Flash The Bus

So we find out a few days before the TFB_Austin stop that we might actually be able to park the bus inside the venue if we were interested.

(Um, heck yeah, we're interested…)

Within about 5 seconds, it was decided that McNally would light and shoot it as part of the afternoon class. And I knew that Mr. Heinz 57 Speedlights would come up with something typically cool. But I wanted to grab it guerilla-style, before heading off to lunch, so I could have a souvy pic for myself.

Him: 19 cases of gear -- 1,000 pounds worth.
Me: Traveling light: 1 Nikon D7000, a 12-24 and a couple of SB-800s -- no stands, no mods.

Given that, I was happy with the ~3-min, lower-impact bus shot I got during the break. Keep reading for the "McNally wanna-be-on-the-cheap" version, and a link to the Real McCoy…

First, gear limitations: With the room's ambient, my pop-up flash and 2 SB's, I had a total of four light sources. That's one less than I needed for this bare-bones shot. So I scrounged another SB from attendee for the extra light. Stone soup, right?

Here is the diagram:

Remember, you are not lighting the full, 3d object. You are painting three planes with hard light: Bus side, bus front, and background.

All of my flashes went right on the floor. No stands (or VALs) were used. I just laid them down and angled them up to feather the light off of the floor and avoid hot spots. The first light was placed perpendicular to the bus's side panel, and zoomed to fit that panel. Pretty sure it was on 1/4 power.

Similarly, I aimed a zoomed flash (@ 1/8 power) on the floor at the front, from a perpendicular angle (meaning, directly into the front of the bus.) This would kill most of my reflections if I shot on the diagonal. I still got some hot spots on the bumpers near the corners.

The borrowed flash (SB-900, I think) was placed behind the bus and angled up at the wall. In retrospect, I could have used an extra stop out of that one for more separation. But I was moving pretty fast. Don't think too well when I am late for lunch.

The (small chip) Nikon D7000 and 12-24 was placed on the polished concrete floor to use the reflection. I used the pop-up flash on very low power to fire off the SBs in SU-4 slave mode. It made the floor way too hot in front of the camera, so I stuck my hand under the bottom of the pop-up to gobo off the floor. The slaved flashes still tripped.

Even though we could not see the back light, it cascaded off of the flash which was lighting the front of the bus. SU-4 mode in a Nikon flash is very sensitive -- never got one single misfire. I like the photo, considering it was pretty much a quickie scrounged snapshot.

And With a Little More Gear...

Of course, Joe was having none of that. ("Bring me ALL of the speedlights, boys…") Plus, he borrowed several from the crowd -- and some VALs to aim them, of course.

I am just stealing his flash pops with a timed, 6-sec exposure here after guessing the aperture and ISO. To see what he did with a few more lights and a few minutes' time, check out his post. (It's also a pretty accurate look into what it is like to tour in a 55-foot dutch oven...)

East-Bound and Down

The Flash Bus is currently patrolling the MidAtlantic region, headed to the Northeast and onward. We are having way too much fun, and meeting lots of cool folks.

If you are near a city with seats left, c'mon down. If your city is sold out (many from the second half are) usually some seats become available a couple days before the date.

I can promise you a full day of fun -- and a firehose of information. Long pants, I cannot promise. One has to draw the line somewhere. Hope to see you there...


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Blogger Mark Heaps said...

Thanks for the great session that day. I enjoyed being a VAL and it was really cool posing with Cyn for the lighting of the bus. Thanks again, safe journeys!

- Mark

April 04, 2011 3:16 PM  
Blogger volkoff said...

Hey David!
IMO you totally pwned McNally this time - I like your shot 100 times better.
Cudos on that.

April 04, 2011 3:33 PM  
Blogger c said...

I love that you are using an APS-C sized camera. It shows the all the 'pro' photos don't have to be taken with a full frame or medium format camera.

Keep on strobing!



April 04, 2011 3:38 PM  
Blogger StickPeopleProd said...

Great post. I actually like the simpler lighting of your shot than the TTL Master of Multiple Flash. It illustrates that you can still get great results with minimal equipment. Look forward to seeing you in Madison soon.

April 04, 2011 3:51 PM  
Blogger Calvin said...

The lighting and the shadows makes your photo much better than Joe's. Guess it is possible to have too many lights. Thanks for the awesome workshop!

