Images are created in fractions of a second and our memories are often too poor to remember how we set up a particular shot. Indeed there is a part of us that probably feels confident in achieving the same look and concept, if only we knew where and how the off-camera flashes were placed, how they were modified or what our settings on the camera were. Well, a couple of weeks ago I connected with Janis Lanka, who founded Strobox.
Strobox is a place for all types of photographers to share how they set up that amazing photo! The easiest way to learn is to look at photos and their lighting diagrams so you can see for yourself how they were created.
Here is a, um, snapshot of the questions I peppered Janis with during our conversation. If you have other questions for him, please post them in the comments section below.
1) It's great that in such a short span of time, you have been able to create a community of photographers interested in presenting their work and getting it critiqued. How do you, however, qualify the images? Is it a free for all – anyone can post to the site regardless of quality?
While currently there are few basic rules that I screen each photo for, we are continuously adding measures that help us filter through spam or unqualified photos. It's important to note that Strobox is about a community that raises everyone’s awareness about photography lighting, and as a such, the quality control should be a part of community effort. The ultimate goal is that work displayed is a result of a joint effort from our community rather than just from one or two individuals who happen to have access to MySQL db!
Just like most who reads this, photography has been a hobby of mine taught to me by my dad with a Zenit camera. Fast forward almost two decades, my learning curve needed some improvement and I purchased a book about portrait photography which explained how each photo was made by giving technical information as well as sketches of lighting diagrams. That is when I asked the question on why such a thing is not available online. The idea was born and it took another 2 years to make it happen. An iPhone app, a community site, and a book later I still see it as a fun experiment.
Currently my day job consists of being a Strategy Consultant at digital agency “Blast Radius” and by evening I'm trying to coordinate a group effort to make Strobox happen – someone from Canada contributes their design skills, from Slovakia their CSS skills, from Lithuania their programming skills, and from England their editor skills, etc. The Strobox core team members are volunteers and not necessarily professional photographers. We continuously need more help (PHP anyone?) so if you want to join us, let me know!
3) I received Strobox 2010, your first book which is more of a compilation of some of the best work your site has seen in 2010. Books aren't typically huge money makers for their authors. So why take that risk?
No, making a book has not been our revenue strategy. First and foremost it's a celebration of our community and their efforts to help each other raise awareness about photography lighting. While this was yet another one of those enthusiastic experiments which resulted in hundreds of hours spent trying to figure out different legal and logistical things in the book-publishing world, it was totally worth it! Not financially, but the emotional reward is there when you hold that book in your hands for the first time. This book seeks to showcase our community’s achievements during 2010, acknowledge our top contributors, and most importantly, attempting to help us financially sustain our online community. On top of that, we’re also sharing 40% of the book’s profit with the top ten photographers who joined us for this initiative. This has been our first attempt at publishing, and we hope that we'll be able to do this every year and show our appreciation to our community this way.
4) Technique and using tools is one thing. Being able to craft images by collaborating with your subjects is another story. Do you think your site will ever shift the focus every so slightly to discuss that collaboration? That almost intrigues me more than what kind of a light modifier was used in the process of creating an image. Am I in the minority on this?
You are probably in the right minority by asking this excellent question! I would say that story and emotional response it creates is what makes a photo stand out from the others. Lighting technique is merely a tool to help you with that goal. I love listening to other photographers share their techniques and stories of collaboration – those things can't be methodologically systematized as lighting diagrams can. So, in a rather simple way the Strobox community is trying to do one of those “un-sexy” things and geek-out about photography lighting to help each other get the basics right so that sites like yours could take them to the next level.
5) I suspect with sites like 500px.com and Sylights.com, competition keeps you in check. What would you say Strobox does differently and better than those other sites?
Both of your mentioned sites do an amazing job and each of them excel at different things. Without getting in too many details, focus of Strobox should be changing a bit so stay tuned! Additionally, because this is mostly a volunteer experiment that is not based on generating revenue or trying to entice customers, I would rather ask a question of what keeps us doing this. It's our community members who write us and thank us for a useful iPhone app, it’s our Facebook fans who encourage us and like to hear what we’re doing, and it’s our community members who help us with moderation.This started as an attempt to get educated about photography lighting by looking at other examples. But it has turned into a platform for learning. When you learn something, we’ve done well.
Thank you for help us not just create lighting diagrams but also curate them and share them with others. We'll be sure to follow you on Twitter to hear more of your experiments and new features on Strobox.