When the two biggest names in photography plan to come to your town and speak about what they know best, lighting, it’s not a matter of whether or not to attend, but rather, when. So this past Sunday, Eric Lee, fellow fashion and event photographer friend Ed Jay, Shaowen Yao, I, and hundreds of other photographers attended “The Flash Bus Tour 2011“, a 29-city, 6-week, bus tour with Joe McNally and David Hobby (a.k.a the Strobist) speaking about TTL and manual flash settings. Conveniently held at the South San Francisco Conference Center, the same place Joe McNally did his Location Lighting Techniques Tour, the event started at 10 AM and lasted until 5 PM.
What I love about David Hobby and Joe McNally is not just their amazing lighting abilities, but their ability to keep an audience entertained and engaged on a subject that can get very technical very quickly and thus boring. Mr. Strobist (Hobby) himself kicked off the first portion of the lecture from 10 AM to 12:30 PM espousing on how shooting with Speedlights set to manual allows him the necessary control to craft ridiculously amazing photos. A vast majority of his lighting is accomplished with anywhere from 1 to 5 Speedlights. He showed the audience a number of amazing photos and went over how he crafted the lighting, which light modifier was used (snoot, gel, grid, umbrella, softbox, and etc.) if any, where the Speedlights were placed to create what effect, and even the flash power settings. And to many people, seeing all the lights he may use for one shot might seem mind-boggling and even nerve racking until he explains what each light’s purpose and then the lightbulb goes off in your head and things start clicking.
After lunch, the lecture picked back up with Joe McNally on to discuss how TTL and flash has worked for him and how it can be a valuable tool, but at the same time he noted that does not mean he doesn’t set his flashes to manual when the situation calls for it. He started out “going big” by introducing as many lights as possible to craft a photo and by the end of his lecture it was scaled down to using only one Speedlight. Much of his lecture was review for me, as I had seen him before when he came around for the Lighting Location Tour back in 2008, so there wasn’t quite anything new, but unlike Hobby who mainly spoke and showed pictures, McNally did a number of actual demonstrations inside the conference center and showed the results live on the projectors by shooting tethered. One of the coolest demonstrations was the “paparazzi scene” in which he had one of his assistants pose as a famous actor with his real-life girlfriend being hounded by lecture participants posing as paparazzi photographers. Shooting with a Nikon D3s and Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED-IF and using an on-board Nikon SB-900 in Commander Mode, he was able to trigger some 30 Speedlights in different groups! Here’s the shot:
The blue in the background was from two Nikon SB-900s pointed upwards and gelled with a blue set to manual on one group. There were also 2 Nikon SB-900s on c-stands on each side set to TTL for side lighting in another group. All the “paparazzi” flashes were set into another group set to TTL. Amazing work. McNally continued with a number of other demonstrations showcasing many products such as Lumiquest LTP, Lastolite Skylite, Lastolite Tri-grip (one of my favorite diffuser/reflectors), Lumiquest Softbox III, Honl GoBo, Lumiquest Cinch strap, and much more.
McNally ended his portion at about 4:30 PM to which they opened it up to a no-holds barred Q&A session which was very cool. And what made all this even more worth it is the bag of goodies provided by The Flash Bus Tour 2011 main sponsors such as Rosco gel sample pack, one of the cool new Lumiquest Cinch straps, Think Tank Photo custom Flash Bus Tour Pixel Pocket Rocket, a coupon to get a FREE Frio, discount code for Adorama prints, and more. Definitely a heart-felt thank you to all the sponsors of The Flash Bus Tour: Manfrotto, Lumiquest, Rosco, Spyder, TetherTools, PeachPit Press, Nik Software, Lexar, PocketWizard, Think Tank Photo, Frio, and of course, Adorama.
So I’m sure the big question on everyone’s mind, is it worth it? If you’re new to off-camera lighting or have started dabbling a bit into it and have read a number of books and/or online articles and still can’t quite wrap your head around all of it, then yes, the Flash Bus Tour is worth it for you. It might be a bit dizzying and difficult to keep-up and I doubt you’ll retain or even learn everything that is talked about by David Hobby or Joe McNally, but the opportunity to hear them speak and explain first hand in person will be extremely valuable to you. In my opinion, the photographers who would benefit the most from this would be those who are familiar with how shutter and aperture relate with flash and have already introduced some off-camera lighting into their work such as using shoot-through umbrellas as David Hobby talks about expanding beyond shoot-through umbrellas for off-camera lighting. And even if you have been delving into many advanced off-camera lighting techniques, I think there are a few things that can be picked up from attending as we did such as the ability to see the thought process of these lighting legends. For $99, you’ can’t go wrong. Also a word of advice, when you go to one of these, always ask meaningful questions as you might get some free stuff. They were giving away some really cool stuff like the new Lumiquest Super Strap, a Lastolite Tri-grip, a couple Lumiquest LTP, some professional Lexar 32GB CompactFlash cards, and more.
Here’s a pic of the goodies we got for attending the lecture:
And yes, I got my Strobist DVD and The Life Guide to Photography book autographed: