The view west from the sharpest corner on the Lindis Pass-Tarras road, heading north from Wanaka. I had driven to Central Otago to meet up with a Wellington friend, thinking that Spring would follow me south. It didn’t, and a biting southerly blew for some days. When it relented some beautiful weather followed, but here I was back on the road for home, and on the safe side of it. I parked a good distance from the corner and walked back for this striking scene, which I had noted on the way down.
The modest Lindis River flows below the new-leaf willows. The beehives were an unexpected touch and in composition terms they could be called “third level” – detail which adds interest to an image, but which is not always seen at first glance. The clouds are emphasised by a polarising filter, but the high contrast is also inherent in Fujichrome, the film used here. This well saturated slide film (all “chromes” were slide films) reigned supreme from the late 1980s. Slides from the 1970s and early ’80s now seem dull, colour-wise, when compared with later films, which were contrastier and more saturated.
This arid scene is typical of the Central Otago, although the compressed topography is not quite so. The geology is schist and the climate dry and continental. Not far north from here, Otago turns into Canterbury, another distinctive and more angular landscape, based on greywacke.
An unexpected First World Problem has been developing in western countries in recent years. It is an odd one, to be sure, and some might say it’s a “Giraffe in the Room” (the elephant needs a day off every so often). This is it: Considering the billions of images we now take every month on our cameras and smartphones, where can we see any of these photos?
Certainly not on our walls, as even my own have been bereft of recent imagery. Why are we taking so many photos when so very few get to be printed, and still fewer get framed or pinned up somewhere? Why isn’t all this great creativity on display for all to see – such as on the walls at home, your house and mine? I call this the problem of Wall Art Poverty, a serious middle class malaise, perhaps not fatal but surely damaging to ours souls, which according to Picasso need daily nourishment*.
We seem to be stonkered by the deluge of pixels captured on our marvellous little machines. What to choose to show, and how do you present it? These are the questions I have been asking myself too, as I prepare a first selection of my photographs to offer as fine art prints. The above is the image I began this blog with, in 2010. It graced the cover of my first calendar, and will be one of the images featured in my first offer of fine art prints.
* Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. – Pablo Picasso(attrib.)
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.
This twilit tableau was the runner-up in my series of St Joseph with a vase of faux flowers. It ranks as “runner-up” only because it’s entirely moon-less, the crescent moon (the object of the whole exercise) being too high in the sky to be included in a horizontal composition. However as a simple set-up, this seems a more compelling image to me. I like the good range of colour and how the flash balances with the background lighting. It also has some artistic black space on the lower right, suitable for a quote (or headline), and I have supplied an anonymous, satirical example of such below.
In comparing the impact of this standard horizontal image with the earlier vertical frame, isn’t it an odd truth that the old 35mm format of 2:3 works much better for horizontals? The 2:3 format seems too long and narrow for most vertical applications, where 4:3 is often a better fit. That aside, good vertical compositions are generally harder to achieve than horizontal ones, yet verticals are so much to the fore these days – thanks of course to the demands of Instagram, Pinterest and smartphones.
How I love the crescent moon. The new moon is a real waif, and only visible for a short time on the twilit horizon, before it too sinks below sight. Then night after night the crescent moon fattens, spending longer in the western sky – each night the moon rises about an hour later, so sets later too. Twilight is the best time to get the crescent moon; later the sky is so dark that the unlit part of the moon will also show up, stealing your crescent.
In this wide angle view, the moon is reduced to a tiny cameo. Not wanting to participate in rush hour traffic, I stayed home and set this up, hard pressed to find anything else to make an interesting shot. The camera looks up to get everything in, and while I wrestled with different settings and placements, the moon kept moving (surprise surprise), in and out of view through the branches, requiring further frantic adjustments.
So I have at last put St Joseph to work, while he gathers in his lambs. They must be metaphorical, as he was a carpenter (or artisan), rather than a shepherd. We bought this likeness from a Catholic supplies shop in Bangkok in 2003. We got two Holy Virgins at the same time, in different sizes. The virgins have seen more limelight over the years, the BVM having greater recognition value. The companion piece, a vase of fake flowers, came with a house purchase we made in 2010. It makes a handy, low maintenance prop.
Once again I post a pic that I’m not completely satisfied with. Teachable moments I believe they are called. Coming down from the Neudorf Saddle in the rain we saw a large gaggle of geese, an uncommon sight in our region. Unsurprisingly, they wandered away from me as I struggled at the fenceline, crouching without cover, poking the lens through the wire netting and hoping no raindrops plopped directly on to my telephoto.
