A frame from my forthcoming Modest Epiphanies 2019 New Zealand Calendar, soon to be announced. It shows urban infill below an old Maori pa in Westown, a long established suburb in New Plymouth. A slow motion study in suburban subdivision, this last section of the subdivision development was unbuilt on for years, yet the street lights have shone every night regardless. The ponga (tree ferns) are iconic for lowland Taranaki, a reminder of the high rainfall the region receives.
The pa is relatively small but has a large terrace of old cultivations on the northwestern side, included in the historic reserve. Despite this pa being very well preserved and easily accessed, its history is virtually unknown. Old pa are a strong feature of north Taranaki but as they get little publicity they are largely overlooked by visitors. Magnificent Koru Pa, at Oakura, would be the prime example.
A solid (and chilly!) southwesterly was blowing that night, but the clouds are surprisingly static for a 30 second exposure – helped of course by the wide angle lens. Light balance was set on Incandescent, which brings out the blue of the sky while reducing the heavy orange of the sodium street lighting. The aperture setting ensured a good depth of field, not usually a challenge with a wide angle anyway.
These cherubim fronting for love caught my eye in a cemetery-with-views on a Mokau hilltop. Having recently purchased a Nikon zoom lens (70-300mm) I was putting it through the paces, late one winter’s afternoon at this small community on the west coast of the North Island.
Using the tripod to allow slow shutter speeds, I was interested to see what the zoom did at the longest extension, especially at closest focus, and when well stopped down. While I was impressed that the lens went to f45 – a ratio usually seen only on large format lenses – only later did I learn about the diffusion effect at such tiny apertures, with DSLR cameras. An odd occlusion occurs – a bottle glass effect might be the easiest way to describe it. Fortunately none is seen here.
I like the juxtaposition in this image, and little group is an uncommon sight too. Exposing for marble sculpture can be tricky, and typically they are overexposed “in scene”, but at close range getting a good range of tones from marble is less challenging. These boys being at ground level were at least clean of the usual overgrowth, a definite problem on taller monumental figures, where beyond easy cleaning reach unsightly lichen and moss can become well established.
Memento mori: In turn we all take our leave. But love lives on, at least.
Amongst the leaves, Te Henui Cemetery. 3.06 pm, 2 April 2018
A supplicant cherub amongst fallen leaves – these being a common metaphor for poignant memory and les temps perdus. This simple image again makes use of contrasting blank spaces, as I have resisted the urge to crop it at top and left. The limited palette adds considerably to the effect, assisted by the flat light of an overcast day.
The 85mm lens at close range has little inherent focal depth, but stopping down to a self-timed f16 has maximised the depth of field. Any gain here will sharpen focus for a short distance in front of the focal point – in this case the tiny leaf directly in front of the figure – while increasing it over a much larger zone behind the object. The self-timer was set to the shortest time (2 secs) and I often use this aid with the 85mm, both for hand-held shots and with tripod.
Te Henui is the first of New Plymouth’s two main cemeteries; situated above the valley of the Te Henui Stream in rolling country typical of Taranaki, it was originally on the edge of town. The lower slopes are wooded, making the older sections of this cemetery notably rustic. However, interesting cameos such as the above were sparse. My time was not all spent on photography, as I was surprised to discover (quite by accident) the final resting places of two people who appear in the family history I am at work on.
Memento mori (“Remember, we all must die”) presents a series of cameos from New Zealand cemeteries, illustrating memorable scenes or detail. Of course they have their melancholy aspect, but cemeteries retain a strong human interest and convey an impressive sense of time’s long passage. Often (but not always) these aspects are matched with a park-like atmosphere of peace and calm.
A Good Friday illumination, though not an epiphany, from an unexpected source. A subdivision being so close to where I was staying, it was a simple matter to put on gumboots and shoulder tripod for the short walk to the hilltop, where a house was under construction. As building sites are prone to pilfering I didn’t want my intentions mis-interpreted, so when vehicle headlights suddenly appeared in my frame I did not know what I was in for. However I was set up on the less public side, and whatever the purpose of the lingering lights and long-running engine, my presence was apparently undetected.
I wear a warm, high-vis vest (thanks Narumon) on all my evening outings, for safety’s sake. Generally I avoid using flash in residential areas (discretion vs valour) and have rarely been challenged by suspicious onlookers. On moonlit excursions I mostly stick to public spaces or to holiday places on farms; looking back on work from the last few years, I see my trespassing has been confined to college farms, new subdivisions and golf courses.
Diagonals and limited focus are not common elements in my compositions, and I would have liked a more distinctive shape for the tree, but serendipity should not be denied – namely the headlit timbers – and I am obviously susceptible to a good, unclouded mountain. Mt Taranaki is an immediate anchor for any former resident returning to the region.
My visit to Taranaki last month offered no new opportunities for creative photography, but I have just re-discovered this unusual image, taken with a telephoto in our back garden (then) in Westown, New Plymouth one early spring. A power cable mars the lower portion (too hard to retouch!) but the main interest is the sense of depth in the clouds. The trees and the lower cloud are illuminated by street lights, but not the upper cloud. Two stars are visible. Although I took many further photos at different settings (some too slow for the cloud movement, others at similar shallow apertures) the formation quickly dissipated, along with my evening’s hopes. So much of long exposure work is like the dilemma at the printers: do want it fast, good and cheap? Choose two only.
