An epitaph of sorts, and a good one, being some last words from our late lamented friend Bernie Downey, whose memorial service was today. Bernie was always good-hearted and stimulating company, and he obliged me on this moonlit occasion two years ago at Te Hapu, Golden Bay, by holding his pose for a long test exposure. The lines superimposed came from a Nova Scotian newspaper obituary for Bernie, quoting an email by him. He is sadly missed.
Not every image in my Modest Epiphanies 2019 Calendar was actually taken in the month it displays, but this autumnal scene was a good fit for MAY, although the only hint of autumn being in the misty background. New Zealand’s native vegetation is almost entirely evergreen, but summer shows with flower stalks on the flax and crimson flowers on the pohutukawa branches. This scene is Kiwi As, and most New Zealanders would correctly place it north of the Waikato River.
The Awhitu peninsula has a remote feel, despite the proximity of Auckland’s bright lights across the Manukau Harbour on any evening. The topography is surprisingly rugged, owing to the area being largely old dunes of great size and steepness. Lagoons abound and with flat, defendable heights nearby the district supported many small Maori settlements in the early days.
The appeal here rests on the extra texture of the raindrops on the leaves, enhanced also by the muted framing and background. The Lumix is a sturdy, versatile camera, and amazingly light in the hand (and on the hip) after any time spent lugging around the Nikon D700 and a heavy 85mm telephoto.
Gee I wish I’d known this much earlier in life. Model Claire cautiously embodies the sentiment however, one fine Sunday on the beach at Kaiterakihi, on the Manukau. A 13th century Persian poet, Rumi still gets frequent airplay. He was a devout but liberal Muslim (of the Sufi variety) and his poignant – sometimes earthy – commentaries on existence and experience have plenty of resonance for modern people.
Taranaki is famous for its well-watered pastures and of course for its dairy industry. This is FEBRUARY in my Modest Epiphanies 2019 Calendar, which is a selection from my book project of the same title. It features Al (my wife) walking towards a field of maize in south Taranaki, alongside what remains of the old Opunake branch railway. It was taken on a windblown afternoon, and as it happens, we visited this location again in August 2018, on another breezy day – but in winter.
Our recent visit surprised me with the changes to be seen from the same viewpoint over seven years later: the cornfield was back in grass of course, but the boxthorn hedge has disappeared. Also lacking were the summer grasses (and clouds – a cool, clear southwester marked the afternoon). A wintry vista it was.
Photography gives us such a useful and interesting record of little changes in what we assume are “stable” scenes, particularly country ones. I will take more from the same location, sometime!
Purchase my 2019 calendars here: http://www.brewster.co.nz/calendars/
Autumn frost, Waipiata, Central Otago. 23 May 1984
One frosty morning during a calendar tour we wandered the small railway settlement of Waipiata in search of material. This church set amongst lovely oaks caught my eye. The cycling sensation that is the Central Otago Rail Trail was still some years away then; I have not been back since but Google street view shows 12 Main St to be just the same scene. This is surprising considering that so many views change in a just a few years – new roads and subdivisions, trees and hedges removed, railways demolished.
This is of course a composition in thirds, with a power pole providing a half as well. Colour palette is subdued, the highlights being only the cluster of leaves and the church. This would be an attractive scene by twilight as well, with a torch handy.
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.
Sometimes the full moon keeps me waiting. Its predicted peep over the horizon lags, for example, because a range of hills blocks the view. Anticipation! Which hill will the moon rise over? What pictorial elements should I line up for a creative memento of this exciting occasion?? Yes there are apps to tell me such useful info but that’s just one more thing to tangle with.
My selected spot beside the Wairoa River, just north of Brightwater on Bryant Rd, turned out to be a “blandscape” – how to save the situation? Ah, use the immediate foreground to frame the moonrise. The challenge with my long exposure was not in avoiding an oblong moon (a plausible problem with a longer telephoto) but to capture the wee orb unspoilt by fennel stalks, and with some hint of background.
