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.


New to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Got a question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist
Have a passport? Join me in Hanoi: X-Peditions Location Workshops