Wireless Strobe Using Nikon SB-800 Flash

My daughter Tiffany is currently taking a photo journalism class at college. She is extremely talented, much more so than I am so it has been fascinating to watch her progress through this class. Each week they are given an assignment to complete using different techniques.

This week her assignment dealt with strobe lighting and flash photography. When these assignments come up it usually results in a sit down meeting between the two of us where I am responsible for figuring out the technical aspects of the shoot while she lays out the artistic side.

It works out surprisingly well. I am able to impart to her some of the technical details I have found through years of trial and error and she provides me creative ideas that I would never have thought of on my own. This assignment though was a bit more difficult than either of us planned.

When I first bought my Nikon D200 and subsequent D300 cameras one of the selling points was that they could be used to trigger Nikon SB-600 and SB-800 flash units. I remember wondering to myself when I would ever need such a capability. Well, that question was just answered.

Remote flash triggering is not something I make a habit of using in most everyday photography and therefore that kind of thing doesn’t just roll off your head as to how it is accomplished. Luckily, I had tried this once before so I was aware of what needed to be set, I just didn’t remember exactly what I had to change.

A quick review of the Nikon D300 owner’s manual and the SB-800 flash assured me that what I was trying to accomplish was feasible but the details in the manuals were not exactly the easiest thing to follow.

There are two steps that need to be completed in order to correctly configure the equipment for remote wireless strobe. The first step is to set up the camera. While the settings differ with each model of camera, I will try to give you the correct settings for the Nikon D200 and D300 which is what I was using.

I decided I would use the on-camera built-in flash as the master flash unit that would trigger the other off-camera flashes. You could use a Nikon SB-800 as the master flash and this would be required if you are shooting with a Nikon D2, D2x, or D3 which do not have a built-in flash on the camera. For this example though I will stick to using the built-in pop-up flash.

On the back of the camera press the Menu button to display the main menu on the LCD screen. Move up or down to the set-up menu with the Pencil icon. Scroll down to the e Bracketing/Flash settings. Once there navigate to e3: Flash cntrl for Built-in Flash. Set the built-in flash to C Commander Mode. These instructions are the same whether you are using a Nikon D200 or a D300.

Commander mode basically sets the built-in flash as the master that will control the off-camera slave flash units. You can choose whether to use TTL, A, or M modes for the flash units. I set everything up for TTL since Nikon does a good job of metering. Within the D300 you can also adjust the flash power for the slave to increase or reduce flash power.

The next series of steps are done on the Nikon SB-800 or SB-600 flash unit. On the back of the flash, press the mode button until it displays TTL BL FP and other assorted data. This puts the flash unit into TTL mode which is the easiest mode to deal with at first.

Press and hold down the center selector button for approximately 3 seconds. The display on the flash unit will show a series of boxes. Using the selector button navigate to the box that shows two flashes with a couple of squiggly lines (yeah I know it sounds technical doesn’t it?)

Select that box with the select button and a series of choices will be displayed. Select REMOTE from among the choices. This choice will set the SB-800 as a remote slave wireless flash. Press and hold down the SEL button and the display on the flash will change to REMOTE. There will be two boxes, at the top is the Channel Box and at the bottom is the Group Box.

It is important that the flash be set for the same group and channel as you selected when setting the camera flash settings. The Nikon D200 and D300 will support one channel and four groups. If you want more than one channel you will need a wireless commander module to do that.

It should be noted that the built-in flash does need to be popped up in order for this to work. If you forget to pop-up the flash the camera will not remotely fire the other flashes. If you have set the channel and the group correctly on both the camera and flash, when you take a picture the built-in flash will fire as will all flash units set to be remote slaves on the same channel and group.

The Nikon SB-800 flash will remain in this mode even if it is turned off so don’t forget to reset the flash before attempting to use it on camera again. This has bitten me a couple of times so I figured I should mention it to save you the frustration.

An off-camera remote strobe allows you to get rather creative with your lighting. I like to use a flash behind the subject especially at hair level to give some additional highlights to the hair in a portrait. Positioning the flash off camera will also allow you to take some interesting shots with dramatic lighting effects.

You may find that this opens your creativity and gives you another tool in your photography arsenal. At a minimum it will get you through an assignment in a college level photo journalism class.


3 Comments

  1. tricia says:

    thanks for all the info above. Very interesting. It’s great your daughter and you can work together! Just a quick question …is it possible to use the sb800 with a nikon D300 off camera as master flash ie no built in flash?

    tricia

    • Jeff Summers says:

      Hi Tricia,

      The SB-800 can be used as a master flash off-camera but it must be tethered with a sync cord. In order to used it wirelessly it would require something such as the SU-800 Wireless Commander which connects to the hot shoe and then sends the wireless signal to the off-camera flash (similar to what the built-in flash does when fired).

  2. francis says:

    thank alot for u ….great instrution , i get them all…..thank

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