Nikon D300 and shooting in a studio setting

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by connie_fore, Sep 17, 2008.

  1. Hello everyone! I'm new to the forum and I really need some help! I'm about to throw my Nikon D300 out the window. I went from a Nikon
    D40 to the Nikon D300. I have been using the Nikon D300 now for about a week and I'm not liking any of the results that I'm seeing.

    I shoot with a three strobe studio lighting set. I take photos of pets. I am having trouble with sharpness, color, contrast, and over exposure.
    I use a flash meter before every photo shoot. I have tried several different settings on the Nikon D300 and all the results are terrible. I
    shoot in manual mode and I set the shutter to 1/125 and the F-stop to 11. I took 256 photos last night and all of them were of poor color
    and over exposed. I have the camera set on 3D point 51 focus tracking. The focus looked pretty good but that was all that turned out ok. I
    was using Vivid for my color but changed to neutral last night. I know that I must be doing something wrong because this camera should
    give me much better results then the Nikon D40 did.

    Can anyone offer me some advice!!!!
  2. gy



    If you can show some samples from the photos you mention, Im sure people can have more clear idea of what is wrong with the pictures and be more helpful to you.
  3. What ISO setting are you using? That strikes me as the most likely reason that your exposure isn't agreeing with what your flash meter is telling you to do.
  4. I'm sorry but I deleted all the photos from last nights session. I was so mad! I checked my ISO settings but maybe the
    camera had other ideas. I always keep my ISO at 200. Since I deleted the photos I can't even check what settings I was
    using. I'll change the camera back to the default settings tonight and try again. This time I'll post a photo to the forum so
    every one can see what I'm talking about. Thanks.
  5. you definitely do NOT want vivid for your situation. go w/ Neutral and manually set your white balance.
  6. I wouldn't even bother with manually setting the WB... I'd shoot in RAW so that you buy yourself all of that nice extra post-processing latitude, and can completely alter the white balance after the fact without wrecking the image the way you would when making such changes to a JPG file.

    As for resetting to defaults... make sure that once you DO set to default, that you're not in auto ISO mode (where the camera adjusts ISO for you).

    A sample or two, Connie, will definitely help us help you. Out of curiosity, what lens(es) were you using?
  7. I was using the 18mm 200mm lens. This is my favorite portrait lens. Gives me the room that I need and I can get some nice close ups.
  8. One more thing to add. I do photo shoots for my local Humane Society. I might end up with 300 photos in one night. I do not have time to work with these photos. I need the camera to do the work for me when it comes to color, sharpness, and contrast. When I used my Nikon D40 I didn't have a problem with color, contrast, or sharpness. It was there for me. I know that I must be doing something wrong with my settings. This photo was set on vivd color.
  9. Well, the over-exposed area is a result of... over exposing. You indicated that you're using a flash meter. I'd examine the metering technique, since you seem a stop hot or so on the (camera) left side of the dog's face. Of course, you want to bring down the power of that camera-left strobe/softbox... you DON'T want to stop the lens down. You're dealing with a higher-resolution sensor (smaller photosites, since there are more of them), and you have to watch out for diffraction. You might very well be seeing some of that at f/11, and you certainly will if you stop down more. That will soften things a bit.

    Do you have an 18% gray target you can shoot, in order to calibrate your WB, if you don't want to batch-process that after the fact?

    And... where are these being shot? Are you in a public place with fluorescent lighting that's slipping into the exposure as ambient light? Just trying to get the big picture, here.

    Oh, and about that 18-200... are you on a tripod? VR on, or off? Your EXIF data didn't survive in the examples you've provided, so some of those details aren't obvious.
  10. Matt, these photos are being taken in my bedroom which I turned into a studio. Yes, there are fluorescent lighting present. Of course, I can turn those lights off and just use the studio lights. I started using a tripod but that got impossible to use as time went on. Shooting dogs they tend to move around a lot. I use the VR on the lens. I don't have gray but I do have a black seamless paper that I could use. Would that work? The photo below is one that I took with my Nikon D40. Shutter 1/125 F-11 ISO 200. This is the results that I want to achieve with my D300. I did very little post processing with this photo.
  11. bms


    Don't throw the D300 out! Send it to me and I'll sned you a brand new D40 :)

    All jokes aside, I'd echo to try to shoot RAW if you are not already doing it (I think the D40 only does compressed, you have the option of uncompressed on the D300) - you may be able to salvage some of the overexposed areas. Do you have Active D-lighting on of off? I once had it on high at an event and everyone I shot turned out to have red ears.... also, when I had a 18-200, it was backfocusing, had it fixed my Nikon, but I am assuming you had OK results with the D40 and that lens?

