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Welcome to Michael's blog. Michael Andrew, (aka Michael The Maven) is a freelance producer, photography instructor, tech innovator, and when needed, disaster aid specialist. Disclaimer: Michael is a participant in Bhphoto & Amazon affiliate programs that provides an advertising commission if you purchase through links on this website.


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04.06.08         photography  

Alien Bees Studio Lighting


I had a great question this week in the forum and wanted to post it here for everyone to read. What is a good starting Studio Light? Well, it really depends on your budget and how much studio shooting you intend to do, but what I tell most of my students is to try out an Alien Bee, they are well built, inexpensive and get the job done. They are perfect to learn on.

I definitely need to make a video about studio lighting, but due to the number of projects I am currently working on, it will probably be a few months so this will have to do.

Yes, first of all, if you are shooting in a studio (actual location dedicated to studio photography or your living room/garage or whatever) You will need 2 backdrop stands, a hanger bar, and then any back drops you might want. Most of these can be purchased on Ebay fairly inexpensively, I bought mine from Photoflex for about $200 with a case, but looking back on it, this is wayyyyy too much.

Next come the lights, there are 4 main types:

1. Key Light- This is the main light that illuminates your subject.
2. Fill Light- This is the light opposite your key, which removes some but not all of the shadows.
3. Background Light- Illuminates the back drop, if you want.
4. Hair light or topper light- A tight, narrow light which illuminates the subject's hairline to give it shape.

The first light you should get is your Main "Key" light, the rest are secondary. The Fill light removes some of the shadows on the opposite side of your key light- however, by positioning a large white poser board opposite your key light will be enough for your "fill".

Alien Bees Kits can be purchased in 2's and the idea is that one would be your Key light and the other either a fill or back ground light.

The model numbers, 400, 800, 1600 etc, refer to the overall power of the light. Alien Bees has a policy that if you use your light for a year and send it back to them, they will upgrade it to the next wattage power for like, $35. I have a 1600 and it produces a tremendous amount of light.

If you are tight on a budget, I would recommend just getting one 400 and see how you like it. You will need a light stand for it as well, so you might want to go with a beginner package Beginner Bee as it includes it. If you need more power, you can always upgrade later, or buy a more powerful one and use the 400 as your fill light. I would recommend trying the one before buying two, just to make sure you like it and would use it.

The Alien Bees have a slider control that allow you to change your output, and you can also control illumination power by moving your light source closer or further away from your subject.

The last thing you will need with this purchase is a light modifier, such as a soft box or umbrella. These will take the small light source of the Alien Bee and diffuse it into a much larger one. I prefer the large
Soft Boxes which I have used on many of my product shoots and productions, but they are expensive. If your budget is tight, just use the umbrella that comes with the kit.

Unfortunately, much of this will come to personal preference so until you try them you wont know what you like, but the Alien Bee is set up to accept many different modifiers.

Alien Bees also have power pack units available if you wish to take them onto location,
Alien Bee Power Source which are much more inexpensive than other battery supply sources for other lights, but otherwise you just plug them into the wall outlet in your studio.

Please let me know if this helps or if you have any other questions about them.

I think Alien Bees are the perfect first studio light.


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