119. Uphill and so to bed, Te Hapu

Uphill and so to bed, Te Hapu. 11.06pm, 12 March 2011

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


114. Nikau mates at Te Hapu, no. 2

Nikau mates at Te Hapu, no. 2. 11.03 pm, 12 March 2011

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

112. Beaming down on the Boulder Bank

Beaming down on the Boulder Bank. 8.40 pm, 6 May 2009

Teleportation is easy enough to do by moonlight photography. Even on a cool autumn evening not far enough from the Nelson sewage ponds, planet Earth is a good place to beam down on. I do like to visit but would I want to live on it?

Just kidding. Of the various forms of ghosting in night photography this is the most basic, created under pure, simple moonlight. Other forms are lit by flash, torchlight or car beam, but to get this you simply occupy the stage for part of the exposure – say 40 seconds of the 60 represented here – while requiring your supporting cast to stay put. Here my long-suffering wife Narumon holds her gaze on the laid-back surf of Tasman Bay; I have walked into the frame some time after the shutter opens.

Note that nothing registers of my moving into position, because I have no reflective highlights.  In some situations coming or going from place people will show up because they are smoking, wearing light-catching rings or jewelry, or have on something luminous. Or  their movement might be caught by a sudden bright light, as in the sweep of a car’s headlights. Sometimes such highlights add an intriguing element to your scene, and sometimes they just look odd. You won’t know until you see it, as the effect is unpredictable.

At the head of the bay are the landing lights of Nelson airport. A snowy peak in the Arthur Range is just visible on the right, while resting on the cobbles are two props waiting to feature in my long exposure studies (see no. 34. Quirky but Perky, by moonlight). The depth of focus on the Lumix LX3 at maximum aperture is phenomenal, especially when the zoom is set at the widest angle. However the autofocus has about a 10% failure rate, while  the manual controls are so fiddly for focus that I have never actually tried them.

“24mm”, ISO 200. 60 seconds at f2

103. Moonlit road to Gilbert’s

Moonlit road to Gilbert's. 11.39pm, 14 March 2011

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.

28mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f2.8

100. A road less travelled, by moonlight

A road less travelled, by moonlight. 10.25-10.30pm, 14 March 2011

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.

98. Electric night, Golden Bay

Electric night, Golden Bay. 10.23pm, 12 March 2011

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.

85mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f11.

97. Nikau mates, Te Hapu moonlight

Nikau mates, Te Hapu moonlight. 9.11pm, 14 March 2011

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.

92. Stars over Mangarakau, Golden Bay

Stars over Mangarakau, Golden Bay. 20 March 2009

Usually with a sky full of star trails you can safely assume “Film!” I haven’t yet matched anything like this with the Nikon D700, although it’s bound to happen sometime. If you do want to streak the sky with stars it’s easier with a telephoto – here I used a Takumar 200mm on my old Spotmatic.

Fuji 100 slide film was exposed for at least an hour at f11 or 16, for maximum star streak. In scanning I have softened the magenta cast, this being the colour shift that comes with long shutter times on film. The blue stars are hard to explain; the range of star colours is probably a surprise to most people too. It does take a dark night to get so many stars on your frame, and it is also hard work composing in the very low light transmitted by an f4 telephoto lens.

The location is a closed school at the old mining settlement south of Westhaven Inlet, on the long road to the west coast. The school is now holiday accommodation but the limestone bluffs behind it remain unchanged. The light scatter in the sky can only come from starlight, given the distance from urban life. It was roughly ten days since full moon, so there was no risk of moonlight brightening the sky until 3am. There was no risk of my staying up to see it, either, as we were getting up early next day for the long walk down the Kahurangi coast.

In setting up this shot I was confident that nothing would intrude on it, as the lower slopes are forested and the district is barely inhabited. However something unexpected came up – at least in one sense: the long film exposure cramped my digital creativity with the second tripod. I wanted to start experimenting with the bright outside light of the schoolhouse, but had to finish the film exposure first. So it did not get the full exposure that I had planned for it.

91. Half-lit shadows by the rising moon

Half-lit shadows by the rising moon. 9.06pm, 10 April 2009

The adjective refers to my moving shadows, or rather my shadow having moved during the exposure. I counted 30 seconds before I side-stepped away from the tripod in this full minute’s worth of moonlight. The shadow dilution is evident in the darker imprint of the little Lumix on the tripod. I liked the angle of the concrete ford against the willow – the angle also mirrors the hillside. With the moon rising behind me the tripod shadow could not be avoided, so instead I got creative with the problem.  

Adding shadows also fixed the composition problem of the plane of the ford lacking sufficient interest, although as a monochrome this might still have worked. The warmth of colour shows how the light from a low moon tends towards Golden Syrup – a warmth that daylight can only match when the sun is just above the horizon. I had had to wait some time for the rising moon to clear a spur in the valley, yet when it did there were still the long shadows that are useful to moonlight photography.

The “half-lit” adjective also hints at how the image depends for its impact on your angle of view on the laptop screen, or the brightness of your computer monitor. In viewing terms this is a Goldilocks image – not too hot, not too cold please!

The scene is the Maitai River, on the outskirts of Nelson, but looking like only a puddle here. April is autumn in New Zealand and all along the Maitai the willows and poplars dress accordingly. The ford gives access to a broad field in the narrow valley. Fords are uncommon in this country and culverts are preferred, as New Zealand rivers flood regularly. I would not perch my gear here after heavy rain.

f2 was used at the widest zoom – “24mm”. ISO was a low 100, contributing to a darker effect than I usually seek in my moonlight photography.