    Cute dogs BTW......
  12. Connie, I guess you you have discovered how good the D40 really is!
  13. I was going to use the active D lighting tonight but maybe I better not. The only thing that I have been using is the 3D focus
    tracking which by the way, I really like.

    The 18-200 worked excellent on my Nikon D40. If I had know that the D300 was going to produce such terrible results I
    would never had invested the money. This is just crazy in my opinion.

    I may end up selling the D300 and just sticking with the D40 because the results were excellent. Doesn't make any sense
    to me.
  14. Connie, it ain't a shortcoming of the better body. It's just how you're telling it to write those JPGs on the fly. It is
    MORE capable of producing quality JPGs than the D40 is, and if you're working with animals, the number of keepers
    you'll get (because of the vastly superior focus speed and frame rate) is a big help. The 18-200 will work just as well
    on a D40, D60, D80, D90, D200 or D300. That's not what's going on, here.

    Which color space are you using on the camera (sRGB)? How are you opening the JPGs and working with them,
    since you're not using RAW files? Whatever application you're using could be making a mess of things because it
    doesn't understand the color space that's marked on the JPGs, or is improperly importing it.

    Regardless, you've definitely got to back down on the contrast - the whites are blown out and the blacks are blocked
    up - and that's either an exposure issue, or simply too much contrast pushing followed by too much JPG

    What platform are you on, and do you have enough juice to download the free Capture NX2 trial and run it? It can
    render JPGs, as a batch, right from the RAW files, using the in-camera settings... while still preserving the RAW files
    so that you can see how color temperature or other processing changes WOULD effect the JPGs is you made those
    changes in the camera itself. Shoot in RAW, see what sort of changes to the possible-in-the-camera settings provide
    the results you like, and then just have the camera use those settings thereafter when you want it to make JPGs on
    the fly. Or, just go ahead and always batch process from RAW... that way you always preserve the more useful file
    in case you have a real winner that needs careful handling.
  15. When I do shooting with my studio flash equipment, the exposures using a flash meter and film are good. But, with digital, they are pretty bad. I have to use the LCD for exposure test to get good results. Then the results are great. The flash meter is what is messing you up!

  16. Ok, here are the settings that I used for this photo: Reset the camera back to default settings using 18-200mm lens 51 point 3D tracking focus Shutter 1/125 F-8 Flash meter stated to use f8 WB - Auto ISO - 200 Saved file as NEF (RAW) + JPEG fine Image size - Medium JPEG compression = Optimal Quality Picture control - Neutral Sharping - +3 Color space - sRGB AF point selection - 51 point Center weighted area - Avg. This is what I get.
  17. We're back to how you're using the flash meter, I guess. The lowest ("normal") ISO setting on your D40 is 100. The lowest on your D300 is 200. If you still have your flash meter set to calculate based on ISO 100, this is just about exactly what I'd expect to see. Can you check on that?
  18. I don't get it, both the D40 and D300 pics have color casts. Can't judge sharpness from the low-res samples. There is contrast -- go to neutral, adjust lights, maybe even make a custom low-contrast mode. Like Matt says, check your ISO; with a small studio you should use ISO 200 or L-1.0 (=ISO 100).

    If a part of the picture is overblown, then change the light ratios. It's a studio -- you can adjust the light. Similarly, if the light is too hard, soften it. I believe your problems are because you're quite used to the D40 and the D300 acts in a different way, so you need to invest a little bit time and effort in learning it. Mind you, I have a D300 and I can produce very sharp pics with it with just the right contrast.
  19. The Nikon D40's lowest ISO setting is 200. That's the same setting as the D300. I decided to bump up the F-stop to 11 instead of 8 and just used the default settings on the camera. WB is auto. The colors look better but I still see issues with over exposure. I also don't feel that the sharpness is there anymore. See photo below.
  20. Connie,

    I am having similar difficulties.

    Try this as a test with your current setup (those colors may be confusing the camera)...switch your metering mode from full "3D
    color matrix" (not the same as 3D focus) to center weighted and see if that does anything.

    How are you triggering the studio lights? I found that one time I did not have my SB-800 completely embedded in the hot-shoe
    and it gave bad results. Also, try setting a pre-measured white balance instead of auto. Unless your strobes are high quality,
    usually you will find a slight temperature difference between shots.
  21. Sorry for my confusion on the lowest ISO. I'm using a D200, which bottoms out at 100.

