Two Photographers On A Bus

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Wow, this is impressive. Former Baltimore Sun newspaper photographer David Hobby and Joe McNally of LIFE and National Geographic fame have turned their burgeoning blog/workshop business of teaching hobbyists and semi-pro photographers how to light with small strobes into a 29 city 13,000 mile fully sponsored bus tour (here). First off, it’s amazing how effective blogs are at getting the word out. I honesty don’t think they will have to do a stitch of advertising to sell out all those cities (unless they’re rocking an arena tour). I’m also marveling at these two photographers who’ve looked at what was happening in the business and embraced teaching all these people clamoring to learn more about shooting. Obviously, both are great teachers and this not something you just decide to do overnight unless you have the proper skill set and have spent a good portion of the last 3-5 years developing an audience for it. And the photography manufacturers who’ve gotten on board, what an incredible method to get the word out about your product, a frickin’ bus tour of all things. It’s amazing isn’t it, that in the internet age it comes down to a couple of dudes on a bus. Of course, teaching amateurs how to light their badly conceived images may horrify many of you, but that cat ain’t going back in the bag.


There Are 45 Comments On This Article.

  1. It doesn’t horrify me. I don’t see myself competing with amateurs or their badly conceived photos. If they learn to make photos better than mine, then good for them. It’ll give me even more incentive to push my own envelope.

    Competition exists in every business – and in a lot of industries it’s a lot more intense than in ours. Anyone threatened by a GWAC/Strobist — I feel sorry for you, sort of….but only sort of.

    • @Scott Hargis, I agree wholeheartedly Scott. This strange and somewhat paranoid fear of amateurs that some seem to exhibit has always baffled me. If they view an amateur as major competition than they need to re-examine their own skills and business. Everyone was an amateur at some point and needs to acknowledge that amateurs sometimes become pros and the next generation of this industry.

      • Will Foster

        @Luke Copping, The fear is that amateurs have no idea of the value of their work. Hey do you want to do a cd cover for my band? Do it for free… think of how famous you’ll be! I hope I can live off fame alone.

        • @Will Foster, Agreed. So teach them the value of their work. How else will they learn?

          This is my point Will. If professionals continue to allow paranoia to rule their actions they will continue to alienate talented amateurs who, whether professionals like it or not – are going to continue to shoot and to have an antagonistic relationship with professionals. Whereas by fostering and educating amateurs more professional behavior can be instilled in them by example and leadership. Creating a much more positive environment of competition based on creativity, skill and insight.

          I think far more harmful to the industry are the professional photographers who are cutting rates, lowballing, and trying to compete with amateurs on price out of fear – when they should be trying to compete on value and vision. They are out there and of course they don’t talk about it, but it is going on. And that is far more harmful as it creates a precedent of harmful pricing practices in the professional community BY professionals.

          Have amateurs become the scapegoat Du Jour? Sure, is it justified? in some ways yes, because there will always be toxic individuals who will continue their ignorant behavior regardless of education or knowledge. And in other ways no, amateurs are not out to maliciously destroy the business of the professional, there is no cabal of them meeting to discuss how best to steal jobs from us. Many of them just don’t know any better. And that can be changed if more photographers take a proactive role to reach out to them. At the same times photographers need to find new ways to demonstrate and increase their own value in their clients eyes rather than blaming external forces.

        • @Will Foster,

          Free market, baby. If they (the dread amateur) are able to produce quality work, and that’s a big “IF”, consistently, then who are we to tell them what to charge for it?

          I think that photographers who are pursuing a commodity-based business plan probably do have a lot to worry about – they’ve been having problems for years, in fact. If there’s little or no difference between your product and a soccer mom’s….then what value to you really bring to the market?

            • @Will Foster,
              Not “Photographers”.

              It’s “Photographers who don’t produce something that clients could easily do themselves” that will fade into history. That’s all I’m saying. Things change, markets change, business models change.

              I can grow tomatoes in my back yard. Do I feel guilty about not buying them from a professional farmer? Hell, no. Could I keep a straight face while listening to a professional farmer piss and moan about amateurs driving him out of business? Nope.

              What I *can’t* do is grow those awesome organic portobello mushrooms that I love so much – and I’ll pay pretty much anything to get them. That guy is in no trouble at all.

              See where I’m coming from?

  2. While most of my own images may well be poorly conceived, I have to take exception to the generalization that the photos made by amateurs are poorly conceived. I know some amateurs who blow away a lot of the pros whose work I have seen. I’m just sayin’.

