My visit to Taranaki last month offered no new opportunities for creative photography, but I have just re-discovered this unusual image, taken with a telephoto in our back garden (then) in Westown, New Plymouth one early spring. A power cable mars the lower portion (too hard to retouch!) but the main interest is the sense of depth in the clouds. The trees and the lower cloud are illuminated by street lights, but not the upper cloud. Two stars are visible. Although I took many further photos at different settings (some too slow for the cloud movement, others at similar shallow apertures) the formation quickly dissipated, along with my evening’s hopes. So much of long exposure work is like the dilemma at the printers: do want it fast, good and cheap? Choose two only.
This is the very first frame from a simple composition, one that I was subsequently unable to improve on. It is taken from Arthurstown, on the opposite side of the river, where protection works give an unobstructed viewpoint. Cumulus clouds by the full moon are appealing but are not that common; the main problem in photographing them is to stop them from blurring in the exposure required – that is, one which retains an adequate ISO and a sharp aperture setting. The three reflections and street lights are what made the scene worth recording, but the interesting thing is that the lights of the town aren’t reflected under the clouds, meaning they were higher and further north of Hokitika than this viewpoint suggests.
Another sample from my 2018 New Zealand calendar, this one is for May 2018. The holiday park at Kurow was decidedly off-season on the cold autumn night that we stayed there. A bitter, blustery wind was blowing but I coated up and left our snug cabin with tripod and gear, determined to make use of the wan moonlight in such an interesting setting – and was then pleasantly surprised to find that down by the river was quite sheltered. From the several hours I spent on the terraces, covering many angles on the deserted camp, this pic has emerged as a favourite. A second, quite different scene from this frigid outing also features in my upcoming Perfect Evenings photo book.
Monday 2nd October is the last day for my extra special prices on this 2018 calendar, post-free for NZ & Australia. There are still about 20 left – so why not purchase and enjoy?!
White pointers at night, Appleby, Nelson. 7.33pm, 4 September 2017
The difficulty with low angles in night photography is mainly in composition – craning the body to see whatever’s visible in the viewfinder, after steadying the tripod, set as low as it can go. In long grass there’s also a lot of levelling and lining-up. Also necessary after plenty of rain is something to keep your bended knee dry, although in this case the matted grass itself did good service. Using flash to highlight close objects is unpredictable but I was fairly sure the stalks would overexpose – the desired effect. Mixed lighting is not difficult by moonlight, as long as your extra lighting is not too bright, or is only brief. Rating just 2 watts, moonlight is easily swamped by street or house lights.
Puffy whites, AKA cumulus clouds, beloved by photographers, decorate otherwise blank skies and keep them interesting – even night skies, which are much lighter by moonlight and less populated by stars. The unusual thing about the scene above, taken well after dark, was the narrow “window of opportunity” for it. The cloud cover was low and pervasive, and the heavens opened up for only a few minutes the entire time I was out. Peak moments!
The location is actually landward of Rabbit Island (the bridge is visible here) but north of the stopbank and only marginally above sea level. Puddles from recent rain add to the texture of the land; the lights of Mapua brighten distant cloud. There are so many hard-to-repeat factors affecting any sense of achievement on my moonlight forays, but as long as it’s not raining or blowing something can usually be made of any new location. What never applies, though – unless it’s on my very doorstep – is “Oh I’ll get it next time”. Things are never quite the same, next visit.
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!
Although urban and sophisticated, it appears these sheep were only used to the glare of the neighbouring polytech hostel, and not moonlight paparazzi. The venue is an open space tucked away behind the city cemetery, and between WITT and Te Henui walkway, in the vale below. Small Maori pa abound in this vicinity and their reserve status contributes to having this unfrequented, pastoral scene in the city. Here night-time photographers can pursue their craft with a pleasant sense of calm and solitude, despite the incidental noise from the hostel. The clouds reflect city lights; the light beam is wastage leaping the boundary fence, offstage left. How very different this looks by day!
2860-61. No moon, no worries, 8.49-8.50pm, 26 October 2015
The city by evening can have plenty of light for night photography, either diffused from street lights or reflected by low cloud. So if your moon disappears from view, look for other possibilities. In this case, an unusual streak of light came from student quarters just over the fence, while the cloud is coloured by sodium street lighting. The pasture adjoins a historic reserve (an old pa site to the right) above Te Henui Stream and borders the city cemetery on the left. This evening I had the place all to myself – except for the sheep. Two telephoto images make up this panorama; double click on the scene for a larger view.
2866. A pastoral pocket, at night. 8.59pm, 26 October 2015
By twilight I checked out this pastoral slope above the valley of the Henui, within New Plymouth city. A good length of pasture stretches from the river reserve up and over one old pa site to another well preserved one, next to WITT. This part of the paddock is bordered by a student hostel (whose lights streak the grass) and the town cemetery (behind the macrocarpas). I was in luck with some sheep to people the landscape; they were watchful and a little nervous, but not enough to flee the scene – a telephoto lens kept me at a suitable distance. Low cloud reflected city lights, but regrettably the full moon had just risen into the cloud.
