Kaihoka by moonlight, Westhaven

Kaihoka by moonlight, Westhaven Inlet

Sample calendar image: Kaihoka by moonlight, Westhaven Inlet

This is the September image in my North by Northwest 2017 Golden Bay calendar, of which only a small number remain unsold (see earlier posts for ordering details). This late night, full moon scene was taken at high tide, on a small creek on the northern arm of the inlet, in far Golden Bay. The picture also features in my next publication, Perfect Evenings: Long exposures from dusk to dark, which is now in preparation. A sequel to Night Visions: Reflections for the moonlight hours, the new book will round out my twilight & night photography, with the addition of a text explaining my approach and a technical section for those interested in the finer points of camera work at night.

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Westhaven panorama, summer

Westhaven panorama, from Kaihoka hills

Westhaven panorama, summer, from the Kaihoka hills.

Alas, panoramas do not suit my new calendar but this scene would otherwise qualify. The stormy drama above, stitched together from two frames, unfolded as we climbed the steep hills of the northern arm of the inlet. Although we anticipated a thorough soaking from the gathering cloud, in fact it was an isolated squall which did not stray north from the hills behind Rakopi (the settlement on the flat). Limestone meets granite inland at Knuckle Hill (right distance). The colours are summery and the tide was full – with its rugged hinterland, this is an inlet of many lights and moods! Click on the image for a larger version.

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Abstract 2: Pukearuhe rockface

DSC_23932393. Abstract 2: Pukearuhe rockface. 4.06pm, 31 July 2015

My interest in these stripes was partly spurred by my SO’s work in creative fibre, designing woven creations with striking bands of colour. The strong reflections here are in the surface topography. This is very close-up by telephoto standards and the wide f-stop only just copes; a better depth of field would be achieved with a faster ISO and slower shutter speed. However I had set out without tripod – as I often do when my photography is secondary to a social outing. Even for an exposure of 1/500th I used the self-timer at 2 seconds to delay exposure slightly, reducing the risk of camera shake, something that is magnified with telephotos.

85mm; ISO 250. 1/500th @ f3.5

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Abstract 1: Pukearuhe rockface

DSC_2359Abstract 1: Pukearuhe, north Taranaki. 1.46pm, 31 July 2015

I  have photographed these cliffs before but only occasionally, as they are an hour north of New Plymouth on a side road, and access is strictly tidal. The beach changes from sand to rocks with the seasons, while recent rain makes a difference to the rockface patterns observed. Here we’re looking at a well-watered part of the cliff at about eye-level, with much reflected early afternoon sunlight. I selected a low ISO for maximum effect but also a high shutter speed, to avoid any risk of camera shake with a heavy telephoto.

85mm; ISO 250. 1/640th @ f11.

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Rivulet of time: Dreams of a small figure

1116 Rivulets of time: Dreams of a young girl

1116 Rivulet of time: Dreams of a small figure.

This uncommon scene is a reprise on my earlier visit, also in May (2009), with the Holy Virgin. Although we’d had some rain before this secular occasion, my obliging figurine held her position well on the edge of the abyss, and so my only task was to administer the correct amount of torchlight. The location is just below the old weir at the Brook Street reservoir, Nelson. A waxing moon had cleared the manuka above, but moonlight here is lost in strong LED torchlight (the moonlight was not lost on my hi-vis vest, however, and my daughter quickly found me once the nearby comfort of the car had palled). LED lighting is quite cool, like daylight, so I’ve added some warmth in post-processing – the photo equivalent of a teaspoon of tumeric in the dinner pan.

28mm; ISO 500. f11 for 30 secs. 8.39 pm, 1 May 2015

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Flotsam on a twilit tide

0679 Flotsam on a twilit tide

0679 Flotsam on a twilit tide, Golden Bay. 8.30pm, 5 March 2015

In photography the golden hour before sunset is followed by the blue hour of developing darkness. The blue cast can be mitigated with a light balance setting above “Direct sunlight”, which in degrees Kelvin measures about 5500. On the Nikon D700 you can choose to a maximum of 10,000 deg. Conversely, the blue cast can be exaggerated with a tungsten or sodium colour balance – each below 4,000 deg K – especially useful if your subject is lit by old style torch, headlight or house lights. However the reflected moonlight shown here has an unmodified light balance, for a simple composition. Selected by my daughters, each independently.

