What could be more New Zealand than a landscape with cattle? This combination was unexpected, though. All three beef beasts (Aberdeen Angus?) were recumbent as we came up the beach, enjoying the sea air no doubt. They only rose to their feet as we got closer.
This section of the upper West Coast has been delighting me ever since my first visit in March 1975. It is accessed through Golden Bay; the road winds south along picturesque Westhaven Inlet and along farmed terraces, terminating (for most vehicles) at the sizeable Anatori ford. At the time this rustic scene was recorded, logging trucks still came through the ford from Turimawiwi, but logging has long ceased – and new houses have appeared in this remote part of the country.
Taken with a 105mm telephoto lens, on Kodachrome 64 film.
Such contrast! A scene I could not resist, although I have no record of its exact location, nor the season – nor can I be definite that this was taken in 2002. This lapse is instructive, because for so many years I kept a film diary, noting the place, people and date of every exposure – even the camera settings sometimes. Kodachrome had the date of processing recorded on the slide mount, which was handy, but the only other way of keeping track was to annotate your B&W proof sheets as you made them (I did that too).
How easy it is to forget that before EXIF data automatically captured all such details (location excepted), it took effort to retain such basic information. Alas, I gave up this important record-keeping in 1986, to my later regret. Although my friends believe I have an excellent recall of time and place, the truth is less flattering: memory is an unreliable aid.
Autumn frost, Waipiata, Central Otago. 23 May 1984
One frosty morning during a calendar tour we wandered the small railway settlement of Waipiata in search of material. This church set amongst lovely oaks caught my eye. The cycling sensation that is the Central Otago Rail Trail was still some years away then; I have not been back since but Google street view shows 12 Main St to be just the same scene. This is surprising considering that so many views change in a just a few years – new roads and subdivisions, trees and hedges removed, railways demolished.
This is of course a composition in thirds, with a power pole providing a half as well. Colour palette is subdued, the highlights being only the cluster of leaves and the church. This would be an attractive scene by twilight as well, with a torch handy.
So this must be New Zealand – with rain-enhanced corrugated iron, two fat lambs and a cabbage tree to prove it. This apparently rustic scene presented itself as I waited for my womenfolk outside a chocolate boutique on Beach Rd. It features as August in my Modest Epiphanies 2019 Calendar. See my earlier posts for more info and pics of my other 2019 calendar Vintage New Zealand.
The freedom of the sands! This image is for January in my Modest Epiphanies 2019 Calendar. Although taken in autumn, it is very evocative of summer on the granitic beaches of Abel Tasman National Park. The two islands in the background (at left is a headland) are within the Park boundary but Marahau, the main gateway, is just outside it. Abel Tasman NP is a very popular venue each summer for daytrippers, hikers and kayakers.
The calendar previews photos for a projected book of the same name, and subtitled: Deeper meanings in the New Zealand landscape. See earlier posts for details on a special offer on both my calendars for 2019; this expires on Friday, 7th September. Both calendars are now available for purchase.
An image from my Modest Epiphanies 2019 calendar, now at the printers. The title is taken from my next book, still in preparation, and from which the calendar pictures are a sample.
An epiphany is defined as a moment of revelation or profound realisation, but my photo project only aspires to a modest attainment of this, specifically in relation to the visual understanding of my own country. Thus the subtitle, Deeper meanings in the New Zealand landscape. Yes, there are deeper meanings, or perhaps deeper appreciations of our singularity, both in the big picture and in small details. All of which say the same thing: “This must be New Zealand”.
See my previous post for the special pre-release offers on the TWO calendars we now have close to publication.
“Happy limestone” would be an alternative title for this evocation of primary production, as this is fertile, rolling country, inland from the main highway between Hamilton and New Plymouth. Low cloud and patchy autumn sunlight give depth and contrast to the scene, enhanced by a telephoto lens. We have a virginal woolshed but no quad bikes, while the few cattle are free to wander – an idyllic prospect compared with the muddy strip-grazing in Taranaki, where herds are closely confined.
An idealised image, it features in my Modest Epiphanies 2019 Calendar, which is now at the printer. Subtitled Deeper meanings in the New Zealand landscape, the wall calendar should be available from the first week in September. A special, attractive “Early Bird” offer will be announced shortly.
In the late summer of 1975 I toured the South Island with a friend, in a 1952 Standard Vanguard (three forward gears; 22 mpg). One drizzly, very overcast Saturday morning we stopped to look over an abandoned farmhouse, close to the roadside. I was 19 years old and felt perfectly free to poke around any unoccupied property – this one was on the coast near Riverton, so that must be Colac Bay in the background.
