North Head Dune, Westhaven

North Head Dune, Westhaven. Late March, 1986.

This wide angle view is on the ocean side of Westhaven Inlet and features a dune flank backed by a steep line of limestone, which forms the rugged spine of North Head. It’s a memorable scene from an Easter foray to the far side of Golden Bay in 1986, not long after my purchase of an Asahi Pentax 6×7 SLR (a big bruiser). Exposing for sand is the same as for sky – no HDR in those days! Added saturation came by way of a polarising filter, virtually the only way to do it then. The 6×7 format has been scaled down here to the 35mm ratio (2:3). This simple composition would have been enhanced by a small figure either side of the horizon cloud but, alas, I was out on my own at this beautiful (but isolated) location.

Low tide at Te Hapu, before sunset

Low tide at Te Hapu, Golden Bay, before sunset. 6 April 1985

Although I took it 34 years ago this composition in thirds seems to have a timeless quality. It makes a fitting follow-up to my previous post: texture remains but vibrant colour is added in this telephoto view from a terrace above the beach at Te Hapu, a private property on Nelson’s far western coast.  A built-in sun guard helped to avoid flare. Taken on golden Fujichrome 50, a 120 transparency (slide) film, with an Asahi Pentax 6×7 camera from circa 1972. This photo saw a month of life in my 2017 Golden Bay calendar. I enjoy its slightly abstract quality.

Surf at dusk, Waitoetoe

Surf at dusk, Waitoetoe, north Taranaki. 27 April 2010

This simple, moody abstract is a long exposure in north Taranaki, further north from Turangi Rd (my previous post). The view is from a small headland, looking down on a tide-washed sill above a bouldery seabed. A small aperture (unrecorded) was used primarily to extend the exposure, rather than the depth of field, although this was probably helped too, given the limited focus inherent in a telephoto lens on a 6×7 Pentax. I had enjoyed camping here with my sisters and friends at New Year’s Eve 1980 but had not been back for 30 years. This second visit I was surprised to see the old foreshore road had disappeared completely, and much else besides. Another visit now, ten years later, would no doubt show further erosion.

This is a companion piece to my post from December 2010, of a seascape taken from the same position:

55. Twilight surf from the Waitoetoe cliffs


Taranaki textures at Turangi Rd

Taranaki textures, at Lower Turangi Rd. 6.20pm, 26 February 2010

This unusual view at Turangi Road was an obvious candidate for monochrome. I like the four textures so suggestive of Taranaki: the skinny macrocarpas, corrugated iron, long tufts of hardy kikuyu grass and the Michael Smither-like stones and boulders. The sky was grey and cloudy behind. This scene will have eroded more since, as the mudstone coast is disappearing with surprising speed. Here however the face suggests an old riverbed, one which drained the mountain. The shed belongs to an old house now threatened by cliff collapse. The state of the tide prevented a longer view, and a wide angle lens was required, along with a balancing act atop a boulder, the only elevation available.

Round Rock and the Sugarloaf

Round Rock and the Sugarloaf by the half moon. 10.15pm, 26 March 2010

Another long exposure by moonlight, for which I certainly recall sheltering the tripod from a cold southwesterly, blowing strongly from behind. It meant I had the beach to myself, but airborne sand was a risk. The moon being a waxing one rather than full, it was much higher in the sky (and further west) for the time of night.  Round Rock (Mataora) is semi-tidal, and the Sugarloaf is now known as Moturoa (= long island) but this is also the name of a suburb near the port. The surf line lacks character but what I like here is the bold relief of Round Rock against the triangular feature of the Sugar Loaf (so named by Capt. James Cook in 1770), for which harbour lights provide the main illumination.

Mirror exercise, Taranaki

Mirror exercise, Kaimiro, Taranaki. 11 April 2010

This uncommon view of Mt Taranaki from the roadside at Kaimiro required a careful climb on to my car roof with the heavy Pentax 6×7 and tripod in hand, as I wanted the mountain to show well above the roofline. Elevated viewpoints so often improve a shot and sometimes I had a stepladder on board for this purpose, although nowadays a closed tripod held above the head will do  instead (misaligned digital shots carry no cost).

In composition terms the macrocarpas interrupt the mirrored forms and make up for the lack of interesting cloud. Strong texture is added to form by the twilight reflecting off the ribbed steel.  I usually give my monochromes a tint and this involves converting the scanned image to RGB and mixing the three colour values to my satisfaction. I then add vibrancy and sometimes saturation.

