This tutorial is for optical Line Of Sight control of Nikon Speedlights from Nikon cameras that are part of the Nikon Creative Lighting System.
Getting your flash out of the hot shoe is one of the first and most important rules to improving your flash photography. There are of course perfectly good uses for a flash in the hotshoe like shooting passport images. You can bounce the flash off a wall or ceiling to get a nice soft light source as long as the walls are close enough and don't create a color cast. Regardless of those options Nikon has made it easy to get the flash off the shoe and start creating dynamic lighting set ups with as little as one external flash.
70% of my work is with one flash. 20% with 2 and the rest either with none or with more. Seems complex? Difficult? It's not and I'm going to give you a step by step set up that will work with the D7000, D7100, D7200, D600, D610, D700, D750, D800(E), and D810 and some other older models as well. There will be a few differences in how these features are implemented but for the most part after reading this article you will be on your way into the world of off camera flash.
The Nikon Creative Lighting System allows for easy use of Off Camera Flash (OCF) with Nikon Cameras and flashes. There are a million transmitters and receivers on the market that will perform the same functions and in many cases actually have less functionality than what comes built into the system. For this post I am simply going step by step on what you need to do in order to use your camera to get results lighting results similar to what I show in my fashion work.
The first step is making sure that your camera and lens is capable of taking advantage of all it's shutter speeds and apertures. To do this we are going to turn on the AutoFP setting in the camera. This allows for the camera and flash to take advantage of high speed sync and break the barrier or 1/250th of a second.
The first step is to hit the menu button on your camera and then move to the Custom Settings Menu (the Pencil) - Select the E tab which is Bracketing/Flash. One of your options then is going to be Flash Sync Speed. Select the highest value possible of the ones that say (Auto FP) - some camera's it will be 1/250th and some will be 1/320th. This is what determines when your flash goes from a full power single pop of flash to a pulsating unit that is capable of exposing your subject while the shutter is never fully open. To fully understand what is happening isn't as important as knowing what it will allow you to do. The Nikon Speedlight essentially turns into a continuous light source for the 1/320th to 1/8000th of a second that the shutter is open in order to expose your subjects properly.
Once this is done we have to turn our built in flash into a commander. Without leaving the CSM (Pencil) you will go to the tab that says Flash cntrl for built-in flash. This option will allow you to decide what the use is for the built in flash. Since one of my main teaching ideas is that the flash should not be in the hot-shoe the first three options are almost pointless to me. I do on a very rare occasion use the pop up for fill when i have no choice in a snap shot situation but 99% of the time better results will be accomplished through taking the flash out of the shoe. This means that I set my pop up to Commander Mode
In order to fully unleash the creative power of your Nikon the next step is one of the most important. At this point the camera will talk to and set off your Nikon Speedlights but you will still be limited to 1/250th of a second even after changing the top sync speed in the menu. Why? Because the top sync of the built in flash is 1/250th. So our next step is to turn the pop-up into a master that no longer affects the exposure. It will still have to be up and it will still flash but it is no longer putting any light into the actual exposure. To accomplish this highlight the Built-In Flash and then move the cursor to mode. Move it down until you see -- as the option as shown below. This will take the pop up out of the exposure equation and allow you to access all shutter speeds up to the maximum on your camera.
Once you have made these changes you are ready to start using your Nikon flashes as remotes that will add a world a creative flexibility to your photography that was missing.
NOW we get to the part where I make things easy for you to change quickly. One of the coolest part of CLS is that we can change the power of the flashes from the camera. We don't have to go to the flash to make changes. We can even change the mode of the flash without touching it. But to get to the menu to do that takes a few moves each time you want to do it. 1. go to the CSM (pencil) 2. Go to Bracketing Flash 3. Go to commander mode 4. Make the changes... Not the worst set of commands in the world but far from easy....
Instead I'm going to cut it down to one button push to take you to the right menu so you can take control of the creativity that your flash provides without letting too many buttons get in the way....
We are going to do this by taking advantage of Nikon's MY MENU and Function Buttons.
Step 1 - Go To MY MENU on your camera. It's at the bottom left after you hit menu. If you haven't used it before then Add Items will be the top choice. If you have taken advantage of this useful place to store Menu settings that you go to often then find add items and select it.
Step 2 - you choose CUSTOM SETTING MENU by clicking right and then Bracketing/flash before finally settling on Commander Mode and pressing OK
If Commander Mode is the top item in MY MENU then you are ready to move to the next step. If not then you will use the RANK ITEMS tab to move it to the top. THIS IS IMPORTANT FOR THE SHORTCUT TO WORK.
Now that we have our Creative Lighting System controls in My Menu they are that much easier to access. But we can make it even easier to get to by assigning access to the top item in MY MENU (remember when i said it important to rank it as the top item in MY MENU) to the Fn button (it is a button on the front right bottom of your camera next to the lens)
By going to the CSM (pencil) and choosing CONTROLS and then Assign Fn Button and choosing (THIS IS IMPORTANT) Access top item in MY MENU and then hitting ok you will now have one button access to the group controls of the Creative Lighting System allowing you to control mode and power levels easily and quickly.
Please feel free to ask questions in the comments section.