Doing the Prime Lens Challenge

A few weekends ago, Sue and I went to Glastonbury for a couple of days, it’s a town we both know and like and it gave us the opportunity to visit some gardens: Barrington Court, Forde Abbey and Chalice Well if you’re interested. I’ve been in a bit of a creative rut lately and was looking for something to pull me out of it a bit so I decided to do the prime lease challenge.

For those who don’t know, you go somewhere and take only one lens, which can’t be a zoom. Traditionally it’s a 50mm so I took my Canon 50mm 1.8, however on a crop body it’s actually the equivalent of about an 80mm, but it’s still a prime. My rationale for doing it this trip was that it’s somewhere we’re going to to go again, and frankly which you could do for a day trip, so if there was something really great which required a different focal length I could always photograph it next trip. So I put only my 450d and 50mm in my bag and that was that.

80mm equivalent is a very strange lens to work with! It was consistently either too wide or too telephoto, but I think that was the point. I realised how much of my composition relied on being able to get just the right focal length based on where I felt like standing rather than standing to get the best image. I did a lot of shuffling back and forth, and finding a different angle when the one I started with wasn’t working. I also found the ladder to the snake in that having that 1.8 aperture not only let me get natural light interiors I wouldn’t have felt confident with before, but also allowed me to make some other photos with tight depth of field which wouldn’t have worked with the zoom lens.

As an older person the exercise tool me right back to my roots, as back in the 80s everything I shot was on either a 35mm, 50mm, a 135mm or occasionally a 300mm mirror lens. Zooms were either really expensive or really pants so I didn’t own one. Looking back I never really considered creative choices in the process of lens selection, it was based on what I wanted to fill the frame with.

Has it changed my photography for ever? Well no, but it has made me more aware of the effect of the focal length of the lens (which frankly I never know because I just zoom to what looks right) and the effect it has. It’s also made me want to get out my old MX and prime lenses from the 80s and so some more photo shoots with those; on film of course which would be even more limiting. I wonder what only having a 300mm on the front of the camera would mean….?

Motor Bike, front end remains – 79

Motor Bike Front End

Should you not have guessed, we’re into ‘photos of my past’ territory again with this one, and I can date it pretty much spot on to 1979. What you’re looking at here is the remains of the front end of a Honda CD175 in blue, which you can’t see in this photo, not a million miles away from this one. It’s in this state after a reasonable speed impact with the front end of a Renault something or other on the Jacob’s Well road near Guildford. This is apparently a well known accident black spot due to it’s tight bends and poor visibility, a fact to which I can heartily testify. Now, to put the record straight, this was totally and entirely my fault, something on which the police had already decided leading to a £60 fine and 3 points on my licence. Luckily I walked away from this, well I walked out of the casualty department which is broadly the same thing, and never got on a motor bike again.

If this is 79 then my guess is that we’re in the first years of the Pentax K100 and I think, from the depth of field on this, that the standard 50mm lens was probably quite far open.  I’m taking a punt on FP4 as that was rather my monochrome film of choice at the time. I rather like the effect of the high contrast monochrome on this with the shiny chrome,  the deep shadows and the pebble dash of my old mum’s kitchen wall in the background. There are actually lots of fun textures in this and what looks like a bit of motion blur on the wall but not on the bike, something I have no idea how I achieved (to label this ‘intentional camera movement’ would be taking ‘stretching the truth’ right out to ‘downright lying’). All in all, I’m rather taken with this image now I’ve re-discovered it after so many years!

Nick, with grain. 1980

Nick Smoking


Doing another one of the ‘photos from my past’ posts here. If you think these are somewhat self indulgent well, you’d be right. But they’re quite fun to do; most of these early ones come from rolls of film where I no longer have the prints and there isn’t a contact sheet for the negatives, so it’s a bit of rediscovery for me too. Sometimes a long forgotten negative turns up something a bit nice, and this photo is one of them.