200mm, ISO 500. 5 secs at f16. Direct sunlight light balance.

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Yana by the Aorere, Golden Bay

0362 Aorere rivermouth, Golden Bay

0362 Yana by the Aorere, Golden Bay. 8.40pm, 4 March 2015

On a lovely late summer evening I took a break from the moonrise to ask Yana to pose as the highlight for this composition. Flash gives a solid block of colour, as expected. The river mouth is intentionally underexposed, while the fisherman is included to add some depth. My initial jpeg from the RAW file was disappointing and not at all faithful to the limpid tones of the original, so adjustments were made in post-processing. This scene was only a short walk from our accommodation at the Collingwood campground. The township is based on a sandspit but is more famous for its flammability.

28mm, ISO 500. 3 secs at f11

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Brewster’s Best Assorted

0085 Brewster's Best Assorted

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.

200mm, ISO 1000. 2.5 sces at f8

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Evening parade at Waiwhakaiho

9807 Evening parade, Waiwhakaiho

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

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Wet feet at the Waiwhakaiho

9797 At the Waiwhakaiho

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

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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

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Pukekura Park lights

9039 Pukekura summer lights

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.

50mm, ISO 2000. 1/250th sec at f13. Flash

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Mana Island liberty

_DSC6858b

6858b Mana Island liberty. 4.53pm, 7 May 2014

“This’ll be good!”, I thought to myself, as an evening squall approached Plimmerton, a Wellington suburb on Porirua Harbour. Keen photographers should be out for every passing shower, but of course location is everything – and the right time of day. The squall soon passed over and the clouds parted for an enormous rainbow lit by the setting sun, plus this view of Mana, with its distinctive flat top. The car window has been given first place here, while “liberty” refers to my changing the entire hue in post processing.

85mm, ISO 2000. 1/500th sec at f16

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Marahau finale panorama

2014.Marahau.Pano.2

Marahau finale panorama, 7.15 – 7.16pm, 8 September 2014

Moonlit clouds – how I know these well, as a pleasant pillow for my head. Here’s another practice shot, complementing my earlier Marahau post, in the art of stitching up two wide angle frames. Each was exposed for just 5 seconds, in order to keep the clouds well-defined. In silhouette are the headlands and islands of Abel Tasman National Park, on the western side of Tasman Bay, Nelson. Double-click on the image to see a larger version.

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Stony River wide

2010.Stony.Pano2a

Stony River wide, 28 February 2010

Mt Taranaki is bare of snow and ice for 4 or 5 months of the year; this view from the Blue Rata Reserve is a sandwich of two frames, taken on a full moon evening, the last of summer. The Stony (Hangatahua) is a fast-flowing stream, one prone to flooding with dramatic effect. In shooting for panoramas there are two main hitches: securing enough overlap of the frames (for auto alignment in post-processing), and ensuring a level track in your arc of view, on the tripod.

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The evening rush

9135 The evening rush

9135 The evening rush. 9.03pm, 27 December 2014

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.

180mm, ISO 250 – 1.3/sec at f11.

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Marahau moonlight, Nelson

8254. Marahau moonlight, Nelson

8254. Marahau moonlight, Nelson. 9.21pm, 13 July 2014

While the others snuggled down to watch rugby on TV, I ventured out into the cool evening and walked towards the Abel Tasman. I followed a shoreline lapped by tiny surf, and set my tripod in the sand every few minutes, only to discover that my lens cap was missing. Retracing my steps along the deserted beach, I saw the moonlit reflection shimmy alongside Adele Island (Motuareronui, big island of the swift moving clouds, is its original Maori name). The view east across Tasman Bay made for a brilliant evening, but the outing came to an early conclusion when I found my backup battery was uncharged. However I did recover my lens cap.

105mm (70-300 Nikon zoom), ISO 500, 30 seconds at f11 

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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!

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297. Up 233 moonlit steps

233 steps by the moon

Up 233 moonlit steps, Back Beach, Taranaki. 10.07 pm, 27 March 2013

To Barney’s pulpit rock I climb / Where the sea aisles burn cold / In fires of no return / And maned breakers praise / The death hour of the sun.

