Command flash mode. Nikon CLS

One of the most important features of Nikon cameras is the Nikon CLS (Nikon Creative Lighting System). This system allows you to remotely control flashes.

Nikon CLS - article from Radozhiva

Nikon CLS - article from Radozhiva

Important: Nikon CLS can control flash units in TTL auto mode. For example, the cheapest trigger for remote TTL control costs around $ 200. The easiest method to get the remote flash to fire when you release the shutter remotely is to use the built-in flash in Master mode.

The Nikon SpeedLight SB-910 was fired remotely using the built-in flash on the Nikon D700

Nikon SpeedLight Flash SB-910 was launched remotely using the built-in flash on the camera Nikon D700. The flash was to the right of the model.

Cameras that support Nikon CLS automatic flash command mode with the built-in flash

Nikon D70, Nikon D70s, D80, D90, D200, D300, D300s, D7000, D7100, D7200, D7500, D700, D600, D610, D750, D800,D800E, D810, D810a+ Fujifilm FinePix S5 ProIS PRO (this is an accurate list)

Note that Nikon D70, Nikon D70s they can control only one group of flashes and only one channel (group A, channel 3), while the others from the list I can control two groups of 4 channels.

Nikon CLS Operation Example

Nikon CLS Operation Example

What is a flash group

By groups is meant the separation of the flashes used. The groups have names in Latin letters: “A”, “B”, “C”. Nikon supports automatic flash control in a maximum of 3 flash groups. For example, you have 2 flashes, you divide them into two groups, each with one flash. The camera will calculate the power for each of them separately. Also, for each of them separately it will be possible to set its own operating mode and power correction. For example, one flash in group A can work in manual M mode with a power of 1/4 to fill the background, and the second can work in automatic TTL mode to create the desired lighting. Dividing into groups is very convenient. The group can have an unlimited number of flashes. However, in fact, the camera will send the same commands for each flash in a group, and all flash units in one group will work the same way.

An external flash was fired using the built-in flash on the camera. Shot with an umbrella

External flash was launched using the built-in flash on the camera. Shot with an umbrella

What is a flash channel?

Channels are understood as the possibility of crossing controlled pulses from a command flash. This is very important if several photographers are working at the same time. For example, I shoot with my colleague, I work on the first channel with my own settings for the flashes and their number, and my colleague on the second channel. At the same time, “his” and “my” flashes do not work from someone else's channel.

External flash illumination using Nikon CLS

External flash illumination using Nikon CLS

To set up flash control, you need to select the group and channel for the control flash and the same group and channel for the controlled flash.

The control flash is called the Master (master, commander, commander flash) and the controlled flash is called the Slave (slave). It is often said that the Master sets fire to the slave flash, this is due to the fact that the slave flash fires only after the Master's command impulses, it seems that the Master actually lights up the “light” in the second flash.

An example of the Nikon CLS. The flash was used in the daytime to highlight the model.

An example of the Nikon CLS. The flash was used in the daytime to highlight the model.

Setting the on-camera flash to remote control the remote flash

Find the flash setting in the camera menu. Select mode C (Commander mode). In this mode, select group (A or B), operating mode (TTL, AA, M, -), channel (1, 2, 3, 4) and power correction. On external flash activate the Slave mode, set there the same group and channel as in the camera.

Important: for each camera, the menus and settings are slightly different, therefore, find the instructions specifically for your camera and read what's what.

Attention 1: When using the built-in flash as a Master (control mode “C”), you can turn off the built-in flash itself to illuminate the subject (the built-in flash mode must be “-“). Thus, the built-in flash will only give command signals and will not participate in the overall light circuit.

Example photo taken using the remote control for the flash

An example of a photo taken using the flash remote control. Flash SB-900.

Attention 2: even when using the built-in flash command mode and the pulse function is turned off, the flash still gives extra light, which can interfere with the light pattern of the overall composition. In short, all the same, the built-in flash highlights a little when shooting.

