On Assignment: Inside the Soft Box

Shooting locavore and farm-to-table photos for a HoCo project took me to nearby Triadelphia Lake View Farm, where I photographed raised lettuce beds. They literally grow the lettuce in terraced roof gutters on tables, which extends the growing season, uses less water and frustrates the resident bunny population.

I've shot in greenhouses before, using the diffuse plastic as a ready-made light source. But this way you don't get detail in the sky. If the backlit plastic is your light source, the light is gonna be diffuse and the plastic is gonna be white.

However, in this case I wanted a little more punch to the light and some color in the sky. Solution: Turn the whole fricken' thing into a soft box and shoot inside the box…

Actually, I was not planning on lighting the lettuce farm this way at first. I was traveling pretty light for these shoots, with a single body, coupla zooms and three SB-800s. But when I am shooting outside in daytime I always throw a big light kit into the trunk just in case -- a Profoto B600 and head, big stand, Softlighter II, Magnum reflector and a PC cord.

This way I can either work light or overpower the sun if I like. In the latter case, the SB's can serve double duty as accent lights.

As soon as I got there and did a few ambient-only test shots, I knew I wanted to create some harder light and leave detail in the sky. So rather than task light Jenn watering the lettuce I choose to blast the Profoto right through the greenhouse roof from the outside. This would flood the whole space with light and bring it up to the level of the sky. The diffuse ambient would serve as fill.

A B600 in a Magnum reflector puts out a ton of light. Even at a distance (and through the plastic) I was only using this thing on half power and had f/stops to burn. I was using my D7000, and wanted to overclock the sync with the bigger flash. At 16MP (and pretty good files) what the heck, right?

Until I tried to plug in the PC cord. And that is when I noticed that my new D7000 does not have a PC jack.

I'll say that again:

The $1,300 ($1,500 w/battery grip) Nikon D7000 does not come with a PC jack. Or a ten-pin remote jack, for that matter.

Really, Nikon? I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, what with the SB-700 and all. But where I come from, the presence of a PC jack is one of those bare minimum things you expect in a Big Boy camera. Sure, 1080p video is great. But you spend the 25 cents on a PC jack for the camera first.

Yeesh. Next time we drop $1,500 for a Nikon, do we need to check to see if it includes a manual mode?

Not having PW's with me (didn't think I would need them) I ended up having to shoot with an on-camera SB-800, which triggered another SB-800 behind me, which triggered the Profoto's slave.

Here is the setup photo, including the trigger SB firing inside the greenhouse. Not to sound like a broken record, but the PC thing really irks me. A PC cord is your failsafe backup when the radio gods dislike you for any number of reasons. Grr.

We only had a few minutes' shooting time before a rain shower put the kibash on any big lights outside the greenhouse. So we went with what we had and moved inside for a detail shot.

Always get a detail shot. It gives the designer flexibility. And if you are a freelancer, the designer helping herself to a little more flexibility also adds a little more to your paycheck when you are paid for the extra usage.

I usually don't shoot TTL, but detail shots were made for TTL flash. The camera is in manual mode, with the ambient being underexposed a predetermined amount. That becomes your shadow exposure. Then the flash, on TTL, becomes your key light.

Handholding a TTL-corded SB-800 with a LumiQuest Soft Box III makes this ridiculously easy. Just frame it, then adjust the position of the soft-light flash until you get the shaping that you want.

Next: Open Air Home Studio


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Blogger dave d said...

I wish my garden looked this green and lush. Then again David you make everything look a little more amazing. Love the two light relay, that is why it is always good to have a plan B,C & D.

July 04, 2011 12:13 AM  
Blogger BJ and/or Lori Nicholls said...

You don't get a PC jack on any Nikon DSLR that I know of, pro model or not. The ten pin connector can be adapted for PC use, but then so can the hotshoe of a D7000. Just carry a SafeSync. I'd much rather use that than deal with the 10 pin connector and its fussy retaining ring.

July 04, 2011 12:37 AM  
Blogger watkins.brent said...

So, now you get to tape a hotshoe pc adapter into all of your bags (like I did). Belt and suspenders.