April 04, 2011 4:08 PM  
Blogger Trevor Dean Photography said...

Well done Mr. Hobby! No offense to Joe (as his shot is definitely cool in it's own right) I am totally digging yours more. I like the ambient feel to it, and I even like that the seperation is not overly dramatic from the background.

Nicely done!

April 04, 2011 4:15 PM  
Blogger Garrick said...

Hmmm...I'm liking yours better. Can you give estimates on time, weight and number of batteries? Got to see Joe for a few hours at PSW...wish you had been part of that line-up, too! What are the odds of you doing something in Florida??

April 04, 2011 4:15 PM  
Blogger D. Travis North said...

A pretty cool behind the scene's thought process...I love these types of posts. Especially when the subject is something as big as a bus. You've pulled everything into perspective and really made everything seem quite approachable. 2 flashes for a bus this size? Never would've thought it was possible.

Psst...don't tell Joe - but I like your pic better.

April 04, 2011 4:48 PM  
Blogger michael said...

definitely a toss up between the two shots. They are both awesome for their own reasons. Under 3 min is great. Not knocking McNally but how long did his take? Rhetorical of course. Good luck in Philly, rough crowds. My hometown. I'll try to get a peak at the bus since you guys were sold out even after a couple cancellations. tried and sold out again. Great job!
In hindsight, my wife would have killed me if she saw a charge for that on the cc statement. lol.

April 04, 2011 4:49 PM  
Blogger Zaug said...

The winner, hands down.
Once again -less is More.
Your shoot looks almost as if it was shot outside after a rain;
Totally Beautiful result.
IMHO, Joe's shot shows way too much of the building especially the ceiling, and makes very little use of that wonderful polished floor.


April 04, 2011 4:51 PM  
Blogger Mark Dunlap Photography said...

That really is a nicely done shot. The bus looks great and I would have to say I prefer this version over McNally's version. But don't tell him I said that!

April 04, 2011 5:59 PM  
Blogger Vimal Joshi said...

You both have a super shot on the bus. As per me, The Joe's Shot is more subtle. The side flash in your shot looks a bit harsh.
Your set-up is easy to understand and practice and shows that it could be done with only two or three flashes.

Both the shots for me doesn't give me the feel of the fun and crowd you have present there.

But the second shot you made is truly amazing. In that shot everyone can feel the current that was going to be there. Awesome work both of you.

April 04, 2011 7:33 PM  
Blogger Lou said...

Love your shot, David, and really appreciate that you & Joe come from such different perspectives that helps NooBs like me gain a much broader understanding/appreciation for approaches to lighting a given scene.

Safe travels!

PS: Really loved hearing about the HoCo360 project as well - very cool! I'd be interested in learning more about your templated approach in the context of my own community.

April 04, 2011 8:59 PM  
Blogger John said...

I had a great time at the Nashville stop! It was definitely the best photography seminar I have been to.

I learned a lot from both you and Joe and am deeply honored to have been a VAL for you guys too and it was a pleasure getting to meet you in person.

Hope the rest of your tour goes well!

Oh, and I promise you won't ever see me again at 6am. ;)

April 04, 2011 9:09 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Mr. Hobby,
Thanks for today, great class in Raleigh-Durham. I took more notes durning your talk and more photos during Mr. McNally's talk. Both where full of great info.

Thanks again.


April 04, 2011 11:29 PM  
Blogger Eye said...


Love your shot for a number of reasons. As said before, less is more, bus really pop's, great reflections. But I think the real winner is, HOBBY is well lit, McNally fades to black - intended, just maybe. However, you both missed the "BUS" on one thing - the cab. I would have added just a touch to the cab interior.

See you in Boston.


April 04, 2011 11:31 PM  
Blogger Benjamin Geiger said...

Could you please add a glossary, so us beginners who haven't been following the blog since time immemorial can know what you mean by terms like "VAL"?

April 04, 2011 11:33 PM  
Blogger GrandePatzer said...

Very cool shot. I like yours better: it has more "mystery" and "mood" to it.

April 05, 2011 1:23 AM  
Blogger jojo said...

I like yours better. Cleaner and simpler. thanks for the post!

April 05, 2011 1:31 AM  
Blogger John said...

