Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Wescott Top Pro Tour - San Francisco

Taken with a Canon 40D and a 70-200mm f2.8 IS II at 200mm, 2.8, and 1/250 Sec  ISO 320 

On Monday, I had the opportunity to attend the FJ Westcott Top Pro Tour in South San Francisco, California.  What attracted me to this seminar was the opportunity to photograph different lighting setups with models.  Wescott had a done something similar on a much larger scale at Photoshop World in Las Vegas, but I was unable to attend. Now, you might ask, how does one set up a lighting demonstration and allow everyone to photograph at the same time?  Wouldn't it be difficult to set up the strobes and everything?  Well, that was my first thought, at least.

The solution is simple and extremely elegant.  Westcott makes a continuous lighting source called a Spiderlite TD5.  It's sort of a "What You See Is What You Get" approach.  Since the subject is constantly lit, it allows multiple photographers to take photos using the lighting setup.  I've seen these used before, but only in online videos and talked about in some books.  Actually seeing them in action definitely pushed me over the edge, and they are now at the top of my list as my next equipment purchase.  Now, clearly you can't really use these to shoot at f/16 for fashion-type photography, but for those who do family, baby, and senior portraits, they can be quite useful.  The nice thing about these lights are that they can accept both fluorescent daylight balanced full spectrum bulbs and tungsten bulbs.

Rod Evans photographing our model, Chelsea with the TD5 Spiderlites

The evening was divided into two parts, a basic overview of lighting techniques (short, broad, rembrandt, butterfly, etc) and a demonstration by pro Rod Evans of how he uses the lights.  The first part was given and demonstrated by John Williams, the Westcott Technical Rep,  who allowed us to photograph the beautiful Chelsea with the various lighting setups.  For me, this demonstration and the opportunity to photograph the different lighting setups was a terrific use of time.  I also got to break in my new 70-200mm f2.8 IS II lens, which performed beautifully.

After a short break, Rod Evans then took center stage and proceeded to demonstrate how he uses the TD-5's.  Despite his equipment not arriving, Rod made the best of a bad situation and watching him improvise with the equipment that was available was quite impressive.  He walked us through his basic lighting set-up and philosophy.  Then proceeded to demonstrate a high-fashion type shoot using the TD-5's.  Normally, this type of shoot would be done with strobes, but since the TD-5's were all that were available, he demonstrated as best he could the different setups, posing techniques and interactions that make him a "Top Pro".  He ended with a quick overview of how to make money using social networking (mainly facebook) and different tools that he uses to streamline his studio business.

Overall, I'd recommend this seminar for those looking to gain some knowledge of lighting or looking for some new ways to improve their use of lighting in their work.  For me, this was a very timely seminar as I work through launching my new website and focus on lifesyle photography.  There were a few things that I wish were done better, though.  First, there were no materials to take home, other than the Westcott catalogs.  Maybe I'm just spoiled by the Kelby Training Seminars, but it would have been nice to have some of the set-ups diagrammed for future use.  My memory isn't what it used to be.  The trade show portion was also a little on the smaller side (granted there were only maybe 50 participants as opposed to the 300+ that Kelby accommodates), and only Westcott was represented there.  It would have been nice to have reps from some of the other sponsors there as well.  The nice thing is that all 26 cities are being video taped and attendees will have access to all 26 seminar videos once the tour ends in mid-November.  The door prizes at the end were also very nice, including a 16GB Lexar card, a year membership at NAPP, a 5 in 1 reflector kit, and a complete OnOne Plug-in Suite  (which I already have and love) among other items.

If your interested in attending and want to save $20 on the registration fee (as I did), you can go here, to follow the link to get that savings.