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This One Goes to Eleven!

Jul 23

In Lighting, On Location at 10:31am

This Is Spinal Tap

Actually, this one goes to 200. And we’re not talking decibels here, we’re talking millimeters. Zoom throw. The SB900 goes to 200 millimeters. You know, on the back of the SB800, you push the selector button for the little trees to the big trees, and you zoom to 105? Well, the big trees just got bigger.

Now to some folks this may matter as much as a single, silly, fictitious, click on the old amp. (You know, all those other blokes are at 10, and where can you go from there? We can go to eleven!) In other words, it might not matter at all. But for the rest of us who mess around with small strobe units, it matters a lot. The ability to control and shape the output of a small hot shoe flash unit is a big deal. It means you get a longer throw, more concentration of light, and perhaps a bit more of a defined edge between highlights and shadows. I told the folks at Nikon that now that you can zoom a 900 all the way to 200, they should do something jazzy to announce it, like program the unit to go off like a Vegas slot machine every time you hit 200. I don’t think they’re gonna do it.

I’ve also been experimenting a bit with the feature that controls the spread of light right at the source. You can input standard, center weighted and even. I’ve opted for even in the early going, hoping that edge to edge spread of even illumination might be handy for a portrait. To play with this feature, I hired a well known, demanding NY super model…….

Brad! Cut it out!

Actually, my friend Vanessa who is one of the more beautiful ballerinas I have ever worked with, came and helped us out. She is not only a lovely dancer, but she has a face that is right out of 1940’s Hollywood glamour. She is posing here at the Red Hat bistro in Irvington, NY, which is a truly wonderful eatery right on the Hudson River and serves food to match the setting.

We did this really simply. There is a 900 on a boomed, shoot through umbrella (Lastolite all-in-one) camera right, just out of frame. And the background is lit with one 900, gelled with a full CTO, again camera right, flying into the area behind Vanessa and giving it some warm glow. That light is zoomed to 200, and has no diffusion. Another thing I am liking is the filter holder that comes with the unit. It is designed to hold the filters that are embedded with chips that communicate color temp information to the camera. (Example: With the camera in auto white balance, you can take the CTO gel and slip it into this filter holder and slap it on the 900. It will communicate to the camera that the light has been shifted to a tungsten balance and the camera will shift accordingly. Camera must be in auto, and it appears to me the light must be on the hot shoe for this to occur. More on this in the future.)

But the fancy filter holder also functions straight up and simple as, well, a filter holder. Cool! Means my flash units don’t have to all gummed up at that end with scotch tape residue and bits of gaffer anymore.

Here’s our basic set.

(Note: The gold reflector material on the bar is from a 3×3 Lastolite kit has a SB200 close up strobe, again with a full CTO, sitting on it. I experimented briefly with putting a little bar glow off to the side of Vanessa but then decided the room had a daylight feel to it and killed it. It was also creating shadows I ran out of time to wrangle. In the grand tradition of all photographers who are outta quarters and whose location meter is about to expire, I just shut it down. (Uh! Light cause problem. Mongo kill light.)

To make sure the far light saw my SU800 signal I ran the SC29 cord off to the right and we clamped it to a stand.

Then, quickly, to take advantage of Vanessa’s amazing red hair (she basically has never had it cut) framing her face, we moved in a hand held SB800, low and camera right, coming through a Lastolite tri-grip diffuser. Instant beauty light combo.

Funny, even with nice light like this, I don’t think Brad would look as good. WAG on my part.

Shot these with my 200 at f2. The background 900 fills the restaurant with glow, which translates to her hair. Limited depth of field emphasizes that. (I mean, Vanessa would look great even if I was using flash powder.) Both up front lights are dialed down a touch, running around minus one EV, and the background 900, again at 200 mm and throwing light a good distance, is dialed up just a tic. Minimal set up, which was great cause the restaurant was starting to jump and we hadda get going quickly.

After that, we hit my favorite desolate corner in Manhattan with a D700 and an SB900.

We ran against type here, shooting wide but zooming the flash to 200. It hits Vanessa’s face with a street quality of light, and then sharply gradates down her body.

Then I just let the camera drive the train on this, auto white balance under street lamps and the result was really clean. Jeez, I just remember being out there with some sort of funky Ektachrome and a stack up of wratten filters of so many different increments and colors I felt like Dumbledore.

And then of course….the ongoing mystery man. Kman. What is he doing out there? Nefarious things about to occur. No doubt….

