Photography Tip - two strobe off-camera-flash setup

Nikon SB-600 Speedlight on tripod to frame left & Nikon SB-800 Speedlight on light stand to frame rightIt is no secret I am a big fan of strobist photography, which simply put is the use of off-camera-flash.  To me it is the key to great sunset portraits, and really portraits of any kind for that matter.  The photo above (taken on St. Pete Beach, see more here) may look like a big undertaking with a complex setup, but with a little practice and the right gear anyone with a DSLR can be doing it in no time.  That said, here is the gear list I used:

  • Nikon D300 DSLR
  • Tamron XR Di II 17-50mm f/2.8 lens
  • Nikon SB-800 Speedlight (with diffuser cap)
  • Nikon SB-600 Speedlight (with diffuser cap)
  • Yongnuo RF-602 wireless flash trigger and 2 receivers
  • generic light stand with swivel flash bracket umbrella holder
  • basic tripod

The Yongnuo trigger and receivers only need to be setup once ever, which just involves setting them all to the same channel.  The trigger just attaches right to the DSLR's hotshoe and works automatically.  So that takes care of getting the two strobes to work remotely.

Setting them up just means screwing them onto the swivel flash bracket on the light stand and the tripod plate.  For positioning, that depends on the angle of composition, the background elements, etc, but mostly I put the light stand at that height above and down onto the subject and the tripod at eye level to the subject in front or to the side.  So that takes care of the physical aspect of the lighting.

Both strobes need to be setup manually, as the trigger/receivers do not work with any TTL modes.  Put each strobe into its Manual Mode and then select the power, which often is 1/2 power for the strobe on the light stand and 1/4 power for the strobe on the tripod, though of course the power setting is greatly dependent on how much available light there is and the distance the strobe is from the subject.  Sometimes I use much less power.  Now all the lighting is setup.

All that's left to do is get the settings dialed in on the DSLR.  For the above shot I used: 

  • Manual exposure
  • f/5.6
  • ISO 400
  • 1/60th
  • WB - sunny
  • RAW + JPG mode 

Again, these settings vary wildly based on available light.  The sun was already set by the time this shot was setup, thus I used a larger aperture than normal (usually f/8 of f/11 for such a shot) and a slower shutter speed and a bit higher ISO (normally I always use the lowest ISO).  I did not want to use any larger aperture than f/5.6 because I wanted to make sure both people were in sharp focus and to be able to get background elements in some detail.  I did not use a slower shutter speed because I know I can handhold 1/60th no problem, but any slower might introduce blur because of my shakiness or the couple's.  Thus, I increased ISO to 400 so I could maintain the aperture and shutter speed limits I wanted to.

Finished shot edited in Aperture 3, Color Efex Pro 3 and Photoshop CS5