I like the pastoral backdrop, quite typically Nelson (geese aside). The trees are a mix of native and introduced species. The horses add interest, but the elements of this composition do not quite tally. Another horse (or two) is needed at the right, and one more to the left of the central tree would be even better! In many ways, a successful composition has predictable components. Although this one does have something close to a red barn in it, the eye needs a few more points to linger on for this to be (say) a good calendar image – even without a golden retriever in sight.
Speaking of calendar images, we now have two quite different 2019 calendars perfectly formed and ready for release in a few weeks. They will be announced shortly. However, already available is a retrospective Creative Evenings 2019 calendar, which you can access as a printable pdf file on the free downloads page. This free calendar is printer-ready – it’s a selection of the best from my earlier publications, made available for those more recently interested in long exposure photography. We tested it at a commercial printer – it worked fine!
These two beasts-and-a-nose were the outliers of a contented herd, all having a lunch break to chew things over. A great gem set in the heart of Auckland, Cornwall Park is the extensive green space which surrounds the old volcanic cone of One Tree Hill / Maungakiekie. It’s a good place to pause when you are in the city, not the least because parking is free.
The “secret” behind the shot is the ditch-and-wall which separates the public from the cattle, although for joggers and ramblers (as above) there is access at various points. As a substitute for a fence, which I can’t recall having seen elsewhere, it enables an unusual overview. I currently have this scene as my desktop wallpaper; I believe it pretty much sums up the pastoral idyll of New Zealand life. It’s also an uncommon angle and contradicts my earlier comment about not favouring the south end of north-bound animals.
The exposure was not optimal because the light was continually changing from sun to cloud, and back again. A typical Auckland day, in other words. The background jogger isn’t blurred from a long-ish exposure but instead slightly out of focal range. Even on the smallest aperture, it’s too much to expect a telephoto lens to deliver sharpness throughout when you are this close to your subjects.
Rear views are not usually the most appealing with animals, I realised some time ago, but this angle was more interesting than most such. A conversation with the owner established that these were miniature horses, not the Shetland ponies we first thought them to be. Although my caption is sardonic these sturdy steeds must have been aware of their vertically challenged state, as a normative horse was close by. Placid animals, they obliged me by grazing close to the roadside before wandering off for some time-out beyond the autumn trees.
This was the prettiest location in Garden Valley yet we arrived too late in the day, as the sun was sinking below the high hills to the west. As every photographer soon discovers, photography in the shade gives an unappealing cool cast to scenes like this, owing to the light of a cloudless sky being so blue (the problem is less obvious on overcast or rainy days). In post-processing I have rescued this shot by a colour adjustment, warming it and adding some contrast too. On reflection, there is no disadvantage in flat light for this situation, as long as you are conscious of the cool cast likely to result, before post-processing.
The shallow depth of focus was intentional. Only the first horse is sharp, and in this type of photo only the first subject needs to be. While we have no problem identifying the two other items, I personally have a problem in usually wanting sharpness and focus throughout the frame. Really, there is so much creative potential in having the opposite.
As a magnificent blot on the landscape the steel mill at Waiuku, south of Auckland, is very impressive. In this shot its dreariness is stylised by layering, using the line of pines it is seen through. Another example of a “look-through” composition, this is one I was definitely searching for. Here the main feature seems almost an afterthought, but one nicely offsetting the dark verticals. The scene is also an example of limited palette (colour range), being close to monochromatic. However I saw during set-up the small smudge of green plant life at bottom centre, and the brown building below the belching chimneys.
I took a second shot with the mill in a more central position, yet this was less interesting. The scene above is underexposed of course, to saturate the highlights, and a smaller aperture can be another gain in doing this – and increased depth of field, no small matter with a telephoto lens such as the 85mm. Using f16 has insured sharpness throughout, with the luxury of a low ISO and a hand-held capture, to boot.
The phrase “Dark satanic mill” comes from an eschatological poem by William Blake, whose text also forms the lyrics to the well known hymn Jerusalem. This contrasts the forthcoming heaven-on-earth of the title with the hellish blight of many hundreds of mills, which scarred the country as it became the first to industrialise.
An unusual evening this, as having driven up Garden Valley (30 minutes from Nelson) for the very first time to note the lie of the land, we came back only when the moon had cleared the hills. We were looking for miniature horses, but, sadly, on nightfall the dozen in the next paddock had retired from the roadside. This lone, non-vertically challenged mare remained still enough for only one frame (even so, there is a double impression of her head), as she soon became quite agitated by our presence on the darkened roadside.
Apart from equine nervousness, two other hazards for the night photographer were of the more common variety: an awkward car park on a narrow shoulder of a narrow road, and the lingering dust clouds stirred up by passing cars. Even on a no exit gravel road, people still come home from work! Photographing much later in the evening would have meant less disturbance from traffic, but our presence then up this fairly isolated valley would be more disturbing to the locals.
