Reset your SB-800's

Over the weekend I was shooting a family portrait and noticed that one of my Nikon SB-800's, working off a Pocket Wizard and supposedly firing at around 1/2-power, wasn't putting out as much light as I expected. Chimping first alerted me to this, and my flashmeter confirmed it. Sure enough, no matter what power level I set the flash at it was just clicking out a little wink of light. Bummer.

Checking it out the next day, I learned that I had two SB-800's acting this same way. More aggravating was that these were the same two flashes that I sent to Nikon Professional Services in February to get fixed (for other problems.) Man, was I ready to fire off one angry letter when I sent them in to be re-repaired. But then I remembered a question the repair technician had asked me back then when I was trying to figure out what was wrong:

"Did you try re-setting it?"

Turns out, doing that simple step fixed my problem. It's like the old computer nerd's fallback: most of your problems can be cured by just re-booting. It's not going to work for all your problems, but it is a useful first-step. Here's how to do it:

Turn your SB-800 on, then hold down your "mode" and "on/off" buttons simultaneously. (Press the "mode" button first or all you'll do is turn off the flash.) You have to keep holding them for 2-3 seconds.

The display screen on the back of the flash will "reverse," so that you'll see white lettters against a dark background instead of dark letters against the green-ish light background.

That's it. Now see if that fixed your problem.

Bear in mind that if you had custom settings arranged, they will have gone back to their defaults. If you're like me, and hate the little whistle tone that confirms that the flash fired, you'll make the first thing you cancel.


Organize your Collections in Lightroom 2 Beta

I'm a big fan of collections in Lightroom, because they help me keep track of the various edits I make on shoots. From a wedding, for example, I will have a first edit of everything that I kinda like, then an edit for a web presentation, then the final proof edit, then an edit for a DVD, then an album edit, and maybe one or two more after that.

Granted, I could keep all that stuff labeled with keywords and never make a collection, but I gotta admit I just don't like using keywords to filter my photos. To me, it's cumbersome. So I make collections. Quick, easy. Jump right to them. But, as you can see from this tiny slice of my Lightroom 1.4 library, I have a LOT of them.

Now, in Lightroom 2 Beta, there is a great way to keep these manageable. It's called Collection Sets, and it lets you group several collections under one heading.

At the top of the Collections column, click on the "plus" sign and you'll be presented with the menu shown here. You can create just a new Collection, or a new Smart Collection (which I may talk about at some future date) or a new Collection Set.

Basically, this creates the equivalent of a new folder in your collections column, and you can then drag whatever collections you want included into that folder.

Now, for every shoot, instead of having four or five different collections floating around loose under several different names, I can keep them organized under one name and know right where to find them next time.

Click on the little triangle and it collapses the folder view to just the main set title, saving valuable left-panel real estate. Sweet.


Expanding on i-ttl possibilities

Two SB-800's used here: one on-camera at 1-stop under with a diffuser dome
triggering one at right set to set about 1/3-stop overexposure.

Lately I’ve been trying to push the limits on i-ttl somewhat, playing especially with high-speed synch, and also seeing just how far I can get from my lights and still make them work.

But the big surprise to me these last few days is that I can use BOTH my Wizards and i-ttl capability in tandem, which opens up a new world of possibilities.

At a wedding this past weekend, I set up a couple of Alien Bees 1600’s on one side of the reception hall, setting them at moderately low power so that I could squeak out a workable ambient exposure at around ISO 400, around f/4.5 in the brighter parts of the room. I try not to go too much higher than that if I can avoid it, because I don’t like the noise I get at higher ISO’s and don’t want to blow out the ambient with my lights. While the crowd was across the hall eating shrimp and having cocktails, I set about making some detail shots of the centerpieces and overalls of the room. Brides like these photos, because they have often put a lot of planning time and money in to making the place pretty, but for me they serve the very important purpose of making sure I’m ready when the newlyweds breeze in for their first dance. My motto: Check it, Chimp it, Change it if you need to.

Pretty, pretty flowers.

Almost on a whim, I popped on the SU-800 I just bought and had my assistant point an SB-800 in Remote mode at a bouquet of flowers. I had the SB-800 firing at level ttl (no over- or under-exposure) and set my f-stop for about 2/3rds stop below what the Bees were kicking out.

Oh, I enjoyed the results. I was able to pop out the centerpiece from the surrounding tableware and also have it stand out nicely against the ambient of the room.

Later on I used it for the first dances, and there’s a lot of potential for that to be a dramatic tool down the road. Here, the Bees are bouncing up in to the ceiling on the right of the frame, using the green gobos I wrote about earlier, giving me a gentle, somewhat directional light that mixes with the ambient. My assistant is using a snooted SB-800 coming straight in from the left, and I’ve set the flash, from my camera, to overexpose about 1/3rd stop.

They're even reflected in the mirror!