Tag Archive for 'alien-bee'

Recent Ads – Salomon


Alexis Godbout Salomon Ad

Last season was quite the interesting one.  It was one not full of a lot of shots due to the low snowpack and just terrible weather in general, however the few good shots I did get last season, I was super pumped on.  This was one of them.  This feature was the entire reason I went on this trip to Montana to shoot urban with Poor Boyz Productions and Alexis Godbout, Matt Walker, Charles Gagnier and LJ Strenio in tow.  Everyone else was doing a lot of spin and tap tricks on this feature but Alexis had something else in mind here.  I was running around in circles, changing the lighting setups between everyone else, then Alexis doing his handplant to right 180, completely opposite from the norm.

Like my caption on the ad says, I brought everything I had to this feature.  (1) Elinchrom Ranger RX AS Speed w/A head, (1) Alien Bee 1600, (1) Alien Bee 800, (1) Alien Bee 400, (5) Nikon SB 80DX Speedlights and a pile of Pocket Wizard Plus 2’s and Multimax’s.  It was a ton of backlighting with a lot of tricky single speedlight placement throughout that took a lot of trial and error to get it dialed.  Fortunately for me, there was a lot of trial and error going on with the skiers to get the trick they wanted, giving me a lot of time to get my lighting dialed as well.

Nikon D3,Tamron 28-75 f2.8 LD XR Di SP lens, Elinchrom Ranger RX AS SpeedAlien Bees 800, 400, Nikon SB80 DX’s, Pocket Wizard Plus 2 and MultiMaxTranscievers

Quick Pic 3 – Anna Segal at El Colorado Resort, Chile


Anna Segal jumping at sunset in the terrain park at El Colorado, Chile

In an effort to keep myself posting more often I’ve started a category of posts on my blog called Quick Pics.  I don’t always have time to make a blog post when I’m in the middle of travelling or a really busy cycle of work so I’ve added this section.  Just a photo, maybe with a little bit about the photo if I have time.  Judging by the traffic response so far, it seems like it’s what everyone wants to see.  These photos are going to be completely random personal work, or maybe just a photo I’ve taken in the past that has been published, or maybe one that didn’t get published but I just liked it a lot.

This photo is of Anna Segal about two years ago during a trip we went on to Chile.  This shot in particular was at a sunset session in the terrain park in El Colorado, Chile.  There are amazing sunsets almost every day out there with all the pollution in the valley of Santiago.  Shot at 1/125 sec, f5.6, ISO 100 on a Canon EOS-1D MKII, Canon 70-200 2.8 L IS lens with Alien Bees 800, Alien Bees 400,  3 Nikon SB-80DX speedlights, Pocket Wizard Plus 2 transcivers.

Quick Pic 2


Phil Casabon jumping at the Catalyst terrain park at Copper Mountain, CO - Level  1 Productions

Phil Casabon jumping in the Catalyst Terrain Park at Copper Mountain, CO while shooting for the Level 1 Productions movie “Refresh”.

Shot with a Nikon D70s and Tamron 28-75 f2.8 LD XR Di SP with Elinchrom Ranger RX AS Speed and Alien Bees 800 lighting with Pocket Wizard Plus 2 radio transcievers.

FAA Guidelines for flying with strobe power pack batteries


Big pile-o-batteries

For those of us photographers that travel internationally a lot, things could change drastically soon.  With the recent failed terrorist attack on December 25, 2009 there is a lot of chatter on the internet about TSA potentially banning all electronics usage in-flight on American bound flights from outside the USA.  This is pretty lame but if it happens it could mean for a lot of boring long distance flights.  Check out some of the chatter here and here.

About this time last year, things changed for those of us using lithium batteries.  Although the rules are counter intuitive to actual potential dangers, it’s another poorly thought out knee-jerk reaction to some previous problems with some lithium batteries catching fire.   For more information about the lithium battery restrictions check out http://safetravel.dot.gov There is a fair amount of information there regarding lithium batteries on domestic flights.