  3. “Of course, teaching amateurs how to light their badly conceived images may horrify many of you”

    If that horrifies you then you have no business being a photographer.

  4. Awesome Rob. I really needed a bit o humor this morning after a tough start in the week.

    I think there are those who have an eye for creating a well defined image, it just comes naturally. Teaching those that don’t have it how to do it is like teaching a two year old how to develop Kodachrome.

    I will also say this, there is a boat load out there that have the ability to create great images but they often allow the enigma of seasoned image maker to create a level of fear that inhibits the creative flow. Let your thinking and creativity flow, do what you see and think. If it turns out, great, if it doesn’t, refine it so it does. Thats what McNally and Hobby have done. JMHO for what it is worth.

  5. Whoa! This pro versus amateur thing seems to be misunderstood. Don’t confuse amateur with lack of skill or talent. Rather, consider that pros are artists with day jobs.

  6. Gofuk Yosef

    I always love the comments that dis amateur photographers — as if being a pro is some sort of noble birthright. Everyone was an amateur at some point. Everyone has had their share of badly-conceived images (well lit or not). And badly-conceived images aren’t restricted to amateurs, BTW.

    The real interesting part of this post is here is yet another example of talented, professional photographers doing things other than for-hire photography to earn a living. If you want to be horrified, that is probably a better reason.

    • @Gofuk Yosef,”The real interesting part of this post is here is yet another example of talented, professional photographers doing things other than for-hire photography to earn a living. If you want to be horrified, that is probably a better reason.” Word.

      • @John Eder,
        Exactly right, hmm..let’s see, how about a bicycle tour showing how to ahh..

  7. I’m not so much horrified by the amateurs, I’m often inspired by them, flipping thru sites like Flickr or Tumblr. What I’m horrified by is the hoard of clients that assume that just because someone has a camera with a shit ton of megapixels, that they’re qualified to execute a professional level shoot. I’ve been hired as a “digital tech” to hold the hand of an in house “photographer” who had zero experience shooting on figure. When the client asks me if I could light the shoot too, I have to draw the line. Its painful trying to explain to them how I’ve dedicated half my life to the creation of images, three years of school and ten years of on set experience, and that know how comes at a price. A price that you’re obviously not willing to afford. Its shocking to me that these often thriving, viable companies are willing to settle for mediocre and often times downright bad images.
    We need a national advisory board, like the Milk Council or Cotton Inc. Informing consumers and clients on the benefits of working with professionals. But that cat probably aint goin back in the bag either.

  8. The best way to make a bag of money in photography is not to take good photos, but to invent something that tells other photographers how to do something or invent something that we all think we need! I’m working on my re-focusing software right now. Stay tuned. – pt

  9. I don’t think the majority of pro photographers are horrified by the actual work of amateurs (well lit or not), I think it is the amateurs having very little understanding of how to price a job, lowballing to get work just for the thrill of shooting on assignment, and driving down the valuation of the pro photographers’ product that is horrifying.

  10. Amateurs and semi-pros aren’t the only ones learning a lot from guys like McNally and Hobby. Every one of these stops will be heavily attended by seasoned pros and amateurs alike. In fact, David and Joe both attend several workshops a year as paying students. Joe Mcnally took a Jay Masel course last year in part to learn how NOT to light more effectively for example.

    This tour will include something worth the cost of admission no matter who you are. The only pros who need to be horrified by anyone attending this event are the ones who don’t see the value in it for themselves.

    • @Kevin Halliburton, I agree Kevin. I am a pro and I plan on signing up for this one day event here in Boston. I believe if I learn one new idea or refine and old one I am better off for it!

  11. Looks like they got their buddy Scott kelby to do the poster…strobist 285 hacks still come in handy all the time…

  12. There is a certain cynicism in this blog that reveals the typical insecurities that plague the majority of photographers, both pro and amateur alike. Ones opinion of photography is subjective. I viewed some of your photos from a recent interview on this blog and I wasn’t blown away, but that is just my opinion. I am a pro, shoot every day and edit my own photos for a large media company. Many of the photos that I have submitted that I think stand out from some others were not used. The ones that almost didn’t make the cut were selected for publication. They were selected by an editor with their own opinion of what makes “good” photograph.

    By writing “Of course, teaching amateurs how to light their badly conceived images may horrify many of you, but that cat ain’t going back in the bag” you reveal your own personal bias about what you think good photography is and that is your right. Making a blanket statement like this only demonstrates that blogs truly are just one persons view of a certain subject.