A very important addition, obtained experimentally. If you really want to completely get rid of the excess illumination created by the built-in flash (even if it is in the built-in flash “-“ mode), use the short excerpts (shorter excerpts camera sync). At the same time, shooting will occur in high-speed synchronization mode, which will get rid of the light created by the built-in flash. For example, when using a camera Nikon D700 at shutter speeds of 1/400 s or shorter, or when using the camera Nikon D80 at shutter speeds of 1/250 s or shorter, there will be no glare or highlights from the built-in flash in the pictures :)

Also, a special nozzle can help completely get rid of interference in the exposure of the built-in flash. Nikon SG-31R. It converts the visible light of the flash into infrared, which is not visible in the photograph. With it, you can easily use the Nikon CLS system and not worry about the light from the built-in flash.

Attention 3: unless you turn off the built-in flash when firing a flash (the built-in flash mode must be “-“), you will not be able to shoot with fast shutter speeds in FP (high-speed sync) mode. The built-in flash on any camera cannot work with shutter speeds shorter than 1 \ 500 s.

Example photo taken using the remote control for the flash

An example of a photo taken using the flash remote control. The location of the flash for shooting and the picture itself.

Attention 4: it is necessary to place the remote flash units only in the field of view of their flash by the Master. To increase the angle of the Wizard's flash, various reflective surfaces can be used. It's just a field for experimentation. Remote automatic flash control is performed by means of light pulses that create flashes. This is not radio control. Therefore, the master and slave flashes must visually 'see' each other.

Interesting feature: external flashes can be remotely controlled not only in the automatic TTL mode, but also in auto flash without TTL with aperture priority... To do this, select the 'AA' (Auto Aperture) mode.

CLS in its purest form

CLS in its purest form

What should I do if the built-in flash on my camera cannot remotely control external flash units?

There are three simple solutions:

  1. Use an external flash that will be mounted on the camera and will control other, remotely mounted external flashes.
  2. Use the SU-800 module.
  3. Use the WR-R10 / WR-T10 / WR-A10 and SB-5000 Modules
  4. Use the SU-4 mode.
Illuminated by umbrella; flash for on umbrella triggered by CLS

Illuminated by umbrella; flash for on umbrella triggered by CLS

An external flash mounted on a camera that works in Commander Mode:

For example, if you have an amateur camera that does not have a command flash mode, then in order to control other flash units remotely using Nikon CLS, it is enough to install a flash with the ability to work in Master mode on the camera. In this way, the on-camera flash will “command” other flash units that can be remotely positioned.

The exact list of cameras for which the built-in flash does not support the Wizard mode (Commander Mode):

D40, D40x, D60, D3000, D3100, D3200, D3300, D3400, D5000, D5100, D5200, D5300, D5500, D5600, D100 + Nikon z50 + cameras D500, D850, D1, D1h, D1x, D2x, D2h, D2xs, D2hs, D3, D3s, D3x, D4, D4s, D5, D6, Z6, Z7, Df which do not have a built-in flash.

The exact list of external Nikon flashes that can work in the Wizard mode (Commander Mode):

Nikon SB-700, SB-500, SB-800, SB-900, SB-910SB-5000

In the same way as with the built-in flash, an external flash attached to the camera and used to control other flash units can only be set to send “control” signals. Of course, it can control and work at the same time like a regular flash on the camera. A serious advantage of the on-camera flash in control mode is the fact that the flash head can be turned to any side and control flashes that are even behind the photographer's back (behind the camera). This focus will not work with the built-in flash in command mode.

An external flash was located on a stand to the right of the model. The flash was fired using the Nikon D700's built-in flash. FP mode was used during shooting

External flash located on the rack to the right of the model. The flash was fired using the camera’s built-in flash. Nikon D300s. FP mode was used during shooting

SU-800 module

The SU-800 is a dedicated remote control for external flash units. This is one of the best panacea for remote flash control. Its advantages are:

  1. The module can control three groups of flashes, in contrast to the on-camera flash of a number of cameras that can control only two or one group of flashes.
  2. The infrared spectrum is used for control. When applying command pulses, the module does not produce visible flashes for the human eye. Thus, the picture does not receive any light from the module, unlike the command control of the built-in flash.
  3. Compared to an external flash used as a Master, the module is smaller and lighter. In fact, the SU-800 Unit is the bottom flash unit.
  4. The module has infrared illumination for autofocus.
  5. The module does not overheat when controlling the flashes. The built-in flash often overheats with frequent use or does not have time to recharge, while the shutter release is locked.
  6. Support for I-TTL and a convenient menu for adjusting the power and operating modes of flashes in groups.
  7. This is a “native” solution from Nikon.