Great shot, David! It's a wonder what you can do with a few flashes. Looking forward to seeing you and Joe in Boston on Saturday!


April 05, 2011 2:26 AM  
Blogger David de Groot said...

I too will chime in and say I prefer your shot to Joe's. I find the wider angle and less distraction in the background works well.

What I would have liked to have seen was a fourth flash inside the bus to add a little definition to the cabin as that front corner starts to lose separation.

April 05, 2011 5:56 AM  
Blogger wonderlens said...

Realizing that I could have pulled this shot off with the gear I own makes me feel powerful and humble at the same time. Powerful, because I have the technical possibilities and humble because I realize that I still have a very long way to go to think up stuff like this myself :)

April 05, 2011 7:28 AM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Great to see your take on the lighting of the bus after being there for the afternoon light up. I just did my first small flash shoot this weekend after the Austin workshop and was able to get some portraits that I never would have imagined I could ever figure out how to do on my own before the workshop with you. It is great to know the language of lighting to learn fro
m any shot I see now! I can't wait until your in town again!

April 05, 2011 9:04 AM  
Blogger underdog-battery said...

Hobby 1 McNally 0
Jon Falk -

April 05, 2011 11:27 AM  
Blogger Pam said...

David I love your shot a lot more than Joe's. I think Joe is awesome but I just love the contrast and it just looks more naturally lit. It amazes me that you can light up such a big object with just 4 flashes. Great job.

What ISO did you use for this shot?

April 05, 2011 12:11 PM  
Blogger matt said...

In this case, less is more. Your shot wins.

April 05, 2011 12:14 PM  
Blogger Rob Horton said...

Agreed. Hobby's shot is far and away the better of the two. Strobes be damned, the composition alone puts it over the top.

April 05, 2011 1:28 PM  
Blogger Richard G said...

Your image was amazing and eye catching. I figured it was the winner for best Flash Bus image when I initially saw it, and then I realized it was just one of your quicky snapshots you just "threw together" in a couple of minutes. It is an order of magnitude better than Joe's (and no, I didn't write just the opposite on his blog). Using the right light is often better than using all of the light LOL.

You can't beat it when you have a studio large enough to park a bus in. Glad to see you guys made the most of it.

I'm wishing I had been a split second quicker with the Altoids when you were in Phoenix, I think your DVD would have been more appropriate to the style I shoot in than Joe's :) Although his has been fun to watch.

Glad to hear you guys are hanging in there and still having fun on the trip. Hopefully enough so that you'll be willing to do it again in the future.

April 05, 2011 1:32 PM  
Blogger As Seen by Janine said...

LOVE this shot of the Flash Bus David!

Dare I say (despite my thrill at my recent overspending on three Canon Speedlights the Canon ST-E2 ETTL Wireless Transmitter for TTL off-camera control), I really prefer your simple manual shot on the Flash Bus.

However, there are also many of Joe's TTL shots of other subjects I prefer...

For me, the verdict remains, BOTH manual & TTL are good in different situations.

Enjoy the rest of the tour! Janine

April 05, 2011 1:33 PM  
Blogger S Kelley said...

I absolutely enjoyed the Flash Bus Tour in Durham. You made me really rethink my approach to starting the lighting process. Well worth the ticket and the drive from Charlotte. Also it was very cool of you and Joe to say hello to everyone in line before the doors opened. Thank you sir!

April 05, 2011 1:43 PM  
Blogger TMSmalley said...

Fun story but it's much easier to do a still life like this by "painting". And ---- you get more even light than trying to cover the whole side of the truck with one flash in the middle and still avoid edge fall-off. This usually results in a hot spot in the middle and too dark on either end of the trailer.

At the commercial studio I worked at "back in the day", we used to shoot semi-trucks, airplanes and buildings with PH-5 clear flashbulbs (before strobes had enough power.) Lock down the camera and tripod, set it to "Bulb". Turn off all lights. Have an assistant fire the flash bulbs one by one as he or she walked around the subject matter - being careful not to get between the camera and the flash - after you lock open the shutter - covering front of lens with a black card between shots to avoid ambient light.

Works the same with strobes only fewer burned fingers! You could turn on interior lights for a short time to light up the interior of the aircraft. Had to judge exposure by guess or by golly but used color negative with more leeway than chrome.

April 05, 2011 2:18 PM  
Blogger Bronson Dorsey said...


