Kaihoka Lake in Infra Red, Golden Bay

Kaihoka Lake in Infra Red, Golden Bay. 20 February 1975

Back in the day I loved the surrealism of this film (Infra-red Ektachrome), and used it quite often when I had an extra Pentax on the go. This trip was my first proper visit to the far corner of Golden Bay, and I was very taken with the graceful landscapes we found there, despite having to drive on the awful gravel roads of the time (not that much has been sealed since,  over 40 years later).

As I recall, only one of the film’s three emulsion layers was actually sensitive to infra red; the other two simply displaced their colours. Infra Red Ektachrome was a high contrast film for its time, designed as it was for aerial reconnaissance (rather than LP record covers!). Exposure requirements for high contrast film were always precise (meaning: unforgiving), and here the sheep are overexposed. My enthusiastic attempts to burn them in post-scan are sadly visible, on inspection.

A scenic reserve since 1895, the Kaihoka Lakes are a delightful resort, especially when the wind is not blowing. This is the second lake, a short and pleasant walk from the first, through lush bush. Lake no. 1 is prettier, being more bush-fringed; both lakes sit in the bowl of old sand dunes. They are accessed on a side road which branches off at Westhaven Inlet, soon after the end of the tarseal.

Afternoon On the Beach at Anatori

Afternoon on the beach at Anatori, Golden Bay, Nelson. 12 January 1979

What could be more New Zealand than a landscape with cattle? This combination was unexpected, though. All three beef beasts (Aberdeen Angus?) were recumbent as we came up the beach, enjoying the sea air no doubt. They only rose to their feet as we got closer.

This section of the upper West Coast has been delighting me ever since my first visit in March 1975. It is accessed through Golden Bay; the road winds south along picturesque Westhaven Inlet and along farmed terraces, terminating (for most vehicles) at the sizeable Anatori ford. At the time this rustic scene was recorded, logging trucks still came through the ford from Turimawiwi, but logging has long ceased – and new houses have appeared in this remote part of the country.

Taken with a 105mm telephoto lens, on Kodachrome 64 film.

Roadside view: Wanaka, Central Otago

Roadside view: Wanaka, Central Otago.

Such contrast! A scene I could not resist, although I have no record of its exact location, nor the season – nor can I be definite that this was taken in 2002.  This lapse is instructive, because for so many years I kept a film diary, noting the place, people and date of every exposure – even the camera settings sometimes. Kodachrome had the date of processing recorded on the slide mount, which was handy, but the only other way of keeping track was to annotate your B&W proof sheets as you made them (I did that too).

How easy it is to forget that before EXIF data automatically captured all such details (location excepted), it took effort to retain such basic information. Alas, I gave up this important record-keeping in 1986, to my later regret. Although my friends believe I have an excellent recall of time and place, the truth is less flattering: memory is an unreliable aid.

Modest Epiphanies: Happy grazers

Happy grazers, Pio Pio, King Country. 2.22pm, 20 May 2013

“Happy limestone” would be an alternative title for this evocation of primary production, as this is fertile, rolling country, inland from the main highway between Hamilton and New Plymouth. Low cloud and patchy autumn sunlight give depth and contrast to the scene, enhanced by a telephoto lens. We have a virginal woolshed but no quad bikes, while the few cattle are free to wander – an idyllic prospect compared with the muddy strip-grazing in Taranaki, where herds are closely confined.

An idealised image, it features in my Modest Epiphanies 2019 Calendar, which is now at the printer. Subtitled Deeper meanings in the New Zealand landscape, the wall calendar should be available from the first week in September. A special, attractive “Early Bird” offer will be announced shortly.

1/800th sec at f16. Nikon 85mm; ISO 1000

Roadside view 5: Backblocks spring

Spring in the Taranaki backblocks. 3.14pm, 25 October 2013

The ancient power pole had long been relieved of its duty; perhaps the lines had been re-aligned. The grazing was thistle-infested, not such a common sight now in north Taranaki. I was attracted to this simple scene not only for the lichen  growth and the sheep (and lambs), but also because the hillside gives a “false sky”.

A useful aid for composition, false skies are there for the using when you are looking up at a steep hillside, a dune or cliff; or especially when you are above a lake or other water body, looking down. Arrange your foreground and there you have it – added interest, and something momentarily disorienting for your viewer.

This scene would probably be just as effective with the animals completely out of focus behind the pole. However, without a long telephoto neither approach is likely to succeed, as sheep are easily disturbed and will move away as soon as you approach. A zoom is very good for this sort of work, but sad to say, zoom lenses don’t seem to have the sharpness of prime glass (fixed lenses). in post-processing I have used the sharpening tool on the five elements to the image, something I rarely do.

1/640th sec at f8. Nikon 220mm; ISO 2000

 

Roadside view 4: Dovedale in the rain

Roadside view: Dovedale in the rain, Nelson. 2.17pm, 28 June 2018

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!

1/500th sec at f5. Nikon 85mm; ISO 500

Moonlight on Otaraoa Rd, Taranaki

Moonlight on Otaraoa Rd, Taranaki. 9.08pm, 22 August 2013

I was delighted to see cows in this paddock, unoccupied on my earlier visits to this quiet locality in north Taranaki. The cows were grazing in the moonlight but at a suitably languid pace, so the ten second exposure managed to  capture their essence. The gentle slope is on the other side of the road from the Motunui petro plant mentioned in my previous post. The contrast from one side of the road to the other – industrial to pastoral – is remarkable.

The bright industrial lighting from Motunui colours the low cloud nearby (thus the more distant clouds are unaffected). Low cloud on city margins will also colour up with moonlight photography, and over metropolitan areas the extent of low cloud tinting can be quite marked. Interesting landscapes can still be produced under such cloud cover, especially if there’s a full moon above it all.

A shorter exposure would have better minimised cloud and animal movement  for this shot. However, the wide angle lens gives better definition and depth of field at f4 than at the maximum aperture of f2.8. The warm tones of moonlight on the scene (clouds excepted) have not been adjusted. Moonlight has a lower colour temperature than daylight, so if we want to a result closer to how the human eye sees moonlit landscapes then Tungsten is a better choice for colour balance.

10 secs at f4. Nikon 28mm; ISO 2000

Memento mori 7: Angel at Kopuatama

Angel at Kopuatama, Stratford. 1.43pm, 7 September 2013

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.

1/400th sec at f16. Nikon 85mm; ISO 250

Modest Epiphanies 2: Bovine bliss

Bovine bliss at Cornwall Park
Bovine bliss at Cornwall Park, Auckland. 1.03pm, 26 March 2018

These two beasts-and-a-nose were the outliers of a contented herd, all having a lunch break to chew things over. A great gem set in the heart of Auckland, Cornwall Park is the extensive green space which surrounds the old volcanic cone of One Tree Hill / Maungakiekie.  It’s a good place to pause when you are in the city, not the least because parking is free.

The “secret” behind the shot is the ditch-and-wall which separates the public from the cattle, although for joggers and ramblers (as above) there is access at various points. As a substitute for a fence, which I can’t recall having seen elsewhere, it enables an unusual overview.  I currently have this scene as my desktop wallpaper; I believe it pretty much sums up the pastoral idyll of New Zealand life. It’s also an uncommon angle and contradicts my earlier comment about not favouring the south end of north-bound animals.

The exposure was not optimal because the light was continually changing from sun to cloud, and back again. A typical Auckland day, in other words. The background jogger isn’t blurred from a long-ish exposure but instead slightly out of focal range. Even on the smallest aperture, it’s too much to expect a telephoto lens to deliver sharpness throughout when you are this close to your subjects.

1/500th sec at f16. Nikon 85mm; ISO 500

Moonrise with white herons

Moonrise with white herons, Waimea estuary, Nelson. 5.29pm, 9 June 2017

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.

