Nikon DSLR Flash Guide: Tips and Techniques

When it comes to selecting flash units that work with Nikon cameras There are a lot of excellent options on the market. They range from basic flashes with minimal features for beginners to more advanced speedlights with sophisticated features designed for professionals who are demanding. The choice of the best flash is a daunting task for novices, particularly for those just beginning to explore flash photography. In this article, I’ll explore the different choices (both budget-friendly as well as high demand) that are readily available and offer my suggestions.

1.  The reason you require external flash

I can remember the day I bought my first DSLR I was hoping for it to be better than the point-and-shoot camera that I had for years. It definitely did better for taking photos in the sun but it wasn’t the greatest for indoor photography using flash. My disappointment was that the photos taken with my DSLR were almost identical to those from my camera point-and-shoot and I was unable to discern whether I was doing something wrong or if the camera was not suited to shooting indoors. Then, I learned about photography in low light and the use of on-camera flashes. Although my pictures did appear improved over time but they were still flat because of the harsh light. The shadows of my subjects were even more glaring.

Indoors professional flash photography
NIKON D3S + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm, ISO 1600, 1/50, f/8.0

Does this story sound like something you have heard before? Do you feel connected to this tale? If you’ve been using your camera’s pop-up flash, I’m certain that you are feeling the way I did when I first started using it. Now you’re trying to find a solution for the issue and aren’t sure where to begin.

If you’d like your indoor photos to appear better then you’ll need something that is more powerful and effective than your flash pop-up. It is recommended to purchase an external flash that is dedicated to you that is also known as the “speedlight” within the Nikon world. Speedlights can assist you to overcome the issues when it comes to indoor portraits, and give you new possibilities to shoot professional-looking photos using your DSLR. Let me demonstrate how external flashes are superior to pop-up flash:

  1. External flashes are far more effective. With more power, you will get more coverage, which means you’ll be able to illuminate an area larger and be able to reach your subject. Additionally, more power means you can spread the light without worrying about power loss, and achieve soft, natural-looking light.
  2. External flashes do not drain your camera battery. Pop-up flashes run off of the battery of your camera and external flashes depend on a different set batteries, which are only used to run the flash.
  3. They’re a bigger lighting source. Check the size of the area of the flash on your pop-up flash to the area of the flash on external flashes and you’ll quickly see that the latter is larger. Bigger light always means softer light in photography.
  4. They can be used in a variety of ways. A lot of external flashes permit you to tilt the head of the flash in a variety of directions so that you will have the ability to reflect beam off different surfaces.
  5. They can be recycled faster. No matter if you’re shooting little or lots of it external flashes are able to recycle and replenish quickly to be able to snap multiple photos at once.
  6. They can also be used off-camera. Certain flashes that are more advanced let you take off camera to create flash photography.
  7. They can reduce the red-eye. Red eye occurs when a flashes are fired from a short distance away from the lens of the camera. External flashes typically are tall and help reduce the impact of red eyes. There are even accessories or holders that raise external flashes higher and totally eliminate the red eye.
  8. They are able to be combined together with the other types of flashes. Certain of the more expensive external flashes can be combined with other flashes to provide more power, or in various configurations.
  9. A variety of accessories are available to use external lights. There are many different accessories to use with an external flash, ranging from different gels bounce cards, lighting shaping tools, to batteries and radio controls.

As you can see, external flashes offer numerous advantages. I’m sure I’ve did not mention other advantages but you’re getting the concept…

2. Which one is best for you?

You’ve realized that you require additional flashes on the Nikon DSLR, you are likely to be wondering which you should choose. You’ve opened an entire can of worms because there’s no clear answer! There are a few concerns to be considered when selecting the best flash. Let’s look at them one-by-one:

  1. What do you think of you spending limit? It is the main element when selecting an flash. Flashes are typically get what you spend for. If you can’t invest more than $100 in an item, then you should purchase a third-party product from companies such as Vivitar, Bower, Nissin and Sunpak which all come with external flashes under $100. If you don’t have a budget and you want the most powerful flashes, they will be the most expensive that come from Nikon as well as Quantum.
  2. i-TTL or Manual? If you’ve not taken photographs using a strobe before and know what you’re doing, I strongly suggest purchasing a flash that supports Nikon’s i-TTL (intelligent Through The Lens) system. Consider i-TTL to be an “Auto” mode for flashes, which lets photographers take pictures without having to worry about over or underexposing your photos – an excellent option to begin.
  3. Do you wish to use the flash in a non-camera setting? Personally, I wouldn’t buy an accessory that will not let me shoot off camera. If you’re not certain that you’ll always shoot flash from the top on your camera look for one which allows at the very least to make use of it as an assistant. Check out the third video in my “how to get the most from using your flash pop-up” article about using an electric speedlight to serve as a slave, in conjunction with a pop-up flashes as commander.

Do not worry about other issues for the moment – these three questions are the most crucial ones to begin with. Concerning budget, I’m aware of certain people are willing to shell out for a high-quality flash, if they get great results. If you find yourself in this situation, you can move on to the questions #2 and #3 on whether you’d like to have TTL (and you will) and if you would like to use the flash to serve as slave device for flash that is not on the camera.

What’s the slave mode and off-camera flash? You’re wondering about what it is and the reason you might require it? Let me provide you with some examples. Here’s a photo of Lola which was captured using an external flash that was mounted over the camera:

Flash bounced off ceiling

I employed the Nikon external flashlight (speedlight) which bounced light from the ceiling. If you examine the light that is reflected in the eyes of Lola you will see that the light source can be seen in the ceiling. The quality of light is nice and the shadows are lovely and soft. If you bounce the light in this way it illuminates the entire space and your subject from multiple angles. Let’s look at another image of Lola but this time, I took the speedlight off the camera onto the side of a stand, and then shot using an umbrella.