In my trusty Asahi Pentax Spotmatic I had Kodachrome 25, a venerable slide film with an ISO of (yes) just 25. As I recall, I was not motivated to return to the car for my tripod, so used the self-timer for this, hand-held at 1/60th sec, with the aperture on the standard lens set fairly wide. The light was dull and the focal range low, but with the fragments of tinted glass well etched it made for a moody shot.
Abandoned houses and vehicles are all too easy – and frequent – subjects for artists of all kinds, but especially for photographers. However I still like this image, as it is a less obvious angle on a well covered theme.
Typically the dead have company, as we are social creatures in death as well as in life. Our cemeteries may be ranked as communities in their own right: hamlets, villages and towns. Despite the poor (or absent) roads of colonial New Zealand, lone graves are not common here. The law required burial in a cemetery unless there was none within 30 miles (50km) distance. This was the case when young Cecil Addison died of tuberculosis at remote, unroaded Te Hapu farm, on Christmas Eve 1924. Just 16 years old, he was buried in pasture on a terrace overlooking the Tasman Sea – a lovely prospect on a fine day but a site also fully exposed to ocean weather.
In the image above there’s a summery sense of that lovely prospect, minus the soundtrack of the surf rolling in below poor Cec’s resting place. With my telephoto lens waiting, an obliging friend has gone over to the grave (at left is a protected planting), well out of our way. I have underexposed for a day-for-night effect, although the sky is too blue to pass for a night exposure. The soft curve of the land in view is not a true impression of the front country at Te Hapu, which is made up of corrugated terraces, with limestone bluffs and headlands behind giving a picturesque backdrop for a lonely grave.
To shoot a similar scene today i would drop my shutter speed and my ISO, for a cleaner finish. 1/400th at f16 at ISO 250 seems a more obvious combo to me now, with minimal risk of camera shake. With due thanks to Richard, for “going the extra mile” for my camera.
“People have to die but flowers last forever”, no one said; this series is devoted to the Latin phrase that reminds us that our lives all have an end. Plastic tulips and carnations mingle here with real life bulbs, in this cameo from the upper slopes of the Picton cemetery. A single non-perfumed daphne flower ornaments the bottom of the cross, between the infants, while red and green buttons of plastic sit on the adjacent concrete.
It’s a timeless scene, maybe, but still subject to sunlight and the wind, and some day will be at the mercy of vandals or a severe storm. The terraced layout of the cemetery makes it easier to take such close-ups, and other graves often constrain picture angles. Although I can’t honestly say I’ve never done it, I don’t like to trespass on the actual graves. It seems disrespectful.
The ancient power pole had long been relieved of its duty; perhaps the lines had been re-aligned. The grazing was thistle-infested, not such a common sight now in north Taranaki. I was attracted to this simple scene not only for the lichen growth and the sheep (and lambs), but also because the hillside gives a “false sky”.
A useful aid for composition, false skies are there for the using when you are looking up at a steep hillside, a dune or cliff; or especially when you are above a lake or other water body, looking down. Arrange your foreground and there you have it – added interest, and something momentarily disorienting for your viewer.
This scene would probably be just as effective with the animals completely out of focus behind the pole. However, without a long telephoto neither approach is likely to succeed, as sheep are easily disturbed and will move away as soon as you approach. A zoom is very good for this sort of work, but sad to say, zoom lenses don’t seem to have the sharpness of prime glass (fixed lenses). in post-processing I have used the sharpening tool on the five elements to the image, something I rarely do.
Once again I post a pic that I’m not completely satisfied with. Teachable moments I believe they are called. Coming down from the Neudorf Saddle in the rain we saw a large gaggle of geese, an uncommon sight in our region. Unsurprisingly, they wandered away from me as I struggled at the fenceline, crouching without cover, poking the lens through the wire netting and hoping no raindrops plopped directly on to my telephoto.
I like the pastoral backdrop, quite typically Nelson (geese aside). The trees are a mix of native and introduced species. The horses add interest, but the elements of this composition do not quite tally. Another horse (or two) is needed at the right, and one more to the left of the central tree would be even better! In many ways, a successful composition has predictable components. Although this one does have something close to a red barn in it, the eye needs a few more points to linger on for this to be (say) a good calendar image – even without a golden retriever in sight.
