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The Flash Bus? I Thought Mardi Gras Was Last Week.

When I saw the graphic for The Flash Bus Tour I went from a rational adult who pays his bills on time, drinks coffee with his morning paper, and is planning a wedding to a middle school girl freaking out over a Justin Bieber concert.  I really wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not.

The tour takes two of my favorite photographers, throws them in a giant bus, and drives them around the country for 42 days stopping to teach strobe workshops in 29 different cities. You better believe no amount of rush hour traffic was going to keep me from commuting to Los Angeles when they came to town earlier this week.

The Two Photographers Who Make My Inner Photojournalist Go All Weak in The Knees

These two guys are prolific. While other kids go to sleep in Batman pajamas, young photographers everywhere get tucked into Joe McNally sheets while wearing their strobist PJs.

Joe “numnuts” McNally

When I was eighteen and starting college I wanted to be a boots on the ground photojournalist. I wanted to travel the world; I wanted to shoot for National Geographic and LIFE magazine, I wanted to be one of the best. In short, I wanted to be Joe McNally.  McNally has been making a living with pictures for the last 35 years, and you will be hard pressed to find someone more knowledgeable in his field. He has shot for some of the largest publications in the world, and I can say with absolute confidence that you’ve seen his photographs. I don’t care if you’re Amish; you’ve seen his work somewhere.

David “Strobist” Hobby

When life caught up with my aspirations I found out that photography is hard, takes a lot of time, and is more than just available light. Luckily, around that same time I came across David Hobby’s blog.  Hobby was a newspaper shooter for 20 years, and one day he decided that he wanted to start a blog to help young college punks…er photographers… learn how to take better pictures with small flashes. Now, 5 years later his blog gets 100,000 hits a day, and has taught lighting to literally millions of photographers in just about every country around the world.

The Lesson Plan

The day was split into three parts. Hobby took the morning, bringing anyone new to strobes up to speed on manual use while delivering lessons on basic lighting theory. He then progressed into more and more complex lighting scenarios, giving the how and why behind each set-up. Hobby’s blog  has always been a giant resource for me in my personal work, but it will never be the same after hearing him drop some serious knowledge in person.

In the afternoon McNally took the stage, and did what he does best, started taking pictures. His entire portion of the day was watching him take portraits. He would pick an audience member, explain how he was going to light the photo, and then walk us through each test frame, each misfire, and each finished portrait, LIVE. It was incredible to not just watch him work, but have his thoughts explained as he lit each photograph. The experience was absolutely surreal. I’ve seen videos, read interviews, and spent hours flipping through his portfolio, but nothing even came close to watching a master at work

The final portion of the day was a Q and A with both photographers. They were completely candid, and it was great to hear about their experiences, listen to them crack jokes, and discuss their successes and failures.

Some Good Old Fashion Learnin’

Both of these photographers have been making their living with a camera for longer than I’ve been alive (sorry guys). I’m a note taker, and I have pages and pages of information from the workshop. I’m not going to transcribe them for you because it just wouldn’t be the same, but here are a few tidbits from the day that you might find useful:

  • No matter whether you’re running a two light set up or a 40 light setup your ambient will always be your first light.
  • Know your gear, and work one light at a time.
  • There is no right or wrong exposure. There is just your mission for your photography. A perfectly exposed photo for National Geographic is going to be different than a perfectly exposed image for Vogue.
  • Mistakes are your path to better photos.
  • You need to push beyond what helped you make good photos, and learn how to take even better ones.
  • And finally, one of my favorite quotes of the day from McNally, “They hand you a camera and say, ‘here are more pixels, and now your photos will be amazing.’ Bullshit, now you will just have more detailed crap!”

A Little Conclusion For You

If you want to learn about using small lights, and the Flash Bus is coming to your city, TRY TO GO! If you miss it, both McNally and Hobby are releasing lighting DVDs that you might want to look into. I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy yet so I can’t tell you that they’re going to change your life. However, after following both photographers for years, and after seeing them speak, I don’t see the DVDs being a bad investment.

Go out there. Check out their work. Get educated. Make better pictures.