5.19.2011

A visual repudiation that "Strobism" and off camera flash were invented in 2006.

A1141699 by KirkTuck/photo

Love David Hobby.  Love his whole crazy bus thing.  But some of his followers have become rabidly zealous.  I just had a conversation with a follower who swears that David invented the whole idea of "off camera flash" and that the popularity of flash photography owes it's birth and subsequent burst into flame because of the Strobist blog.


Well......I have to differ with that.  And I scrounged up this image of moi (taken by Alan Pogue) as proof that we were slamming around photons off the camera for at least a couple decades before.  In fact, I'm going to bet that this photo,  showing a Canon EF film camera actually dates from the very  early 1980's.  What we have in this picture is Kirk Tuck in his twenties, a Canon EF with a 50mm lens and a six foot coiled cord connecting the camera to a Braun flash.  Sorry, I can't remember the model.


I was at the Sheraton hotel for the election night party with the then (obscure) Texas Republicans.  They lost.  Badly.  Really badly.  I am absolutely certain of one thing.......I was using hand rolled Kodak Tri-X film.


Off camera?  We didn't even have a name for it.  That's just the way we rolled back then.  We could figure out manual guide numbers faster than kids can text on an iphone.  And no screen on the back for a crutch.  I'll say it.  Photographers today are wimps when it comes to using flash.  Just wimps.  Turn that screen off and shoot some manual "off camera" flash.  It's not nearly as hard as everyone makes it out to be......  Did I mentioned that we were also able to focus our own cameras simultaneously with our guide number calculations?  Amazing.

45 comments:

Benjamin Wong said...

Your rock, Kirk!

sSteven Alexander said...

Being sightly older, at the FT. Worth Star-Telegram, I used SpeedGraphic and Heiland strobe off camera as well as Leicas in the 1950's-'50's....wo,wo.
So much for new in 2006.

CHUN CHUNG said...

The only thing that's new is it's cordless now. Kirk, nice hair :)

kirk tuck said...

Cordless? We had that too. Dark room. Camera on bulb. Push the test button......Shazam.

CHUN CHUNG said...

:) That's a good one.

Merle said...

Doesn't it depend on how far back you want to go?

http://media.photobucket.com/image/recent/timemachine1899/IMG_1680_2-1.jpg

(Sorry, I was hoping for a better linkable image - beard, black suit, etc. Tried the Library of Congress, to no avail.)

Couldn't resist. I guess maybe they weren't photons. Or were they? :)

Bernie Greene said...

That picture is frighteningly way too close to home. Looks like we could have been brothers.

Craig Yuill said...

That's funny. I remember a phase during the mid-to-late 1980s where I was taking macro and portrait photos with a hand-held off-camera flash fitted with a home-made softbox that I fashioned out of cardboard, silver mylar sheeting, duct tape, and shower curtain liner. (Yes, some of us actually made some of our own accessories and equipment.) Off-camera flash was invented in 2006, huh? I must've been in a time warp. Or ahead of my time.

Henrique Pereira said...

Kirk, You are my number one commentator on on the present state of photography. Thanks.

obakesan said...

Kirk ... that you publish that photo of your self (with that hair) shows how far you are willing to go to uncover the truth. You have to respect that. Wow ... that hair ... that's another story "man"

Anonymous said...

Once again Mr. Tuck provides the valuable perspective. Bravo.

Paul Amyes said...

I remember buying an Olympus OM4' a T45 and a 5meter TTL flash cable back in 1984 to do the off camera flash thing. Even went wireless with those pesky photocell triggers. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Yves said...

Amazing hair cut!

yansen said...

Haha! Love your retro hair, Kirk!

Jim said...

Funny, I've been saying the same thing--Strobist ain't anything new or revolutionary.

Around 1987, I was doing the college paper photojournalist thing and working part time as a photo assistant in NYC. For photo assignments (portraits of students and profs), it was 2-3 Vivitar 283s with Quantum 1 battery packs, Lowel umbrellas and Stroboframe umbrella mounts, all synched with a cord on the first 283 and a Wein slave on the 2nd. All the stuff, except the light stands, fit into my Domke F2. Of course, I used my Minolta light meter to measure the scene, balance the light output to the desired effect, and recording the entire thing on Tri-X, hand rolled of course from 100 foot rolls (just like you, Kirk!).

I'll give David Hobby credit, though; he's been able to capitalize on this whole thing, while I went off to do other things. Maybe there'll be a film resurgence and I'll be able to become the guru of loading 2 rolls of film on one reel, just like in my assisting days....

almostinfamous said...

even david hobby acknowledges the fact that he learned a great deal from people like dean collins who were off-camera-flashing back in the day. i guess he just amped up the business model to the internet age :)

JohnL said...

. . .and back in the 60's we were using Rollie's with over the shoulder Mecablitz flash units off camera and much later the lovely CT4's etc and while we are on flash units I found a dozen Vivitar 284's in a box going back to when I used them for 'off camera' location light source's complete with their slave units. I think I had around 18 at that time.
''Photographers today are wimps when it comes to using flash.'' I will second that statement sir!

Anonymous said...

IIRC, off camera was really the only way I *could* shoot with flash with one of the first cameras I used (a Kowa E).

Oh, and then there were all the old magnesium ribbon flashes - I don't recall them every having been mounted on camera....

GWC said...

your fro is pretty rad!

Nice article!

Mitch said...

John Falk. Guess he's the father. Or grandfather. Showed us how to link up 6 cheapo strobes with high power batteries and trigger them with IR slaves. Showed us how to put an inverter in our vehicles so we could use our DynaLites in a farm field. Nuff said.

Also, in 1980-whatever I had the spiffy Vivitar cord that let you remove the yellow-blue-etc sensor from the flash and put it on the camera while you held it with the cord a couple of feet away. I strobed high school basketball in 1987 with Vivitars.

Now you damn kids get offa' my lawn!!

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Didn't all these newspaper photographers have large L-shaped brackets, and their flashes (which were reflected from behind with those collapsible silver "dishes") high above their cameras? And slightly left also?

I think Mike Johnston had a picture of one of those on his TheOnlinePhotographer, when reporting about the one who got the shot, and the other who missed it.

Dave Jenkins said...

Jon Falk would be the first to tell you that he is neither the father nor the grandfather. He's the Dogfather! I still have a few of his Dog Batteries, but haven't used them in quite a while, since the NiMH rechargeables got so good.

All this information has been around forever, but the internet plus a good nose for opportunities has enabled David Hobby to really capitalize on it.

Apropros of nothing in particular, I shot my first wedding in 1972 with a Yashicamat TLR and M2 flash bulbs.

Frank Grygier said...

Young people have a very different view of the world. I believe that they have very little knowledge of recent history. We have a young software engineer that thought Motorola was a Japanese company. My point is the zeal they have for the things that they are passionate about should be nurtured. I am not sure a bus tour is the way though...

Bill Beebe said...

Another history point. I purchased a pair of Vivitar 283's in 1976 because you could remove the sensor on the front of the flash and attach it to the camera's hotshoe with a special extension cord, then hold the flash off-camera. And back in those days, you could slave other flashes with a cheap light sensor that would trigger the second flash, or just wire them up...

I used my Vivitars with Minolta cameras, the XE-7 and the XD-11.

Mike said...

I didn't know Will Ferrell was a photographer! ;-)

Actually, I had a 'fro, too. My high school photos look frighteningly similar to those of Napoleon Dynamite!

Dave Jenkins said...

I still have the off-camera cords for Vivitar 283s and 285s. Actually, it hasn't been all that long since I've used them.

Anonymous said...

I doubt that anyone ever used flash powder on camera! Steve Willard

neopavlik said...

Great picture. Reminds me of my dad's hair around the same time. Did you get perms too ?

Looking at manuals for my Speed Graphic it mentions flash cubes and 40w bulbs ;)

Ron said...

Kirk, great photo - the smile says it all!

I remember calculating the effective guide number of manual flashes when using extension tubes and bellows - it was some crazy math!

And I thought the Vivitar 285 with the sensor extension cord was the greatest thing ever... still have them around.

I think I have some retro photos on my website, too, at least the big sideburns....

Will said...

This photo bridges the gap between your byline photo and yesterday's photo of your son frighteningly well. Wonderful family resemblance.

Anonymous said...

Nice fro.

Kirk Decker said...