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.
A futile gesture in the top fosse of this stronghold, conspicuous in New Plymouth’s western suburbs. The pa is high but I was sober – indeed the chill sou’wester was sobering, so a hip flask would’ve been welcome. The pa’s history is not accessible online and as it is barely mentioned in the standard works on Taranaki history, it was likely long abandoned by 1828, when the first Europeans arrived at the Sugar Loaves. Its preservation was only assured in 1989; today the pa overlooks suburbs at every turn – but the views are great. It is an impressive sight for visitors, although actually little visited.
MARCH 2016: Naked mountain, Arawhata Rd; Opunake district
In an earlier post I asked “Where are the cows?”, meaning cattle of course, as Taranaki is host to thousand of beef cattle, as well as its emblematic dairy cows. However, these two images are the only nod in their direction in my 2016 calendar – an oversight, possibly. Yet it is surprising how few herds are seen along the roadside, and a good deal of pasture is now strip-gazed, a practice lacking in pictorial charm. See previous posts for calendar details, and how to order.
With my new photo book 36 Views of Mt Taranaki to be released shortly, it seemed obvious to have our 2016 calendar feature the mountain too. Not so obvious was the decision not to use anything from the book and to turn the images into fine art monochromes – although not strictly black&white, as the image above shows. A few are B&W originals but most have been stripped of their colour data. The tones and textures of the peak lend themselves well to this treatment. I will have more news on the calendar and on the new book shortly.
A cool southerly breezed down the Aorere valley as dark descended on the chief settlement of western Golden Bay. Heading out on Beach Road, away from the village, soon demonstrated the power of microclimate, as around the corner, in the lee of the hill forming a backdrop to the township, there was utter calm. The two photos were taken about 100 metres apart, but with telephoto (135mm) and wide angle (28mm) lenses. Above, 30 seconds; below, 15 seconds – almost too slow to hold the cloud formation. Not surprisingly, clouds move faster on telephoto images than on wide angle ones.
0679 Flotsam on a twilit tide, Golden Bay. 8.30pm, 5 March 2015
In photography the golden hour before sunset is followed by the blue hour of developing darkness. The blue cast can be mitigated with a light balance setting above “Direct sunlight”, which in degrees Kelvin measures about 5500. On the Nikon D700 you can choose to a maximum of 10,000 deg. Conversely, the blue cast can be exaggerated with a tungsten or sodium colour balance – each below 4,000 deg K – especially useful if your subject is lit by old style torch, headlight or house lights. However the reflected moonlight shown here has an unmodified light balance, for a simple composition. Selected by my daughters, each independently.
200mm, ISO 500. 5 secs at f16. Direct sunlight light balance.
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.
3409 Bold sentry, Paritutu, New Plymouth. 11.34pm, 21 July 2013
I admit to some anxiety parading a mannequin in a public place late at night, being too old for the art student look, so I was relieved to have this popular venue to myself for the duration. The torso was a gift from my daughter, intended as offset to a female mannequin she admired in one of my old photos. The pot plant is 100% artificial too. Moonlight and port lighting (background) are supplemented with torchlight on my two props. The steps lead to a brutalist viewing platform below Paritutu, the steep volcanic remnant which dominates the local coastline. A cloudlet wandered over, to complete the composition. Not recommended for biscuit tins.
0085 Brewster’s Best Assorted. 9.28pm, 4 February 2015
I believe this is more biscuit tin than chocolate box, which is an elevation of one step in the Brewster Heirarchy of Fine Art. At least it is free of ferns and magnolias. From notes made some years ago I see that the three levels above “Biscuit tin” are deemed as Classic, Iconic and Sublime (also known as “Shock & awe”). In approbation these 5 levels correspond to good, very good, excellent, fave and absolute fave… Moonlight reflections have the same exposure value as clouds typically – that is, higher than city glow, which is minimal here. With a telephoto you can reach into a well lit landscape even when from my own position the moon was completely clouded. The long shutter speed has given clear images of the boats, which surprises me as they usually blur with sea motion.
A twilight moon always rises over a flat landscape – in lighting terms, at least, after sunset. Two strong aids to composition, much to my liking, are silhouettes and clouds, and only these are a match for the moon’s brightness as night begins to settle. A variety of clouds is always welcome, but too many at once and the moon will be continually ducking in and out of view. This deliberately simple image – very much taken with digital wallpaper in mind – records another routine cosmic occasion, as our fellow traveller looms into the gloom, ready to light a summer’s night [applause].
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
9978-79 The golf course after dark, New Plymouth. 10.36pm, 3 February 2015
In post-processing I chose two frames which looked doubtful for the auto program to handle, so was agreeably surprised to have them adroitly merged, despite the likely dislocation of fast-moving clouds. I had stopped these on each frame with short exposures; faster shutter speeds were possible but only at wider apertures, which would sacrifice depth of field. City lights fill in the moon-shadow on the left and highlight the macrocarpa trunk and offshore clouds, but to the right is sodium-free, being leeward of the ridge. Human silhouettes would add further interest – one day I must duplicate some people by having them move from one frame to the other in the pause between exposures. Double-click on the image for a closer look.
