Flash for Nikon DSLRs

When it comes to choosing flash units for Nikon cameras, there are plenty of great choices available on the market – from cheap flashes with limited functionality for beginners, to advanced speedlights with complex features for demanding professionals. Choosing the right flash can be an overwhelming task for beginners, especially for those who are just getting into flash photography. In this article, I will go through different options (both low-budget and high-demand) that are available today and provide my recommendations.

1) Why you need an external flash

I remember when I purchased my first DSLR, I expected it to be a world better than my old point and shoot that I used for years. It certainly was much better when taking pictures on a sunny day outside, but not that great for taking pictures indoors with flash. To my disappointment, the images from my DSLR looked almost as flat as images from my point and shoot camera and I could not figure out if it was me doing something wrong or the camera that had limitations for taking pictures indoors. Next, I read about low-light photography and using on-camera pop-up flash and while my images did get a little better overtime, they still looked flat due to the harsh direct light. The shadows on my subjects looked even worse.

Indoors professional flash photography

Image captured with Nikon D3s and a single SB-900 Speedlight

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How to get the best out of your pop-up flash

If you are using an entry-level or a semi-professional DSLR, your camera most likely has a built-in pop-up flash unit that can be used to add some additional light on your subjects or even trigger another flash. The problem with built-in flashes, however, is that they fire harsh, direct light that does not look very good, especially on people. In this short article, I will show you how you can get the best out of your pop-up flash.

1) Diffuse or not to diffuse?

There are plenty of products on the market that let you diffuse the light coming out of your pop-up flash. I personally think that those products are worthless for the following reasons:

  1. Your pop-up flash is pretty weak as it is and you will lose plenty of light while trying to diffuse it.
  2. Redirecting the light from the pop-up flash is too difficult and often impossible.
  3. Why waste money on something that is not going to give you considerably better results than direct flash?

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Flash Photography Tips

This page is used for posting links to our articles on flash photography gear and various tips we have written on flash photography. As we post more articles in the future, this page will be updated frequently with more flash photography tips and other lighting-related articles to help our readers enhance their knowledge of flash photography and get the best out of their equipment.

Please see our subscription page in order to subscribe to our website via email or RSS.

Flash Photography Gear:

  1. How to Build an Affordable Photo Studio
  2. Flash for Nikon DSLR cameras
  3. Nikon Flash Comparison
  4. Infrared vs Radio vs Hybrid Flash

Flash Photography Tips:

  1. When to Use Flash
  2. How to get the best out of your pop-up flash
  3. Nikon Commander Mode
  4. Indoors Flash Photography with Nikon Speedlights
  5. Indoors Flash Photography – Off-camera Flash
  6. How to take indoor portraits with a Christmas tree in the background

Case Study: Exposure at Night

One of our readers, Steven Ross, was kind enough to send an image to me as a Case Study. He is wondering why his image did not come out sharp, with some light spill and overexposure. Here is what he sent me:

Case Study

San Jacinto Monument at night

And his comments:

I used the camera on aperture priority mode and on a tripod but it appears that since the monument was being lit by spotlights the shutter speed was too long and the monument seems much brighter/overexposed compared to the rest of the scene.

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Landscape Photography Guide

I have been planning to write this landscape photography guide for a long time, but held it off for a while, thinking that I could do a better job after learning about it more. My landscape photography journey has been a big learning curve and I have been enhancing my skills so much during the last few years, I realized that I could spend the rest of my life learning. Therefore, I decided to write what I know today and keep on enhancing this guide in the future with new techniques and tips.

1) Preface

It is amazing to see how quickly the world is changing around us. What seemed to be intact and perfect just several years ago is getting destroyed by us humans. One of the reasons why I fell in love with photographing nature, is because it is not only my way of connecting with nature, but also my way of showing people that the beauty around us is very fragile and volatile. And if we don’t take any action now, all this beauty will someday cease to exist, not giving a chance for our future generations to enjoy it the same way we can today. Hundreds of movies have been filmed, thousands and thousands of great pictures taken and yet the world is not listening. What can we do and is there hope? It is very unfortunate that we only act when a disaster of a great scale hits us and the unbalanced force of nature enrages upon us. But we as photographers must continue to show the world the real picture out there – the deforestation of our rich lands, the pollution that is poisoning our fresh waters and causing widespread diseases, the melting of glaciers, the extinction of species and many other large-scale problems that are affecting the lives of millions of people and animals around the world. Therefore, it is our responsibility as photographers to show the real picture.

Dead Horse Point Panorama at Sunrise

2) Introduction to Landscape Photography

Landscape photography is a form of landscape art. While landscape art was popularized by Western painting and Chinese art more than a thousand years ago, the word “landscape” apparently entered the English dictionary only in the 19th century, purely as a term for works of art (according to Wikipedia). Landscape photography conveys the appreciation of the world through beautiful imagery of the nature that can be comprised of mountains, deserts, rivers, oceans, waterfalls, plants, animals and other God-made scenery or life. While most landscape photographers strive to show the pureness of nature without any human influence, given how much of the world has been changed by humans, depicting the nature together with man-made objects can also be considered a form of landscape photography. For example, the famous Mormon Row at the Grand Teton National Park has been a popular spot for photographing the beautiful Tetons in the background, with the old barns serving as foreground elements.

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Equivalent Focal Length and Field of View

When it comes to focal lengths, it seems that many photographers get very confused by “equivalent focal length” and “field of view” jargon that is often used to describe lens attributes on different camera sensors. To help fully understand these terms, I decided to write a quick article, explaining what they truly mean in very simple terms.

