Strobist Boot Camp: Rules, Guidelines and First Assignment

Editor's note: Lots of questions and answers already popping up in the comments section. Click "comments" at the bottom of the post, or pull up the permalink here and scroll down.

Welcome to Strobist's first-ever Boot Camp! It starts now. This is where you make the transition from "talking the talk" to "walking the walk."

The main point of SBC is to nudge those photographers out there who have not made the transition to actually trying this lighting stuff out to make the jump. Secondarily, we will hopefully all get a chance to see what many different photogs - from all around the world - do with the exact same assignments. You'll also be able to ask "how'd you do that?" questions to your fellow photographers. Using Flickr, we will effectively become a virtual classroom.

I'm not sure this has ever been done before. In fact, I am pretty sure that it hasn't. Heck, this blog has broken just about every blogging rule there is - "brevity" comes to mind - so we'll find out what happens together.

If you are one of those people hoping to make the transition from advanced amateur to pro, this will give you a little bit of valuable experience and some inside knowledge you otherwise would have to find out by trial and error. Mostly the latter.

If you are a straight amateur, this might be the closest thing you'll ever get to a pro experience.

There will be the normal other stuff going on here, too. Just because you are learning to light does not mean that the rest of the world stops. So when this post falls off of the front page, I will put a link up on the sidebar so you can get to it.

Here are the rules:

1) You will declare yourself as a Pro or an Amateur. I don't want a bunch of amateurs to be intimidated by the work of some hotshot without knowing that he/she is a professional. And if you are a pro, you should expect to answer a few questions about your photos from the rookies. For our purposes, if you earn more than 5% of your income from shooting photos in any way, consider yourself a pro. We are on the honor system here. But if you call yourself an amateur and look suspiciously good, I will Google your butt to check you out.

2) You will have to be a member of Flickr and the Flickr Strobist Group to turn in your photos. So if you haven't done that, get on it. It's free. If you need directions, check here.

3) You may turn in only one final photo per assignment. The way you turn it in is to stick it in the Flickr Strobist Pool and tag it as instructed. If you turn in a photo early, and improve it on a subsequent shoot, it is easy to pull the inferior one by simply pulling the tag off. It'll stay in the pool but it will not come up when we search the assignment tags. Simple as that. It's all pretty self-explanatory. Just make sure you end up with only one photo per assignment. NOTE: If you have questions about how to do this, ask it in the Strobist discussion section on Flickr. DO NOT e-mail me with it. I cannot walk 100 people through this one at a time. I just can't. I'd eat a gun. I swear I would. Have mercy.

4) All photos are to be in color unless specified otherwise.

5) I still have feelers out for donors of (very modest) award prizes. I think we should make the bragging rights tangible in some small way. If I have to I will do it out of pocket.

6) Tags - All entries will have the following tags, exactly as stated (leave off the quotes) -- "strobistbootcamp" (that's one word) "pro" or "amateur" the exact name of the assignment, which will always be one word, and your country.

Thus, if I entered a photo for an assignment called "doubletruck," my tags would be:

strobistbootcamp pro doubletruck USA

Note that these are all separate tags. You can have additional tags. Just make sure you include these among them.

Here's the syllabus. There will be six assignments, progressing from easy (deceptively simple, actually) to challenging. You will follow the path of an up-and-coming freelancer, Phil Phlashen, (heh, heh) working his or her way through a publication like a hot knife through butter. Whether your photos merit this kind of fast track will be up to you.

You will get your assignments in a similar way that a working pro would get them. Sparse detail, and maddeningly vague. But I will also provide some of the subtext that pro's know how to decipher in the hope of tuning your thinking a little bit. So, first the assignment - then the "reading between the lines" part. The names of your subjects are made up, and are purposefully androgynous. Choose a male or female as your subject. You may choose the same person more than once, but that will take some of the challenge and fun out of it.

At the end of SBC, I will choose an overall winner in the pro and amateur categories. Preference will be given to the people who complete all six assignments. There will also be a Best Overall Photo chosen. I will also point out some notables in some categories that you may or may not want to be chosen in, if you get my drift. :)

And one last thing: Deadlines are deadlines.

That said, let's get started.

Strobist Boot Camp Assignment One: Headshot

What you would get:

To: Phil Phlashen
Need mug of Pat Harwood for next issue of magazine.
Might run w/some size.
Deadline June 28, 23:59 GMT
Ph: (000) 000-0000
Please call to schedule

What they don't say:

You want deceptively simple? Doesn't get much more deceptively simple than a headshot, or "mug," as it is known in the industry. Get the term mug out of your mind quickly, and replace it forever with "headshot." You'll make better mugs that way.

