You have virtually the same
variety of light modifiers you have with monolights, as you've seen
above. With my Nikon flashes, I routinely use large softboxes (in
fact I use my Westcott Apollo softbox much more with my SB-800 than
with my AB), umbrellas, a Softliter, grids, snoots, gels, etc.
Often those accessories are much less expensive than the equivalent
for monolights. For instance, I "bought" a Rosco gel swatchbook
for one penny from B&H, giving me every color gel of the rainbow,
whereas I'd be out a lot more money buying gels for studio strobes.
My Lumiquest snoot cost $20, as opposed to the much costlier snoot
and accessories that Alien Bee sells.
Some other advantages of going with speedlight over monolights if
you have a Nikon system:
1. More control over light output. Bees only go down to 1/32 power;
Nikon SB-800 can be adjusted down to 1/128. This is important to
me since I like the option of being able to open up to larger apertures
than f8 in the studio. With my Nikon, I can even use f1.8 if I want
2. You have the option of a superb, AMAZINGLY smart TTL metering
system, eliminating the need for a light meter or trial-and-error,
for multiple Nikon speedlights. TTL has numerous advantages in and
of itself, such as the fact that it adapts instantly to whatever
light changes, camera setting changes, etc. -- no need to re-meter.
3. Lightness and portability. I love being able to throw several
flashes into a bag and set up quickly and without having to plug
in. If I'm indoors and need to move from room to room, it's no sweat
to pick up lights and move them, since I'm not tied to an electric
outlet. I can also do outdoor shoots without having to buy a costly
and very heavy AB power pack.
These are just a few advantages of my Nikon flash system over my
bees (I do have both). I've seen people name other "cons" that don't
apply to Nikon SB-800s... for instance, even using my SB-800 with
a large (50x50) softbox, I have extremely fast recycle time... I've
never missed a shot, even firing rapidly in sequence.
Another great thing: you can use speedlights WITH monolights such
as bees in a multi-light set-up. So if you have a bee or want to
get one down the road, you can use your bee as key light and you'll
have your SB-800 that you can use as fill or a background light
(great for high key) or a hair light or whatever. I took this photo,
for instance, on a little piece of cheapo tablecloth vinyl from
Joann's, with an AB400 and my Softliter as key, and the SB-800 sitting
on its little stand right behind the baby to brighten the background.
It's trickier to try to hide a bee behind a baby... not to mention
the cord you'd have to clone out later!
The Set-up: Attaching the SB-800 to a Softbox or Umbrella
I have used my SB-800 with four different softboxes: the Alien Bee
large softbox, a smaller softbox specifically designed for shoemount
flashes by a company called Morris (which I bought from B&H),
and a teeny-tiny Lumiquest softbox (only 5"x7", but it does great
in a pinch, such as if I'm taking casual snapshots for the family
or friends and don't want to lug equipment), and (my personal favorite)
a 50x50 Westcott Apollo, as well as a 48" Softliter. Here are details,
with photos, of all of them:
Westcott Apollo Softbox and Photek Softliter
Both the Westcott Apollo
and the Softliter and based on an umbrella frame (that is, they
open and close just like an umbrella). The inside is silver and
it bounces back through a sheer cover, so that the light is beautifully
This attachment will let you attach an umbrella or Softliter to
When you use this attachment with a Softliter, you can use the Softliter
just the way you would with a bee, except there's no black power
cord to hang down, so it looks like this (excuse the bad snapshot
and messy living room!):
Here's what it looks like up close:
And here it is with the diffusion screen removed so you can see
the "guts" and how it fits together (this is also how it would look
on a standard bounce umbrella):
It fits onto any standard light stand. Here's a sample using the
SB-800 and the 50x50 Westcott Apollo, unretouched except for resizing
and slight sharpening for web, so you can see how the light falls.
Westcott Apollo Details:
Price: $226.95 (pricy but worth it!)
Size: 50"x50" (they also have a 28"x28")
Connects to flash with adaptor described and linked above
Time to set up: a minute or
two... it's as easy as opening an umbrella, putting the adaptor
onto a light stand and the SB-800 and umbrella onto the adaptor,
then hooking the diffusion layer around the umbrella spokes.
Pros: Diffuses the light beautifully... a very soft, natural-looking
light. Very easy to set up. Square catchlights.
Cons: none that I can think of! other than perhaps its price. More
than worth the price though.
Price: $74.95 for the 60", $59.95 for the 48", at B&H
Size: you can buy a 36", 46" or a 60" one
Connects to flash with adaptor described and linked above
Time to set up: a minute or two, similar to Westcott Apollo with
the added step of hooking the diffusion panel over the front.
Pros: Diffuses the light beautifully... soft and natural-looking
light. Very easy to set up.
Cons: Round catchlights (well, to me that's a con! )
If you want to use your SB-800 with a softbox, you'll need a speedring
such as this Chimera version:
or this Morris softbox which includes the speedring:
(note that it is out of stock, but if you and enough people call
them to order it, B&H will be more likely to restock it soon.