My wide angle makes the moon smaller of course, but its luminosity counterbalances. Focal depth was not an issue here but my efforts were still not trouble-free, as safety concerns emerged. I was on a narrow roadway which ended at a vineyard, and for a “No exit” road there was surprising traffic. Such roads are usually quiet after 5.30pm but vineyard staff came and went for sometime thereafter. The riverbank underfoot was less even, but safer.
Here I am, gazing at the moon in the Nelson countryside, beside a cob cottage built in the 1850s. The cottage is a restored one, complete with a thatched roof, on George Harvey Rd, Upper Moutere; it’s available for public visit. All I lacked for this occasion was a rocking chair and a cob-pipe of tobacco (or whatever it is that people smoke these days).
The long exposures of moonlight photography are good for adding yourself to the frame, and for creative experimentation – you don’t even have to hold still. Clearly not a selfie held at arm’s length, this “self-portrait” required only a glance at the seat by the door (as to where to pose), plus a longer setting of the self-timer than the usual 2 seconds.
A younger photographer might adopt an energetic pose for such a half minute exposure, but I have simply assumed my natural position. Six months on Instagram shows that putting yourself in the shot is an art-form on its own; there the figures are typically centre-foreground, lithe and young, female and beautifully styled. I’m out on all counts, and my fashion sense is summed up in the safety-yellow of the warm vest I am wearing. No matter, as that happens to be a thoughtful and useful gift from my good wife.
The Whakatu marae sits on 10 hectares of reclaimed estuary next to Founders Park, in the city. It is hub to six iwi: Ngati Koata, Ngati Kuia, Te Runanga o Toarangatira, Ngati Rarua, Ngati Tama and Te Atiawa. I took this scene because the entrance-way nicely mirrored the meeting house profile; the roofline vents also added interest. The light within the wharenui (Kaakati) was very dim, but that was just what was needed to balance with the moonlight.
In moonlight photography, and particularly in colour work, shadows are a special hazard (pictorially speaking; in safety terms shadows can be trouble too, but that’s another story). The more your frame is dominated by shadow, the more care is required for an effective composition. Here some detail is still visible in the battens of the entrance-way, but beyond, in the middle ground, there is nothing – although as a central mass the deep shadow offsets that of the wharenui quite well. Probably a better image would have been achieved an hour later, when the moon was higher in the sky.
The tripod was propped up against a wire-netting security gate, with the lens poked through. Long exposure photos are a bit like a duck swimming, in that all the effort to get somewhere is unseen; then again, shooting for a full night effect is hit-or-miss because of the variations in screen and monitor illumination – even the angle of view on a laptop makes such a difference to the effect.
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?!
White pointers at night, Appleby, Nelson. 7.33pm, 4 September 2017
The difficulty with low angles in night photography is mainly in composition – craning the body to see whatever’s visible in the viewfinder, after steadying the tripod, set as low as it can go. In long grass there’s also a lot of levelling and lining-up. Also necessary after plenty of rain is something to keep your bended knee dry, although in this case the matted grass itself did good service. Using flash to highlight close objects is unpredictable but I was fairly sure the stalks would overexpose – the desired effect. Mixed lighting is not difficult by moonlight, as long as your extra lighting is not too bright, or is only brief. Rating just 2 watts, moonlight is easily swamped by street or house lights.
Puffy whites, AKA cumulus clouds, beloved by photographers, decorate otherwise blank skies and keep them interesting – even night skies, which are much lighter by moonlight and less populated by stars. The unusual thing about the scene above, taken well after dark, was the narrow “window of opportunity” for it. The cloud cover was low and pervasive, and the heavens opened up for only a few minutes the entire time I was out. Peak moments!
The location is actually landward of Rabbit Island (the bridge is visible here) but north of the stopbank and only marginally above sea level. Puddles from recent rain add to the texture of the land; the lights of Mapua brighten distant cloud. There are so many hard-to-repeat factors affecting any sense of achievement on my moonlight forays, but as long as it’s not raining or blowing something can usually be made of any new location. What never applies, though – unless it’s on my very doorstep – is “Oh I’ll get it next time”. Things are never quite the same, next visit.