87. Moonlit church, Waimea West

Moonlit church, Waimea West

6.21pm, 6 June 2009.

This simple image depends for its impact on the white & blue contrast and the unexpected double cross. Also visible is the Southern Cross constellation, moving with the other stars in this 40 second exposure. Some uncommon fretwork and the conical pines serve as additional points of interest. The lens was set at f2.8, the maximum when the Lumix LX3 zoom is at the telephoto end – a modest 60mm in standard film terms.  ISO was 100 and the frame has been slighly cropped to partly correct my poor levels with the tripod.

The front of the church was too exposed to the highway headlights and nearby intersection lamps, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the venue redeemed for moonlight photography by going around the back. Complete with some 19th century graves, this seemed a tranquil spot and one in which I was unlikely to be disturbed by the living – both these aspects being highly valued by the night photographer. Working in the dark is quite absorbing but at the same time your creature instincts are sharpened in the experience, and it’s clear to me that our distant ancestors were not mammals of the night.

As well as being an absorbing occupation, moonlight photography is at times particularly frustrating because the movements and adjustments easily made by daylight can become so muddled or mistaken in the half-light. I’ve used a caver’s light (headband fashion) but can’t repair my current one. Keeping up good habits helps to reduce a few hassles (“No, the lens cap always goes in your right pocket”; “Better zip that bag up right now”) but other irritations are likely as fatigue sets in after midnight. You can also blame fatigue the next day when you ruefully recognise an overlooked angle or missed opportunity from the night before.  

This photo would be improved, I think, with 10-minute star trails but 60 seconds is the maximum on  the LX3, as the camera has no B function for extended exposures.

84. Night persimmons, Nelson

Night persimmons, Nelson

11.11pm 11 May 2009.

In this autumn study from my own front yard the background blur is star movement over 60 seconds. The zoom on the Lumix LX3 was set at 60mm, in full frame terms, and the aperture at the max, f2.8. The combination of city glow and moonlight was only just enough for the sensor, as the ISO of 400 shows – it’s a marginal setting on the LX3. The frame has been cropped slightly, as a tight composition presents real difficulty when you adopt the shoot-blind strategy for lack of a functional viewfinder in such low light. This evening was a great one for test shots with 3200 ISO, the results being only useful for extrapolating longer exposures at lower ISOs.
Close-ups and botanical studies are a good challenge for the night photographer, especially seasonal shots such as this. The persimmon tree loses its leaves very quickly each autumn, and your chosen specimen will be good for only one full moon of photography, or even less if a strong wind strips the tree while the moon’s still shining. The strong feature here is the simple two-colour statement, but the impact of the intense blue & orange really depends on your monitor, and its contrast and saturation settings. My own monitor has hopelessly unworkable adjustment buttons, and from this I conclude that many screens will be  unable to show colour photographs at their best.  
In the same way, the evaluation of immediate results for your moonlight photographs depends on the settings on the playback viewer. Every evening that I’m out with my camera, as twilight turns to night, I must remember to turn down the brightness of the viewer. Both the LX3 and the Nikon D700 have adjustments for this, so that pictures viewed in the dark do not come out underexposed when later viewed by the full light of day. Next time you are out by daylight though you’ll be puzzled by your dark results – until you remember: “Playback/viewer brightness!” 


83. Lilies by moonlight at Marybank

Lilies by moonlight at Marybank. 28 September 1985

This still-life was just outside our house at Marybank, Nelson. Exposure took an hour or more, at around f8 with the Pentax Takumar 50mm, on Kodachrome 64. I recently re-scanned the slide and with greater attention to levels, contrast and colour in Photoshop, I made some gratifying improvements.

Moonlight photography at home has two initial hurdles – your houselights, and then nearby street lighting. In domestic domains the available moonlight is frequently overwhelmed or discoloured by street lamps. Artificial light does not rule out night camerawork in general, of course, but moon rays do not thrive in competition.

In the above case, we turned off the lights in the two adjacent rooms, as even thick curtains will leak wattage over a long exposure. While the camera did its slow work we went to another living room on the other side of the house. Three cheers for obliging housemates!

The further challenge of moonlight close-ups is depth of focus, for which by daylight you usually stop down. At night, though, this can lead to over-long exposures – without even considering battery power. Fortunately my Pentax Spotmatic did not need power for the shutter (unlike the 6×7, I have belatedly learned), but power drainage is a definite concern with most digital cameras.

Then there is the wind. The slightest breeze will make all your efforts for good depth of focus quite pointless. A decent breeze, on the other hand, should give you some scope for motion studies of flowers. Depth of focus is then scarcely relevant, and 60 minutes is unlikely to give you any better flow of colours than 15 mins. However brightly coloured flowers such as poppies are best for this – once you have found some with petals still open.

Vertical tripod positions seem much fussier than the horizontal camera. Angles and levels need more attention, as does tripod balance with the extra weight side-long to the head. Be sure to tighten all screws, and especially your head!

82. Moonlit snapdragons

Moonlit snapdragons, Nelson. 12 November 2008

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.

79. Light ribbons at Puponga, Golden Bay

Light ribbons at Puponga. 10.32pm, 10 January 2009

Here’s a bit of fun, on a hilltop overlooking Farewell Spit at the top of the South Island. You can have some good, creative fun when you are out with a camera and tripod at night. Sure it’s wholesome, legal and involves exercise in the fresh outdoors – but as Keith Richards might say, it ain’t all bad, despite this.

