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.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Dustin Diaz's Daily Dose

A number of people have pointed me to Dustin Diaz's 365 Project. And while this is certainly not the first of its kind to come down the pike, Dustin has inserted a couple of twists that make his project right up our alley.

Get your One-A-Day shot, inside.

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Light and Steady

First of all, Dustin is using much of his photo marathon to explore what he can do with flash. And while that sounds all laudable and romantic and stuff, I can tell you from experience that there is nothing like a long-term project to expose your "camera expertise" as nothing more than a bag of tricks -- and a shallow bag of tricks at that.

At least that's been my experience when doing long-term projects. Which is exactly why you do them, of course -- to grow, practice, discover your limits and then expand them out of sheer necessity.

But Dustin has added another Strobist-friendly aspect to his daily grind: Lighting diagrams for many of his photos. That's right, not only is he shooting a lit photo a day, but he is also spelling out his techniques for anyone following along.


If Only I Had that Kind of Time...

So, what kind of loser has enough free time on his hands to light, shoot, diagram and publish to the web non-stop? (aside from the obvious, of course.)

Well, if you are a Gmail user, you have Dustin to partially thank for it. Dustin was an engineer on that team at Google. As for myself, I am not sure how that Gmail tech stuff works. But you can get a basic idea with this video.

Dustin worked at Yahoo before that, and recently moved over to Twitter. In fact, he announced his resignation from Google with a tweet. The guy's got flair, I'll give him that much.

But suffice to say, he is a plenty busy guy to be tackling a significant project like this. And if you are interested in trying a 365 yourself, I got a chance to shoot some Q's at him about his year-long journey thus far. So I'll just shut up and let him do the talking.

(As always, click on any of the pix to get to the Flickr page, which in turn will point you to his lighting diagrams.)
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Dustin Diaz on the 365

Q: Talk a little about the framework for the project. Has this been harder than you expected, or has your lighting grown easier and more intuitive because of the repetitive nature of it?

Doing a "365 project" is of course, not uncommon among photographers. To give some brief history, I had already been taking pictures several months prior to even beginning the project. In regards to daily shooting, I have been a photographer for four years.

You know the old saying -- "you need a camera to take pictures". So I carried mine everywhere. However, moving into the 365, the point was not to see if I can push the shutter every 24 hours (that's easy) but rather to invoke the challenge of being a creative editor. Choosing just one image from a bunch is hard -- really hard. And then starting that process all over again the next day, well, that's just exhausting.

I have, however, found it easier over time in deciding what photo I want to take each day by simply focusing on single-themed photos. This is as opposed to going out and taking a variety of photos and then having to decide between having "too many" photos at the end of the night.

In regards to being "harder than I expected," it has been. But that's only because expectations continually change, and the level of expected quality grows and having an audience that gives constant feedback is terrifying! But once you have an audience, you can't stop. Or at least, I can't.

As far as "lighting" goes (since this is the Strobist blog, after all) it's a double-edged sword. It's easy to fall into the trap of taking the same photo using the same light settings, but in different locations. But part of the goal of the 365 is to try new things, make mistakes, and do things out of the ordinary.

For example I never thought I'd be running in the middle of traffic, leaving a tripoded camera in a windy suicide lane, clamping lights to people's garages, or paying homeless teenagers to trigger the shutter. But to quote a friend, it's like "taking crack, responsibly." Being a daily strobist is hard, yet addicting, but one must be responsible enough to put the gear down for a day, and then let your next idea wait another day.


Q: Speaking of that, has the project revealed the limitations of your bag of lighting tricks? Are hitting a wall, or are you growing as a result of those exposed boundaries?

Yes, there are limitations, but first, a quote from Michael Freeman from his book The Photographer's Eye:
"The important decisions in photography are those concerned with the image itself: the reasons for taking it, and the way it looks. The Technology, of course, is vital, but the best it can do is to help realize ideas and perception"

Thus, in one sense, to say one is only as good as their equipment is a bad outlook. I am, however, at a point in my photography career where I've set myself up to mostly "not worry" about gear. Between my wife Erin and I, we have six speedlights and six PocketWizards. Needless to say, I don't feel hard done by when it comes to lack of light. The only real limitation is my imagination (for lack of a cheesier expression). And no amount of gear is going to solve the problem of making a good photograph with meaning. So yes, this is difficult.