9940 On the links, Fitzroy full moon. 10.05pm, 3 February 2015
Sited as it is on old dunes, the golf course has some pleasant undulations; two stiles on the street suggested a ramble. A potential problem for moonlight photography was the row of sodium nearby – moonlight can’t compete with city lights, but when they are at a good distance some balance can emerge. The two light sources are also far apart in their colour temperatures so an either/or selection must be made on your camera setting (actually not quite true – an intermediate choice is possible, but not as a preset). In this case the warm sodium glow was acceptable and a higher colour temperature ensured a natural look to the clouds. I asked my wife & companion Narumon to stand on the rise and she held her pose very ably while the clouds moved into position. The image has been cropped to 16×9 and now graces my own screen as wallpaper.
2364 Autumn birch, Eltham, Taranaki. 6.17pm, 4 May 2013
One early moonless evening I wandered a small block attached to a church camp, using flash in the deepening twilight. Balancing the light from two different sources often takes some doing, but I was happy by frame 3 on this occasion. I took this in colour, converting it later, then adding a warm colour highlight, a different process from duotone. Later I took some shots using a monochrome setting, and to my surprise although these other photos downloaded as B&W, when the frames were opened for the usual work-over – hey presto, they were all still in colour. Well, keeps the options open!
9428 Moon force attack, Waiwhakaiho, 10.26pm, 5 January 2015
New Zealand flax again, plus full moon and scuds, in an image combining flash with background moonlight. To use flash in this way, start with aperture selection. This means finding the f-stop that fits your camera distance, as the flash has its own inherent shutter-speed. Then extend your actual shutter speed until your foreground/background balances out in a nice Goldilocks exposure (not too bright, not too dark). Unusual effects will show, for example, when your foreground sways in the breeze in the post-flash part of the exposure. The resulting slight double-image is just one more random element in long exposure photography, adding to its interest and creative potential.
9396 Te Rewa Rewa silhouettes, New Plymouth. 9.58pm, 5 January 2015
For the night photographer New Zealand has some distinctive silhouettes to add to sky & cloud studies. Shown are cabbage trees (ti kouka) but tree ferns, pohutukawa and the nikau palm also come to mind. Puriri, young kauri and kahikatea have great profiles in specimen too. However the usual problem is to find one or several on their own, handily arranged for your viewpoint. Here the sky is moonlit blue while the low cloud reflects city lights to striking effect. Jupiter and Venus for the top corner were unfortunately not available.
Marahau finale panorama, 7.15 – 7.16pm, 8 September 2014
Moonlit clouds – how I know these well, as a pleasant pillow for my head. Here’s another practice shot, complementing my earlier Marahau post, in the art of stitching up two wide angle frames. Each was exposed for just 5 seconds, in order to keep the clouds well-defined. In silhouette are the headlands and islands of Abel Tasman National Park, on the western side of Tasman Bay, Nelson. Double-click on the image to see a larger version.
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.
8254. Marahau moonlight, Nelson. 9.21pm, 13 July 2014
While the others snuggled down to watch rugby on TV, I ventured out into the cool evening and walked towards the Abel Tasman. I followed a shoreline lapped by tiny surf, and set my tripod in the sand every few minutes, only to discover that my lens cap was missing. Retracing my steps along the deserted beach, I saw the moonlit reflection shimmy alongside Adele Island (Motuareronui, big island of the swift moving clouds, is its original Maori name). The view east across Tasman Bay made for a brilliant evening, but the outing came to an early conclusion when I found my backup battery was uncharged. However I did recover my lens cap.
105mm (70-300 Nikon zoom), ISO 500, 30 seconds at f11
My meditations, my musings are never more enchanting than when I am able to forget myself. – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
NEWS: My 2013 Night Visions calendar has now sold out. The NIGHT VISIONS book is still available direct, at $40 post-free (signed copies, with 4 x greeting cards as a bonus). The book has had some favourable notices: “A unique, often eerie, new perspective” (D-Photo magazine); “Enchanting” (Nelson Mail); also in North & South magazine (November issue: “a bewitching mix of rural and urban landscapes”).
The illiteracy of the future will be ignorance not of reading or writing, but of photography. – László Moholy-Nagy (Weimar photographer, 1926)
Oh for a rising moon behind! But there was heavy overcast – and anyway, the moon was yet to rise. By the way, a big moon rising after dark is past full and on the wane – not many people seem to know that.
This is the founding church at Ratana Pa, near Wanganui. Photography is not allowed within the gates, but as they are quite a feature in themselves I was content to take this from outside them. It was that time of evening when flash balances well with a longer exposure.
At their best, photographs as symbols not only serve to help illuminate some of the darkness of the unknown, they also serve to lessen the fears that too often accompany the journeys from the known to the unknown. – Wynn Bullock