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?
“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
“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
How I love the crescent moon. The new moon is a real waif, and only visible for a short time on the twilit horizon, before it too sinks below sight. Then night after night the crescent moon fattens, spending longer in the western sky – each night the moon rises about an hour later, so sets later too. Twilight is the best time to get the crescent moon; later the sky is so dark that the unlit part of the moon will also show up, stealing your crescent.
In this wide angle view, the moon is reduced to a tiny cameo. Not wanting to participate in rush hour traffic, I stayed home and set this up, hard pressed to find anything else to make an interesting shot. The camera looks up to get everything in, and while I wrestled with different settings and placements, the moon kept moving (surprise surprise), in and out of view through the branches, requiring further frantic adjustments.
So I have at last put St Joseph to work, while he gathers in his lambs. They must be metaphorical, as he was a carpenter (or artisan), rather than a shepherd. We bought this likeness from a Catholic supplies shop in Bangkok in 2003. We got two Holy Virgins at the same time, in different sizes. The virgins have seen more limelight over the years, the BVM having greater recognition value. The companion piece, a vase of fake flowers, came with a house purchase we made in 2010. It makes a handy, low maintenance prop.
3 secs at f22. Nikon 28mm; ISO 250. Flash
Sometimes the full moon keeps me waiting. Its predicted peep over the horizon lags, for example, because a range of hills blocks the view. Anticipation! Which hill will the moon rise over? What pictorial elements should I line up for a creative memento of this exciting occasion?? Yes there are apps to tell me such useful info but that’s just one more thing to tangle with.
My selected spot beside the Wairoa River, just north of Brightwater on Bryant Rd, turned out to be a “blandscape” – how to save the situation? Ah, use the immediate foreground to frame the moonrise. The challenge with my long exposure was not in avoiding an oblong moon (a plausible problem with a longer telephoto) but to capture the wee orb unspoilt by fennel stalks, and with some hint of background.
My wide angle makes the moon smaller of course, but its luminosity counterbalances. Focal depth was not an issue here but my efforts were still not trouble-free, as safety concerns emerged. I was on a narrow roadway which ended at a vineyard, and for a “No exit” road there was surprising traffic. Such roads are usually quiet after 5.30pm but vineyard staff came and went for sometime thereafter. The riverbank underfoot was less even, but safer.
30 secs at f11. Nikon 28mm; 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
This is a sample illustration from my long exposure Perfect Evenings 2018 New Zealand calendar. Magnolia flowers are a welcome sight in the southern spring, appearing from July to September, depending on the species and local climate. By moonlight or street light they are even more luminous and lovely than by day.
Printed in just a small edition of 125, most of my calendars have now sold at the special early bird prices quoted in the last post. The three for $30 deal and 5 + 1 for $60 have been very popular. There’s obviously good interest – not to mention good sense – in having giftable items on hand well before the usual rush, especially when so many New Zealanders are taking to the air (and the road) and require packable items for their calls and hosts.
All prices are post-free within NZ and Australia. My best-ever, these prices are current until Monday 2nd October, and will not be repeated. By that time the entire stock will probably be spoken for, and any reprint considered will have to be at standard prices. These will still be good value, however, with various extras offered, in addition to the photographer’s own prompt and personal service!
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.
28mm; ISO 500 & 1000. 30 seconds @ f5.6; @ f8.
Simple, graphic compositions such as this moonrise-with-flax-flowers can be varied in post-processing with the hue tool. In my tool kit this is handily located next to the saturation dial, and enables a surprising spectrum of bizarre and surreal imagery. I have put some variations up for contrast but am not able to format them with suitable elbow-room. If you want to appreciate an image without colour clash, single it out with a double-click. While the middle image looks almost normal, the blue has been preternaturally intensified. It is quite safe to try this at home.
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
Let us live most happily, possessing nothing; let us feed on joy, like the radiant gods. – The Buddha
24mm; ISO 200. 60 seconds at f2
Earth laughs in flowers. – Ralph W. Emerson
85mm; ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f16. Incandescent light balance
Most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities. – Dalai Lama
28mm; ISO 2000. 629.4 secs (10.5 minutes) at f11
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and realize that prisoner was you. – Lewis B. Smedes
85mm; ISO 500. 15 seconds at f16. Incandescent light balance
Not what we have but what we enjoy constitutes our abundance. – John Petit-Senn
28mm; ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f11. Incandescent light balance
85mm; ISO 2000. 1/400th second at f4
I slept, and dreamed that life was Beauty; I woke, and found that life was Duty. – Ellen Sturgis Hooper
50mm; ISO 2500. 30 seconds at f16. Flash
There is no substitute for moonlight and kissing. – Barbara Cartland
85mm; ISO 2000. 70 seconds at f16. Flash
Meditate. Live purely. Be quiet. Do your work with mastery. Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds! Shine. – Buddha (attrib.)
85mm; ISO 1000. 63 seconds at f2.5. Sodium vapour light balance
Nothing is ever the same twice because everything is always gone forever, and yet each moment has infinite photographic possibilities. – Michael Kenna
28mm; ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f5.6
Correction does much, but encouragement does more. – J. von Goethe
Driving back after sunset from an amble around Stratford, Taranaki, I was pleased to see this dramatic church in Inglewood, the next country town. The magnificent kowhai tree in front was laden with blossom, while a branch hung down above the main floodlight.
Not only could I photograph it hand-held – a rare event in night photography – but I belatedly found the Nikon D7oo even provided for sodium vapour lighting, tucked away under the Fluorescent heading. This corrected the lighting colour, giving a very good approximation of the intense yellow the kowhai is remarkable for.
28mm; ISO 2000. 1/80th at f5.6. Sodium vapour light balance
No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. – Aesop
Last full moon I spent many happy hours over several evenings tackling the budding magnolia next door. This one worked better at f5.6 than at f16, to my surprise, but with f16 needing nearly 5 minutes the risk of a breeze was high. So instead of deeper focus and star blazes I have made do with two blurred stars – the brightest in the Southern Cross.
Telephoto focus at close quarters on manual is painstaking, and I could only get this vantage point with the camera clamped to the top of a stepladder.
85mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f5.6
Desire is something irrational for which one always has to pay a high price.
– Pedro Almodovar
On biting winter evenings two strategies can help prise the moonlight photographer from homely warmth. Either go out while it’s still daylight, or stay close to home – for an easier retreat. For this extended exposure in the garden next door I have dragged a stepladder along and clamped the tripod stem to the top. I have dialled the ISO back 2 stops to enable a longer exposure. Distant street lighting was slightly dimmer than moonlight but showed on the blossom with every passing cloud. The perfect stillness was remarkable for Taranaki.
85mm, ISO 500. 500 seconds (8 mins 20 secs) at f16.
A photo from our garden in central Nelson, in a corner not reached by any street lighting. Taken on Fujichrome 100, on the Pentax Spotmatic, these snapdragons have been titivated slightly in Photoshop, as usual with a slide scan. The warm light with which moonlight suffuses its subjects has not been corrected, however.
Contrary to what our eyes tell us, moonlight is not blue-ish. In fact the moon gives a positively warm light all night long, something like the light of morning with the sun just up. As with the passage of the sun, however, so moonlight is warmest when the orb is low in the sky, and relatively cooler when the moon is high in the heavens.
This close-up demonstrates the shallow focus of a wide open lens (here f1.4), used with a low ISO of 100 for a relatively short time exposure of about 2 minutes, on the B setting. The Spotmatic F was set up on a tripod, and the composition was made fairly readily through the viewfinder, as at f1.4 even by moonlight there is sufficient light transmitted through the lens to frame and compose.
Focus however was not so easy, and I had to use a torch for the fine focus required. Focus is always critical this close anyway, and stopping down improves sharpness much less than it does with “big pictures”. While the depth of field is very shallow the bokeh is attractive; the background is a rose bush.
The colour contrasts are good and the exposure suitable for the highlights. There is no obvious colour shift from reciprocity, although Fuji films are said to be prone to a green shift with long exposure. A still night was a major starting point for this frame to work, but it would also be interesting to try a similar close-up on a windy but clear moonlit night – and with different exposure lengths too.
If not for the ti kouka or cabbage tree, November would be a sparse month for New Zealand native flowers. September and October bring the beauty of the kowhai, and December the much-loved pohutukawa and rata blossoms, but in between we have just the humble cabbage tree. It’s common on open land and forest margins, and while the flowers are not as showy, they last well and are richly scented – pungent, some would say.
So I inhaled this one at Marahau before actually noticing it. Although taken on a moonlit night, the light was much brighter, coming from the excessive wattage of the chillers in the general store across the street. Tungsten on the D700 gave a better match for the greenish quality of the flourescent lighting, but a residual cast has been nixed in Photoshop with “Auto colour correction”. I often use this feature to test colour balance; here the compensating hint of magenta seems more acceptable than green, especially as the environs were lit by sodium lamps.
Picture control was on Vivid and this accentuates the nice contrast between tree and sky. Light falls off rapidly from artificial sources, as flash photography quickly demonstrates, but there are only two visual planes here to simplify this aspect. On 30 seconds with the 28mm wide angle (f8/ISO 2000) the stars are just beginning to lose their pointedness; this effect would be more marked with a telephoto, such as my 85mm lens.
However, trying the 85mm for the same frame at a greater distance didn’t work, as a TV aerial intruded on the background; from an alternative location in the middle of the road the flower stalks lost their salience, while my ears did extra duty for approaching motors. Such is the toil and trouble of the night photographer. By then it was 3am, and further effort was curtailed by fatigue, without a late rise to follow. Bedtime!