another what do I get thread

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Hi,
I'm ready to give this lighting thing a better shot. What I want to do is have a kit that can get me some soft headshots or head and shoulders at least. This kit needs to be able to take on location, maybe to a park or someone else's house or even a city block possibly.

I figure I will start small. I already have a reflector ( but it doesn't go on a stand ).
So I want to get a main light, a reflector and then for now, possibly use my Sb600 as either a hair light or backround separation light if needed.
Basically just a one ( or maybe 2 ) light setup and a reflector. I guess I would eventually slowly add some flags, grids and or snoots to shape and control the light better.

Obviously I don't want to spend too much up front by buying what is not needed right away. I am kind of convinced that cheaping out doesn't save money in the long run. I am currently fairly sold on Alien Bee for it's bang for the buck, and general customer satisfaction, and I have been sort of convinced that for my one or two headshot or head and shoulders goals, a softbox is a better choice of modifier than an umbrella. Is there some "kit" I should be looking at ?

After reading much, I have a couple of questions I'd like to ask here.

1) I guess I would be taking portraits either indoors or in shade, but would eventually like the option to light up a face without having to blow out the sky. ( Does that mean I need 400-600ws power ? )


2) Is it true that an AlienBee B400 gives enough light to make use of a large enough SoftBox and provide a nice soft wrapped light around the head and shoulders of one or two people ? Or should I spend the extra money to get a B800 or an Einsein. ( The Einstein has finer control of the light power and also doesn't change the color of the light as you get near minimum power )

3) I read that a softbox should generally be about 1.5 to 2 times the distance away from the subject as it's diagonal diameter. So I am thinking like a 3' softbox and about 4-6 ft away from the subject. But really, what size softbox is best for one or two heads ?

With this kit I'd like to start out with 3 main types of portraits.
a) Black backround, that I think I can get by getting close to the subject and underexposing the ambient. But will a B400 and reflector light enough of the face to do that ? And do I need to worry about spill ?

b) Plain white backround. I can get that I think by using a white board or other type of backround and also light it.

c) A more dramatic 2:1 or 3:1 type ratio of short lighting and long lighting that would allow me to feather and position the lights to shape a face the way I want.

Sorry for the long and maybe disorganized post. Any discussion/suggestions are very much appreciated.

Thanks,
floyd
 
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Hi,
After reading much, I have a couple of questions I'd like to ask here.

1) I guess I would be taking portraits either indoors or in shade, but would eventually like the option to light up a face without having to blow out the sky. ( Does that mean I need 400-600ws power ? )

Maybe, maybe not. Just for a comparison, a regular speedlight (about 75 watt second equivalent) on the hot shoe can be a tremendous help to soften dark bright sun shadows outdoors (at moderate distance). Even the little popup internal flash can help if distance is modest.

Everything depends on distance, flash falls of with the inverse square law. If you are trying to illuminate about 1000 square feet of area to sunlight level, you need as big a flash as you can get. If you are trying to provide fill level (a stop or two down) at only about 8 feet, you don't need much power, relatively.

There are different definitions. Overpowering the sun (making day look like night) takes a LOT. Fill level less than the sun needs much less, esp at modest distance.

Look at it this way.. Bright sun, so Sunny 16, f/16 at 1/100 second at ISO 100. which is f/11 at 1/200. The sun needs that of course. For flash this would be (assuming 8 feet to have a number) 8x11 = Guide Number 88. But fill is at least one stop down (divide GN by 1.414) is GN 63. Even the little SB-400 speedlight can do that, at its full power level (an umbrella will reduce it, needs a little more),

2) Is it true that an AlienBee B400 gives enough light to make use of a large enough SoftBox and provide a nice soft wrapped light around the head and shoulders of one or two people ? Or should I spend the extra money to get a B800 or an Einsein. ( The Einstein has finer control of the light power and also doesn't change the color of the light as you get near minimum power )
I have Alienbees B400s and B800s. For a four light setup, I use a B400 in their (old) Large softbox (40x32 inches), typically between 1/8 and 1/4 power, at around 3 feet (from softbox panel), at ISO 100 f/8.

