Pentax User Archive: Pictures On Your Doorstep

We take another look through the Archives at an article from January 1984 by John Stirland.

30/03/2012 - 00:00

If photography has done one thing for me over the years it has made me more observant of life and varied subjects around me. I believe we photographers look critically and creatively at our immediate surroundings wherever we may be and are generally conjuring potential pictures in the view-finder. However, even the best photographers dry up from time to time, I suppose it is a little like writing; very often a flat spot is reached and a little spark of enthusiasm is all that is needed to trigger off the pen or in our case the shutter release finger. Usually this comes in the form of inspiration after seeing someone else's work in a magazine or at an exhibition (even if only to prove to yourself you can do better!). Certainly the purchase of a new piece of photo kit provides that necessary inspiration to shoot more material and with the wide range of equipment on offer today there is no shortage of inspiration in that direction.

There is no need to go for miles and miles to take good photographs; indeed those people who only use a camera broad or on holiday in the UK miss out on enormous number of good picture opportunities within their own locality. First take a look around your own home town and try looking for some shots from unusual angles or perhaps taken with a wide-angle or telephoto lens.

Quite different shots can be achieved using filters, a polariser will remove unwanted reflections and give tremendous colour saturation; graduated filters give a picture that added dimension of colour and the multi-image or star burst can give quite spectacular effects. Provided filters are used to extend your own thinking creativity and not over abused they can play a major role in successful photography.


Look out for the many local functions that take place throughout the year. There are literally dozens of shots to be had, indeed there are dozens of people to dodge too when you are looking for that unusual angle or creative composition. My favourite lens is the SMC Pentax 20mm ultra-wide-angle lens; this has the ability to capture literally hundreds of people so I have to be very careful when composing for the best effect. Nothing was more true than this when I visited a local air show, I had to be particularly patient and composition selective for the shot of the red winged aircraft, the massive depth of field given me by the 20mm lens was a great help enabling me to really close focus yet obtain total sharpness, the use of a polarizing filter eliminated the reflections and gave a very satisfying richness of colour.

My regular film stock is Kodachrome 25 and with a polariser in front of the lens the effective film speed becomes 7 or 8 ASA! This makes a tripod essential for most photographers particularly when selecting aperture settings of f/11, f/16 and f/22 etc. as the corresponding shutter speed is quite slow.

The cobble stone street (also taken with my favourite 20mm lens) with the drain in the close foreground shows how a really low angle shot can over-emphasise the importance of the close subject matter ad the cobble stones. After sharing a bar of chocolate with my wife I asked her to add to the picture by walking into the top of the composition (needless to say I didn't leave the wrapper on the drain). Again for such a depth of filed the ultra-wide-angle was invaluable giving an almost dynamic effect. Whenever possible I want to give total concentration to the subject composition an to this end I employ the auto mode on the ME Super, I select the aperture I want to produce the desired effect and leave the rest to the camera. If I am not too sure about the effect prevailing lighting conditions will have on exposure I bracket the exposure.

Lighting conditions alone can turn a normal everyday subject into a powerful composition. The shot of the soapy bottles for instance was taken literally on the doorstep and was visualised as a totally back lit (contre jour) subject. By using the differential focusing method i.e. relatively large aperture but sufficient to give the required depth-of-field and a correspondingly high shutter speed the whole subject is isolated from the background.


On your travels in your locality keep a good look out for interesting landscapes - the moral of 'always carry a camera' could not be more true as the landscape can change dramatically in minutes, The shot of the burnt landscape for instance came when I spotted a huge column of smoke some two miles away and decided to make my way there realising that it was straw burning time. For all its evils straw burning did provide me with a pattern picture when burning was complete. By using a medium telephoto lens (135mm SMC Pentax) I was able to compress the landscape and achieve a good sharp zone by selecting a small aperture.

Farmers fields are also the venue for many traction engine rallies that take place in my locality where again photographers suffer from the same misfortune as other shows - plenty of people to clutter your viewfinder so why not try a selective composition shot of some component part of the vehicles? The close-up of the steering gears is typical of what can be achieved by the macro lens again allowing me to get in really close to those greasy gears which because of their sharpness have real bite and make a very interesting composition.

It is only by being really observant and searching out potential subjects in and around your locality that you will spot that elusive winner which might be literally on your doorstep. Look at the same subjects which you think will make a good composition several times during the day and just see how the lighting direction can change the overall effect of the final picture. Couple a good composition with sound technical competence and you will have pictures with a great deal of impact. Although I have talked of composition I have no given rules for it as I believe this is very much down to personal taste but do advise you to fill the viewfinder with the subject matter to get the best use of 35mm film.

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