Nikon SB-900: Joe Bob Goes to the Movies

Those of you of a certain age will remember Joe Bob Briggs, who used to review guys' movies for the newspapers the way a guy would want a movie reviewed.

Steel Magnolias? Zero stars. Way too much emotional junk.

Texas Chain Saw Massacre? Instant classic -- it has chain saws, fer cryin' out loud. Get the Oscar buzz started!

I was very disappointed to find out that the "Joe Bob" in the new Nikon speedlight video were in fact Bob Krist, internationally known travel photographer, and Joe McNally, some guy I have never heard of.

Sadly, the video is not available yet, nor are the online excerpts -- they are coming next week, from what I hear. So why am I even telling you this?

Because the release of the SB-900 video trips in a little gentleman's agreement about the previous, SB-800 "Speed of Light" video...


A few years ago, this Joe McNally guy filmed a video for Nikon on the (then) new SB-800s, showing just what they could do by using CLS in a real-world environment. It was a capabilities/brochure type of thing, and they probably underestimated the demand for nuts-and-bolts, exact "how-to" type of stuff.

The video was called, The Speed of Light (spoiler alert: 186,000 miles per second) and was a great tease to get you pining for six SB-800s.

The feedback, of course, was that now everyone wanted to know exactly how to do this stuff: What do I set the +-TTL at? Why use the dome outside? How do I find a contortionist and a glass box in the middle of the desert?

So, from what I understand at least, they are looking to be more nuts-and-bolts in the current iteration which is now in the can and ready for release. The new video is five times as long as the last, which should allow for more detail in the process.

From what I hear, they had fun filming it, too. Rumor was that Bob and Joe actually pretended to get pissed off at each other, almost to the point of coming to blows (my money is on Bob -- he's a scrapper) just to worry the director while shooting. That's why you never let the photographers outnumber the directors.

But enough of that. Back to the Speed of Light video.

Here it is, embedded. If you are viewing this post via RSS or an email subscription, you probably won;t be able to see the video. You can get to the full web version, with video, here.

The vid has been up on Google Video for several months, and is a total bootleg upload. I was tipped to it by several readers way back when.

Normally this is a strict no-no, and results in DCMA takedown notices out the wazoo almost immediately. But I talked to several people at Nikon and the idea was batted around that letting this one go into the wild at this point might not be such a bad thing. Simple cost-benefit analysis. But I agreed that it would best to wait until the next-gen SB-900 video was announced before linking to the old SB-800 video.

There is a lot of information in it, but the flash itself is discontinued. (Bastards! They killed Kenny!) Which means the commercial value for an SB-800 video is down to the flat part of the long tail chart. So, given that they (a) know it is out there and, (b) have not yet DCMA'd it, you are not starving anyone's babies by watching it.

It's about half an hour long. IMO, the best part of the video has nothing to do with lighting. CLS shooters will learn from it, of course. But the real takeaway is watching this Joe guy work.

When you are watching this, pay special attention to how Joe paces his shoot. Note how he keeps his subjects engaged, how he uses their time and attention efficiently. A good shoot is all about a steady stream of communication and keeping a good rhythm going with the subjects.

He's too modest a guy to tell you this, so I will: His long-practiced ability to interact with his subjects is just as key to the success of his photos as is his lighting skill. More so, actually. It's a dance, and someone has to lead.

You can get great photos all day long with good subject interaction and finessing whatever available light you can find. Not so the reverse. If you do not gel with your subject, all the fancy flash in the world will not make a great portrait.

I am very much looking forward to the new vid (hopefully, with a director's cut including the fight scenes) when it pops up. I'll point to the excerpts online whenever they are posted.

Hey, Nikon -- why not YouTube that trailer and let it fizz a little?

And I would be curious to hear your thoughts on the interaction and rhythm thing in the comments below. What did you come away with?

New Speedlight Video: Nikon Press Release


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Blogger John Mielke Photography said...

Wow! I've known about this video for ages now but have never seen it!

It was never available at retail here in Canada, and to ship it from the USA would have cost me more in shipping fees than to buy the actual DVD... So this was a real treat, and then some!

