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
My 2017 calendar sold out last week, although some retail returns are expected. This image for June 2017 has been very popular. It was taken at the southern end of the inlet, where from sea level the road climbs steadily and steeply to the top of the limestone. Public roads with grass strips down the centre are not that common in New Zealand, but as this one serves just two farms it’s no real surprise to see it here. “Roads less travelled” lend themselves well to calendar imagery, and this one is in the “even less travelled” category, being off another, unsealed road to several farms which straggle down the coast. The trick is usually in getting sufficient elevation to please the eye with the path fully shown. A misty day helps, adding an uncommon atmosphere.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
All living creatures are making a great endeavour, struggling, to attain real everlasting happiness. – Srila Narayana Maharaja
Happiness through illusion? Thisactually 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.
If only I could stand on a street corner with my hat in my hand, and get people to throw their wasted time into it! – Bernard Berenson, U.S. art critic
Taken last year at Te Hapu, Golden Bay and recalled by our more recent stay. Moonset before midnight always means a crescent moon, a simple fact of celestial mechanics. Without a prolonged exposure I had not thought it possible to get such a landscape by a slender moon, especially one so low on the horizon.
I like the warmth of light, fence shadow (right hand corner) and the veil of stars, more prominent than they would be under a full moon.
With your silhouette when the sunlight dims, into your eyes when the moonlight swims, and your matchbook songs and gypsy hymns: Who among them would try to impress you? – Bob Dylan (Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands)
The past is never dead. It’s not even past. – William Faulkner
The epitome of the lonely grave, this one has extensive seafront views. Cecil Addison died of Tb, aged 16, on Christmas Eve 1924, and here lies in splendid isolation, some 800 m from the old homestead at Te Hapu.
From numerous technical frustrations this test frame emerged as the most interesting. With the moon rising I knew its light must at some point draw level with dwindling daylight, and from sunset I kept looking for my own moon shadow, even though it shows only in the deepest twilight.
Apart from sun bounce there are few occasions where natural light comes from multiple sources.
All glory comes from daring to begin – Eugene F. Ware, American soldier
There’s no better time for moonlight photography than when you are on holiday with a large territory you are free to wander over. Here’s a memorable evening at summer’s end with a cool southwester still about, as indicated in this well-clad group study. Remarkable about this line-up at Kaihoka, Golden Bay is my lack of better stage direction and that these obliging folk have all held still for half a minute.
At least I have separated the two coloured jackets and arranged people by height, while the long shutter is a necessity with the Lumix LX3 as anything over ISO 200 results in excessive noise. The skin tones are great and there’s a pleasant warmth overall. If this was a daylight photo only its slight underexposure might warrant comment, but this is no-street-light-for-miles, 100% full spectrum moonlight… the kind I really like.
My nameless victims are resting their heads against the corrugated iron to help hold their poses, a technique evocative of old-time daylight photography. In the 1840 – 1890 era slow emulsions required similarly long exposures, and the same sort of accommodating poses. When you attempt this sort of line-up yourself, try one with the last person on the right moving about in a blur. As we typically scan images left to right, this should create a startling effect. So why didn’t I think of that at the time?
Despite the possibly unsavoury context for the quote, I use it as an unsubtle prompt for two of the people shown and as a reminder to myself as well, to “Get going!” As a fatuous generalisation there are two types of people: those who have trouble finishing anything, and those in the opposite camp, who have ignition issues. Active self-starting bodies are in the first division; passive vessels with hard-to-find crank handles are in the second.
Despite this corner being at evening’s end Gerry and I were happy for the uphill slog that began here, under a moonless, starry sky. By text message we had heard of the huge earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and remote though Te Hapu station (www.tehapu.co.nz) may be at the top left corner of the South Island, it is also on the coast.
As the tsunami rippled into the South Pacific, the walk up from the beach to our quarters assured us step by step of a more elevated perch – although next day we found no sign of a surge on the broad sands below. How curious that such a back-road should be framed by a very distant event. Yet as we are often shown, the world is much smaller than it seems.
The photo shows torchlight used for a different take on an otherwise insipid prospect, with the snow white manuka contrasting with the silhouettes. Recovering latent possibilities in a disappointing result can be a nice surprise and what you probably can’t tell here is that my underexposed original has been rescued by Photoshop. Auto levels gave life to this image; further adjustments came with the Adjust lighting/shadows & highlights function: lighten shadows (+10%), darken highlights (+10%) and midtone contrast (+20%). All good!
So why didn’t I put a figure in the background – a third punch to the composition? The answer is predictable and a well known syndrome within the craft of night photography: end of evening drag. When out with folk, as above, I am too polite to ask my companions to wait out and/or perform for yet one more “last shot”. Another weary minute detracts from the fresh experience of the earlier evening – plus I know that it’s not often that my objective can be achieved by a single frame.
But really, I guess I was too tired to even think of it.
28mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f3.2. Vivid picture control
We waved the torch over nearby palms on our way back from Gilbert’s Beach, at Te Hapu (www.tehapu.co.nz), a remote cattle station in Golden Bay. On a wide angle lens it is easier to stop the stars, which were more visible with the moon being blotted out by a cloudbank.
Having selected Direct sunlight light balance, I wasn’t happy with the coolness of the torchlight on the nikau – I’d assumed the LED beams were close to daylight colour temperature. Warming up the palms in post-pro gave the sky an unexpected boost, an effect I immediately liked. Also needing attention was the grass closer to the torch, which was a little overexposed.
I could easily have spent an hour here but further delay would have dragged on my good-natured company. Luckily I got the shot right first-off… how many times have I passed interesting scenes close to quarters, and thought “Well I can easily come back here another night”. All too often the following nights turn out to be too cloudy, or cold, or windy, and the photo is not worth the trouble.
Or if the evening’s not too dark nor too bright, and not a social night of the week, then you are too tired to summon the energy (“Not tonight, Josephine”). Or other nights you’re too well fed or wined, with other distractions for your leisure. In winter you leave a warm fire for the dubious pleasure of night photography in a chill breeze, while in summer you must wait too long for suitable darkness, then when you finally get out and about you remember the mosquito repellant is still at home.
I haven’t even started on the mechanics of setting up in the dark, never as simple as camerawork by daylight. Really, night photography takes far too much effort, and all for such uncertain results. Of course I thoroughly recommend it.
28mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f4. Vivid picture control
One of the minor hazards of moonlight photography is moving on from a shot before you have got the best from it, as this shot demonstrates. It was only meant to be a test exposure, although earlier frames showed that I already had this half-moon business pretty right. My main intention was to have the wheel tracks illuminated with a torch, but this didn’t work because of light fall-off, and I now realise only using a gantry or stepladder would have achieved the effect. Disappointed, I moved on without fully capitalising on the existing potential.
A test frame uses a wide open aperture and a shorter shutter than you’d usually apply to fleeting clouds. For good clouds you have to expose more for the sky, unless you have a graduated neutral density filter, which basically splits the frame by darkening the sky. Alternatively you can do multiple exposures at different settings for later layer-and-merge processing. Being a bit of a minimalist I’ve yet to bother with either of these methods, but a longer shutter – say 60 to 120 seconds – would have delivered a stronger impression of moving cloud.
The crucial thing though is to shoot straight into the wind, as naturally that’s where the cloud’s coming from. Of course you don’t have to set up in a gale to achieve this, especially as the risk of camera shake will then match your likely discomfort. Instead, try this from a sheltered hollow (as here) and line up some good nearby features in your frame.
Gilbert’s Beach is a private cove at the end of this remote farm road in Golden Bay (www.tehapu.co.nz). The farm is wind-swept but on a good day – or night – the place is magic. Despite the low level of craft I like this simple image as a “lonely road”, especially for the way the vanishing point meets the darkened hillside.
It’s hard to believe this night-for-day is actually moonlight. These are the golden hues of a waxing moon, just past first quarter and sinking in the west. The pale orb had risen unnoticed about 12.30pm, and would set just before 4 am, but I knew I would not be up to see it, as we were leaving Te Hapu, Golden Bay, next day. We had four clear nights for photography, and so I took up a calendar theme I’ve been wanting to develop, that of untravelled back-roads.
