Shoot! The Day Group Leader: David “Strobist” Hobby

Shoot! The Day is almost upon us, and 20 of our lucky members are gearing up to Shoot! On Location with 5 terrific photographers that are leading our different content categories. If the name David Hobby isn’t familiar to you, then maybe his blog, “Strobist” is. As one of the real Internet photo phenomenons, David has literally helped hundreds of thousands of people take better pictures using a little pocket flash, and we’re thrilled that he will be leading a group for Shoot! The Day.

Ok, David. We know that you’re a big proponent of small flashes, but in
your youth, did you ever covet your proverbial neighbor’s Profoto or
Broncolor lighting kits?

Nope. But… true story: When we were kids, growing up in rural central Florida and almost always bored out of our skulls, we used to use my dad’s 1,000,000 candlepower Q-Beam (that was a lot back then) in the middle of the night to wake up every single dog on the lake we lived on.


It was a mile across, but you really only had to catch the eye of one dog (at 3:00 in the morning) and it would cascade into dozens of barking dogs.

So yes, I was into lighting at an early age…

As a newspaper photographer who had to do a bunch of portraits on the
go, was developing your Strobist technique a matter of necessity?

Damn straight. My White Lightnings were great, but they lived under my bed and/or in my trunk. Eventually, I discovered that the best light to use was the one you always had with you.

For me, back then, it was a pair of Vivitar 283’s with Varipower controls (continuous manual, down to -5 stops) and Holly Flash Foot Ones on the bottom. (Aftermarket metal cold shoes with a household sync.)

Photo by David Hobby

When did you first get the idea to create an educational resource?

I needed a good reason to duck out of lecturing at my friend (and AP shooter) Gail Burton’s college photo class. I figured I would write down a few things. You know, to save time.

Did you ever think it would become an online community of 100,000s of
readers worldwide?

I figured that if I could reach a couple hundred students and young pros, that would be great. That was my original goal.

Were you very knowledgeable about the Internet, SEO, Web 2.0, etc
before you started the website? What has been most surprising about the
Strobist experience?

I did (and still do) suck at HTML. But I have always enjoyed teaching, and creating a fun vibe in the learning environment. I think if that is your goal, a lot of the 2.0 stuff starts to take care of itself.

I have made many friends over the last few years online, and some of them are very, very smart. That’s been a huge help. They have given me wonderful advice on all kinds of things.

Photo by David Hobby

What has been most surprising about the Strobist experience?

The way the whole community has gone both viral and nodal. The meetups are off the hook. The sheer idea that a bunch of amateurs would come together, regularly, to learn peer-to-peer lighting skills with almost zero money involved is so cool.

You have a huge amateur following. Do you ever talk about the
“business” of photography with them? And talk about the issues that seem
to burn the pros the most like working for free, microstock, etc?

I did a long, rant-ish post on that very early on. But I am proud
to say that I was a strong factor in convincing photo biz specialist
John Harrington to start blogging.

So I leave that subject matter to him. Dude knows his stuff. But there
is a lot of peer-to-peer discussion on the biz stuff in the Strobist
Flickr groups.

Knowledge is protection. Never more so than now. What PhotoShelter is
doing along those lines is a fantastic thing, BTW. Rather than screwing
photogs, you are facilitating your community into cross training each
other. That rocks.

*blush* Seminars have become a huge part of your business, and advertising has also become a part of the site’s revenue stream. Did you ever think your sources of revenue would involve you actually taking a picture? What wisdom can you impart to photographers about diversification?

Well, everything on the site *is* free, and my kids do so enjoy eating regularly. So I figured if I was going to do this, it had to be economically sustainable to work.

Your question on the seminars and advertising goes right to the heart of diversification of revenues, though. You cannot have one thing that is far and away your biggest income stream. If you do, you are pretty much held hostage to the continuation of that stream.

My goal would be to develop income streams such that if one of them suddenly disappeared, you would still be okay. For shooters, that might be assignment and stock. Or if you were just an assignment shooter, you would not want to be totally tied to just one community.

I do not care how good that last horse-and-buggy shooter was, I am pretty sure Henry Ford put him out of business anyway.

Photo by David Hobby

Photo by David Hobby

What’s the coolest technological development in flashes that you’ve seen in the past year?

I am not a real cutting edge kind of guy. Give me a flash with variable manual power and a Pocket Wizard, and I am happy as a pig in mud. That said, for wireless TTL shooters (Nikon CLS; Canon e-TTL) the RadioPoppers have really opened up some technological doors.

Even for me, the idea of being able to shoot FP high-sync flash at 150 feet wireless rocks. That mode really weakens the usable output of the flashes, so it is nice to be able to keep them near your subject and hang back and shoot tele.

When you’re at a family event, do you bust out all the strobes with the D-SLR, or do you tone it down a little? What’s the wife think?

My wife is a saint for putting up with me. And I am not just saying that because she is reading over my shoulder, either. Family events, I go both ways. Sometime available light, sometimes P&S (like everyone else, I love my Canon G9) and sometimes I will bounce a coupla speedlights into the corners of a room when there are gonna be lots of photos to be made. Christmas morning is a good example of the latter.

Photo by David Hobby

Your April Fool’s joke was pretty funny. How long did you plan that bad boy for?

More than a year, actually. Thought of it too late in ’07 to pull it off by 4/1/07. I have always loved April 1st. I am itching to pull a prank on the entire town where I live. Got a couple of ideas, too.

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

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