So, although this is old news…a year old in fact I’m still posting this for a pretty good reason.  My power packs for my Elinchrom Ranger RX AS Speed and my Alien Bees strobes use SLA and NiMH batteries.  NiMH, Alkaline and SLA (Sealed Lead-Acid) batteries are still fine to put in your carry-on luggage.  Sure, you know this.  But do you have a pdf proving to the TSA village idiot you can to include in your Pelican case your strobe pack is in to make sure you don’t have a problem?  I just spent the last half hour looking for mine, and fortunately I found it.  So I thought I’d share it.  Download it, print it, put it in your case/bag.

View the document here

Make sure you have your flash’s user manual as well.  That way the security agents can see for themselves what’s going on in those strobe packs.

Elinchrom Ranger RX user manual

It’s a good idea to read all of this.  Know the rules, have a copy of them.  Chances are if you get an idiot asshole TSA agent none of the guidelines matter and you’ll be stuck waiting for a manager that knows what the rules actually are, but sometimes you can actually convince the TSA village idiots that you are obeying the rules and that you aren’t a terrorist.  Just a photographer with a bunch of gear.

However, all of this being said, if you are someone that happens to have a Hensel Porty strobe kit then you are in for it.  Your Li-ion battery for your power pack is too big and not allowed on the plane at all.  You’ll have to ship it.  Funny since it would be shipped, in a 747 just like you’d be flying in.

Skiing Magazine – Germany – December 2009 Cover


Skiing - Next Level Magazine Cover - December 2009 - Skier: Julan Carr - Location: Brighton Resort, Utah

This photo was one hell of a production to pull off.  Last April in the midst of the biggest storm cycle the Wasatch Mountains has EVER seen on record Julian Carr brought up the idea of shooting some cliffs at Brighton at night.  We were fortunate enough to get some help from Brighton Resort to get a last chair up so we could wait for the sun to go down in a nice and toasty lift shack.  I hadn’t shot night cliffs before.  I was super stoked to try it out but it was a bit of trial and error but fortunately I had Austin Holt out to assist me on the shoot.  There was no way I could have pulled this shot off without an assistant.  All three of us went out each with a pretty loaded backpack of photo gear and were out there for four and a half hours with help, we probably would have been out till 2AM without help and who knows how that would have gone either!

This is one of the more unique shots I’ve taken, and although I rolled with my style of using gels, I got to do it a bit differently this year and I hope everyone digs it as much as I do.

The gear I used to put this together was quite the laundry list.

Now I don’t normally talk about something like a headlamp used for a shoot, however in this situation with the night shots, they are pretty important.  The Black Diamond Icon is a really powerful headlamp that is very necessary out in this kind of situation.  A normal LED one just won’t do.  It’s really nuts how much light the Icon puts out.

DIY Vagabond – Portable Power pack for Monolights


The power pack all zipped upSo I’ve been using Alien Bees with their original Vagabond power pack for a few years. Last year I decided to split up the Vagabond so I could have one pack per head, so I wouldn’t have to run extension cords, and have more capacity for each head as well. Recently I found a very good bag to put the inverter and battery into that makes this work a lot better! Here’s a run-down of how to make your own power pack for a Alien Bee, White Lighting or any other monolight strobe.

What you will need:

  • 16 Gauge or thicker wire. Speaker wire can even work, although it’s good to have one side black, one red when you are putting it together.
  • (2) Anderson Connectors – Slip-fit connectors that are simply amazing. You can find them at hobby shops and at specialty electronic parts supply stores (NOT at Radio Shack, they are worthless for these types of things.)
  • (2) inline fuse holders.
  • (2) wire nuts
  • (2) crimp fit terminal connectors (battery connection)
  • 25 amp blade fuses that fit in your fuse connectors. They make mini ones, which are nice and small. Also out there are fuses that have a LED on them that light up when your fuse is blown. Sometimes this just happens and when you are trying to setup lights in the dark, it’s nice to be able to see that in the case that you blew out a fuse. Can save some frustration!
  • 12 Volt Sealed Lead-Acid battery. 15ah suggested for Alien Bee 1600’s, 10ah could work for AB 800’s, 7ah can work for a AB 400. I get about 250 pops or so at full power from the 15ah battery with an Alien bee 1600. Lead is expensive right now, you are basically paying the same at most battery shops locally that you would buying online these days.
  • True / Pure Sine wave inverter, 150w continuous output (or more)
    This is the best I’ve found it’s , small, light, 300w capacity –
    AIMS 300 Watt PURE Sine Wave Power Inverter

  • American Tourister toilitries bag from Wal-Mart. This bag fits perfect for the 150w inverter and 15ah battery that come in the original Paul Buff Inc. Vagabond power pack. You could probably find something that fits better with the smaller inverter listed above and a smaller battery but for the parts I’m using it fits sung and well.

Opened up with the wires hanging out.The side access, cut a hole out of the nylon divider and duct tape it to the side of the inverter.  This leaves a somewhat sealed environment.Wiring Diagram

I have a set of Anderson connectors at the end of the wire going to the charger. I’ve cut the wire coming out of the charger and put Anderson connectors on those as well for a quick connect to the charger. As for a charger you can just get a car/marine battery charger at any store. I go for the 2-4-6 amp chargers. If you have a 15ah battery you can charge at up to 6amps, 4 amps for a 10ah battery, 2 amps for a 7ah battery.

Other than that, just follow the wiring diagram and you’ll be all set.

If you want a faster recycle time, then you can get a larger inverter. If you want more capacity you can get a bigger battery. It all depends on the size and weight you are willing to lug around.

Power pack specs:
12.2 lbs (15ah battery, Samlex 150w inverter)

I am not an engineer, electrician or by any means qualified to design any sort of electrical systems. Use this information at your own risk.

Alien Bees strobes – a 3-year review


The Alien Bee 1600’s - offered in many choice colors.So there’s been a lot of questions about Alien Bees on wheelsandwax.com – a forum I post on a bit so I thought after using them successfully for 3 years I’d post a review on them.

Keep in mind this review is targeted specifically towards action sports photographers. In my case, primarily ski and snowboard photography.

So here’s my take on these things, I’ve had quite the learning experience with them as they were my first big strobe.

I found out the hard way that the durations get longer as you power them down, contrary to speedlights and a lot of the strobe systems out on the market. I have the 1600’s and they are usable depending on the situation for action.

Keep in mind all this, the effectiveness of your strobe’s duration to stop the action is based on a lot of things, how close you are to your subject (wider the lens and closer you are, typically the object is moving across the frame, very very fast compared to a longer shot.  So depending on that you might need a faster duration in order to stop the action.

Anyways, here we go.

Build Quality:
Built fairly inexpensively and are not designed to be out in the elements, especially in a snow environment.   Of course I’ve found that can be remedied by a clear plastic bag to keep the elements out.   The body of the strobe unit is very durable plastic and after some pretty heavy use has always held up.  The back panel is where I’ve had a durability issue though.  The plugs have broken after being tugged on a bit in some extreme cold conditions after they became brittle.  As far as the internals, I have had to send mine in for repair 5 times in the 3 years I’ve owned these units.  Weather or not they were caused by moisture, or exposure to the elements I’m not sure.  That being said, their repair people are first class and are willing to work with you and help you out if things are urgent.  The repairs have always done very quickly and delivered exactly when promised.

The cables are targeted to be easily replaceable and cheap. Power cable are a standard computer power supply cable. If you need to replace it, chances are you can find one in any town you are in. Same goes with the sync cable, it’s a standard 1/4″ miniphone (headphone) mono cable. Can find it at any Radio Shack or electronics store. I think even at Wal Mart. Reflectors are cheap, period. They do their job and are cheap to get.   Definitely get the sports reflector. It basically doubles the power in the effective area the light is sent to. Using a soft box is easy, just use the Alien Bee speed rings on any soft box, I’ve used a Chimera, Photoflex and something else (can’t remember the brand) on it with no problems. The attachment system for the reflectors, soft boxes are simple and easy to use.