Here's an analogy. A person in a singles bar will make a judgement about you very quickly, based on near instantaneous first impressions. Fair? Nope. Exploitable information if you know it? Yep.

Likewise, a publication can learn a lot about your skill level, professionalism and attention to detail by assigning you a simple, safe (for them) "mug" shot. If you screw it up, they'll run it tiny (if at all) and never think about you again. No big loss. To them, anyway. Bye bye to you.

Conversely, if you can take a simple mug assignment and turn it into a headshot that is clean, well-lit, engaging, could-easily-run-as-a-lead-photo (and possibly a cover shot in a pinch) then they get a very different message. The impression of you is one of a photographer who does not blow off any assignment - no matter how seemingly insignificant. Someone who pays attention to detail. Someone whose minimum quality standards - on any assignment - are always met.

Guess which photographer you want to try to be?

You find some helpful info in the umbrella section of Lighting 101. Also, there is a simple headshot tutorial. That's a quick and dirty approach, mind you. Please do not take it as the end-all for this assignment.

You are to use at least one off-camera flash for this assignment. Use more if you like. But this assignment can be done perfectly well with a simple Starving Student Off-Camera Light Kit. So, do not think fancy. Think quality. Think elegant. Think engaged with the viewer.

NOTE: To avoid any confusion, the tag for this should be "headshot," along with "strobistbootcamp," "pro" (or "amateur,") and "USA" (or whatever country you shot it in.)

That's it for the first one. You have two weeks. Let's have some fun, and let's see whatcha got. And if you are a DIGG'er, click here to spread the word.


Brand new to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Connect w/Strobist readers via: Words | Photos

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

How tight does it have to be to still be a headshot? Should we be trying to minimize background/enviromental elements or is all of this up to the individual?

Looking forward to it.


June 13, 2006 11:31 PM  
Blogger David said...

Pretty tight. Vertical. Head and (cropped) shoulders. Look at some headshots - you'll get it.


June 13, 2006 11:33 PM  
Anonymous Brent J said...

I am pumped! This is my excuse to get my wife to pose for me. Thanks for doing this David! I just got some basic equipment to work with and this will be a great way to learn how to use it. This will be great!

June 14, 2006 12:29 AM  
Blogger David said...

Well, that's TWO people...



June 14, 2006 12:32 AM  
Anonymous Pete Millson said...

Deceptively simple is right. A headshot is where I've been the laziest in the past. That's going to change - let's rock!

Thanks David.


June 14, 2006 3:46 AM  
Anonymous Blixt said...

It could be fun to use an 'outtakes' tag as well, for those shots that maybe show the lights or are otherwise interesting but which you don't want to leave in as the final assignment.

June 14, 2006 5:28 AM  
Anonymous gewitterkind said...

hmm, if i am assisting a pro photographer every now and then and doing some stockphotography while waiting for a place at a university, am i considered pro or amateur? I'm still living at my parents and couldnt afford to move out with the money i'm currently making.

June 14, 2006 7:06 AM  
Blogger David said...


Outtakes would be fine. Just do not include all of the other tags.


If you have sold any stock photos lately, I would imagine the income comprises 5% of your net income. If you consider yourself on a pro track, definitely go with pro.

Amateur is for people who are not - and are not trying to - earning a living as photographers. Let your conscience be your guide.


June 14, 2006 9:21 AM  
Blogger steve said...

I am in!

June 14, 2006 10:33 AM  
Anonymous strobistbootcamp AMATEUR BobSam USA said...

Should/can we add a cutline to the picture to "set" the setting/reason?

June 14, 2006 11:58 AM  
Blogger guruguy9 said...

How I've dreamed of thee!

Count me in!

June 14, 2006 12:00 PM  
Anonymous David--Tucson said...


This is by far the most useful and instructional web-site I visit. And it is a joy to read. I look forward to checking everyday for the latest entry.

Thanks for this project. I am on it.

As for the prize, I would be willing to pay an entry fee of some amount that would be distributed as prizes. I appreciate your valuable time committment. I don't want wife or significant other to put the hammer down when you start using your personal funds and risk losing this resource altogether.


June 14, 2006 12:32 PM  
Blogger Marc Lacoste said...

OK, go for it! as a prize money, we could make a common effort to offer a pro flickr account to the winner? (dang, I just bought one for myself)

June 14, 2006 1:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This looks like a lot of fun. I was wondering though, what's the verdict on Digital and Photoshop for this?

June 14, 2006 2:01 PM  
Anonymous Captoe said...

I'm on it.

June 14, 2006 2:40 PM  
Blogger David said...

You got Questions, we got answers-

Bobsam- Add whatever peripheral information you think would be helpful to other shooters in the caption field. (It'll work better there.) Just make sure you have the right tags in the tags field.

David Tuscon-

Thanks much. And as for an entry fee, I want to keep the contest as accessible as possible. I may take the contents of the "donation box" (see "how you can help" on the sidebar) and apply it toward awards. I didn't need that Strobist Corporate Jet much, anyway.


Does a Pro Flickr account mean I could not enter the Flickr Olympics?


Toning is fine. But you should know how to do this stuff in camera for the most part. This ain't the "Digital Manipulation-ist" blog...

June 14, 2006 3:30 PM  
Anonymous val_photo_gal said...

looking forward to participating in this!

Thanks for all your continued effort to this site, David - I'm a daily reader as well - and always so pleased to log in and see something new posted.

- Val

June 14, 2006 6:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey David we DO NOT WANT TO HEAR the out of your pocket bla bla bla YOU are helping us more than you can imagine !!!!! Lets vote....I suggest a $2.00 entry fee!!! WHOS IN ????

June 14, 2006 10:09 PM  
Anonymous Rob said...

Really looking forward to this. My wife and I are both going to do it!

June 15, 2006 2:01 AM  
Anonymous Nic Hume said...


I'm part-time contract shooter with a medium-sized daily newspaper. Is it acceptable to use something I shoot while on a "real" assignment for this? As has been noted, this sort of thing comes up fairly regularly in the newspaper world.

I'm not sure if this would be considered "in the spirit" of the bootcamp or not?

(As far as copyright issues go, the paper still owns the copyright to the image, but I've been given a green-light to post images from work on the web for the sake of displaying what I do, have an online portfolio, etc. I just can't SELL them to anyone else.)


June 15, 2006 2:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i love the idea! thanks for taking the time to run this project, and sharing your knowledge.

i'm an amateur with little experience, who was stunned by the difference of quality between the built-in flash of my canon eos 350d and an external flash on top of the camera once i started bouncing.

as you can imagine, i got a lot to learn and i'm thrilled with this opportunity, because it's quite hard to find a photography class in bangkok, especially compatible with my hectic schedule

first step: getting some gear on the cheap, plugging it all and figuring it out...

June 15, 2006 2:57 AM  
Anonymous bonj said...

I'm assuming I don't need small portable strobes for this? ie. Can I use my Alien Bees? the only small flash I have is a GN20 hotshoe number... It's useful for tripping the slaves if nothing else.

June 15, 2006 3:59 AM  
Blogger David said...


I supposed you could, but if you are already out shooting this particular type of assignment there is really no benefit to you to post it in Boot Camp. Might be interesting to see how your previously assigned mug compares to a bunch of motivated people's version, tho.

If you are submitting something that is previously shot, you should ID it as such.

This, and maybe one other Boot Camp assignment might be paochable with previous stuff. The other four will be too specific.

Bonj- Shoot it with whatever you can. Just ID the equipment if it is more powerful than a shoe-mount flash. Actually, it might be a good idea for people to ID their equipment in all cases in the caption fields.

June 15, 2006 8:21 AM  
Blogger David said...

Oops. Typo.


June 15, 2006 8:21 AM  
Blogger David said...


NO PROBLEM! Just send my a round-trip ticket to Bangkok and I will bring you a SSO-CLK, free of charge. I will personally sleep on your livingroom floor for TWO WEEKS and teach you how to use it better for an HOUR A DAY!




June 15, 2006 8:25 AM  
Anonymous GoatBoy said...

This is pure awesomeness!

I'm in.

June 15, 2006 9:00 AM  
Blogger ryan99d said...

David, inform me as soon as you are in Bangkok. Tickets to Bohol, Philippines should be cheaper from there than from the states. :)

Anyways, I'm no pro but i'm prepping myself to be one. Looking forward to my first assignment!


June 15, 2006 2:35 PM  
Anonymous Wiley said...

What happened to R. Lee Ermey?

June 15, 2006 7:41 PM  
Anonymous Jim Nelson said...

I ordered my Starving Student Off-Camera Light Kit on June 5 along with some filters and they just won't ship it. Handicapped from the get go. I konw deadlines are deadlines but I think your site has overwhelemed Adorama. Adorama should offer up a prize as you have kept them out of stock on several items for weeks..

June 15, 2006 9:19 PM  
Blogger David said...


When I was putting together some art for the Boot Camp page, I used a photo of Mr. Ermey that was already splashed around the 'net in about a bazillion places.

His folks got in contact with me and explained that, while his pictures do, in fact, tend to spread all over the 'net, they try to keep tabs and limit said proliferation to the best extent they can. As a shooter, I respect their right to do that in the most absolute terms. So I swapped it for a quickly-made logo, which I hope to improve when I get a chance.

