Secrets of Digital Photography

Nikon eBook Super Secret





I would love to shoot more flash shots but the on-camera flash is too basic.
You're only right. Sure, it works as a fill flash outdoors, but when flash is the only light, the pictures look like amateur night at the Paparazzi factory.

The flash that's on the camera is equivalent to the sort of flash you get on a pocket point-and-shoot camera. It isn't very flattering but it will get the image in a jam. You can set it for red eye reduction but that only works if you are closer than ten feet from your subject.

Outdoors it's just fine as a fill flash and that alone makes it worth having on the camera but most people want it to be their portrait maker. How do you get professional looking flash images from your compact digital Nikon?

Wouldn't it be cool to have several inexpensive flash units working from your camera's shutter by remote control?

What if you could get three flash units and a magic wireless remote control for your Nikon that only cost about sixty dollars and ten cents complete?

No exaggeration. 3 slave flash units @ $20 each + $0.10 for the secret filter.

(Note: The 880, 885, and 775 cameras put out a double flash that won't work with inexpensive flash slave units. See here for alternative flash units.)

Okay, I'll tell you how you do it. Just this one super secret and then you have to go buy the eBook. First you need an old slide that was accidentally shot with the lens cap on. That's right, a piece of slide film that got developed but was totally black. Just about any color slide film will do but the blacker the better.

You see, slide film is designed to work... where? In a slide projector. And what happens to film stuck in the gate of a movie projector? It burns to a crisp right before the audience's eyes. What does that have to do with anything?

Well, slides sit there for minutes on end. They may "pop" from the heat of the projection lamp, but they don't burn to a crisp unless the lamp is simply too darn harsh. Why? Ah, there's the key. Slide film is made from dyes that block certain colors of visible light but let infrared light (it's more like heat) pass through unimpeded.

And the question remains, "What IS this all leading to???"

As it turns out, there are inexpensive flash units that have photocell triggers. These are "slave" flashes and they trigger off of any rapid pulse of light they see. So you can trigger them with the flash unit on the Nikon compact cameras. But since we would like to make images that DON'T look like the on-camera flash unit was used how can we make this work for us?

Nikon makes special cords to let you use their flash units off the camera. At thirty dollars for the cheapest cord, this doesn't really strike me as simple / inexpensive / clever so I'm not going to direct you to the Nikon made SK-E900 adapter cord. Instead, I'm going to turn your camera into an infrared pulse generator that will trigger those inexpensive slave units.

The essential step comes when one realizes that pulses of infrared light trigger slave unit photocells almost as efficiently as visible light. If we can turn our camera flash unit into an infrared flash unit, its light won't appear in our photographs, but it will still trigger our slave units.

The top image shows what the unexposed slide film looks like to your eye. The bottom image shows the same chunk of film in IR. Virtually transparent even in the darkest areas of the film. Useful? You betcha.

With a small scissors, cut a piece of the black slide material just the size of the Nikon flash tube on the camera. It is 7/16" x 1" (10 x 24 mm). With some tape stick it to the front of the flash unit on the camera. Make sure it lays flat and covers only the white window of the flash with the emulsion out. (The emulsion dye could transfer to your flash tube under the strong pulse of the flash.) You don't want to obscure the viewfinder or the flash sensor.

If you have the newer Coolpix 995 camera, this page shows a neat way of mounting the idea.

Sure, it puts out some light, but compare it to the amount of light from the dim signal light left of the flash tube.

Now set up your slave units and get ready for a surprise. Set the camera to "force flash" with the little arrow-down lightning bolt showing on the monitor and LCD screens. DO NOT use red eye reduction. There won't ever be any red eye with this technique.

As you half-press the shutter button, a red light right next to the optical viewfinder will glow steadily. When the camera shutter goes off, all the strobes will fire. But if you look at the face of the camera only a tiny wink of light will come through the slide material. Not enough light to contribute to the photograph but maybe just enough to put a tiny dot of reflection on a close subject's eyes.

Six flash units were used to make this shot. The speedlight in the camera (a 990) was covered with
black slide film and became an infrared trigger pulse. One large strobe, a Vivitar 285 was triggered via an
accessory slave trigger and its light was bounced into a large chunk of foam core above the lens.
Four inexpensive slaves created bounce fill, high back light, gold back side light to the right and a heavily 
filtered back sidelight to the left. The filters were from a sample book of theatrical gels. Just the right size.
The hair was flying.  But all strobes fired so completely in sync that no double imaging of the hair is seen.

Now you need to know where to put the flash units to get key light, fill light and back light effects on your subject. The book has diagrams and tips about this, too. In fact, the book will point you to the exact equipment needed to make all sorts of invisible flash trigger shots.

This is just one of the dozens of amazing secrets of digital photography that come with
Nikon Compact Digital Cameras eBook.

Similar secrets are in the Sony eBook. Both are available right now.

Get the eBook. Nikon and Sony versions available now. We have a secure order page that will allow previous Nikon eBook owners to upgrade for low cost, too.
Or you can call direct and order from the publisher by phone or FAX.
Phone:(310) 475 2988 (M-F 9-5 Pacific Time)  
FAX (310) 475 9486 (24hrs).

© 2002 Peter iNova. All rights reserved. Do not reprint. Simply add a link to this page.
Reprinting except for newsworthy mention and brief quotes are by permission only.