This is the very first frame from a simple composition, one that I was subsequently unable to improve on. It is taken from Arthurstown, on the opposite side of the river, where protection works give an unobstructed viewpoint. Cumulus clouds by the full moon are appealing but are not that common; the main problem in photographing them is to stop them from blurring in the exposure required – that is, one which retains an adequate ISO and a sharp aperture setting. The three reflections and street lights are what made the scene worth recording, but the interesting thing is that the lights of the town aren’t reflected under the clouds, meaning they were higher and further north of Hokitika than this viewpoint suggests.
The further west or south you go in December, the longer the day (and the twilight), especially if you’re heading down the South Island before the solstice. We noticed this on our way to the Catlins (South Otago), via the West Coast. Although summer solstice marks the longest day, not many people know the earliest sunrise precedes the solstice, while the latest sunset follows it, by some days.
We began our trip with a full moon approaching, but sad to say, neither our travel arrangements nor the weather were conducive to moonlight photography. However, we had pleasant digs at Arthurstown, right by the Hokitika River, and this view back towards the town was a short walk from there. I had hoped to feature the distant dairy factory more prominently by moonlight, without knowing that at night the place would be brightly illuminated, swamping anything that moonlight could offer. Moonlight is so feeble that it generally competes only with distant artificial lighting.
Balancing the flash at close range with the ambient twilight can be troublesome, especially if depth of field is also important for your composition. I used f16 on my standard lens here, overlooking the optimal f22. Extra lighting is essential for this type of photo; although it doesn’t need to be by flash, I find it highly convenient.
Another sample from my 2018 New Zealand calendar, this one is for May 2018. The holiday park at Kurow was decidedly off-season on the cold autumn night that we stayed there. A bitter, blustery wind was blowing but I coated up and left our snug cabin with tripod and gear, determined to make use of the wan moonlight in such an interesting setting – and was then pleasantly surprised to find that down by the river was quite sheltered. From the several hours I spent on the terraces, covering many angles on the deserted camp, this pic has emerged as a favourite. A second, quite different scene from this frigid outing also features in my upcoming Perfect Evenings photo book.
Monday 2nd October is the last day for my extra special prices on this 2018 calendar, post-free for NZ & Australia. There are still about 20 left – so why not purchase and enjoy?!
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!
White pointers at night, Appleby, Nelson. 7.33pm, 4 September 2017
The difficulty with low angles in night photography is mainly in composition – craning the body to see whatever’s visible in the viewfinder, after steadying the tripod, set as low as it can go. In long grass there’s also a lot of levelling and lining-up. Also necessary after plenty of rain is something to keep your bended knee dry, although in this case the matted grass itself did good service. Using flash to highlight close objects is unpredictable but I was fairly sure the stalks would overexpose – the desired effect. Mixed lighting is not difficult by moonlight, as long as your extra lighting is not too bright, or is only brief. Rating just 2 watts, moonlight is easily swamped by street or house lights.
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.
A family trip to New Plymouth last week coincided with a full moon, but alas, I had flown one stage of the journey, so arrived without a tripod. From a fence post alongside our accommodation I took two frames which have stitched up nicely. My other steady-state improvisations were not successful – trying the camera on a patio chair (awkward to get the right angle) and on a free-floating fence batten (lingering vibration). Even on the fence post the placement was precarious, so I hung on to the camera strap. I did not think there was much going on for the left frame until I noticed the sleeping horse and the slight blush to the low cloud (which enveloped the area for days). The neighbouring property was interesting for its rustic buildings, particularly one which leans precariously over a slope.
50mm lens; ISO 500. 15 secs at f4 and 30 secs at f5.6
Although urban and sophisticated, it appears these sheep were only used to the glare of the neighbouring polytech hostel, and not moonlight paparazzi. The venue is an open space tucked away behind the city cemetery, and between WITT and Te Henui walkway, in the vale below. Small Maori pa abound in this vicinity and their reserve status contributes to having this unfrequented, pastoral scene in the city. Here night-time photographers can pursue their craft with a pleasant sense of calm and solitude, despite the incidental noise from the hostel. The clouds reflect city lights; the light beam is wastage leaping the boundary fence, offstage left. How very different this looks by day!
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.
2537 Moonlit Mordor, from Arawhata Rd, Opunake. 8.57pm, 25 April 2010.
My 36 Views of Mt Taranaki has sold out. The book used mainly daylight images, just to prove there’s more than one string to my fiddle. Nevertheless I continue to find twilight and night imagery more interesting because of the greater creative possibilities. This is a Lumix LX3 image, converted from colour: a desolate, snow-free mountain, as seen from from a desolate sector of the ring plain. In contrast to the more settled appearance of the other side of the mountain, this is rougher, harder country.
On a personal note, this is a belated coda to my Taranaki series, as this year we have returned to live in Nelson. Despite the hiatus I have been occupied in reviewing my extensive transparency collection, compiling a second book on evening photography and putting together a 2017 calendar, one without a volcanic theme. But about that, more shortly.
