It’s Time to End the Terms ‘Slave’ and ‘Master’ in Photography

There are many things about the photography industry that need to change to include our black community. One huge thing is a button on every strobe, light pack, and flash unit made in the photo industry called “slave” mode.

Essentially it is used to instructs a flash unit to monitor incoming light, and fire when it senses the light produced by another flash unit firing unit called “master” to fire.

I was taught flash photography at Rocky Mountain School of Photography by Doug Johnson, who right away addressed this.

He said that we would be using the terms “receiver and transmitter” because the terms slave and master are terms that need to die in the industry. I’ve been using receiver and transmitter for years and know other folks who do to. But every now and then I hear someone use the term slave and master. And when I call them on it, I am brushed off.

Can you imagine being on set with a black human and the photographer yells to the assistant “hey can you put it on slave mode.”

Or being a black photographer and seeing this on your own pack or flash?

Leading lighting and photo gear companies are still using these terms slave and master and putting them on gear. Canon, Nikon, Profoto, Elinchrom, Broncolor… we are all looking at you.

This paints a light on how our industry was made. And how we still have so far to go. We have to call out these companies and change this. We have to hold them accountable and ourselves. When we capture photos with their products and not say something, we are supporting the deep-seated racism in this industry.

Time to call these companies out. Time to change the industry and make way for our black community.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

About the author: Theresa Bear is a botanical portraiture and editorial photographer based in Portland, Oregon. You can find more of her work on her website.