    Your most recent example still looks slightly overexposed, but also looks (especially in the reds) over saturated. Reds are also the longer wavelengths, and are thus more likely to cause diffraction as you stop the lens down further. Do you have any way of reducing your strobe power by a stop, insread of stopping down the camera by a stop?
  22. Firstly, as others have said, I'll gladly send you a D40 plus even perhaps some cash for your D300.

    Second, it's not the camera. That's harsh, but it should be a relief, as you can be sure that you didn't shell out the bucks for nothing. The D300 is a big step up from the D40 in just about every way.

    Third, what Michael said. You've got a fantastic lcd on the back that will show you blown highlights with a single button press. Use it. If I'm shooting something studio, I am initially running back and forth to my strobes constantly to dial in the perfect exposure balance. If an image isn't coming out to your liking, do something about it. Move your stands, diffuse or feather a light, dial strobes up or down. Once you get your zone of interest lit right, it should more or less stay that way as long as the subject is in relatively the same space.

    Finally, workflow with raw doesn't have to be that bad. In fact in a strobe setting where the light is the same in every shot, it can't really get any easier. With adobe camera raw, I'd ctrl-a to select all my files from a shoot (in bridge), right click, open in raw, then select all in that window. Use the dropper tool to tweak white balance or set it by eye (it's usually pretty close to begin with when on auto), then nudge other color/sat/contrast settings until your happy. Click apply to all, and you're done. That's pretty much it, unless you want to do further work to an image. Many other software packages, from very expensive to downright free will do the same. A particular image might need further tweaking here and there, but the benefit of shooting in a controlled environment (studio), is well, it's a controlled environment.

    By the way, adorable dog pics. I'm sure you will be very pleased with your results when you get your setup right.
  23. Well I just looked at the last two images in your post here of the stuffed bears and the last one does look as if you have switched to
    center weighted as opposed to 3D Matrix on the previous washed out pic. I thought of checking your meta-data only after I posted
    those suggestions.

    However I see a big difference, do you think its a result of switching F-stops, shutter speed?
  24. Let me do another test run and move the lights around and lower the fstop on the studio lights. BRB.
  25. Ok, I turned down the studio lighting. WB was in flash mode. The sharpness was there until I saved the file into a smaller file in Windows Picture Viewer. What's up with that??? Why am I losing the sharpness when I down size the file??? Do I need to save the files in the camera as small instead of medium files??
  26. Andy, I don't need another D40, I need to learn how to use this darn D300. If I can't figure this camera out then I'm going to
    switch back to my D40. I'll keep the D300 for a point and shoot camera if nothing else.
  27. I guess the reason that I shy away from RAW files is because I have no idea how to fix a photo that is saved as a RAW
    file. I know how to make adjustments in Photoshop Elements but as far as a RAW file, well, I'm just lost. I did try using LR
    and was totally lost.
  28. If she is using a flash meter the metering setting on the camera makes no difference... The camera should be on manual, NO auto ISO
    (it sounds like she has left it on...) and forget auto WB. Use a gray card and take a little time to find the best WB setting. It could be the
    camera's "flash" WB or it might be better to set it to a specific WB in the custom setting. And shoot using RAW for better image quality
    and greater post-processing capabilities.

    The OP is using a converted bedroom for her studio. Are there colored walls? How about the carpet? Drapes/shades? Is there anything
    else with color in the room? Any of these things can add unwanted color to an image.

    Are the strobes an inexpensive brand or a better quality? Inexpensive strobes tend to exhibit perceivable changes in color temp between
    shots... it can easily be several hundred degrees of difference. Strobe tubes also tend to change color as they age... if one tube is older
    than another in the same shot you could see different color temps. And if you have different light modifiers on your strobes those can
    affect the color temp too. Different brands of softboxes affect color differently. Using an umbrella where there is significant light "spill"
    can add unwanted color.

    The flash meter may not be properly calibrated and/or it does not provide consistent readings when using strobes. Go to and read the article about the differences between flash meters. Learn how to check all your meters for accuracy. I
    have seen brand new cameras and meters that meter poorly. And contrary to popular opinion, a DSLR LCD should not be considered a
    replacement for a flash meter. If anything it is the equivalent of a Polaroid that we once used when using strobes, except we didn't use
    Polaroids to confirm exposure: we used them to check shadows, reflections, etc. that do not show up under the modeling lights and that
    cannot be easily seen during the short flash duration.

    Finally, the sharpness difference mentioned in the last post is most likely due to the image conversion process. If the image was sharp
    before conversion and then it isn't then blame the conversion, not the camera...