I put the fill light umbrella behind the camera, and that distance is what needs more power, even though fill level is lower.

Now, this is indoors, not in the sun. Sunny 16 needs f/16, not f/8, so that three feet would need two stops, or 4x more power. Full power instead of 1/4 power. Six feet would need two stops even more. Each stop is 2x more power.

But generally, working in bright sun would surely want to start with 640 watt second units, to have it when you need it. And they could be quite limited, certainly there are things you can try that need a lot more. It all depends on flash distance and f/stop. But fill is a reduced level.

3) I read that a softbox should generally be about 1.5 to 2 times the distance away from the subject as it's diagonal diameter. So I am thinking like a 3' softbox and about 4-6 ft away from the subject. But really, what size softbox is best for one or two heads ?
I think of it as 1x times the width, for maximum softness, but 2x works OK. More than 2x may lose something though.

But multiple people don't need as much soft, it could be back farther for a wider spread. Head and shoulders is a close up view (examined closely), where say a group portrait is not, does not need the same softness requirements (couldn't see if it you did).

With this kit I'd like to start out with 3 main types of portraits.
a) Black backround, that I think I can get by getting close to the subject and underexposing the ambient. But will a B400 and reflector light enough of the face to do that ? And do I need to worry about spill ?
If the background is well back, not in direct light, so it is not illuminated.

See http://www.scantips.com/lights/setup/

Specifically, about 1/4 down the page to the "one light only" shots. Point is, that is not a black background, but it comes out black with no light on it. Speaking indoors of course, with shutter speed near maximum sync speed. Sun outdoors would of course illuminate it too.

b) Plain white backround. I can get that I think by using a white board or other type of backround and also light it.
To appear white, a white background needs light on it, typically metered about 1/2 stop more than the main light (incident meter), to overexpose it (slightly), to insure all areas of it comes out clipped at 255. Not so much light to reflect back to the subject however, keep it back a few feet.
Spill as such is typically well down (reflections from far walls does not compete with close main lighting), but intensely lighting a close background is something else.
 
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Thanks Wayne. As usual, getting more than I asked for,with you. :smile:
Great informative site too !

So a b800, a reflector, a radio trigger of some kind (just one pair, the rest will follow the first one,) , 2 stands and a bracket or two, a soft box of about 3' x 3' should be good to get me started making portraits.
Right ?
 
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As for the B800, sure, indoors, it's plenty of power for portraits. B800 power was a lot for me when I had an ISO 200 camera, causing me to also buy B400s (double ISO is effectively double flash power). I just now tested, and one of my seven year old B800 at full power meters f/16 + 2/10 stop at four feet, and f/8 + 7/10 at eight feet (from fabric), ISO 100 with a 40x32 inch Alienbees double baffled softbox. So you'll need to turn it down fairly far, which shifts color a little. Just also add a Porta Brace White Balance card, $5 at B&H, to include in the setup picture, then one click corrects all of them in that session (speaking Raw).

Outside in sun, B800 seems enough for fill (to be a stop or more down from Sunny 16), but it does depend on distance, and how much of all out of doors you're trying to light. :)

The rest of your list is not really my own preferences, but it's arbitrary, and lots of things work fine. Reflectors obviously work, but my notion is that a second light is a lot easier. A light can put anywhere, and turned up or down as needed. You meter it and set its level. A reflector sort of has to go where it can work, and it does whatever it does, passive. It can't really be a frontal fill, more like another side light. But it certainly is viable of course, many things work.

Radio triggers may be necessary in the sun, but they are not my preference in an indoor portrait setup. I have one, but I just use the PC sync cord that comes with the lights, and the embedded optical slaves on the rest of them. That's free, and always works great indoors, and no more batteries to deal with. I do add a Nikon AS-15 PC adapter to the camera, it seems to work more securely than the cameras PC port. The PC cord is no issue on a tripod mounted camera, and it runs to the fill light anyway, which is very near the camera, and aims at the other lights. But this is just details, just a preference, not important to the session.
 
