My 2017 calendar sold out last week, although some retail returns are expected. This image for June 2017 has been very popular. It was taken at the southern end of the inlet, where from sea level the road climbs steadily and steeply to the top of the limestone. Public roads with grass strips down the centre are not that common in New Zealand, but as this one serves just two farms it’s no real surprise to see it here. “Roads less travelled” lend themselves well to calendar imagery, and this one is in the “even less travelled” category, being off another, unsealed road to several farms which straggle down the coast. The trick is usually in getting sufficient elevation to please the eye with the path fully shown. A misty day helps, adding an uncommon atmosphere.
Everyone complains of his memory; nobody of his judgement.
– Francois de La Rochefoucauld
When setting this up I wasn’t certain I was on a public road, but according to Google this is Cook Road, overlooking Waimarama on the coast. No vehicle came by the whole time, but traffic was regular on the main road just below.
To get the desired sweep of road I pitched the tripod on an elevated shoulder. Everything was slushy underfoot, and I was pleased to be wearing waterproof gumboots, as having warm, dry feet all evening is a real boon to middle aged night photography. Yet the slush was nothing like the drastic conditions experienced here since, and this scene won’t be so easy on the eye since the area’s record floods.
I have darkened this in post-pro as the original frame looks like daylight; a stop or two less would have been better. Having run into the frame from the higher viewpoint, I am slightly transparent; instead of figuring out the self-timer beforehand on the new camera, in the dark I followed the path of least resistance.
In the field I keep my gear on my back throughout; on changing lenses, filters etc I restore everything immediately to the bag. By day it is often convenient to have accessories out of your kit and close to hand, but even by a bright moon you will find that gear is easily misplaced or knocked over, or simply overlooked when you move on.
Also, when out on your own at night, your primate brain is alert with an instinctive wariness. Having anything not on the tripod already on your back is an elementary precaution for a possible dash to safety – however unlikely that event proves to be by the end of a pleasant evening.
No public road is ever 100% safe, but a gravel one without fences is a good bet.
One of the minor hazards of moonlight photography is moving on from a shot before you have got the best from it, as this shot demonstrates. It was only meant to be a test exposure, although earlier frames showed that I already had this half-moon business pretty right. My main intention was to have the wheel tracks illuminated with a torch, but this didn’t work because of light fall-off, and I now realise only using a gantry or stepladder would have achieved the effect. Disappointed, I moved on without fully capitalising on the existing potential.
A test frame uses a wide open aperture and a shorter shutter than you’d usually apply to fleeting clouds. For good clouds you have to expose more for the sky, unless you have a graduated neutral density filter, which basically splits the frame by darkening the sky. Alternatively you can do multiple exposures at different settings for later layer-and-merge processing. Being a bit of a minimalist I’ve yet to bother with either of these methods, but a longer shutter – say 60 to 120 seconds – would have delivered a stronger impression of moving cloud.
The crucial thing though is to shoot straight into the wind, as naturally that’s where the cloud’s coming from. Of course you don’t have to set up in a gale to achieve this, especially as the risk of camera shake will then match your likely discomfort. Instead, try this from a sheltered hollow (as here) and line up some good nearby features in your frame.
Gilbert’s Beach is a private cove at the end of this remote farm road in Golden Bay (www.tehapu.co.nz). The farm is wind-swept but on a good day – or night – the place is magic. Despite the low level of craft I like this simple image as a “lonely road”, especially for the way the vanishing point meets the darkened hillside.
It’s hard to believe this night-for-day is actually moonlight. These are the golden hues of a waxing moon, just past first quarter and sinking in the west. The pale orb had risen unnoticed about 12.30pm, and would set just before 4 am, but I knew I would not be up to see it, as we were leaving Te Hapu, Golden Bay, next day. We had four clear nights for photography, and so I took up a calendar theme I’ve been wanting to develop, that of untravelled back-roads.
This is one road very much less-travelled – about one vehicle per day. On private land (www.tehapu.co.nz), it leads to our cottage, the Shearing Shed Retreat, and then carries on to Gilbert’s Beach, down the cleft on the upper left. One of the shadows on the left margin is from the cottage, showing how little I’d wandered before seizing on potential material. The manuka in the foreground has been torched, in a manner of speaking, by the photographer.
I was pleased with the colours and am now aiming for a warmer palette in my moonlight photography. This seems to fit the bill, and is actually warmer than I’d expect from a full moon in the same position. What’s missing from this frame are a few steers grazing across the mid-distant flats, but not a single beast was at this end of the station. The distant battlements along the limestone scarp are natural but were unvisited by us, as they are on the next property.
Deep shadows add a sense of depth here, while the road provides an uncommon vanishing point, and extra perspective. A single power line, only mildly intrusive, has been removed. I somehow miscalculated the shot, overexposing it by about a stop, and corrected this using Levels. Usually I prefer f8 for deeper focus; here the light was at least 4 stops below full moonlight.
28mm, ISO 2500. 308 seconds (over 5 minutes) at f5.6. Vivid picture control.