Sunday, January 20, 2008

Strobist seminar Wrap-up

The Northern California seminar has drawn to a close, and what a day it's been. I never would have imagined I could spend thirteen hours learning about, and playing with lighting, but that's exactly what we did. Full story after the jump.
Sign in was at 9, and by 9:30 we had launched into rounds of introductions. Our Bay Area group seems to be a bit more balanced than the statistics David has been collecting for the readership as a whole. He came back with something like 94% male, while our group today was more along the lines of 80/20, if not better. We also seemed to have quite a few pros, or semi pros in attendance, more than I would have expected. Somehow I keep thinking pros know everything already, which is one reason I'm a bit intimidated at the thought of being one!
The event drew photographers from all over. We had attendees from Southern California, Salt Lake, Phoenix, and one guy from St. Paul, Minnesota, who had given up on hope of getting David to visit him up there.
You know you have a good group on your hands when it takes well over an hour for introductions, simply because of all the tangents and side conversations that launch out of the various details of people's lives and histories. We found ourselves discussing ethics of lighting in journalistic photography, the Computer History Museum (turns out I had breakfast with one of the museum Docents, Steve), a $5,000 Cheeto picture, and a blind skateboard photographer in London.

And this is all before we even started.

The rest of the morning was spent burning through the seven lighting controls that are outlined in Lighting 102 with plenty of photos to illustrate each concept. We move quickly through the material, as the group seems to have a pretty solid grasp of the concepts we're dealing with here. David's teaching is very hands-on, and when he's talking through an image that's on screen, it's like he's shooting it all over again. He walks back and forth positioning imaginary (and sometimes real) lightstands, holds a quite invisible camera to his eye to frame a shot of an invisible sunflower, and still adjusts his aperture via the aperture ring.

Never mind that he's not even holding a camera, there's still an aperture ring and shutter speed dial to play with dammit!

His teaching style is much like his writing, fast paced, informative, and fun. Power point presentation notwithstanding, the morning felt more like an intelligent and friendly conversation than a lesson.

After a decent but overpriced Caesar Salad from Parcel 104 the hotel's in-house restaurant, we settled in for a bit more conversation. David talked about some upcoming things that should make some real waves in the Strobist community, and in the photographic community as a whole. We're under kind of a verbal NDA, so no details yet. One cat is out of the bag, and that's the new Pocket Wizard MultiMax USB.

David has us size up the room with an eye towards what can be used as backgrounds, light modifiers, shooting locations, etc. We discuss options and decide on four setups, a "Clamshell" Portrait with a colored background, a photograph of the Devil himself, a soft side-lit portrait in an alcove outside, using the frosted glass hotel doors as a giant diffuser, and a ringlight portrait with colored rim lights from the side.
In a matter of a few hours, we set up, shoot, chimp, modify, play with, and review on-screen the progression of each of these photos. The process is so wonderfully transparent, open-minded, and open book that you can't help but to learn. Those with Pocket Wizards were invited to shoot using David's flashes as they were being set up to make the final photo. Seeing this all come together, one light at a time, one layer at a time, until suddenly there's an amazing photograph, and you watched the whole thing happen.
A few of the images from the shoot:
Setup for the "Prince of Darkness" photo.
Not too often do you get a deep red gel and a ringflash used together.
But when you do it right, it looks like this

This huge frosted glass door, in an outside alcove, becomes an immense softbox, with a single flash on a stand in the hallway inside.
The beautifully lit portrait is here

David sets up a shot of Ken Brown, winner of the 2007 SPOY contest for his Gullwing Mercedes photo here.
The final result

Then finally, David shows us how he really triggers his strobes. And all this time we thought it was Pocket Wizards!

Click through to see his secret moves!

We wrapped up shooting and as some of the attendees trickled out, launched into another wide ranging BS session discussion of photography, lighting, Google, business, blogging, secret visits to the Seattle Strobist meetup (figure you guys know by now!) Joey Lawrence, the future of stock photography, PhotoShelter, networking, business plans, and pretty much anything else we could think of.
The conversation wandered from the conference room to the restaurant, and over dinner and a few beers we all convinced Ken Brown that he should go and own the world of high end car photography. The rest of us all have to find another niche. Somewhere around 10pm we finally wound down, set up a quick group shot, and headed out.
But what Strobist group photo would be complete without a few well-placed lights?
Ron Nabity (NabityPhotos) had his Canon G9, a Vivitar 285HV, and a no-brand set of Poverty Wizards, and I had my SB-800. We set up the Vivitar in the hallway outside the restaurant, aimed back in through the huge window, and set the 800 on a table, aimed at the ceiling with the optical slave enabled. By the second test shot, we had the exposure nailed, and Ron's wife Linda was kind enough to snap this for us.

Thanks again David, for putting together an absolutely incredible, informative, and entertaining day. Come back soon, OK?

Ivan Makarov also writes an excellent review of the seminar on his blog, IMDigital.


Ivan Makarov said...

Excellent write-up and I love the fact that your pictures show the light in action. I don't own PW's, but if I come to one of these seminars again, I'll for sure bring one just for that purpose.

David said...


I apparently caught a pretty good bug on the plane ride home, so have been slowly catching up. Thanks for such a nice and thorough report on our day. We had a great group, when adds a nice flavor. You guys wore me out.

I try to point people to the past experiences of others WRT to the seminars, so I am sure I will be linking to this page in future posts.

Thanks much,

Anonymous said...

Good informations. Thanks. "Poverty Wizards" -- I laughed out loud.