The light foreground streaks are grass stalks close to the camera; with a faint moon, far from full, and the need for shutter times less than 30 secs, wide apertures are needed, with resulting shallow depths of field. To get this colourful biscuit tin / chocolate box image on first attempt was quite surprising, although ideally a rustic barn should be in the background (but I jest). A sliver of sky at the very top of the frame has not been cropped out, although my usual instinct is to reduce frame-edge distractions.
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.
Te Hapu is a wonderful farmstay in far Golden Bay – on the West Coast in fact, after a drive down fabulous Westhaven Inlet. The farm is a rugged 1,000 acres of limestone, and its scenic highlights include what must be one of the best private beaches in the country, Gilbert’s Beach, with its encircling reef and dramatic backdrop of cliff and nikau palms.
It is a lovely place to wander, although not much of it is level! Some days too the wind blows strongly, especially from the southwest, and anything trying to grow where the wind funnels is bound to take a protective stance against it, as above. I took this when we stayed there last April; the photo features in my new book, Perfect Evenings.
Another sample from my 2018 New Zealand calendar, this one is for May 2018. The holiday park at Kurow was decidedly off-season on the cold autumn night that we stayed there. A bitter, blustery wind was blowing but I coated up and left our snug cabin with tripod and gear, determined to make use of the wan moonlight in such an interesting setting – and was then pleasantly surprised to find that down by the river was quite sheltered. From the several hours I spent on the terraces, covering many angles on the deserted camp, this pic has emerged as a favourite. A second, quite different scene from this frigid outing also features in my upcoming Perfect Evenings photo book.
Monday 2nd October is the last day for my extra special prices on this 2018 calendar, post-free for NZ & Australia. There are still about 20 left – so why not purchase and enjoy?!
This is a sample illustration from my long exposure Perfect Evenings 2018 New Zealand calendar. Magnolia flowers are a welcome sight in the southern spring, appearing from July to September, depending on the species and local climate. By moonlight or street light they are even more luminous and lovely than by day.
Printed in just a small edition of 125, most of my calendars have now sold at the special early bird prices quoted in the last post. The three for $30 deal and 5 + 1 for $60 have been very popular. There’s obviously good interest – not to mention good sense – in having giftable items on hand well before the usual rush, especially when so many New Zealanders are taking to the air (and the road) and require packable items for their calls and hosts.
All prices are post-free within NZ and Australia. My best-ever, these prices are current until Monday 2nd October, and will not be repeated. By that time the entire stock will probably be spoken for, and any reprint considered will have to be at standard prices. These will still be good value, however, with various extras offered, in addition to the photographer’s own prompt and personal service!
Two views from the same place, immediately in front of our accommodation at Omata, just south of New Plymouth. They have been cropped slightly, to wallpaper formats. The lighting above is an improvised long exposure with a mix of misty moonlight and house lights; below is a heartening scene of sunlight on a winter’s morning, after the murk of previous days had at last moved on. I can recommend both experiences, also the cottage itself, which on www.bookabach.co.nz is listed as Valley View Cottage, if you like your digs to be quiet, clean and affordable. Thanks Isobel!
A family trip to New Plymouth last week coincided with a full moon, but alas, I had flown one stage of the journey, so arrived without a tripod. From a fence post alongside our accommodation I took two frames which have stitched up nicely. My other steady-state improvisations were not successful – trying the camera on a patio chair (awkward to get the right angle) and on a free-floating fence batten (lingering vibration). Even on the fence post the placement was precarious, so I hung on to the camera strap. I did not think there was much going on for the left frame until I noticed the sleeping horse and the slight blush to the low cloud (which enveloped the area for days). The neighbouring property was interesting for its rustic buildings, particularly one which leans precariously over a slope.
50mm lens; ISO 500. 15 secs at f4 and 30 secs at f5.6
Although urban and sophisticated, it appears these sheep were only used to the glare of the neighbouring polytech hostel, and not moonlight paparazzi. The venue is an open space tucked away behind the city cemetery, and between WITT and Te Henui walkway, in the vale below. Small Maori pa abound in this vicinity and their reserve status contributes to having this unfrequented, pastoral scene in the city. Here night-time photographers can pursue their craft with a pleasant sense of calm and solitude, despite the incidental noise from the hostel. The clouds reflect city lights; the light beam is wastage leaping the boundary fence, offstage left. How very different this looks by day!