Flash Durations:
Always look for flash durations using the t.1 method. The t.5 method which only measures the duration at ONLY 50% discharge. What does this mean? It means that there is still 50% of the light to still come out of your strobe head. This also means that you need to basically multiply the duration times 1.8x in order to see what the usable duration is beceause, the head is still putting another 50% of it’s light. The method that is useful to us action photographers and that matters is the t.1, that measures 90% of the output.

Taken from the Alien Bees website:

Model     Full Power   1/32 power (minimum)
B1600:     1/600          1/300
B800:       1/1100        1/550
B400:       1/2000        1/1000

I Wish that information was available to me when I first got my 1600’s as all they had was the t.5 method on their site and I did not know the difference between that and the t.1 method.

Also: Contrary to any other strobe on the market (aside from the White Lightning’s) the flash durations GO UP when powered down.

I have successfully used the 1600’s at full power in many situations, of course before I knew what the actual durations were. Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn’t but until I found out that the durations went up when I powered down, i blew a lot of shots getting motion blur.

Portable Power Pack:
This is an interesting thing, as it’s one of the only systems where you could actually build your own power pack. You can with any monolight that plugs into a regular wall outlet however these are the only ones on the market that are small enough to even consider putting in a backpack and using them at the locations we tend to go to.

The Vagabond and Vagabond II systems are simply put a sealed lead-acid 12v battery and an true sine wave inverter in a modified beer cooler. The difference between the 2 models is the Vagabond II provides a faster recycle time and more pops of the strobe. They are simple and they work and another nice thing about them, is it’s a portable power system for anything you own that plugs into a wall outlet when your power goes out!

The Vagabond weighs approxamately 20lbs. The Vagabond II is a bit lighter at 18.6 lbs.

One nice thing about the simple power pack is you can save a few bucks and build your own. The important thing for someone building this type of system is that a true sine wave inverter is used. A typical inverter you can buy at most electronics stores and superstores like Wal-Mart are a modified sine wave. These types of inverters will flat out not work for powering the Alien Bees and could possibly damage them. DON’T USE A CHEAP INVERTER!

I personally have one Vagabond and also one that I put together myself so i don’t have to run extension cords (did that for a year and a half) and so I have only one head per battery. I’ll have more about making your own power pack for these later.

Usability in the outdoors:
There is an internal fan in the Alien Bee strobe units. Because of this there are vents on the housing of the Alien Bee heads. Water, snow, etc can get into these. If you shoot in bad weather, this could be an issue. I’m not sure if it’s contributed to my problems with them breaking or not. I haven’t had a specific situation where the head was getting wet and they stopped working. I have tried to keep them somewhat sheltered from the elements by covering them with plastic, leaving the bottom open to allow for ventilation. If you shoot in dry conditions all the time, this should not be an issue.

Light Quality:
The light quality of these are good but not great. It’s not a Profoto or an Elinchrom, the light isn’t as great as those systems, but it’s still good and I continue to use them as a major portion of my lighting kit. The major concern is that the color temperature varies depending on the power settings. It’s not a huge variance, but it’s still a concern and noticeable.

Bottom Line:
They are the best bang for your buck, especially for those working on location where a battery powered system is important. The flash durations in the Alien Bees 1600’s can make it a bit more difficult to work with for action but for most situations, are still usable. They are a good, cheap way to get more usable power as your first big strobe system moving from speedlites. If you are shooting action, I would get a 400 and an 800 and build your own power packs for each so you don’t have to run extension cords for power.  Of course if money isn’t as huge of a deal then a Vagabond unit for each head is of course an option.  If not, one Vagabond unit and a really long standard extension cord works just fine and is what I worked with for my first 3 years working with the Alien Bees system.  I am finally upgrading to an Elincrhom Ranger system, but am keeping my AB’s as a 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th head.

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