DECEMBER in my Modest Epiphanies 2019 Calendar (now sold out). This is a nice balance between ambient twilight and flash, which shows as only a hint on the flax. Most magazine photos with close-up subjects (especially people) are illuminated in the same way, but often with the subject massively highlighted.
The Sugar Loaves – so named by Captain James Cook – are volcanic remnants about 1.75 million years old, adjacent to (and partly sheltering) Port Taranaki. This view is from the base of the most conspicuous remnant, land-based Paritutu Rock, looking out on to Motumahanga (Saddleback), the most outlying of the islands.
This is JULY in my 2019 Modest Epiphanies calendar – still available for your purchase, by the way. This winter angle on the tidal flat behind Tahuna Beach benefits from its split focus and from two figures captured by chance (someone with their dog; I saw no one at the time).
The split focus involves firstly a close focus with the telephoto, and beginning the half-minute exposure with flash, then immediately moving the lens barrel to infinity, for the remaining 29 seconds of the exposure. This routine is an awkward one to repeat, but the challenge is to get a balance in the lighting between the flash-lit foreground and the moonlit background. On the tidal flat much of the lighting came from the adjacent motor camp, but fortunately that too has balanced with the low power of the moonbeams.
I could name the dog walker as Sara N. Dippity – thank you Sara. This demonstrates that not everything that intrudes on your long exposure frame is a spoiler. Compositionally the usual challenge at beach locations is finding something interesting to populate the foreground, to add interest and a sense of depth.
Moonlit grave at Te Hapu, Golden Bay. 9.28pm, 7 February 2012
This follows my Memento Mori post of last month, and records the lonesome hilltop grave of young Cecil Addison, a Tb victim from 1924. The wooden headstone has a carved inscription; the site is protected from stock by a more recent fence. The background blur of colour is my wife Al on her way to a nearby seat bench, unaware of my long exposure.
This uncommon scene has another attribute: it shows both moonlight and twilight, in equal strength. Of course this odd balance of light must occur at some point with every moonrise, but is hard to notice at the time. The rising moon casts no shadows until twilight has dimmed deeply enough for them to show. Moonlight is a feeble 2 watts, so all other light (such as twilight, street lights) outshines it. Each full moon when I am out with my camera I tell myself I must be on the watch for this intriguing moment of light balance, but even so, it usually eludes me!
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.
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.
Across from the huge petro plant at Motunui, north Taranaki, is Waipapa cemetery, a Maori urupa dating from 1923. The cemetery is unusual in having a surrounding wall and a gateway, while its monuments present an awesome contrast with the industrial silos on the other side of Otaraoa Rd, to the northeast. However, most of the Motunui installation is out of sight, beyond the knoll.
When I visited here on a rainy summer’s day in 2010 the no-exit gravel road ended as it does now, just above the beach, but as a neglected cul de sac, overgrown with roadside weeds. Amongst the overgrowth was unsightly rubbish, dumped over a long period, and potatoes grew large in the resulting compost. Later visits found the road-end cleaned up and much improved, and two calls by moonlight were memorable for the dairy cows in the adjacent paddock, and the surf on the cobble beach below.
The juxtaposition of cross and silos was achieved with a long telephoto setting and a tiny aperture – even f45 is possible at maximum zoom on this lens. This gives a better depth of focus, compensating for the inherent shallow focus of any telephoto lens. After focus, the second challenge at twilight was naturally the changing light, and the trade-off between selecting a small aperture or a short exposure (to freeze cloud movement). In these situations it always comes down to this: you can’t optimise both, so just choose one!
A view of Nelson’s southern suburbs at low tide, from the cycle trail near Best Island. A haze of wood smoke lies over the city, as does the light trail from a plane. The whitest lights are those of the airport runway. The distant hills mark successive earthquake upthrusts over several million years. The inlet is slowly filling in, but that might be another million years (what a fabulous time lapse that would be, if we could see it).
The brightly lit fringe of sea grass made focussing a breeze, especially with a fast lens like the f1.4 Nikon 85mm. This lens is a terrific piece of glass, yet so heavy to cart around! The level bike path gave an easy placement for my tripod, and not a cyclist was seen. The evening’s work was less pleasant with the southerly breeze, although some shelter came from fenceline shrubbery. Waiting around for long exposures on cold winter nights (they are all cold, bar those with northerly rain) makes you keen to reclaim your creature comforts.
Although I was not so far from an occasional passing car (Best Island has over 30 houses), what generally surprises me in these semi-rural settings after dark is the ambient noise. This comes mainly from heavy highway traffic but sometimes from nearby industry as well. Rural quiet may well exist somewhere locally, but on any still night on the Waimea Plains it seems in short supply.
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…
I have not seen three of these lovely birds together before, but one of them obliged me by holding its pose mid-reflection. Although this was an obvious job for a good telephoto, my long lens was unfortunately out of commission. A photo of this nature – a rapidly rising moon, feeding birds – usually requires any number of frames before a satisfying shot is achieved. However let’s not forget that trigger-happy fingers mean “any number of frames” all have to be carefully evaluated later on your monitor, back home.
The blue hour of twilight is strongly featured here but its effect can be dampened by changing the colour temperature setting in-camera, by drastically increasing the degrees Kelvin. The simple composition has enabled an easy crop to the laptop screen ratio of 16:9, a panoramic format more suited to a “scene for screens”. Of course it is also a good fit for this type of composition: wide horizontals with the main interest small and central.