Here is one on amazon (it's even prime)


July 04, 2011 1:03 AM  
OpenID Mark said...

you could use the on-cam sb800's PC port to trigger the profoto. On my case I use the 900's PC port to cascade an RF trigger for those strobes triggered normally.

so the sb800/900 could turn into a way heavy and expensive hotshoe to PC converter

it also syncs properly if you are into CLS/AWL stuff to trigger nikon strobes as well...

July 04, 2011 1:15 AM  
Blogger Christian Brecheis Photography said...

I actually checked that before I got a D7000. I like to be able to shoot second angle with my backup body and it's a real bummer it's lacking the pin connector as well. I had an old D200 in my bag for ages, just to have a camera just in case, and even that has pretty much everything. The Speedlight, the D7000, I hope this is not Nikon saving money or trying to seperate pro from consumer products with >1 Dollar components.

July 04, 2011 3:35 AM  
Blogger Antares said...

Sweet idea! However, the PC jack on an SB800 is in and out. So if your flash is connected to the camera, you can sync to it in a pinch. You may also want to see what it does if you exceede your standard sync speed :)

July 04, 2011 8:04 AM  
Blogger Russell Grant said...

Hi David, great post as usual.

Just one question. Could you please clarify what you mean by this paragraph:

"A B600 in a Magnum reflector puts out a ton of light. Even at a distance (and through the plastic) I was only using this thing on half power and had f/stops to burn. I was using my D7000, and wanted to overclock the sync with the bigger flash. At 16MP (and pretty good files) what the heck, right?"

I get the first part, I'm just not so sure how the megapixel count and file quality is relevant when overclocking the sync.

Thanks for all the great advice. Your blog is my lighting bible.

July 04, 2011 8:07 AM  
Blogger Pat Morrissey said...

"Not to sound like a broken record, but the PC thing really irks me. A PC cord is your failsafe backup when the radio gods dislike you for any number of reasons. Grr."

Ditto - it's a pisser.

July 04, 2011 8:20 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@Mark; Antares- Learn something new every day. Thanks much for that info.

@Russell- See the linked article on overclocking the D7000 sync.

@Drewshadow - Hey, I remember you!

July 04, 2011 9:22 AM  
Blogger Russell Grant said...

Hi David,

Feeling a little daft this side, but I can't seem to find anything in the linked article about megapixel count being relevant to sync speed.

I guess my question is, how does a 16MP sensor make a difference to overclocking sync compared with a 10MP sensor? Would this make it easier to crop the underexposed bottom portion of the frame?

It's basically the last line of that paragraph that's bothering me.

Thanks again.

July 04, 2011 10:11 AM  
Blogger JayM said...

Awesome as always. Thanks! That said, I'm surprised to see you took a camera on assignment unaware of it's feature set (or lack thereof). Living dangerously, Mr. Hobby? ;-)

July 04, 2011 10:55 AM  
Blogger Chad Latta said...

I work at a nursery and my biggest problem is keeping my lens from fogging up!

I am upgrading my D80 and I am really having a hard time choosing between the D300s and the D7000. I don't really NEED any of the fancy features of either, but I am looking for something to last me a few years at least. I am hesitant to buy the D7000 because it is so new and has not "proven" itself.

What is your opinion on the D7000? Help me make my choice a little easier!

July 04, 2011 12:04 PM  
Blogger Trevor said...

@BJ and/or Lori Nicholls - The D3s, D700 and D300s all have PC ports, it's only the consumer grade Nikons (D90, D7000, D5000, etc) that don't have them.

July 04, 2011 12:28 PM  
Blogger Harry P said...

Nikon never had a pc or 10 pin in any of their "prosumer" cameras. Starting with the D70. D7000 is a direct line descendent of that camera.

July 04, 2011 12:35 PM  
Blogger Alex Solla said...

Quick question for you on your new marketing model (which you touch on in today's post)... how are you pricing your usage licensing fees? How does this compare with your day rate? I am embarrassed to admit it, but I am baffled by this end of the camera far more than I am by the other side. lol. Thanks again for the great side-chat in Buffalo during the FlashBus tour. Made my week!

July 04, 2011 12:53 PM  
Blogger T. C. Knight said...