    Frankly, I think that the OP would benefit greatly from a basic lighting course. When I did just that years ago at Brooks and later with
    Will Crockett I advanced technically-speaking quite a bit in the 3-4 days I spent in each workshop.
  29. Ok, I got the color, contrast, focus, and sharpness down now. All I need to figure out is why I lose my sharpness when the file is saved to a smaller size. I'm going to post two photos to show you what is happening.
  30. Here is the untouched photo.
  31. Connie, I'll throw in a couple cents......

    Your composition looks fine but the colors (at least on my monitor) seem a bit off. A few camera adjustments might help. Yeah, it would be easier if you shoot RAW but even with JPEGs, you can make some in-camera changes that might help. First, try only Neutral or Portrait for your Picture Control. The others likely will throw off the white. Adjust contrast/sharpness to personal satisfaction.

    Speaking of white, turn off the saturation and don't use the vivid setting. These are portraits of animals, not colorful carictures. That should help you get more true color.

    And speaking of color, you can make adjustments in Elements even if you don't understand RAW. That said, it sure helps if you know how to make these adjustments. Make this a little easier on yourself by buying a book (or getting one at a library) that teaches you the basics of Elements. It will open up a new world for you.
  32. Connie: You might also consider downloading a free 60-day trial of Nikon's Capture NX2. It's the one piece of software that best understands the RAW output from your D300, and you can make all sorts of changes to the image with a few mouse clicks... from the subtle to the more dramatic. Including spot healing, dodging, burning, and much more... and especially color temperature correction and saturation adjustments.

    Further... when you choose to down-sample an image to a smaller size (say, 680 pixels across, as you've done above), you can re-sharpen the image after you shrink it. This is a vital step. Here's why:

    When you re-size the image, you're removing data from it. Some of that data defines the edges of things like that Boxer's whiskers. Running a modest sharpening pass against the sized-down image will restore that crispness for your on-screen-sized images. I took the liberty of cropping a chunk out of the Boxer's headshot (so that it's under 700 pixels) but did NOT size that part of the image down from the one you provided. I then opened the image in Capture NX, chose the Unsharp Mask tool, adjusted one slider control to taste, and saved. That's it.
  33. Woops, herer's the image.
  34. And here, I re-cycled the same JPG, but used the area masking brush to choose a couple of areas I specifically wanted to sharpen more aggressively (you'll be able to spot them). These adjustments are FAR more elegant if you do them to RAW files - much better detail preservation, color and tonal gradients, etc. By the time you're working with JPGs, you've already thrown out a great deal of the image's data, and manipulations of the image in that less-complex format are never as handsome.
  35. Connie,

    Just a thought, did you turn off the auto iso feature on the D300? Look in the Shooting Menu under ISO sensitivity settings (hint: it's near the bottom of the list). HIt ok and then look to see if ISO sensitivity auto control is on or off. If it's on then the D300 will automatically adjust ISO on its own regardless of your inputting aperture and f-stop.

    I have both the D40 and the D300 and the D300 is a far superior camera, but it is also infinitely more complicated at first. I had exposure problems at first in the studio too, until I checked my photos and noticed that the camera was shooting was above ISO 200, causing my photos to be overexposed, etc.

    A simple fix for a perplexing problem. Cheers!
  36. Connie, I found I got better results with aRGB rather than sRGB with my D300. You may want to give that a try. Set white balance manually and check your histogram after each shot to insure proper exposure - adjust as needed. I would suggest you use one focus point as opposed to focus tracking so you can pinpoint the focus area you want, and shoot at f8, not f11. Use the Standard Picture Control setting with ADR on, Auto ISO off.

    Hope this helps... Good luck!
  37. bms


    Connie, I want to reiterate the above - data is lost when sizing down. IMHO, it also depends on the on the algorithm. I grabbed your hi-res JPEG, took an area and resized with PS, once with the bicubic smoother and once with the bicubic sharper option - the differences are subtle, but I do not know what Windows Picture Viewer does - my guess is its not very sophisticated and does not suit the needs of a pro pet photographer. It seems like your images need only little tweaking, and CaptureNX2 may be ONE way to go, as suggested.... it makes working in RAW fairly easy.
  38. I just want to give everyone that offered their advice in this thread a huge THANK YOU from me!!!!! Looks like it's going to be me and this camera from here on out. I will try everything that was mentioned in this thread. You all gave me wonderful advice. I think I can figure this D300 out now. I'm just glad it was me and not the camera. LOL! At least I know of a place to come when in need of help. You all get a big hug from me.
  39. Hope you will post some 'new and improved' shots when you have a chance!
  40. Definitely make sure AUTO ISO is turned off, I shoot studio shots with the D300 and if it is on it will mess you up big time.
  41. well, I guess you have to try out and find if you can use anything from that manual.
    it's a great read.

