Minor epiphany at Maitai

3028. Minor epiphany at Maitai

3028. Minor epiphany at Maitai, Nelson. 9.02pm, 25 November 2015

In valleys in summertime the evening can be well advanced before the full moon shows above the hills. To use twilight as well you’ll need to choose the evening just before the moon hits 100% full, when it rises before sunset. It can be fun to perch this lovely orb in various quirky ways, but the surprise is just how quickly – in a matter of seconds – the moon moves away from your careful line-up of picture elements, as I found here while wandering the Waahi Taakaro golf course in the Maitai valley.

As well as their cultivated landscapes and easy terrain, golf courses after-hours offer the night photographer something further – a generally safe setting. There’s only a small chance of stumbling into a ditch, of sudden intrusion, or of being run down by something or someone. Golf courses have their quiet corners, and often you can slip in the back way, across a stile somewhere along the boundary.

50mm; ISO 1250. 1/250th sec at f2. Hand-held; flash.

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Te Henui ti kouka, 1 & 2

2791. Te Henui ti kouka

2791 & 2794. Te Henui ti kouka in flower, by moonlight. 25 October 2015

Usually I try to avoid subtlety, but these two images a short interval apart demonstrate the use of flash. In the scene above – the steep flank of an old pa above the Te Henui in New Plymouth – the flash has a fill-in function but also highlights the central tree trunk. The image below gives away my vantage point, one of the two new (2013) footbridges on the walkway. Here the flash illuminates the railings but is not strong enough to highlight the background. It’s a startling shot but I prefer the straight one above. A perfect spring evening, it was quite still in the sheltered valley, with the rising moon waxing at 90%. This was our most enchanting pause on the walkway, one open to the moonlight and enhanced by the heady scent of the cabbage trees.

DSC_2794.16x10

28mm; ISO 500 & 1000. 30 seconds @ f5.6; @ f8.

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Tic tac toe: Your move

Sundown beefs, Kaihoka

Tic tac toe: your move. Golden Bay, 7 January 2012, 9.33pm

When they get bored with pasture, cattle can freely roam these dunes at Kaihoka, but it looked like these ones were pondering their next move in a game of tic tac toe. Taken after sundown, my flash has caught their eyes and added form to blackness. This effect is different from the red-eye syndrome of old party snaps, but I know not why. The half hour after sunset is an excellent time to mix light sources, while unusual adjacencies also add interest. The colour temperature was boosted for this series, to offset the cool twilight.

85mm, ISO 2000. 1/3s at f8. 10,000 deg K

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Autumn in the Maitai gloom

0973 Maitai twilight, Nelson

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

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Yana by the Aorere, Golden Bay

0362 Aorere rivermouth, Golden Bay

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.

28mm, ISO 500. 3 secs at f11

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Autumn birch, Eltham

2364 Autumn birch, Eltham

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!

50mm, ISO 2000. 1/6th sec at f3.2. Flash

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Pukekura Park lights

9039 Pukekura summer lights

9039 Pukekura Park lights. 9.56pm, 22 December 2014

New Plymouth’s central park is not much fun to stroll through clutching a tripod, especially along with the evening crowds out to see the same lighting spectacle (and the free performances). So I left my ballast behind. This sort of photo is more effective in twilight rather than after dark, but on the other hand, flash is more dramatic on foregrounds. The colour changes on the spheres were rapid and uneven (in exposure terms) and as I did not want to hold up the company I took only a few frames, stopping down as much as I could. The golden glow is the fountain; the ducks did not register.

50mm, ISO 2000. 1/250th sec at f13. Flash

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Moon force attack, Waiwhakaiho

Moon force attack at Waiwhakaiho

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.

85mm, ISO 2000. 1.3/sec at f9. Flash

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NZ flax with moonrise

9289 Flax with moonrise

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.

300mm, ISO 2500. 1/250th sec @ f8. Flash

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Winter roadside, moonlit mono

DSC_8301

8301 Winter roadside, moonlit mono. 10.32pm, 13 July 2014

I find myself more drawn to formalist compositions as I grow older. They are by no means easy to do, especially after dark. This one surprised me on a pleasant roadside. Intrigued by its depth, I used the last of my battery to highlight the foreground. In post-pro I have discarded the original colour elements, then chosen a brown and black duotone from a long list of possible combos. Digital duotone is “an imaging process that computes the highlights and middle tones in a black and white image, then allows the user to choose any color ink as the second color” (Wikipedia). In print, duotone (or tritone) is the best way to present half tone (B&W) fine art, and also historical photos.