This is two SB900 units…on the floor stands that come in the kit. No gels. On the street, camera right, aimed up. White light, tungsten balance in the camera. Find two busted up wood pallets and stand them in front of the lights and let fly……more tk…

Note and news: The 700 and the 900 are hot items right now….got this from Jeff Snyder ([email protected]) the other day…

Good morning-
If you are an NPS Member and have not placed your order for the new
D700 and/or SB900 Speedlight, now is the time. Deliveries will begin
within the next 10 days, and being a member of NPS gets you a priority

If you have already placed your order, and have not notified NPS ([email protected]
), then you should email them, and let them know that you have an
order in with ADORAMA/JEFF SNYDER so that your priority can be entered
into their system.

If you have NOT placed your order yet, there is still time….contact
me as soon as you can.

Kyle Mahaney says:

on July 23, 2008 at 11:28 am

I am really jealous. I’m tempted to upgrade my SB-28 to something a little newer, I’m just wondering if it’s worth it when I’m still using F5-gen gear. I plan on going digital soon so it’ll happen sooner or later.

Mark K_NJ says:

on July 23, 2008 at 12:11 pm

Thanks for showing the setup here, Joe. Love to see how it’s done.

Any why does it not surprise me that a gorgeous redhead makes that corner look alot more inviting than some wanna-be wiseguy with a gat in his waistband.

Dennis Kielhorn says:

on July 23, 2008 at 12:51 pm

Dear Joe!

Thank’s for posting. Really great. :-)

A little question: how do I mount an umbrella and a speedlight on a c-stand? Can I get a detail-photo or explanation, please?

Thank you!

Greetings from Germany

Dennis Kielhorn

Alessandro Rosa says:

on July 23, 2008 at 1:49 pm

I love how you say it was a really simple set up and then proceed to describe how it was a two flash set up one with a shoot through umbrella on a boom and on gelled to make the background “Glow.”

Simple? Maybe for the Great McNalldini, but for the rest of us mere mortals… I see simple and lighting and I’m thinking on camera with maybe a Stofen on top.

Beautiful work as always!

Craig Lee says:

on July 23, 2008 at 2:44 pm

Youi are a lucky man to have friends like Vanessa. That face, those freckles, rose bud lips, and that gloriously long, red hair. I have a thing for redheads. Luckily, I married one. :-)

But I don’t don’t have an SB900. That REALLY makes me jealous now. You, sir, are agitating my NAS something fierce. Shame on you, you photo equipment pusher. No, that’s not right … lucky you getting your hands on them so soon.

That McNally. Lucky guy he is.

Danielle says:

on July 23, 2008 at 2:56 pm

Beautiful work and inspiring as always! I love to learn from your blog. As I try more “strobist” stuff in my spare time I am increasingly frustrated with my Canon system when I compare it to Nikon’s!

Ken says:

on July 23, 2008 at 5:33 pm

Love this kind of shots Joe. I am inspired

Out of play money to order the new “stuff”.

Ken in KY

Mike says:

on July 23, 2008 at 7:37 pm

I second the above comment about our defenition of the word, “simple”. There seems to be some discrepancies going on there. LOL Something else I need to try. Great work as always.
PS: Can you please ask Nikon why they came out with the D700 right after I bought my D300??? If they make it with a DX mode then it makes no sense to have it. Price though I guess. I would love to use all of my AF lenses in their full frame glory. Oh well.
I guess I’m just cranky…I need to take photos now…

David Apeji says:

on July 24, 2008 at 7:08 am

Hey Joe, did you do that Spinal Tap album cover? I never knew you did album covers.

Richard Cave says:

on July 24, 2008 at 9:48 pm

Joe, stop making me hungry for the d700 and sb900 please please please!

Seriously will the 900 white balance control speak to a d2x and D70. If so this would seriously help me out. I am currently saving for a D700 but if the D70 can handle the 900 it would save me a ton of cash.



Nicholas says:

on July 25, 2008 at 12:00 am

Love to see real pro’s do new equipment reviews.

I’ve got to say: my brand new, top of the line Canon 580EX II zooms to 105mm, so there!

Oh wait, that’s not right…

Fernando Hiro says:

on July 25, 2008 at 10:25 am

I Just ordered my SB900 here in Brazil, and the flash will be delivered here for me only in September……so sad!!!!

Thank’s for all yours tips Joe! After visiting your site, my pictures are more professional than ever!!!!!!