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
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.
A futile gesture in the top fosse of this stronghold, conspicuous in New Plymouth’s western suburbs. The pa is high but I was sober – indeed the chill sou’wester was sobering, so a hip flask would’ve been welcome. The pa’s history is not accessible online and as it is barely mentioned in the standard works on Taranaki history, it was likely long abandoned by 1828, when the first Europeans arrived at the Sugar Loaves. Its preservation was only assured in 1989; today the pa overlooks suburbs at every turn – but the views are great. It is an impressive sight for visitors, although actually little visited.
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
A cool southerly breezed down the Aorere valley as dark descended on the chief settlement of western Golden Bay. Heading out on Beach Road, away from the village, soon demonstrated the power of microclimate, as around the corner, in the lee of the hill forming a backdrop to the township, there was utter calm. The two photos were taken about 100 metres apart, but with telephoto (135mm) and wide angle (28mm) lenses. Above, 30 seconds; below, 15 seconds – almost too slow to hold the cloud formation. Not surprisingly, clouds move faster on telephoto images than on wide angle ones.
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.
3409 Bold sentry, Paritutu, New Plymouth. 11.34pm, 21 July 2013
I admit to some anxiety parading a mannequin in a public place late at night, being too old for the art student look, so I was relieved to have this popular venue to myself for the duration. The torso was a gift from my daughter, intended as offset to a female mannequin she admired in one of my old photos. The pot plant is 100% artificial too. Moonlight and port lighting (background) are supplemented with torchlight on my two props. The steps lead to a brutalist viewing platform below Paritutu, the steep volcanic remnant which dominates the local coastline. A cloudlet wandered over, to complete the composition. Not recommended for biscuit tins.
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.
Photographer William Tyree’s pile, on Whitby Rd – but hardly Gothic. In uploading this I suddenly realised that a spectral figure was needed at the gate! How easily I could have stepped into the shot myself, halfway through the exposure, yet the thought never occurred to me. Now I see as obvious the need for a third punch for the composition, especially something in blue – such as I was wearing at the time. Doh.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” – Søren Kierkegaard
A pause in readings from the Little Book of Sacrifices. A simple lateral flick-trick found online has brought out some unexpected imagery, while a slight re-framing avoids complete symmetry. A warm duotone was selected after conversion from the colour original. The hand-colouring is hardly brilliant, but this looks to be a hard-wearing image with many possibilities for future embroidery. The rosary was Claire’s suggestion, although her own tastes appear to be more literary than gothic. (Would authors of such fiction, however, please communicate).
N.B. No small animals were harmed in the making of this image.
Or something like it. Claire is distracted with readings from a good book. Light ent., relief and engagement shine through as the drizzle descends. Low angle with tripod; wide angle lens predictably highlights her fine hands; her hair is emphasised by post-pro desaturation and selective re-saturation.
An important ingredient of memorable portraits is the capture of micro-emotion, those inner feelings which flicker on the silver screen of our faces. These are surely basic to our primate biology. Even if as here the occasion is fictitious, we immediately recognise the human reality of expression. In this curious blend of fiction and fact we see the genetic relationship of the portrait with the novel. (This observation can’t be original, but at least the occasion was.)
For the joy of the angels lies only in obedience to God’s will, and with equal joy they would lift a Lazarus in his rags to Abraham’s bosom, or be a chariot of fire to carry an Elijah home. –John Newton
The illiteracy of the future will be ignorance not of reading or writing, but of photography. – László Moholy-Nagy (Weimar photographer, 1926)
Oh for a rising moon behind! But there was heavy overcast – and anyway, the moon was yet to rise. By the way, a big moon rising after dark is past full and on the wane – not many people seem to know that.
This is the founding church at Ratana Pa, near Wanganui. Photography is not allowed within the gates, but as they are quite a feature in themselves I was content to take this from outside them. It was that time of evening when flash balances well with a longer exposure.
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