1/6th sec at f8; Nikon 85mm, ISO 500

Roadside view 3: All the king’s horses

Roadside views 3: All the king’s horses, Garden Valley, Nelson. 4.39pm, 26 April 2018

Rear views are not usually the most appealing with animals, I realised some time ago, but this angle was more interesting than most such. A conversation with the owner established that these were miniature horses, not the Shetland ponies we first thought them to be. Although my caption is sardonic these sturdy steeds must have been aware of their vertically challenged state, as a normative horse was close by. Placid animals, they obliged me by grazing close to the roadside before wandering off for some time-out beyond the autumn trees.

This was the prettiest location in Garden Valley yet we arrived too late in the day, as the sun was sinking below the high hills to the west. As every photographer soon discovers, photography in the shade gives an unappealing cool cast to scenes like this, owing to the light of a cloudless sky being so blue (the problem is less obvious on overcast or rainy days). In post-processing I have rescued this shot by a colour adjustment, warming it and adding some contrast too. On reflection, there is no disadvantage in flat light for this situation, as long as you are conscious of the cool cast likely to result, before post-processing.

The shallow depth of focus was intentional. Only the first horse is sharp, and in this type of photo only the first subject needs to be. While we have no problem identifying the two other items, I personally have a problem in usually wanting sharpness and focus throughout the frame. Really, there is so much creative potential in having the opposite.

1/500th sec at f3.5. Nikon 85mm; ISO 500

Roadside view 1 (Work in progress)

Roadside views 1: Work in progress
Roadside views 1: Garden Valley Rd, Nelson. 6.43pm, 26 April 2018

This moonlit scene in Garden Valley Rd, near Brightwater, demonstrates a work in progress in night photography. It does not meet my own standards for a successful image, but it has some teaching points, so I publish it for that reason.

A good composition can offer a “look-through” sense of depth, when the elements are so assembled. Here the look-through is supplied by the fence netting (always for deer, in New Zealand), while the foreground stalks contribute scale and perspective. All very simple in theory, but (as usual) practice shows otherwise.

Three challenges here were to get the best focus (sharp foreground preferred),  exposure (balancing flash with moonlight) and capture (despite the movement of the sheep). Even arranging willing people for a long exposure  presents its problems, but the sheep were obviously unaware of their possible place in internet immortality, and moved away as I jostled camera and tripod for position. They were probably unimpressed by the flash as well, so much better results are likely in this situation if you get everything right at first attempt. As we say in English: “Fat chance!”

This is work-in-progress because of the problems referred to. Moonlight photography is challenging: the work is hard and the hours long – and you don’t even have evenings off. Of course these are all First World problems, and exactly what makes a great exposure – when you get there – all the more satisfying .

30 secs at f5.6. Nikon 50mm; ISO 1000

Autumnal equine moonlight

Autumnal equine moonlight, Garden Valley.
Autumnal equine moonlight, Garden Valley. 6.37pm, 26 April 2018

An unusual evening this, as having driven up Garden Valley (30 minutes from Nelson) for the very first time to note the lie of the land, we came back only when the moon had cleared the hills. We were looking for miniature horses, but, sadly, on nightfall the dozen in the next paddock had retired from the roadside. This lone, non-vertically challenged mare remained still enough for only one frame (even so, there is a  double impression of her head), as she soon became quite agitated by our presence on the darkened roadside.

Apart from equine nervousness, two other hazards for the night photographer were of the more common variety: an awkward car park on a narrow shoulder of a narrow road, and the lingering dust clouds stirred up by passing cars. Even on a no exit gravel road, people still come home from work! Photographing much later in the evening would have meant less disturbance from traffic, but our presence then up this fairly isolated valley would be more disturbing to the locals.

