AlienBees’ Ringflash; An Attractive Lighting Option Page 2

Ringflash Technique
Shooting with a ringflash takes a little practice, since you lose your mobility. With a conventional studio light, a photographer can generally move around the model or object being photographed. That makes it easy to change shooting or subject angles. Since the light position doesn't change, lighting results can be predicted relatively well.

You can use the ringflash on a camera that's being handheld, much like conventional on-camera flash. However, that would change lighting conditions with each shot, as the camera/flash combination is moved around. Fortunately, with the type of wraparound lighting that the ringflash provides, that's not as much of an issue as when shooting with a single camera-mounted flash, where each movement for each shot changes where the primary shadow is going to fall. Still, hand holding a camera with the ringflash can get tiring.

Taken with the AlienBees ABR800 at full power. Illustrates the soft halo shadow that's common with ringlights. (Model: Misty Hart.)

Another option is to mount the ringflash on a stand, and shoot with it as if it were any other off-camera light source. The best approach is to keep the camera and ringflash mounted on the tripod and have the model change positions. If you're shooting a static subject adjust the position of the subject, rather than the camera.

But the ringflash is more than just a single direct light source. There are other components to the system. Adding a light modifier to the ringflash makes it a very nice 30" softbox. Unlike some softboxes that you have to wrestle with to get together, the AlienBees softbox assembles easily. It's two-sided, so it has both gold or silver reflective surfaces, making it possible to come up with warmer or cooler light. The ringflash continues to fire forward with the softbox attached. A reflective ring that's attached to the center of the ring redirects the light to the softbox's reflective surface. That light is then filtered through a diffusing cloth for a very soft light.

Because of its unique design, it's still possible to shoot through the center of the ring, even with the softbox attached. But you don't have to use it that way. As a softbox, it's just as easy to shoot holding the camera, and triggering the ringflash through its built-in slave or remote trigger. It then works much like a standard softbox. There's also an adapter available that makes it possible to utilize it with an umbrella, where the light is turned away from the subject. The umbrella holder attaches to the center of the ringflash.

The ABR800 recycles extremely quickly. It's ready to shoot again, at full power, in about 1 second. But don't fire it too rapidly. Shooting at a high frame rate could increase operating temperatures beyond its abilities to withstand them.

Taken with the AlienBees 30" softbox at 3/4 power. The picture has a soft, pleasing look. (Model: Ashlynn Gualt.)

Light Output
The ABR800 generates plenty of light. In testing, at full power, with only the plastic diffuser attached, it put out enough light for an exposure of f/22 at 6 ft. Half power metered out at f/16 while the minimum 1/32 power produced enough light for an f/4 exposure. It's possible to shoot an f/11 exposure at full power with the softbox. The exposure at half power was f/8 and minimum power f/2.8. It's rated for a color temperature of 5400K, with or without the diffuser. Without the softbox, the color temperature that the ringflash produced with a total of nine exposures averaged 5970K, without it, that number dropped to 4940K. That's beyond the normally expected 200-300K differences, but, being within 10 percent of the color temperature, those aren't significant enough variations to cause concern.

Documentation was excellent. All the pieces of equipment and how they fit together were explained in detail, with accompanying pictures. All the controls were diagramed. Other lighting companies could learn a lesson in how to ensure that buyers get the most out of the equipment they purchase.

Until the ABR800, adding a ringflash wasn't an option for most photographers. Ringlights were too expensive and too cumbersome to work with. With the new Alien Bees ringflash, they're finally an option for just about any photographer who is looking for a creative lighting alternative. The ringflash itself costs $399.95, while the 30" Moon Unit costs $59.95.

For more information, contact AlienBees, a Division of Paul C. Buff, Inc., 2723 Bransford Ave., Nashville, TN 37204; (877) 714-3381; www.alienbees.com.

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