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Alien Bees - Popular, Affordable Studio Flash Lighting

Updated on December 17, 2015

AlienBees B800 Strobe Unit

Studio Lighting

I've been shooting stock for Dreamstime and have been doing a lot of indoor studio work this winter. My portfolio has been kicking in at the 700+ mark at this point and I'm starting to see some decent returns so I've decided to treat myself to a studio strobe to replace the continuous giant Home Depot CFLs I've been using. Being totally new to professional studio lighting equipment I've done a lot of home work.

Which studio strobe should I buy? Well it seems that everywhere I look I keep running across Alien Bees this or Alien Bees that. What's an Alien Bee? Basically its an extremely popular and affordable series of studio strobes from inventor Paul C. Buff. Paul has been in the business for years first with the popular White Lightening series of lights, the very very popular Alien Bees and the new Einstein line of digital strobes. What makes Alien Bees so popular, besides its cool name, is its affordability and toughness backed by good customer service. Plus the lights are highly customer friendly, the flash unit, rated at 10,000 flashes can be replaced by the owner and the bulbs are more affordable then competitors units. Some high end professional models require the owner to send back the unit in order to replace a strobe bulb.

AlienBees come in three flavors - 400 ($225), 800 ($280) and 1600 ($360). The 400s kick out 5 Watts to 160 Watts of light while the 800s go from 10 Watts to 320 Watts and the big 1600 powers 20 Watts to 640 Watts.

If you need to shoot outside and want to compete with the sun then go for the 1600 but since I'll be shooting in a small home studio I decided on the 800s. I didn't want to kick myself later for being cheap and underpowered so I decided to upgrade from the 400s. Here are the complete stats on the 800s:

The AlienBees™ B800 Flash Unit

  • 6 f-stop power variability (10 Ws to 320 Ws)
  • stepless slider adjustment from full to 1/32 power
  • 1 second recycle to full power
  • 1/1100 second flash duration (t.1) at full power
  • internally fan cooled for heavy duty use
  • WYSIWYG modeling previews
  • standard 120 VAC, 50-60 Hz power requirements
  • 2.9 pounds total weight
  • 60-Day Absolute Satisfaction Guarantee
  • 2-Year Factory Warranty

AlienBees are sold directly from the Paul C. Buff website. These units also hold their value as one can see by the prices they fetch for used units on Ebay. When you order from the web site you get the choice of several colors of the units. I went with a sick Alien green color. Color choice doesn't mean much to me but one might as well go with something more exciting than black or white when you get the chance. You can also pick up accessories for your units at a discount at the time of purchase. The more strobes you buy, the bigger the discount. I just went with the single strobe to try it out and I found some cheap softbox alternatives - see inset.

My plan it so test out the unit with some single light source set ups as shown below.

Lighting Set Up With One Light - Easiest

The easiest one light set up puts the light at a 45 degree angle from the subject.  Very superior to the "deer in the headlights" effect of an on camera flash!
The easiest one light set up puts the light at a 45 degree angle from the subject. Very superior to the "deer in the headlights" effect of an on camera flash!

Lighting Set Up With One Light

Before you attempt complex lighting set ups with main lights, hair lights etc, keep things simple and try one light set ups. After all when you are outside you basically have one light - the sun.

Using a single studio light as the main light and modifiers or light bouncers to fill in shadows, you can create some very dramatic and cool set ups.

Consider the following setups, all using a single strobe.

"One Strobe Pony" One light plus white card for bounce

Check out the "One Strobe Pony" group on Flickr for lots of examples of one strobe lighting shots.
Check out the "One Strobe Pony" group on Flickr for lots of examples of one strobe lighting shots.

Accessories for Alien Bees Studio Strobes

Alien Bees have "antennas" that you squeeze together to take on and off attachments. It's a fast and easy way to change light modifiers. The box includes a light reflector dish and the Alien Bee has a hole for umbrellas, either shoot through or for bouncing light.

You can also attach softboxes. You can buy softboxes directly from the Alien Bees manufacturer, Paul C. Buff, Inc. or from other manufacturers. The larger the softbox the softer the light and the more the light will wrap around your subject and make the shadows less harsh.

I wanted a really big softbox for my Alien Bee B800 for shooting stock products and creating portraits. The official softboxes from the manufacturer were a bit steep so I looked around and found a much cheaper alternative on Amazon. I got the large octogon softbox from Fotodiox and this thing is huge! At least that's the way it seems in my tiny spare bedroom studio. Make sure you have have sturdy light stand and some bean bag weights on the bottom to keep it from topping over. Also be sure you have enough ceiling height to get the thing high enough.

How to shoot with one strobe


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    • JanieLynnphotogra profile image

      JanieLynnphotogra 6 years ago from Seeley Lake

      Thank you for this hub it was really useful for me! I am constantly battling what I should get for myself and your information really helped. I have access to a studio and really want to get the most out of my shoots. Thank you again- Janie Lynn