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Flash Bus Tour comes to Dallas

Sorry if you tried to reach me yesterday and I wasn't my usual pretty responsive self. I spent the whole day attending the Flash Bus Tour seminar at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas.

There are lots of working photographers who do terrific things with flash. But there are a few guys who stand out not just for their work but for their teaching. If you're a working photographer, you probably know these names: David Hobby, a.k.a. The Strobist; Joe McNally, the renowned photographer for SI, National Geographic, Life and other mags and also the author of some great books, including The Hot Shoe Diaries; and I would add as a third, Neil van Niekerk, photographer, author and blogger. Hobby and McNally teamed up this spring to run the Flash Bus Tour, a series of one-day seminars on flash use, focused at intermediate and advanced photographers. It was terrific.

McNally and Hobby on stage at the Hilton Anatole, Dallas

The seminar was great because both Hobby and McNally are enthusiastic, energetic and effective speakers, but also because they complemented one another so very well.

Hobby is a terrific photographer but he's also a terrific teacher. I scribbled notes all during his morning presentation, in which he laid out very useful principles about lighting. He urges photographers to use their flashes in full manual and build the lighting for a scene in an orderly manner described by the acronym AFKA ("Aussies Find Kangaroos Attractive" was the mnemonic he offered us): first ambient, then fill (bit of a surprise there), then key, then accent. He then showed us a number of his finished photographs and explained them. If you've been reading for years, much of what Hobby said will be familiar, but he said it really well, and to be honest, I've always found the info at Strobist to be a bit disorganized. So getting it all in one morning was great. You can see some of Hobby's work on a website that is an ongoing project, (a not-quite-blog about Howard County, Maryland, here Hobby lives).

McNally at work on stage

McNally is not as organized and logical a teacher as Hobby, but he's a truly remarkable photographer. And I was very pleased that, instead of talking, McNally actually took camera and lights and models and went to work there on the stage. While we watched from the room, he set up lights, made decisions, changed his mind, all the while explaining what he was thinking and doing. And McNally approaches things differently from Hobby. While Hobby favors manual control of the flashes, McNally is a big believer in TTL, especially since this works so well with the Nikon flash system. My own process has always been pretty much the same as Hobby's, but I was impressed at how easily McNally was able to control three groups of lights from the single commander/controller flash mounted in his camera's hot shoe. Lights still have to be positioned by hand, of course, but once the lights are in place, the photographer can adjust lighting ratios without having to touch the lights. I liked that. The Sony flash system (what I use now) also supports this kind of control and for the first time, I find myself really wanting to give it a try.

All in all, it was a day very well spent.


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