After dark Richard and I walked over the bridge at Puponga and up the hill. It was too overcast for actual moonlight photography, as the high ISOs needed by the Lumix LX3 gave such marginal results – yet the moon was well up and fairly full. On such summery after-moons, when the waning moon rises in the night, you either stay outdoors soaking up the ambience, or you head out well after sundown.

This shot was taken 90 minutes after sunset, at f2 and 10 seconds, on ISO 200 and with the zoom at widest. The grass detail helps to locate and add depth to the photo, but the shutter was not long enough for much else in the landscape. It’s fine for the sky and the torchbearer though. Waving the torch through three arcs has lit Richard’s face in corresponding fractures. You can tell from the cool flesh tones that the torch was an LED one; with a filament bulb I would have tried the tungsten setting as well.

So you don’t have to wield the torch yourself – let your friends brandish it. Extending the shutter time and moving Richard from spot to spot would have developed this theme nicely, but alas, I took back the torch and followed just the spot-to-spot part. Squaring the original has improved it, by deleting the empty wings (left and right) of the wide stage, a common surplus when your frame features just a single subject.

Two’s good company on these capers. Even if your companion is 50 metres away with his own camera and moonlit absorption, the company makes a difference.

78. Apple autumn, by moonlight

Apple autumn, by moonlight. 11 May 1979

This image is the Technicolor companion to no. 42. Neudorf apples by moonlight, shown in my previous series of square format moonlight photography. Taken the same night in the same Nelson orchard, the colours are quite reminiscent of the 1950s, as the colour shift on Kodachrome 25 has not been corrected.

The shift does not relate to ageing of the transparency, although that might happen yet. Instead the orange and magenta cast is due to reciprocity failure, the result of an 8 minute (approx) exposure, which the film was not designed for. Kodak films show a marked magenta bias with the long shutters needed for moonlight. Full correction in Photoshop has proved possible, but I prefer the greater impact of the original. The square framing has, however, enhanced it.

Using ISO 25 by moonlight is the slow work of saints (present company excepted). Shot after shot, a patience is required that’s now even harder to find in the 21st century. The fine grain results require l-o-n-g exposures with only shallow depths of field, using wide-open apertures. Here with the Pentax Takumar standard lens set on f1.4 some sharpness has been achieved, fortunately on a very still night.

The background blur is called bokeh, and variations in it from different apertures and lenses are now assessed as you would judge a good wine. For better focus I could perhaps have used f8 – and gone back inside for 4 hours, as the tree was handy to Jane’s cottage – but over several hours there’s a much higher risk of the lens fogging, a breeze getting up or an orchard vehicle coming by.

As much as I appreciated the fact that care and patience would deliver some possibly stunning results, other creative opportunities by the full moon would not be stifled. What also held me back was my belief that there are few places where you can safely leave your gear “at work” for 4 hours unattended.

77. Madonnas by moonlight, Nelson

Madonnas by moonlight. 11.01pm, 9 July 2009

Here’s the female form in another light entirely – although still moonlight photography.  Once again there’s a mix of moonlight and incandescent light, but in reverse to no. 76, Moonrise at Long Bay. The foreground above is moonlight, the background household tungsten. The moonlight only balances (more or less) with the stronger artificial light because it has filtered through blinds on the windows and door. However, at the time the houselights seemed a bare glimmer.

As a companion to no. 27, St Mary’s evening vigil, this is a more congenial domestic environment. The figurines come from Bangkok, from a Catholic supplies shop not listed in the tourist literature. In a Thai household shrine these statuettes would be tended with garlands and other offerings, but their post here was a private visit, and only transitory.

The house was supplied by Derek and Claire (with thanks). Only at 11pm had the moon moved far enough around the two storeys to light this scene. Being a winter moon it was high in the sky, yet the Holy Mothers lack the summery look that the solar equivalent would give in January. Exposure was f2 for 60 seconds, at ISO 200, on the Lumix LX3, with the zoom at its widest.

For me the appeal here is in the offbeat contrast between the fluid lines of the blue and red figures and the more angular forms of yellow, green and brown. The angles give a strong sense of perspective, although a limited focus is noted on the close-up at f2, even with a very wide angle. Tungsten light balance was not used.

The square format suits this frame very well, and improves the original 3:2 composition. But starting out with square format is not easy, as I found with my old 6×6 cameras. Effective framing took a lot more effort than did the standard rectangle of the Pentax. The 6×7 compromise adopted by Asahi Pentax for their medium-format SLR was a considerable success.

67. Ti kouka in flower against a starry night

Ti kouka in flower against a starry night. 2.29am, 26 November 2010

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!

63. Rising moon on an ebbtide, Marahau

Rising moon on an ebbtide, Marahau. 2.44am, 26 November 2010.

Blue moon = tungsten. A simple equation, and further proof of my enchantment with the tungsten setting on my Nikon D700. Tungsten changes the colour temperature of a shot to adapt it to the warmer (=more orange) cast of filament lighting, be it by dull domestic bulb or bright studio lights. Not surprisingly, tungsten has some creative applications, notably where the feel of night is to be communicated. Simply put, although moonlight is close to sunlight on the spectrum, our eyes don’t see it that way. The moonlight photographer makes use of daylight and tungsten settings to different ends.

The blue here strikes a distinctive yet plausible note, although I am as fond of the usual golden moonlight as the next photographer. The banded effect comes from the interruptions of scattered cloud, while the superbly dark “sky” is that old photographer’s standby, a distant hillside in deep shadow. This is very simple moonlight photography – but at a late hour, to accommodate a late moon.

