James Madelin takes a shot in the dark (or light)

James Madelin left investment banking to become a photographer—and found that he’s an inventor, too.

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Photograph by Simon Young

James Madelin left investment banking to become a photographer—and found that he’s an inventor, too

Six years ago, James Madelin realised he needed a change of scene. Living in London as an investment banker, overworked and under-enthused, he decided to move to Auckland and reinvent himself as photographer.

A newbie to professional photography, Madelin began researching ring flash lighting, a technique that creates a shadowless lighting effect using a circular photographic flash that fits around the lens. To save money, Madelin took a page from the Kiwi DIY book and made his own ring flash. It was an instant success, and clients noticed a remarkable difference in the quality of his photographs.

But not everything looked better. “I started out using duct tape, plastic and tin foil—it was not a good look,” says Madelin. The next step was obvious. After several months of surveying various photographers around the world, Madelin determined the industry was in need of a ring flash that, unlike existing models, was lightweight, handheld and inexpensive.

Thus orbis was born. In 2006, Madelin began working on the ring flash prototype. In April 2007, Madelin and team received an invitation to join the Icehouse Accelerator program, fast-tracking development. In December last year the orbis ring flash was officially introduced to photographers in Australasia, the UK and the US.

The flash is manufactured in China, and Madelin encourages other Kiwi small business owners to consider offshore outsourcing. “It’s crazy for a small country like New Zealand to continue to focus on raw-material intensive industries like manufacturing to access the global market,” he says. “We need to take a leaf out of other enormously successful geographically remote countries and become a knowledge economy.”

Madelin is embracing the ‘Flat World’ theory and setting up shop on YouTube, Flickr, Twitter and various blogs. Four months after launch, Madelin is feeling positive about orbis’ success with early adopters. “We’ve got a long way to go on getting the word out, but we’re looking ahead to sister products in the future.”

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