The Green Gobo

There seem to be a lot of lovers of Alien Bees out there, and I’m one of them. My Bees are reliable, durable, and best of all, inexpensive. For the price of one Dynalite or Elinchrome I can break and replace one of my Bees about three times. But I haven’t had to do that yet.

If I’m shooting a “small” job, like making a portrait of someone, I’ll generally use my SB-800’s, which I can set up on small, portable stands and use in tight spaces. Often, though, I’m using my Bees to better illuminate a large room, like at a wedding reception. If I bounce a couple of lights on just one side of a room, I get a nice soft directional bounce that I can fold in nicely with the existing ambient if I want, while still getting enough light to make a decent exposure.

By lighting only one side of a room, you create "directional bounce."

Fortunately, Paul Buff provides a lot of accessories that can be used with Alien Bees at a reasonable price, so many users will find they can do quite a bit of creative work. One of the best values, I’ve found, is the set of honeycomb grids that let you really focus and refine your light.

One issue for me with the standard reflector on the Bees, though, is that it produces a fairly wide spread (80 degrees, per the company website.) Frequently I’m placing my lights up against a wall or a corner, and I don’t necessarily want to light the wall or the corner. And of course good lighting is all about control: if you can get your light coming from exactly where you want it, the result will look more like what you wanted it to. Once in a while I found that the standard reflectors on the Bees were lighting up too much of an area that I didn’t want them to light, so I had to get me some snoots.

Here, the "spill" from the standard reflector got me in to trouble.

Alien Bees makes a snoot, but you have to mount it on another special holder first, and the combo of them costs over $100. Plus, it kinda looks like something you’d use for your next dental x-ray.

"Bite down, please, and don't move.."

Closer to home, I found myself with a surfeit of snoot possibilities, and I added to my options every time I had my morning coffee.

Using the leftover coffee cans that come from my local large grocery store chain, I’ve been able to make some inexpensive and very functional light modifiers that serve my needs perfectly. These cans are just cardboard, but are coated on the inside with a laminated metallic material (I guess so that the rich coffee bean oils won’t soak through,) and more importantly they have a metal rim with a small lip at the top that hooks neatly on to the mounting clamps on the Alien Bee head. All I had to do was use a can opener to open up the other end, and voila! Instant snoot. Well, I rinsed it out first to eliminate any remaining bean fragments. And just to make it look more, um, photographic, I slapped a quick coat of an old housepaint on the outside.

Homemade snoot in place, my spillover light is reduced to near zero

On some occasions I've found that I still get a fair amount of spill light from the end of the snoot, and that issue is solved by slipping in a piece of black construction paper to cover the inside surface. Cut it to the length of the tube, and it doesn't matter if it overlaps itself a little when it wraps around. I suppose I could worry about fastening that in with glue or tape, but it holds pretty well because of the lip.

The original reflector spreads the light more than I need in some cases.

I prefer the shade-grown dark roast, myself, for that rich, satisfying light. But you might find that a Kona, or a breakfast blend works best for your needs.

Total cost? Oh, I dunno. I was going to buy the coffee anyway, and it’s the beans that I’m paying for. And I had the black construction paper and paint around the house, so, in the end, I spent nothing for these. And I made about 5 of them in just minutes.

How’s THAT for a little green on St. Patrick’s Day?


nweez said...

GREAT IDEA! I'm gonna try a pringle's can if it's large enough, plus you could make a super cheap grid for the end.

Thomas said...

I don't think a pringles can is going to have a wide-enough radius.. that's why I went with the coffee can. Plus it's sturdier. The one other consideration is that you may not want to have the oils from the chips lingering in the can, because even without the modeling light there can be a lot of heat in there if you're firing the flashes frequently. (In fact you can't really use the modeling lamps with this mod because it gets VERY hot very quickly.)

nweez said...

I'm sort of reticent even to use my normal grids + standard reflector with the modeling lamp - they get crazy hot. Can you think of anything longer with the same radius as the coffee can? I'm assuming it's about like a Progresso Soup Can: - it'd just be nice to be able to use it more as a snoot-