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Friday, June 12, 2009

Using the Nikon SB-26 in Slave Mode with CLS Speedlights

As I mentioned in my article on the Nikon SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander, I often integrate one or more of my Nikon SB-26 speedlights in with the rest of the CLS speedlights. I've had a couple people ask about this, so I thought I'd cover it in a bit more detail.

(Photo by: Flickr User mnd.cntrl)

The Nikon SB-26 has a built in optical slave, which is why it's one of the Strobist's favourite flashes, and hence why it's been so popular (and more expensive) on ebay lately. The optical slave is the reason I buy used SB-26 speedlights whenever I can find them at a good price. I'm always on the lookout for more. :)

When I'm using the SB-26's with CLS controlled speedlights like the SB-900, SB-800, or SB-600, I assign them to duties that don't require me to adjust them much, if at all. For example, if I'm lighting a portrait subject with an SB-800 fired into a Softbox at camera left, and I have another SB-800 or SB-600 at camera right and dialed down for some fill, I sometimes like to set another flash to light the background just a wee bit.

Here's where the SB-26 set to optical slave comes in. I set it at a very low power, adjust the beam spread, and set it on one of the little Nikon AS-19 Speedlight stands. I then aim it at the background, take a test shot, and adjust the power and position until I'm happy with the effect. The beauty of it is, that the SB-26 is firing in sync with the rest of the CLS controlled speedlights via it's optical slave.

Another situation I use my SB-26's, is when I'm lighting a white background. You can make even a colored wall go white if you throw enough light into it, and four SB-26 speedlights will do the trick nicely. I position them at camera left low, camera left high, camera right low, and camera right high.

I use portable lightstands to get the height levels I want. You can either put the low lights on the floor on AS-19 stands, or attach them to the lower part of the light stand using a clamp and AS-19 combo or clamp and umbrella adapter combo. The high lights (no pun intended) go on top of the stands and all four are adjusted to form an even light distribution on the wall behind my subject. I do this by taking a test shot, checking the blinking highlights on my camera's LCD, and adjusting the lights accordingly so that I have nice, even lighting over the entire background.

When you're doing this type of set-up, be sure you have enough room to keep your subject well in front of your background to avoid bounce back light contamination. Ten feet or more is a good starting point. You can also minimize bounce back by using reflectors or large pieces of foamcore or cardboard positioned to shield your subject from any light spilling back onto them.

Of course, there's many more combinations where you can add an SB-26 into the CLS mix. You can even use an SB-26 with just the pop up flash on the camera. Dial your pop up flash down to -2 or so (or better yet, set it to Commander mode with no contributing flash output), and put an SB-26 set to optical slave off to camera left in an umbrella or softbox. Voila! You've got some decent portait lighting on the cheap.

The Nikon SB-26 is a great addition to any portable lighting set-up. It's well built, works great, reliable, powerful, and inexpensive. The built-in optical slave puts it at the top of the class as a remote off-camera light, and lets it play nicely with newer Nikon CLS speedlights like the SB-900, SB-800, and SB-600.

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