Speaking of calendar images, we now have two quite different 2019 calendars perfectly formed and ready for release in a few weeks. They will be announced shortly. However, already available is a retrospective Creative Evenings 2019 calendar, which you can access as a printable pdf file on the free downloads page. This free calendar is printer-ready – it’s a selection of the best from my earlier publications, made available for those more recently interested in long exposure photography. We tested it at a commercial printer – it worked fine!
The cemetery at Mokau (in the southwest Waikato) occupies a hilltop terrace and gives good views in all directions. The house far across the valley seems relatively close with the compressed perspective of a long telephoto. Depth of focus here is enhanced by the tiny aperture, only available at the far end of the zoom. f40 is actually a ratio of the size of aperture over the length of the lens – thus the “wide open” f1.4 on my 85mm lens requires big, fat specs to obtain such a ratio: 1/1.4.
In post-processing certain areas of my images are typically worked over with spot-saturation, although I resist the urge to have them “pop”, as you see in so many sparkling real estate photos. Here the lichens were startling enough, and have been left untouched, apart from a +25 increase in overall vibrancy. In composition terms, the top right corner is occupied by only a gate and fence, and a horse or cow would have made this more interesting. Still better if the house owner had come out and stood on her verandah for a minute, but my yodel would never have gone the distance.
“Memento mori” is the Latin phrase reminding us of our inevitable mortality. Some say that we live on in the hearts of others – that’s the “loving memory” part. With the passing of the generations that memory is eventually eclipsed. The love is passed on though, to nurture and sustain later generations (best case).
Among the seraphim at Stratford’s main cemetery, this one reigns supreme. Close to the entrance, she stands very tall, although size can’t be all that matters in the angelic hierarchy. However high they loom, angels all have their price, and this was a dear one. Aeronautical lift is even more challenging for angels than it is for bumble-bees, but in the JW tracts that intrigued me as a lad, angels somehow floated above entire cities. Wow. The only named angels in the Holy Bible are Michael, Gabriel and Lucifer, the Fallen One. It is hard to imagine an angel named Barney, or Charlie say.
In a cemetery dotted with the usual monuments this sort of uncluttered line-up is possible only with a telephoto lens. That explains the lack of sharp focus on the distant cow, despite my using the smallest aperture setting. As f16 gives great focal range, a more astute use of depth of field principles could’ve helped here, if I had focused a little behind the angel. But as a finer point, that escaped me at the time.
Visiting this place again with a dear friend in 2014, I was still unaware that one of my own ancestors is buried here. In an unmarked grave (alas) lies my storied great great aunt Peggy, who died in 1930. Margaret (Madge or Peggy) Jollie had a privileged life, yet died in “reduced circumstances”. She has a major role in a biography I have since written on our neglected grandmother, Beth Jollie (1904-41). Isn’t it surprising who turns up where – living or otherwise?
No longer a common phrase, memento mori translates to “Remember that you have to die”, meant as a reflection on our inevitable mortality.
These two beasts-and-a-nose were the outliers of a contented herd, all having a lunch break to chew things over. A great gem set in the heart of Auckland, Cornwall Park is the extensive green space which surrounds the old volcanic cone of One Tree Hill / Maungakiekie. It’s a good place to pause when you are in the city, not the least because parking is free.
The “secret” behind the shot is the ditch-and-wall which separates the public from the cattle, although for joggers and ramblers (as above) there is access at various points. As a substitute for a fence, which I can’t recall having seen elsewhere, it enables an unusual overview. I currently have this scene as my desktop wallpaper; I believe it pretty much sums up the pastoral idyll of New Zealand life. It’s also an uncommon angle and contradicts my earlier comment about not favouring the south end of north-bound animals.
The exposure was not optimal because the light was continually changing from sun to cloud, and back again. A typical Auckland day, in other words. The background jogger isn’t blurred from a long-ish exposure but instead slightly out of focal range. Even on the smallest aperture, it’s too much to expect a telephoto lens to deliver sharpness throughout when you are this close to your subjects.
New Zealand’s varied landscapes must be world-famous because now they are talked of by the mainland Chinese, not just wealthy HKers or Singaporeans. A busload of Chinese tourists joined the 40 cars already parked at the Kaikoura road-end, out on the peninsula. The changes to be seen here surprised me, and I am not referring to the recent earthquake uplift, impressive though that is. No, to me it seemed no time at all since this road-end was a broad, featureless gravelled cul de sac; today it is a well developed tourist amenity.
The bus tourists fanned out across the wide shelf of the reef, while others were intrigued by the nearby seals. Not far back along the road another 30 cars were parked by an outdoor cafe, the first I recall seeing by a New Zealand roadside. How we will cope with our rapidly increasing tourism remains to be seen, but the obvious problem is the same one worldwide – overcrowded hot-spots, with amenity development lagging behind.