The stony detail helps with depth and perspective, but not with scale. It shows the foot of the rock wall along the Marahau road (see no. 60, taken 40 minutes earlier); the sharpness throughout comes from using f16, the smallest stop on my 85mm lens. This gives an excellent depth of field but it’s an infrequent choice for the moonlight photographer. Shutter time was 30 seconds, at ISO 2000; this is definitely a case of exposing for the highlights.

The wall was still being lapped by the tide, so the ebb was little advanced – at low tide this entire view is all sand flats. Even at 2.45am there was still some vehicle traffic, despite the low local population, but at least the road was free of the 20+ kayak-towing tractors you get by day. Marahau is a tourist destination, the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park, and at times the place is unpeaceably busy with tourist operators getting dozens of smallcraft into the water.

60. High tide, low moon, Marahau magic

High tide, low moon, Marahau magic. 2.04 am, 26 November 2010

This high contrast composition won’t work for everyone. At the time I was much taken with it, but then sidelined it on light of day. It has returned to favour since, as family viewers enjoyed its simplicity… picture selection is an art as well as science.

The bottom layer is a 500 m sea wall protecting the main access to a premier playground, Nelson’s Abel Tasman National Park. Even at 2 am the seasonal traffic along here was notable, cramping any creative prospects involving a tripod in the middle of the road.

This image is sidelighting to the limit – the rising moon flaring in despite my attempt to shade the wide angle. Thirty seconds on a 28mm lens minimises star movement, while f4 gives just enough depth of focus. Exposing for highlights (ISO 2000) naturally results in  deep shadows, but the cloud detail compensates, and there’s a clearer sense of calm water in this sheltered, highly tidal inlet. Marahau is a mere scallop on the western shore of Tasman Bay, which has the largest tide-range in the country.

Left offshore are Adele and Fisherman islands; there’s also a solitary boat light at the roadstead. The rugged coast across the bay shows not a single light – it’s uninhabited. Only moonlight competed with the stars on this magical evening, but two in the morning is not a typical time for my moonlight photography. Late night fatigue takes its toll, and driving any distance home in a weary state is not so healthy.

However when bad weather or good society deletes a few big moon nights from your logbook, then a late-rising moon is better than none. Fortunately this excursion, an hour or two on either side of midnight, needed only a short walk down from Colin’s beach house. Beach settlements feel much safer for late night wandering than more citified coasts. Just avoid those secluded carparks where later on young people gather to party near your car.

53. Lakeside reeds, Kaihoka, by moonlight

Lakeside reeds, Kaihoka, by moonlight. 10.33 pm, 9 March 2009

This is the December image from my large format Moonlight calendar 2010. On this night a steady southwest wind was blowing across the lake – as often – at the Kaihoka Lakes Scenic Reserve. The reserve partly encloses lovely twin dune lakes in their original bushy settings, in the top left hand corner of Golden Bay, Nelson. With some Wellington friends we stayed nearby, but the evening above I had the place to myself, as the others somehow preferred the warmth and comfort of the farmhouse. Wandering along the sandy shore by a waxing moon, I saw the rustling of the reeds as a likely subject, to continue my theme of movement recorded in a time-lapse sense.

In this 60 second exposure (at f2, widest zoom, ISO 200) their fronds and tassles are blurred, while their motionless watery footholds are not. The side-lit reeds and the long shadows suggest the moon was still low in the sky at 10.30pm. The depth of focus wide open at f2 is remarkable, given how close my tripod was to the reeds at the bottom of the frame. Wanting a sense of depth and distance, I chose a vertical composition, looking over the reeds as well as through them. Stars shine but unfortunately the cloud was content with a peek-aboo role. This is not the main body of the lake, incidentally, just a corner of it.

For calendar publishing this type of image has three risks: 1. while it definitely sings for arty sorts, it moves lesser mortals… less. 2. it works better in a certain gloom, but since everything depends technically on how it inks (or shows on your screen) the chances are strong that it will appear too dark altogether… here for safety’s sake I have added a small boost in post-processing. 3. The vertical frame is no fit for a horizontal format. Only a square American-style format or an uncommon vertical one will accommodate it.

52. Moving hands, white face: high tide by moonlight

Moving hands, white face: high tide by moonlight. 11.12 pm, 12 January 2009

Moonlight exposures are especially good for showing movement, but here’s something quite literal: a minute hand blurred over a 60-second exposure, on the Lumix LX3. There’s actually a third hand (sometimes called a second hand) that you can’t see due to its constant movement. And the clock’s 12 minutes fast.

The surf on the sheltered beach at Puponga (Golden Bay, Nelson) is really minimalist, so the lapping of the tide is just a subtle blur. However it works in well with my shadow to give some added depth. The clock is perched on a big burnt log. Not everyone takes a big clock with them on holiday, and not everyone likes their photos spiked with incongruent objects, but to me it’s all about the picture-making. After all, an element of surprise often features in a striking or original photograph.

Although some colour is visible this scene is closer to how we see by moonlight; in conventional terms however the shot is underexposed, and only right for the highlights. So this required a slight boost in post-processing. My standard starting point for a high, bright full moon is f2 at 60 seconds, 100 ISO, or 1.66 stops more than f3.5 at 100 ISO for the above. Given the low, feeble moon behind me in the pic above, I’m puzzled the shot has come out at all.

