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The company I discovered in the back of a trade show
25 years ago, I was the associate editor of Modern Photography, which was at the time the world's second-largest circulation photo magazine, after Popular Photography. I was attending my first Photo Marketing Association convention, and as a junior editor I was not deemed ready to meet with the big camera makers. Instead, I was assigned to cover the "accessory ghetto"—scores of small booths lining the side aisles and an area towards the rear of the convention center that were showing accessories and other items that might or might not be worth covering.
Quest Couch, still the king of flash modifiers after 25 years, at a recent Photo Plus Expo in New York.
I decided to make the best of my assignment, and set out to find the Next Big Gadget. I spent hours waking up and down the aisles trying to decide if the stuff I was being shown was worth devoting valuable magazine space to. There were Bazooby vests (where double entendres permeated their marketing efforts), rickety tripod knock-offs, dicey-looking point-and-shoot cameras and lenses with unfamiliar names from certain unnamed Asian countries, cool but expensive-looking large-format cameras and not so cool and cheap-looking medium-format cameras as well as film from all over the world. Some would be back next year. Others would not find a distributor or enough retailer interest, and never be seen again.
The original LumiQuest Pocket Bouncer, still available for $25.
Then I found a small flash accessory maker named LumiQuest, a new company, in a simple 10x10-foot booth, showing their first product, the LumiQuest Pocket Bouncer, for the first time. I liked the simple design—it folded flat for easy camera bag storage, but opened up to provide a big bounce surface to expand the light source. It attached to any swivel-head shoe-mount flash via supplied fabric fastener. When I presented my card to owner Quest Couch (yes that's his real name!), his eyes lit up. He showed me sample photos (no chimping—these were prints, in the pre-digital days) that showed the dramatic improvement that the Pocket Bounce offered in simple headshots. He gave me a sample and said he would be very grateful if we could write up his product.
Back at the office in New York, I arranged to have a model pose as I photographed her with the LumiQuest Ultrasoft—the company's second product and the first to add a diffuser—and another (short-lived) bounce card and lo and behold, the results were just as dramatic as the samples Quest had shown me at PMA. I wrote it up, and we devoted a full page to the results and a very positive review. A framed print of this article hangs in the LumiQuest headquarters in San Antonio, Texas.
All those years ago: This article, which I wrote for the March 1988 issue of Modern Photography, gave LumiQuest's product line well-deserved exposure.
The response to that writeup was immediate and amazing. Sales soared, so I'm told, and LumiQuest was embraced by photojournalists and event photographers for its convenience and effectiveness. I knew LumiQuest had hit the big time when I was watching a White House press conference on TV and clearly saw LumiQuests atop flashes being used by several photographers there.
Over the years, I've seen LumiQuest's lineup grow, with refinements and improvements to the original product based on user feedback. In the last few years, as the strobist movement has caught on, other flash modifier makers have arisen with fascinating and useful products. But it all started with LumiQuest, and they're still going strong today with an extensive line of flash modifiers, from the original LumiQuest Pocket Bouncer to the LumiQuest ProBounce Max 80-20 and LumiQuest SoftBox III. There are snoots, gels and gel holders, and much more. Explore LumiQuest flash modifiers.
The moral of this story? In my quest for an interesting accessory (and something I could write about in the magazine), I discovered LumiQuest. They've done quite well for themselves, haven't they? When you visit a photo trade show—be it Photo Plus, Photoshop World, WPPI or whatever—don't just visit the big companies' booths. Work the perimeter, check the booths in the back. If you see something that's clever and useful, blog about it, share it with your social media, and help 'em go viral. You never know when you'll discover the Next Big Thing!
Congratulations to Quest, Heidi and the rest of the gang at LumiQuest on your first successful 25 years. I'm glad I was there to help get things going for you!
What's the best unexpectedly useful accessory YOU'VE found at a trade show? Leave a comment!