LOL, as I did when I read this 6-word snippet online just recently. This is Memento mori [“Remember your mortality”] meets Embedded Quote, with a colourful ornament from Te Henui cemetery, New Plymouth. What it is to be human, and of a certain age! Will any of it matter in another 50 years?
On a weekday recently I went walking with a friend up our local valley, to the Maitai caves. Our wander through the forest became quite an enchanting one (with a little mud thrown in). The day was cloudy but not too hot or cold – no insects, no people! We didn’t actually get to the caves, but there were many interesting trees to look at, including tawa, and kamahi and mountain nei nei both in flower. Streamside we saw unusual clusters of beech leaves, sitting in patches underwater, unmoving. I didn’t take many photos, but I was pleased with this fairly abstract one.
1/80th sec at f5.6. Nikon 50mm; ISO 500
SEPTEMBER in my 2019 calendar! Lake Mahinapua is the first stop after Hokitika as you head south down the South Island’s West Coast. Surrounded by native forest, the lake’s a total gem left to us by the last glacial retreat ten thousand years ago. On a weekday morning in April there are few camper vans visiting and even fewer watercraft about, although perhaps a fizzboat and a Nordic waterskier could have added some visual tension here.
As a basically monochromatic study, the textures and horizons neatly summarise the special appeal of the celebrated West Coast landscape. Except in early summer when the flax and rata are in flower, it is not an especially colourful landscape, although it is certainly a green and pleasant one.
The scene has been exposed for its highlights; a high dynamic range image would give a quite different effect. It would show the correct colour for the reeds and distant forest, but without artistry or any emotional appeal. The very literalness of HDR photography Ieaves me cold, seen at worst when a landscape under broad daylight is absurdly combined with a vivid, overarching sunset. Really, which planet do these photographers live on?
1/640th sec at f16. Nikon 85mm; ISO 250
An idyll of sheep grazing peacefully by a grove of cabbage trees (ti kouka), on old dunelands behind Wharariki Beach, in Nelson. This is a wider version of the image appearing as FEBRUARY in my Modest Epiphanies 2019 calendar. It was taken on the foot track to the beach – in New Zealand the grandeur of the beach matches its relative accessibility. The grandest beaches require a walk from the carpark, although this is never a great distance (Whatipu on the Auckland west coast is another example).
It’s a late-summery photo, taken around mid day and looking straight into the sun. I believe the lens was shielded from direct rays by getting someone to shade it with a hand, but there is still a slight flare above one cloud. The scene is warmer and more saturated than the native record, of course, thanks to artistic licence in post-processing. However in my taking this as a jpeg (rather than in RAW) my post-pro options have been more limited.
With the Lumix LX3 there was the luxury of being able to choose the format ratio before taking the photo, with three options: 2:3 [the 35mm standard]; 3:4 and the panoramic 16×9 [as above]. This last ratio fits a typical laptop screen and so lends itself well to wallpaper / screensaver applications. And in fact, this very frame was my own wallpaper for a lengthy period.
1/640th at f8. “35mm” zoom setting; ISO 125
Our final visit with Rumi, at least for the time being; here the anxious, solitary image of Claire reinforces the simple message, one of many brevities which gleam like semi-precious stones in his meandering poetic landscapes.
For New Zealanders the landscape above should also have an evocative power, as flax, ti kouka and nikau feature. I’ve frequently used such backgrounds, while the beach towel was a consistent minor theme in the photos of my youth (when so much leisure was spent riverside, or on the beach).
With this pungent comment Rumi sits at the crossroads of western and eastern mysticism. The sentiment permeates all types of introspective spirituality, and is familiar to Christians through Luke’s singular statement that “The Kingdom of God is within you”. Meanwhile it is of course a dominant theme in eastern mysticism.
Rumi wrote voluminously, having no shortage of material to draw on. Contributing to this, his early years had been unsettled, as his family were refugees from Mongol invasion. The family travelled far from his birthplace, ending up in what is now modern Turkey. Scholars have shown restraint in not naming his collected aphorisms Ruminations.
Thanks again to young Claire for her pensive posing for this blueprint and foundation for enlightenment.
Not every image in my Modest Epiphanies 2019 Calendar was actually taken in the month it displays, but this autumnal scene was a good fit for MAY, although the only hint of autumn being in the misty background. New Zealand’s native vegetation is almost entirely evergreen, but summer shows with flower stalks on the flax and crimson flowers on the pohutukawa branches. This scene is Kiwi As, and most New Zealanders would correctly place it north of the Waikato River.
