F. J. Westcott Celebrates 75 Years
Pro Photographers Input Has Helped Build A Strong And Versatile Product Line Up

This year, 2001, marks the 75th year that F.J. Westcott has been doing business. Known today as a leader in manufacturing light modification equipment, the company started out as an umbrella company, wholesaling to dry goods stores throughout the US. At first, the sister company to F.J. Westcott, Haas-Jordan Company, would manufacture the umbrellas and sell them to Westcott, which then resold them to various stores. When the dry goods stores began disappearing the product line evolved toward golf umbrellas and photographic light umbrellas that were used by studios to reflect or diffuse light.

Twenty-five years ago the now president of the company, Tom Waltz, joined and began developing relations with photographic lighting companies and, more importantly, photographers themselves. He invented and developed products that form the company's line-up today. Originally, Westcott made umbrellas and other accessories for major flash manufacturers to sell under their own brand name. The company then decided to market under their own name, Westcott.

Pro Advice
Waltz credits much of the company's success to working with pro photographers who lecture on and use the products. Their ideas, evaluations, comments, and needs have defined the Westcott evolution and has resulted in the company offering more than 300 products today.

Waltz said, "As we developed our line of photographic products we realized that we were in the light modification business, and that we were not locked into any fixed idea about how a photographer could use and would use their lighting. We offer products with a great deal of flexibility. Our Halo modifier, followed by the Apollo, showed the many ways in which a photographer could work with light. Our aim is to always deliver products that offer speed of setup, that are flexible in how the light can be modified and that are efficient in terms of operation. They can use soft or specular diffusion or reflection. That's what we mean by light modifier--one that gives control to the photographer and how he or she likes to work."

Waltz clearly recognizes the important contribution that photographers have made to the development of products. "We ask photographers to tell us what they need and always bring them in when we are about to develop a product. We also listen very closely to their needs and develop products that the market requires. Indeed, our Micro Apollo was developed from a product development thesis done by a student at Bowling Green University as a marketing thesis. He walked through the door with the product 75 percent there. We took it from there and created a brand-new offering."

Westcott's growth has also come from acquisition, most notably the Scrim Jim line. Waltz said, "Philip Nash was a location and fashion supplier down in Miami and he often was called upon to be second assistant on certain jobs. Both still and video photographers use his light screen assemblages for both diffusion and bounce on location. When he decided that it would be better for him to not be involved with sales he contacted us, and now we license and sell the products worldwide."

To illustrate how Westcott has founded their success on the cooperation between end user and manufacturer we thank the photographers who agreed to speak about their work with the Westcott line-up.

Eric Eggly
Eric Eggly is a Toledo based professional photographer whose studio, PointSeven Studios, delivers quality people, product, food, location, and annual report photography. Their 4500 square foot studio serves a broad range of clients, with an emphasis on advertising agencies. The photographers include Eggly and his business partner Jeff Franklin.

Eggly said, "I currently use pretty much the full fine of Westcott products, with my favorites being the Octabank and the Scrim Jims. The Octabank gives an incredible quality to the light when shooting people, producing a very soft light with a large source. The Scrim Jim series offers me the versatility in lighting that I need, especially on location. This is one piece of equipment that I never leave the studio without. Because of the different fabrics available and the rugged construction I know that it will stand up to the beating I give it in the field.

"I also use the full line of Westcott Light Boxes in my everyday studio and location work, both with hot lights and strobes. I travel a great deal and the breakdown and set up is quick and easy, an essential matter in situations when timing is essential."

Eggly also feels that the relationship he has established with Westcott has proven invaluable to his studio, and to studio photographers in general. "I have worked directly with F.J. Westcott and President Tom Waltz for the past nine years. This has been a great relationship in trying to bring products to the photo industry that are designed by photographers, for photographers. They work with a number of photographers to create new products that would be beneficial to their particular fields, whether it's for commercial, portrait, or wedding photography. I believe that this approach brings both a better-designed product and one that will stand up to the rigors of the commercial photo studio.

"When F.J. Westcott brings a product to me I do not hesitate to tell them exactly what my thoughts and feelings are about it. I am very direct and honest with my observations and I don't worry about hurt feelings or a damaged ego, because F.J. Westcott knows we are all working together to bring the best product we can to market. In the past nine years I have seen great changes in the design of their products. They listen to their customers and upgrade their products accordingly. I have talked to other people in this industry and have never seen such an openness to ideas and upgrades than I have seen at Westcott."

Monte Zucker
Master photographer Monte Zucker has been working with Westcott for many years and also has high praise for the company's responsiveness to ideas and product development. Among the products that Zucker uses regularly are, of course, the Monte Illuminator, their Tri-Flector (a triple reflector that goes on a stand), and the Mini Apollos. You can catch Zucker in action with Westcott products every month in Shutterbug.

Zucker said, "I have been continually working with Tom Waltz to come up with new ideas and to improve on what they offer. They are the best for listening to the needs of professional photographers and coming up with solutions. They're one of the few manufacturers who follow up on their product and ask for constructive comments.

"Westcott products seem to be ahead of their field in every way. The materials they use are superior in durability to anything that I've seen anywhere. They are adaptable to just about every lighting product and they actually teach their clients how to use their products. Their advanced designs are attractive to everyone, from the amateur to the most sophisticated professional photographer."

Clay Blackmore
Clay Blackmore is one of the leading wedding and portrait photographers working today. Based in Rockville, Maryland, Blackmore also leads seminars and workshops that have inspired photographers to greater quality and craftsmanship. Blackmore describes his work with Westcott in glowing terms. "Bright sun, overcast shade or in the studio, F.J. Westcott light modifiers are on every shoot we do. Over the past 15 years I have had a great relationship with just about every product made by the company. While working with Monte (Zucker) in the mid 1980s we always used the 28" recessed Apollo together with the Monte Illuminator silver black reflector. The beauty of that light modifier is that when the light is passing directly through the panel you get the affect of having two lights in one. The first light is crisp, direct light that gives you a defined shadow pattern under the nose. The second light is a bounce around light that creates a soft fill and wraparound light. Together they combine to give a natural crisp and soft light at the same time."

Blackmore describes his first encounter with F.J. Westcott products. "During a wedding in Beverly Hills, Monte and I watched Gary Bernstein working with very small light sources on boom arms. As soon as Monte could get to a phone he called Tom Waltz to order a set of Mini Apollos together with a set of boom arms, all facilitating the Photogenic PM-08 lighting outfit. We have grown to love that arrangement with the main and the hairlight each passing directly through the Mini Apollos.

"Another reflector that we have just started using is the Tri-Flector for a beautiful fashion feel under the subject's face. It creates close to the shadowless lighting that we see on the covers of many of today's top magazines. And the translucent scrims that cut down on the overhead light on sunny days are always within arms reach on every assignment. In bright sun we place the scrim close to the subject, creating an overcast look perfect for our portraits."