    Hope this help.
  42. Hello Connie,

    Don't throw your D300 away. Throw your light meter away. Use the histogram to establish a good exposure right on the camera. I ran into the same issues early on with my D70. Definately shoot in RAW, JPG is to contrasty and there are some color issues. Skin tones appear a bit pinky and if you are using Vivid mode you will be way out of gamut on most colors. Make sure your D300 is not set to auto ISO, that screwed me up in the beginning also. The D300 is a very advanced camera in terms of features. Once you get really familiar with all the right ones, you will wonder how you lived without them before. Hope this helps.

    Ivan Rios
  43. I've had other people complain about that Windows Picture program making their images soft. Why would you ever use that
    over photoshop? Stick with photoshop and it should eliminate your problem.

    Also, you might want to try a gray card and avoid using the auto white balance, since it will be setting the white balance
    according to your ambient light and not the strobes. I use an expodisc for my white balance and it hasn't let me down yet.
    You should pick one up.

    I love my D300 and I'm sure you will too once you work out all the bugs.
  44. Connie, First I must admit, I don't have a D300 but use a D70. If you are still having problems, here is how I shoot in my living room-converted-to-studio: * RAW (I never ever never shoot JPG) * color balance to Daylight (I use 3 Alien Bee 800WS strobes in a variety of softboxes) * ISO 200 (the lowest I can go) * manual focus Some of the earler images you uploaded showed (to me) like your lighting ratio was too wide for the digital sensor. One question I don't believe anyone else asked: are all your studio's strobes exactly the same power and modeling lights? Some folks new to photography make the mistake of having strobes with different power output but the same wattage modeling light. When this happens there is no way to look at the subject and know what your actual lighting ratios are going to be. To keep it simple, let's say you have two Alien Bees. One 800 WS and one 1600 WS. Both have the maximum 150 Watt light bulb for a modeling light. If both lights are at full power and the lighting setup looks (to the eye) like it's good when the exposure is made the 1600WS unit will illuminate the subject with about twice as much light than was expected. Having a setup with strobes of mixed power like this will drive you NUTS, so don't do it. A story about this: in June 2008 I was on a photographic road trip shooting stock. I found myself in Columbus, Ohio so stopped in to see the good folks at Columbus Camera. While I was there a young lady came in to buy strobes for her new studio. She and I got to talking and she said she was planning to buy a less powerful strobe for the hair light, "Because it's only the hair light." I strongly encouraged her not to because (as I explained here) she would never be able to judge the lighting setup with her eyes. Plus if one of her other stobes went down she could not replace it with the hair light strobe and if she went out on location she would have to be careful what lights she used and it's location, if one was less powerful. She took my advice and bought all matching strobes. Yes it cost a bit more but I know she will be much happier. That's my unsolicited two cents worth.
  45. I think you might need to set your own WB, get a grey card and then shoot it with the flash that you are using.
  46. Connie, my man :) Read the amateur words!!! :) I had D40, and now i have D300...If your setup is same od D40 and D300, the pics on D40 will be 100 times better in all directions, but...there is a lot difference between D40 and D300 color sensor and If you want the better results try this...shoot in RAW, be in manual mode, try A between 7.1 and 10, do not go over Sh. speed 125, use only spot mettering, only 1 focus traciking...dont use those Vivid things and that, move your sharpening setup +1...and finally...Do not shoot studio pics in 12 mpx...use 1/2 of me, it works... At first look, D300 is zero, D40 is better one , Fuji S3 the best...but...hmmmm....not quite... Enjoy being the D300 owner!!!
  47. I have solved all my WB issues using an expodisc....I highly recommend using one before every shoot
  48. I just got my d300s and is trying to take some studio portrait pictures but got poor results. I have 3 strobe lights (U2 Photon, 200W each, continuous light, strobe, light outputs can be adjusted), 2 in softboxes, 1 with umbrella, it comes with a cable to connect to the camera, and also can be triggered optically. The strobes can also be set to continuous lighting.
    My questions:
    1. Do I need light meter? If yes, what is a good/not too expensive.
    2. For portrait pictures, should I use continuous light or flash/strobe
    3. Can someone recommend basic settings on the camera as well as on the lighting equipment, as starting point.
    4. Where I can get backgrounds probes similar to Connie Fore or can I make my own?
    Rich Cheng
    Thank you for your help.

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