The Nikon Creative Lighting System, 2nd Ed. – Better flash photography (with electronic help) – #bookreview

The Nikon Creative Lighting System: Using the SB-600, SB-700, SB-800, SB-910, and R1C1 Flashes
By Mike Hagen
(Rocky Nook and Nikonians Press,
paperback, list price $39.95)

In my many years as a photojournalist, I hated one aspect of photography above almost all others: Having to use an electronic flash in low-light situations.

Of course, that was back in the ancient days of 35mm film cameras and heavy, shoulder-bag battery packs. We had little idea how well a flash shot would turn out until we got back to the photo lab and ran the roll of Tri-X or Plus-X through the D-76 developer, stop bath, fixer, and a perfunctory wash – and prayed we had remembered to use “X” synchronization, not the outdated one (“M”) for flash bulbs.

If anything at all went wrong, there was no going back.

For that reason and many more, I love digital photography–and being able to see how well a flash shot has turned out moments after I press the shutter.

This updated second edition of  The Nikon Creative Lighting System covers both modern flash technology and some good old, no-tech techniques that still work. One of my favorites, illustrated in this book, is doing bounce flash to eliminate shadows while also using small reflector cards or just your bare hand and fingers to reflect what author Mike Hagen calls “a nice catch light” and a bit of glow into a portrait subject’s face.

Another is flash bracketing, which we used to do by manually opening up or stopping down one f/stop (typically while running along near a famous criminal or politician or movie star and hoping our flash units had recharged along enough to pop off another shot at the right exposure). “Each of the modern Nikon cameras has an auto bracketing function,” Hagen notes.

Hagen’s well-written guide covers Nikon’s newest iTTL (Intelligent Through the Lens) flash units and includes separate chapters for the SB-600, SB-700, SB-800, SB-900, SB-910, and R1C1. An iTTL-compatible camera body “meters flash output through the lens” when used with an iTTL flash unit.

In his “Case Studies and Examples” chapter, Hagen presents some excellent photographs and provides complete setup details and settings, so you can learn by trying similar shots.

Hagen’s book is a full-blown, step-by-step, technical how-to guide that likewise provides easy techniques for making better photographs in a variety of situations.

With the help of Nikon electronic flash units, of course.


Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. He also is a former newspaper and magazine photojournalist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir available now in paperback. He is the author of a detective novel, Erwin’s Law, a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.


  • Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, photojournalist, and book reviewer. His published books include: DARK SIGNALS, a Vietnam War memoir; ERWIN'S LAW, a private-detective novel; and JUMP, a novella about a combat veteran suffering from PTSD and alienation while trying to work for newspapers as a journalist. Several of his feature screenplays recently were under option to movie producers. He spent nearly 15 years working as a technical writer and software tester in the telecommunications industry. His current programming interests include Go, JavaScript, Python, R, Angular, and other languages and frameworks. He is a U.S. Navy veteran and a graduate of the University of North Texas.

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