Billy Griffis - Pentaxian Profile

Someone who has done it all

By PF Staff in Pentaxian Profiles on Jul 14, 2011
Billy Griffis - Pentaxian Profile

I've done many things. Machinist, mechanic, carpenter, computer tech, just to name a few but two things have always stayed with me: guitar and photography.

Guitar has always been my primary focus, no matter what else I get involved in, I've played guitar since age 5 and along the way learned several other instruments. I require 3 things for existence. A guitar, a camera and a sense of humor. I started in photography early too, “helping” my father and his friend develop their black and white 35mm shots at around age 7 or 8. I'm prett ysure I was more hindrance than anything else, but at the time I just knew they couldn't do it without me. I dabbled in photography for many years, taking snapshots with instamatic film cameras in 110mm, 126 and 35mm formats, and at times those horrid Polaroids, but never really got serious about photography until someone gave me a 35mm Pentax K1000 SLR around 1980 or so. The K1000 was a great camera, with a built in analog light meter, and the 50mm lens it had did a fine job. I started out by practicing on wildflowers. Great subjects, they don't move except on windy days, lots of color and variation, and no limit to the available subjects. From there I gradually became more and more involved in nature photography in general, and now nature is 90% of my work, along with the occasional sunset, old barn or landscape.

It took me several months on mostly wildflowers to get the hang of shooting with a SLR camera, and I was getting some pretty nice shots, mostly by luck. Then my brain kicked in. Allow me to explain that comment. Remember earlier I mentioned playing guitar? Well, I wasn't content to just learn a few songs like most kids, my infernal brain made me learn with and without a pick, with and without a slide bar, electric and acoustic, every style I could, from rock and blues to jazz and funk and now after 50 years playing I do all my own setups, maintenance and repairs. Most people are content to learn to use a computer so they can get online and send stupid jokes and bogus virus alerts to everybody in the known universe. Not me, I had to learn to build and repair the stupid things, and ended up moderator of a computer tech support forum online for several years, and made a living at it for 10 years.

I didn't take it quite that far with photography, but once I learned that the 50mm lens already on the camera would not get good shots of birds 100 feet away I found a used 70-210 mm Tokina zoom lens that did a good job, but still not what I was after. I still couldn't get what I considered good quality pictures, so I started looking for and reading books on photography, and articles in magazines, trying different things that I thought might work, having no idea what would – according to the books – work, and also keeping to my lifelong habit of ignoring the accepted rules. Thinking outside the box and ignoring the status quo has paid off quite a few times.

With photography though, I found some rules can be broken, some cannot. I could ignore proper composition, but if I didn't keep those two little needles in the viewfinder lined up (analog light meter) the shot was useless, either seriously underexposed or overexposed. But I could shoot backlit shots, subjects too far away, I would try almost anything. I once shot a spider through a magnifying glass with a flashlight and have always tried things like that, most people might think would not work or would never even try. Recently I've been using a binocular lens attached to the front of a 50mm lens to get some great macro shots. Thanks to James Harrell for that idea.

When I finally was able to get a digital SLR I looked around at digital SLR cameras and finally settled on Pentax when I found that it was the only brand that would still accept all of its older lenses, and the K-x I purchased was getting reviews that placed it at the top of the heap in the entry level SLR market. I've been very pleased with that choice, it not only accepts all K mount Pentax lenses, but an inexpensive adapter opens up the scope of lens choices and allows the use of older M42 screw mount lenses as well. I have 4 of them now.

The only time I've had any negative comments about using Pentax was someone at a photography club meeting in Texas who thought I couldn't be a serious photographer because I wasn't using a Nikon. Digital didn't exist at the time, and I simply told the man to look at my pictures. My Pentax was my favorite camera, (the K 1000) and would match his Nikon despite the lack of all the extras of a much newer and almost totally automatic 35mm camera. He didn't say much else after looking at a few of my pictures. I still believe that K 1000 is one of the best film cameras ever made. I also still shoot all manual, after tinkering with the K-x I'm convinced automatic simply will not match the exposure control capabilities of manual mode. I did recently meet a female photographer carrying a Canon who was interested in talking about photography in general until she bent over and looked at the name on my K-x, which was hanging by the neck strap. She didn't say anything but in a couple of minutes she was gone.

Since beginning my affiliation with JKH Photography, I've been able to see the attitude of a professional photographer who is not so narrow minded. James Harrell, the photographer I work with, loves the shots the K-x gets, and is considering switching to Pentax when he upgrades to abetter camera. He is using a Nikon D40 and is very pleased with it, but he is also aware that 6 megapixels is barely capable of good prints at larger sizes. Fortunately he is not tied into a certain brand by a pile of very expensive lenses. We got out in the field regularly and shoot birds, flowers and sunsets, and the Pentax consistently brings home excellent shots, as you can see by the photos included here. To be fair, his Nikon also does a very nice job. I have nothing against either Canon or Nikon, I just like my Pentax and will stick with it, mostly for the outstanding lens options. No other camera lets me use 40 and 50 year old M42 lenses without an extra compensator lens to degrade image quality.

I've had a great time the past year since getting into digital SLR photography, and gotten some very nice pictures, a few posted here. Nature is my choice of photography due to the incredible diversity. From the tiny flowers the size of pin heads to alligators 15 feet long to the bizarre looking Robber Fly, I never run out of subjects, and I never know what I'll be looking through the viewfinder at tomorrow. My current lens assortment includes four 50mm Pentax lenses at f1.4, f1.7 and f2, one A series 50mm Pentax f1.4, Vivitar 200mm M42, Lentar135mm M42, Lentar 90-230 M42, Sears 80-200 K mount and one Pentax 28mm K mount. You can read about these lenses in the lens database. The Pentax K-x is my only digital SLR, I also occasionally use a Samsung S730 point and shoot.

Thank you for taking time to read my ramblings, I'm a musician and photographer, not a writer so this is probably far from a perfect article, and I'm also fully aware that I can be too long winded at times!

Helpful tips for beginner photographers

  • Books are your friends. Read some good books on photography, or take some classes. 
  • Get as close as possible (for nature shots at least) and shoot as many shots as you can. You never know which one will be “the” picture. 
  • Learn what the relationship is between aperture, shutter speed and ISO, and use that combination to your advantage. Never leave home without your camera. Never.

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