1) True Focal Length

What is the true focal length of a lens? This one is extremely important to understand. Focal length is an optical attribute of a lens, which has nothing to do with the camera or the type of sensor it uses. The true focal length of a lens is typically what manufacturer says it is on the lens. For example, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lens (below) has a true focal length of 50mm, irrespective of what camera you use it on.

Nikon 50mm f/1.4G AF-S

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How to Find Total Shutter Actuations on Nikon and Canon DSLRs

During the last several weeks, I have received several requests from our readers about finding the total number of shutter actuations on their DSLRs. I decided to write a short article on how you can find the total shutter actuations on both Nikon and Canon DSLRs, in case you are interested in seeing how much you have been using your camera or how close your shutter speed is to the manufacturers’ rated shutter life of 150,000 (on most entry and mid-level cameras) or 300,000 (professional cameras).

1) EXIF Data

The information on the total shutter actuations on your camera is preserved in file headers, known as “metadata” or “EXIF”. If you do not know what EXIF is and what it is used for, check out my “What is EXIF” article that I wrote a while ago. Basically, your camera writes all exposure-related information such as date, time, shutter speed, aperture, ISO and a bunch of other important information into the header of each file. Some camera manufacturers like Nikon and Canon also add unique shutter actuations data fields that are used for seeing the total number of exposures or “shutter actuations” cameras have.

2) Switch to JPEG format

If you are shooting RAW, it is best to switch to JPEG format just for getting the required information from your camera. While the camera native RAW format preserves all of the EXIF information that is coming out of the camera, third party conversion software like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom can strip out some of the proprietary EXIF data, including the number of shutter actuations. Therefore, switching to JPEG will allow you to view EXIF data straight, without having to import the image into Lightroom or Photoshop first. It doesn’t matter what size of JPEG files you choose – even JPEG BASIC works fine. Once selected, take a picture of anything you want.

3) Download EXIF viewer

In order to view the proprietary EXIF information from files, you need to use an image EXIF viewer that does not strip out anything from the file. Unfortunately, almost all current image viewers only display generic EXIF data that most people use and ignore the rest. Instead of properly reading EXIF data from files and then parsing the results, they typically just look for generic EXIF tags within the file and display them when they are available. If something is not available, it stays blank. To reduce the number of blank items to the minimum, they only provide generic information that is more or less standardized across most camera manufacturers.

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How to Fix Blank Images in Lightroom

Have you ever had a situation when you opened Lightroom and all thumbnails and images appeared blank? After discovering that the memory on our main PC was bad, I switched over my Lightroom catalog to my laptop for temporary access to be able to retrieve images to our clients. I opened a backup copy of the Lightroom catalog in Lightroom 3.0 and I was surprised to see that none of the images showed up, although my file path remained the same. Here is how it looked:

Lightroom blank images

Lightroom blank images

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How to Properly Sharpen Images in Lightroom

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom comes with powerful tools to sharpen images during post-processing. Located in the Develop module of Lightroom, the “Detail” box contains both Sharpening and Noise Reduction tools that allow Photographers to enhance their digital workflows by fine-tuning images and getting them ready to be published and printed in a quick and efficient way. Since I have already covered the noise reduction part in my Noise Reduction Tutorial, in this article, I will show you how to properly use the Sharpening tool instead.

1) Problems with Sharpening Images

Sharp images look aesthetically more pleasing than soft or blurry images. Because of this, most photographers try to sharpen their images in post-processing applications, which can result in all kinds of problems such as:

  1. Over-sharpening – when too much sharpening is used, it results in harsh, visible lines on edges and around objects. Over-sharpened images often look too “textured”.
  2. Too much noise – using excessive amounts of sharpening can add a lot more noise to an image. The worst result is when an image is already shot at high ISO levels and sharpening is applied on top of the digital grain, resulting in even more noise.
  3. Zigzag lines – straight thin lines can get converted over to zigzags and circular shapes can get cubic transitions when excessive sharpening with a large radius is applied.

Here is an example of an over-sharpened image:

Over-sharpened Image

Over-sharpened Image

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How to Enlarge Photographs for Printing

A discussion on image cropping sparked up the idea to write this post after I exchanged a couple of comments in my “How to Photograph Birds” article with Tim Layton, who was concerned with cropping bird images and losing resolution for printing. He suggested to try to increase the size of cropped images with a product called Genuine Fractals 6, so that he could get to 8×10 or larger sizes. Since I have had experience with Genuine Fractals in the past and used it for some of my work, I decided to write a quick article about professionally enlarging photographs for printing, in addition to doing a comparison between the resize tool within Photoshop and Genuine Fractals 6 Pro.

1) How large can you print?

One of the most frequently asked questions by photographers who do not have much experience with the printing process is how big they can print their photographs from their DSLR cameras. Traditionally, the rule has been to divide the width of the image in pixels by 300 to get the highest quality print size in inches. For example, if you are shooting with the Nikon D90 camera, the image resolution is 4,288 (width) x 2,848 (height). This literally means that there are 4,288 horizontal pixels and 2,848 vertical pixels on the image sensor. If you multiply these numbers together, you will get to 12,212,224 pixels or 12.2 megapixels – the total number of pixels available on the sensor. So in the above case with the D90, dividing 4,288 and 2,848 by 300 gives 14.3 x 9.5 inch size prints. Why divide by 300 and what does that number mean? This number represents “DPI” (dots per inch) or “PPI” (pixels per inch), which means how many dots/pixels per inch the printer will print on paper. The more the number of “dots” per square inch, the more dense and close to each other the printed dots will be, resulting in smooth transitions and less space between those dots and therefore less “grain”. 300 dots per inch gives magazine-quality prints, while lower numbers below 150 introduce more grain and fuzziness to the printed image.

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