DON'T MISS: Italian conceptual portrait photographer Sara Lando is coming to the US to teach in Atlanta (8/16) and Baltimore (8/23). Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Now Available: Strobist Lighting DVDs

UPDATE: Are you reading this from outside of the US? Strobist DVDs, now in their sixth printing, are now being shipped from the US, the UK and Asia. This should significantly reduce shipping costs, time and duties from international readers. (Details at the end of the post.)
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What began last summer as an idea over a pair of delicious Chipotle burritos is now here: The Strobist lighting seminar is now on DVD.

Keep reading to find out what it is, whether it might be suited for you, and how to get it.

Right off the bat, many thanks to those of you who have expressed both interest and encouragement over the past months -- and especially to those who helped on the project. Yes, everything took longer than I expected. But in the end I think we came away with something that will pull together the learning process for a lot of people.


NOTE: Throughout this post, I have included photos which were shot for the DVD. You can see more photos here.


Before I get to what it is, I want to explain what it is not.

First, it's not slick at all. I'm not into the infomercial-in-the-studio type of thing, because (a) it's not my style, and (b) that is not the way things happen the real world. Or at least, in mine.

Being a self-funded project, we were presented with a continuous series of hard choices and priorities. For every choice that had to be made between content or bells and whistles, we went for content.

Basically we were just hanging out and shooting. It could not have been more casual. It was hot and we were dressed for it. Or rather, undressed for it.

Rochelle, above left, got to enjoy a nice, cool pool for this shot. Whereas we got to sweat through heat, humidity and yellow-greenish sodium vapor lights.

A bad day in shorts and a T-shirt is better than a good day in a suit, I always say.

I was mic'd and we had still photos popping up onscreen as we shot. We decided that shooting in HD would have left us with way many terabytes of raw footage. So we chose to shoot in plain old DV so we could more easily go long-form with the content.

In the end, the look may have been closer to home movies than high-end video. But the net result was that we were able to include many more situations with the same resources. Besides, mine is a face that benefits from lower resolution.

We started with the idea of creating a two-hour DVD and trying to condense as much as we could into that. When the dust settled we had eight DVDs and about ten hours of content. The price will be $139.00 US. (Which, if you are in almost any other country, is probably getting cheaper every day due to our plummeting dollar...)


What's On It?

The first disc is a discussion about lighting gear -- what you need, how it works, syncing options, etc. This is for the inevitable people who will be watching the series without having read Lighting 101.

Discs two through five are from a lighting seminar that was held in Columbia, MD, last September. A bunch of cool folks dragged their butts out of bed early on a Sunday morning (I am not sure Katy the Night Owl ever totally woke up until after lunch) and we talked lighting and shot photos all day.

The format was similar to that of the lighting seminars I have given in hotel conference rooms in many different places over the last two years. Looking at the morning session, I can see now that I was clearly a bit nervous at the idea of going straight through a day like that live on film. But by midday that was long forgotten and we were having fun.

(Seminar photo by David Hoffmann. More here.)

As is the usual format, the morning was for theory (Lighting 102 format) and the afternoon was for shooting. The photo at left is one of the shots from the afternoon.

As an example, I have uploaded a ten-minute clip of this shot being done in the conference room:

This is typical of the seminar sessions and how we shoot and talk the results through. Just working in the environment we have (i.e., usually not much) and improvising through different lighting techniques. This, like all of the shots on the DVDs, is technique-driven and designed to show different ways to light using small flashes.

We did several other shots that afternoon, but as is always the case we never have the time or environment to do all of the examples we want. So the remaining DVDs (six through eight) are a series of nine location shoots in which I was mic'd and had stills popping up as we were shooting.

We did head shots, indoor and outdoor portraiture -- even an eleven-person group shot in a room that can best be described as sadistic for small flashes.

I also decided to do something that ended up being very difficult as a photographer -- to leave the camera running while I made mistakes and tried to solve problems. Sometimes it is not pretty. But I feel that the best way to learn is not just to learn camera technique, but to see how others solve problems when the curve balls start coming.

