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How to avoid burning down your photo studio!

Did you know that each and every time you use a studio light there is one thing you must do each and every time without fail?

This action is so important that if you fail to do it you could cause a fire?

Today, we are going to talk about shipping covers.

 A shipping cover is a protective cap that goes over the front of your studio light. The cap protects the strobe tube and modeling lamp. The cap itself is usually plastic.

For those with lots of studio experience, you know exactly what I am about to say:

Never plug in a studio light without first removing the shipping cover. Ever.

A melting shipping cover on an Alien Bee B800 studio light at SOPHA

Let’s talk about why.

If you plug in the studio light with the cover still attached, the light might be turned on and start to heat up. And that heat will be trapped by the shipping cover, causing it to melt.

On an Alien Bee with its exposed lamp design, the melting cover will destroy the strobe tube and modeling lamp. On an Einstein, the melting will destroy the Pyrex protective dome, but we have seem the damage destroy the lamps as well.

If left unchecked, the heat and melting will most definitely destroy the light, and worse: the heat could start a fire in my opinion.


Damage to the front of an Alien Bee B800 light in our studio caused by a melted shipping cover.

In our rental studio, we have boom arms pre-rigged with studio lights.  We use the Super Boom Arms from Manfrotto/Avenger – and we studio light on each one.  When not in use, the lamp has a shipping cover fitted and the strobe is left unplugged – free to wheel around the room for its next use.

Our first renter of the day made the first small mistake: he left the Alien Bee’s power switch in the “on” position. He simply unplugged the studio light, coiled the cord, and pushed the boom arm back into its proper place.

The second renter of the day came in and made the big mistake – they rolled the boom into position, and plugged it in, whilst moving other gear around. He walked back to our storage room to retrieve a small softbox and when he came back less than two minutes later, he was greeted to the acrid smell of burning plastic.

Because the Alien Bee was plugged in, with the power switch on, the modeling lamp was cooking along, melting the shipping cover all over the face of the Alien Bee.


Melted shipping cover. Note the melted label which reads "I am just the shipping cover".

Now, this is NOT the fault of the first renter – but we can agree he didn’t help things. This is also not the fault of the folks at Paul Buff, the manufacturers of the Alien Bee – that is just how the light works. Heck it is how most every non-digital appliance works – when you plug it in, it runs. 

So, I hope you get the message:

Never, ever, ever plug in a studio light without first removing its shipping cover.

And while the risk might be less for strobe using LED modeling lamps, the risk of heat damage is still there.

Be safe!

- Bud Thorpe, The Master Lighting Course

Editor's Note: This article first appears in the SOPHA Blog on September 12, 2017.  It is reproduced here on our sister site because it is that darn useful!


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