    • @Laura,

      You’ll see that attitude all over the internet… it’s interesting because I have a lot of happy, working successful associates, and I myself have only a few minutes a day to read things online. I think the internet provides an echochamber to the insecure and unsuccessful that presents a sort of distorted reality.

    • @Laura,

      I disagree. Among professionals there not much debate about what is and what isn’t a great photograph. Photographs that are actually used for something is another matter but just looking at images most professional agree on what is great and what is shit.

  13. I’ve read nearly all of the posts and there are many valid points being made. Technology has enabled people with no photographic skills to make images that are in focus and properly exposed. This same technology allows them to take an endless amount of images at virtually no cost. This has lowered the barriers to enter the photographic market and flooded it with images. I’ve had clients ask me to bid on jobs and many of them were honest when I later asked why they didn’t go with me and said that they preferred my images and that mine were clearly better than who they were hiring but the person they hired was half the cost. (I have actually adjusted my pricing and usage fees for our current economic state) I really don’t have an answer for this. I’m not overpriced and I’m not lowering it any further. The simple fact is that I get fewer jobs.

    The reality is that people choose with their wallets. Even though the amateur’s images aren’t great, they are often good enough. It’s a sad state to be in but it’s just reality. Our business is not much different than any other. Try being a record label!


  14. Any working photographers who turn their noses up at the thought of taking seminars or classes because they believe they already know all there is to know aren’t professional; they’re delusional.

    I have to agree with what many have already said here; that if you’re threatened by a guy who one day randomly picks up a camera and the next day is stealing your business, you probably chose the wrong field to get into. I spent years as a designer/art director and I know how easy it is to lose clients because they want to go with the cheap guy rather than pay for quality. But if you have true style and skill you’ll find work. It’s just tougher to find the good gigs.

    As a photographer who is self-taught but is regularly published and earns his living through his camera, I’m not sure where I fit in terms of “professional” and “amateur”. When people who are established in the industry make comments that are easily taken to be snobbish or elitist, I have to wonder how so many of them apparently came into the field as seasoned professionals from the start? Is that the mentality of many college and university photography professors; that they have to spend another wretched semester teaching talentless hacks how to properly light their poorly conceived photos? Didn’t we all start at square one?

    I also have to wonder how many English majors and professional writers are out there cursing the internet because it allows so many amateur “writers” a venue for self-publishing their work? Do they read our articles and think, “Somebody needs to teach these people how to properly punctuate their poorly conceived stories.”?

    But you know, that cat ain’t going back into the bag either.

  15. Hey – I would spend $99.00 to learn how to make my CLS Nikon strobe kit work they way it was promised. If Joe and David can save me the aggravation of this system, then I’ll gladly spend a day rubbing shoulders with non-pros who want to learn.

  16. Besides the good/bad photography question, I think the community part of this is the most interesting thing. People want to be together and share all this new info and help each other sift thru it. That is important. Building it to this scale is not easy by far.

  17. Pro/amateur arguments aside, I think it’s funny that Zach Arias was the very first to do the lighting workshop bus tour concept last year, but never got the press/fanfair that this has, even though he’s in the same circle.

    That said though, for $99 you know I’ll be there.

  18. I agree with much of what’s been said about the amateur/pro conflicts, but it still irks me a bit, just from my own conception of what quality is.

    IMO, the lighting-by-strobe bandwagon is about at its peak, as evidenced by this bus tour. I wish them success. I just find 99% of the well-exposed, well-lit images to be cliche at this point.

    How many gridded-beauty dish lit overcoming daylight images can you stand? I agree with Photo Editor here — it’s not about the technical process, it’s whether the results are any good, and to be really good, you need to be creative and not doing what 99% of everyone else is.

    The whole “strobist” look is just one of many “looks” that are now cliche to anyone who has any visual literacy (most people don’t).

  19. Amature photographers are the walmart of the photography world.

    If you shop at Walmart, to me, you can not say anything.


    Why is there no belittling or name calling of Canon and Nikon or others who are mass marketing to this worthless lot? Why is there no name calling to all the Workshop businesses from National Geographic to Sante Fe to Maine charging top dollar for the amature and the Pro to spend a week with best in the business? Come spend a week with a top name Photographer and learn the tricks of the trade in a few sessions.

    I am in LOVE with photography.

    I am just happy that I know what is good and what is not.

    I do NOT shop at Walmart.