Also notable is the excellent depth of focus. Sure, the lens was at widest zoom (“24mm”), and the small size of the LX3 sensor helps too. The Lumix uses an infra red beam-assist for low light focus, which although spot-on here is often unreliable. Mis-focuses occur roughly 20% of the time and are frustrating because they take up camera time – typically, 2 minutes each: one minute to expose, one minute for dark frame post-pro. The Nikon D7oo I am now using has a similar mode; however for moonlight photography it seems to do no better. Solution: the manual focus option.

48. Summer evening at Triangle Flat, Golden Bay

Summer evening at Triangle Flat, Golden Bay. 11 January 2009

Stars are suppressed by moonlight because they are competing with a brighter sky.   Nevertheless, while out with friend Richard one clear night at the base of Farewell Spit, I  dedicated roughly 15 minutes to placing the lone manuka against a moonlit sky. The starry arc is identical to that seen in 46. Bullock Creek – meaning we’re again looking east, this time towards the northernmost Albel Tasman National Park.

People are always surprised by the variation in star colours, while the meteorite flash was unnoticed at the time. The glow across the bay I can’t explain, but there’s a general shift to warm colour here, made clear by the “normal” colours that Richard got at the same time on his digital Canon. It’s an innate tendency of all film to “go off” on the B setting; Fujichrome is usually less susceptible than Kodak, but not here. However I find the effect quite moody and acceptable.

A note in my camera bag recommends (with the 85mm lens) 10 minutes at f16 for star trails, at ISO 200. For film f11 might be better, as it slows up with long exposure. A standard lens was used for this picture but a longer lens often gives better results, as focussing is not so fussy at these smaller apertures.

After 5 to 10 minutes film has a real advantage over digital – especially if, like my old Pentax, your film camera operates without a battery (light metering excepted). Extended exposures are a serious strain on digital battery power. Also, once the exposure is done there is no dark-frame waiting around either, the post-processing noise-reduction interval usual in digital cameras.

The 24×36 frame here looks too long and narrow to me. So often this is a hard proportion to use well in vertical compositions; they only really work with good vertical lines. The Lumix LX3 has three format options, including the TV screen 4:3. I’d love cameras to have square and oval options too!

42. Neudorf apples by moonlight

Neudorf apples by moonlight. 11 May 1979

Neudorf is an orcharding district near Upper Moutere, Nelson; I took this not far from where my girlfriend and I were staying in a worker’s cottage, occupied by her apple-picking sister. Not a simple composition, this experiment in moonlight photography will not appeal to everyone, but it has held my own attention with its selective focus, deep tones and unusual tints. I’m not pleased with the background, but these are so often hard to assess in nocturnal camerawork.

Without a powerful torch most focussing by moonlight at close range can only be approximate with a roll film camera (such as the Yashicamat 124G), which is no surprise with a bigger format. Additionally the film was Ilford Pan F, a slow 50 ISO, although here it was marginally uprated to 80 ISO. Once reciprocity slow-down is factored in, exposures at f3.5 (max aperture of standard lens) are in the vicinity of 10 – 20 minutes, and recalling my impatience to take other photos around the orchard, the exposure above would have been at the shorter end. I had 2 cameras but only one tripod.

The depth of tone here reflects the fine grain of a slow-speed film, while the odd effect of two tints is achieved readily in Photoshop. After scanning I converted Mode to colour, and then under Colour variations I played around with different combinations, with Shadows and Highlights. There are only three colours available (red, blue or green), or their mixture in layers.

If you live around about our southern latitudes then May is a good month to go moonlighting: the nights are often clear and the moon is higher in the sky than in summer (in reverse of the seasonal solar arc). Best of all, however, is the early start you can make in the evening, especially on the night before full, when the moon is already up. When you have creative juices rising too, though, one tripod and slow film does hamper you.

41. After midnight on the porch at Te Hapu

After midnight, on the porch at Te Hapu. 12.23am, 8 February 2009

Te Hapu is a scenic cattle station in the South Island, on the West Coast at Golden Bay. Last year we had a few days at full moon there, staying in a refurbished woolshed. It’s a fabulous coast and if I  publicise it here no matter, as the gate is locked and only guests have access to the property, which includes Gilbert’s Beach. This cameo is taken on the woolshed porch, where a towel was flapping in the steady breeze, despite the sheltered position. The wind was too strong for any outdoor moonlight photography, as I had soon discovered when a gust blew my gear over, denting the Pentax.

From the lee of the porch I then wrote another page in the Book of Hazards by thoughtlessly moving around while my minute exposures were in progress… from the creaking floorboards the vibrations went straight up the tripod to the camera. Fortunately I had learnt to keep still by the time I took this, a wide angle shot (24mm equivalent), wide open at f2, at ISO 200 on the Lumix LX3.

The product placement from the pantry is more central than intended but I believe the strong diagonal of the shadow compensates in this revised crop from the usual original. The line is completed with the blurry star, showing the limitations of f2 for depth of field, even at the widest angle the LX3 provides.

I’m experimenting with square format because it generally fits the printed page better than the 2:3 of the classic 35mm frame. It’s also more of a challenge, and recalls my camera of yore, the Yashicamat 124G, an old-school twin lens reflex. With a TLR camera the rigour of the square frame is increased by the image always being reversed in the viewing glass. Not so in a modern digital, but the LX3 viewfinder is useless in such low light, making the camera a true point-and-shoot.

34. Quirky but Perky, by moonlight

Quirky but perky by moonlight. 8.27pm, 6 May 2009

We took Perky Pig, a retro coin-jar, and a plastic garland out to the Boulder Bank, Nelson, to add colour to the textured landscape. Perky’s from an op shop but the garland comes from Bangkok, where they are much used. The orange highlight and strong lines of the concrete groyne are offset by the background scrub merging with the heights of prominent Drumduan, backing the coastal enclave of The Glen. Our scene was just below the occasional passing headlight, but unfortunately not beyond the pall of the sewage works nearby.

The exposure was 60 seconds at maximum aperture: f2, ISO 200, with the zoom at its widest. The daylight effect is pronounced, but without visible star trails and obvious cloud movement nothing suggests actual moonlight, as even the distant lights of The Glen are hidden by the low viewpoint. I forgot movement!

Such a good depth of field seems unlikely at f2, but not if you recall that format size relates to depth of focus. Good focal depth is typical of the small sensors in compact cameras – here the Lumix LX3. So what exactly is f2? As f-stops represent a fraction, or ratio, between aperture size and focal length (distance to plane of exposure), then f2 actually means one-half, that is, a size half the focal length…

OK so the maths isn’t important, but it helps make sense of how f-stops line up: f1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11 (ah – should be 11.2!), 16, 22, 32, 45, 64, 90 etc. And those are just the full stops. It’s uncommon to find anything past f22 on a modern barrel, but on the view camera that  was fairly fast for Ansel Adams.

A zoom has to extend the lens to change the focal length, so it makes the ratio at the far end smaller – on the Lumix, f2.8. A single stop isn’t much except with longer lenses, if your camera is already at the edge of its light capabilities. Then it can make a big difference.

33. Night-for-day at Kaihoka, Golden Bay

Night-for-day at Kaihoka, Golden Bay. 11.24pm, 11 March 2009

Cinematographers have a style called day-for-night, in which night scenes are filmed by day. They are underexposed and a blue filter is sometimes added for closer simulation. Here’s the opposite approach, a night scene designed to resemble daylight. Admittedly the original file is a little duller than this, and I have brought the large slow-moving cumulus out more, but the telling signs of movement are there – especially my sister’s walk-on role as a spectral presence.

The area around Westhaven Inlet in the far west of Golden Bay has some really interesting topography. On holiday on a Kaihoka farm, we all went out for a moonlit walk, for which naturally I took along my tripod and Lumix LX3. When you do exposures as long as 60 seconds apiece (at f2, ISO 100), in the gloom people can’t always see what you’re aiming at – I could hardly tell myself – or get that you’re actually photographing. By pure serendipity Fran has wandered into the wide angle frame, perhaps from the 3o second mark. Her  colourful but translucent windbreaker adds considerably to the interest, and despite her apparent pose no Shakespearean sililoquy was intended.

The main point to convey is that moonlight will resemble daylight if enough rays can assemble on your sensor. Usually it will be a warm-looking daylight, and usually it will need an exposure of 30 seconds or more. Secondly, though, if this apparent daylight is then undermined by obvious signs of motion or activity, how all the more startling!

Moving subjects might include people, animals, wind-blown trees, clouds, water and surf, washing on the line… I’m still exploring the possibilities myself.

The composition is also worth noting, as it is again in classic thirds (see no. 20. Spring willows). The sinuous road matches the ridge line, while the brightest part of the cloud mass has its counterpoise in the figure; meantime a bright rooftop anchors the perspective. At least some of the photo was deliberate.

31. A winter’s walk to Groom Creek, Nelson

Winter’s walk to Groom Creek, Nelson. 8.35pm, 8 July 2009

Winter outings under a clear sky and high moon make for pleasant social excursions, especially when everyone is properly kitted up. The city of Nelson is ringed by hills, and with just a few turns in the road – usually uphill – you are soon removed from urban lights and noise. There’s safety in numbers too, and so I was out with four venturesome women friends. Parking at the Tantragee Saddle, we walked down the access road to Groom Creek, a minor tributary of the Maitai.

Not so long ago this was a charming byway, which criss-crossed Groom Creek with rustic copses along the way. Now the road has been upgraded to take logging trucks, and its leafy margins have been cleared. Above, we’re close to a logging platform, as the rigging suggests. With moonlight photography only occasionally can you see what you’re doing in the Lumix LX3 viewfinder, so to have the bright sky and cloud quite visible this night was a big help.

With a 50 second exposure (f2, ISO 200) and four people posing, there’s little scope for extra shots, and you have to think quickly on the technicals and how to choreograph your subjects. So I was happy to get this in just one exposure. Then there’s the fun of everyone waiting another 50 seconds for the image to show – while I try to think of other possible angles. However, you have to keep up with the company, and that night some of them were reluctant to stand still because they were cold.

Active ingredients in this pic are the moving cloud, silhouettes and the unexpected profile of the derrick. You could get a similar effect with a sunlit underexposure, and then take a dozen variations quite quickly too, but the cloud blur as a capping element is simply not possible by day. In outdoor terms, captured motion is a creative dimension unique to deep twilight and the dark.

29. Moonlit cherub, Waimea West, Nelson

Moonlit cherub, Waimea West, Nelson. 7.13pm, 6 June 2009

What’s a little unusual about this scene – not the long exposure (60 secs at f2, ISO 200), the moonlight or the cherub (supplied of course by the photographer) – is the vertical composition. The spire and the height of the trees make the usual horizontal composition here fairly difficult, but they are well adapted to a vertical composition, as seen here in wide angle (24mm in 35mm film terms). Strong vertical elements are usually required for the success of vertical compositions, and this has at least three of them.