Perhaps related to all this, I have a major new project to pursue. While there’s little new to say about our landscapes, at least by the broad light of day, I have conceived a new book-length theme: “Modest Epiphanies: Deeper meanings in the New Zealand landscape”. What exactly does this involve? What are my epiphanies? Are there actually deeper meanings? No doubt some satire and social commentary will emerge alongside interesting new angles on the jeweller’s window (in scenic terms) that is my country, away from the urban centres, that is. Yet I have a feeling Milford Sound and Mount Cook might not even feature…
Rear views are not usually the most appealing with animals, I realised some time ago, but this angle was more interesting than most such. A conversation with the owner established that these were miniature horses, not the Shetland ponies we first thought them to be. Although my caption is sardonic these sturdy steeds must have been aware of their vertically challenged state, as a normative horse was close by. Placid animals, they obliged me by grazing close to the roadside before wandering off for some time-out beyond the autumn trees.
This was the prettiest location in Garden Valley yet we arrived too late in the day, as the sun was sinking below the high hills to the west. As every photographer soon discovers, photography in the shade gives an unappealing cool cast to scenes like this, owing to the light of a cloudless sky being so blue (the problem is less obvious on overcast or rainy days). In post-processing I have rescued this shot by a colour adjustment, warming it and adding some contrast too. On reflection, there is no disadvantage in flat light for this situation, as long as you are conscious of the cool cast likely to result, before post-processing.
The shallow depth of focus was intentional. Only the first horse is sharp, and in this type of photo only the first subject needs to be. While we have no problem identifying the two other items, I personally have a problem in usually wanting sharpness and focus throughout the frame. Really, there is so much creative potential in having the opposite.
These cherubim fronting for love caught my eye in a cemetery-with-views on a Mokau hilltop. Having recently purchased a Nikon zoom lens (70-300mm) I was putting it through the paces, late one winter’s afternoon at this small community on the west coast of the North Island.
Using the tripod to allow slow shutter speeds, I was interested to see what the zoom did at the longest extension, especially at closest focus, and when well stopped down. While I was impressed that the lens went to f45 – a ratio usually seen only on large format lenses – only later did I learn about the diffusion effect at such tiny apertures, with DSLR cameras. An odd occlusion occurs – a bottle glass effect might be the easiest way to describe it. Fortunately none is seen here.
I like the juxtaposition in this image, and little group is an uncommon sight too. Exposing for marble sculpture can be tricky, and typically they are overexposed “in scene”, but at close range getting a good range of tones from marble is less challenging. These boys being at ground level were at least clean of the usual overgrowth, a definite problem on taller monumental figures, where beyond easy cleaning reach unsightly lichen and moss can become well established.
Memento mori: In turn we all take our leave. But love lives on, at least.
As a magnificent blot on the landscape the steel mill at Waiuku, south of Auckland, is very impressive. In this shot its dreariness is stylised by layering, using the line of pines it is seen through. Another example of a “look-through” composition, this is one I was definitely searching for. Here the main feature seems almost an afterthought, but one nicely offsetting the dark verticals. The scene is also an example of limited palette (colour range), being close to monochromatic. However I saw during set-up the small smudge of green plant life at bottom centre, and the brown building below the belching chimneys.
I took a second shot with the mill in a more central position, yet this was less interesting. The scene above is underexposed of course, to saturate the highlights, and a smaller aperture can be another gain in doing this – and increased depth of field, no small matter with a telephoto lens such as the 85mm. Using f16 has insured sharpness throughout, with the luxury of a low ISO and a hand-held capture, to boot.
The phrase “Dark satanic mill” comes from an eschatological poem by William Blake, whose text also forms the lyrics to the well known hymn Jerusalem. This contrasts the forthcoming heaven-on-earth of the title with the hellish blight of many hundreds of mills, which scarred the country as it became the first to industrialise.
Amongst the leaves, Te Henui Cemetery. 3.06 pm, 2 April 2018
A supplicant cherub amongst fallen leaves – these being a common metaphor for poignant memory and les temps perdus. This simple image again makes use of contrasting blank spaces, as I have resisted the urge to crop it at top and left. The limited palette adds considerably to the effect, assisted by the flat light of an overcast day.
