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  1. #1

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    When did strobes become common in portraiture?

    I'm wondering when strobes became commonly used in studio portrait lighting? I'm assuming it was sometime in the 60s. Certainly in the 40s and probably 50s, hot lights ruled the studio. But when would a regular portrait studio have gotten a set of strobes?

    The reason I'm wondering is I'm planning on recreating some portraits taken of me when I was 6 months old in 1963 with my now 8 month old daughter. I suspect the photos were taken with hot lights - and it was a simple set up - subject (me) was facing to the right of camera, with key also to right of camera, fill to left and nearer camera, and a background light.

    While I'm not actually going to use hot lights, I will use a 6" dish (on fill) and 8" dish (on key) to try and simulate the harsher look of hot lights.

    Any comments on the history of studio flash lighting or my project are appreciated!

  2. #2
    wilsonneal's Avatar
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    I am reading Karsh's memoir and he indicates that some portrait studio competitors were starting to use strobe in the 40s. Speedotron introduced a 300ws pack and head in 1939.

    I remember visiting a studio as a 3 year old in 1966 and my portrait was done with hot lights.

  3. #3
    David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    One of the telltale signs of a strobe portrait, I find, is often the sharpness of the hair near the forehead or other detail in the sharpest portion of the image. There is a degree of sharpness that comes from the short exposure of the strobe that you just can't get with hot lights and a short exposure time.
    flickr--http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidagoldfarb/
    Photography (not as up to date as the flickr site)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com/photo
    Academic (Slavic and Comparative Literature)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com

  4. #4

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    I'd have to dig to come up with specific dates.........but the /60's were a turning point regarding interest in studio strobes, they were incredibly expensive, and dangerous. I can vividly remember reading one of my first articles on strobe equipment, where a photographer was so afraid of his strobes that he used a long stick to turn them on/off.

    'But when would a regular portrait studio have gotten a set of strobes?'....

    ......There weren't that many players/competitors then like there is now, and the equipment was cost probhibitive for the little guy.........Paul C. Buff and his original White Lightning units did a lot to change that, which pissed off the people who were getting a fortune for strobe gear at that time.

    Back then, you'd be forced to buy a WHOLE SYSTEM, nobody would sell you piecemeal, one light at a time, at the time I was just getting an interest in strobes, one of the few players would only sell a complete system for four-five figures, you weren't going to buy 1 or 2 monolights and start shooting. These folks weren't interested in any sob stories if you didn't have the cash.

    Articles were written about how the Paul C. Buff gear shouldn't work, these folks bought White Lightning units, took 'em apart, to find something they could to fault the units with, and couldn't. This went a long way in opening the door for the smaller outfits, and forcing the prices down, and think with the onset of roughly the mid to late 70's, and definitely the early 80's, you could then at least start w/a couple of lights to start shooting.
    Jonathan Brewer

    www.imageandartifact.bz

  5. #5
    dmr
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    I'm trying to think ... yes, dangerous, I know ... but one thing I remember distinctly about a childhood portrait session that my parents took us to maybe 1959 or 1960 is that they used very bright flash (which I did not like) but they did not change bulbs between shots. This was when I was first starting to pay attention to things like this.

    I do remember cloth (diffusers) over the flash and how I thought the flash would kind of sneak through it. I know I did not enjoy that session because of the bright flash. I'm sure they had to work hard to get a good expression out of me, because the thing I remember about that session after all these years was the flash.

  6. #6
    greybeard's Avatar
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    I, too, remember being photographed in the early sixties with strobe light, and by 1964 all of the school pictures in my area were done with "electronic flash". An old Kodak book that my father used in the 1930s illustrated a studio flash (I think it was the "Kodatron" that was a 2000 volt unit switched by a special relay. There was mention that the flash duration was so short that reciprocity failure required extended development to build contrast.

    As to the advent of "mainstream" studio photography with strobes, I would defer to those folks (if any will chime in) who were working in the studio business back then.

  7. #7
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    I worked with a guy who had a bunch of Ascor lights. It was a bank of power packs that took up half a wall at a studio. He was a hot light photographer and one day, he revealed these power packs. I didn't even know he can shoot with strobes. I turned it on and the entire studio was vibrating. Dangerous? I felt it was dangerous. I was used to Speedotrons and I've been shocked by them. But these Ascors....man, i'm telling you. When they went off, it went off with a big THUD!

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by eric View Post
    I worked with a guy who had a bunch of Ascor lights. It was a bank of power packs that took up half a wall at a studio. He was a hot light photographer and one day, he revealed these power packs. I didn't even know he can shoot with strobes. I turned it on and the entire studio was vibrating. Dangerous? I felt it was dangerous. I was used to Speedotrons and I've been shocked by them. But these Ascors....man, i'm telling you. When they went off, it went off with a big THUD!
    Each of the caps was 800 watt seconds & they could be daisy chained together(as I recall) to 96000 ws They had a head they called the sunlight that would take it all. It would actually rock a lightweight chair.
    Oh yeah, they could kill ya.
    Heavily sedated for your protection.

  9. #9
    eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Koehrer View Post
    Each of the caps was 800 watt seconds & they could be daisy chained together(as I recall) to 96000 ws
    Exactly!!
    I remember lots and lots of cords on the floor and each of the packs were attached to each other. I was scared, real scared considering being blown by plugging in a light to a Speedo and the thing went "boom!". It was unplugged too. I guess it keeps a charge.

    The light output was impressive though.

    He did, however, show me the difference on how hot lights would "wrap" itself around an object as opposed to strobes. It had a more 3d effect. So ever since then, I always lean towards shooting continuous light. Just my preference though, don't want to start a you-know-what vs. some-other-thing.

  10. #10
    Charles Webb's Avatar
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    In my own experience,we used Photogenic 1000wt hot light with 24 inch reflectors on the main and fill, spots of 1000, 5000 and the little 200 wt that is so popular even today. I got into Photogenics early strobes in the late fifties, and had move completely to strobes by the mid sixties. In the late sixties I think I purchased the first of my Norman units. In the seventies I went back to the hot light for a short period of time, but could not seem to get the same results with it as I did strobe. Still can't! I realize these comments of mine are of very little value, but I thought I would toss em in. BTW, One of the first things I learned when I went to work for Jafay Photographs in the Daniels and Fisher Tower in Denver was how to create "wrap around lighting" using electronic or strobe flash with Ascor studio units.


    Charlie...............................
    Last edited by Charles Webb; 12-21-2006 at 11:21 PM. Click to view previous post history.

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