Modest Epiphanies: Moon and cul de sac

Moon and cul de sac, from Whakawhitiwhiti Pa. 8.26pm, 28 September 2015

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.

30 secs at f7.1; Nikon 28mm; ISO 250

Roadside view 5: Backblocks spring

Spring in the Taranaki backblocks. 3.14pm, 25 October 2013

The ancient power pole had long been relieved of its duty; perhaps the lines had been re-aligned. The grazing was thistle-infested, not such a common sight now in north Taranaki. I was attracted to this simple scene not only for the lichen  growth and the sheep (and lambs), but also because the hillside gives a “false sky”.

A useful aid for composition, false skies are there for the using when you are looking up at a steep hillside, a dune or cliff; or especially when you are above a lake or other water body, looking down. Arrange your foreground and there you have it – added interest, and something momentarily disorienting for your viewer.

This scene would probably be just as effective with the animals completely out of focus behind the pole. However, without a long telephoto neither approach is likely to succeed, as sheep are easily disturbed and will move away as soon as you approach. A zoom is very good for this sort of work, but sad to say, zoom lenses don’t seem to have the sharpness of prime glass (fixed lenses). in post-processing I have used the sharpening tool on the five elements to the image, something I rarely do.

1/640th sec at f8. Nikon 220mm; ISO 2000


No moon, no worries

No moon, no worries

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.

85mm; ISO 500 / 1000. 30 seconds @ f5.6 and f8.

Te Henui ti kouka, 1 & 2

2791. Te Henui ti kouka

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.


28mm; ISO 500 & 1000. 30 seconds @ f5.6; @ f8.

Cool majesty from Waingongoro

DSC_2758. Cool majesty, on Waingongoro Rd, South Taranaki

2758. Cool majesty from Waingongoro Rd, Taranaki. 1.47pm, 17 October 2015

Two problems in volcano camerawork are vacant skies and the huge gap in exposure values between the snowy elevations and the green landscape below. Here with patchy cloud and silhouettes is an answer to this creative challenge. Lacking as it does spring lambs (and mint) this image does not quite reach the bar, yet I find its ellipsis strangely appealing… On the approach, in a clear sign of ascending middle age, I was more concerned with the wear of the gravel road on my tyres than with how the icy edifice might loom in my viewfinder. The cold sou-wester also dampened my interest, but what I like in this half-submerged image is a mistake in my colour temperature setting (Sodium vapour lamps), which still leaves its mark. It’s all a happy accident, in other words.

85mm; ISO 250. f11 at 1000th sec.

170. Some colours of spring

Some colours of spring. 10.11pm, 8 September 2011

Experience is the comb that nature gives us when we are bald.  –  Anon

Another split focus, single frame experiment; the hairdresser’s quote is suggested by the full-frontal flash on the flower stalks. For the rest of the exposure the lens barrel has been swiftly rotated, moving the focus closer to infinity. This gives reasonable definition to the distant magnolias and a short star trail – but the depth of field is false and not otherwise possible at this close range with a telephoto.

This is the last I will show of the magnolias. The tree of course is now in full green leaf.

85mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f8.