The 85mm lens at close range has little inherent focal depth, but stopping down to a self-timed f16 has maximised the depth of field. Any gain here will sharpen focus for a short distance in front of the focal point – in this case the tiny leaf directly in front of the figure – while increasing it over a much larger zone behind the object. The self-timer was set to the shortest time (2 secs) and I often use this aid with the 85mm, both for hand-held shots and with tripod.
Te Henui is the first of New Plymouth’s two main cemeteries; situated above the valley of the Te Henui Stream in rolling country typical of Taranaki, it was originally on the edge of town. The lower slopes are wooded, making the older sections of this cemetery notably rustic. However, interesting cameos such as the above were sparse. My time was not all spent on photography, as I was surprised to discover (quite by accident) the final resting places of two people who appear in the family history I am at work on.
Memento mori (“Remember, we all must die”) presents a series of cameos from New Zealand cemeteries, illustrating memorable scenes or detail. Of course they have their melancholy aspect, but cemeteries retain a strong human interest and convey an impressive sense of time’s long passage. Often (but not always) these aspects are matched with a park-like atmosphere of peace and calm.
Sadly missed, Picton cemetery. 11.59 a.m, 14 April 2018
A striking cameo, illustrating colour composition. The two elements of the composition have been widely spaced, but there is just enough line and texture to hold the frame together. The simplicity of the image owes everything to the uncommon colour of the plastic flowers. As for the succinct inscription, those two short words are an effective final statement. I did not see them used elsewhere here.
A short telephoto lens works well for this type of assignment. However a slower shutter speed using the self-timer would give better depth of focus for the inscription. I don’t always think through optimal manual settings – and here I was wary of camera shake, which 85mm exaggerates. My main object was good definition on the key feature.
The drainage built into the site is proof that this cemetery is perched terrace by terrace on a steep hillside. This is not at all unexpected in Picton, a ferry town surrounded by high hills, where flat land is at a premium. The Latin tag “Memento mori” is a shorthand reference to the inevitable mortality we each face.
Two views from the same place, immediately in front of our accommodation at Omata, just south of New Plymouth. They have been cropped slightly, to wallpaper formats. The lighting above is an improvised long exposure with a mix of misty moonlight and house lights; below is a heartening scene of sunlight on a winter’s morning, after the murk of previous days had at last moved on. I can recommend both experiences, also the cottage itself, which on www.bookabach.co.nz is listed as Valley View Cottage, if you like your digs to be quiet, clean and affordable. Thanks Isobel!
My 2017 calendar sold out last week, although some retail returns are expected. This image for June 2017 has been very popular. It was taken at the southern end of the inlet, where from sea level the road climbs steadily and steeply to the top of the limestone. Public roads with grass strips down the centre are not that common in New Zealand, but as this one serves just two farms it’s no real surprise to see it here. “Roads less travelled” lend themselves well to calendar imagery, and this one is in the “even less travelled” category, being off another, unsealed road to several farms which straggle down the coast. The trick is usually in getting sufficient elevation to please the eye with the path fully shown. A misty day helps, adding an uncommon atmosphere.
Westhaven panorama, summer, from the Kaihoka hills.
Alas, panoramas do not suit my new calendar but this scene would otherwise qualify. The stormy drama above, stitched together from two frames, unfolded as we climbed the steep hills of the northern arm of the inlet. Although we anticipated a thorough soaking from the gathering cloud, in fact it was an isolated squall which did not stray north from the hills behind Rakopi (the settlement on the flat). Limestone meets granite inland at Knuckle Hill (right distance). The colours are summery and the tide was full – with its rugged hinterland, this is an inlet of many lights and moods! Click on the image for a larger version.
Sample image: Nikau palms at Turtle Cove. May 2017 Golden Bay Calendar
Although a good number of images in my North by Northwest 2017 calendar are taken on private property, all such locations were farmstays. What farms these are, each a delight to range over. This shattered coastline north of Te Hapu shows many stony shards, all a colossal tumble from some terrifying ancient earthquake. Those shards are gigantic.
My calendar will be available mid-October. Early orders are encouraged, as only 200 copies are to be printed. All calendars come with mailing envelopes and are post-friendly. See my earlier post for prices, but I can also offer a special rate for orders of 10 or more (please inquire). No doubt there have been other Golden Bay calendars before 2017, but probably none with such a fine focus, covering from Wharariki south to Paturau. What interesting country!
Curiosity at Rakopi. Sample image: February 2017, Golden Bay Calendar
How much we overlook the photo potential of a misty day! In winter we hardly feel excited at the prospect of working a camera in damp conditions, but in summer there is much to be gained from the softer light and warmer colours. Photographing animals is challenging because any pose is rarely held, but in this case the calves were spell-bound by the sight of a cameraman standing on his car. The elevation was necessary to get the line of road in the background. Effort is everything in photography – well almost, as the right light comes first.
