Minnesota Strobists Enter Their Second Year

It all started in March of 2006 when a photojournalist from Baltimore decided to blog about his job.

Strobist Turns OneDavid Hobby made his career taking striking portraits of interesting people. Using small flashes, he was able to take his lighting into the field to make location photos look like they came from a studio. In the summer of 2006, he ran a Lighting Boot Camp series on his blog, in which he set challenges for his readers to entertain and inform them. He showed the best shots and helped everyone learn from the experience.

Over time, the Strobist Flickr group grew, and fans started their own groups and organized local meetups to share and learn from each other. In October 2006, the first Minnesota group met in Minneapolis at an abandoned grain elevator. Four photographers and a dead cat was a modest start, but the group has grown over time to over 200 members and has monthly meetups where photographers, models and stylists from around the state network and learn from each other.

I have met some great photographers that I have shot with outside of Strobist, as well as some great stylists that I never would have known if I hadn’t found them at Strobist. As a model, I am pretty busy with paid work, so it’s hard for me to keep trying to set up TF [time for photos] shoots if I want to update my portfolio. It’s easy for me me if I keep going to Strobist.

Rachel Grubb

Some events have had more formal presentations on basic lighting and portrait photography, while most are open shoots where groups of photographers and models work together to find the best locations. The February 15th event is expected to be the largest yet with over 50 photographers, 10 models and two makeup artists meeting at the Minneapolis Photo Center in North Minneapolis. Registration for the event is currently full and there is a waiting list in case a spot opens up.

Members have frequently commented on how much they have grown as photographers since joining the group and attending events. Over the last year, I’ve organized and attended all but one of the events, and I’ve found that I learn something new at each one. This is partly from other photographers pointing out something I’ve never thought of before, but mostly from answering questions that I haven’t had to think about myself. I have found that, when you just know something in your gut to be fact, it takes some real effort to figure out how to explain it to someone else, and in that explaining comes real understanding. Through that understanding, I’ve been able to improve my technique and my photography. I have also had the opportunity to give a couple of presentations on lighting to this and other groups. Again, the forced thinking about what I do has taught me almost as much as I have taught my students.

“I met a lot of great photographers and in general really friendly people that were willing to pass on advice, share studio space, equipment and shoot the shit about anything.”

Shawn T.

I used to be something of a shy geek, and clearly many other photographers are the same way. Meeting with new people every month at an event where you know you’ll all have something in common has its own built-in ice breaker. As soon as I arrive at the location and see people chatting about Canons, Nikons and Alien Bees, I know everyone is connecting on some level. Meeting with others has even opened up some new business opportunities within the group. I now have a address book full of models, stylists and photographers to call on when I have new ideas or when I need a hand shooting a wedding, and they can call on me when they need something. If I want opinions on the best photo finishing labs in Minneapolis, or the best price for wireless triggers, I know the answers aren’t out of reach.

Another thing that constantly amazes me about this group is the outside connections we’ve gathered. Renting a studio can cost hundreds of dollars for a half day, but many of the members have studios we can meet in and several have gone in together on leases. In January 2009, we shot at Landmark Center. They set up a check-in table for us and gave us the run of the building for four hours on a Sunday. Every floor and every room was available for us to shoot in at no charge. I’ve been on tours there before, but I never looked at it as a location for photography. The environments there range from stone staircases to marble alcoves to hardwood rooms with vaulted glass ceilings. Each area had its own look, but all had features of classical architecture.

Kurt16, one of the early members recalls: “I think there were about 5 people at my first meetup. We had a studio rented for the day and there were a few models that were lined up, but none of them showed due to the snow storm the night before. We were sitting around taking pictures of pop cans and talking about light. I called up grey duck and he was able to get 3 models to show up on the spur of the moment. We had some fun, nearly all of my pictures were crap, but the rest is history.”

Kurt has also helped us out with his connections at Structural Wood Products, makers of huuuuge laminated wood beams. The building is lit with mercury-vapor and filled with wood, sawdust, and heavy equipment. March will be our second meetup in that location, and the anachronistic mix of woodwork, plastic and steel makes for an interesting environment filled with challenges and opportunities. Where else can you shoot lingerie on a fork truck or hand a model a sledgehammer?

I think the most important aspect of being around so many models/stylists is gaining a better understanding of what they are looking for, and how to collaboratively engage one another.

Bill Moss

Through these connections with models and photographers, I was given the opportunity to shoot at the Drop Zone, a skydiving school in Baldwin, WI, last summer. Melanie, one of the models, works there and wanted to do a pin-up style shoot with one of their airplanes. Three photographers came out to shoot, and we stayed until after sunset. Mixing the golden hour with portable lighting is a great challenge and a great way to pump up even a basic portrait. The shoot ended up being a lot like a Strobist meetup too. With three photographers, we would start with a basic tableau and lighting set up and each riff off of what the other two had done. In the end, we all learned something and we all came away with great pictures.

Minneapolis, City of Lakes, is rich with outdoor locations that don’t require inside connections. The Mississippi and Minnesota River valleys and Minnehaha creek in summer provide a lush, green environment interspersed with concrete and mechanization. Sure, you have to deal with the nearest public bathroom being miles away and a complete lack of electricity, but with the right directions and the right stylist, everything works out great. Overcoming these obstacles is just one of the many things a professional photographer has to deal with and experiencing them in a low-pressure, fun environment makes it easier to tackle when the clock is ticking.

I think it has made me a better photographer and has certainly given me a lot more opportunities to practice and learn.


In the last year, the Minnesota Strobists have helped me capitalize on my artistic abilities and improve my technical ones. I’ve also improved as a public speaker and community organizer. I look forward to the meetups each month as an opportunity to meet great people, have great conversations and make great art.

Ben Zvan is a Minneapolis photographer, designer and geek. It says so on his business cards.

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