A good depth of focus is the main challenge in this type of set-up. For f2, the depth of focus is quite amazing, softening only on the immediate foreground. As the Lumix LX3 was already at its longest shutter speed, the only other way to extend depth of focus was to select a higher ISO (to give f2.8 at ISO 400; f4 at ISP 800, etc), but higher ISOs are marginal with the LX3 – another limiting factor. At least the newest models have much improved ISO capabilities.

There is good colour range in this image and some strong horizontal lines (wires, shadow, church), while the stars and moving cloud in a blue sky complete the picture. A minor challenge was to finish the exposure without car headlights striping the scene, as we were on a country road with reasonable traffic for early evening. A distant headlight to the left of the fencepost adds more “night proof”.

The little angel comes from Bangkok; she has fairy wings of course so scarcely fits the usual Western conception, however her status is clear from her origins – a Catholic supplies shop (for Thai, not Westerners) – and her purpose, which is to adorn a household shrine. I attempted some torch highlights on her in the same place, but was still trying to get the lighting to balance when it clouded over.

Sadly at that point the evening’s photography came to an end.

28. Twilight at the MDF plant, Waimea Inlet, Nelson

Twilight at the MDF plant, Waimea Inlet, Nelson. 6.07pm, 8 May 2009

The rugged Nelson hinterland has many forest plantations to supply this “dark satanic mill”, sited on a reclaimed shore of Waimea Inlet, not far from the town of Richmond. My approach was at sunset, across the mudflats of Tasman Bay and along an uninspiring shoreline, access which I had reconnoitred the month before. This time I came back with tripod and gumboots, and had an hour or so to fill before the moon rose, and other things. The tide was still far off, so I had only the baritone rumble of the mill for audio.

Industrial photographers pair twilight and artificial lighting because when faced with such tubercular monstrosities as this, it’s really the only lipstick you can apply. The twilight was much deeper than the sky suggests, but the lighting balance is about right and the shutter speed of one second has allowed a sense of movement in the vapour clouds (f2.8, ISO 400).

Usually I select tungsten as the colour temperature, to deal with the orange cast of artificial lighting and to add more saturation to the blue background. Oddly, however, the daylight setting delivered more verve and drama for this one, so that’s what you see above.

Colour temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin, and in photographic terms it ranges from roughly 1,750 for candlelight to over 12,000 for blue sky, with moonlight (4100) and bright summer sunlight (5400) in between. Tungsten refers to filament lighting and is fixed at 3200 deg K for photographers.

Using the tungsten setting for daylight pictures makes for very sombre, bluish hues; with professional lighting however it delivers a full range of colours. Mixing daylight with pro lighting on tungsten film is an old professional’s “trick”. Advanced digital cameras have auto adjustments for colour temperature (white balance); this probably makes it harder for digital photographers to relate to the limitations of colour film, with its lack of flexibility with different light sources.

27. St Mary’s evening vigil, Nelson

St Mary's evening vigil, Nelson. 8.58pm, 9 July 2009

Here is another moonless image (see no. 24), lit only by inner city ambience. While waiting for the moon to rise I did a patrol of our neighbours’ property, as they were on holiday. It’s a big place we once co-owned (many years ago, before we moved over the fence), yet passing the old shed I saw its possibilities for night photography for the first time. Although north-facing, its location meant it would not be moonlit for many hours, so after assessing the considerable illumination from city lights, I thought to make a start here.

Exposure was f2.1 for 20 seconds on ISO 100, with the zoom on the Lumix LX3 set at 26mm (in 35mm photo terms). The clean colour on the figurine suggests a tungsten setting, although this is not recorded on the exposure metadata. Aided by a good light in the shed, I placed St Mary on a table next to a nest of old bicycles. The exposure indicates that the city lights (as seen in the window) were still three or four times stronger than moonlight – so waiting long hours for some direct rays would have been pointless anyway. Actually, in my old neighbourhood the proximity of street lighting on three sides restricted my moonlit home-and-garden photography to only a few shaded corners.

The blue sky on the right hand corner is explained by the moon having risen (but behind the house). The sky adds depth, while I like the texture of the corrugated iron and the prevailing colours of light blue and rusty red. The wisteria is bare in winter but beautiful in late spring. The Holy Mother is holding a bunch of roses. As I recollect she is about 40 cm high. We bought her in Bangkok, of all places, in a Catholic supplies shop. The Thais are very big on this sort of representation, be the figures divine, royal or simply revered: Buddhist, Hindu, Christian or folk.

25. Holy Virgin & Infant, Brook Reservoir, Nelson

Holy Virgin & Infant by moonlight, Brook Reservoir, Nelson. 9.34pm, 7 May 2009

On a clear, crisp autumn night I had several hours of uninterrupted camerawork below the old Brook Reservoir, where a rocky stream under open sky presents many possibilities for long exposures in a peaceful setting. Only five minutes’ drive from the suburbs of Nelson, at the far end of the motor camp, this public reserve is unfrequented at night. It will soon be part of the Waimarama Sanctuary, a fully enclosed wildlife and native plant reserve.

For this photo the Holy Virgin & Infant figurine was respectfully placed at the mouth of a culvert which diverts a hillside stream close to the concrete abutments of the reservoir. Apart from a surreal setting, the essential ingredients for this shot were a solid footing on the banks to enable a suitable viewpoint (doubtful at first), plus a vertical composition to take in both the figurine and the soft flow of water.

