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June 10, 2011: Yay, my E3 2011 photo essay is ready, you can see it here!

April 21, 2011: I recently watched the new educational photography DVD set “Lighting in Layers” from David “Strobist” Hobby. It’s quite a large collection, with seven DVDs, six are designed to be watched on a TV/computer in the usual way, while the seventh contains the contents of the first six DVDs more heavily compressed and formatted for mobile devices.

The tone of the videos is very informal, it’s basically about watching David Hobby set up shots, making mistakes, putting the model at ease, etc. There seems to be minimal editing, with the video cameramen frequently visible as well as background observers like the model’s boyfriend, makeup people, and others, not a big deal, it just contributes to the informal atmosphere of the shoots. Each DVD features two shots taken from initial setup to completed photo, followed by a lighting diagram and a discussion of why he set up the lights that way. It’s quite educational and enjoyable, although I wouldn’t have minded a bit of a tighter edit, as it tends to drag in some places and requires a significant time commitment to watch the 10+ hours of video. The Asian model shoot and the dancer shoot were the most interesting to me, but he also photographs a blacksmith, a beekeeper, kids’ sports, a frog, and a team of fencers for variety.

Mr. Hobby prefers manual flash settings, usually using optical triggers, only using TTL and radio triggers a few times in the videos. The videos aren’t really about gear, but he does use Nikon equipment and takes advantage of some Nikon-specific functionality, like built-in optical triggering and, in the outdoor sports photos, uses a particular model of Nikon camera with a very high flash sync speed, which wasn’t very educational since most people don’t have access to that camera.

One thing that surprised me about the DVD set is how much of it is devoted to a particular side project of Mr. Hobby’s, a local-interest web site called “HoCo360”, which he uses to build local connections in his area in hopes of leveraging photography and the Internet to create a viable business long-term. He really, really wants to talk about Hoco360, and brings it up many times over the course of the DVD set. I wasn’t particularly interested in this topic, since I mainly want to learn about photographic lighting, not being soft-sold on a web site, especially while watching a video called “Lighting in Layers”, not “Ideas For Creating Photography-Related Revenue Streams In The Internet Era”.

A somewhat funny issue I noticed is that Mr. Hobby partnered with another high-profile photographer, Joe McNally, for a recent national lighting seminar called “The Flash Bus”, and the marketing shtick for that promotes Mr. Hobby as the single-light guy and Mr. McNally as the multi-light guy, but if you watch both of their new video sets, Mr. Hobby’s lighting setups are often using MORE lights than in Joe McNally’s set. Not a problem, just funny.

Throughout the video Mr. Hobby often asks subjects to look at their pictures on the LCD on the back of his camera, several times asking a model to comment on the picture displayed on that three-inch screen from six feet away! I couldn’t help thinking using the Apple iPad for this purpose would have been a fun thing to add, to demonstrate a better way of handling this. After watching the poor models craning their necks and hunching over to see the camera LCD, “Dude, get an iPad!”, kept running through my brain.

One final comment is that this DVD set focuses on the particular type of photography where the photographer has total control over the shot and the unlimited cooperation of the subject, so he can set up whatever gear he wants, take as much time as he wants, take a hundred flash photos of the subject to get the perfect shot… although this is interesting and educational, there are other types of photography where these things simply aren’t possible, and I frequently find myself in those situations where I don’t have the kind of control necessary to take these types of pictures. What do I do when I have fifteen seconds to get a shot, can’t set up lights, and have a security guard glaring at me?

Anyway, I enjoyed “Lighting in Layers” and recommend it to anyone really into photography who wants to use manual flash, and who wants to hear Mr. Hobby’s thoughts on the evolution of photography as a business. Whether or not it is a good value is subjective, although the photo shoots feature new material, readers of the Strobist blog should already be very familiar with the presented techniques.

