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.
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.
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.
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!