This negative sheet at least has a date on it, June 1980, and as we’re into the Pentax years now I’m guessing it’s taken on my K1000.  I’ll do a proper post on this in due course as I’ve got an image from the test roll of film so it would make sense to do that one. But I definitely hadn’t had the camera long. It’s taken on Iford HP5 film, hence the rather nice contrast and grain.

The chap in the photo is Nick Harvey, who was my best friend at the time and with whom I spent a reasonable amount of time doing, well, nothing very much really. He had three great loves in life, home electronics, Genesis and Status Quo, and I’m not entirely certain which order they came in. Of the three his enthusiasm for bodging audio equipment was more likely to lead to his death than the others were (I once saw him pushed over backwards on his chair in an unfortunate incident involving a valve amplifier and a badly earthed soldering iron…  As one did, perhaps more than now, in the days before social networking we lost touch. He trained as an avionics apprentice for British Airways, but then after he finished his apprenticeship they decided they didn’t have a job for him. No idea what he went on to do after that. It’s taken in my bedroom, I remember having this prints…

My original plan was to scan the adjacent negative to this one, and that probably will turn up in due course as there’s a story behind it. But when I looked at this one I thought that it really isn’t a half bad candid portrait. I think I’ve rather captured his character in it (you’ll need to take my word for that), and the grain and contrast gives it a rather nice gritty mood. I don’t remember taking the photo, but the photo does bring back many enjoyable memories of circumstances in which it and similar photos could have been taken.

What Did TS Elliot Know About Photography? Nothing!

The Waste Land begins ‘April is the Cruelest Month’, which one has to assume reflects in some way the opinions of TS Elliot on the subject of the calendar. Whatever the merits of the poem, and it is very good, it reveals one thing and one thing only about TS Elliot’s knowledge of photography.

He clearly didn’t have any!

How do we know this? Well clearly no photographer if asked to choose the cruellest month is going to pick bloody april are they? Spring in full, well, spring. Loads of colour. Great Light. Long days (but not so long you don’t get great golden hour without having to stay up till after the late news on TV. Bit of rain to dampen things down, make some puddles and give you interesting reflections. April cruel? Don’t make me laugh.. Hell you’ve even cleared your credit card statement from Christmas by then and can think about some equipment upgrades!

Nope, I would defy any photographer to opt for any month other than January. It’s dark when you go to work and it’s dark when you get home and the weekends are, well, dark. A dank, grey claginess covers everything, broken up only by the times when it’s actually raining. Of course while there are loads of puddles you don’t get interesting reflections because the light is so flat. If you’re lucky you might get a bit of snow, but that’s going to be short lived and then contributes to the overall dampness. At least you’d stand a chance of some golden hour and still be home for tea, but of course you don’t get golden hour twilight, it just gets progressively greyer and greyer till you realise it’s actually dark.

Great poet, crap understanding of photography I say.

Getting my Gothic On

I’ve been getting my inner gothic on lately. If you’ve seen my other Instagram @batworker you’ll have noticed that while I love doing flowers gardens and landscapes I also love doing the slightly dark, mysterious and mythical.


My goal is one day to combine both in a great photo of Wayland’s Smithy on The Ridgeway which is a good landscape image and shows the sense of something old and mysterious (I’ve never got past watching The Moon Stallion on telly in my teens). Don’t hold your breath, I’ve been trying for years and haven’t done it yet.


For whatever reason though, much of my work leans towards the dark; not necessarily the whole gothic thing, but dark background still life and food,


I recently photographed an abandoned and burned out car, if we had any abandoned buildings I’d be in there but round these parts any empty building has been snapped up by developers and is carrying a massive price tag before you know it. But lately I’ve been hitting the local cemeteries, and one of the upsides of the Cotswold village belt is a lot of cemeteries, with a lot of over the top masonary.

More next post…

All images copyright Andy Smart, all rights reserved, no reproduction or reuse without permission