Thanks David! Thanks Joe! Can't wait to see the SB900 video... in 5 years. LOL


October 22, 2008 1:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I see it there are 3 problems now with most (not all) of the crowd at strobist pool -and mostly the strobist forum too-:

1)Once they have learned something they don't dare to experiment, many go as far as not going outside what is found on the books they have read.

2)Few engage into the concept area of a photoshoot, they are technically saavy but few dare to think on how to adapt lighting to a concept, planning what you want in your photo is a great thing, improvisation isn't a reliable tool.

3)The final problem is engaging the subject in the photoshoot and common etiquette.

The speed of light as you have pointed covers this aspect pretty well, Joe oozes charisma and energy and this is what drives the talent in his photos, this is also covered in Lighting the dramatic portrait by Micheal Grecco few notice that the book is oriented on to start your brain-engine and start thinking outside the box.

One can only imagine how AWESOME the next video from Joe and Bob will be, I can't hardly wait.

Bill from Texas

October 22, 2008 1:30 AM  
Blogger Benji said...

Basically the whole point of this video is to say that Joe is awesome. Hands down. That voice over chick's voice is pretty soothing too.

October 22, 2008 1:58 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

The interaction is what I came away with. There is still the mystery that Joe knows where to put his lights ... he has visualised the shot, and the lighting, before he sets anything up ... and that is what makes the difference, and that seems to be (to me) what only experience and practice can teach you ... that seems to be the one thing that I won't learn from any book, blog or video.

The Nikon system certainly seems to help automate some of the balancing of the light power, but that's about it. What Joe walks in to a shoot with is experience and vision ... and no manufacturer can put that in any product.

Guess I'd better get out there and do it.

October 22, 2008 3:00 AM  
Anonymous Alexander said...

Hi Dave,

thanks for that video link. This obscure Joe guy seems to do a nice job ;-)

Would be interesting to see you go more into CLS/AWL in the future after you covered manual in 101 and 102 so well. You got all the gear after all, don't you?!?

My best wishes from Hamburg, Germany


October 22, 2008 4:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have seriously never heared of Joe McNally? The guy is a photography-GOD for crying out loud! He is an absolute master in using Nikon equipment, especially the Nikon Creative Lighting System. :)

October 22, 2008 4:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bought this DVD when i bought my SB800's a few months ago.

Very true what you said about not being enough info about the how to's.

But i did enjoy very much watching Joe work and interact with his subjects. He is a great personality without the ego, very down to earth and humble.

I also enjoyed studying his rig and teqniques. After watching is several times i bought some Justin clamps and booms:)

But i still don't know why he has his diffuser dome on in the desert shots?

Can you explain this?

October 22, 2008 6:12 AM  
Blogger Teemu said...

Great post, really liked that video!

October 22, 2008 6:46 AM  
Anonymous Joe Moffett said...

Just a (probable) answer - but I may be only partially right - to the question about the diffuser dome in the dessert.

Joe is not using the on camera flash to light the picture - the on camera sb800 is triggering the other strobes. Now, by putting the diffuser dome on the flash, he is getting a far better visibility of the flash signal for the CLS to the other sb800's.

Hope that makes some sense.



October 22, 2008 9:06 AM  
Blogger Kevin Halliburton said...

It would probably be the most grueling job I've ever done but I would sure love to assist that guy for a while! He knows how to communicate with his gear, his assistants and his subjects in terms they clearly understand.

For example, he didn't tell the highschool cheerleaders how to pose, he told them how to envision themselves. "Think Vougue, not high school year book." "become Madonna, Britney Spears and Beonce'." They get it and respond to his flashes of brilliance like they are in wireless mode! Good stuff.

As to that diffuser dome on the master flash in so many of the shots, I'll bet it is there to help scatter his CLS signals to the flashes all over the set. Why didn't I think of that?

October 22, 2008 10:27 AM  
Blogger Kevin Halliburton said...

Looks like Joe Moffett beat me to the obvious while I was typing my post... Scattering the master flash signal makes sense anyway.

October 22, 2008 10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Joe Moffett.

Thanks for the reply, but he also uses it on the off camera flashes in some parts of the shoots.

Does anyone know why?


October 22, 2008 10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Based on your announcement that Best Buy was selling out of SB800's, I bought a pair. Glad I did, but...

Nikon USA still lists the SB800 on the web site and Adorama still shows availability of SB800's both in USA versions and grey market.

