Photographer Robert Wagner reviews the Paul C. Buff, Inc. DigiBee Flash Unit


Photographer, Robert Wagner, recently took his family, and a DigiBee, on vacation! Wagner shares his thoughts on the DigiBee and some stellar images he had taken of his wife, Jessica of The Weekender blog, and their family during the trip.

Call me a hipster, but sometimes my wife and I love sit back and listen to music on a record player. The analog sound and the clicks and pops along with the difficulty of skipping tracks really makes me feel like I’m having an experience rather than just putting on back ground music. It forces you to listen to the whole album start to finish. I didn’t grow up listening to vinyl or anything nostalgic like that. We just enjoy it for what it is. But when we’re jumping on a plane and flying across the country I don’t pack my record player. I grab my phone and a portable bluetooth speaker. It’s easy to use, sounds great, and most importantly doesn’t take an entire suitcase for itself.

I’ve used AlienBees for my entire photography career. I love them. For the price they can’t be beat. And I’m actually a huge fan of the analog sliders. I’ve never been a technical person so much so that I avoid numbers altogether and just “feel” the slider. I was a little bit afraid of the digital switch to the DigiBee, but much like when I’m deciding what music player to bring on vacation, size and ease of use are a huge determining factor when deciding what strobes to bring as well.

We recently took a family vacation to Florida and I wasn’t planning to do too many elaborate shoots, but wanted the option to add some light in whenever I felt like it was necessary. But since flying a family of 4 can get pricey I wanted to keep costs down and fit as much into my carry-on as possible, so I decided to go with the Digibee and was thrilled at how familiar and easy to use it was. It was essentially a plug and play situation. The learning curve was very minimal. Just like I’m used to with my AlienBees, it fired the first time and every time after that. The digital display made it easy to understand and the large arrows made it for zero confusion as to which buttons did what.

Paired with a small beauty dish, and my Paul C. Buff, Inc. Vagabond Mini, it was very easy and portable for shooting on the fly. I was mostly by myself or asking family to help hold a stand so the small package made it super easy to get around and set up quickly.

I find that when I’m shooting trying to mix strobes with natural light I can get away with smaller diffusers, so I knew the beauty dish would be plenty for what I was going to be shooting, and it also helped with the small and lightweight setup I was hoping for.

For the first set up we were walking back from the beach and my eye was drawn to this scene. It was just set up like this and I didn’t have to move anything. I just liked the way it looked with the palm tree, the bike, the boogie board, and when Jess stepped in and started washing the sand off her feet I just knew I had to shoot something there. It just happened to be that it was perfectly placed in the shade which cast cool shadows from the other part of the house and the palm tree, but left the subject feeling a little flat totally in the shade, so I knew this would be the situation for that added light.

Paul C. Buff, Inc. DigiBee used by Robert Wagner to photograph Jessica Wagner of The Weekender blog

So I ran up and grabbed the DigiBee and gave it just that little extra pop to help give her dimension without overpowering the ambient light too much, and being in the shade made it possible without the use of an ND filter or HSS.

Photographed by Robert Wagner

The next set up was also very impromptu, but as my sister-in-law was getting out of the pool the light from the sun was almost directly overhead in the middle of the day, but I liked the way it hit her hair and knew it could make for a cool shot. Once again I grabbed my DigiBee and set it up camera right to fill her face in and add dimension. This time I didn’t love the background after looking through the camera and didn’t have my ND so I knew blurring out the background wasn’t an option so I improvised and took the umbrella out of the table and dropped it in the pool behind her to add color and more interest than just a fence and my kids towels drying on the chairs behind her.

Photographed by Robert Wagner using the Paul C. Buff, Inc. DigiBee and the Vagabond Mini.

Jessica Wagner of The Weekender blog photographed by Robert Wagner

For this set up, I just turned the scene around. This was again very impromptu, my wife had her towel hanging on a chair to dry and my sister-in-law was playing the ukulele as we all hung by the pool. Jess was sitting on the stairs dipping her feet soaking in the sun so I set up the strobe and told her to grab the Ukulele and fake it (she doesn’t really know how to play).

Again trying to overpower the sun with this shot a bit, but since I had to put the strobe kind far away from the subject I was able to mix with the ambient light and still be at a reasonable f-stop.

Jessica Wagner of The Weekender blog photographed by Robert Wagner.

This time I really wanted to see what the DigiBee could do to overpower the sun when I wanted to, so I placed Jess directly back lit by the sun and even included the sun in the frame to see what I could pull out, and the DigiBee had no problem lighting the scene!

Jessica Wagner of The Weekender blog photographed by Robert Wagner

Jessica Wagner of The Weekender blog photographed with family by Robert Wagner

My wife, and sisters, are a bit obsessed with clothes and fashion so when they found the cutest surf shop, Tribe Kelley Surf Post, they had to buy matching shirts and hats. And of course they wanted to do a photo shoot! Like a said earlier I typically am okay when using small modifiers when I’m mixing outdoor ambient light, but I knew since I was doing a group shot that I’d want a larger modifier. Since I didn’t bring one with me, I had to improvise. The store had a cute outdoor area for people to hang out in, play games, drink wine, and even a small stage, so it was the perfect place to take the photos. The outside of the building was white siding so I figured that I would shoot the strobe onto the wall and bounce it back at them. This had two benefits, first it made my small light source much, much larger, and second shooting it through the beauty dish then off the wall I was able to have the output super low to just add that natural light looking fill and not overpower the ambient light too much. I was able to light up their faces without it looking “lit.”

Jessica Wagner of The Weekender blog photographed by Robert Wagner.

For one last quick shot Jess wanted a picture in her new dress that she bought from there, and since the dress was the feature of this shot I knew I wanted a larger source to light the whole body so I put her in the shade with a cool palm tree behind her and I went with the bounce off the wall technique again and was able to get a natural looking soft light that covered her head to toe without bringing a large modifier.

I love my AlienBees and will continue to use them until they die, but at least now I know the upgrade to the DigiBee isn’t something to fear, but rather embrace. I’m the type of photographer who loves to shoot on location outdoors and mix strobes with ambient light. The DigiBee size and portability are amazing, and switching from the AlienBees was a breeze. I’ll definitely be picking up a few more of these to have on hand!

Jessica Wagner, of The Weekender blog, photographed by Robert Wagner

Thanks for taking a look at the photos. Hang Ten!

Ohio based photographer, Robert Wagner

About Robert Wagner

Robert Wagner is a Commercial Photographer and Videographer,  based out of Toledo, OH. Wagner specializes in creative portraiture and stylized retouching.

FOLLOW ROBERT WAGNER: Instagram | Website


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