2860-61. No moon, no worries, 8.49-8.50pm, 26 October 2015
The city by evening can have plenty of light for night photography, either diffused from street lights or reflected by low cloud. So if your moon disappears from view, look for other possibilities. In this case, an unusual streak of light came from student quarters just over the fence, while the cloud is coloured by sodium street lighting. The pasture adjoins a historic reserve (an old pa site to the right) above Te Henui Stream and borders the city cemetery on the left. This evening I had the place all to myself – except for the sheep. Two telephoto images make up this panorama; double click on the scene for a larger view.
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.
A futile gesture in the top fosse of this stronghold, conspicuous in New Plymouth’s western suburbs. The pa is high but I was sober – indeed the chill sou’wester was sobering, so a hip flask would’ve been welcome. The pa’s history is not accessible online and as it is barely mentioned in the standard works on Taranaki history, it was likely long abandoned by 1828, when the first Europeans arrived at the Sugar Loaves. Its preservation was only assured in 1989; today the pa overlooks suburbs at every turn – but the views are great. It is an impressive sight for visitors, although actually little visited.
Moonlit margin, Taranaki. 27 August 2015, 9.50 – 9.51pm
In Taranaki a calm, clear night with a waxing moon is not to be ignored – but rather than drive around, I sometimes prefer to walk out and see what turns up, as pastoral peace on the city margins is not too far away. This two-frame panorama of contented cattle sums up my evening, although my cold, wet feet also made themselves felt by this point. My new photo book on Mt Taranaki will feature day and night photography, but only in standard frame images – no scope for panoramas! Double click on the image for a larger view.
This uncommon scene is a reprise on my earlier visit, also in May (2009), with the Holy Virgin. Although we’d had some rain before this secular occasion, my obliging figurine held her position well on the edge of the abyss, and so my only task was to administer the correct amount of torchlight. The location is just below the old weir at the Brook Street reservoir, Nelson. A waxing moon had cleared the manuka above, but moonlight here is lost in strong LED torchlight (the moonlight was not lost on my hi-vis vest, however, and my daughter quickly found me once the nearby comfort of the car had palled). LED lighting is quite cool, like daylight, so I’ve added some warmth in post-processing – the photo equivalent of a teaspoon of tumeric in the dinner pan.
28mm; ISO 500. f11 for 30 secs. 8.39 pm, 1 May 2015
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.
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.
A twilight moon always rises over a flat landscape – in lighting terms, at least, after sunset. Two strong aids to composition, much to my liking, are silhouettes and clouds, and only these are a match for the moon’s brightness as night begins to settle. A variety of clouds is always welcome, but too many at once and the moon will be continually ducking in and out of view. This deliberately simple image – very much taken with digital wallpaper in mind – records another routine cosmic occasion, as our fellow traveller looms into the gloom, ready to light a summer’s night [applause].
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.
9940 On the links, Fitzroy full moon. 10.05pm, 3 February 2015
Sited as it is on old dunes, the golf course has some pleasant undulations; two stiles on the street suggested a ramble. A potential problem for moonlight photography was the row of sodium nearby – moonlight can’t compete with city lights, but when they are at a good distance some balance can emerge. The two light sources are also far apart in their colour temperatures so an either/or selection must be made on your camera setting (actually not quite true – an intermediate choice is possible, but not as a preset). In this case the warm sodium glow was acceptable and a higher colour temperature ensured a natural look to the clouds. I asked my wife & companion Narumon to stand on the rise and she held her pose very ably while the clouds moved into position. The image has been cropped to 16×9 and now graces my own screen as wallpaper.
9396 Te Rewa Rewa silhouettes, New Plymouth. 9.58pm, 5 January 2015
For the night photographer New Zealand has some distinctive silhouettes to add to sky & cloud studies. Shown are cabbage trees (ti kouka) but tree ferns, pohutukawa and the nikau palm also come to mind. Puriri, young kauri and kahikatea have great profiles in specimen too. However the usual problem is to find one or several on their own, handily arranged for your viewpoint. Here the sky is moonlit blue while the low cloud reflects city lights to striking effect. Jupiter and Venus for the top corner were unfortunately not available.
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.
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.
Mt Taranaki is bare of snow and ice for 4 or 5 months of the year; this view from the Blue Rata Reserve is a sandwich of two frames, taken on a full moon evening, the last of summer. The Stony (Hangatahua) is a fast-flowing stream, one prone to flooding with dramatic effect. In shooting for panoramas there are two main hitches: securing enough overlap of the frames (for auto alignment in post-processing), and ensuring a level track in your arc of view, on the tripod.
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!
Copyright images in 16:9 wide screen ratio, posted for free download as background wallpaper on your desktop (a right-hand click of your mouse over any image will show this option). Downloads are for personal use only.
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”).
Still round the corner there may wait / A new road or a secret gate And though I oft have passed them by / A day will come at last when I Shall take the hidden paths that run / West of the Moon, East of the Sun.
For the joy of the angels lies only in obedience to God’s will, and with equal joy they would lift a Lazarus in his rags to Abraham’s bosom, or be a chariot of fire to carry an Elijah home. –John Newton