28mm, 500 ISO. 15 seconds at f8. Flash

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275. My meditations, my musings

Maitai moonlight, Nelson. 10.08 pm, 28 November 2012

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”).

85mm; ISO 2000. 5 seconds at f8. Flash

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241. Darkness on the Old Mountain Rd, Taranaki

Darkness on the Old Mountain Rd, Taranaki. 6.51 – 6.56 pm, 9 July 2012

To be exempt from the passions with which others are tormented, is the only pleasing solitude.  –  Joseph Addison

Driving north in the early evening, I paused on a 2 km disused section of the old highway, quaint now for its narrowness and rustic one-lane bridge. The night was cold and moonless, with a constant hubbub from the nearby highway. No one came by while I tussled with the split focus (between initial flash and the following l-o-n-g exposure) of gate/mountain with a telephoto.

I’m surprised to see Mt Taranaki lit up by the street lights of surrounding towns, but knew my own parking lights would contribute to the gate’s illumination. I was on my way back to New Plymouth, but after a long day on the road was too cold & weary to attempt more than this.

85mm; ISO 2500. 335 seconds (5.5 mins) at f11

 

 

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240. Ratana church, winter twilight

Ratana church, winter twilight. 5.42 pm, 4 July 2012

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.

28mm, ISO 2000. 2 seconds at f16. Flash

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203. Faux twilight at Paturau

Faux twilight at Paturau. 9.27 pm, 10 December 2011

All living creatures are making a great endeavour, struggling, to attain real everlasting happiness.  –  Srila Narayana Maharaja

Happiness through illusion? This actually is twilight, but stirred with the flash for foreground and then thoroughly shaken in post-pro. The original sky is very blue because I was trying a tungsten light balance. However I wanted something more upbeat and striking, since achieved by applying desaturation, dodging and hue manipulation to the RAW image .

At least the sheep are genuine; the hill profile is beyond the ridgeline by some distance. I like this as a simple but interesting composition, suitable for all ages.

85mm, ISO 2000. 1/2 sec at f5. Flash

 

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170. Some colours of spring

Some colours of spring. 10.11pm, 8 September 2011

Experience is the comb that nature gives us when we are bald.  –  Anon

Another split focus, single frame experiment; the hairdresser’s quote is suggested by the full-frontal flash on the flower stalks. For the rest of the exposure the lens barrel has been swiftly rotated, moving the focus closer to infinity. This gives reasonable definition to the distant magnolias and a short star trail – but the depth of field is false and not otherwise possible at this close range with a telephoto.

This is the last I will show of the magnolias. The tree of course is now in full green leaf.

85mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f8.

 

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169. Fern and farm, autumn night

 

Fern and farm, autumn night. 8.58pm, 19 May 2011

Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance. –  Samuel Johnson

Taranaki is so wet that ferns thrive even out on their own, as here on farmland close to town. The extra lighting is from a penlight, and far more subtle than in my previous post. Ambient lighting is a mix of moonlight and the distant city.

Torchlight is more selective than flash, but getting the desired coverage can take some doing, in terms of how long you run the beam over the various foreground elements. I would’ve liked the lily’s supporting role to have featured more strongly. The good depth of focus tells you the lens is a wide angle one.

28mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f5.6

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167. Plan for the future

 

Plan for the future. 8.23 pm, 13 October 2011

Plan for the future because that’s where you are going to spend the rest of your life. –  Mark Twain

But why plan for the future when it’s already here? While waiting for a late moonrise I saw this spectacle, looming above the top floor of a parking building. Flash-assisted in deep twilight, the scene is straight from Pixar – add your own morlocks.

I selected the highest possible light balance to offset the bluish twilight. The lamp standards are a feature of this elevation but they stayed off this evening. I’m uncertain what the flimsy structure behind houses; do the double doors give a clue?

