If there’s anything you need to know about photography, it’s that lighting is most important. While fancy cameras and expensive lenses can help make a beautiful photo, you can’t fix bad lighting.
For studio and in-home sessions, I use a simple, easy to put together lighting set-up all purchased through Paul C Buff.
The Alien Bee 400 is a strobe(flash) that is plugged into a wall outlet. It is not a continuous light but it has a modeling lamp option which you can keep on during the duration of your session to be able to work and focus on your subject.
The Alien Bee 400 is the least powerful Alien Bee and has more than enough power on it’s lowest setting for indoor sessions. In the (almost)2 years I’ve owned it, I’ve never had to turn it up to full power or even close which is why it's recommended over the Alien Bee 800 or 1600.
*NOTE: Sync Speed: None of the Alien Bee's are High Speed Sync compatible. Your shutter speed will need to be around 160-250(depending on your camera) to avoid the black line in your photos.
My typical settings for newborns:
ISO 100 SS 200
Alien Bee set on lowest setting 1/32 (slider all the way to the left)
Why the 64” VS the 86”?
The 86” PLM IS superior to the 64” because it “feathers” light more efficiently creating a more beautiful, soft light. I specifically chose the 64” because I had an in-home studio at the time and I traveled to clients homes and wanted to ensure I could work in small spaces. When the 64” PLM folds up, it fits perfectly in my backdrop stand carrying case so for me, it works out perfectly.
DO NOT cut or shorten the rod. Not only does this void your manufacturer's warranty but the rod is literally designed to balance the weight of the umbrella. The rod is not a bad thing. Annoying at times, sure, but a necessity.
To fire the Alien B400, you can do one of the following things:
1) You can use the sync cord that comes INCLUDED with your purchase of the Alien Bee 400. If your camera doesn't have a PC sync terminal, you'll need a Hot Shoe Adapter.
When I used my Nikon D3400, I'd use the sync cord and Hot Shoe Adapter. Note that if your set-up requires a hot shoe adapter, the sync cord will initially feel like it doesn't fit or it's too big. It does. You just have to add a bit of force. I had to use all of my body weight to insert the cord.
2) OR Use a speedlight - The Alien Bee 400 has a built in slave IR which means when it detects another flash, it automatically fires as long as the sync cord or other trigger is not plugged in. I personally do this however this is NOT the norm(most people use the trigger/receiver). I already had a speedlight before purchasing the Alien Bee 400 so for me, it seemed pointless/a waste of money to purchase extra items. I have my speedlight on the lowest power setting, pointed at the Alien Bee. When I press my shutter, my speedlight flashes, which triggers the Alien Bee to fire.
Though, having both options would be beneficial in the event you need back-up for whatever reason (batteries die during a shoot, something breaks ect, accidents happen - always be prepared)
3) OR Use a trigger/receiver
The Alien Bee 400 weighs about 2.5lbs which doesn't seem like much but once you add the umbrella, it becomes much heavier and unstable therefor, a typical stand off Amazon won't do. I highly recommend the Matthews Reverse Stand for those looking to specialize in newborn photography as it's the stand goes all the way to the ground.
Cost In total, the entire set-up runs around $365 USD not including tax+S&H.