Framing problems with the Lumix LX3 are evident in the close crop at the top, as the composition was a blind one, made by trial and error. Settings were f2.7 and 60 seconds, at ISO 400, the upper limit for useable images on the Lumix. Waterfalls and the like will convert to an attractive softness in only a second or so, but any exposure longer than 10 seconds ensures maximum effect.

Unfortunately the exposure above was the longest the situation would allow, meaning some underexposure of the figurine. This was happily remedied later in Photoshop and dodging has brought out her colours. These make an agreeable contrast with the shiny greens and misty appearance of the water.

Scale is not obvious but the figurine is about 25 cm high. Although some extra care is required in the focussing, close range images can make for striking and original examples of moonlight photography.

13. Lake Rotoiti under full moon, Nelson Lakes National Park

Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes National Park. 24 April 1987.

An autumn view looking south. Situated in the northern South Island, Rotoiti is the park’s leading gem. I didn’t set out to compose this in thirds, and its not quite so anyway, but this shot consistently gets good reactions and perhaps because of its traditional composition.

However the most recent comment related to the light; someone familiar with this scene by daylight remarked that he had never before seen the light so even on Mt Robert, whose slopes are conspicuous. Moonlight is not as harsh as sunlight, being warmer for a start, and the long exposure may have some bearing on this, with the slow arc of the moon softening any shadow edges.

Of course my friend had never seen the star trails either, a pair which conveniently occupy a pleasantly blue but otherwise fairly blank sky… no doubt there would be more stars visible on a moonless night. Blue skies in my moonlight photos surprise people but I once glimpsed this high in the heavens in real time, as patches of blue showing up amongst great masses of luminous cloud. An odd but awesome phenomenon.

In this photo there’s some cloud movement, and a breeze to shimmer the reflection on the lake. The shadows add a sense of depth but are really too black, and I see some vignetting in the sky to the left. With long exposures, particularly of half an hour or more, you never know what you’ll get. Using film adds the further uncertainty of reciprocity effects, when light sensitivity slows up and colour shifts can happen,. Here, however, there’s no obvious shift, unlike the magenta cast notorious in earlier years with Kodak film.

Time and timing were unrecorded but this took around 30 – 40 minutes on Fujichrome, using the Pentax 6×7 with the 55mm wide angle lens wide open at f4. This is the JULY image in my Moonlight calendar for 2011.

10. Moonlit surf on the Boulder Bank, Nelson

Moonlit surf on the Boulder Bank, Nelson. 10.20pm 6 May 2009

FEBRUARY in my Moonlight Calendar for 2011 – a simple scene that seems to intrigue people, a minute of miniature surf on the cobbles of the Boulder Bank. The Bank is a unique natural formation 18 km long sheltering Nelson Haven, Port Nelson and the city. Here, some 10 km along it, we’re looking across Tasman Bay to the hills of Abel Tasman National Park and Separation Point. It was a still evening, common enough for the Bay this time of year, and while I knew the wave lap on rocks would look good, I expected a more visible streak of surf than the sea-mist which turned up instead.

True the surf was small, but it was perfectly formed and enough to wet your gear if your tripod was too close to the action. Quite apart from the uneven footing, finding a suitable spot in the tide for the tripod was a challenge, as further away from the surf there would be less impact. There’s a lot to be said too for knowing the tides, but this evening I’d forgotten the tables. Since then I’ve bought two of them – one for the car, one for home – as they contain daily sun and moon times also, always good to have on hand.

Although the Lumix LX3 zoom is restricted by a lack of telephoto, the standard setting has good depth of field, as this frame demonstrates at f2.8 and 200 ISO. My new 85mm Nikon lens might have handled it better, but a  longer exposure on f16 and higher ISO would be needed to get close to the same depth of field. This would mean more cloud movement too, which is sometimes good but here I wanted the distant cloud as it looked, even if some drift is detectable. This shot could have been a good monochrome, but that has only come to me more recently.

9. Late sailing through the Cut, Nelson

Late sailing through the Cut, Nelson. 11.06pm, 11 April 2009.

The JUNE image from my Moonlight calendar for 2011. Note the blue of the sea and background, the white boat light and clean sodium fill on the shrubs in the foreground… all signs of a tungsten setting. Tungsten refers to filament lighting, so this answers the orange cast of most street and home lighting. Tungsten also adds a coolness to moonlight which is in tune with our actual perceptions, although moonlight is basically golden sunlight –  reflected sunshine that hits us less than 2 seconds after bouncing off the moon. The moon’s warmth changes with its elevation in the sky, the same as with sunlight. Moonlight warms conspicuously when the moon is closer to the horizon, when its angle of strike through the atmosphere is more oblique.

The Cut is a passage dredged 100 years ago in the Boulder Bank, an impressive natural breakwater. Port Nelson is nearby and other, bigger boats came through the Cut that evening, but none described an arc as simple as this fishing boat’s, in a minute exposure at f2.8 and 200 ISO. Two minutes would give a better effect but longer exposures aren’t possible on the Lumix LX3; while it has a generous 60 second setting (hard to find on more sophisticated cameras), there is no B setting, for time exposure.

I checked my file sequence to confirm the boat was going out, not coming in. Tasman Bay is quite sheltered and the lack of swell is evident in the even curve of the light (no squiggles), although there’s minor movement of the distant yacht on the high tide.  Other movement is visible from the breeze in the greenery, but not the flashing of the harbour lights. Background lights are those of Mapua. Some foreground was unavoidable from the only vantage point available on the cliff above, but I believe it adds some sense of depth all the same.