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Campus Beat

Let There Be (Soft, Even, Flattering) Light

A photo of Kobre with the Kobre Lightscoop. Photo by Ken Kobre

Before and After: Ken Kobre's Lightscoop performs the same basic function as elaborate external flashes used by professional photographers—but with a much more affordable price tag ($30).
— Photo by Ken Kobre

For more than 20 years, Professor Ken Kobre has taught budding photojournalists how to dramatically improve the quality of their photographs. Countless alumni -- including Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Wells and National Press Award-winner Mary Calvert -- learned the ins and outs of the craft in his classroom. Meanwhile students across the globe have found solid advice in Kobre's best-selling textbook, "Photojournalism: The Professionals' Approach," out in its sixth edition from Focal Press in February. Now he's dreamed up one more way to help photographers -- especially amateurs -- take better photos.


Professor Kobre's Lightscoop, a new snap-on light diffuser for digital cameras, promises an end to such common indoor-photography pitfalls as demonic red eye, weird dark shadows and unflattering skin tones. The device, which is placed over the pop-up flash on a Nikon, Pentax or Canon camera, bounces the flash off a ceiling to cast soft, even light over subjects.


Kobre says his invention was fueled by hatred of "ugly flash photos." He started with an aluminum pie pan. "I held it on my camera, flashed it and realized I could get an amazing picture," he says, "but I didn't want to keep holding the pie tray on my camera." So he called in design and industry major Michael MacParland. Together, over the course of several months, they went through versions made of chicken wire and balsa wood before MacParland cut the final designs in plastic. The biggest challenge, he says, was tweaking the design for several different cameras. Three years passed between pie pan and official patent.


Photographers are just starting to buzz about the device in online photo groups (pros are picking it up for casual use along with the amateurs). "This has been a thrill," Kobre says.

Changes and innovations go with the territory in photojournalism -- an increasingly competitive field. Kobre tells his students that it is not enough to be a skilled still photographer; they must also master multimedia and video, areas he has addressed in his forthcoming book.


When he's not teaching, the award-winning freelance photographer travels the globe to work on projects, from a book on a grape harvest in France to a Fulbright-funded documentary on the disabled in the Congo. Still, things are pretty exciting right here at SF State, he says. "We have a lot of students who are extremely talented."


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