From an Engineers perspective, one would think there's only so many combinations of lighting setups before you're doing the same tricks over. And nobody wants to be a one-trick pony — at least I don't.

But to this point, there are only three things that have gotten easier:

1) leaving the house
2) setting up
3) tearing down


Therefore, the biggest stumbling block each day is the "what" and "where"-- and the occasional "how much time do I have before midnight," which has happened on several accounts.


Q: You famously swapped horses from Google to Twitter. At Google, there is a decent-sized community of photographers, and even a pretty tight group of guys into small-flash lighting. Is there a similar cadré at Twitter? If not, have you seen any interest from others due to your project?

Google is an Engineering company. They have a photography mailing list. Most of the subjects that popped into the list were related to pixel density, f/stops and lenses with an infrequent link to someone's personal photos requesting a critique.

None of these are bad things, as they represent the culture quite well. And as far as I remember, very few were into strobist photography. I had helped organically grow one small group within the Gmail team, and it became quite fun for a lot of us.

On the flipside of the coin, I am more interested in the art of photography. For example, learning the inverse square law was fun for a few days. But in the end, it's only a mean to an end. Taking photographs that actually evoke emotion is what I am after, and light plays a major factor into creating that feeling.

Nevertheless and to the point, Twitter is a much smaller company (in regards to employees). And there is no photography community. If anything, there is a strong coffee cadré, which I will happily embrace. The goal was to lead the Frontend Engineering team, not seek camera friends.


Q: What advice would you have to anyone considering a 365 project? I.e., in retrospect, would you deliberately choose a broad or narrow visual framework, and why?


For anyone crazy enough to do anything out of the ordinary for 365 days, you WILL get tired. But specifically for photographers, find inspiration in other places besides photo websites.

Watch an episode of LOST or Heroes, then perhaps go buy a comic book. (Hey, I'm not even into comics, but there is some good strobist inspiration in those things). Or better yet, just leave the house knowing you can't come back without taking at least ONE good photo that you're happy with.

And lastly, reflect often. Notice your own improvement and try to out-do yourself — not others. It does not take a 365 to do this. I mainly chose my custom 365 framework to bring forth challenges that were appropriate to what I wanted to get out of it. Therefore broad or narrow, whichever framework someone chooses, I believe self-challenges are always a great way to better oneself.
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Oh, and Speaking of Twitter

Back at Strobist International HQ, we know we have been extremely neglectful of late in the Twitter department. It started off on it last summer, with more enthusiasm than long-term strategy. Then the upstream conversation quickly got to take up far too much time in the workday. It was kinda like trying to take a sip out of a fire hose.

Right now, it is still dormant. But I am finally off of my travel merry-go-round and trying to work out a system that will be sustainable. If you want to be onboard for whatever ends up happening, you can click to follow here.

The only thing I can promise is that, for a little while at least, it'll basically be the sound of crickets chirping (tweeting?) in the distance. But when I decide how to light it up again, you'll be the first to know.
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Links:

:: Dustin's 365 Site ::
:: Dustin's Lighting Diagrams ::
:: Follow Dustin from the Heart of the Twitterverse ::


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38 Comments:

Blogger architer said...

great article!!! i love dustins photos.. he's hte reason i started 365, and i'm enjoying every bit of it. more power!!

June 12, 2009 12:47 AM  
Blogger Joey said...

Dustin is a great photographer and his strobist info and videos help those like me expand our bag of tricks.

Keep up the good work!

June 12, 2009 1:10 AM  
Blogger Akif said...

Okay, I'm officially depressed. Every time I think I'm getting better, some one like Dustin comes along, and takes me down many notches.

Excellent work. I had seen the guitarist on the street pic, but today went through his whole 365 day project.

Wow.

June 12, 2009 1:14 AM  
Blogger Gabriel said...

:) Amazing.. I've found Dustin Diaz flickr yesterday :) It's just amazing...

June 12, 2009 2:26 AM  
Blogger Mutt said...

Amazing stuff.

You have to admire the creativity, ability, motivation and above all dedication of the man.