I learned long ago, never, ever, ever buy a 4-digit Nikon. They cut all kinds of things and still over-price them. Of course, every other Nikon is overpriced too, but that is another discussion. When they decide to sell a single or double digit camera with M and none of the other bells and whistles (I have a pro video camera...don't need that in my still camera), and price it accordingly, then I will be a very happy photographer.

July 04, 2011 12:54 PM  
Blogger photomagic said...

The only thing I can say is WOW..you shot an assignment without checking if the camera could do what you wanted it to do..I realize there are tons of work-arounds to make the shot happen, but to find out it doesn't have a pc jack while you are shooting is kind of amatuerish

July 04, 2011 1:42 PM  
Blogger Michael Hesley said...

AS-15 adapter from B&H


Strobist, get one...

Works great.

July 04, 2011 1:44 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Yep, completely missed it. Won't make that mistake again. Starting to figure out the stratification now:

My D3 is clearly a camera aimed at pros -- shutter lifespan, PC, full-size body, etc.

My D300 is a prosumer camera -- features of both pro and consumer-oriented cameras. (Also, side-by-side, it feels much more rugged than the D7000, which while tight feels a little chintzy by comparison.)

The D7000 is aimed squarely at amateurs -- borrowing from the feature set of the D70 on down. I was lured by the siren song of 1080p video, and didn't expect to get hosed on a PC jack in a $1,500 rig. Fool me once, Nikon...

I'll never make that mistake again. I would have preferred to buy whatever the replacement would be for the D700, which would have fit my needs much better. But they have been sitting on that model forEVER.

July 04, 2011 2:14 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


First, put your lenses and cameras in plastic bags (with twisties on them) and let them acclimate fully to the new ambient temperature before you open them up in the greenhouse. That'll help a LOT.

Second, given my experience with the D7000, I would say that it does have a lot of bells and whistles. But if they are skimping on stuff like the PC jack, I would assume it falls into the amateur-camera duty cycle build, too. So all would depend on how much you are gonna use it.

July 04, 2011 2:18 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


That is not something I will fully standardize until I have a bigger volume of images in place. I am spending a lot more time and energy on HC360 now, tho mostly behind the scenes. I have figured out how to structure the site two where there will be multiple navigation streams inside -- essentially two completely different experiences under the same roof. So right now there is a large backlog of unpublished content.

To answer your question, at this time licensing is very ad hoc. Not something I am pushing (not even mentioned on the site) but I take care of it on case-by-case basis.

July 04, 2011 2:22 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@Russell --

Sorry for the confusion. Alas, the pixel count has nothing at all to do with the overclocking. It was just coincidental thoughts in the same paragraph.

July 04, 2011 2:23 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@Photomagic / Drew-

I make lots of mistakes. Most everyone does (unless they never stretch) and that has nothing to do with whether you are an amateur or a pro. Working through the mistakes is how you learn.

Even if you never make mistakes of your own, there's no need for the pissy, condescending tone in any future comments. I try to keep things nicer around here.


July 04, 2011 2:49 PM  
Blogger Alex Solla said...

Mistakes... I am so thrilled that not only do you make them, but that you make the publicly. You let it all hang out and you dont make excuses. That's very cool.

I think your vulnerability is reflected in the images you shoot and in the compassion you have for your community.

Best of all, I LEARN from your mistakes. Not so that I wont make them,... but so when I make them, I understand them and learn even more from them! Thanks again David. And kudos for not deleting a snotty post.

July 04, 2011 4:51 PM  
Blogger Wing Tang Wong said...

Nice post and nice shots. Sucks about the lack of a pc port. Given how more and more people are exploring off camera lighting, you would think that adding a pc port, or better yet, a mini jack, would be a no brainer. *sigh*

Nice solution to a minor bump in a pretty cool shoot.

July 04, 2011 6:07 PM  
Blogger Ewan said...

There are a few things I don't quite get in this post, but the main one is why anyone should care about the lack of a PC sync port when there's a perfectly decent hotshoe, which seems a much better way of syncing a flash.

Clearly, if on this particular day you only had a PC cable then no PC port is a problem. But now you know you can get one of the nice cheap adaptors and never be bothered by this again. Given that everyone (you included IIRC) thinks PC ports are nasty and flimsy, why would you want one in preference to the alternatives, given time to make the choice?