My North by Northwest 2017 Golden Bay calendar will be ready for sale in mid-October, but orders will be taken from now on. It is in the same post-friendly format as last year’s, with each month having ample space for annotation. The A4 calendar comes with a mailing envelope. Price $15, plus $3 postage. Order 2 calendars for $28, all up (post-free within NZ & Australia). Please order from me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will confirm with payment options.
2758. Cool majesty from Waingongoro Rd, Taranaki. 1.47pm, 17 October 2015
Two problems in volcano camerawork are vacant skies and the huge gap in exposure values between the snowy elevations and the green landscape below. Here with patchy cloud and silhouettes is an answer to this creative challenge. Lacking as it does spring lambs (and mint) this image does not quite reach the bar, yet I find its ellipsis strangely appealing… On the approach, in a clear sign of ascending middle age, I was more concerned with the wear of the gravel road on my tyres than with how the icy edifice might loom in my viewfinder. The cold sou-wester also dampened my interest, but what I like in this half-submerged image is a mistake in my colour temperature setting (Sodium vapour lamps), which still leaves its mark. It’s all a happy accident, in other words.
2393. Abstract 2: Pukearuhe rockface. 4.06pm, 31 July 2015
My interest in these stripes was partly spurred by my SO’s work in creative fibre, designing woven creations with striking bands of colour. The strong reflections here are in the surface topography. This is very close-up by telephoto standards and the wide f-stop only just copes; a better depth of field would be achieved with a faster ISO and slower shutter speed. However I had set out without tripod – as I often do when my photography is secondary to a social outing. Even for an exposure of 1/500th I used the self-timer at 2 seconds to delay exposure slightly, reducing the risk of camera shake, something that is magnified with telephotos.
Abstract 1: Pukearuhe, north Taranaki. 1.46pm, 31 July 2015
I have photographed these cliffs before but only occasionally, as they are an hour north of New Plymouth on a side road, and access is strictly tidal. The beach changes from sand to rocks with the seasons, while recent rain makes a difference to the rockface patterns observed. Here we’re looking at a well-watered part of the cliff at about eye-level, with much reflected early afternoon sunlight. I selected a low ISO for maximum effect but also a high shutter speed, to avoid any risk of camera shake with a heavy telephoto.
2447. “She’s beaut”, on Carrington Rd, near New Plymouth. 12 August 2015, 5.24pm
A large tract of country south and west of New Plymouth is sheltered from the prevailing westerlies by two forested ranges, the Pouakai and Kaitake. Our mountain shows above these hills (sometimes) as one travels in their lee; this is where the road first meets the forest of the national park. A passing local called out his approval as I stopped on the roadside for this shot (one taken too late to include in my new photo book), but the sunlight was fleeting and the bird soon flew off. With the city nearby, these rustic roadsides have been steadily superseded by upmarket, lifestyle blocks.
2037. Lahar landscape, Stent Rd, Warea. 24 June 2015, 3.24pm
Since our return to Taranaki at the end of May I have been preoccupied with a photo project on our local peak, formerly known as Egmont. Mt Taranaki (as it’s now called) is well overdue for a photo book, and why not one to answer 36 Views of Mt Fuji, Hokusai’s famous collection of prints of Japan’s highest mountain? So I set out to put together 36 Views of Mt Taranaki, which I will publish next month. The new book is dedicated to my mother, Gwen Brewster, who celebrated her 90th birthday two weeks ago. She now has the only copy – an advance proof. This out-take was shot in a strong, frigid SWer, whose discomfort I removed from this sunny scene in post-pro.
0973 Autumn in the Maitai gloom, Nelson. 5.11pm, 26 April 2015
In late April a quick trip to the Maitai Valley, on the edge of the city, is much easier than the long road to central Otago (where great swathes of lovely poplars and cotoneasters are now gone from our favourite walk at Arrowtown). Although the light balance between flash and background above suggests twilight, this cameo was actually taken half an hour before sundown, in the pre-drizzle gloom of a heavy overcast. Flash is a crude instrument but then so is a hammer – and after a few attempts I felt I had it nailed.
The crowds have gone and the druids have left the rostrum. All the devotees who waited so patiently for immersion are now initiated, have packed their tents and left for the long return to their temples. Soon night will fall and the whole arena will be reclaimed by the hoolie-darkies and fogdogs… etc etc. Movie rights are still available.
