Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Goose Family

The article below was the second of two articles written for a blogging contest organized by Pentax Forums where people were asked to write about the story behind the "making" of a favourite photo. This was my submission.


I love shooting nature, and being a student, I use a lot of second-hand manual focus lenses since the in-body shake reduction of the Pentax K-7 gives me the option of using old lenses with good results. Last year, when I was visiting a friend in Wayne, Pennsylvania, I happened to capture this photo which is one of my favorite shots till date.

In this article, I will narrate the story behind this photograph.

On that April afternoon, I was trying to shoot a close up of some white flowers in the sun and I had the SMC Pentax-M 40-80mm F2.8-4 from my Father’s Pentax MX days on my K-7 as I was using its macro mode. Suddenly, I heard some quacking, and turning my head, saw a family of geese with two adults and seven babies crossing a lawn. It was an opportunity not to be missed. My first instinct was to get the geese in focus, zoom in, and click away. The geese, however, were in the shade by this time and since I was still in full manual mode with a manual lens on, and all set up for sunlight shooting, the next shot came out underexposed.

By the time I had my camera adjusted to the shade, they had stepped out into the sunlight again, which caused my subsequent shot to look like this.

Finally, after following them around while they crossed a road (see photo below) and settled down on a grassy patch next to a pond, I could finally change to my Vivitar 100-300mm f/5.6-6.5 manual telephoto zoom. All this while, one of the adults kept threatening me with loud calls if I went too close.

Then, when they were relaxing in the grass, I walked around them to a point where the setting sun would be directly in front of me and behind the geese. From there, some lovely backlit shots resulted out of which this was my favorite.

I always shoot in DNG RAW and use Adobe Photoshop CS3 for some minimal post-processing. On this image, I did very slight cropping, and some minor adjustments in white balance, brightness and contrast. And the result, it’s there for you to see!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Pentax MX

Over the past few months, I have been too busy to post regularly on this blog. Yet, I have written elsewhere from time to time, mainly to participate in contests, or for school newsletters. Since I am still too busy to blog, and I have all those articles ready, I thought I would share them with my readers here.

The article below was one of two articles written for a blogging contest organized by Pentax Forums where people were asked to write about the one piece of photographic equipment that has had the greatest influence their photography. This is what I submitted.


Nearly thirty-two years ago, my father bought a camera. It was a Pentax MX 35mm SLR with a Pentax 50mm f/1.4 prime lens. He had been taking pictures for quite some time, and even had his own makeshift darkroom, but he did not own an SLR yet. The Pentax MX was worth two months of his salary at the time, but he still decided to go for it, for I was about to be born. Today, I am going to write about that camera. If you are wondering how that ancient piece of equipment affected my photography, read on.


The Pentax MX was the new Pentax SLR at the time, after the company’s immensely successful K1000 and Spotmatic models. It was a fully mechanical manual SLR, but it had an electronic light meter that indicated the exposure using green and amber LEDs inside the viewfinder. The shutter speed was shown by a small dial at the side of the viewfinder as well, and the aperture value was projected above the image inside the viewfinder via a tiny window in front of the pentaprism that was directly behind the aperture ring on the lens barrel. Add a split-screen focusing system and a 100% field of view, and you have a viewfinder that is nearly as sophisticated and helpful as modern DSLRs. Also, the leather-covered aluminum MX, coupled with the small 50 mm lens, was probably the smallest 35mm SLR in the market.

The MX

As I grew up, my childhood was captured in thousands of black and white and color negatives by the Pentax MX. First, there was just the 50mm lens. Then, after my sister was born, my father bought a second-hand Pentax M 40-80mm lens. By that time, photography and the Pentax MX was synonymous in my mind. “My dad has the best camera,” I would think, “and those pre-focused wide-angle point and shoots that other people have! Do you even call them cameras?” My whole love of photography developed by looking longingly at that camera (handling it was off-limits to me) and waiting eagerly for the lovely photos that arrived after each film roll was finished and developed. When I got my first job in 2005, my first big investment was, quite naturally, a digital camera. It was a small point and shoot with a lot of manual control, because although I could not afford a DSLR yet, I felt that taking a photo meant a lot of twiddling of knobs before the actual clicking. Photography, which started as another new hobby, became my greatest passion over the next two years.