Like some national flag, this somewhat humdrum scene has its quadrants, as well as enough eye-catching detail to make a composition. I can’t say it’s a favourite but it has been promoted up the ranks for selection by an enthusiastic supporter – so it must have something. What? Both colour highlights and silhouette are in there, along with natural texture and the blue wash of a calm Golden Bay (not always, of course – these rocks are foreshore defences). Above all, though, it has middle lines to divide – and unite – the composition. Both horizon and tree are in that “Avoid!” place, dead centre. Taking the place of the “third party” in composition terms are far-off lights, clouds and stars. Spending time at this quiet, far corner of the settlement made for an enchanted evening, despite no awesome photos resulting.
Re-framed to 16×10 for emphasis; 28mm, ISO 2000 30 seconds at f8
Moonlit Mordor, from Arawhata Rd, Opunake. 8.57pm, 25 April 2010.
My 36 Views of Mt Taranaki has sold out. The book used mainly daylight images, just to prove there’s more than one string to my fiddle. Nevertheless I continue to find twilight and night imagery more interesting because of the larger creative possibilities. This is a Lumix LX3 image, converted from colour: a desolate, snow-free mountain, as seen from from a desolate sector of the ring plain. In contrast to the more settled appearance of the other side of the mountain, this is rougher, harder country.
On a personal note, this is a belated coda to my Taranaki series, as this year we have returned to live in Nelson. Despite the hiatus I have been occupied in reviewing my extensive transparency collection, compiling a second book on evening photography and putting together a 2017 calendar, one without a volcanic theme. But about that, more shortly.
3028. Minor epiphany at Maitai, Nelson. 9.02pm, 25 November 2015
In valleys in summertime the evening can be well advanced before the full moon shows above the hills. To use twilight as well you’ll need to choose the evening just before the moon hits 100% full, when it rises before sunset. It can be fun to perch this lovely orb in various quirky ways, but the surprise is just how quickly – in a matter of seconds – the moon moves away from your careful line-up of picture elements, as I found here while wandering the Waahi Taakaro golf course in the Maitai valley.
As well as their cultivated landscapes and easy terrain, golf courses after-hours offer the night photographer something further – a generally safe setting. There’s only a small chance of stumbling into a ditch, of sudden intrusion, or of being run down by something or someone. Golf courses have their quiet corners, and often you can slip in the back way, across a stile somewhere along the boundary.
50mm; ISO 1250. 1/250th sec at f2. Hand-held; flash.
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.
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.
0973 Autumn in the Maitai gloom, Nelson. 5.11pm, 26 April 2015
In late April a quick trip to the Maitai Valley, on the edge of the city, is much easier than the long road to central Otago (where great swathes of lovely poplars and cotoneasters are now gone from our favourite walk at Arrowtown). Although the light balance between flash and background above suggests twilight, this cameo was actually taken half an hour before sundown, in the pre-drizzle gloom of a heavy overcast. Flash is a crude instrument but then so is a hammer – and after a few attempts I felt I had it nailed.
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.
2364 Autumn birch, Eltham, Taranaki. 6.17pm, 4 May 2013
One early moonless evening I wandered a small block attached to a church camp, using flash in the deepening twilight. Balancing the light from two different sources often takes some doing, but I was happy by frame 3 on this occasion. I took this in colour, converting it later, then adding a warm colour highlight, a different process from duotone. Later I took some shots using a monochrome setting, and to my surprise although these other photos downloaded as B&W, when the frames were opened for the usual work-over – hey presto, they were all still in colour. Well, keeps the options open!
2727 Wet evening, Whangarei Harbour. 5.24pm, 25 May 2013
On a sodden summer’s day here in Taranaki I’ve been looking through my yearly folders for fitting material. This high-tide scene from Mcleod’s Bay, on the northern shores of Whangarei Harbour, takes in the blue of twilight and the clean, bright highlights of torchlight. I was aiming for some depth with the tree-studded islet offshore, but was surprised by the keen colour contrast. Umbrella photography has its payoffs, but also its price – a good torch tumbled out of my grasp, down the slope and (one part thereof) into the sea below.
85mm, ISO 100. 4 secs at f16. Tungsten light balance
8301 Winter roadside, moonlit mono. 10.32pm, 13 July 2014
I find myself more drawn to formalist compositions as I grow older. They are by no means easy to do, especially after dark. This one surprised me on a pleasant roadside. Intrigued by its depth, I used the last of my battery to highlight the foreground. In post-pro I have discarded the original colour elements, then chosen a brown and black duotone from a long list of possible combos. Digital duotone is “an imaging process that computes the highlights and middle tones in a black and white image, then allows the user to choose any color ink as the second color” (Wikipedia). In print, duotone (or tritone) is the best way to present half tone (B&W) fine art, and also historical photos.
Two frames merged into one, so same ferry twice – each exposure is 30 seconds, by moonlight. The Point is at St Heliers; it’s a good lookout as long as you don’t get caught (as I did) by the local council’s draconian parking restrictions. Park well down the street!