James K. Baxter, In fires of no return

28mm; ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f11

 

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233. High tide, no moon, Waimea Inlet

High tide, no moon, Waimea Inlet, Nelson.  7.10 –  7.17 pm, 15 June 2012

Photographing at night can be fascinating because we lose some of the control over what happens in front of the camera.  –  Michael Kenna

 28mm, ISO 2000. 464 seconds (7 min 44 sec) at f13. Sodium vapour light balance

 

 

 

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207. The truth more plausible, from Kaiteriteri

The truth more plausible, from Kaiteriteri. 9.06 pm, 4 April 2012

To make the truth more plausible, it is absolutely necessary to mix a bit of falsehood with it.  –  Dostoevsky

Staying three nights this week at Marahau, gateway to Abel Tasman National Park (Nelson), we had lovely evenings “to behold the waxing moon”. At Kaka Pa Point we discovered an easy path down to a sandy cove, Breaker Bay, above which a street light shines.

My attempt to reduce the overwhelming orange of the lamp was not successful, but produced this unusual image, featuring distant Adele Island (Motuarero-nui). Efforts to incorporate more colour in my night photography was aided by the golden sand here, plus the intensified blues from the light balance.

85mm, ISO 1250. 30 seconds at f16. Sodium vapour light balance

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194. Gypsy hymns & moonlight swims

 

Gypsy hymns & moonlight swims, Golden Bay. 9.52pm, 7 February 2012

With your silhouette when the sunlight dims, into your eyes when the moonlight swims, and your matchbook songs and gypsy hymns: Who among them would try to impress you? –  Bob Dylan (Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands)

85mm, ISO 2000. 5 secs at f11

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162. Kapiti moonlight: Bright shore

Kapiti moonlight: bright shore. 10.53 pm, 17 February 2011

Live as long as you may, the first 20 years are the longest half of your life.  – Southey

A composition in classic thirds. The quote is personal, referring to my first return to Waikanae Beach since spring 1976, with some ardent memories attached. Youthful impressions can be deepest on the sand!

Bright shore means a flash shore; moonlight being as feeble as the surf here, you can’t stop the waves in-frame by the wan moon. However a good mix of natural and artificial light occurs when a long shutter follows the flash, allowing the moonlight to accumulate on the sensor. The surf then is too blurred to feature.

28mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f11. Flash

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160. Spring moonshine: Free performance

Spring moonshine: Free performance. 8.54pm, 29 September 2011

No state of affairs is ever perfect. –  Horace

On a mild spring evening a slip of a moon comes down the starry sky to a calm sea. What a marvellous programme! A bench seat was provided but there was no admission charge,  applause or intermission – and no commercials. Truth be told though, I had to leave before the moon did, not wanting to inconvenience the patient souls sitting in my car…

A more consciously abstract image, the layered bands weren’t obvious on site. From below you see the cliff shadow, then the more distant Tasman Sea lit by the industrial shore, then a last lingering twilight below the stars.

85mm; ISO 2000. 58 seconds at f7.1

 

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157. Mary and Child by full moon

Mary and Child by full moon. 9.13 pm, 7 May 2009

One forgives as much as one loves. –  La Rochefoucauld

The old water reservoir at Nelson is a peaceful place for pic-spotting by the moonlight photographer, in part because access to it is through a motor camp. It may be needless to say, but when you’re out at night it’s important to feel safe so you can focus on creative work without any unpleasant surprises.

This location is just a few hundred metres from where I parked on the other side of the vehicle gate; distant sodium lights which overlooked my car have flickered through the foliage to show several minor bands of orange here.

“60mm”; ISO 200. 60 seconds at f2.8

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155. Three lights at Paritutu

Three lights at Paritutu, New Plymouth. 9.36pm, 10 September 2011

I have memory, which is the idiot’s talent. –  Francisco Umbral

The three lights are moonlight (at sea), nearby industrial lighting and flash for the foreground. This shot has a cool feel because the incandescent (tungsten) setting was used to cool the light on the slopes of Paritutu. The flash is just the one on the camera, and testing the exposure is also simple – flash it and see. Then add your moonlight shutter.

This was my last effort for the evening because a fire engine turned up, red lights flashing, looking for a fire. I wonder, was it my flash gun or some random fireworks from the summit that brought it out?

28mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f10

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153. Marahau before moonrise, Abel Tasman coast

Marahau before moonrise, Abel Tasman coast. 11.52 - 11.58 pm, 29 November 2010

Somehow to capture the constantly evanescent quality of existence.

– Tennessee Williams, on his goal in writing

It can be a pain to wait for the moonrise on those nights following full moon – although you do get some quality time with undimmed stars and the odd cloud capture. Eventually the eastern horizon lightens and of course it’s too early for dawn.

