The Most Important Thing to Know about Nikon Flash Photography

An off-center subject against a white background could end up under-exposed. Of course, if her black shirt was in the center of the frame, her face could be overexposed. Flash Value Lock lets me take a flash meter reading from her face.

Nikon’s Creative Lighting System allows wireless off-camera flash with complete remote control. I’ve got a D300 camera and two flash units, an SB800 and an SB600. I put either or both flash units on stands in various positions, and control their output from the camera.  Because the system is wireless, the model and I can move around freely. I know it shows my age to say this, but this kind of stuff was science fiction when I took up photography as a hobby.

Although this is off-topic, you really must try bouncing your flash to the side. Bouncing off the ceiling is more flattering than direct flash, but bouncing off the wall can be more interesting. And sometimes the ceiling is too high or an unflattering color.

Nikon’s electronic flash units are really, really smart, and offer excellent automatic exposure controls, but there’s a little caveat many Nikon users neglect to notice while carefully reading the manual: The flash meters the center of the frame, no matter what camera metering setting you are using. This is why many people get frustratingly inconsistent results in flash photography. The solution is to learn how to use the Flash Value Lock feature of your Nikon camera, which allows you to fire a test flash with your subject in the center of the frame, then recompose and shoot the actual picture using the flash value calculated during the test. It sounds more complicated than it is. In fact, you know it’s fast and easy, or I wouldn’t be doing it.

As you can see, direct flash is pure evil, casting ugly shadows and harsh hotspots. More to the point of this article, if her head were near the top of the frame, the flash would meter based on her black outfit, and her face would be overexposed. Of course, if we shoot with direct, undiffused flash, we needn't be too concerned about exposure, because the picture's going to look awful anyway.

If you don’t learn to use the Flash Value Lock, off-center subjects will not be exposed properly, and when you overexpose with a flash, it’s very hard to save the image in post-processing.

Flash Value Lock is irrelevant if you use manual flash settings (as many fans of do), but learning to use the feature helps those of us who like to use Nikon’s Through-The-Lens (TTL) automatic exposure settings.

For most of my life, I’ve been an available light photographer, but after discovering and the possibilities of off-camera flash, I enjoy taking more control of the light, even though I’m still quite low on the learning curve. Best of all, the tools have become much more affordable and easier to use than when I started out.

Off-center subjects with dark or light backgrounds will not expose properly without some attention to how the flash meters light. Then you can start playing with cookies, grids, snoots, lightspheres and other cleverly named light modifiers.

Today, we can get studio-quality light from tiny electronic flashes and inexpensive little diffusers. Several of the sites on the “favorites” list on the right side of this page are devoted to electronic flash use, and the authors’ expertise exceeds mine by far, but I’ve been studying their work, so if you have questions about flash use, I’m happy to help you find the answers.

Flash Value Lock gives you better control over exposure when you light backgrounds and subjects very differently.


Filed under Camera Settings, Lighting

2 responses to “The Most Important Thing to Know about Nikon Flash Photography

  1. How come this blog is not in the nikon directory? Would you mind if i put it on there. I don’t know if i can but im going to try

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