What gives with the discontinued comment?

October 22, 2008 11:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Discontinued = no longer manufacturing them. (Existing stock will, of course, still be sold)

October 22, 2008 2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's DCMA? Do you mean "DMCA" -- Digital Millenium Copyright Act?

October 22, 2008 3:07 PM  
Anonymous Per Kristoffersson said...

what amazes me is that the flashes work at all in the desert shoot. My only experience is with ordinary optical slaves and they never fire if exposed to the kind of ambient light which is present in the desert shoot. How come the CLS system works in a situation were I would expect optical slaves to fail?

October 22, 2008 3:37 PM  
Blogger supermorbidlyobeseisthenewblack said...

Awesome. Thanks Dave

October 22, 2008 4:30 PM  
Blogger MK said...

@anonymous Dave...

My guess regarding diffuser dome and scrim use: when shooting through a scrim you're getting softer, more wrap around light. If you attach the diffuser domes as well, you are getting even softer light. Though, if I saw correctly, he took them off the remote flashes soon after. I don't think they were powerful enough with the domes on.

October 22, 2008 5:16 PM  
Anonymous Allankh said...

I liked the way Joe worked, he interacts with the subject and provided suggestion, I need to work on that more. Though this isn't the first time I've seen one of his videos, this video was worth it's time for what i learned.

October 22, 2008 9:41 PM  
Blogger Mike Simons Photography said...

DH -

Saw this at --- wireless camera trigger good to TWENTY MILES.

Mike Simons
Corning, NY

October 22, 2008 10:02 PM  
Blogger Kevan Lin said...

DH- I hope you came across this:

Robert Benson has some how managed to remote trigger his camera using walkie-talkies and a DIY switch. He's selling these switches for $90 and will work up to 25 miles (the advertised range of the walkie-talkies themselves) he's got some cool videos up too!

Have fun in new york!

October 22, 2008 10:19 PM  
Blogger Sindre said...

Why are he using soft boxes in a wide open space, and nothing to bounce? Is it because he have to do it to bounce to the other SB-800 on his 9'o clock left? Why does that one then have a soft box? Dont you need a bounce surface to make any use of the soft box? Like you David said: "do not use the soft box outside!"

October 23, 2008 6:38 AM  
Blogger dhani accioly borges said...

I would like to know what kind of SCRIMS, TRIPODS, CLAMPS and arms he is using to get all those flashes in those positions.

October 23, 2008 7:21 AM  
Blogger Jason Bell said...

It's great to finally see this video.

With the newspaper work I've been doing recently I have changed my tact with how I interact with people. I recently shot a large group of Irish Dancers, the "with attitude" shot works hands down but we usually do that second. One to keep the paper happy and one to have some fun.

You get a more natural reaction from kids and teenagers when you give them a point of reference such as Vogue or the latest singer/band.

It works everytime and hasn't failed me yet.

October 23, 2008 7:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ anonymous re:"never heard of Joe McNally?"
i believe the author to be using a mode of prose commonly called "humour"

October 23, 2008 9:50 AM  
Blogger Johnny101 said...

Man, I miss Joe-Bob Brigg's Drive-In theatre on Showtime. :( The best rating system ever:

12 dead bodies
5 severed limbs
3 boobs
2 decapitations
1 machete to the face

October 23, 2008 12:14 PM  
Anonymous Alan Hess said...

I actually own a copy of the "Speed of light" dvd. I watched it a lot, I mean a lot... just trying to get the most out of my Sb800s.
Watching Joe work was a bonus but I really wanted the settings, the exact settings used for each shot.

I hope the new video has more on the settings used for each shot and more importantly, I hope that Nikon realizes that releasing the video for free will motivate people to go and buy the new Sb900.

October 23, 2008 1:04 PM  
Anonymous Rohn said...

As a Canon shooter I have to admit a measurable amount of envy at the recharge beep indicator. I did not know that the SB800's did that... What an amazingly good idea!

Now if only there was a way to after-market a product for Canon, and others.

October 23, 2008 1:34 PM  
Blogger Sean McCormick said...


David, would you please consider selling your videos through some outlet other than MPEX? Their service is, quite frankly, lousy. It should not take two months to fill every order. I've never dealt with an online merchant this slow before.