The Awhitu peninsula has a remote feel, despite the proximity of Auckland’s bright lights across the Manukau Harbour on any evening. The topography is surprisingly rugged, owing to the area being largely old dunes of great size and steepness. Lagoons abound and with flat, defendable heights nearby the district supported many small Maori settlements in the early days.
The appeal here rests on the extra texture of the raindrops on the leaves, enhanced also by the muted framing and background. The Lumix is a sturdy, versatile camera, and amazingly light in the hand (and on the hip) after any time spent lugging around the Nikon D700 and a heavy 85mm telephoto.
1/125th sec at f4.5; Lumix LX3 12.8mm; ISO 80
This scene is how I found it, except for removing a fallen twig or two. Beside a grave a cherub sits on a plinth, under an elm. An artificial vine crosses her feet and a plastic wreath is nearby – I doubt that she will still be in the same position today, as, sadly, cemetery vandalism is common.
This was the main cemetery for New Plymouth; I have two grandparents and a great-grandfather buried there. The oldest part goes back to the 1860s and includes headstones related to the Anglo-Maori Wars; there is also an extensive section for returned soldiers. Some areas are hilly but these are also nicely planted or fringed by trees and shrubs.
As a cemetery Te Henui offers an unusual variety of scenes, topographies and chronologies. It would warrant a high place in the Lonely Planet guide to NZ cemeteries, come the day. That’s a jest.
1/4 sec at f16. Nikon 85mm; ISO <200
“Eternity is really long, especially near the end”, according to Woody Allen. Of course eternity can’t be measured in years, but the only other scale we have is that of generations, counting from our own backwards or forwards, to the umpteenth. This too is an odd meditation: some people can barely remember their grandparents, and how many can recall their great-grandparents (I met two of mine as a boy)? Conversely, on our 100th birthday, will we look on our gathered descendants in wonder and bemusement – if not detachment?
On a well cared-for grave this uncommon collation of colour presents an ironic contrast: the most ephemeral of natural beauty is mimicked in everlasting plastic, and set against a single, powerful word engraved in enduring stone. That word will inevitably claim us all!
Memento mori is a Latin phrase which in loose translation means “Don’t lose sight of your own mortality”. This is the 13th in a series of New Zealand cemetery cameos.
1/30th sec at f16. Nikon 85mm; ISO 200
“In the Book of Life, ages one to forty are the text, what follows is just the commentary”. Yup, I’ve always been partial to a good epigram, and have been collating a list lately (mostly attributed) with the notion of embedding them in my images. This extends the line I began in 2012 with my first book, Night Visions, where a pithy quote below each image added to the impact – or at least that was my hope.
The two images here are unattributed, but the first comes from a TV commercial for glassware, circa 1970, and is surely due for a comeback now. The thought intrigued me at the time. However the obverse (below) is something I made up myself, in response to a relative’s fearful comment regarding a looming dental appointment. So is that equally true?
To my mind, this pairing is more effective, but the pears, being organic and rustic, were still very appealing. Feel free to comment.
Taranaki is famous for its well-watered pastures and of course for its dairy industry. This is FEBRUARY in my Modest Epiphanies 2019 Calendar, which is a selection from my book project of the same title. It features Al (my wife) walking towards a field of maize in south Taranaki, alongside what remains of the old Opunake branch railway. It was taken on a windblown afternoon, and as it happens, we visited this location again in August 2018, on another breezy day – but in winter.
Our recent visit surprised me with the changes to be seen from the same viewpoint over seven years later: the cornfield was back in grass of course, but the boxthorn hedge has disappeared. Also lacking were the summer grasses (and clouds – a cool, clear southwester marked the afternoon). A wintry vista it was.
Photography gives us such a useful and interesting record of little changes in what we assume are “stable” scenes, particularly country ones. I will take more from the same location, sometime!
Purchase my 2019 calendars here: http://www.brewster.co.nz/calendars/
1/320th sec at f11. Nikon 28mm; ISO 500
A roadside view from a calendar tour of the South Island, made over autumn with my wife Al. This early morning scene explained the chilly temperature in our camper van overnight. We then drove a little way up the summit road before the snow and slush made it clear that the rest of the way would be on foot.
