Dave Hobby has a fantastic, in-depth report on his blog detailing his time spent shooting with Alien Bees brand strobes. While not as gushing and glowing as most AB fan boy reports, the review hammers home an important point—buy what you need, not what you lust.
As an avid gear nut, I’ve always agreed with the expression “Go Big or Go Home.” That holds true for televisions and tattoos, but for equipment used in a business the expression that fits a bit better is “Go as big as you can get to do the job right.” I’m sure that’s not proper English, but it should make sense. If you can get a photo shoot done right with a Canon 40D and a Tamron lens, then that’s what you should buy until a job calls for something bigger. Then you should rent until you can afford the higher end equipment.
I spend years shooting portraits and events with the 40D and a Tamron f/2.8 lens and took great photos that clients loved. As I started shooting more events in lower light, I switched to Nikon and bought faster glass. I followed a well thought out equipment upgrade path and sold all my equipment for as much as I could to recoup the cost.
Rather than jump to the top of the line lighting gear, Dave chose to invest in Alien Bees to test the waters and see how much he could accomplish at a lower price point. It looks like he’s going to dive into the deep end eventually, but he had pre-thought how much he could get for the ABs if he had to resell them and what kind of loss he would get hit with. Turns out it wouldn’t be too bad.
I’m a huge fan of Alien Bees and its parent company/owner Paul C. Buff both because Paul produces really good quality equipment at a low price point, but also because the company seems to embody the Do It Yourself ethos that I was brought up with. Could I afford better lighting? Probably, but I don’t need it.
A few weeks back, while I was photographing a certain ex-president, I got pretty self conscious about the bright orange Alien Bees that were flanking the subject. I always thought they made great conversation pieces when shooting weddings or portraits, but I was nervous that uber important people would take them for toys. The feeling passed pretty when I nailed the shots and got the thumbs up from the client, but I couldn’t help considering upgrading them to something more professional looking. Then I realized that no one could actually see them behind the umbrellas and I was being silly. For the time being I’m sticking with Alien Bees, and if I need something bigger I’m renting it for the day.