Off-camera flash through umbrella

Pay attention to the lighting in the second photo It’s emanating from the side and shadows appear gentler and natural. The bright light in Lola’s eyes is beautiful and round. The light source is only her direction, and left side (left arm) gets an extremely small amount of light reflected. It is extremely difficult to, if not impossible to create a similar appearance by using a flash attached to the camera. If you are impressed by how the second photo was created it is likely that you will want an external flash that is able to be used outside of the camera.

3. External flash guidelines

Which flashes would I suggest? If your budget is not the main factor, I’d highly suggest purchasing Nikon speedlights. They are not just top-quality and are specifically designed for use with Nikon cameras and thus include features specifically designed for Nikon cameras. Nikon’s flash technology is called CLS (Creative Lighting System) and all Nikon speedlights and cameras are specifically designed to work together. For instance, you can change the flash’s power, a feature referred to “flash exposure compensation” by using the camera button, instead of touching the flash.

When the power of your flash is sufficient, you can stop the flash’s brightness by pressing the camera button. You can activate the Nikon speedlight using the camera. If you have multiple speedlights, then you could arrange them in two different configurations. Furthermore, Nikon CLS comes with additional features like “high speed sync” for situations when you must shoot flash faster than 1/250th of an second (for instance, in large daylight). Unfortunately, you can’t accomplish all of the above using a third-party, cheap flash.

If the cost is a major problem for you, here are some third-party flashes that support I-TTL below $100.

  1. Bower SFD728N is the most affordable external flash that costs less than $50. It has a movable head that bounces light. Don’t expect much from this flash, as it is what you spend for. The unit does not include a diffuser dome, and it cannot be utilized as an slave.
  2. Bower SFD35N is a superior version than the previous SFD728N. It comes complete with Auto Focus assist function, that will assist you in focusing better in dim lighting. It is not an slave.
  3. Bower SFD926N – a good flash with lots of features, such as a the flash’s zooming based on camera focal length. It also has an integrated diffuser, and allows slave mode to be used for off-camera configuration.

There are many other flashes with similar prices from different companies.

If you are able to invest more than 100 dollars for the flash, but wish to remain within the $200, this is my suggestion:

  1. Nikon SB-700 – for the cost for the money, the Nikon SB-700 is your best purchase. It’s loaded with many great features like Auto Focus assist, high-speed sync, and full i-TTL support and is compatible on all DSLR cameras from Nikon. It is able to function as a master or as a slave.

Why do I only recommend one light? Because, at this price I believe that you’d be better off using an Nikon speedlight. While other flashes may sound like a good deal Nikon’s flashes are fully compatible with every one of the CLS functions and have been specifically designed to work with Nikon DSLRs. Additionally If you decide to purchase a different flash purchased from Nikon in the near future it is likely that the SB-600 will be compatible with the new model. If you’re not hesitant to buy second-hand equipment, you can buy an earlier Nikon SB-600 for less than $200. If you’re willing to shoot manual mode, without TTL, then the earlier Nikon speedlights like SB-26 as well as SB-28 are also a excellent value. You could buy them used at less than $100.

If cost is not an issue and you simply want to buy a quality flash The list of flashes we suggest is based on the characteristics they provide:

  1. Nikon SB-700 is a fantastic value for cost. It functions as a master or a slave. It has a redesigned and created user interface that is extremely intuitive compared to the earlier SB-600 that has a useful diffusion dome, two filters/gels to shoot indoors and a lot more. It is sure to become a popular flash among photographers.
  2. Nikon SB-5000 – the Mercedes-Benz of Nikon speedlights The SB-5000 is a top-of-the-line speedlight specifically designed for amateurs and professionals that require the most features to perform challenging applications. It is priced at $550. SB-5000 can be used as a master and slave. It features the same intuitive user interface to the SB-700 it comes with a range of accessories, including diffuser domes, filter sets and a flash stand. It also has an automatic zoom head which can zoom into and out depending on the focal length that you are using and much more. One of the biggest benefits of Nikon SB-5000 over SB-700 is the fact that it includes an extension cord that connects to PCs and external flash units, such as PocketWizard and the ability to utilize batteries that are powerful.
  3. Quantum Qflash TRIO – an high-end flash with the fastest recycle speed and a lot of power. In contrast to Nikon speedlights, this one has an enormous reflector at the front, which diffuses the light that comes out of the flash, resulting in higher quality images and less shadows. It is able to function as a master or slave using additional modules.

Three other flashes that didn’t appear on the list as they’re out of production include three flashes from Nikon: the Nikon SB-800, SB-900, and SB-910. If you can get them at a local camera shop or purchase them secondhand, they are excellent flashes that accomplish almost everything that the SB-5000 could.

Which one should you purchase? It’s clear that it’s dependent on how much you’re willing to pay and what you intend to use it for. If you are shooting weddings or corporate events it is a must to buy an SB-5000 as well as The Quantum Qflash. You’ll require the full power and reliability these flashes provide.

If you’re going to use an off-camera flash or on-camera and need to trigger flashes I suggest the SB-700. If you’re shooting using a basic Nikon DSLR such as Nikon D3500/D5600, or older models like D3200 or D5200 which do not come with the commander mode to trigger slave flashes, you’ll require two flashes. One that can serve as a master, and another which can be used as slave. It is possible to purchase an SB-700 for use as a master flash and the utilized Nikon SB-600 as a slave in these situations.