Monochrome for Hallowe’en

Monochrome for Hallowe’en. Paritutu, New Plymouth, 17 April 2010

A long exposure in deep twilight on my Pentax 6×7 film camera captures the tail lights of a car heading towards a fuel depot on Beach Rd. Monochrome is good for silhouettes and night lights. and with long exposures B&W film had the added benefit of not “going off” as much as colour film did (a.ka. reciprocity failure – look it up).  The mountain is of course a snow-less Mt Taranaki, with the Pouakai Range below the pylon.  Taranaki is still NZ’s energy province but the pylon in view no longer carries current from the nearby power station (now decommissioned). No Hallowe’en scene of course could be as ominous as the scenarios we face globally from our vast fossil fuel consumption and resulting “exhaust”. Conservative estimates of the effects have consistently been exceeded.

Kaihoka monochrome

Kaihoka monochrome, Golden Bay, Nelson. Noon, 7 March 2009

Winter turns to spring (in the southern hemisphere, that is) and my thoughts turn to summer, when I will re-visit this favourite place with friends – but not with the 6×7 Pentax SLR that I used here. Of course the roll film in the big camera did not have a digital stamp on it, but the lightweight LX3 Lumix I had along did. The two types of camera could hardly be more contrasting, but I have not used either for some years – nor I have been back to this memorable scene since.

The view looks northeast over half-buried nikau palms to the southern buttresses of the impressive limestone escarpment known as Luna. The steep dune (foreground), former wetland drained by a meandering stream and distant talus slope below Luna (with tiny sheep) sum up Kaihoka’s great range of landscape. My forays into monochrome are only occasional but I enjoy the medium, whose success depends so much on texture. I feel sure this image – freshly processed after ten years “in the can” – meets that requirement.

65. Round Rock by moonlight, Back Beach

Round Rock by moonlight, Back Beach. 1 May 2010

I was pleased with this wide angle 6×7 photo. It conforms to the usual conventions, has all I look for in moonlight landscapes, and will blow up nicely. I like the blur of cloud and surf,  two star trails and the flax stalks shaking in the wind… but some ugly gorse has been cropped.

New Plymouth’s Back Beach, with its three little Sugar Loaves, is reached by a long flight of steps from Paritutu Centennial Park. Round, Seagull and Snapper rocks (Mataora, Pararaki and Motuotamatea) have varying foot access: Round Rock is accessible at every tide but neighbouring Seagull Rock can be reached only at lowest spring. The far island here is Saddleback, or Motumahanga; Snapper Rock is out of view to left.

The Pentax 6×7 makes a good second camera for moonlight photography, but the extra gear – and tripod – means I don’t wander too far from the car. I mostly use Ilford B&W films, FP4 and HP5 (ISO 125 and 400 resprectively), doing much longer exposures than on the digital, often using f5.6 or f8 and 20 – 45 minutes shutter. The smaller apertures give better depth of field on the medium format and help cover manual focussing errors. Having found the shutter lock leaves a tell-tale shake on bright highlights, I always use a cable release, and then dial my low-tech timer to the required time.

These longer exposures allow me to concentrate on 30 – 120 second possibilities with the digital on the other tripod, rather than racing from camera to camera and back again, setting up new shots. This more leisured approach suits the 6×7 well because of film costs and the greater care that a large and heavy camera requires. It follows that selection of prospective frames is tighter too.

I keep within earshot of the timer bell but there’s plenty of latitude, as even 5 minutes of tardy makes no difference at the end of a 4o minute exposure, everything else being equal.

55. Twilight surf from the Waitoetoe cliffs

Twilight surf from the Waitoetoe cliffs. 27 April 2010

The north Taranaki coast is all soft ash-and-mudstone, and eroding fast. In 1980 we spent New Year’s Eve camping on a spot which is now on the surfline shown here. In April I returned for the first time in 30 years and was surprised to see how much solid earth had since gone seaward.

The best perspective on the beach is from the southern end, as it takes in the Mimi estuary and the bluffy coast north to Pukearuhe. We cut across farmland to some low cliffs, and there at dusk came close to the edge, to look down on to a mudstone shelf and a high tide. Over this shelf the surf was breaking – the wet line runs down to the fallen fragment – but the time exposure, roughly a minute, blurs this completely.

The effect is also noticeable on the middle right rocks, yet a vague sense of sea swell is visible running up the frame, past the protruding log. In contrast, anything not moving in the frame is perfectly sharp. This stems from a technical advantage that dusk has over moonlight photography, in that the much higher light levels match long exposures with the smallest of apertures. From this you get the very best depth of focus.

For this I used medium speed Ilford FP4 film, ISO 125, with a standard lens on a Pentax 6×7. It’s a heavy camera so vertical views challenge the tripod head, but the big negative prints up very nicely. Vertical is not easy with seascapes or coastal vistas, with their broad horizons, because strong vertical elements are usually needed. Once again my favoured “Elevation!” tactic came into play, to find a double curve of coastline to tie up the composition.

An extra tint has been added after scanning, yet I feel the photo might lack tonal drama. However the main drawback to my mind is the need for a scale indicator in the foreground.

