Auto Flash Exposure Works Great, but I Still Use Manual Settings

Allow me to introduce Dr. McCoy and Mr. Roger Pancake, my two chief advisors. They typically stand on either side of my computer, ready to debate the devil on my left shoulder and the much bigger devil on my right shoulder. Today I was playing with my tabletop studio, and they volunteered to help me illustrate something about the Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS).

Nikon’s CLS provides wireless control of remote flash units, and not just triggering them like a slave unit. From my D300, I can trigger and control the output of my SB800, SB600, and pop-up flash. I haven’t looked at the manual in a while, but I believe I can control up to nine flashes on three different channels. It’s amazing.  Here’s another amazing aspect: I can use automatic exposure, manual exposure, or a combination of the two.

When I first started using CLS, I set everything to TTL (through-the-lens auto exposure) and shot away.  Since I know that the meter evaluates flash exposures in the center of the frame, I would simply use the “flash value lock” button to set the exposure and then shoot the image. Believe me, once you get used to it, it’s faster than typing the explanation.  But, it’s also “consistently inconsistent,” because with each new set-up the flash automatically adjusts for a “perfect” exposure. In TTL mode, one can adjust exposure compensation up or down, but the flash still adjusts for exposure in the center of the frame.

By setting the flashes on manual (completely controlled from the camera!), I can take a few test exposures to set the light how I want it, and then shoot away, knowing that the lighting will not change. For headshots or theater publicity images, this really speeds up the process and gives me predictable results on each shot.

Nikon’s TTL flash works brilliantly, but as I’ve said before, the computer has no way of knowing what YOU want from your images. Going manual is like most home repairs – a little bit more prep makes the whole job much easier.

There's nothing wrong with the exposure at the top of this page, which was automatically generated. But I wanted more depth of field, I wanted less light on Dr. McCoy, and I wanted to move around and try different angles without having to lock the flash value each time, so I switched to manual flash exposure and got what I wanted. By the way, you really have to sidelight a pancake to get any sense of three dimensions...

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