59. Moonlight without shadows

Moonlight without shadows. 10.23pm, 20 December 2010

At over 600 square km Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand; it also has the most violent origins. It is eerie to stand on its shores and contemplate the lake’s vastness as being one immense caldera, whose formation dates from a staggering eruption of around 26,500 years ago, which blasted most of the North Island.

This very simple moonlight photo is from south of Acacia Bay looking across to a cliff-bound, uninhabited stretch of shore. The exposure of 117 seconds (just under 2 minutes) was intended to blur the passing clouds and bring out streaks of moonlight in the low, heavy cover. Aperture was f8, and ISO was 2000 on the 85mm Nikon lens. Contrast has been added in post-processing to emphasis the layered effect, although this also increases the noise, noticeable in the lake. The ripples are the swell of a northerly wind.

The composition (in classic thirds) conveys the experience of a gloomy, drizzly night, when only the clouds hint at the full moon above. Moonlight photographers know what gloom is  when faced with a succession of such nights as the full moon approaches. Out of frame to left were the red lights of a constant stream of trucks heading south from Auckland – the highway here turns inland some distance – while to the right I have avoided the lights of beacons or small settlements on southerly shores.

In other words this is a timeless view of the lake, one which might have greeted early European travellers, such as Ferdinand Hochstetter in 1859. Timelessness is often a spacious commodity for night photographers, excepting those who keep track of their shutter times by counting out the seconds. For exposures over 5 minutes I use a small, low-tech cooking timer, but two minutes is hard to set accurately and counting to 120 I find just as effective. I was 3 seconds out on this one but on a 2-minute shot only an error of 20 seconds or more would be noticeable, exposure-wise.