The light foreground streaks are grass stalks close to the camera; with a faint moon, far from full, and the need for shutter times less than 30 secs, wide apertures are needed, with resulting shallow depths of field. To get this colourful biscuit tin / chocolate box image on first attempt was quite surprising, although ideally a rustic barn should be in the background (but I jest). A sliver of sky at the very top of the frame has not been cropped out, although my usual instinct is to reduce frame-edge distractions.

20 secs at f2. Nikon 50mm; ISO 1000

Nervous sheep in New Plymouth

2859 Nervous sheep in New Plymouth, 8.48pm, 26 October 2015

Although urban and sophisticated, it appears these sheep were only used to the glare of the neighbouring polytech hostel, and not moonlight paparazzi. The venue is an open space tucked away behind the city cemetery, and between WITT and Te Henui walkway, in the vale below. Small Maori pa abound in this vicinity and their reserve status contributes to having this unfrequented, pastoral scene in the city. Here night-time photographers can pursue their craft with a pleasant sense of calm and solitude, despite the incidental noise from the hostel. The clouds reflect city lights; the light beam is wastage leaping the boundary fence, offstage left. How very different this looks by day! 

85mm, ISO 500; 8 secs at f2.8

No moon, no worries

No moon, no worries

2860-61. No moon, no worries, 8.49-8.50pm, 26 October 2015

The city by evening can have plenty of light for night photography, either diffused from street lights or reflected by low cloud. So if your moon disappears from view, look for other possibilities. In this case, an unusual streak of light came from student quarters just over the fence, while the cloud is coloured by sodium street lighting. The pasture adjoins a historic reserve (an old pa site to the right) above Te Henui Stream and borders the city cemetery on the left. This evening I had the place all to myself – except for the sheep. Two telephoto images make up this panorama; double click on the scene for a larger view.

85mm; ISO 500 / 1000. 30 seconds @ f5.6 and f8.

A pastoral pocket, at night

2866. Urban pastorale, at night

2866. A pastoral pocket, at night. 8.59pm, 26 October 2015

By twilight I checked out this pastoral slope above the valley of the Henui, within New Plymouth city. A good length of pasture stretches from the river reserve up and over one old pa site to another well preserved one, next to WITT. This part of the paddock is bordered by a student hostel (whose lights streak the grass) and the town cemetery (behind the macrocarpas). I was in luck with some sheep to people the landscape; they were watchful and a little nervous, but not enough to flee the scene – a telephoto lens kept me at a suitable distance. Low cloud reflected city lights, but regrettably the full moon had just risen into the cloud.

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

 

Moonlit margin, Taranaki

Moonlit panorama, Taranaki

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.

50mm, ISO 250. 30 secs at f4 for each.

260. Moonlit gums, Cambridge

Moonlit gums, Leamington, Cambridge.  9.36 pm, 31 August 2012

Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?  –  Mary Oliver

85mm; ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f6.3

251. Moonlight in May, Cheviot

Moonlight in May, Cheviot, North Canterbury. 9.03 – 9.06 pm, 2 May 2012

There is no such thing as the pursuit of happiness, but there is the discovery of joy.  –  Joyce Grenfell

28mm; ISO 2000. 192 seconds (over 3 mins) at f11

226. Many ways to be free

Many ways to be free. 6.18 pm, 17 May 2012

There are many ways to be free. One of them is to transcend reality by imagination, as I try to do. – Anaïs Nin

50mm; ISO 2000. 15 seconds at f8. Incandescent light balance

 

203. Faux twilight at Paturau

Faux twilight at Paturau. 9.27 pm, 10 December 2011

All living creatures are making a great endeavour, struggling, to attain real everlasting happiness.  –  Srila Narayana Maharaja

Happiness through illusion? This actually is twilight, but stirred with the flash for foreground and then thoroughly shaken in post-pro. The original sky is very blue because I was trying a tungsten light balance. However I wanted something more upbeat and striking, since achieved by applying desaturation, dodging and hue manipulation to the RAW image .