Kotuku to the Maori, our white heron is the “eastern great egret” to the rest of the world. Although well distributed across Asia and Australia, the egret’s only breeding site in New Zealand is at Okarito Lagoon, in South Westland. The estuary shown above is the extensive one which occupies Waimea Inlet; the bridge at left connects to Rabbit Island. This useful vantage point for any moonrise over Nelson’s eastern hills is found via the public reserve at the very end of Hoddy Rd – a narrow, oddly curvy road still waiting to be discovered by movie location scouts.
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.
Like some national flag, this somewhat humdrum scene has its quadrants, as well as enough eye-catching detail to make a composition. I can’t say it’s a favourite but it has been promoted up the ranks for selection by an enthusiastic supporter – so it must have something. What? Both colour highlights and silhouette are in there, along with natural texture and the blue wash of a calm Golden Bay (not always, of course – these rocks are foreshore defences). Above all, though, it has middle lines to divide – and unite – the composition. Both horizon and tree are in that “Avoid!” place, dead centre. Taking the place of the “third party” in composition terms are far-off lights, clouds and stars. Spending time at this quiet, far corner of the settlement made for an enchanted evening, despite no awesome photos resulting.
Re-framed to 16×10 for emphasis; 28mm, ISO 2000 30 seconds at f8
This is the September image in my North by Northwest 2017 Golden Bay calendar, of which only a small number remain unsold (see earlier posts for ordering details). This late night, full moon scene was taken at high tide, on a small creek on the northern arm of the inlet, in far Golden Bay. The picture also features in my next publication, Perfect Evenings: Long exposures from dusk to dark, which is now in preparation. A sequel to Night Visions: Reflections for the moonlight hours, the new book will round out my twilight & night photography, with the addition of a text explaining my approach and a technical section for those interested in the finer points of camera work at night.
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.
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.
5593 High tide at Kaikoura. 8.36pm, 21 February 2011
Looking lately at some of my own images taken in broad sunlight I knew immediately why I do so little of it – the light is so commonplace! Striking images are harder to achieve. At the end of the day however, in evening sunlight or dimming twilight, the world seems transformed – and the landscape changes with the light. Four years ago we were on our way along the Kaikoura waterfront to see the king tide from the wharf, when I took this strange sea, high on the shoreline.
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.
0362 Yana by the Aorere, Golden Bay. 8.40pm, 4 March 2015
On a lovely late summer evening I took a break from the moonrise to ask Yana to pose as the highlight for this composition. Flash gives a solid block of colour, as expected. The river mouth is intentionally underexposed, while the fisherman is included to add some depth. My initial jpeg from the RAW file was disappointing and not at all faithful to the limpid tones of the original, so adjustments were made in post-processing. This scene was only a short walk from our accommodation at the Collingwood campground. The township is based on a sandspit but is more famous for its flammability.
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.
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.
2727 Wet evening, Whangarei Harbour. 5.24pm, 25 May 2013
On a sodden summer’s day here in Taranaki I’ve been looking through my yearly folders for fitting material. This high-tide scene from Mcleod’s Bay, on the northern shores of Whangarei Harbour, takes in the blue of twilight and the clean, bright highlights of torchlight. I was aiming for some depth with the tree-studded islet offshore, but was surprised by the keen colour contrast. Umbrella photography has its payoffs, but also its price – a good torch tumbled out of my grasp, down the slope and (one part thereof) into the sea below.
85mm, ISO 100. 4 secs at f16. Tungsten light balance
9289 NZ flax with moonrise, Ahu Ahu Rd, Taranaki. 8.59pm, 4 January 2015
My previous post left out another great NZ silhouette, Phormium tenax, now in summer flower and shown here in only semi-, thanks to flash. Taken at a sheltered location south of Oakura, one of the few north-facing beaches along the western North Island. The coast here is very walkable, as two footbridges link the Ahu Ahu, Weld and Timaru road ends with Oakura resort. To get the moon this size I used the long end of my zoom, and then self-timed the shutter to reduce shake (hand-held being quite marginal for this focal length). While big moons always mean big, telephoto lenses, the whopper moons often seen in popular media are invariably double exposures or superimpositions.
“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.
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.
At Bell Block, a suburban outlier of New Plymouth, the Mangati Stream meets the coast through a steep shingle bank. This last reach came into view after sunset as we came up from the beach, by the new walkway extension. Adding to the uncommon textural unity was a soft, warm twilight. It was a lovely summer’s night.
8075 Hauraki moonlit selfie, to tow truck soundtrack
This is the last frame from a series I took from Achilles Point, a suburban vantage point at St Heliers, Auckland. The view is east, towards Brown’s Island (Motukorea), with Great Barrier Island on the far horizon. More a matter of record than any artistic statement, this was the last frame because during the 30-second exposure I heard unusual truck noises. I was unaware that I had parked in a verboten zone, and the Draconian Guard from Auckland Council were preparing to tow my car away. Fortunately I got back there before its wheels left the ground, but this is probably the most expensive photo I’ve taken, and one with potentially the greatest inconvenience. Parking hazards are now added to an impressive list of other challenges for the night time photographer.
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
Two frames merged into one, so same ferry twice – each exposure is 30 seconds, by moonlight. The Point is at St Heliers; it’s a good lookout as long as you don’t get caught (as I did) by the local council’s draconian parking restrictions. Park well down the street!
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.
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.
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.
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