July 04, 2011 7:28 PM  
OpenID chrisnemes said...

Did the equipment do its job? Then there was no mistake. Just an alternative way to pull it off.
Photography is part science part magic. Right, Mr. Hobby? :)

July 04, 2011 8:06 PM  
Blogger Wink of an eye Digital said...

I still get mixed up with my 580's...I go to mix and match with friends when we "cactus together" open up the side and just find the power connecter. Geez I hate when that Happens.

FWIW you are to blame for Nikon losing the PC connection....you asked for it... and for your sins they took it from you!

Now you must go to the mountain of GEEK and explain to them that they didn't read the last thought on this.

Bring Father McNally and a bottle of scotch

July 04, 2011 8:08 PM  
Blogger JimDonahue said...

Would a Nikon AS 15 PC adapter help

July 04, 2011 9:53 PM  
Blogger Leo said...

PC jacks are horrible unreliable things.... David you've said so yourself. I can't understand why you'd want one. Cameras should have reliable 3.5mm sockets, as used by Pocketwizard, Cactus, Elinchrom etc.

In the meantime carry a spare wireless trigger instead.

The D7000 does have a wired remote capability. Not the 10 pin version as its not considered a "Pro" camera, its has a rectangular socket the same as some other prosumer bodies. Presumably one day the D300 will be replaced with something with the D7000s or similar sensor.

Until then the D700 is a better option if you don't like the D7000s feature set. I have a D700 and D7000, the combination works well for me.

July 05, 2011 1:47 AM  
Blogger John Felkins said...

David, is there now or could you create a space (ie a thread) to discuss HC360 type projects. Not the morality of being an entrepreneur or your loss of your north star as a photographer ;o) but a place to diccuss the execution of a hyperlocal photoblog. I'm starting one and would love to be in discussion with some like minded photogs. Thanks for the inspiration!

July 05, 2011 8:22 AM  
Blogger Dave6163 said...

As always thank you for the post.

Funny as I ordered a remote shutter release last week for my D7000 that I was taking on vacation. I too was surprised that there was no ten-pin remote jack to use.

July 05, 2011 9:42 AM  
Blogger Quaid said...

@ David Hobby,

This post about food made me think about another recent food photography article I came across. Have you seen the $500 cook book "Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking"?

They have done some spectacular photography. I first came across it from a recent TED talk "Nathan Myhrvold: Cooking as never seen before".

I think you and your readers may find this inspirational.sait

July 05, 2011 8:32 PM  
Blogger MasterOfGoingFaster said...

Ah David, I feel your pain. Nothing like getting a little surprise like that.

We all forget things, lose things and overlook details. Pros figure out another way to do it and get the job done. Bravo. It's good that you share that stuff.

The other day I realized I failed to put the just-downloaded-CF-Cards back in the cameras. Yep - right as I was ready to shoot. Ah - had a 1GB card with backup camera settings sitting in the bottom of the bag I don't normally use. Better luck then smart...

July 05, 2011 10:42 PM  
Blogger Edward Yezekian said...

RE: 1080 Video, why buy a Nikon to do a Canon's job ;)

can still adapt your Nikon glass to shoot video

July 05, 2011 11:55 PM  
Blogger Richard Mayrand said...

Thanks David for this post. Once again... well everybody said it before me!

If I may add to John Felkins request above:
"could you create a space (ie a thread) to discuss HC360 type projects..."

Thank you!

July 06, 2011 6:51 PM  
Blogger Sharon Campagna said...

The photograph you took of the inside looked clean and appealing. What a difference from the outside. Good lighting and great shot.

July 06, 2011 10:38 PM  
Blogger Ryan Smith said...

As has been pointed out it's pretty silly that you expected the d7000 to have features that have always been on the pro level cameras.

July 07, 2011 6:07 PM  
Blogger bronney said...


I am humbled by the mistakes you posted as they don't just taught you a lesson, but by having it public, we all learned the lessons without making the same mistakes. Though it might be better if we did (oops, forgot to remove lens cap on a film rangefinder ..).

I completely agree with you on that. We all know how to make umbrella 45 degrees safe photos. But it's the risky ones that I still enjoy.

May 22, 2012 11:04 PM  

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