Sometimes you just can’t find the right tool for the job. That’s why these photographers made it themselves—then sold it to the rest of us.
Dalibor Zyka’s Ray Flash turns a standard shoe-mount unit into a ring flash. Above: Kevin King’s RadioPopper converts the infrared beam of a shoe-mount flash unit into a more forgiving radio signal.
RAY FLASH: Dalibor Zyka. CˇeskÉ BudEˇjovice, Czech Republic
In the post-communist economy of the Czech Republic, Dalibor Zyka took whatever photo jobs he could find and tried to emulate the glamour and excitement of images from the West. He discovered that to produce their front-lit, rim-shadowed effect, he needed a ring flash, but he couldn’t afford one.
Then one day in 2005, as Zyka stared at cardboard cartons at a supermarket, inspiration struck: He could use reflectors and prisms to bounce the light from a standard shoe-mount flash down to the lens and, from there, encircle it. He assembled such a contraption from cardboard and metal foil. It didn’t work.
Failure didn’t deter Zyka. After hundreds of experiments, he put together a functional array of prisms and reflective materials that, when attached to a forward-facing strobe head, would bounce light down at a 45--degree angle to a ring-shaped reflector surrounding the lens, then send the light forward.
While his odd-looking flash drew stares from partygoers, his pictures drew raves. The look caught the eye of a businessman, who offered to finance a commercial prototype. The Ray Flash was introduced at the 2006 Photokina show, and within the first few hours it was a sensation. “People really responded to its innovation,” says Erik Sowder of ExpoImaging, the Ray Flash’s U.S. distributor. “Nobody had ever seen anything like it.”