24. The rock Paritutu at night

The rock Paritutu at night. 7.30pm, 13 May 2010

The 7.30pm time slot is only approximate, as you are looking at a 20 minute experience. The night was close to new moon, so this cannot possibly be by moonlight (for a change) but instead the illumination is from the working lights of Port Taranaki, well below the viewpoint here.

This wide angle shot on the 6×7 Pentax was recorded on HP5 film, ISO 400. I neglected to note f-stop (probably f8) but the exposure was calculated after a quick trial with a digital camera at higher settings, then doubled to allow for reciprocity slow-down. Twenty minutes was enough for good star trails, I thought, however they are only starting to look interesting. Must have forgotten that wide angle lenses minimise star movement; telephotos maximise them. Their slight curve above suggests the view is to the southwest, as to our eyes the stars revolve around the South Pole.

Thin low cloud was billowing over the summit but it was hard to tell how it would show up. Another variable was how panochromatic film would respond to the fairly orange light, in a long exposure – actually no problem. Framing was awkward wide open at f4, as not enough light was transmitted for the viewfinder.

While the shutter was open I hoped a car would not drive into the carpark, which so far I’d had to myself. Wouldn’t the sweep of headlights overpower the foreground? Really I need not have worried, and in any event such intrusions sometimes add interest in unexpected  ways. The perspective does not convey the scale of this volcanic remnant, but the sign at bottom left might help… I couldn’t leave it out anyway. A staircase and then a safety chain takes you to the 153m summit, where a trig point is just visible, and a great view. In pre-European days it had a Maori palisade. It would have been a very windy place of refuge.

16. Moonlit Moturoa from Back Beach, at Paritutu

Moturoa from Back Beach, at Paritutu, Taranaki. 26 March 2010

A 6×7 Pentax shot, with sepia added in Photoshop after scanning the 120 negative. Still being used by Craig Potton, pre-eminent NZ landscapist, the 6×7 is a scaled-up version of the popular 35mm Pentax of yore. A whopper to handle, it is at least simple to use, although reloading is fiddly. However the 6×7 advantage in offset reproduction is clear when comparing, say, calendar images against those from 35mm originals. As a young photographer I admired the picture quality in glossy magazines without realising so much of it came from medium and large format cameras, using tripods and lights.

The 6×7 is a trial to take moonlighting, not only because it’s heavy. Increased format size is matched by decreased focal depth, so that it is harder to cover your subject well, and the 120 format is less forgiving of sloppy focus. To compensate for dim and difficult focusing, I select a smaller aperture (to extend depth of field) and lengthen exposure to 10, 20 or 40 minutes. My usual alternative to simply sitting around, waiting, is to take a second tripod and camera outfit, and work both at once – but I wouldn’t recommend this for a windy beach at night, because the sand risk means there’s just no work-space. I took the above photo in a bitter wind, with all my gear on my back.

The standard lens was set close to infinity, exposure unrecorded. Taken at the foot of Paritutu, the foreground is a blur of surf at mid-tide. For a high moon like this, earlier in the evening, go out 3 or 4 nights before it’s full. Not every “Seascape by moonlight” is genuine but yours can be authentic even at first quarter (the half-moon), if silhouette and reflection are your aim. If you use film, be sure to vary exposure and note your settings – as well as the age of the moon – until you are familiar with results.

13. Lake Rotoiti under full moon, Nelson Lakes National Park

Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes National Park. 24 April 1987.

An autumn view looking south. Situated in the northern South Island, Rotoiti is the park’s leading gem. I didn’t set out to compose this in thirds, and its not quite so anyway, but this shot consistently gets good reactions and perhaps because of its traditional composition.

However the most recent comment related to the light; someone familiar with this scene by daylight remarked that he had never before seen the light so even on Mt Robert, whose slopes are conspicuous. Moonlight is not as harsh as sunlight, being warmer for a start, and the long exposure may have some bearing on this, with the slow arc of the moon softening any shadow edges.

Of course my friend had never seen the star trails either, a pair which conveniently occupy a pleasantly blue but otherwise fairly blank sky… no doubt there would be more stars visible on a moonless night. Blue skies in my moonlight photos surprise people but I once glimpsed this high in the heavens in real time, as patches of blue showing up amongst great masses of luminous cloud. An odd but awesome phenomenon.

In this photo there’s some cloud movement, and a breeze to shimmer the reflection on the lake. The shadows add a sense of depth but are really too black, and I see some vignetting in the sky to the left. With long exposures, particularly of half an hour or more, you never know what you’ll get. Using film adds the further uncertainty of reciprocity effects, when light sensitivity slows up and colour shifts can happen,. Here, however, there’s no obvious shift, unlike the magenta cast notorious in earlier years with Kodak film.

Time and timing were unrecorded but this took around 30 – 40 minutes on Fujichrome, using the Pentax 6×7 with the 55mm wide angle lens wide open at f4. This is the JULY image in my Moonlight calendar for 2011.