps of the final image.

PS: If you find some of the technical setup mentioned here a challenge, I strongly urge you to go through Strobist’s Lighting 101 tutorial series. It’s a must if you plan on using external flashes like the Nikon SB-800 or the Canon 580EX II.

19 responses on "SB-800 Outdoor Lighting Tutorial"

  1. Dear Yanik! Thanks to your post, My way of being a photographer has totally changed! Finally I’m able to achieve this great looking shoots. I use a Nikon d3100 and thanks to this information I went straight to Bestbuy to get those magic sb900 and followed your technique.

    Hugs from Mexico!

  2. I immediately recognized this windmill in Notre-Dame de l’Île Perrot were I live!
    Nice pictures!

  3. Thanks Yanik 🙂 This is setting e3 in the D200 menu. The built-in flash has to be set to “commander mode” for it to work.

  4. @ Alexandra

    Good catch! Full power on a built-in flash for this camera is +1EV if set traditionally using the external exposure button and turning the dial but…. if you set it in camera in the “flash control for built-in flash” menu, you can bring it up to +3EV. 🙂

    As for the SB-800, it goes from +3EV to -3EV. Make sure ti’s on TTL and on your camera.

  5. This is great stuff Yanik, thanks!

    The one thing that I don’t understand though is how you manage to set your pop up flash to +2 EV (full power). I have a D200 and however hard I try I can set the built in flash to +1 EV but that’s it. Same with my external SB-800: +1 EV is as far as it goes.

    Am I missing something here? Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

  6. A nice tutorial. This is really nice what could be done witn the small flashes even with the size of the windmill. Congrats !

  7. Yeah the SB800 is awesome dude. Wonder what the noise in that shot would be at 100%. It was ISO 100, right? Great lens.
    I love the tutorials. Most I knew actually but I always learn something new by the sidetracks. Keep on doing this please, some way I managed to add you to my feeds. These are the first tutorials that don’t bore me :-p

  8. I am impressed by the photos and tutorial. Keep writing your GREAT tutorials. Very helpful.

  9. and you really made all those shots at daylight?

  10. thx I will try to give this a go at now thax alot

  11. Desmond:

    I checked the specs on the D80 and you have the option to put your sync speed to “Auto FP High-Speed Sync”. What this does is it will allow you to shoot with your SB-800 (not sure about the SB-600) up to 1/4000 sec. I always have my sync speed on this mode.

    But you’re also correct in shooting your scene at -2 stops and using your flashes to light your main subject. You can try them in TTL mode first. If you’re not happy, put them in manual and adjust the power to your liking.

    Hope this helps you.

  12. Hi yanik, just want to tell you that I really like your work and thanks for the tutorial. But now I have a question for the teacher. I have a d80 and would like to create some of those shots/ mostly the ones at the beach where you have the beautiful model but better yet that lovely underexposed sky. So my questiion is I have a d80 which only has a sync speed of 1/200th sec. If that is not enough to knock down the sun can i ad in expouser compensation (say 2stops-) and then use the flash (I have a 600 and 800) to bring the model back up. and may be change the w.balance to make the blue sky more or less intense ie. coole. thanks again for any response and thanks for creating the tutorial



    you really have a great way of explaining what you did

    thanks so much


  14. Im greatly impressed by the lighting effects, i just wonder how you created the whole thing in your mind first?
    Loved to read more posts like this
    Keep posting

  15. I have to applaude you that was THE BEST recorded tutorial that I have seen in a long time. Beautiful image and more important great documentation and explanations.

  16. Wow, you said you “fell very lucky” and then showed an image of a windmill. I thought you fell off it! LOL
    Great tutorial and glad you ‘feel’ great!

  17. Thanks so much! I’m glad that they’re helpful.

  18. Hey Yanik This shot and tutorial is totaly Great!

    Hope to see some more!


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