Zack Arias refers to this kind of endeavour as "GOYA" (Get Off Your Arse). Basically, when you've hit a creative wall or if you're just being lazy get yourself out there and take some pictures. I'm definitely guilty of laziness but after seeing Dustins work I'm inspired.

I'll be following his site and Flickr stream with interest.

June 12, 2009 2:31 AM  
Blogger Bruko said...

wow.
Guy is inspiring. I'm feeling the urge to catch up and that's a good thing.

June 12, 2009 3:25 AM  
Blogger Marlon said...

365 projects are hard. tried it, fell short of 360 days. LOL.

will try again when i have more time on my hands.

June 12, 2009 4:19 AM  
Blogger Aniruddha Bokil said...

I follow his photographs every day. I really like his lighting setups. It was really sad when one of his photos was removed from the strobist pool coz he dint write the strobist info. But i think his way of giving strobist info is way better than writing " camera left, camera right". He is a cool guy and i am looking forward to see more of his work. Thanks DH for interviewing him :)

June 12, 2009 5:17 AM  
Anonymous tony said...

yeearrgh! strobist is finally on couchsurfing. yay! i just searched in the groups section...

June 12, 2009 6:41 AM  
Anonymous HMT said...

Been following his 365's since day 60 or so... thanks for the tip! This guy's amazing (in terms of creativity) and surely deserves some cheers (beers)

June 12, 2009 7:27 AM  
Blogger Marc-Andre Lariviere said...

I've been following Dustin's flickr for quite a while and I'm very impressed with his style and technique. Very inspirational!

Keep up the good work, Dustin and David! And thanks for everything.

June 12, 2009 9:04 AM  
Blogger Mainline Mom said...

Wow, good stuff! Very inspiring. I admit I tried a 365 self-portrait project once and gave up before even reaching 100. I can't imagine trying to do it with lights.

June 12, 2009 10:23 AM  
Anonymous Steve Wetzel said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. It was very inspiring to me. I just started a daily photo blog last month and to me it is challenging enough to put up a photo that I have taken in the last several days!! That said I do feel I am growing from the experience and it is extremely rewarding to get comments from people you do not know about your photos.

I encourage all that are interested in improving your photography to start a project, any project that forces you to shoot more. It does not have to be a 365 project.

June 12, 2009 11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dustin's work is absolutely brilliant, as much for content and commentary as for lighting. It's completely awesome that you put this up.

Great stuff.

June 12, 2009 11:30 AM  
Anonymous Eric Cote said...

Wow! Very inspirational indeed! It takes a lot of dedication (and imagination) to do that kind of commitment. I'll have to kick my own arse and start shooting and lighting like this guy

June 12, 2009 11:51 AM  
Anonymous Daniel Yap said...

Superb shots. I admire his determination. It also somehow encourage me to start something similar......

June 12, 2009 1:45 PM  
Anonymous Joseph Farrugia said...

What Diaz does NOT mention in his setup pics & vids is......the way he creatively uses white balance.
For example in the Spider-man shot; take a look again & try & guess what he did.....

Very interesting stuff from a well-of guy with quite some time on his hands :)))

June 12, 2009 7:07 PM  
Blogger Dustin said...

Thanks everyone for the extremely generous comments — this was very well received beyond belief!

Joseph Farrugia - My day also includes 24 hours like everyone else, I have a full time job, a wife, and shoot professionally on the weekends. Hence the "challenge" aspect of it. It is still not easy by any stretch of an imagination.

The note on white balance is not necessarily a secret, but I would encourage folks to seek out various color temperatures and how gel's affect the color output from our speedlights.

June 12, 2009 10:17 PM  
Blogger James said...

I checked out most of his 365 project and I really like how he describes his setups. Although sometimes it a little hard to read. He has some pretty imaginable shots. Several gave me ideas to try and put my own spin on it.

One thing I do wonder is if he every gets hassled while he's out on the street shooting? When you start setting up lights people start asking for papers. And since it looks like a lot of it is shot close to night, I would imagine people would really wonder what he is up to.

June 12, 2009 11:08 PM  
Anonymous Fotografi said...

Impressive body of work.
365 days project are really difficults, you have to paln the shooting and to realize them.
I really like the picture and diagrams. Well done and nice link.

