Paul Conrad Buff, founder of Paul C. Buff, Inc., longtime Professional Photographers of America member, and inventor of lighting tools that include White Lightning, Zap, AlienBees, and Einstein monolights, died March 14, 2015, at his farm near Theodore, Alabama.
A native of Glendora, California, Buff was born April 24, 1936. He enlisted in the U.S. Marines and served 1954 to 1957. He began his career in the music industry by building Pal Recording Studio in 1957 in Cucamonga, California. Buff was an early innovator in multi-track recording by building his own console to record five tracks on half-inch wide tape. As studio owner and recording engineer, he helped create the sound of surf music with the hit records “Wipe Out” and “Pipeline.” One of Buff’s early employees at Pal was budding musician Frank Zappa, whom he mentored and later sold the studio to.
After selling Pal Recording Studios, Buff founded Allison Design where he continued his career as inventor and innovator in the field. In the mid-’60s he moved to Nashville where he became involved withthe company Valley Audio. Allison and Valley morphed into Valley People, where Buff remained president until 1984. A pioneer in computerized control of the sound recording process Buff invented various audio tools including the Kepex (Keyable Program Expander), the Trans-amp, the Electronic Gain Control Device, and the Valley People Dyna-mite. These recording tools were used by many artists, including the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Carole King, and Barry White. Many of the designs are still in use today.
After becoming interested in photography in 1980, Buff looked at the available electronic flash lighting equipment and decided he could use more modern electronic engineering to make it more efficient and affordable. As a business strategy, he elected to keep prices down and shorten the lines of communication between customer and manufacturer by selling directly to photographers. The first product, the White Lightning 130, was introduced in 1981. A yoke-mounted monolight that resembled a fat white coffee can, the WL130 sold for an unprecedented $139.95. It was later replaced by the Ultra, Zap, and the current X-series. White Lightning Ultras gained a reputation among photojournalists and other working and amateur photographers for being rugged and reliable as well as precise and affordable. Features included the Balcar light modifier attachment system, wireless remote control options, wide output range, and a powerful modeling light.
As an adjunct to the more expensive White Lightning series, in September 2001 the company introduced a second and more affordable product line, the AlienBees. More recently a third line, the Einstein E640 was introduced and remains the state of the art in manual monolight design. Other products include the Vagabond series of high-capacity rechargeable lithium batteries and a wide range of light modifiers. According to company’s website, since the introduction of the AlienBees series, Paul C. Buff Inc. attained and maintains an approximate 60 percent annual sales share of electronic flash sales in the United States.
Buff is survived by his wife of 16 years, Debbie, stepdaughter Kimberlee Jones, stepson Julian Smith, and grandchildren. The company will continue.
On its website, the Paul C. Buff corporation has invited people who wish to offer condolences to send them to CelebratingPaul@paulcbuff.com.