I'd like to recommend your videos to students of my own photography classes, but will not do so if it means inflicting Midwest Photo's godawful service on them.

Perhaps their service to Americans is better, but this is one Canadian who will never recommend or do business with them again.

October 23, 2008 2:10 PM  
Blogger Benson said...

How does the magician levitate the strobe?? That's so freaky, it looks real.

October 23, 2008 2:51 PM  
Blogger Benson said...

How does the magician levitate that strobe??? It's so freaky, it looks real! Joe Mcnally's interation with his subjects is incredible.

October 23, 2008 2:52 PM  
Blogger .felix said...

Nice little clip. Was this the whole video that was on the mentioned DVD or is there something else on that DVD. Also, can anyone provide part numbers :) (read> details) about the clamps/stands etc. Joe used?
And does anyone know if Canon's E-TTL system can do all these things as well or can anyone provide a link to some comparison info with regards to CLS/Canon E-TTL? Thanks.

October 23, 2008 4:36 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Nice. I recommend Bob Krist's books to all my friends who are getting into photography.

October 23, 2008 5:19 PM  
Anonymous Jeff K said...

@Per Kristoffersson

I beleive the Nikon CLS system communicates using InfraRed light, not simply "visible light". So, the remote flash is looking for InfraRed light flashes as "Morse Code" as Joe called it. So, it works in bright daylight. As opposed to simple optical slaves that trigger on visible light which is hard to detect when its bright ambient.The SB800 master also flashes visible light at the same time, but the remote is picking up on the embedded InfraRed signaling.

October 23, 2008 5:54 PM  
Blogger Ken said...

I'd like to see a strobist article on scrims, booms/arms as well.

The big groups need plug in strobes. Lighting was blotchy even with 4 speedlights...

October 23, 2008 6:12 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

@alan hess:

Before asking for the exact settings used for each shot, perhaps you should read this earlier post from David on October 1st:

October 23, 2008 7:21 PM  
Blogger Jason Drumm said...

It sure would save a lot of time if I can just get my strobes to levitate like that.

October 24, 2008 9:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Felix - With Canon you can fire three other groups of flash from a master flash on your camera.

You can also use the STE2 to fire two other groups of flash from the camera. Using this method also allows you to alter the flash ratio between group A and B directt from the STE2. You do though have to have line of sight in all cases, which Joe had in the video.

The STE2 also works on an infra red signal which the literature tells you can be affected on bright sunny days. But as in a lot of the shots as Joe used, that wasn't the case.

I don't know what boom was used, but the clamp was a Manfrotto 175F clamp also known as a Justin Clamp.

I too would like to know what the stand and boom were - it looked as though their may ahbe been an articulted arm in there but I'm not sure.


October 24, 2008 10:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it possible to shed some light on the support gear being utilized in this video?

Just curious...about the flash mounts and that nifty laptop system.

October 24, 2008 2:00 PM  
Blogger .felix said...

Thanks Anonymous. I knew that Canon ST transmitter needs line of sight (or bouncing of walls - I've been trying it myself) but wasn't sure if CLS is the exact same technology. I know you can use groups (2 with the transmitter and 3 with flashes and you can ratio them) but didn't know if CLS has any more bells and whistles (apart from the "Flash charged beep").

October 24, 2008 10:24 PM  
Anonymous XposurePro said...

LOL Joe Bob Briggs was the man.

October 28, 2008 12:59 PM  
Blogger Trish said...

So glad to hear of the new video. I too bought SoL and was disappointed to find it lacking in the meaty details, at least for me as a newbie with strobe lighting. It still has great information and Joe is awesome to watch work, but without more technical information, imho it amounted to Nikon charging me $30 to watch a commercial. They should have distributed it via YouTube to begin with.

October 28, 2008 11:41 PM  
OpenID realitytourist said...

This is a great video, and thanks for posting the link. Hopefully it will stay on Google so we can bookmark and re-watch.

One question I have is what kind of ISO is he using? I ask because with my SB800 and 600 I often have to use ISO400 to get any kind of decent F/stop. Obviously he isn't worrying about recycle times (one advantage of AC-powered strobes), but even when he's using one light on the subject he's certainly getting plenty of light!


November 02, 2008 12:06 AM  

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