This telephoto view is from above the main highway, not far from Mitchell’s Cottage. I like the long shadows here, and the interest added by the derelict woolshed and the sheep. The scale of the scene does not come across though, the full grandeur of the range being obscured by cloud. Fortunately this cleared during our long trudge to the tops.
The view west from the sharpest corner on the Lindis Pass-Tarras road, heading north from Wanaka. I had driven to Central Otago to meet up with a Wellington friend, thinking that Spring would follow me south. It didn’t, and a biting southerly blew for some days. When it relented some beautiful weather followed, but here I was back on the road for home, and on the safe side of it. I parked a good distance from the corner and walked back for this striking scene, which I had noted on the way down.
The modest Lindis River flows below the new-leaf willows. The beehives were an unexpected touch and in composition terms they could be called “third level” – detail which adds interest to an image, but which is not always seen at first glance. The clouds are emphasised by a polarising filter, but the high contrast is also inherent in Fujichrome, the film used here. This well saturated slide film (all “chromes” were slide films) reigned supreme from the late 1980s. Slides from the 1970s and early ’80s now seem dull, colour-wise, when compared with later films, which were contrastier and more saturated.
This arid scene is typical of the Central Otago, although the compressed topography is not quite so. The geology is schist and the climate dry and continental. Not far north from here, Otago turns into Canterbury, another distinctive and more angular landscape, based on greywacke.
Back in the day I loved the surrealism of this film (Infra-red Ektachrome), and used it quite often when I had an extra Pentax on the go. This trip was my first proper visit to the far corner of Golden Bay, and I was very taken with the graceful landscapes we found there, despite having to drive on the awful gravel roads of the time (not that much has been sealed since, over 40 years later).
As I recall, only one of the film’s three emulsion layers was actually sensitive to infra red; the other two simply displaced their colours. Infra Red Ektachrome was a high contrast film for its time, designed as it was for aerial reconnaissance (rather than LP record covers!). Exposure requirements for high contrast film were always precise (meaning: unforgiving), and here the sheep are overexposed. My enthusiastic attempts to burn them in post-scan are sadly visible, on inspection.
A scenic reserve since 1895, the Kaihoka Lakes are a delightful resort, especially when the wind is not blowing. This is the second lake, a short and pleasant walk from the first, through lush bush. Lake no. 1 is prettier, being more bush-fringed; both lakes sit in the bowl of old sand dunes. They are accessed on a side road which branches off at Westhaven Inlet, soon after the end of the tarseal.
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.
[Offer now expired, but see link below]
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.
1/1250th sec at f16. Nikon 85mm; ISO 2000
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.
1/500th sec at f11. Nikon 85mm; ISO 1000
“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.
1/800th sec at f16. Nikon 85mm; ISO 1000
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.
1/1600th sec at f16. Nikon 85mm; ISO 1000
“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.
1/250th sec at f6.3. Nikon 85mm; ISO 500
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.
1/640th sec at f8. Nikon 220mm; ISO 2000
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!
1/500th sec at f5. Nikon 85mm; ISO 500
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).
1/50th at f40. Nikon 250mm zoom; ISO 2000
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.
1/400th sec at f16. Nikon 85mm; ISO 250
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.
1/500th sec at f16. Nikon 85mm; ISO 500
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…
1/640th sec at f11. Nikon 85mm; ISO 250
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.
1/500th sec at f3.5. Nikon 85mm; ISO 500
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.
1/10 sec at f18. Nikon 300mm; ISO 250
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.
1/500th at f16. Nikon 85mm; ISO 250
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.
1/250th sec at f16. Nikon 85mm; ISO 500
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.
1/500th sec at f4.5. Nikon 85mm; ISO 500
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!
Welcome sunlight, at Valley View Cottage
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 email@example.com 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.
85mm; ISO 250. f11 at 1000th sec.
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.
85mm; ISO 250. 1/500th @ f3.5
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.
85mm; ISO 250. 1/640th @ f11.
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.
85mm, ISO 1000. 1/500th at f8
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.
135mm, ISO 500. 1/1250s at f9
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.
50mm; ISO 250. 1/250th sec @ f7.1. Flash
7753. Mystic pool, Whatipu. 3.53pm, 12 June 2014
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.
85mm, ISO 250. 1/250th sec at f11
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
6858b Mana Island liberty. 4.53pm, 7 May 2014
“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.
85mm, ISO 2000. 1/500th sec at f16