A Flash of Inspiration

Photo-Flash 1954

Toronto. My good friend David Bridge recently did a study of a little flash synchronizer intended to be used in the days when flash bulbs were common but in-camera flash sync was not.  His comments prompted me to dig out a few books on the topic, one of which is Geoffrey Gilbert’s book titled Photo-Flash on the cover and Photo-Flash in Practice  on the title page.

Originally published in November 1947 by Focal Press, my copy is the fourth edition, also published by Focal Press but in March of 1954. The book is long gone, but Focal Press is still around as part of Rutledge (itself an old company), now owned by Taylor and Francis famous for the magazine “History of Photography”.

I remember the frustration of being unable to take a photograph in light dimmer than afternoon sun outdoors. My first year in high school I was given a new Brownie Hawk-eye box camera which used Kodak 620 film and had a flash gun attachment and built-in synchronization. The camera used the newly popular #25 flash bulbs. A transparent plastic skin protected the subject should the glass bulb break. A dot on the top changed colour to alert the photographer the bulb had leaked air and was now dangerous. The bulbs could even be bought with a blue coating which served as a filter for use with the new and expensive colour print films.

The book sure brought back memories – not good either. Pictures of high contrast and deep shadows. Partially lit pictures due to using too fast a shutter (not on the Hawk-eye, of course). Or pictures too dark or too bright caused by a mismatch between distance and chosen aperture (usually a misunderstood guide number). Fill-in flash outdoors to soften the contrast on sunny exposures. Those were the days (as Archie Bunker used to sing).

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