Jing says:

on July 25, 2008 at 1:12 pm

Nice work as always Joe, your work has lately been one of my main sources of inspiration. Reading your book was very refreshing. It’s nice to hear a photographer discuss his approach to solving a problem rather then focusing entirely on the dry topic of how to set up a particular shot.

I wasn’t too interested in the SB900 until I heard about the extra zoom option. Certainly sounds like a good idea and beats the hell out of using aftermarket snoots or home-made cardboard versions.

Matthew Saville says:

on July 26, 2008 at 2:37 am

Joe, maybe you can clear something up: I know the SB900 zooms to 200mm, but is there a sacrifice in actual GN output power when compared to the SB800? How about the Canon 580 mk2? The way they list the guide number specs these days, you’d think they were intentionally trying to confuse you about which is the most powerful. Oh wait, I think they ARE. (Canon 580 mk2 lists a whopping 190 GN, while the SB900 has never published a GN spec. higher than like 135…

Thanks and take care,

J.W. Ramp says:

on July 26, 2008 at 11:07 pm

I’ve been looking to get a similar boom setup – I saw a couple items on your gear page, but what’s the setup to do the speedlite/brolly on a boom?

Jon says:

on July 27, 2008 at 11:49 pm


I really enjoy reading your blog. Love the creative ideas you present such as throwing the wood crate in front of the flash. I wish I had moments like that. (then again, I don’t wander around alleys and under bridges at night, carrying my flash enough it seems) Keep up the writing and amazing creative work!

Jason Bell says:

on July 28, 2008 at 8:48 am

I can just see legions of Nikon Speedlite users getting together and talking.

Nigel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not 105mm. You see,
most…most blokes, you know, will be playing at 105mm. You’re on 105mm here…all the way up…all the way up … all the way up. You’re on ten on your guitar…where can you go from there? Where?

Marty: I don’t know….

Nigel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is if we need that extra…push over
the cliff…you know what we do?

Marty: Put it up to 200mm.

Nigel: 200mm. Exactly. One louder.


Joe, what have you started? !! :)

Alessandro Rosa says:

on July 28, 2008 at 9:01 pm

Hi Joe!

Just wanted to say that I was able to Pre-Order The Hot Shoe Diaries this weekend on Amazon. I know it isn’t supposed to be released until December, but it is like I have a Christmas present waiting for me already. Can’t wait!

I also just read the Moment it Clicks cover to cover. Really great stories and great work. Plus I was able to ask Steven Heiner today at B&H just how sand blasted those D3 bodies from Baja were. I think they appreciate your images and talents a lot more than a little dust that needs to be cleaned off!

Chuck Espinoza says:

on July 29, 2008 at 12:11 am

Why use a stofen or diffuser with the umbrella/boom setup?



Billy Mitchell "I just try to keep my camera out of the picture" says:

on July 29, 2008 at 9:04 am

Why use a stofen or diffuser with the umbrella/boom setup?



Andrew Ptak says:

on July 29, 2008 at 10:37 am

Is this just a case of mine’s bigger than yours?

Steven Marks says:

on July 29, 2008 at 10:07 pm


Great lesson. Great tools. Great ideas. I am awed, challenged, inspired.


Vanessa Moore says:

on August 26, 2008 at 6:42 pm

Just from the model’s point of view, Joe is one of the best photographers I’ve ever worked with in all my years of modeling.
I just thought I would put that out there.
Not only is he easy to work with, he has never made me uncomfortable in the atmosphere of any photo shoots. I think this important for every photographer, having to work with models ( especially female).
Another noteworthy piece info is that no matter the amount of stress he may be under, he has never brought it to set……I’ve worked with ‘mucho irritatingo’ photographers who have made the scene unpleasant.
Joe allows me to want to work harder, thus making the outcome of the pictures lovely with tons of variety.
Not to mention, he’s got a FANTASTIC team behind him.
I enjoy every photo shoot with them, and I look forward to any others in the future. :)

Jeffrey says:

on September 3, 2008 at 1:21 am

Hi Joe!

First, let me start by saying that you, Dave Hobby, and Chase Jarvis are my inspirations, and I aspire to be somewhat like you guys.

I really like the last photo, very moody, and great light. Could you post a shoot diagram of this? If you were to shoot this photo with another flash, what would you use it for? I was thinking of doing something like this, but a cardboard cutout of a policeman or mobster instead as a cookie and maybe a tight grid for the face. How would this work for a shot of around 3-5 people?

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