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Mastering Exposure using the Pentax K1000

A classic student camera · Posted on 01-24-2013 in Influential Photo Gear

I began my film photography adventure with a plastic Holga camera, but I was unsatisfied with the lack of control on exposure settings. Later I purchased a second-hand Pentax K1000 due to its cheap price. Soon I found myself experiencing a very steep learning curve in the mastering of exposure.

The beauty of the K1000 is it simplicity. So simple that you need only to care about the fundamental aspects of photography - shutter speed and aperture settings. The K1000 keeps you focused on the subject, not fiddling with various camera settings. Because there is no automatic exposure, a K1000 user is forced (or encouraged) to carefully examine the light condition, choose the right shutter speed and aperture value combination, and then click the release button.

Aperture ring of my Pentax-M 50mm F2 on my Pentax K1000
Shutter speed dial on my Pentax K1000

The results from my first batch of films (I was shooting with Kodak BW400CN and Tri-X 400) were surprising. I had never seen this kind of images before. Because of the manual exposure, I had selectively exposed for the part I thought important, thus resulting in very good contrast (in my opinion) and no overexposures like I often got when I was shooting digital/auto exposure. The images are so special, to me, they seem to have a life of their own. Although I was very happy with the results at first, I quickly felt depressed because obtaining unexpected images means that I was not consciously producing them. In other words, they were not my images, they were my K1000's images. I could feel how my K1000 cynically laughed at my poor exposure skills.  

Here are some examples from my first batch of images:

Adelaide Street, Brisbane
Mt Tibrogargan, Glass House Mountains National Park
Painter, Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve, Maleny

Later I set out to master the exposure through many experiments and daily shooting. The more I shoot manually, the more I understand the light intensity and which exposure combination to use. I started to befriend the Sunny 16 rule, I started to be able to guess the exposure correctly, and I started to use Manual mode even on my digital cameras. As days went by, I felt more confident that the images produced were results of my conscious decisions.

As I shoot, I am always conscious about the tonality of the scene, the contrast, the direction of light, the position of shadows, and which part of the scene my K1000 is metering (i.e. where the midtone is). Because I want to learn about printing in the future, I am also consciously overexposing slightly in some occasions to preserve shadow details and I may have to recover the highlights during printing.

Here are some example of my later images:

Backyard tomatoes
Edward street, Brisbane

In conclusion, the most fruitful experience from the manual-ness of my Pentax K1000 is the mastering of exposure. I have to admit that the tonality of the images above are not prefect, but I believe these pictures are better than my previous digital works, which are largely dependent on auto-exposure. My humble advice to any learner of photography is to do more manual exposures, or to use the Manual mode on your digital camera more frequently. Only when you start metering the light yourself will you understand the fundamentals of exposure. Now I have developed a habit of assessing the light distribution before shooting - and not to shoot blindly.

- mythguy9


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mythguy9 [Delete] Feb 16th, 2013 6:34PM

Thank you. All photos from my K1000 are B&W because I only know how to develop B&W films, colour work may need to wait until I learn to use colour chemicals...

neshlittleshamrock [Delete] Feb 1st, 2013 1:42PM

Nice pix! =)

MatthewCe [Delete] Jan 25th, 2013 10:33AM

I learned photography with a K1000. it's still my favorite! i have three of them.....
The k1000 is why i've never shot digital in an "auto" setting. thanks for the story.

mdodrill [Delete] Jan 25th, 2013 9:53AM

Great post. Loved that camera. I never really liked its meter so I would often use my eyes as the meter which enabled me to improve my knowledge of exposure.

richard balonglong [Delete] Jan 25th, 2013 7:31AM

Great experience and great photographs! I love your image from your first batch, it has great impact, good subject, good composition, and good lighting! Well done! =)

vboy [Delete] Jan 25th, 2013 5:49AM

good tip.
you're right coz photography ia all about light

TheOtherRob [Delete] Jan 25th, 2013 3:35AM

Great post!

Well, what are the chances? I acquired a Pentax K1000 about six weeks ago and have also spend a bit of time tramping Brisbane painfully teaching myself how to use this fabulous bit of gear. After I had been shooting digital for about three years, a friend of mine decided it was time I learned photography... and gave me the K1000.

I have had a very similar experience with shooting black and white film. I remember when I first tried the K1000 it was the first film I had ever shot, and the first few rolls were quite pleasing. But that was with colour film processed in a lab.

It all changed with B&W and self processing. I love monochrome and thought I had a decent eye for it. Well, the K1000 changed that! Shooting in raw and then post processing to monochrome is a lot different to shooting in B&W. It is a much bigger leap than going to colour film. I definately know the feeling that the K1000 is having a giggle as I struggle with these dark arts. But the journey is a lot of fun and there are weekends when my K5 just gathers dust as the K1000 gets picked up for outing after outing:). (It's also a great conversation starter!)

Keep shooting, and I will look out for another K1000 on Adelaide St!

Lumpy79 [Delete] Jan 25th, 2013 2:03AM

Nice post, nice pictures... and true that manual mode @ manual lenses are fun :)

Reliant K1000 [Delete] Jan 25th, 2013 12:37AM

Well put! I started out in a similar way, but bought a new K1000 in the late 70's with that very same 50mm lens. After an Instamatic and a Brownie, this camera felt good in my hands.

Economics dictated I only had that one lens, so it forced me to think about each shot, and was a great training ground.

Thanks for bringing that all back.