Pentaxian Profile: Ashraf Saleh

"Reason to Grow"

By PF Staff in Pentaxian Profiles on May 7, 2011
Pentaxian Profile: Ashraf Saleh

Welcome to our 4th bi-weekly Pentaxian profile of Ashraf Saleh!
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Photography was not an inherited love for me, but it was an inherent love that blossomed swiftly. It crept up unawares in the dawn of a new era in my life when both finances were available and the family unit was to expand. I also had no idea I would want to pursue it so fervently as to learn the business of professional photography, but it would become a part-time pleasure to practice.

It was not a difficult decision for me back in 2006, but being an dSLR newbie at the time I realised the virtues of backward lens compatibility with some research and appreciated the solid build in the K100D, prompting me to pick up a twin lens kit to start off with. Prior to going SLR, I’d only ever been shooting with compact film cameras but enjoyed being able to frame and compose images from a viewfinder. I even went back to a film SLR camera (the Pentax ME) and manual fast fifty for an overseas trip that I wanted to sharpen my basic skills with. Digital SLR photography opened my horizons on being able to creatively control all facets of my photographs and inspired me to learn more about the enjoyable vocation. It also complemented the primary work I undertake quite well as it is both analytical and subjectively artistic as medical practice is.

Having more of a scientific background, I naturally trend towards numbers and statistics but with time and experience found this to defeat the purpose of appreciating photography as a discipline and an art form. Quickly passing through the gear acquisition and testing addiction phase, I focused on seeing creatively, and conceptualising images ‘in my mind’s eye’ as photography forefathers put it. I also took to heart the simple truth of ‘getting closer’ to the subject to improve my results and found that by following (and aptly breaking) simple rules of composition, perspective and lighting I was more consistently pleased with my work.

FA 50 f/1.4

(Click to enlarge photos)

Let me put a more personal spin to the practicalities of investing into the Pentax system for chiefly hobby photography whilst juggling other competing responsibilities. My wife and I went down to one income by the time our first child was born, which was barely conducive for the upgrading of the basic kit that I had at the time. For those with spouses who are not as avid in the vocation as you are, you can appreciate the limitations in those situations. But I wanted to start somewhere in the journey, so I got myself involved in shooting friends’ weddings. Learning through critical self-evaluation and numerous books, including Brian Peterson’s excellent series starting with Understanding Exposure, I garnered growing confidence in reproducibly creating work that the wedded couples would be pleased to pay for.

My first paid wedding was a shoestring one, and the young couple was good to work with and cordial. Armed with my K100D and DA 18-55, FA 50 f/1.4 and DA 55-300, I shot away with nothing to lose, planning the lens changes and posed portraits at the lovely Japanese Gardens of Mount Coot-tha in Brisbane. The couple was very happy with the results, and the rest is history. As the policy with my wife was to only use earned monies from photography on photographic gear, I saw the opportunity to add an external flash, the Pentax AF540FGZ, and replace the kit lens with the DA* 16-50.

Not long after this word spread and I started having to decline on taking up wedding jobs for lack of available time. I continually enjoy shooting weddings and all that comes with it, meeting new people, the exquisite dresses, the (mostly) happy friends and family, and the beautiful venues to shoot in. It’s a bittersweet kind of joyous stress that I experience each time the pressure’s on to capture the treasured once-in-a-lifetime moments for the bride and groom as a keepsake for themselves and their loved ones.


After over 20 weddings, I enjoy the gigs more and more. And with that, I moved onto portraiture with the further addition of the ultimate in lens design and quality, the FA limited series. Whilst these lenses are always scrutinised for their cult status there is no doubt these little gems had transformed my portraiture results in spectacular fashion. The colours, sharpness and tactile rendition these lenses offer is, if I may say, infatuating. Nothing short of brilliant. But to avoid sounding like I worship those fashioned pieces of glass and metal, I’ll more objectively state that the joy in photographing remains potent when you have gear that performs as well as these lenses do.


And I had not mentioned the number of Pentax camera bodies I’d gone through in the process… Moving from the K100D to the K10D after 18 months, I greatly appreciated the robust build, weather-sealing and professional features the flagship model offered. I then had to get a second body not long thereafter for more versatility and insurance for those weddings, so the K20D became the next logical choice before the K-7 had arrived. Taking a break from weddings and deciding that the K10D had become more obsolete now that I had the K20D, I ditched it and later regretted forsaking the trusty camera. The beautiful long exposure results from the old Sony CCD sensors were well missed, so I had to go back there since the K-7 was as the K20D not great in that setting:

Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 – 30sec exposure, K10D
DA 16-45 f/4 – 40min exposure, K10D

DA 10-17 f/3.5-4.5 Fish Eye – 12sec exposure on the K10D

However, in order to appreciate the legacy of Pentax more, I went back to the old *ist D, Pentax’s first dSLR sporting the same 6Mp CCD sensor found in my original K100D. I just loved long exposure photography all over again with this 7 year old camera and produced some of my finest work with it:

DA 12-24 f/4 – 5min exposure on the *ist D
DA* 16-50 f/2.8 – 15sec exposure on the K20D


Getting stuck into macro work was the next stage of development for me – it’s another world of photography with such a different perspective and series of challenges. There are masters of this genre that make it look easy, and it inspired me to see how far I could go in the field, with the simple measures of light and single exposures. The biggest issue that keeps cropping up with me is not how close I get but the limited depth of field even at f/32! (focus stacking is too much of an involved discipline for me). But nature is full of minute detail that macro photography brings out into a larger-than-life scale, and it’s such a pleasure to try and reproduce the intricacies of the world around us on digital canvas.


Now I turn another corner of my journey with Pentax with the new K-5. The sensor was all I could ask for in an APS-C dSLR. Brilliant colours, great fidelity and dynamic range, and fantastic long exposure results. Pentax has come a long way with its autofocusing technology, and I’m proud to say that despite its deficiencies the K-5 performs very acceptably in tough low lighting conditions in focusing and high ISO results. These aspects clinched it for me in deciding to invest in the camera not long after its release. Now I continue to shoot as I always have, but with even more confidence that tough conditions are now more amenable to photography than ever before.

With each genre I begin to shoot I get a new wind of inspiration to develop my photography, and seek more opportunities to shoot. Reportage, street photography, portraiture, landscapes, time-lapse photography, macro photography – they all make the art and technical skill of photography interesting in their own unique ways. Some like to subspecialise as it suits their style and preference, but others such as myself want to do it all, and find new and intriguing ways of capturing life.

I have only been seriously pursued photography for 6 years, so I don’t have the traditional film photography background of the more seasoned photographers among us, but the passion has seen me leap from beginner to enthusiast in an unexpected but rewarding pace. Pentax has certainly contributed significantly to this zeal in the craft. I started off with very basic equipment and slowly built up on it to expand my photographic capabilities as time and finances allowed. Considering that the majority of us Pentax users will not be professional photographers, budgetary concerns are very real to us. Pentax does offer a more cost-conscious option to quality photographic equipment to its counterpart brands, but even still the hobby can be an expensive venture. What my message here is to get out and enjoy the vocation, use the gear you have to *your* full potential and keep pursuing to perfect your photographic techniques. Indubitably, the gear you already have is capable of doing more than you are doing with it. So learn to see, experiment more with lighting, composition and perspective, and enjoy the journey. It's been said that a Pentaxian is a photographer who doesn't accidentally own Pentax gear. That may be true for me, but passion is more the case, and Pentax has made it easier for me to make it happen.

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