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Outdoor flash with AlienBees 1600 - single head - Questions

Ryan McGinn , Jun 10, 2008; 02:10 a.m.

Hello all,

I will be shooting a wedding at the end of the month and it will be at 2:30pm outside (formals shot around 3). The sun will be slightly overhead. Currently for lighting I have been using a 430EX on my 40D. I am/was somewhat worried about the power for this flash alone on this outdoor wedding, so I have purchased an AB1600 flash head. I have used studio lighting in the past, but never owned any. After much debate with which head to buy (800 vs. 1600, as I could only really buy one light due to $$), I decided to buy the most power I could afford (the 1600), as recommended by many photographers from this forum.

Due to the time, I will try to place the subjects where the sun is casting the most even shadows, then use the flash for fill. Is this a good idea? :)

I still have some leftover cash for modifiers and such, but haven't decided on what to get yet (shoot thru vs. softbox, vs. brolly vs. reflective umbrella). This leads me to my other questions.

1) Any recommendations for modifiers?

2) If you had one light to light a formal shot (2-15 people), where would you place a single light to get the best results? I know that ideally, it is nice to have 2 lights, but in this case, I simply cannot front the cash for a second light no matter how I cut it.

Overall, I am looking to use this light for best results from 2 people (B+G) to a larger group and get good results. Obviously, if I need to move the light around, that's fine. Can you give me some placement ideas? In the past, just using the 430EX inside, I've been able to get good results, but in this case, I'm looking for better results... outside.

Thank you! I'm greatly looking forward to this opportunity for this shot, and to using my new light. Let me know if clarification is needed!


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Nadine Ohara - SF Bay Area/CA , Jun 10, 2008; 02:30 a.m.

Response to Outdoor flash with AlienBees 1600 - single head

You have a very long extension cord, right?

The best is sun on the subjects' backs and even shade on their faces and fronts. Expose for the bright sun, fill the shaded parts with flash. If you can't get most of each person's face in even shade (no sun hitting bits of noses, cheekbones, etc.), then use the sun as a key light and the flash as fill, but you will have squinting.

If you only have one light (why not use the 430EX as on camera fill?), it is best just immediately to the left or right of the camera, unless you have small groups, couples, and individuals, where you can push the light further away from the camera (assuming you have on camera fill)--the typical key/fill arrangement, between 30-45 degrees away from the camera..

If you use modifiers, hope for a windless day or be prepared to sandbag your stand and light heavily (that may not even work) or have an assistant holding the stand and light in place. I would not even use a modifier, since sunlight is already hard light and at the distances you need to use the light for groups, a modifier isn't going to soften much anyway. If you do use one, I would go for a 60" umbrella for ease of set up, or an umbrella box, but larger the better.

Paul Thomas , Jun 10, 2008; 12:09 p.m.

Response to Outdoor flash with AlienBees 1600 - single head


I use an Alien Bee 1600 to do these sorts of shots. All of what Nadine said is gospel, but I would like to add one or two more thoughts:

If you have absolutely no shade, the best thing to do is to turn the subjects with their backs to the sun, and fill with your Bee.

If you cannot get the sun behind them, and are forced to use the sun as key and flash as fill, have everyone shut their eyes for a few seconds, then one two three, open eyes and smile.

My flash meter doesn't work well under these circumstances, so I always arrive plenty early, take lots of test shots, and find a shady place to chimp.

And if anybody knows a way around that last paragraph, I'd love to hear about it. ;^<)>



Paul Thomas , Jun 10, 2008; 12:11 p.m.

Response to Outdoor flash with AlienBees 1600 - single head


Almost forgot. My best all purpose modifier is a beauty dish. It's large and cumbersome, but it's also made of metal, indestructible, and works well for both up close fashion type stuff and lighting a large group with soft light efficiently.



Nadine Ohara - SF Bay Area/CA , Jun 10, 2008; 01:11 p.m.

Response to Outdoor flash with AlienBees 1600 - single head

Hey, Paul--do you have problems with the wind with the beauty dish? Also re the flash meter--I don't think there is a solution. I put the shutter speed on the meter up as fast as possible (1/500th) and try to meter, but in the bright sun, it isn't very accurate, plus the meter has problems with flash that is of longer duration or really, really short duration. So testing, chimping, and looking at the histogram are the best thing to do.

Lou Korell , Jun 10, 2008; 01:43 p.m.

Response to Outdoor flash with AlienBees 1600 - single head

If you don't have power close by you will need the Vagabond battery from Alien Bees.


Paul Thomas , Jun 10, 2008; 03:13 p.m.

Response to Outdoor flash with AlienBees 1600 - single head


I only use the beauty dish outdoors on overcast days with no wind. If the day is bright, I usually need all the power I can get, and if it's windy, the beauty dish makes a great sail. Then again, so do umbrellas and brolly boxes. ;^<)>

But since Ryan asked about the best all purpose light modifier, I thought I would mention the beauty dish.

If I don't have power nearby, I use two 580EX flashes in slave mode, and a 580EX as my on camera master. I used to use an ST-E2, but I switched to a third 580EX instead.



Raymond Thompson , Jun 10, 2008; 03:52 p.m.

Response to Outdoor flash with AlienBees 1600 - single head

Shot in bright sun, outdoors, using nothing but the FL-50 flash in FP mode (allows higher shutter speeds), at 2:00 in the afternoon.


I don't think you really need the AB1600. It will be almost too powerful and you will have trouble balancing the exposures.

Paul Thomas , Jun 10, 2008; 03:58 p.m.

Response to Outdoor flash with AlienBees 1600 - single head


Lest I be misunderstood, let me clarify:

I use the beauty dish indoors a LOT. I only use it outdoors if I don't need full power from my flash, and the wind isn't blowing.

Here's an example of beauty dish outdoors:


(Mary, I'm posting a link instead of a picture because I'm at my "day job", and I don't have access to my photo database from here). ;^<)>



Paul Thomas , Jun 10, 2008; 05:01 p.m.


Raymond said:

"I don't think you really need the AB1600. It will be almost too powerful and you will have trouble balancing the exposures".

Raymond, if you're shooting a large group in bright sun from a distance, the AB1600 is barely powerful enough. Here's an example from your own gallery (most of which is very nice by the way):


This image certainly could have benefited from more fill in flash power. Even though this is a small group, your on-camera flash isn't really keeping up (unless it just metered the scene wrong).

This is also a circumstance where off camera flash located closer to the subject with a directional modifier such as a LightSphere head on would have helped immensely.

Balancing exposure can be done very quickly using bisection. Start with half power. If too much, cut in half. If too little, increase by half. With less than four exposures, you've nailed it.



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