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Thanks Wayne :smile:
Do you think portraits of this general style could be made with the B400 ?
http://www.clayenos.com/portraits2/index.html

One other question. I read that light manaf. Are picky about which modifiers they play well with. I also read that the AB soft box is a bit of a pain to set up.
I like the lastolite 3x3 SB. It quickly folds out like a reflector, into it's shape as a SB. But can that be used with the AB heads ?

thanks ,
Floyd.
 
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Thanks Wayne :smile:
Do you think portraits of this general style could be made with the B400 ?
http://www.clayenos.com/portraits2/index.html

One other question. I read that light manaf. Are picky about which modifiers they play well with. I also read that the AB soft box is a bit of a pain to set up.
I like the lastolite 3x3 SB. It quickly folds out like a reflector, into it's shape as a SB. But can that be used with the AB heads ?

thanks ,
Floyd.

Maybe not the first day. :) Those pictures vary, but all controlled the light to an an exceptional degree. Many are with multiple lights (look at multiple catchlights in eyes, at highlights on both sides of face, at shadows on neck, etc). A couple seem more conventional, and some appear to just be in shade.

I am not familiar with the Lastolites. Several of them seem intended for speedlights. The 36x36 says "then a Speed Ring adapter (ordered separately) for Bowens, Elinchrom, Balcar, Profoto, Hensel, or Bron attaches in less than ten seconds with no screws or fasteners"

The Alienbees use a Balcar mount, so it would seem to be covered. You could always ask Lastolite. They are part of Manfrotto I think.

Most softboxes are pain to assemble (or transport). Generally, they have a speedring that fits the mount for a brand of lights. There are four steel rods that poke into that speedring, and then run out to each box corner, holding it open under tension. No simple matter to assemble. Takes a few minutes.

I have the older Alienbees 40x32, which is that way, which is how they all used to be. I am fortunate that I can always leave it assembled. I store it on a tall light stand in the corner ceiling of a rarely used spare room. If I transport it, it goes into the car fully assembled. I would not want to assemble/disassemble it for every use. Umbrellas have much to be said for them. :)

However, the current Alienbees softboxes are "foldable". I have not seen one, but something almost more like an umbrella I think. Here is their instructions which describe it:
http://www.paulcbuff.com/manuals/foldablesoftboxes.pdf
Seems to be a very popular feature. And most brands ultimately copy the Paul Buff features.
 
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Thanks again Wayne. ( Yea maybe not the first day ) hahah. I like that one.

I did see the instructions on the AB softboxes. They seem like just as much of a pain as the other ones, in that you still have to bend the rod and put it from the speedring hole to the sides. At least it folds though.

I also saw that the LastoLite ones are supposed to have an adapter to the Balcar speedring. I saw it after I responded to your post unfortunately. But I will still check that out before I purchase one. Because that is a real neat feature, being able to just pop open a softbox and have it ready ( or almost ready ) to use !

I ran across a few threads that seem to discuss what you were mentioning about the voltage and possibly color variations at real low power settings. It seems that the AB's are about as consistent and good as the big boys until they get to 1/32 power. At 1/16 power they are still accurate.

Many are saying though, that the AB is just a poor man's light, good while you are learning, but something to move up from. I usually never buy in that category , because I always like to have the best I possibly can afford. HOwever if I can get a bit more consensus or at least see some more images showing the lighting of the AB's I may just break my rule for this one.

Paul C Buff seems to have a very unique thing going on being able to sell lights at a huge discount off of the bigboys without paying an IQ penalty, or much of one anyway.
Is that true, or is my lack of knowledge in lighting allowing me to be swayed by too much talk ?

I'm not in too much of a hurry, as I am laid up for at least a month with a giant hole in my back, so I have the time to research a bit. :)) And I thank you for your help in this regard, big time !

