Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Flash Bus Tour 2011 Review!

Epic Ride ...WINNING!

Ok, first off I'd like to say this is going to be hard for me to be impartial since I pretty much idolize these guys, but I'm going to do my best. :)

...also a brief note, some of the photos in this post were taken with my iPhone so please excuse the poor quality, and as always, click on any image for a larger view.

Photographers Joe McNally and David Hobby (the Strobist) have been touring the U.S. in a high velocity, no-holds-barred tour called The Flash Bus, teaching amateur & professional photographers the intricacies of off camera flash photography.  If you're not familiar with these guys, then do yourself a favor and check out both of them.  They are pretty much masters in their fields, and they might quite possibly be the best instructors in off camera flash photography.

The tour is running from March 11th, to April the 18th, so if you want to check these guys out, you better get moving, these venues have been selling out fast!  More after the jump...

On to the seminar...  I had the opportunity to catch the Nashville stop of the tour with a few friends and also had the fantastic opportunity of being a VAL for these guys.  Just getting to meet Joe and David was a huge thrill, and both of them were very down to Earth and openly friendly.  They both made you feel as if you had been friends for a long time.

Being a VAL, I had to show up at the event at 6:30am to help the crew with whatever needed to be done prior to the actual seminar.  Joe's assistant Drew Gurian was the first of the gang to show up.  He introduced himself, was all smiles and laid out the plan for the morning.  So myself and the other VALs headed out to the actual Flash Bus to unload the gear ...and man there was a ton of it!!! ...which I believe was all McNally's. :)

After getting the bus unloaded, the VALs had the duty of stuffing the Swag Bags ...300 of them!  The swag bags were bags from Adorama that had all kinds of goodies in them for every single seminar participant.  I'd tell you what was in them but I don't want to spoil it for any of you that are still planning on going, but it contains some cool stuff.

Us VALs did a pretty quick job of getting the swag bags filled so we had some time to chill out and stalk watch McNally and Hobby while they were getting ready for the seminar.  Then McNally goes running out of the room with a camera in hand, so all of us took off behind him like lemmings jumping off a cliff.  Apparently, the son of the bus driver, Phil, got to show up and Joe wanted to take a portrait of them in front of the Flash Bus.

Joe had almost all of us VALs holding either a reflector, a diffuser or a speedlight and was guiding us like a concert maestro.  This was an awesome experience, getting to watch him work on the fly like this and David Hobby even swiped one of my speedlights to light the shot.  This little event was very awakening for me, not only because I learned a new trick from Joe, but also because I realized how cool those external battery packs for speedlights really are.  All of Joe's speedlights were recycling within a second or less but mine was taking up to 4-5 seconds at a time to recycle.  Joe was shooting this portrait in direct sunlight so those little flashes were throwing out some serious amounts of photons, and those battery packs really made a huge difference.  Going to get me one of those.

(Oh, another cool note about being a VAL, you get front row seats!)

After the mini-portrait session, it was time for the seminar to start.  Jeff Snyder from Adorama opened the seminar (since Adorama was one of the reasons this tour was even possible) and introduced the first grand master of flash photography, David Hobby.

David ran the first part of the seminar covering about 2.5 hours before lunch.  He started the seminar by introducing himself (like there are people who don't know who he is) and got right in to it.  His approach was like a college professor.  He started off explaining the key ingredients to a good, flash lit portrait, then provided examples via a projector.  The examples he showed were highly valuable because he included shots that identified exactly how he builds each flash lit portrait from taking an available light only shot, to the finished portrait with multiple light sources.  David presented several different examples from start to finish and also answered every question from the crowd, no matter how simple or difficult.  If his new DVD's are like his seminar, then I can guarantee that they are most definitely worth the money!  I will be ordering them soon.

Then another unexpected part of his presentation, was that he touched briefly on the business side of photography and the projects he's involved in and how you can relate them to your own photography business.  This was very cool, and considering that he definitely seems to know how to market himself, this was a really valuable part of the seminar that everyone seemed to be very responsive to.

After a morning session of jam-packed information in what seemed like a short amount of time, everyone broke for about an hour lunch.  Then it was McNally's turn at the wheel.

When Joe came out, and the roar of thunderous applause died down, he introduced himself (again, like anyone there would not know who this man was) and gave a brief, but detailed explanation of his theory on lighting in general and what it means to capture a moment drawn with light.  Even though Joe comes off as a jokester sometimes, you can definitely tell that he has an unfathomable passion for photography and all of its mechanisms.  Then he gave a brief dissertation on why he likes to use TTL and the advantages of using it to quickly capture images.  After that, it was time to shoot!

Joe had one of his assistants come out to model for him, then went through a ton of different lighting techniques and methods in a short amount of time explaining the differences between each one and then answering questions about them from the crowd.  Not only did he discuss exactly what he was doing as he did it, but he also discussed the problems and "accidents" you can experience along the way and how to solve them.  This was a completely different approach than David used which really made this whole seminar worth while because you got to see exactly how two lighting masters approached similar scenarios with different methods.  This really was a perfect example of the "best of both worlds".

Then Joe started pulling members from the audience out to model for him.  In Joe's own words, he told one slightly reluctant fellow that this would be "the best Facebook portrait ever", and he was right I believe.  He took several awesome portraits of people from the crowd and then explained why he chose to light each one the way he did.  What was really cool about this part of the seminar was that every photo Joe took, was displayed on two large projector screens so everyone could see exactly what he was getting in his camera.  This was a really useful learning tool that everyone seemed to enjoy and it was nice to see that even a pro such as Joe, every once in a while, gets a not-so-great image, but the end results were spectacular! ...no Photoshop involved!

At the end of Joe's part of the seminar, everyone took a quick break.  The guys from Adorama were there and were taking orders for tons of cool lighting tools with a discounted price.  If you're thinking about buying any new cool toys and are going to the Flash Bus tour, be sure to take your wallet because Adorama was offering some pretty awesome deals that are only available the day of the show.

For the end of the seminar, Joe and David came out together and leg wrestled over which was better, manual flash or TTL.  No, I'm just kidding, but they did have quite a few pokes at each other which was pretty darned entertaining.  These two guys were like a couple of kids up there and you could tell that they were having fun.  They did a Q&A style session where they answered every single question the crowd could throw at them ...and did I mention that they gave a ton of cool stuff away throughout the ENTIRE seminar??  They passed out DVDs, Justin Clamps, Lastolite Tri-Grips and all kinds of cool stuff.  However, you might have to answer a photography question or just have a really cool name to get some of the freebies.  Just being in the crowd though really increases your odds. :)

So all in all, I have to honestly say, this was without a doubt the best photography seminar I have ever been to, and if you count the goodies they give away in the swag bags, the free stuff you might get just by being there and the amount of knowledge that was handed over during the seminar, this was definitely more than worth the price of the ticket.  If you have the chance to go, then I definitely would, and if you happen to be one of the fortunate few who get to be a VAL, you are sooo going to have a good time.

My only regret about this whole seminar is that I can't go again.

Check it out:  The Flash Bus Tour

If you'd like to see a few more of my photos from the tour, check out this gallery on Flickr.


Pam said...

It sounds like an awesome seminar! But I wonder how many guys driving pass the bus saw "flash bus" and thought it was a different kind of "flash" bus? Ha ha. :D

John said...

Funny you mention that! While we were outside and Joe was shooting the portrait of the bus driver, a lady walked up to us and asked, "The Flash Bus, is that anything like Girls Gone Wild?" :)