Disadvantages of the Su-800

  1. All the same, the slave flashes should be in the field of view of the module.
  2. The module head does not rotate unlike external flash on camera. An external flash in command mode can be directed in any direction and command remote flash units, which are even behind the photographer.
  3. Price. The control module costs approximately as usual external flash... The question constantly arises “should I buy another flash with command mode”.
Illumination through a conventional diffuser. Flash on the trine in FP mode

Illumination through a conventional diffuser. Tripod flash in FP mode

Light trap in SU-4 mode.

Pay attention to this mode, almost all external Nikon flash units have it. In this mode, the “ignition” of the slave flash can be performed with any flash, including the built-in flash of any camera. The mode does not support TTL, but simply fires with another flash.

An exact list of modern Nikon external flash units that support the SU-4 mode:

SB-700, SB-800, SB-900, SB-910SB-5000

SU-4 mode does not support high-speed FP synchronization and works like a normal light trap. To configure SU-4:

  • On the camera, go to the flash control menu. Select control mode 'M' (Manual flash control mode). Set the power to 1/128 or 1/64 or any other to your liking, or as needed. The built-in flash will simply ignite the external flash. Save settings.
  • Go to the menu external flashFind SU-4 mode there and turn it on.
  • Set the flash to 'Slave'/'Remote' mode, usually done with the flash lever.
  • On the external flash select control mode 'M' (manual, usually done with the 'Mode' button). Set the required power for shooting. With this power external flash will work with remote control.
  • Set an external flash in the camera's field of view.
  • During shooting, the built-in flash will give one light pulse, which will ignite the external flash.

In any case, you will have to get used to some of the features in this work. In detail, about how to configure SU-4 I already wrote in tricks.

Command flash mode. Nikon CLS

Command flash mode. Nikon CLS

Personal experience

I use the usual command flash mode with the built-in on-camera flash (on my cameras Nikon D90, D200, D80, D700). TTL mode is very important for me when working with flashes, since I mainly work with dynamic scenes, where I don’t have time to manually adjust the flash power. Yes, the commands do not always reach the slave flash receiver and this must be dealt with, but basically, in practice, I set the “light” in such a way that I have no control problems. If there is a little time, then I “command” the slave flashes in manual mode with the required power, or I combine the option I need. The control of only 2 groups is quite enough, since the zoom position and orientation in space also affect the power of the flashes. In general, using flashes remotely is an incredibly exciting experience, therefore, I recommend cameras that can control flashes remotely to everyone - this will help save a lot of money and use all the delights of Nikon CLS. True, all the beauty of working with creative lighting is revealed only when working with an assistant. And yet, it is very convenient to remove a large external flash from the camera, switch it to Slave mode, raise the built-in flash on the camera in control mode and get not a head-on flash, but something more interesting. With triggers, the Su-800 module, and a sync cable, such a quick focus will not work.

Photo taken using the Nikon CLS. An external flash is set remotely to illuminate the model in backlight.

Photo taken using the Nikon CLS. External flash set remotely to illuminate the model in backlight. The camera used manual control mode exposure, and for an external flash - automatic TTL mode with power compensation.


Nikon CLS is an indispensable tool for remote flash operation. It is very easy to use the creative lighting system with your camera's built-in flash.

You can look into the related topic - Which external flash to choose for Nikon cameras?.

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Material prepared Arkady Shapoval. Training/Consultations | Youtube | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Telegram

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Comments: 171, on the topic: Command mode with flash. Nikon CLS

  • Ivan

    Great photo examples !! Is this really all with a flash? Do you shoot only with flash?

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Yes, all examples were performed using flashes SB-900, SB-910, Metz-48. I shoot depending on the needs and ideas, for example, in the studio you can’t do without strobism.

  • Egor

    Yes, the photos are excellent) and to be honest, I had no idea how to shoot with a flash during the day, but it turned out how!)

  • Jury

    Thank you.
    I know a guy who set 11 flashes on fire with one built-in one - a tremendous effect! My two also participated there ...

  • Andrei

    Perhaps I didn’t carefully read the article (very useful by the way !!!! thanks) but still, please tell me about the synchronization speed. Does the SU-800 support shutter speeds of 1/8000? And how reliable is it in sunny weather? Thanks!!!!!!!!

    • Arkady Shapoval

      It supports.

  • J-fx

    Hello, tell me, does Nikon have native radio synchronizers for flashes? or advise in your opinion the highest quality and best alternatives; the fact is that while reading reviews of the models you wrote, I met a rather large discrepancy in opinions / reviews on photo forums, and could not dwell on something unambiguous; therefore returned to you for a thought. thanks

    p / s without regard to cost, and only radio - i / k, etc. do not fit

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Nikon has no radio synchronizers. Only third-party manufacturers. I look towards the SU-800, but it is.

  • Novel

    Do you have an article on the use of umbrellas or soft boxes?

  • Vladimir

    Hello. I have a Nikon d5100 and am going to purchase an SB-700. Could you tell me whether such a bundle will have the ability to "fast synchronization (FP)"?
    Thank you.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      It will not.

  • Andrei

    Kupil Knight TR-331, with support for TTL.
    But I just can’t figure out how to work not in TTL, but in manual mode?
    TTL is not always needed.

    Nikon D90 camera, SB-600 flash.

    Help me to understand.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      I can not tell.

      • Bahadir

        Dear Arkady, I am writing to you with a request to help you master Pixel King. Something does not work for me, so that they work stably with my Nikon D800. It seems that he did everything according to the instructions, but there is no synchronism. I would be very grateful if you help with advice. Bahadir (Uzbekistan)

  • Mahal Makhalych

    Your article made a strong impression!
    I somehow preoccupied myself with Google’s search for information about the Nikon CLS-system of creative lighting. And there are a lot of things! But! Our spoiled minds (or anyone there) do not perceive so many things.
    Your article, in a condensed form, puts everything on the shelves. Real and accessible. And there are not too many notorious "letters".
    Respect, you have more than one reader.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      IM trying thank you)

  • Dmitriy

    When I work in command mode, I set the built-in flash to (-), but it still fumes when shooting. Why? D90 camera. Nissin Di622 II flash.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Because it controls other flashes through a light pulse.

      • Dmitriy

        And I thought that the control is on the radio. Because there are different channels and there are no restrictions for sunny weather.

        • Igor

          Now I'm starting to understand why there is a light trap setting on my nissin flash: work on the first, on the second signal. I guess this is:
          1 on the first
          1.1 if the carcass can command, this is 1 channel
          1.2 if the carcass does not know how to command and M mode is set on the internal flash
          2 on the second
          2.1 if the carcass can command, this is channel 2.
          2.2 if the carcass cannot command and the iTTL mode is set on the internal flash.
          As I understand it, the principle of action:
          To measure the exposure of each group, the control flash produces test firing. After it exposes some correction, and already with the shutter opening it manages to give two signals for 1/250, one for each group.

          But it’s interesting, as the carcass tells a group of flashes, how much need to puff with remote control? The difference in brightness from 1 test puff and worker? And how do you distinguish in flash sync mode which group is given a command?

  • Artyom

    Cool article. I have no built-in flash on my camera. From this entire article, I realized that the best option is to purchase a second external flash SB-910. And work as a master and slave, since the head of the leading flash can be raised up so that extra light does not interfere or power is minimized. And everything will be okay!

  • Vyacheslav

    Hello, thanks for the educational program. I have a Nikon 3100, I recently purchased a Nikon SB700 flash. I sort of figured it out, BUT I just can’t figure out how to turn off the built-in flash in the camera when it’s the master, and the SB700 is slave. The built-in flash spoils it very much frame.

    • Amatich

      The built-in flash is disabled in the camera menu.

    • anonym

      Vyacheslav, your flash on the camera does not support the command mode, the only thing you can do is set the built-in flash power to 1/128, for clarity: the remote flash (sb700) only works in su-4 mode, therefore high-speed sync (FP) too no.
      Everything is clearly and clearly written in the articles who supports what and with what.

