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Alien bee flash

Katie moore

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I need help!! I bought these lights from someone, and I cannot figure out how to sync them with either of my cameras. I have a Sony a6400 and a canon EOS 6dmark ii. I am completely lost when it comes to stuff like this, so if anyone has some pointers, I’d gladly take them.

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Yippee!! Now I can help.

First things first. It's not going to work with either camera body. Well, at least not now. :D

You see, neither one of your cameras have something called a Sync Port. Here, let me show you what one looks like.



If you take a look at your existing cables, you will see the ends have a round connector on them, which matches what is on my D850 (and other camera bodies.) Your cameras do not have this port and that's what is tripping you up. Fortunately, there is a solution.

First, you will need a fresh set of AA Batteries for each Pocket Wizard. Then take any plastic protective covers off the top of your Sony or Canon body. (It's where a flash would go.) Then, with the Pocket Wizard Controls / sliders facing you, slide it into the Hot Shoe. Turn on the Pocket Wizard, there should be a little switch on the left side.

Second, pick a Radio Channel, 1-2-3-4...it does not matter. The only thing is both PWs need to be on the same channel. If you are shooting with other photographers who also are using Pocket Wizards, make sure you are on different channels. Otherwise you will each trigger the flashes. (This isn't a normal thing, but I like being thorough.)

OK, now for the part that is tricking you up! You need to buy one of these Sync Cords! Don't worry, it's only $10.62. What will happen is you will put one of the ends of that cable into your Alien Bee...


Screen Shot 2021-01-07 at 4.49.20 PM.png


...and the other end into the FLASH Port on the Pocket Wizard. DO NOT USE THE "Camera Flash" Port, just the port labeled as "Flash."



Of course, your Alien Bee should be powered on and then you will hit the test button on the PW that is hooked up to it. If everything works, the PW should make the flash fire. Then hit the test button on the PW that is mounted to your camera. It should also fire the flash.

Now for part 2, which will be in the next comment box.

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OK, there are a few things when it comes to Flash Photography. There are two main rules:

Rule #1

  • Aperture Relates to Flash Power
  • Shutter Speed (and ISO) Relates to Ambient Light.

Your camera's built-in meter will be completely worthless when you use your Alien Bee. Gone are the days of you using 1/1000th and f/2.8 (or whatever.) Well, at least one of those things. The reason is that it is a Passive Meter and not an Active one.


Your camera's meter takes a reading of the ambient (existing) light entering the lens, since the Flash hasn't fired yet so the Camera's Meter has no idea what a "Proper Exposure" is when the flash goes off. To compensate this, Camera Manufactures invented something called TTL, or Through The Lens metering. Which is a fancy way of saying that the camera's software has a built in database / Algorithm of what is a "Proper Exposure" when flash is used. It then uses this info and takes its best educated guess on what Flash Power to use. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Since you are using Pocket Wizards and this setup is a Manual one, you do not have this Luxury. But don't sweat it, it's not a big deal when you get the hang of things.

The first thing we need to do is set the Shutter Speed on your Camera. Most Camera Bodies have something called a "Sync Speed," which is usually 1/250th or 1/200th of a Second. Unfortunately, Alien Bees take a bit to fire and the Sync Speed is a little slower than both of those. I have found that 1/160th of a Second to be the "Sweet Spot" when it comes to Alien Bees. As or the Aperture to use, and how it relates to the power setting on the Bee, I want you to WATCH THIS VIDEO OF ZACK ARIAS EXPLAINING THIS.

Rule #2

  • The Distance between your Subject and Flash will determine your Flash Power. Well, to a certain degree as Modifiers affect the light on your subject. But this is a whole other topic. Anyway, this is called the Inverse Square Law. If you double the distance between your Subject and Light Source, you lose about 75%-ish of the light. Well, it's more like 77%, but I think you get what I mean. From 1 Foot to 2 Feet, you lose 75% of the light. From 2 Feet to 4 Feet, that's another 75% drop in light. (or "Umph" if you want to think of it that way.) From 4 Feet to 8 Feet, you lose another 75%. 8 Feet to 16 Feet, same thing. If you notice, 4 Feet to 8 Feet is a "Typical" area where you would put your flash. It doesn't matter where you put your flash, as long as you stay in the 4-8 feet range, your flash power remains the same.

Think of your area that you are using your flash as a big dart board laying on the ground. Your Subject sits in the Center, which is the Bullseye, and the Rings that stretch outward are where you put your flash. If you put your flash on the left or right or in front of you, as long as the distance between the subject and Bee is the same, you use the same Flash Power. For example, you find that putting your Alien Bee 6 feet away at a certain position, you are at 1/4 Power and that is f/5.6 on your camera. You want to kill as much ambient light on your camera, so you set it to 1/160th and ISO 100. As long as the distance is the same, you can move that Bee anywhere around your subject and no settings will change. Make sense?

If you want to increase the Ambient Light to include more of the environment around your subject, you either slow down the Shutter Speed or increase the ISO. At this point you will probably think, "...but when I shoot at 1/60th or 1/125th, my photos come out blurry due to camera shake! Can I use a faster Shutter Speed?" The short answer is "No." The reason is, the faster you go, like 1/500th or whatever is you will catch the camera's Shutter Curtain in the shot, which looks like solid black bars in your photo, either along the top or bottom depending on what shutter curtain got in the shot. (There are two, a top and bottom, aka “Front” & “Rear.”) So how does one "Freeze" things at slower shutter speeds? This is something called Flash Duration. A flash that has a quicker duration or "Bam!" / "FLASH!" will freeze things better than ones with a slower duration. The reason that I mention this, is the Alien Bees are notrious for having a slower Flash Duration. Think of them like the old movies you probably have seen on TV at one point, the "Watch the Birdy...FOOOMPH!!!" scenes. The light flashes and hangs around for a bit from the Gunpowder going off. That's how an Alien Bee is, the light isn't a BAM! then it's over. It's more of a "Flaaash!" Make sense? You will find this out when you fiddle with things. 

Now for the other part with Alien Bees, if you change the power for whatever reason, fire the thing off 3-4 times by hitting the test button on the PocketWizard. Why? Because Alien Bees get a little hyper when you make a change and they aren't consistent until after you fire them off a few times. Hotspots are also common with Alien Bees, as their power fluctuates on occasion. How do you fix this? You buy a better light, like the Paul C Buff Einstein 640 or a Profoto Light. But first things first, learn on the Alien Bee and figure out your style and what Modifier that you like to use. THEN you get a better light.

Any questions?

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