85mm, ISO 1000. 30 seconds at f16. Flash, colour temperature 10,000K

 

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166. Frail mystic ships, Port Taranaki

Frail mystic ships, Port Taranaki. 7.08 pm, 10 September 2011

Time is the reef upon which all our frail mystic ships are wrecked. –  Noel Coward

Here you see no ships nor port, but a curious effect of some tricky experimentation. Changing the focus manually during exposure gives two planes of focus! For technical reasons this works best on telephoto, using flash before a time exposure. The shadows are really silhouettes after the flash, where the flax stirred in the breeze.

The island is Moturoa and the glow behind it is explained by lights from a ship at anchor.  Harbour lights illuminate Moturoa; although the moon was up it was quite hazy. The quote is appropriately theatrical.

85mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f16. Flash

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162. Kapiti moonlight: Bright shore

Kapiti moonlight: bright shore. 10.53 pm, 17 February 2011

Live as long as you may, the first 20 years are the longest half of your life.  – Southey

A composition in classic thirds. The quote is personal, referring to my first return to Waikanae Beach since spring 1976, with some ardent memories attached. Youthful impressions can be deepest on the sand!

Bright shore means a flash shore; moonlight being as feeble as the surf here, you can’t stop the waves in-frame by the wan moon. However a good mix of natural and artificial light occurs when a long shutter follows the flash, allowing the moonlight to accumulate on the sensor. The surf then is too blurred to feature.

28mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f11. Flash

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155. Three lights at Paritutu

Three lights at Paritutu, New Plymouth. 9.36pm, 10 September 2011

I have memory, which is the idiot’s talent. –  Francisco Umbral

The three lights are moonlight (at sea), nearby industrial lighting and flash for the foreground. This shot has a cool feel because the incandescent (tungsten) setting was used to cool the light on the slopes of Paritutu. The flash is just the one on the camera, and testing the exposure is also simple – flash it and see. Then add your moonlight shutter.

This was my last effort for the evening because a fire engine turned up, red lights flashing, looking for a fire. I wonder, was it my flash gun or some random fireworks from the summit that brought it out?

28mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f10

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149. Long life, winter crescent

Long life, winter crescent. 6.09 pm, 3 August 2011

Aging seems to be the only available way to live a long life. –  Daniel F. E. Auber

Using the wide angle with flash at twilight is easier than the telephoto because the former has better depth of focus. Aperture selection balances the two light sources, the flash burst with the longer background fill. Flash impact is otherwise limited by ISO choice, or by adjusting distance from your foreground interest. The foreground was against the light so had no ambient detail; without the flash it was a vast silhouette.

28mm, ISO 2000. 1/3 sec at f14. Vivid picture control

 

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137. Moonlit lagoon, winter

Moonlit lagoon, winter. 11.02 pm, 16 June 2011

It is only with the heart that one can see properly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. –  Antoine de St Exupery

Although my heart is in this place, in this case I saw by ear, as the swans weren’t visible by moonlight. However they were very audible, and other wetland birdlife also supplied lively night sounds. My initial 30 second exposures showed only smudges or the barest of swan-forms, so I resorted to much shorter shutter speeds, using the camera flash.

At this distance – say 40 m – flashlight has an advantage in that its rapid fall-off gives only a weak illumination, one close to moonlight. The short shutter speeds also enable more frames to be taken, in the hope that at least one frame will find “the moment”. While using flash means faster battery run-down, the night photographer should always carry reserve power, and it’s not often that I exhaust both my batteries in one evening.

Levels here have been dropped in post-production to give a better night-time feel and to bring out the contrast of natural background moonlight with the flash-fill, a difference of roughly 1.5 stops. Obnoxious pylon wires on the skyline have been retouched.

The location is Rotokare, a natural lagoon backed by bush at Barrett Domain, on the edge of New Plymouth. Upmarket housing and street lighting now impinge on the western lake fringe. A wooden platform provides the only real viewpoint here and also some good working surfaces for the night photographer.

Only one evening this first winter month has been suitable for moonlight photography; all other possibilities have fallen victim to bad weather, the dreaded lurgy or social obligations: the usual suspects, in other words, in the suppression of moonlight opportunities. At least I gave this pleasant evening seven hours, and in turn I got good exercise in walking up there.

No birds were harmed in the taking of this photograph.

85mm, ISO 2000. 5 seconds at f2.8. Vivid picture control.

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