9807 Evening parade at Waiwhakaiho. 8.20pm, 3 February 2015
Clouds strike some marvellous poses, but as they will not hold them the trick is to be ready and waiting. Even better if they are only a side-show to the main act – an anticipated moonrise, for example. A big Nikon zoom lens needs a tripod for best results, especially with a polarising filter. A tripod does restrict you but it allows a much smaller aperture, which helps with overall sharpness after the filter and softness of a zoom lens are taken into account. Using a tripod also ensures a more considered approach, and more level horizons. The polariser, meanwhile, only works from a certain viewpoint, that is, one at roughly 90 deg to the sun. So you might as well stay in the right spot with your tripod.
112mm, ISO 250. 1/60th at f11. Polariser and tripod
9797 Wet feet at the Waiwhakaiho. 8.16pm, 3 February 2015
Zoom lenses are very engaging, but the price of their versatility is their typically lacklustre definition, and the extra care required in their use – especially with focus and depth of field. I have found with the Nikon 70-300mm that no really serious work can be undertaken without a tripod, and a self-timer release of 2 to 5 seconds, depending on the focal length and wind strength. Here a slow shutter speed resulted not only from the polariser (effectively 2-stops) and the low ISO but also the need for a small aperture for depth of field. The polariser works wonders on cloud forms at right angles to the sun, which was low to the left. The gulls are enjoying the dog-free side of the river; their beach was soon covered by the incoming tide.
95mm, ISO 250. 1/50th sec at f11. Polariser and tripod
“This’ll be good!”, I thought to myself, as an evening squall approached Plimmerton, a Wellington suburb on Porirua Harbour. Keen photographers should be out for every passing shower, but of course location is everything – and the right time of day. The squall soon passed over and the clouds parted for an enormous rainbow lit by the setting sun, plus this view of Mana, with its distinctive flat top. The car window has been given first place here, while “liberty” refers to my changing the entire hue in post processing.
9127 Evening sky at Bell Block beach. 8.39pm, 27 December 2014.
Tweaked in post-processing, as a surreal version. Taken not long before a pallid sunset, with the moon at 6 days new. Crescents are best photographed at twilight, as after dark the effect is lost because the dim entirety of the moon shows up. However, the twilit crescent 6 days new is too high in the sky for an interesting shot (the waxing moon sets roughly an hour later each evening). On a cloudless evening the best solution is to put the crescent close to a hilltop silhouette, by getting below it and looking up.
I took this one afternoon in the early autumn of 2010, when Yana was 20. My father had some self-sown vines rioting in his garden (yielding 80 large melons), which looked to make a good backdrop. It’s no surprise to see here the same elements as in previous portraits: sympathetic ground, soft light, harmony of colour – and a subject with a low-key expression, posed direct to camera.
Taken at f2.8 on 1/200th sec on standard lens setting [60mm in 35mm terms]; the great depth of focus even on this aperture stems from the Lumix LX3’s smaller sensor. A law of optics states that depth of field increases as sensor size (or film plate) reduces.
A discrete chair in the Whatipu wilderness puts you one step ahead in the relaxed model stakes – as does a warm coat – but the secret ingredient to portrait work seems to be having an accomplice, one who distracts the subject with lively conversation while the photographer pretends to poodle around with his tripod and settings. In this case, Yana is standing close by, so that Claire remains face-on to camera. For portrait work my Nikon 85mm lens is an obvious choice, and it’s a sharp lens for a soft (though wintry) light. As backdrop I like the filigree of flax and the rock, and Claire’s good twin has also come by – note the different colouration – for a final appearance.
A pause in readings from the Little Book of Sacrifices. A simple lateral flick-trick found online has brought out some unexpected imagery, while a slight re-framing avoids complete symmetry. A warm duotone was selected after conversion from the colour original. The hand-colouring is hardly brilliant, but this looks to be a hard-wearing image with many possibilities for future embroidery. The rosary was Claire’s suggestion, although her own tastes appear to be more literary than gothic. (Would authors of such fiction, however, please communicate).
N.B. No small animals were harmed in the making of this image.
Continuing the evening portrait theme is this “one-take” shot of our UK visitor Ben, in 2010, taken on the cliff above Back Beach in New Plymouth. The light is striking, but the effect is enhanced by the “da Vinci” background of Paritutu Rock, pylon and blue sky. I would not call this twilight photography, as the sun is still at the horizon, although softened in a summer haze. Although most portraits benefit from low contrast, a little more has been added here in post-processing, plus some vibrancy.
