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Book Review: The Nikon Creative Lighting System: Using The SB-600, SB-800, SB-900, and R1C1 Flashes by Mike Hagen

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Using flash for modern digital photography has become an art form in and of itself. Because of the high technology of Nikon's modern iTTL flash systems for advanced lighting, even professionals can be left flustered when it comes to learning how to use the full potential of these systems.

Even those who are competent in the art of photography have found it more difficult to learn about using any kind of flash beyond the shoe mount unit attached to their camera. This is where The Nikon Creative Lighting System comes in. Its goal is to start at a basic level and work with you through the more advanced features so you can become more comfortable about using Nikon's iTTL flash system. The book is 250 pages in length and is divided into 16 chapters.

Chapter 1, "CLS Background," begins by explaining what the Creative Lighting System (CLS) is and what iTTL is. You are also shown what some of the limitations of iTTL are, as well as what camera bodies it works with. Chapter 2, "Quick Start Guide," is just that, a set up guide for walking you through different scenarios such as setting it up as a slave or master flash.

Chapter 3, "Flash Theory," is important to your photography even though it can seem tedious and difficult to learn. Here you will see how the flash works, how to control the power, and how to control the light. Chapter 4, "SB-600 Buttons, Modes, Menus, and Operations," will walk you through the operation of your SB-600 flash by explaining the two basic ways it can be used on your Nikon CLS compatible camera.

Chapter 5, "SB-800 Buttons, Modes, Menus, and Operations," shows you the three different ways you can use your SB-800 flash. This was once the flagship flash product for Nikon. Chapter 6, "SB-900 Buttons, Modes, Menus, and Operations" now looks at Nikon's latest flagship flash product, the SB-900. Here you will see how to use it in the three different modes of use – as a flash mount, a commander flash, or a wireless remote flash.

Chapter 7, "SU-800, SB-R200, and R1C1 Operation," examines the use of Nikon's Close Up lighting kit (R1C1) that contains the SU-800 wireless commander which triggers the wireless remote flashes (SB-R200). Chapter 8, "Five-Step Plan for Great Flash Photography," looks at what it takes to use the equipment you have been learning about to take great flash photos. Here you will work with the steps needed to get consistently good flash photos.

Chapter 9, "Wireless Flash Camera Capabilities," describes what cameras work with which flash units and in what capacities. Chapter 10, "Flash Beeps," gives you insight into what it means when a flash beeps. It is the beeps that give you input on how your remote flashes performed so that you can make adjustments when you need to.

Chapter 11, "White Balance and Gel Usage," tries to clarify what white balance is and how it is related to the Nikon flash system. You also look at color temperature and how it affects the white balance of your images. The use of gels to modify the color of the flash are also examined. These are used to match the color of the light in the room. Chapter 12, "Batteries and Power Options," looks what it takes to power your flashes and what options that you have to make sure you have the power you need.

Chapter 13, "Camera-Based Functions for Your Flash," covers the setting you can make in your Nikon SLR that affects your flash unit and thus your photography. Chapter 14, "Case Studies and Examples," looks at several situations, how they were set up, and the resulting shots that were created. This includes all of the set-up details.

Chapter 15, "Lighting Kit and Product Recommendations," is a listing of some simple kit recommendations for those who want to put together a lighting system. Included here are specific product recommendations. Chapter 16, "Common Questions and Answers," are just that, questions that have been asked about problems encountered when using the Nikon flash system, and the specific steps to solve the problem.

All you have to do is follow some of the blogs out there that talk about lighting to know that flash lighting has quietly become a big topic. Where The Nikon Creative Lighting System works is in all of the details that it goes into about the various Nikon flash systems, the controls, how they work, and how to get the most out of them. In addition to supporting the text of the book, it also does a very nice job of showing the LCD displays and what they relate to, in the flash output and the effect on the photo.

What The Nikon Creative Lighting System does not cover is how the system integrates with the camera itself. Take, say, the aspect that most cameras have different modes they can be set in – for example, aperture priority mode, where you choose the aperture and the camera chooses an appropriate shutter speed. The book does not explore how this would affect the CSL or what you might need change to get the best results.

I suspect that it was author's goal to look at the units themselves and so I only mention it as it still leaves questions unanswered. That said, if you want a book that is focused around operating the Nikon CLS system, and one that does a very good job at conveying what it covers, then I can easily recommend The Nikon Creative Lighting System.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.