This is one such evening, looking across the shallows from the last settlement before Abel Tasman National Park. Lights mark the channel at Astrolabe Roadstead; two islands are in view, the obvious one being Fisherman’s. The view varies with the tide, here at its peak.

28mm, ISO 2000. 327 seconds (5.5 minutes) at f4

 

 

 

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147. Hawkes Bay from Awatoto, by moonlight

Hawkes Bay from Awatoto, by moonlight. 11.16 pm, 22 September 2010

Good sense travels on well worn paths; genius never. –  Cesar Lombroso

The skies were clear but the wind was howling as I set up on the cycleway, across the way from the fertiliser works near Napier. Any shot that I failed to shelter from the windgusts was useless, so I hovered as close to the tripod as I could. An elevated viewpoint, even if  available, was out of the question on this evening. The sense of night is amplified with the choice of tungsten light balance. The cloud formations were truly fleeting.

85mm, ISO 500. 30 seconds at f8

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137. Moonlit lagoon, winter

Moonlit lagoon, winter. 11.02 pm, 16 June 2011

It is only with the heart that one can see properly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. –  Antoine de St Exupery

Although my heart is in this place, in this case I saw by ear, as the swans weren’t visible by moonlight. However they were very audible, and other wetland birdlife also supplied lively night sounds. My initial 30 second exposures showed only smudges or the barest of swan-forms, so I resorted to much shorter shutter speeds, using the camera flash.

At this distance – say 40 m – flashlight has an advantage in that its rapid fall-off gives only a weak illumination, one close to moonlight. The short shutter speeds also enable more frames to be taken, in the hope that at least one frame will find “the moment”. While using flash means faster battery run-down, the night photographer should always carry reserve power, and it’s not often that I exhaust both my batteries in one evening.

Levels here have been dropped in post-production to give a better night-time feel and to bring out the contrast of natural background moonlight with the flash-fill, a difference of roughly 1.5 stops. Obnoxious pylon wires on the skyline have been retouched.

The location is Rotokare, a natural lagoon backed by bush at Barrett Domain, on the edge of New Plymouth. Upmarket housing and street lighting now impinge on the western lake fringe. A wooden platform provides the only real viewpoint here and also some good working surfaces for the night photographer.

Only one evening this first winter month has been suitable for moonlight photography; all other possibilities have fallen victim to bad weather, the dreaded lurgy or social obligations: the usual suspects, in other words, in the suppression of moonlight opportunities. At least I gave this pleasant evening seven hours, and in turn I got good exercise in walking up there.

No birds were harmed in the taking of this photograph.

85mm, ISO 2000. 5 seconds at f2.8. Vivid picture control.

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136. Crescent moon signature, Port Taranaki

Crescent moon signature, Port Taranaki. 8.56 pm, 9 May 2011

The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise. –  Tacitus

You do not have the whole evening to shoot the crescent moon – it retires early. While it’s going, though, the crescent obliges the moonlight photographer on western coasts with some great reflections. The actual light from a crescent appears to be the feeblest shimmy, barely causing a shadow, yet its pictorial effects over water can be demonstrated with a shutter of just 2 seconds.

In view here is the north side of the harbour, bounded by the Lee Breakwater; soundtrack would include the occasional ruckus of roosting penguins under the sea wall from which this was taken. The Incandescent light balance (tungsten) was selected because of the bright bounce off the boats of onshore lighting; tungsten gives a convincing portrayal of night in terms of human emotion, yet it is technically off-beam.

The square format suits the subject matter but in cropping the original rectangle I’ve also eliminated a slight flare from the brilliant port lights, on the left side of the frame. A short shutter was required to have the boats sharp, as their slow motion even in harbour is soon apparent on longer shots. The added benefit of this is sharpness in the stars – on short telephotos the movement of the stars is slight but visible at 8 seconds.

The quote seemed to fit this image of safely moored vessels, on a coast devoid of natural harbours, yet boats are of course designed to ride the swells. The point is, nothing much is achieved in the shelter of a harbour, apart from preparation for the next trip away! We must venture out…

The image succeeds by its moody blues and the close match of light levels, moonlight with onshore lights. When shooting within city precincts this balancing of light sources is a good starting point for your night photography.

85mm, ISO 2000. 2 seconds at f4. Vivid picture control

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