Best.
Floyd
 
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I did see the instructions on the AB softboxes. They seem like just as much of a pain as the other ones, in that you still have to bend the rod and put it from the speedring hole to the sides. At least it folds though.
It's just the nature of the beast. Softbox is a closed box that must be assembled. I feel confident the foldable ones assemble vastly faster than the non-foldable ones. :)

I ran across a few threads that seem to discuss what you were mentioning about the voltage and possibly color variations at real low power settings. It seems that the AB's are about as consistent and good as the big boys until they get to 1/32 power. At 1/16 power they are still accurate.
Any flash necessarily varies color with power level, from full power on down. It is not just Alienbees, it is any flash, regardless of brand, regardless of price. They all use flash tubes, and same physics. The xenon gas spectrum changes with degree of ionization. Determined by amps of current per sq mm of tube cross section. This varies with power level.

Here is a for-example:
http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/7891229

Just how life is.

Paul Buff has said many times the Alienbees electrical design is identical to the White Lightings (he designed them both). The difference is in the packaging, and robustness of the mechanical design, metal housing, etc. We can buy White Lightnings if we prefer, but my Alienbees have suffered no problems.

The only "difference" in the color of the Paul Buff lights is that they go down to 1/32 power level, where some others stop short of that final drop. That can make them look better. And operating at 1/32 might not be the best choice, but we can buy smaller lights. And a difference is that Paul Buff discusses the color variations, but the other brands try to keep as quiet as they can about color. I forget the exact number, but Paul Buff has said many times it is like 150 degree K shift per each half power step (I am guessing at the 150K number from my vague memory, not sure what he said, but that is ballpark.) But it is easy to see that is simply how flash tubes work.

The White Lightning X3200 has a special feature, a switch that converts into a much smaller flash. This is NOT AT ALL the same as big flash turned down (which is very off color), but instead switches out capactitors to make it be a true smaller flash (not off color, until you turn it down).

Speedlights work differently (truncation instead of voltage level), and they vary even more with power level than studio lights do. At least, from the first full power to lower power. They shift the opposite direction, towards blue instead of towards red. Just how it is.

The Einstein is very specially designed (combining offsetting speedlight and studio methods) to have options to hold a constant color with power. You still have to match that color with your White Balance, but it can hold steady with power level. And it does have much wider power range, both high and low, but this color frankly seems less important to me, in that we have to match the color regardless, whatever it is. Main and fill are not likely the same color, but the main dominates, and it works out well. But... we do have to give proper white balance full attention. Just use a White Card, and shoot Raw.

Many are saying though, that the AB is just a poor man's light, good while you are learning, but something to move up from. I usually never buy in that category , because I always like to have the best I possibly can afford. HOwever if I can get a bit more consensus or at least see some more images showing the lighting of the AB's I may just break my rule for this one.

Paul C Buff seems to have a very unique thing going on being able to sell lights at a huge discount off of the bigboys without paying an IQ penalty, or much of one anyway.
Is that true, or is my lack of knowledge in lighting allowing me to be swayed by too much talk ?
Seems simple, he only sells direct, eliminating markup by distributors and retailers. That is a savings to us.

I am very near fan-boy status for the Alienbees lights (and for Paul Buff, a little crazy, but I admire him). They obviously are the very best inexpensive light. They are what they ought to be, and are what we need.

And there is no doubt any after-sale service will also be the best there is. I mean... the man offers a 60 day money back trial, for any or no reason. And if you decide you needed more power, he will upgrade your light to the higher power for the price difference and I think about a $25 fee. And a two year warranty at low end (I think White Lightning is three). We hear people talking about after warranty repairs done for very low cost, like $40. For lights too old to repair (no parts), he offers a substantial discount on new lights. Who else does anything like that?

It always sounds like a pep talk, but that's how it actually is. :)
 
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It's just the nature of the beast. Softbox is a closed box that must be assembled. I feel confident the foldable ones assemble vastly faster than the non-foldable ones. :)
And from what I've read, they work really well too !

Seems simple, he only sells direct, eliminating markup by distributors and retailers. That is a savings to us.
Oh duh, why didn't I think of that. Yea I guess that would do it.

Just use a White Card, and shoot Raw.
So how does that work Wayne ? I know if I put a gray card in a picture from the set, I can ( in cnx2 ) select a dab of that gray as my whitebalance for that picture. I assume that once that's done I can see the temperature and just manually input that temperature into the remaining picture's white balance settings ?
Is that the general idea of that ? If so, I didn't remember seeing a place to select a 'white' patch .

