Minor epiphany at Maitai

3028. Minor epiphany at Maitai

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.


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.

A pastoral pocket, at night

2866. Urban pastorale, at night

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.

85mm; ISO 500. 30 seconds @ f5.6


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.

Autumn in the Maitai gloom

0973 Maitai twilight, Nelson

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.

50mm; ISO 250. 1/250th sec @ f7.1. Flash

The golf course after dark – pano

Fitzroy Pano, 2 Feb 2015

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.

50mm, ISO 2000. 2.5 secs at f4 for both frames

On the links, Fitzroy full moon

9940.16x9 On the links, Fitzroy

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.

50mm, ISO 2000. 2 secs at f4.5

Autumn birch, Eltham

2364 Autumn birch, Eltham

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!

50mm, ISO 2000. 1/6th sec at f3.2. Flash

Wet evening, Whangarei Harbour

2727 Rainy evening, Whangarei Harbour

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

Winter roadside, moonlit mono


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.

28mm, 500 ISO. 15 seconds at f8. Flash

Rangitoto from Achilles Point panorama

Rangitoto from Achilles Pt

Rangitoto from Achilles Pt, Auckland

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!

296. Perfect evening, Ngamotu Rd

Perfect evening, Ngamotu Rd

Perfect evening, Ngamotu Rd, New Plymouth. 10.17 – 10.21pm, 25 March 2013

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow / Out of this stony rubbish?          Son of man, / You cannot say, or guess, for you know only / A heap of broken images    – T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

85mm; ISO 500. 4 minutes at f16

292. Half moon with cricket song

Half moon with cricket song

Half moon with cricket song, New Plymouth. 9.20 pm, 22 March 2013

 Let us go then, you and I / When the evening is spread out against the sky /            Like a patient etherised upon a table  –  T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

28mm; ISO 2000. 5 seconds at f5.6. Flash

288. Whither Michael Smither?

Michael Smither country

Whither Michael Smither? Waiwhakaiho River at Alfred Rd. 10.56 pm, 27 February 2013

 In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.  –  Alfred Stieglitz

85mm; ISO 2000. 25 seconds at f8. Incandescent

257. House on the corner, Cambridge

House on the corner, Cambridge. 8.16 pm, 30 August 2012

You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you.You have to go to them sometimes.  –  A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

50mm; ISO 2000. 10 seconds at f16. Sodium vapour light balance



256. Almost spring, Westown

Almost spring, Westown, New Plymouth. 7.54 pm, 29 August 2012

 There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.  –  Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

85mm; ISO 1000. 30 seconds at f11. Sodium vapour light balance

252. Peekaboo moon, Taranaki

Peekaboo moon, Taranaki. 1.05 am, 26 August 2012

Artists are born kneeling; they fight to stand. Critics, by nature of the judgement seat, are born sitting.  –  Hortense Calisher (US novelist) [adapted]

50mm; ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f16. Sodium vapour light balance

243. Winter in Waiuku country

Winter in Waiuku country, South Auckland. 11.51 pm, 28 July 2012

Nothing is ever the same twice because everything is always gone forever, and yet each moment has infinite photographic possibilities.Michael Kenna

 28mm; ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f5.6


241. Darkness on the Old Mountain Rd, Taranaki

Darkness on the Old Mountain Rd, Taranaki. 6.51 – 6.56 pm, 9 July 2012

To be exempt from the passions with which others are tormented, is the only pleasing solitude.  –  Joseph Addison

Driving north in the early evening, I paused on a 2 km disused section of the old highway, quaint now for its narrowness and rustic one-lane bridge. The night was cold and moonless, with a constant hubbub from the nearby highway. No one came by while I tussled with the split focus (between initial flash and the following l-o-n-g exposure) of gate/mountain with a telephoto.

I’m surprised to see Mt Taranaki lit up by the street lights of surrounding towns, but knew my own parking lights would contribute to the gate’s illumination. I was on my way back to New Plymouth, but after a long day on the road was too cold & weary to attempt more than this.

85mm; ISO 2500. 335 seconds (5.5 mins) at f11



239. From our balcony, after midnight

From our balcony, after midnight. 12.04 am, 6 May 2012

[Only the camera can express] the full majesty of the moment. –  Paul Leopold Rosenfeld

Looking down on the tops of the persimmon. You can only do this on a very still night, as the slightest breeze blurs the detail. However, to get a really creative blur, you need a gusty evening – nothing in-between is very satisfying. An aperture of f16 is the smallest on my telephoto lens; at close range the depth of field is minimal even at this setting. The light is a mixture of moonlight and ambient city light. The cool tones of the background roof show mainly moonlight (it is leeward of city light), while the warmer leafage shows it was more exposed to the street lighting.

85mm, ISO 2000. 108 seconds at f16. Sodium vapor lamp light balance

238. Persimmon by moonlight

Persimmon by moonlight, Nelson. 1.14 am, 6 May 2012

I can gather all the news I need on the weather report.  –  Paul Simon (The Only Living Boy in New York)

Still lifes by moonlight are formidable propositions because of the problems in seeing what you have, particularly with close framing and the shallow depth of field of a mild telephoto. This scene was by our front door in Nelson. The background light is mainly moonlight, with some city fill. Persimmon trees loose their leaves with surprising speed – one windy night soon after did the trick! But now we are back in the North Island, in New Plymouth.

85mm; ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f3.2



236. Return after dark from Turtle Cove

Return after dark from Turtle Cove, Golden Bay. 8.18 pm, 2 June 2012

 At their best, photographs as symbols not only serve to help illuminate some of the darkness of the unknown, they also serve to lessen the fears that too often accompany the journeys from the known to the unknown.Wynn Bullock

28mm; ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f11

229. Long exposure from Turtle Cove

Long exposure from Turtle Cove, Golden Bay. 6.09 pm, 3 June 2012

Ah the moon’s too bright, the chain’s too tight, the beast won’t go to sleep…

– Leonard Cohen (I’m Your Man)

85mm; ISO 500. 294 seconds (5 mins) at f16