We decided to air it out, too. Rather than just editing down to highlights, I think it is valuable to see pretty much the entire workflow, to the extent it is practical. (This would have been much more pleasant if I were a tall, lanky supermodel. But I do try to make up for it with bad jokes.)

Some of the problems we faced were painfully obvious and thoroughly complained about -- my plan to bounce lights off of the group portrait room evaporated when the ceiling turned out to be 30 feet high and dark-paneled. Oh, and with a curved, dark wooden background, too. And way dark. Yeesh.

But that is what we often get, and I believe that being able to improvise your way through those problems is an important skill.

We shot in conference rooms, in fields, in a gym, in busy hallways -- as was the case for the shot of a kendo practitioner at left. (How could I turn down that red background?)

One of my favorite things about photography is working around the limitations of a shooting environment. We never set foot in a studio. This is not about expensive gear and/or exotic locations.

Heck, we even did one shoot with a Canon G7 just for kicks. But some of the problems were more subtle, and/or personal in nature. You will recognize those, too, and how we solved them -- even if we could not comfortably articulate them out loud at the time.


Who Are They For?

Granted, most of the pros reading this will likely look at all of the photos and say, "Yeah, I can do that." And that's great.

But it is easy to forget where we were when we all started out. For what it's worth, when I write for the blog my target is usually myself as a 22-year-old (green) pro. I would put these DVDs at the level of advanced amateur. Especially for people who can learn better by watching someone actually doing something -- and having them think out loud during the process.

For all of the good things about photography, one of the worst is the fact that we so often shoot by ourselves. We never get to see others' workflow and thought process. That is all changing now with the web. And I am trying to nurture that change in small part with this project.

It is important to note that no great new lighting secrets are revealed on these DVDs. We work every day with the same gear, and the same laws of physics. And if you have been reading this site since the beginning, the vast majority of the material will be familiar ground -- although all of the shoots are new and done just for this project.

But for many people, I think watching the process is a big aid for learning. And I hope that seeing it done will be of benefit to many of you who quietly lurk but maybe feel uncomfortable throwing your photos into the Flickr pool. I especially want to help to jump start you folks.


For Readers Outside the USA

Three things to mention. First, Midwest Photo will ship worldwide. But if you are anywhere in the EU, it will be cheaper to get them from The Flash Centre in the UK. For those of you in Asia and the Middle East, they are now shipping from Dubai, too. Details and links below.

Second, the DVDs are coded Region 0 (which is, essentially, region-free) and are in the NTSC format. So you should have some way to play NTSC DVDs (many players play multi formats, as do many laptops) whenever you are. There are no plans to go PAL or SECAM any time soon.

Last, for those of you who read English better than you hear it, the DVDs are subtitled in English. So if you can read the blog, you should be able to understand the DVDs.

Especially on that last point, (and for everything else) I would like to thank Bill Millios, a long-time Strobist reader and my partner on this project, for his insistence on including subtitling with the DVDs. Bill happens to be hearing impaired, but sold me on the subtitles for a variety of good reasons. I would not have thought of that, and I think many more people will be able to understand the videos because of his foresight.

More on Bill at his site: Hopeland Studios.


Questions/ Ongoing Discussion

I have set up an ongoing discussion thread for the DVDs. If you have questions/comments arising from the various shoots or seminar, etc., please post them here. I am starting this thread rather than a normal comment stream, as the Flickr thread makes for a more efficient discussion venue.

If you have any shipping-related questions, those should be directed towards MPEX rather than placed in the discussion thread.
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Strobist Lighting DVDs are available Midwest Photo for $139.00, and at The Flash Centre in the UK (and EU) for £102.35 incl. VAT. No duties to UK/EU if shipped from TFC. And, as of August 2009, they are also shipping from Gulf Photo Plus (US$139.95) in Dubai, which should reduce shipping costs and times throughout Asia and the Middle East.

And special thanks to Rui M. Leal for his comprehensive "Review from the EU" here.


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