This is JULY in my 2019 Modest Epiphanies calendar – still available for your purchase, by the way. This winter angle on the tidal flat behind Tahuna Beach benefits from its split focus and from two figures captured by chance (someone with their dog; I saw no one at the time).
The split focus involves firstly a close focus with the telephoto, and beginning the half-minute exposure with flash, then immediately moving the lens barrel to infinity, for the remaining 29 seconds of the exposure. This routine is an awkward one to repeat, but the challenge is to get a balance in the lighting between the flash-lit foreground and the moonlit background. On the tidal flat much of the lighting came from the adjacent motor camp, but fortunately that too has balanced with the low power of the moonbeams.
I could name the dog walker as Sara N. Dippity – thank you Sara. This demonstrates that not everything that intrudes on your long exposure frame is a spoiler. Compositionally the usual challenge at beach locations is finding something interesting to populate the foreground, to add interest and a sense of depth.
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.)
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!
Across from the huge petro plant at Motunui, north Taranaki, is Waipapa cemetery, a Maori urupa dating from 1923. The cemetery is unusual in having a surrounding wall and a gateway, while its monuments present an awesome contrast with the industrial silos on the other side of Otaraoa Rd, to the northeast. However, most of the Motunui installation is out of sight, beyond the knoll.
When I visited here on a rainy summer’s day in 2010 the no-exit gravel road ended as it does now, just above the beach, but as a neglected cul de sac, overgrown with roadside weeds. Amongst the overgrowth was unsightly rubbish, dumped over a long period, and potatoes grew large in the resulting compost. Later visits found the road-end cleaned up and much improved, and two calls by moonlight were memorable for the dairy cows in the adjacent paddock, and the surf on the cobble beach below.
The juxtaposition of cross and silos was achieved with a long telephoto setting and a tiny aperture – even f45 is possible at maximum zoom on this lens. This gives a better depth of focus, compensating for the inherent shallow focus of any telephoto lens. After focus, the second challenge at twilight was naturally the changing light, and the trade-off between selecting a small aperture or a short exposure (to freeze cloud movement). In these situations it always comes down to this: you can’t optimise both, so just choose one!
Among the seraphim at Stratford’s main cemetery, this one reigns supreme. Close to the entrance, she stands very tall, although size can’t be all that matters in the angelic hierarchy. However high they loom, angels all have their price, and this was a dear one. Aeronautical lift is even more challenging for angels than it is for bumble-bees, but in the JW tracts that intrigued me as a lad, angels somehow floated above entire cities. Wow. The only named angels in the Holy Bible are Michael, Gabriel and Lucifer, the Fallen One. It is hard to imagine an angel named Barney, or Charlie say.
In a cemetery dotted with the usual monuments this sort of uncluttered line-up is possible only with a telephoto lens. That explains the lack of sharp focus on the distant cow, despite my using the smallest aperture setting. As f16 gives great focal range, a more astute use of depth of field principles could’ve helped here, if I had focused a little behind the angel. But as a finer point, that escaped me at the time.
Visiting this place again with a dear friend in 2014, I was still unaware that one of my own ancestors is buried here. In an unmarked grave (alas) lies my storied great great aunt Peggy, who died in 1930. Margaret (Madge or Peggy) Jollie had a privileged life, yet died in “reduced circumstances”. She has a major role in a biography I have since written on our neglected grandmother, Beth Jollie (1904-41). Isn’t it surprising who turns up where – living or otherwise?
No longer a common phrase, memento mori translates to “Remember that you have to die”, meant as a reflection on our inevitable mortality.
A view of Nelson’s southern suburbs at low tide, from the cycle trail near Best Island. A haze of wood smoke lies over the city, as does the light trail from a plane. The whitest lights are those of the airport runway. The distant hills mark successive earthquake upthrusts over several million years. The inlet is slowly filling in, but that might be another million years (what a fabulous time lapse that would be, if we could see it).
The brightly lit fringe of sea grass made focussing a breeze, especially with a fast lens like the f1.4 Nikon 85mm. This lens is a terrific piece of glass, yet so heavy to cart around! The level bike path gave an easy placement for my tripod, and not a cyclist was seen. The evening’s work was less pleasant with the southerly breeze, although some shelter came from fenceline shrubbery. Waiting around for long exposures on cold winter nights (they are all cold, bar those with northerly rain) makes you keen to reclaim your creature comforts.
Although I was not so far from an occasional passing car (Best Island has over 30 houses), what generally surprises me in these semi-rural settings after dark is the ambient noise. This comes mainly from heavy highway traffic but sometimes from nearby industry as well. Rural quiet may well exist somewhere locally, but on any still night on the Waimea Plains it seems in short supply.
