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Plugging in an Alien Bees B400/B800 for off-camera reception lighting?

Dustin Hatcher , Mar 10, 2009; 01:00 a.m.

Hi All,
I just wanted to gather some of your thoughts about bringing along an Alien Bees B400 or B800 along to setup for off-camera lighting at a reception. Right now I currently use an older Canon 540EZ on a lightstand to accomplish this, but was thinking something that plugs in might give me a little quicker recycle time.
I would of course make sure all cords are hidden &/ taped down to minimize the risk of any tripping.

Thank you everyone!


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Bob Bernardo - LA area disabled , Mar 10, 2009; 01:18 a.m.

And your questions are?

Matt Laur , Mar 10, 2009; 01:20 a.m.

Well, no question that a B800 is going to throw quite a bit more light than a hot-shoe speedlight. And yes, it will cycle faster.

How are you triggering? If you're doing it optically, remember that everyone's point-and-shoot cameras will be setting off your monolight, too. If you're using radio triggers, then things will be more under control.

Dustin Hatcher , Mar 10, 2009; 01:29 a.m.

I use the newer Alien Bees wireless receiver and transmitter. I found they work quite well at half the price of the pocket wizards. Good for the budget :)
My question is what do you guys think of doing something like that? I've seen photographers go with off-camera lighting, without off-camera lighting. Hot-shoe mounted flashes, but I haven't seen any monolights hooked up at a reception yet. Of course that doesn't mean anything as I've only been doing this for a year now.

David Haas , Mar 10, 2009; 06:10 a.m.

If you're triggering with the radio transmitter then your only worry may be the wireless mike or radio system in use at the reception venue.

Personally - I go with the hotshoe mounted flash for the reception. That way I don't have to worry about taping down cords or a slightly drunken guest trying to dance with my lights.


Pete S. , Mar 10, 2009; 07:06 a.m.

It's a pretty common technique and they're usually called room lights if you want to google.
I have been using profoto compact 600 for this and I'd say you would need at least two lights and something of similar power (AlienBee B1600?) and also reasonably fast recycle speed (the profotos are 0.8s at 1/1 power).

Steve C. , Mar 10, 2009; 10:55 a.m.

I guess I don't understand this need for photographers covering dimly-lit receptions to try and light up the whole room with strobes. My approach has been to do some shutter drag and raise the ISO to capture the ambient room lighting and simply handhold an off-camera shoe mount flash with a diffuser to pop a little lighting on people dancing or doing other activities. It's far less intrusive, you can go anywhere you like, nobody will trip on anything, there are no stands to set up, no extra gear to lug, and you affect the ambient lighting in a minimal way. If the DJ is using colored disco lights with his rig, you can also capture those colors, rather than blowing them away with strobes.

Now, with my rig, I either use the Alienbees Cybersync triggers, or I will use an off-camera TTL sync cord along with the camera's flash compensation control. And I do connect an auxiliary power pack to the flash for rapid recycling, as the four AA rechargables simply cannot keep up with rapid action like bouquet tosses and the like. I also like to manage flash output manually, usually between 1/8 to 1/2 power to keep short recycle times and extend battery life. If you try to pop full power flashes, you'll go through a lot of batteries and risk burning out the strobes.

Dustin Hatcher , Mar 10, 2009; 11:04 a.m.

Hi Steve,
I think that's a good point that you bring up about destroying the ambient lighting of the room. I actually try to make sure I don't in fact blow the ambient lighting away. I tend to try to use the off-camera light as more of a sidelight to the crowd during dancing etc coupled with an on-camera flash to fill in faces and details, but maintain the ambient look in the background. Well that's my goal anyhow when I setup :)

William Morgan - Columbus, Ohio , Mar 10, 2009; 11:34 a.m.

I use a White Lightning at some receptions in addition to my usual speedlights.

You'll get a lot more use out of your Alien Bee at receptions if you purchase the battery pack that goes with it and just run the light, during the reception, using the battery pack. My battery pack has a fast recycle setting and I have no problems with it at all. This way you are not limited to areas along the wall and there are no cords to deal with.

The reason I find it "good" to use this kind of lighting at a reception is that it can be turned off and one can shoot as Steve describes which works very well. But, the advantage to having the extra off camera lighting (including your Alien Bee) is that you can turn them on for use periodically to capture a "different" look.

At times, it's lovely to create more light in backgrounds or to have your cross lighting create all sorts of fun light on guests while talking or dancing.

The different look helps give you a nice flow and change at a wedding reception as well as giving a nice change to the photography; a hot look to hot times is my observation. I tend to turn On my off-camera lighting (including my White Lightning 800) when the dancing or activity gets "hot" and the extra lighting gives a hard direct lighting to match the activity going on.

So, the purpose, is to create a rythmn and a flow to the reception instead of having the same "look" for the entire reception. Let's face it: some receptions deserve some lighting that matches the pace of the celebration if for nothing else than to create a different look. I will turn all my off-camera lighting off and then back on several times during an evening but it depends on the flow and pace of the reception.

Also note the use of long shutter to create lighting effects certainly can add a different look to a few photographs ... couples seem to love this but beware of over-doing it. It's like using a fisheye: use it sparingly to get the wow factor but it can be done nicely even with your off-camera lighting.

Hard Action can take a bit of Hard Light at times.

Dustin Hatcher , Mar 10, 2009; 12:24 p.m.

William just curious do you point your White Lightning directly at the crowd or bounce from the ceiling?

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