Having been there and witnessed how differently you and Joe lit the bus, I think your approach produced the better image. That was a fun and informative day.

Hope the rest of the tour is as successful.

April 05, 2011 2:41 PM  
Blogger underdog-battery said...

Hobby 1 McNally 0, but a little pop inside the driver's perch would have been nice. Jon Falk -

April 05, 2011 2:43 PM  
Blogger David Solo said...

I,m Humungous fan of Joe, but this time you take the cover.
Sorry Joe.. !

April 05, 2011 3:35 PM  
Blogger Frances said...

David -- you made the FB look sexy (sorry Joe, I too have to go with DH's photograph)!

I thoroughly enjoyed the Dallas TFB -- and can't thank you guys enough for your time and talent!

April 05, 2011 3:43 PM  
Blogger davephoto said...

Enjoyed seeing both approaches, not one hundred percent sure which I like better, but yours was cool to see how much could be done with relatively little light sources in a quick-set mode.

Just arrived in Phillie (from Baltimore) for your show tomorrow... looking forward to seeing both viewpoints.

April 05, 2011 7:54 PM  
Blogger Jimbob from Texas said...

Your shot rocks! I know this will hurt Joe's feelings, but you have the better capture.

April 05, 2011 8:01 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Oh come on now David.....Don't leave us hanging on the camera settings for that awesome Flash Bus Shot. :) Yours is definitely the better shot this time. Love that more for less.

April 05, 2011 8:06 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I was seated on the left (stage right) end of the group only a few feet away while you were shooting this (and had been one of several people helping a fellow attendee shoot multiple exposures with a single flash just before you made your shot).

I must say that I find the low angle, using the reflection of the floor with the comparatively few flashes employed to have not only achieved a superior result, but one which illustrates what can be accomplished by an individual with comparatively limited equipment compared to what Joe accomplished. In fairness to Joe, he was attempting to do something comparable to a two day studio set in 30 minutes.

Thanks for posting the image as I had wondered if we would ever have the chance to see the result.

April 05, 2011 10:02 PM  
Blogger Sunita said...

Thanks for a great time in DC! You both are just amazing!

April 06, 2011 5:50 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Duffy Photography said...

Loved this David!!! Just to let you know...you gave the inspiration for an editorial shoot and now the know how to get that added texture and depth that I was missing...

Can't wait to post them, glad you guys came to Nashville.

April 06, 2011 8:09 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Duffy Photography said...

And PS....Don't tell Joe. I liked your shot more..... :)

April 06, 2011 8:10 AM  
Blogger David Sr. said...

JM is brilliant of course. But to me this is a lesson in "LESS IS MORE"!! No disrespect to Joe, but David, your image is excellent (no comparison)! Love the reflection on the floor and this vantage point. Well done as always!

April 06, 2011 1:51 PM  
Blogger Mark Hansberger said...

1. I also prefer your bus shot to Joe's (no offense to Joe).
2. Happy 5th birthday to Strobist.
3. I'm very excited as my Lighting in Layers DVDs should arrive any day. Thank you for all you have done for the photography community.

April 06, 2011 2:54 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

David, was in the audience in D.C. and thought it was fabulous and learned a lot. I live in Clarksville and I think what you are trying to do for Howard County with HOCO360 is wonderful and I wish you the best of luck!

April 06, 2011 4:02 PM  
Blogger MDH said...

Definitely likes your shot better!

April 06, 2011 4:44 PM  
Blogger Drewmon said...

Gotta' call it like I see it...

The minimalist approach pulled off a better photo than McNally's all hands (flashes?) on deck attempt.

April 06, 2011 5:41 PM  
Blogger Travis Campbell said...

To quote Scotty ...

"Cap'n, I'm givin' 'er all she's got!"

The flash on the backside of the bus was my SB900. It was popping at full power. Sadly, I forgot to do the super-sekrit key combo to put it into overclocked mode. Sorry David!

April 06, 2011 10:16 PM  
Blogger DJK said...

Enjoyed your presentation today in Philly. You and Joe make a great team. Thank you for sharing.

April 06, 2011 10:50 PM  
Blogger sosb said...

I love how you feathered your light off of McNally’s name!

April 07, 2011 3:18 AM  
Blogger Mario Brathwaite said...