June 13, 2009 2:15 AM  
Anonymous Kuba said...

Amazing tips! Great photos!

June 13, 2009 6:37 AM  
Blogger Will Brenner Photography said...

That is one incredible resource.

June 13, 2009 4:57 PM  
Blogger David Young said...

Was out sitting in the street tonight trying to get backgrounds like Dustin - pub throwing out time so was fun :O)

Best flickr stream I've seen in a long time.

June 13, 2009 6:49 PM  
Anonymous Andrew A. said...

I feel so inspired by this update I spent my Friday night going through dustin's site and flickr photostream taking it all in.

First stop this morning was to the camera store to pull the trigger on a lightstand and umbrella.

Inspirational.....

Thanks Dave et al. for sharing everything

June 13, 2009 8:42 PM  
Blogger Salfrico said...

loving the night street shots. am liking his lighting a lot. inspiring as well...

June 13, 2009 10:32 PM  
Blogger Kristina said...

Inspiring and though provoking.... I think my next 365 days will be an interesting adventure!

Kristina Iverson
After Coffee Design & Photography

June 14, 2009 12:18 PM  
Anonymous Jason said...

excellent work and such inspiration... That and the "Im on a boat" video link from Erin's pic in the flickr stream changed today from a bad day to a happy one for me!

June 14, 2009 5:00 PM  
Blogger M said...

Believe me, this guy will be famous..hope he is still kicking on the 365th day

June 16, 2009 6:23 AM  
Anonymous numbeos said...

so inspiring...each day different setup...Just started following his blog daily..thank you...

June 16, 2009 8:19 AM  
Anonymous Marty.FM said...

I've learned more from you and Dustin in a few months than I have from years of independent study - thank you both for your efforts!

June 17, 2009 7:21 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

I must say this blog is the best I have ever read and I am learning at such a fast pace it is unreal. Thank you strobist without you guys I would not have known of dustin Diaz or of his site the strobist den. Thank you

June 21, 2009 1:41 PM  
Anonymous Aspen Photography said...

This guys shots are amazing. Love the light in the 1st photo on this page. Inspiring.

June 29, 2009 7:04 PM  
Anonymous Josh said...

This is one amazing resource for all budding photographers and inspired me to give soemthing simililar a go - just for the week.

I was amazed how this can develop your ability as a photographer, both technically and creatively - definitely something I will come back to - thank you so much for this great post!

July 01, 2009 7:13 PM  
Anonymous Fábián Gábor said...

Dustin is very talented. He had a great idea, and his project is really inspiring and also motivating. Just go out and take photos every day. That's the way how an addicted photographer should do.

July 02, 2009 6:31 AM  
Anonymous Danne said...

I've been following Dustins work at flickr for a while now, and I must say that I get so much inspiration from his shots.

Just the idea of making a "strobist setup" that big every day is huge.

I'm looking forward to the rest of his 365, since I tend to put myself infront of the camera strobist-style a bit aswell.

July 03, 2009 8:09 AM  
Blogger Mark David said...

Just discovered your blog it’s really good. This blog is so helpful. I have been reading this blog for some time I have enjoyed your blog. my husband and I are enjoying your post. Wow... this is a great article. I am from England and follow his photographs long long time. I really like his lighting setups. I think dustin diaz's is very talented. He had a great idea and his 365 Project is really inspiring any body but 365 Project project are really difficult. But i know u have done it. Excellent work! Keep up the awesome work. thanks Dave for posting and sharing it.

Thanks
Cecil Mabry
my site

September 10, 2009 12:39 PM  
Blogger andrei said...

Great stuff. I just started my own 365. Not entirely strobed but definitely moving that way. I'm on day 9 and have definitely not even realized what this means/takes - watch me finish or watch my demise at www.pixeldarkroom.blogspot.com.

October 26, 2009 2:37 PM  
Blogger Caleb Kerr said...

I did a 365 in 2010 and Dustin provided much inspiration for me. And he's dead on - sometimes it just comes but a lot of the time you have to really force yourself to not come home until you have something you're (at least a little) proud of. It was the best possible thing I could have done for my photography.

June 04, 2011 9:26 PM  

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