SB-800 Tutorial – Lighting a Tent

yan_4760-editOn my trip in western Canada I took a few days to connect with nature’s majestic beauty by camping around Kananaskis Park. I borrowed my good friend’s Camping gear and off I went ooing and awing at every turn on the road. (If you haven’t seen my musical slideshow of my trip, you can view it here.) So I get to the Lower Lake camping grounds, find my spot and take out the “2-man” tent. Once up I though they had made a mistake as it should have read “2-infant” tent. The thing was so small that the blow-up mattress had to be blown up inside and once fully inflated was bulging on all sides. I though the tent was going to explode! The great thing about such a small tent is that you can lug it around with only one hand. Can anyone say “photo opportunity?”. 😉

Ok, so I had seen a few outdoor magazines to know that lit tent shots at dawn or dusk are just magical soooooo, I wanted to get my hands on some “wow” nature tent shots. Before lugging my tent by the water I decided to do my tests at the camp site. Here are the steps I took:

First thing I did, and should always be done, I got the proper exposure for my background. The light was still bright out so I underexposed my shot by 1.6 stops (or EV) to get a nice rich blue sky. Of course, all the trees and the tent were almost in complete silhouette. No worries there.


The next thing to do was to light up the tent. I took an SB-800 and set it remote. I then popped the flash on my Nikon D300, went into the menu and set the flash to commander mode. I made sure that the popup flash would only trigger the SB-800 and not go off and light the tent as well.  In camera, I set the SB-800 to Manual and I then played with the flash strength to get the right light intensity. If memory serves me, it was at 1/4 power at 17mm. I chose 17mm to get a nice wide light spread inside the tent. This is what I got.


Not bad. The sky is good and the tent is well lit but there’s something missing to make is look more realistic. Ahh! Candle light effect! It’s missing that lovely warm orange glow. What to do? Just like I did in my Windmill tutorial, I put the CTO (incandescent) gel in front of the flash and fired away.


Looking much better! But I’m finding the trees just a little too dark. The shot looks more like a scene from a slasher movie then a lovely camping evening. So I wanted to light the trees up a bit as if the tent’s light was shining on them. What to do? You guessed it! I took my second SB-800, put it on remote, slapped a CTO gel on it to mimic the light from the tent, set it on the picnic table on camera left and angled it slightly above the tent. To get independent control from the other SB-800, I put it on group B (the other SB-800 is on group A). In manual mode as well, I played around and the best light came at full power. And here is the final shot.


So to recap: 1st SB-800 with CTO gel inside the tent set at 1/4 power. 2nd SB-800 with CTO gel lighting the trees above the tent set at full power.

Here are the “real” shots after my campsite setup. I dragged the tent about 150 feet down to the lake. I had a couple of inquisitive stares from passer bys and it made me chuckle and I thought to myself “boy, do I love my job!” 🙂 Of course for these shots as well, the first thing I did was expose my shot for the background and then adjusted my SB-800 with CTO gel to the desired intensity. I only had one SB-800 inside the tent with my D300 on a tripod. They say that the popup flash can trigger the SB-800s up to 33 feet but I was roughly 45 feet away. The lack of ambient light must have helped. For the second shot below (with me in it) I changed my WB (white balance) to Daylight to get more blue on my background.



9 responses on "SB-800 Tutorial - Lighting a Tent"

  1. forgot to mention, i am using D300S, would the procedure be different then with the D300 You are using?

  2. this is excellent YANIK,in my camera the built-in flash i selected the “_” option, but the build-in flash still fires up, how to correct this, please help,

  3. @ Paul T.

    In you camera menu, under built-in flash, select commander mode. The fist on your list will be the built-in flash. Make sure you select the “–” option. This means it won’t fire.

  4. Thanks for the great tips.

    “I made sure that the popup flash would only trigger the SB-800 and not go off and light the tent as well. ”

    How did you do that?

  5. Thanks for the tutorial, so informative and well explained. Your images are amazing, thanks again.

  6. I would have guessed on a long exposure, with just a lantern inside the tent. But I guess the sky would not come out as blue as is did with your take.

    Thanks for the tips.

  7. They are excellent, that has given me some useful ideas for a future shoot I have planned.

    I was surprised to read that the second flash was in front of the tent, I would have instantly thought of sticking it behind it.

    Really enjoying this

  8. You make a valid point Scott.

    I unfortunately didn’t pack my Lightspheres on this trip but I did think about it for this type of shot. 🙂

  9. Thanks for the tutorial. That second light is very seemless and well executed. Looking at the picture first, I couldn’t help but wonder if you were able to pick up the glow of the tent on the trees. (Which is exactly what you were going for, so, Well Done!)

    I’m not a big fan of the Omni bounce, but this seems like one of the cases where it’d be useful. I think the light in the tent is still just a bit hot in spots and perhaps that would provide a more even glow. All said, it’s better than most of my pictures and I’d be proud to have taken it. Thanks for getting out there and coming back and sharing.


Leave a Message

© Yanik's Photo School           Terms of Use         F.A.Q.