And there is no doubt any after-sale service will also be the best there is. I mean... the man offers a 60 day money back trial, for any or no reason. And if you decide you needed more power, he will upgrade your light to the higher power for the price difference and I think about a $25 fee. And a two year warranty at low end (I think White Lightning is three). We hear people talking about after warranty repairs done for very low cost, like $40. For lights too old to repair (no parts), he offers a substantial discount on new lights. Who else does anything like that?

It always sounds like a pep talk, but that's how it actually is. :)
That is definitely one thing everyone agrees on. It almost all sounds too good to be true, and we know about how that works :smile: But hey, I am willing to give it a shot, especially after looking at the prices of some of those other kits. Plus the AB's are smaller and easier to move around.

Still trying to decide on the 400 or the 800. Thinking though that the 400 maybe would be the one to start with, because if I need extra power for outside, bumping up the ISO 2 or 3 full stops on a D700 shouldn't do much of anything to my IQ and it would provide a helluva bump in the power output of the light ! :smile:

Thanks again Wayne !

Floyd
 
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So how does that work Wayne ? I know if I put a gray card in a picture from the set, I can ( in cnx2 ) select a dab of that gray as my whitebalance for that picture. I assume that once that's done I can see the temperature and just manually input that temperature into the remaining picture's white balance settings ?
Is that the general idea of that ? If so, I didn't remember seeing a place to select a 'white' patch .
A white and gray card work the same, since both are neutral (equal RGB components) when there is no color cast. When you click the card, you are telling the computer "this spot is neutral, so make it be neutral". It changes the color so that spot has equal RGB components, which neutral gray or neutral white has, so the color is right.

To me, an 18% card seems pretty dark for White Balance, but it works OK. Even nearly black can work, but the idea is white. Now they make a much lighter shade of gray cards, called "digital cards" for White Balance purposes. Their actual idea is they are color controlled to actually be neutral. I just use a $5 Porta Brace White Card from B&H, works great.

You can transfer that reading to the others, and probably must do it that way for JPG. But Adobe Raw lets you simply select them all (JPG or Raw) and click the card one time, and all the others selected are instantly updated, simultaneously (assuming all are the same in the studio session).


Still trying to decide on the 400 or the 800. Thinking though that the 400 maybe would be the one to start with, because if I need extra power for outside, bumping up the ISO 2 or 3 full stops on a D700 shouldn't do much of anything to my IQ and it would provide a helluva bump in the power output of the light ! :smile:
If outdoors in sun were important, I think you will definitely want the B800 (or more sometimes, some uses).

Indoors, for normal conventional portraits (barring excessive distances), I use the B400 in a large softbox at ISO 100 at about three feet. About 1/8 to 1/4 power gives f/8 to f/10. How much more do we need? I like it because it is well above 1/32 power.

A B800 will have to be turned down one more half power step, compared to B400 in same situation... i.e., 1/16 instead of 1/8.

I use a B800 for fill (distant, large umbrella behind camera) and background.
I use a B400 for Main and hair light.
(since that is what I have...) I bought two B800s, then decided that was a lot of power for ISO 200 then, and bought two more B400. Normally background and hair have grids on them, which knocks their power down substantially.

For groups indoors... in a 45 inch white reflected umbrella, one B400 full power will meter right at f/5.6 at ten feet, ISO 100. Again, how much more do we need? D700 can always bump ISO to 200 or 400, which effectively converts B400 to B800 or B1600.

But... ISO bumps the sun up too, and we are limited to maximum shutter sync speed. The sun is going to be up around f/11 1/200 second, ISO 100, so this case is not going to work. Not with B800 either. B1600 might.
 
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Thanks Wayne, I think I'll get one of those cards from B&H.
Also think I'm gonna order a Bee Kit of 1 400, 1 800 and a vagabond. Maybe leave the stands and modifiers for some other place.

It's been a good conversation ( a bit one sided, but I do appreciate it ) !

Best.
Floyd
 
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