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.
I have not seen three of these lovely birds together before, but one of them obliged me by holding its pose mid-reflection. Although this was an obvious job for a good telephoto, my long lens was unfortunately out of commission. A photo of this nature – a rapidly rising moon, feeding birds – usually requires any number of frames before a satisfying shot is achieved. However let’s not forget that trigger-happy fingers mean “any number of frames” all have to be carefully evaluated later on your monitor, back home.
The blue hour of twilight is strongly featured here but its effect can be dampened by changing the colour temperature setting in-camera, by drastically increasing the degrees Kelvin. The simple composition has enabled an easy crop to the laptop screen ratio of 16:9, a panoramic format more suited to a “scene for screens”. Of course it is also a good fit for this type of composition: wide horizontals with the main interest small and central.
Kotuku to the Maori, our white heron is the “eastern great egret” to the rest of the world. Although well distributed across Asia and Australia, the egret’s only breeding site in New Zealand is at Okarito Lagoon, in South Westland. The estuary shown above is the extensive one which occupies Waimea Inlet; the bridge at left connects to Rabbit Island. This useful vantage point for any moonrise over Nelson’s eastern hills is found via the public reserve at the very end of Hoddy Rd – a narrow, oddly curvy road still waiting to be discovered by movie location scouts.
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.
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
2393. 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.
Abstract 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.
Moonlit margin, Taranaki. 27 August 2015, 9.50 – 9.51pm
In Taranaki a calm, clear night with a waxing moon is not to be ignored – but rather than drive around, I sometimes prefer to walk out and see what turns up, as pastoral peace on the city margins is not too far away. This two-frame panorama of contented cattle sums up my evening, although my cold, wet feet also made themselves felt by this point. My new photo book on Mt Taranaki will feature day and night photography, but only in standard frame images – no scope for panoramas! Double click on the image for a larger view.
2037. Lahar landscape, Stent Rd, Warea. 24 June 2015, 3.24pm
Since our return to Taranaki at the end of May I have been preoccupied with a photo project on our local peak, formerly known as Egmont. Mt Taranaki (as it’s now called) is well overdue for a photo book, and why not one to answer 36 Views of Mt Fuji, Hokusai’s famous collection of prints of Japan’s highest mountain? So I set out to put together 36 Views of Mt Taranaki, which I will publish next month. The new book is dedicated to my mother, Gwen Brewster, who celebrated her 90th birthday two weeks ago. She now has the only copy – an advance proof. This out-take was shot in a strong, frigid SWer, whose discomfort I removed from this sunny scene in post-pro.
The crowds have gone and the druids have left the rostrum. All the devotees who waited so patiently for immersion are now initiated, have packed their tents and left for the long return to their temples. Soon night will fall and the whole arena will be reclaimed by the hoolie-darkies and fogdogs… etc etc. Movie rights are still available.
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.
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.
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
8075 Hauraki moonlit selfie, to tow truck soundtrack
This is the last frame from a series I took from Achilles Point, a suburban vantage point at St Heliers, Auckland. The view is east, towards Brown’s Island (Motukorea), with Great Barrier Island on the far horizon. More a matter of record than any artistic statement, this was the last frame because during the 30-second exposure I heard unusual truck noises. I was unaware that I had parked in a verboten zone, and the Draconian Guard from Auckland Council were preparing to tow my car away. Fortunately I got back there before its wheels left the ground, but this is probably the most expensive photo I’ve taken, and one with potentially the greatest inconvenience. Parking hazards are now added to an impressive list of other challenges for the night time photographer.
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
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!
A discrete chair in the Whatipu wilderness puts you one step ahead in the relaxed model stakes – as does a warm coat – but the secret ingredient to portrait work seems to be having an accomplice, one who distracts the subject with lively conversation while the photographer pretends to poodle around with his tripod and settings. In this case, Yana is standing close by, so that Claire remains face-on to camera. For portrait work my Nikon 85mm lens is an obvious choice, and it’s a sharp lens for a soft (though wintry) light. As backdrop I like the filigree of flax and the rock, and Claire’s good twin has also come by – note the different colouration – for a final appearance.
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.)
Whatipu is a vast expanse of beach and wetland on Auckland’s west coast. It’s a wild place and amazingly changed since my first visit over 40 years ago – wider and wetter, it is now also far more vegetated. On a winter’s afternoon we barely sampled the place – there’s hours of it. After only a short interlude of sporadic sunshine, threatening cloud suggested a retreat to the car. Here Claire and her faithful doppelganger appear to enjoy some brief relaxation, in between rays. With thanks to Lucy for the chairs and Yana for other assistance.
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.
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