What software did you use to create your lighting diagram?


April 07, 2011 12:14 PM  
Blogger Mario Brathwaite said...


What software did you use to create your lighting diagram?

By the way, I had a blast at the DC stop. You and Joe are awesome.


April 07, 2011 12:16 PM  
Blogger Bklynphotochic said...

Hi David,

I was at the FBT yesterday at your New York stop. I gotta say I was rooting for Joe when I came but you totally get my vote on the manual side. I am a female shooter and the answer to your question is that if we don't have an assistant lugging around lenses, lightstands, collapsable portable equiptment will just remind us too much of a big pocket book. So we light but more often than not is mostly indoors.

April 08, 2011 7:27 AM  
Blogger Vinnie said...

Great meeting you yesterday in NY. You and Joe did a great job. Here is a link to my blog post about the day (http://www.vincentmistretta.com/blog/the-flashbus-tour/). I have heard Joe speak many times but this was my first time listening to you and it was a great experience.

April 08, 2011 9:42 AM  
Blogger Earl Studios said...

Thank you so much for your trip to Boston yesterday. I have to admit, I really came to see Joe McNally, hes one of my greats and my top five people to meet before I die...just behind George Lucas, but I was just so impressed with not only your knowledge, but your delivery as well, and thats not something you can get from reading a blog, your the best, real, and down to earth.

So I took your advice about doing something like hobo360 and started a new food and resteraunt review blog, eatingnh.com, and hopefully I can start doing something along the lines of what you are doing, being a one stop for all things food photography in NH, using the new food blog as a vehicle.

your the tops broham, thanks!

April 10, 2011 10:36 AM  
Blogger mbigelowphotographer.com said...

Great shot, my friend! Looking forward to seeing you both in Chicago very soon. I actually teach lighting workshops myself as well. A very large majority of what I have I have learned has been as a result of this wonderful website, and of course, you. It will be great to finally see you in action.

All the best,

Matt Bigelow

April 10, 2011 12:39 PM  
Blogger martin said...

What about a couple more flashes to just gently light the interior of the bus.

Scary blue or inferno red?

April 12, 2011 10:48 AM  
Blogger martin said...

What about a couple more flashes to just gently light the interior of the bus.

Scary blue or inferno red?

April 12, 2011 10:49 AM  
Blogger George said...

Hey Dave, I just wanted to say "Thank you" for an incredibly informative day in Pittsburgh yesterday. It was well worth the trip from NJ (NYC was sold out).

You mentioned studying the old masters for ideas. Last December I was taking a local photo course and the instructor had us do a self portrait in the style of Georges de La Tour's "The Pentitent Magdalen" (http://www.all-art.org/history252-14.html). He gave us no tips, no mention of lighting as an option, only that we had to make it appear as lit by a candle flame, which must be exposed correctly.

I ended up with this (http://georgereiner.smugmug.com/People/Portraits/15163331_7VBUY#1137498586_VVCWd) which was my first try (it took a long long time) with the CLS and off camera flash. The day after that I started seriously studying Strobist. Now, I'm traveling across two states to see some flash bus thingy.

Thanks, I guess... ;)

April 12, 2011 10:04 PM  
Blogger jkar said...

I like your concept. very clean and I like the reflection of the bus in the floor.

April 18, 2011 10:30 AM  
Blogger derith said...

My thanks for taking the show on the road. We caught up with the tour in Madison WI...just a short drive from outer mongolia Iowa. I cam into it with the " you should understand your gear and use it in manual" bias. Still have it. So much to try.

The gray hair who reminded you guys to find the owner of the found wallet...

April 18, 2011 4:10 PM  
Blogger Box of Frogs said...

Just seen this post and gotta tell you, I prefer your photo to Joe's. Nothing wrong with his but your image just carries more atmosphere.

April 28, 2011 2:52 PM  
Blogger JFarrisPhotography said...

Thank you for doing the Flashbus Tour. I was a VAL in Phoenix and it was a great experience. I took lots of technical things away from the session but two things in particular that I got from you: engage with your subject. I wish I'd spoken up and asked you a bit more about this. It's a struggle sometimes. And, while I have heaps and heaps of books and magazines, I now have a folder on my desktop of inspiring images I see around the web. Thank you.

April 28, 2011 10:29 PM  

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