Or something like it. Claire is distracted with readings from a good book. Light ent., relief and engagement shine through as the drizzle descends. Low angle with tripod; wide angle lens predictably highlights her fine hands; her hair is emphasised by post-pro desaturation and selective re-saturation.
An important ingredient of memorable portraits is the capture of micro-emotion, those inner feelings which flicker on the silver screen of our faces. These are surely basic to our primate biology. Even if as here the occasion is fictitious, we immediately recognise the human reality of expression. In this curious blend of fiction and fact we see the genetic relationship of the portrait with the novel. (This observation can’t be original, but at least the occasion was.)
No pressure Claire, it’s your decision – students of basic emotion or human expression will find much of interest here. There had been a bit of talk about fine art prospects but what a miserable day this turned into… so late on a winter’s afternoon, so unsuitable in so many respects. In the distance, for example, is the noisy pump of the sewage truck making a long line to the long drop at Kaitarakihi Bay (the truck had followed us from Whatipu, where we became aware of it long before we saw it).
Effective people shots don’t come easy. What makes them stand out from the million others we see daily? My favourite portraits always seem to be framed the same way: 1. someone facing the camera, engaged or conveying some expression; 2. a sense of place, or at least of backdrop; 3. an easy, soft light, and a soft camera setting. Among the many hazards to a good portrait is one that is barely 15 years old: the high contrast setting on digital cameras, which flatters artistic landscapes but ruins portraiture – if you forget to change your settings.
Whatipu is a vast expanse of beach and wetland on Auckland’s west coast. It’s a wild place and amazingly changed since my first visit over 40 years ago – wider and wetter, it is now also far more vegetated. On a winter’s afternoon we barely sampled the place – there’s hours of it. After only a short interlude of sporadic sunshine, threatening cloud suggested a retreat to the car. Here Claire and her faithful doppelganger appear to enjoy some brief relaxation, in between rays. With thanks to Lucy for the chairs and Yana for other assistance.
RETROSPECTIVE, with thanks due to T.S. Eliot for the title (Ash Wednesday). An unusual sea fog was just lifting when we stopped at this rustic spot, on the road to Anatori in NW Nelson. Only the bridge made this viewpoint possible, plus of course the endearing co-operation of my model. All for art – with a large towel soon to hand. The highlight of a great summer, on this trip four of us camped out of a Morris Oxford. This image is a conversion from a colour slide.
Monochrome is so often the first choice for nude studies, especially for outdoor venues such as the beach or the bush. These are big on texture but typically have only limited palettes. However when we start with colour, before converting to monochrome in post processing, we can see that the case for colour can still be strong. The example below is not strictly b&w, of course, as the duotone option allows numerous combinations of tones.
At 1200 x 1920 pixels, this image suits desktops with 16:10 aspect ratios. Downloads for non-commercial use only.
This monochrome from the summer of 1980 is to grace the cover of an anniversary publication for PhotoForum NZ. The print was selected by author Nina Seja from the PF archive, where it has lain since publication the same year. It is one of two memorable images from a rainy afternoon in the western Wairarapa. After a dip in the Waingawa River, Jane kindly took cover under a large sheet of plastic. The camera was a Yashicamat 124G, using roll film in a square format. The book is announced at http://photoforum-nz.org/index.php?pageID=93
In post-processing this simple image transforms, giving two quite different versions. In the image above, I dialled back the saturation and increased the contrast (80% in each case), to mimic the current glossy style. In the monochrome below, each colour channel was separately modified in the conversion process, so the flax has come out lighter (the green & yellow channels) and the towel darker (blue channel) – and Claire’s lips also (magenta). The towel merging with the background means the image is now somewhat over-flaxed, while 22-year-old Claire looks even younger than before.
A change of tack now, as I pick up another theme from my early years of photography – the portrait. For people shots I’ve always liked simple set-ups by available light – and a timeless look. However there was no fooling Claire, who immediately nailed this as “Retro”. The location on the northern Manukau bears the New Zealand stamp I was after. A strong, cold sou-wester blew in from the beach and the sunlight was very patchy, yet Claire warmed to the task. However I only got the right vibe when I tried some frames as monochrome conversions, as in the sepia version below. So much of a portrait can be communicated in form, tone and texture. Colour is only occasionally essential.
6361c Claire at Kaitarakihi Bay
These 16:10 images can be downloaded as wallpaper, for screens with that aspect ratio. Permission is for personal use only. Copyright 2014 by Barney Brewster.