In making sure we were squared away, I had the pleasure of long conversation with one of Mr. Ermey's Main Honchos, Jim "Duke" Preston. Over the course of an hour or so, we quickly got past the photo thing and had a much more worthy discussion about the finer points of the Colt .45 APC and various methods by which one can make it more accurate, both by firearm modifications and shooting technique.

As for the use of Mr. Ermey's photo, he said to get back to him at the end of the month. My "fine" for the infraction was 25 push ups, which were enthusiastically performed. (SIR!)

June 15, 2006 9:47 PM  
Blogger righteye said...

I would squash the entry fee thing early as in my mind prizes really are not important. Lets have some free fun. Mabey if prizes are really what turn people on, our members could donate a print or something to the winner.

June 15, 2006 11:12 PM  
Blogger David said...


No worries. My Prime Directive is to stay with "free" whenever humanly possible. Any schwag involved will be of the token variety, and just there to make it interesting.

June 15, 2006 11:40 PM  
Anonymous Wiley said...

David --
That's amazing they came across your use of that image so quickly.

And by the way...the colt 45 has some very nice attributes. I got myself a nice Springfield armory mil-spec 1911-A1 a couple of years ago. Very nice! But, I guess, that's a discussion for another blog.

June 16, 2006 3:58 AM  
Anonymous Tom S said...

Um, stupid question - assuming I can retain enough of what I've learned from this amazing site long enough to venture away from the security of my computer and actually shoot something worth posting , is there a particular assignment tag I should use? How about Doubletruck?


June 16, 2006 3:46 PM  
Blogger David said...

Sorry for the confusion. The tag for this assignment would be "headshot," (along with strobistbootcamp, pro - or amateur - and your country.)


June 16, 2006 6:11 PM  
Anonymous Pix of Pets said...

I'm in here so have lots of reading to do. Can't wait to do my assignment, finally got involved with something before it's too late!

Thanks for doing this!!!!

June 18, 2006 5:37 PM  
Blogger MagikTrik said...

I saw a similar question but really no answer (i don't think). Do the standard "Photojournalism" rules apply when it comes to post-production? Like for instance, the picture I was/am planning on using for this assignment has a big ugly piece of 3" black gaffers tape holding 2 pieces of background paper together behind my subject's head. I guess not noticing it at the time (god only knows how i didn't, first time jitters maybe) is my mistake or can something like that pass as "Photoshopable"? Cropping is also something I would like to ask about, please believe that I'm not trying to bend any rules but it can be done in a traditional darkroom. Of course you won't hear me complaining about any answer, I guess posting a photo with a big, embarassing piece of black gaff tape on a white background is a good way to teach me never to let it happen again!
BTW this site totally rocks, I'm just starting school as a photojournalism student & have found at least 99.9% of your information extremely useful, thank you for that.

June 22, 2006 10:37 AM  
Blogger David said...

Well, it really depends on whether you consider a headhot photojournalism.

My publication would not do it. We label any kind of content Photoshop manipulation as an illustration.

SI, on the other hand, routinely PS's grey background into their "Faces in the Crowd" headshots.

Basically, I would say that you really want be able to do something so simple as a headshot "in camera."

June 22, 2006 11:30 PM  
Blogger MagikTrik said...

Thank you for your response (and your responses to all my other questions also). Thats all I needed to hear, I think I'm just going to try to reshoot it without the tape in the background! Thanks alot, for everything.

June 23, 2006 8:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the drop dead date for this first picture? My flash bit the dust the other day and my new ones won't be in until the end of the upcoming week.

June 25, 2006 12:10 PM  
Blogger David said...

End of day Wednesday. Rather than stop the whole train to wait for one shooter's flashes to arrive, I would suggest that you can pick up the baton on the next assignment.

No worries,


June 25, 2006 12:20 PM  
Anonymous Khalid said...

David, dont know if this has been asked already, but what size (W pixels x H pixels) and dpi do you want the headshot image to be in ? Does it really have to be print worthy (henc hi res) or is a 72 dpi image okay ?

June 28, 2006 11:42 AM  
Anonymous MattMoore said...

guess I'm too late to participate.


July 01, 2008 4:44 PM  
Anonymous MattMoore said...

guess I'm too late to join up?

July 01, 2008 4:45 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Matt Moore,

Bah, too late. I laugh in the face of the deadline. I have started now, I just tag as stated and hope for some comments. You are so welcome to tag along.


July 29, 2008 10:05 AM  
Anonymous Boo said...

Your post said One Week from today, on the 21st of June. Does that not mean that the 28th is the last date for submission?? I was counting on having this weekend to get something up.

June 25, 2009 9:44 PM  

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