April 13, 2011: Regarding the difficulty/impossibility of buying tickets for the BlizzCon gaming festival: The basic problem with BlizzCon tickets is that more people want to attend the event than can fit in the Anaheim Convention Center. The real solution to this problem is to have the show in a larger venue, like the Las Vegas Convention Center, for example, which could easily hold every Blizzard fan who wants to come to the show. Las Vegas has many other advantages, imagine if Blizzard cut deals with appropriate Strip hotels so we could have guild meetups at Excalibur, a goblin takeover of Treasure Island, Zerg Creep on the Strip… Vegas can do that sort of thing, Anaheim not so much.

However, since that doesn’t seem to be an option under consideration, we need a more equitable and certainly more profitable way for Blizzard to distribute tickets (Blizzard execs have been quoted in the press saying that they lose money on BlizzCon). For 2011 Blizzard sells tickets in three rounds, two early rounds for $175 basic tickets, then a late round for $500 deluxe tickets which have the additional value of a pre-show dinner with Blizzard devs. This is a little better than last year but still will not solve the massive scalping problem, evidenced by tickets going on Internet auction sites minutes after being purchased, often for 100% or 200% markups. Anyone who tried to use Blizzard’s ticket system last year knows that you have less than one second to click on “Purchase Tickets” before thousands of people get in front of you in the queue, making it nearly impossible to be certain of buying a ticket no matter how much you’re willing to pay.

So, why not extend this three round system so that each round has much different prices to maximize revenue and satisfy as many customers as fully as possible? Round One would be at some insanely high price, like $1000 per ticket, with an über value-add like the complete set of WoW steins or a 24-inch hand-painted figurine of your WoW character, etc. The number of these tickets would be limited only by the total capacity of the convention center, although they should not sell out at this high price. Round Two would be at something like $500 per ticket, with a lesser value-add. Then Round Three would be basic tickets for $175, however there would only be as many of these as are left over from the first two rounds. What is the benefit of this system? People who seriously want to attend BlizzCon can now probably get tickets as long as they are willing to pay. Scalpers would be mostly cut out of the picture (because people willing to pay more already did in the earlier rounds), so the increased revenue would go to Blizzard instead, helping them create a better show and encouraging them to do more shows like this in the future. What is the downside of this idea? Many people would pay more than $175 for tickets, however that is already the case, as the only way to be sure to get a ticket is to pay inflated prices to a scalper, and the cool value-adds available at the higher ticket prices will justify paying more for some people. Would you rather pay $500 to a scalper and get nothing except a $175 ticket, and that’s assuming he’s not a scammer and rips you off completely, or would you rather pay $500 to Blizzard and get some really cool toys as well?

March 25, 2011: I attended the Austin, Texas stop of the Flash Bus lighting tour featuring David Hobby and Joe McNally. It was interesting, they demoed various lighting techniques and gave out an excellent swag bag and prizes. The format was a bit disappointing, I had no idea 300 people would attend, making one-on-one time pretty much nonexistent. I thought I would actually be using my camera at the seminar but instead it was primarily a watch-and-learn type thing, which was good, but most of the material they covered I had already read about on their blogs and in their books. Anyway it was fun to see two expert photographers working in person!

February 16, 2011: I'm back from Las Vegas! Was a lot of fun, I learned to play craps, was briefly up over $300, that's all I have to say about that. It was pretty cold in the mornings but nice when the sun was out. Stayed at the Vdara City Center, very nice new hotel. Also went to see the Neon Boneyard where they have many of the old signs from torn-down hotels. Even earned my first "comp" ever, a free buffet at the Wynn, for my low-roller skills!

February 6, 2011: After multiple attempts, I finally got tickets to San Diego Comic-Con 2011, which is of course the biggest and best pop culture show in the country. Was very worried I could not get a ticket since there were endless logistical problems with their ticket sales process this year. Anyway, I'll be in San Diego from July 21-23 getting lots of photos and this year I will have a lighting assistant!

January 16, 2011: Today I bought a new Nikon D7000 camera, my first major upgrade since I bought my Canon 20D in 2004. Most Action Photos from now on will be with the new camera!

Emergences Past: