Photoflex celebrates 20th anniversary
Photoflex Inc. celebrates its 20th anniversary this month as a leading
manufacturer of lighting equipment for the worldwide photography,
digital-imaging, video and film
Based in Watsonville on California’s Central Coast, Photoflex (www.photoflex.com)
has pioneered in the development of high-quality, versatile lighting
equipment such as softboxes, umbrellas, reflectors, and continuous
It has also become a valuable resource for online learning. Photoflex Lighting School (www.photoflexlightingschool.com)
offers free photography and digital-imaging lessons for all levels of
photographers. And its Web Photo School (www.webphotoschool.com) is the
largest resource on the Web for paid lessons.
Following is the Photoflex company history, which can also be found on
the company website’s News & Info section under the heading “Our
Lighting the way to superior photos, films, and videos
The birth of Photoflex stems from the day in 1985 when Gene Kester was
setting up to photograph a cover for Architectural Digest in a dining
room overlooking San Francisco Bay.
A rod in a commercially made softbox broke as he and his partner
positioned the softbox above a beautiful table laid out with classic
silver and china. The two commercial photographers replaced the rod,
but the new one also broke. Reluctantly they turned to a softbox Kester
had constructed out of foam core and aluminum sheet metal, held
together with duct tape. As they raised the homemade softbox over the
expensive set, they prayed that it wouldn’t break.
Although Kester avoided disaster for this assignment, he felt
increasingly frustrated with the softbox options then available. He
turned to Scott Reeves, an old friend from their days in the ski
industry who manufactured fiberglass rods. Working with Kester’s
design, Reeves created a collapsible circular softbox with extruded,
fiberglass rods easily superior to the hollow rods of other softboxes.
Kester liked the new softbox, and asked Reeves to make a few more to
outfit his San Francisco studio and a set for location work. Reeves
replied that a minimum of 100 would be necessary for production of the
softbox to be feasible financially. Kester gulped but placed the order.
A few weeks later he took the softboxes to a small photography trade
show in San Francisco. The innovative new product sold out within two
hours. The owner of a major retail store offered to display more at his
shop, and another 100 sold quickly. A sales rep who saw them at the
store said a rep group to which he belonged could sell even more. It
Even though he’d developed a commercial photography clientele that
included Apple Computer, Hewlett-Packard, Macy’s and Bullock’s, Kester
literally saw the light. He sold his interest in the studio to his
partner, and teamed up with Reeves to start Photoflex. (Reeves remained
with the company until February 2000.)
First home in Campbell
Photoflex debuted in a corner of Reeves’ office in the Silicon Valley
city of Campbell. It produced the pioneering LiteDome(TM) softbox in
small, medium and large sizes, along with a connector for the strobe
lights that fit into the softboxes.
“That softbox was-and still is-better than any competitive product,
with stronger rods, more reflectivity, and very reasonably priced,”
asserts Kester, the company’s chief executive officer.
Photoflex also distinguished itself from competitors with an
unconditional, 30-day warranty. (Unlike other manufacturers, the
company still offers the same no-questions, no-cost guarantee.)
In less than a year, sales justified the move to a larger facility in
Campbell. Within a year the company had moved again, to an even bigger
space in the same city.
Photoflex continued to grow rapidly and expand its product line to
reflect Kester’s recognition of needs in the photographic marketplace.
Each new product was designed to complement previous ones.
The second product was an umbrella, introduced in 1986. Previously
photographers’ umbrellas had been made the same way as rain umbrellas,
which meant light passed easily through the fabric. Photoflex
engineered its umbrella with a white polyurethane coating on the
inside, more than doubling the amount of reflected light and greatly
increasing the strobe’s efficiency.
“We were the first company to look at the umbrella from a
photographer’s standpoint,” Kester notes. “We’re still the only one to
produce it this way. Other, less-reflective umbrellas lose F-stop
during shoots, and light seeps through.”
Next came the LiteDisc(TM) reflector in 1987 to complement Photoflex’s
softboxes. Like all other companies’ reflectors, the LiteDisc used a
single polyurethane laminate. A breakthrough in reflector design
occurred in 1995, when Photoflex reengineered the LiteDisc with a
proprietary, double-laminate design that significantly increased the
reflectivity and longevity of the reflector.
Number one in reflectors
“As the only company offering a double-laminated reflector, we sell
more reflectors and diffusers than anyone else in the world,” says
Sharon Reeves (sister-in-law to Scott Reeves), one of the first people
to join the company in 1985 and now its president.
The LitePanel(TM) followed in 1987, again featuring the only
double-lamination for lighting panels. With two colors for the price of
one, LitePanels provided the option of reflection or diffusion, as well
as a shock-corded frame for quick set up and tear down. Then the
LiteStand(TM) debuted in 1990 as a superior alternative to existing
lightstands, which only supported strobes and thus bent under the
weight of large softboxes. For the LiteStand, Photoflex widened the
footprint, increased the strength of braced supports, and used thicker
aluminum tubing to make it strong and worry-free.
Continuing sensitivity to photographers’ needs resulted in small but
important products such as casters. They allowed easy positioning of
heavy studio lighting equipment, and safe movement of softboxes and
LiteStands over power cords and backdrops.
Photoflex continues to serve the photography and digital-imaging market
with newer products such as the MultiDisc 5’n1(TM) five-reflector system
for studio and on-location photography, and the OctoDome(TM), an
eight-sided softbox that produces bri
lliant, soft, wraparound lighting
in versions designed both for photography and video/film. The Starlite
QL(TM) system debuted in fall 2004 as the successor to the
industry-leading Starlite 3200(TM), offering tungsten-balanced, continuous
lighting and an innovative cooling design ideal for heat-sensitive
Rapid international expansion
The company ventured into the international marketplace by joining
forces with Solecta, a Swiss distributor that introduced the company’s
products at the 1989 Photokina show in Paris. By 1992 European sales
dictated the need for a warehouse facility in Rotterdam. That facility
has relocated three times to accommodate growth in sales, and today
Photoflex markets its products through distributors in 51 countries
In 1989 Photoflex moved over the nearby mountains to a larger facility
in the seaside town of Santa Cruz. Within two years it outgrew that
location and expanded to another in the same town. In 2000 the company
traveled down Highway One to Watsonville, its sixth location in 15
Today its more than 200 products include a large selection of
softboxes, LiteDisc reflectors and LitePanels(TM), LiteStands(TM), umbrellas,
backdrops, continuous lighting and softbox kits for video/film/digital,
strobe and video connectors, transport cases, and accessories from
softbox grids to shoe mount multiclamps.
Customer service stands out as another competitive advantage. Photoflex
provides technical support for all of its products to distributors,
retailers, and consumers via phone, email, fax, and face-to-face
visits. When appropriate, its staff goes on location to help customers
set up properly lighted studios. The company website
(www.photoflex.com) also offers a wealth of information.
The move into video, film, and digital
As its dramatic growth continued, Photoflex sought out new markets in
video and film as well as the rapidly developing field of digital
Introduced in 1996, the SilverDome nxt(TM) softbox and Starlite 3200
tungsten light quickly found acceptance in the video and film
marketplace, and were offered as a kit that included connectors, lamps,
LiteStands, and casters. The kit has also proved valuable to digital
photographers, and ranks as one of the best-selling digital photography
lighting kits in the U.S.
The SilverDome delivers maximum light output and soft, even, natural
lighting, with a proprietary Brimstone(TM) fabric that makes the unit heat
resistant and extremely durable. A removable diffusion face and baffle
enable users to go from sharp contrast to buttery-soft lighting within
When used with a softbox such as the SilverDome, the Starlite provides
continuous, brilliant lighting for heat-sensitive subjects that would
otherwise wilt under ordinary hot lights. The durable Starlite also
uses much less energy and costs considerably less than strobe lighting.
The FlexDrop2(TM) serves both the digital-imaging and digital-video
markets as a reversible, chroma-key blue/green backdrop. Its superior
matte-finish fabric prevents shoot-through, and the colors don’t
reflect onto subjects, both of which enable better control of
Photoflex has continued its expansion into video and film with products
such as the CineDome pro(TM), MovieDome(TM), and ActionDome ENG(TM).
The CineDome pro is a softbox with a narrower and deeper profile that
maximizes the light projection of Fresnel lights and dramatically
reduces hot spots. Easily handling most major-brand lighting fixtures
of up to 2000 watts, it ensures maximum control of light source and
creates even, beautiful lighting.
MovieDome softboxes accommodate large, open-faced lights of up to 6000
watts. They are vented to cool hot lights and keep the lights a safe
distance from the highly reflective Brimstone fabric.
The ActionDome ENG supports electronic newsgathering and other video
recording activities. Adjustable ENG hardware mounts on almost all
on-camera video lights, and includes a removable diffusion face which
allows users to switch quickly from soft to hard light.
Among the honors earned by Photoflex products over the years are
Professional Photographer magazine’s annual Hot1 awards, presented in
1999 for the Starlite, and in 2001 for the MultiDisc 5’n1 and the
Photoflex’s support of traditional and digital photography led to the
creation in 1998 of a subsidiary enterprise, the Web Photo School
(www.webphotoschool.com). The online school offers more than 250 easy,
step-by-step photography and digital-imaging lessons for all levels of
photographers. Taught by leading photo industry professionals, WPS
lessons provide instant and practical online learning, with subjects
ranging from basic lighting to advanced computer imaging. In 2005 the
company expanded its Web presence with Photoflex Lighting School
(www.photoflexlightingschool.com) as a resource for free online
photography lessons, also aimed at photographers from beginning amateur
to seasoned pro.
Continuing commitment to lighting excellence
Photoflex was started by photographers who used its lighting tools
almost every day. In serving the worldwide photography, video, film,
and digital-imaging industries, it remains the only lighting-products
company with professional photographers in key positions.
“We’ll never market a product that we wouldn’t use ourselves or sell to
our friends,” Reeves states. “We’ve built our reputation on quality,
innovation and price, and we intend to honor that commitment to
consumers, dealers, and distributors in the years to