  • R'RёS,R ° F "RёR№

    Something I did not quite understand, can I buy a flash with TTL, put it somewhere on the table, say from the side or on a tripod, turn on the built-in flash and will an external flash work remotely without any wires?
    Does such a focus work on canons? Say for 40d?

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Yes, there will be such an opportunity. This thing only works on Canon 7D, 60D, 600D

  • Irina

    Hello! Tell me, I have a simple Nikon D60 and have a flash SB-600 also has a transmitter. Just set up the flash does not work, is it even possible?

  • Kirill

    Gorgeous reviewer. I realized one thing that for the price of SU-800 you can buy a FlexTT5 + module for it to adjust the flash power, which is very convenient. I wonder why Nikon is not updating the SU-800 ...

  • Michael

    Arkady, Thank you!
    I myself use cls, but it was after your article that everything fell apart “on the shelves”.
    And still ask a stupid question:
    -Now I plan to switch from umbrellas to softboxes for above-camera flashes (isiboxes).
    And actually the reasoning:
    when installing flashes on such boxes, the built-in window of the light trap in the flash will be close enough to the body of the box - what does this threaten?
    I assume that:
    1 TTL mode will work unchanged since Measurement is carried out already through the lens.
    2 Pulse missing from the master flash, as flash trap may be partially covered.
    Please tell me, am I right in my reasoning or deeply mistaken?
    Ps Camera d90, flash -sb 600.
    Pss I would really appreciate a response.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      I did not work with isiboxes through the CLS, it is difficult to predict what will happen.

    • Marina

      Thank you very much for the article ARCADIA !!! And there was a question for Mikhail: I am also very interested in your topic about softboxes. If you have already tried it or if anyone knows how it will work, please tell me if it’s not difficult.

  • Michael

    In any case,
    Thank you for your reply!

  • Nastya

    I have D 5100, I want to buy Sat - 910 and Sat - 600!
    Did I understand correctly that if I install 910 on the camera, I can
    set fire to sb 600?
    Or is it better to buy a synchronizer and sat-600?
    What will be better technically?

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Yes you can. A normal TTL synchronizer is not cheap.

  • Elena

    Hello, Arkady, I will also make my contribution, you are just a fine fellow))) all articles are so intelligible ... that there are simply no words! Can you help me figure it out? I have a Nikon d300s and an old Sigma EF-500 flash. can i use? I tried it in TTL, it seems like everything works, with a change in focal length, the aperture changes both on the camera and on the flash, that is, there is definitely a connection with the camera, but the pictures are a little dark, and I will not say that they are not sharp, but not as sharp as with built-in flash, and as an additional one does not work at all ...

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Try power + compensation on the flash.

  • Elena

    Damn ... another problem, the camera has a single-frame autofocus mode, but does not focus, moreover, if you look at the metadata, it shows that manual focusing is worth it!

  • Elena

    I also added flash power and exposure compensation ... maybe what else is the problem, because as an additional one, it does not ignite at all, but now my second question about autofocusing is more worried about (((

  • Sergei

    Good afternoon, I have d90, sb910 flash, I set it to remote mode so that it works separately from the camera, does the built-in flash for external fire give a light pulse, is it always possible or can this be removed?

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Ignition of the SB-910 occurs on command light pulses coming from the built-in flash D90. This is not radio control, but control by means of light signals.

  • Denis

    Hello Arkady, is this creative system supported only by Nikon flashes or can it be used with TTL-analogs like yongnuo 568? Thank you for the article.

  • Eugene

    Hello! I have a D7000. In this command mode, as I understand it, AUTO ISO does not work? And all the parameters need to be set manually? In the aperture priority mode with the flash raised, the shutter speed is not set faster than 1/60, although it is set only to send a control pulse. It seems to have gotten used to working in M ​​mode, but it's not always convenient ... Tell me, am I doing everything right?

  • Ina

    Good day!
    a lot has already been written, but still I will ask again)))
    please tell me which flash is suitable for nikon d5100, for shooting at long distances, general photos, and also portrait?
    Thanks, for earlier for the answer)))

    • anonym

      I just have used options, but I can't figure out whether they fit or not, so I can't consider new ones now ... thanks)

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Good options SB-700, 900, 910 - find recommendations for selection here -

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