This is one road very much less-travelled – about one vehicle per day. On private land (www.tehapu.co.nz), it leads to our cottage, the Shearing Shed Retreat, and then carries on to Gilbert’s Beach, down the cleft on the upper left. One of the shadows on the left margin is from the cottage, showing how little I’d wandered before seizing on potential material. The manuka in the foreground has been torched, in a manner of speaking, by the photographer.
I was pleased with the colours and am now aiming for a warmer palette in my moonlight photography. This seems to fit the bill, and is actually warmer than I’d expect from a full moon in the same position. What’s missing from this frame are a few steers grazing across the mid-distant flats, but not a single beast was at this end of the station. The distant battlements along the limestone scarp are natural but were unvisited by us, as they are on the next property.
Deep shadows add a sense of depth here, while the road provides an uncommon vanishing point, and extra perspective. A single power line, only mildly intrusive, has been removed. I somehow miscalculated the shot, overexposing it by about a stop, and corrected this using Levels. Usually I prefer f8 for deeper focus; here the light was at least 4 stops below full moonlight.
28mm, ISO 2500. 308 seconds (over 5 minutes) at f5.6. Vivid picture control.
That’s the reflection of a sinking half moon, and probably Venus nearby, plus some extra electricity. This is actually on the West Coast, but access is by a long and winding road from Golden Bay. Here the remoteness and locked gate give the moonlight photographer total elbow room and real peace of mind. Come evening we had the whole place to ourselves, with not a single steer in sight, on our part of the farm at least.
Private land in interesting, open country tops my list of great destinations, because the biggest issue regarding your wandering about at night has to be your personal safety – particularly if you are female. “Safety in numbers” is the answer, but when you can’t find ready company do you go out alone? If you do, I suggest you at least get there before dark. You’ll then be more familiar with the ground you’ve covered, when it’s time to turn back. You’ll also find the developing dark easier to adapt to.
Better again though to give some thought beforehand to the best venues, beginning with how the carpark looks. You want somewhere with predictable traffic – e.g. late boaties or daytrippers – or really none at all. In Taranaki and Nelson I’d say the safest venues are to be found at distant road-ends, specifically those which are connected by walking tracks (or at least well marked access) to river reserves or national parks, and which cross open country. Private land with public rights, in other words.
At Te Hapu (www.tehapu.co.nz) we certainly didn’t have to think about this. For this shot I could have found the self-timer, selected the longest option and then run down the slope with my torch at the ready – but having Gerry willing to do the lighting on call from beneath the nikau made it much easier.
I enjoyed the company and also the directorial bit, so thanks again Gerry.
The nikau (Rhopalostylis sapida) is New Zealand’s only endemic palm. It likes company – the coastal flanks north of Te Hapu are swathed in this graceful palm – but can also stand on its own. As an iconic item in the New Zealand lowland landscape the nikau photographs well in pairs and threesomes.
These nikau pals hang out beside the track to Gilbert’s Beach at Te Hapu, a private cove on the South Island West Coast. I had walked past them many times in previous days but here at last was my opportunity after dark, by the light of a sinking half moon. Unfortunately my moonlight photography had already tested Gerry’s patience and the location was exposed to a cool easterly breeze – so my 85mm telephoto work was quick rather than careful. A 5-minute exposure at f8 would give a better result.
Even though this is not as sharp as I’d like, it conveys the mood and the depth of blue against the stars works especially well. I suspect there is still some lingering twilight in the sky, giving it a more vivid blue, but as the green fronds were at right angles to the earlier sunset I’m confident their colour comes from the waxing moon.
The main problem with my 85mm f1.4 lens in moonlight photography is not in seeing through it but in getting critical focus. I quickly found auto focus to be of no use and currently use trial & error for close-at-hand subjects, or f16 and the focus brackets on the lens for more distant compositions. My 85mm and 28mm Nikon lenses each have a depth of field that resembles a longer lens, relative to their equivalent 35mm-film lenses – or so it seems to me.
Vertical positions on the tripod ball are awkward. Fumbling around with your gear in the dark is awkward. Getting a pleasing result is not awkward.
85mm lens, ISO 2000. 65 seconds at f4. Vivid picture control.