And, yes, this Morris kit is actually cheaper than the Chimera shoe-mount
speedring alone, even though it includes both a medium-sized
softbox and the speedring you'll need... a very good reason
to call B&H and bug them to get it back in stock!!)
Here's what the Morris softbox looks with a speedlight (this is
actually on a boom and I was using it as a hair light; hence the
weird angle... also, this happens to be my old SB-28 flash, since
I was using my SB-800 as key light):
Same thing, from the side, so you can see the bracket that comes
with the Morris softbox:
Here's a close-up (oops, I didn't velcro it all the way!):
More info and "frequently asked questions" on this post:
Here's one of the first photos I took using the Morris softbox so
it's not the greatest, but gives you an idea of how nicely it diffuses
Details on the Morris softbox:
Price: $44.95 at B&H which includes the speedring (this is important!)
Connects to flash with speedring which is included. I use it either
on a light stand or holding it up off camera (you could use a tripod
or probably use it on a bracket, although I haven't tried that).
Time to set up: less than 15 seconds... extremely easy to set up.
Also folds down easily like an umbrella.
Pros: Fantastic for using with ambient light as fill. Great catchlights.
Extremely quick to set up and take down, and very small when folded
down. Extremely light; very easy to pick up, hold, move around,
etc. on location, so it's ideal for chasing toddlers or other moving
targets. The biggest "pro" for me was that it comes with a speedring
so that I could use it with my SB-800 flash without having to buy
Cons: I found that in a completely dark room or studio setting,
the shadows are a bit too harsh, especially for groups of people
vs. individuals. So, if this is the only light source, it's best
to use when there is some type of available light.
Alien Bee large softbox
Until I bought my Westcott Apollo, I preferred using my Alien Bee
large (32"x40") softbox to the other light modifiers mentioned.
The light is softer than with the Morris softbox (since it's so
much bigger), and I like the rectangular catchlights that you can't
get with a Softliter. Here's one of the first photos I took using
my SB-800 with a large softbox (this was my first time using it,
and I realized afterward my light was too low and too far away,
but it gives you an idea):
Large Alien Bee Softbox Details:
Connects to flash with a speedring that is designed for camera flashes
-- this must be purchased separately (or bought with the Morris
softbox which includes the right kind of speedring).
Time to set up: Took me 5 minutes the first time but I estimate
it will normally take 2-3 minutes to set up at most.
Pros: Large size produces wonderful, soft light (especially when
used with the internal diffusion panel/baffle attached). Perfect
for studio. Comes with a speedring that will fit Alien Bee strobes
(this won't matter if you have no plans to buy bees, but I do, so
this will save me from having to buy an Alien Bee speedring down
the road). Cons: Large and bulky -- fine for studio work but slightly
more of a pain on location. Does not come with a speedring that
will work with your speedlight flash.
Since the SB-800's flash capacity is between that of an Alien Bee
400 and AB 800, the SB-800 + large softbox combination is a fantastic
alternative to an AB + softbox, since my camera will do the metering
for me and adjust automatically (no need to buy a Sekonic meter!),
and it's battery-operated (no cords!) and it's controlled wirelessly
by the D70 (no expensive radio trigger system!). I did buy an extra
set of rechargeable batteries in case I go dead during a shoot,
but I haven't needed to change mid-shoot yet.
A cheap but decent alternative to the larger softboxes is the Lumiquest
softbox. I love the effect of the Lumiquest when bounced off the
ceiling... it's a very natural-looking light. I have yet to take
a photo using my SB-800 and have it look like it's obviously flash.
Here's one of the first shots I took with my Lumiquest, with the
SB-800 sitting on a table at about a 45-degree angle to the subject,
aimed at the ceiling... it cast a very attractive light in this
otherwise completely dark room, and the catchlights aren't dead-center
the way they would be with on-camera flash.
Price: $26.49 at B&H
Connects to flash with velcro which is included (I didn't want to
attach velcro to my SB-800, so I used a rubber band instead for
the first couple of weeks. Then I realized I would be keeping my
SB-800 forever (ha!), and went ahead and put the velcro on)
Time to set up: about 3 seconds... just stick it onto the flash
and you're ready to go.
Pros: Diffuses the light MUCH better than an Omnibounce. Collapses
down to be completely flat, so can be stuffed very easily into a
camera bag or any other bag. Very easy to set up. Can be used on-camera
(with flash mounted to camera's hot shoe) if you want. Light is
soft and appealing whether used straight on or bounced.
Cons: Difficult to get nice big catchlights with it, since it's
so small, unless you have enough available light to give you catchlights.
I bought a cheapo light stand ($19.95 from B&H), thinking I
would only use it with my SB-800 and one of the smaller of the softboxes,
but I put my large Alien Bee softbox on it and it seems to work
fine -- doesn't seem in danger of toppling over unless someone were
to give it a hard shove. You could also use a tripod instead, but
I like this because it's so light and quick to adjust:
Now that you know what to get and how to set up the equipment, here's
how to set your D70 and SB-800 to operate wirelessly:
Using the SB-800 Wirelessly
You definitely want to get adept at using your SB-800 off camera...
this is where it really shines.