I took the MX to the Grand Canyon in 2009

So it should not be hard to imagine my delight when I was finally handed the old MX by my father sometime later. After that, although the bulk of my photos were still being taken with my digital point and shoot, the MX always accompanied me on special occasions and tours. When I came to the US to do my Ph.D., I brought the camera with me. Shooting on film is neither cheap nor easy, but I continued to shoot on the MX alongside digital. This has actually made me less reliant on digital post-processing and concentrate more on getting the composition and exposure right in-camera. A year later, when I was looking for a DSLR, I bought the Pentax K-7 since I was in love with Pentax by that time, and besides, I wanted to use my father’s manual lenses. The in-body shake reduction of the K-7 meant that I could use an old lens and get photos as good as a new one.

This minute-long exposure of Grand Central Terminal was shot on B&W film.

I still use the MX after so many years. It was the camera that first aroused my interest in photography. It was the camera that I practiced on when I was learning to use an SLR. It was the camera that helped me choose my current DSLR – the Pentax K-7 – and if that alone is not the biggest influence on my photography, I don’t know what is. And oh yes, I almost forgot. That 50mm lens is still my most-used lens.

On top of Rockefeller Center
Me, on top of Rockefeller Center

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Snowstorm and other things

The days are flying by. I have been busy before, but never have I been as busy as I am now. Between last-minute work on my thesis, experiments for a couple of new papers, managing a photography exhibition in Kolkata, my teaching job and driving lessons, I hardly know what I am doing any more. However, even amidst all this stressful work, a few events took place last week that took a little of the stress off. I thought I will post a few photos of these events here, if just to keep this blog alive.

First, there was the Broadway musical Mary Poppins which I went to see on the day before its final performance on Broadway. I do not have time to describe it now, but probably I will write a full post on the show. I am happy I saw it. After that there was Saraswati Puja last Sunday, delayed a couple of weeks by a snowstorm but enjoyable nevertheless. There was pushpanjali, bhog and a lovely cultural programme followed by a delicious dinner.

Then there was the exhibition in Kolkata itself. Being a part of the administrators' team for Kolkata Photographers' World, I had to do my bit for the club's second photography exhibition. Mine was probably the least work among all the admins. The others had to run around printing photos, getting them framed, reserving the gallery, sticking posters on the streets, hanging photos, finding a chief guest- the list is endless- while I was just designing flyers and posters, and helping select and prepare photos to be displayed. Still, this little work was heavily taxing on my tight schedule. When the exhibition finally happened and people from all works of life crowded the gallery to appreciate the work of us amateurs, it was worth all the trouble, of course. Those three days were really rewarding for me.

My sister at the exhibition. Photo courtesy my friend Lopamudra Bag

Finally, as the week was drawing to a close, we had a snowstorm blowing in unexpectedly into Newark. While it prevented me from practising driving as planned, it did offer me the opportunity to photograph my university campus in a heavy snowstorm, something that I never had since I bought my weatherproof DSLR in 2009. Since 2009, all winter storms have either hit Newark at night, or the school has been closed, or I have been in India. Going to take photos the next day is useless as the cleanup is real fast, and old snow looks different anyway. I have written about snow before, several times in fact, and although the summer is the most enjoyable season here, fresh snow has a dreamy quality to it that can instantly turn any landscape into a fairyland. This snowstorm had the added advantage of having a relatively warm air temperature, which made taking photos slightly more comfortable. A more complete set of these photos can be seen here.

And that's all for the time being. Daylight Saving Time begins tonight, which means tonight is going to be shorter by an hour. It's time to turn in and get whatever sleep I can.