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!
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!
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.
2866. A pastoral pocket, at night. 8.59pm, 26 October 2015
By twilight I checked out this pastoral slope above the valley of the Henui, within New Plymouth city. A good length of pasture stretches from the river reserve up and over one old pa site to another well preserved one, next to WITT. This part of the paddock is bordered by a student hostel (whose lights streak the grass) and the town cemetery (behind the macrocarpas). I was in luck with some sheep to people the landscape; they were watchful and a little nervous, but not enough to flee the scene – a telephoto lens kept me at a suitable distance. Low cloud reflected city lights, but regrettably the full moon had just risen into the cloud.
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.
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].
9807 Evening parade at Waiwhakaiho. 8.20pm, 3 February 2015
Clouds strike some marvellous poses, but as they will not hold them the trick is to be ready and waiting. Even better if they are only a side-show to the main act – an anticipated moonrise, for example. A big Nikon zoom lens needs a tripod for best results, especially with a polarising filter. A tripod does restrict you but it allows a much smaller aperture, which helps with overall sharpness after the filter and softness of a zoom lens are taken into account. Using a tripod also ensures a more considered approach, and more level horizons. The polariser, meanwhile, only works from a certain viewpoint, that is, one at roughly 90 deg to the sun. So you might as well stay in the right spot with your tripod.
112mm, ISO 250. 1/60th at f11. Polariser and tripod
9797 Wet feet at the Waiwhakaiho. 8.16pm, 3 February 2015
Zoom lenses are very engaging, but the price of their versatility is their typically lacklustre definition, and the extra care required in their use – especially with focus and depth of field. I have found with the Nikon 70-300mm that no really serious work can be undertaken without a tripod, and a self-timer release of 2 to 5 seconds, depending on the focal length and wind strength. Here a slow shutter speed resulted not only from the polariser (effectively 2-stops) and the low ISO but also the need for a small aperture for depth of field. The polariser works wonders on cloud forms at right angles to the sun, which was low to the left. The gulls are enjoying the dog-free side of the river; their beach was soon covered by the incoming tide.
95mm, ISO 250. 1/50th sec at f11. Polariser and tripod
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.
9039 Pukekura Park lights. 9.56pm, 22 December 2014
New Plymouth’s central park is not much fun to stroll through clutching a tripod, especially along with the evening crowds out to see the same lighting spectacle (and the free performances). So I left my ballast behind. This sort of photo is more effective in twilight rather than after dark, but on the other hand, flash is more dramatic on foregrounds. The colour changes on the spheres were rapid and uneven (in exposure terms) and as I did not want to hold up the company I took only a few frames, stopping down as much as I could. The golden glow is the fountain; the ducks did not register.
Simple, graphic compositions such as this moonrise-with-flax-flowers can be varied in post-processing with the hue tool. In my tool kit this is handily located next to the saturation dial, and enables a surprising spectrum of bizarre and surreal imagery. I have put some variations up for contrast but am not able to format them with suitable elbow-room. If you want to appreciate an image without colour clash, single it out with a double-click. While the middle image looks almost normal, the blue has been preternaturally intensified. It is quite safe to try this at home.
9428 Moon force attack, Waiwhakaiho, 10.26pm, 5 January 2015
New Zealand flax again, plus full moon and scuds, in an image combining flash with background moonlight. To use flash in this way, start with aperture selection. This means finding the f-stop that fits your camera distance, as the flash has its own inherent shutter-speed. Then extend your actual shutter speed until your foreground/background balances out in a nice Goldilocks exposure (not too bright, not too dark). Unusual effects will show, for example, when your foreground sways in the breeze in the post-flash part of the exposure. The resulting slight double-image is just one more random element in long exposure photography, adding to its interest and creative potential.
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.
At Bell Block, a suburban outlier of New Plymouth, the Mangati Stream meets the coast through a steep shingle bank. This last reach came into view after sunset as we came up from the beach, by the new walkway extension. Adding to the uncommon textural unity was a soft, warm twilight. It was a lovely summer’s night.
I took this one afternoon in the early autumn of 2010, when Yana was 20. My father had some self-sown vines rioting in his garden (yielding 80 large melons), which looked to make a good backdrop. It’s no surprise to see here the same elements as in previous portraits: sympathetic ground, soft light, harmony of colour – and a subject with a low-key expression, posed direct to camera.
Taken at f2.8 on 1/200th sec on standard lens setting [60mm in 35mm terms]; the great depth of focus even on this aperture stems from the Lumix LX3’s smaller sensor. A law of optics states that depth of field increases as sensor size (or film plate) reduces.
Continuing the evening portrait theme is this “one-take” shot of our UK visitor Ben, in 2010, taken on the cliff above Back Beach in New Plymouth. The light is striking, but the effect is enhanced by the “da Vinci” background of Paritutu Rock, pylon and blue sky. I would not call this twilight photography, as the sun is still at the horizon, although softened in a summer haze. Although most portraits benefit from low contrast, a little more has been added here in post-processing, plus some vibrancy.
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.