Here's what the settings should be for using it off camera (no cords
or adaptors needed... you're ready to shoot right out of the box):
- On-camera flash in Commander mode (Selection #19 in CSM Menu for
- on-camera flash popped up (don't worry, it won't contribute to
exposure... it fires just enough to trigger the SB-800). On the
D200, change the on-camera flash to manual, 1/128 power (the lowest).
See below for other ways to control your off-camera speedlight(s).
- Metering mode can be set to whatever you want: Manual, Aperture
priority, Shutter priority, or a Program mode
- TTL (rather than M or A) (note: if you're outdoors and you have
bright backlighting, you'll want TTL-BL instead... see epic novel
at the end of this post)
- Remote mode (to select this mode, hold down the center "SEL" button
for a few seconds; scroll to the Remote menu which is an icon with
two squiggly lines; and select "Remote" rather than SU-4... then
exit this menu by pressing the power button once)
- group A
- channel 3
Once you've got it set to that, you can have your SB-800 almost
ANYWHERE in the vicinity, pop up your on-camera flash, and that
baby will fire with perfectly-calculated exposure.
You may also use an additional
SB-800 to control your off-camera SB-800(s). The advantage of this
is that, in a multiple light set-up, each speedlight can fire at
different power (up to three groups). Nikon now has a device called
an SU-800 which controls off-camera SB-800's and SB-600's via infrared.
You can read more about how it works here:
Rockwell's Review of Nikon's SU-800
There are many other great
resources for using your SB-800 or SB-600 wirelessly, including
in multiple light set-ups. Here are some useful links below with
more detail and sample photos:
Speedlight Info Center
Rockwell's Article on Using Nikon's Flash System Wirelessly
Black's Article on Location Portrait Lighting with multiple SB-800's
Many More Resources
Using the SB-800 Outdoors when you need Fill Flash
When you're using fill flash (i.e., when the background is very
bright and the subject would be underexposed without fill flash
or blowing out the background), you need to use TTL-BL on the SB-800,
not TTL. TTL-BL tells the camera and flash that you want to illuminate
the subject to be balanced with the background. I use Aperture-priority
mode, not Manual, though, when I do that, because the SB-800 is
a smart flash that will calculate the light output for you automatically.
If you're using a Sekonic meter and manual mode, you need to use
manual flash anyway, not TTL. So, to summarize, EITHER use all manual
settings on both your camera and SB-800 (i.e., M, not TTL or TTL-BL
mode) and meter manually, OR just use Aperture Priority (or a program
mode or shutter priority or whatever your preference is), set to
TTL-BL (if using it as fill flash), and let your D70 and SB-800
do their thing. You'll be amazed at how perfectly they work.
Here's an example of how I used this approach for fill flash with
my brother and his wife... since it was a very bright day, I had
to use fill flash, or else the background would have been blown
out, or the subjects would have been horribly underexposed. But
instead of using on-camera fill flash, which would have been flat
and given the subjects pinpoint catchlights, I used my SB-800 at
camera left on a Morris softbox. You can see that the light has
some depth to it:
In general, to get the most beautiful light from this or any other
flash, you should use the flash off camera and hold it up higher,
and/or use a larger diffuser on your flash such as a softbox. (An
Omnibounce is most effective when you're bouncing your flash off
a ceiling, which of course you don't have the option to do when
you're outside. Or, you could bounce it sideways off a big piece
of white foam core or a reflector.) Personally, I like to do all
of the above. You get much more beautiful, rich, natural, full-of-depth,
non-flash-looking fill light if you use the SB-800 off camera (as
much as 45 degrees to the subject) with a softbox.
Can I Use an SB-600 To Do This Instead?
Absolutely! The SB-600 is not quite as powerful as the SB-800, and
I haven't tried it on a large softbox, but most of what I've said
above applies to the SB-600 as well (you have to set it to group
A, channel 3, etc.). Even if you have an SB-800, you might get a
hankering (hankering?! yup, I'm in the South, all right ) to try multiple light set-ups... since
you don't need as much flash power for fill and accent lights, SB-600s
are perfect for a multiple flash set-up.
Can I Do This if I'm Use Canon instead of Nikon?
Absolutely! From what I understand, you will need to get something
called an ST-E2 Transmitter. I found a Canon user who has written
a terrific FAQ on how to set up a Canon 580 or 550EX wirelessly
in the same way. He also explains "master"/"slave" terminology,
channels and groups (this is when you're using more than one flash
and want to set lighting ratios -- I'm only just now experimenting
with this and it is VERY cool), why your shutter speed shows as
1/60 in Aperture Priority mode, and lots of other cool stuff. Definitely
worth a read:
TroyB's Canon Wireless Flash FAQ
This may be a lot to digest,
but Nikon makes it all easy... and this is just the tip of the iceberg
as to what Nikon's Creative Lighting System is capable of. Be sure
to post your results on ILP and ask questions of your fellow ILPers
who are using this set-up as well (unfortunately, I no longer have
time to respond to emails asking questions about your set-up, so
I ask that you post your questions on ILP rather than emailing me
directly). Happy experimenting!
This article originally appeared as a post on ilovephotography.com