That photo looks a lot like Ben, or Ben looks a lot like that photo. When I did a lot of weddings in the early 80's, everyone I knew was doing the juggling act of holding the flash high and to the side with one hand while cradling a Mamiya C220 or Hassleblad 500cm in the other hand and hoping both were pointed in the right direction.
In the mid 80's we went to the slaved 2nd unit on a stand. After you did that, after you "two lit" a wedding or event, you could never in good conscience go back to anything approaching on camera flash.
There were also rumors - just rumors - of really crazy people mixing ambient and strobe by shooting incredibly high 400 asa films and dragging their shutters. Wild, crazy stuff.

Paulo Rodrigues said...

As I read this it made me think of the scene from Monty Python and the life of Brian when Brian gets his followers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nf76lynPdZc

The Cord he has shown us the cord! We will carry it for you master

John Krill said...

I'm having trouble with this off-camera flash history stuff. When I first started using a flash with my Kodak Pony 135 it WAS off camera. Held the flash in the left hand and the camera in the right hand. The fun part was advancing the film.

Yes folks since in invention of the strobe there have been photographers using OFF camera flash techniques.

Paul Glover said...

Totally digging that 'fro. I need one just like it to go with the manual focus Canon and Sunpak flash unit I've played with off-camera. There's something very satisfying about metering the flash with my old Luna Pro F and KNOWING that it's going to be exposed right before I touch the shutter release. Histogram? Pffft, I say. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Amazing that the masses have to feel that they invented something before they can accept it. So, a hack newspaper photographer leads a revolution reinventing techniques that have been in continuous professional use for decades? Amazing how little it takes to start your own religion.

Photo Rapture Anyone?

Rob Young said...

In my first pro job as an assistant wedding photographer I used a Kowa 6 and a Metz flash, off camera because I couldn't figure out how to put it on camera. Bouncing off walls and low ceilings was standard procedure. The guy I worked for had been doing that since the early '60s. But, I am still a huge fan of Mr Hobby. More power to his flash.

Eduardo said...

Kirk I got the opportunity to buy the text books of the NY Institute of Photography (used and old but full of great info) they were from around the 70´s at much beggining of the 80´s and guess what??? the "off camera flash" as they call it now was there in those old books :P...

I will ask a friend to borrow her scanner for a bit to send you some pages so you can show him:) Also David said he didn´t invented the technique in his articles in the blog but people seem to have skimmed that part..comprehensive reading is a lost art these days :(.

kirk tuck said...

Eduardo, Thanks for e-mailing me the information. Really fun to see that from the 1970's. David is a wonderful teacher. My comment is not meant to disparage his teaching or the subject matter, only the rabid attachment to a singular technique by his more zealous disciples.

It's almost becoming a religious cult.

Eduardo said...

I know Kirk! me neither, I respect David´s work and his blog too! it is those people who are making his great articles into some kind of dogmatic cult the ones that are really creeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeepy.

Does cafepress makes hooded cloaks? there´s a niche market with those rabid zealous disciples ;).

Craig said...

Yep, off camera flash is nothing new, I used it every day as a daily news photographer in the early 1970's. We didn't have Pocket Wizards, so one strobe had to be wired with a long PC cord, all the rest had optical triggers.

The biggest change I see is synch speeds. Most cameras synched at 1/60th. A few, like the Nikormat would synch at 1/125th, but they were rare. But when you're using Tri-X at 400 ASA (the ancient version of ISO) you couldn't synch a fill flash outdoors in bright sunlight. The solution - use flash bulbs. Flash bulbs have a rather long burn time, so you could use any shutter speed you want. I always had a couple of packs of bulbs in my bag. I still have the flash gun, but I don't think it works.

kirk tuck said...

Craig, let's not forget that most of us owed a Hasselblad or Rolleiflex and both of them would sync at 1/500th with flash. We dragged em out of the bag whenever we needed to do fill flash and sunlight. Better tools back then as well.

Anonymous said...

Amazing work done with limited tools. Those days artists were engineers and the art sang a beautiful tune.

tokyobling said...

Love that photo. I did my first off camera flash in the late 80's, but I didn't think about it as something special. In High School in the early 1990's we had IR triggered flashes to play with. Maybe this whole Strobist movement is a US thing? (^-^)

What happened to Alan Pogue by the way?

kirk tuck said...

Alan is still shooting injustice all over the world and still lives in Austin, Texas.