At least the sheep are genuine; the hill profile is beyond the ridgeline by some distance. I like this as a simple but interesting composition, suitable for all ages.

85mm, ISO 2000. 1/2 sec at f5. Flash

 

198. Moonrise with alpacas

Moonrise with alpacas. 9.20 pm, 8 February 2012

The greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not our circumstances.  –  Martha Washington, American First Lady.

85mm, ISO 320. 5 secs @ f5.6. Col balance 8330 deg K

 

186. First draft, night for day

First draft, night for day. 11.28pm, 7 January 2012

If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.  –  Regina Brett, at 90

85mm, ISO 2000. 10 secs at f1.4

184. Start every day with a smile

Start every day with a smile. 9.29pm, 7 January 2012

Start every day with a smile and get it over with.  –  W.C. Field

85mm, ISO 2000. 1/13th sec at f7.1. Flash, 10000 deg K

 

183. Swans unseen, before midnight

Swans unseen, before midnight. 11.20pm, 9 January 2012

 When we are unable to find tranquillity within ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere.  –  de La Rochefoucauld

85mm, ISO 2000. 4 secs at f2. 5000 deg K

181. Twilight gathering, North Head

Twilight gathering, North Head, Golden Bay. 9.31pm, 7 January 2012

Do not dwell on the past; do not dream of the future.

Concentrate the mind on the present moment.  –  Buddha

85mm ISO 2000. 1/10th sec at f5.6. Flash at 10,000 deg K

180. Moonlight pastorale

Moonlight pastorale. 10.28 pm, 8 December 2011

The real difference between people is energy. –  Thomas Fuller

85mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f7.1

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.

69. Three wary birds, one wet night

Three wary birds, one wet night. 11.10pm, 20 December 2010

This is something of a burlesque on the cliched tranquil-lake-and-pier scene, examples of which somehow still win in photo competitions. I’m a fan of chocolate boxes myself but there’s no tranquillity here, with unforgiving lakeside lighting adding to some uncommon elements: cloud streaks lit by a town, a boat moving on its anchor, three unsettled ducks (unharmed in this production), and a little spotlighting with a brilliant LED penlight.

The scene was recorded one unquiet, drizzly night when there was a brisk northerly under persistent cloud, which hid the full moon from a frustrated photographer. The location is Acacia Bay, Lake Taupo; the town is Taupo too. This tight composition does not have the usual top layer, while the perspective receives some assistance from the stepped pier. The ducks were all too wary of me, understandably, as it was much too damp an evening to show my “Vee for vegetarian” T shirt – an umbrella hovered above the tripod and camera for much of time.

The 28mm lens was set at f11 for good depth of focus, and shutter for 30 seconds. It was chance whether the birds obliged by not moving (much), but I knew the boat would bump about on the lake swell. ISO was 2000, and tungsten was selected to offset the orange sodium lighting. On assessing the high contrast, I chose the Neutral picture control for the first time. This is the least contrasty of the three picture controls offered on the Nikon D700, the Standard setting being in the middle. .

The penlight was very bright and I flashed it on for just a few seconds, wanting to open up the shadows. The main benefit has been to illuminate the white duck. Torchlight is a useful adjunct to night photography but to get it to balance with the ambient light the trick generally is to give the scene less highlighting than you think it probably needs.

57. At Swim Three Birds, Lake Taupo

At swim three birds, Lake Taupo. 11.24pm, 20 December 2010

Frustrated by endless murk and rain over several nights at the last full moon, I set out anyway to prop up the tripod at some new locations around New Zealand’s largest lake, in the central North Island. I added an umbrella to the kit and spent a lot of time under it, trying to keep the drizzle off my lenses. The bag kept dry directly under the tripod. Fortunately Acacia Bay was a sheltered spot, without much wind.

The image above combines an initial instant of flash with a 30 second shutter time (using f8 at ISO 2000), through a 28mm lens. Slightly cropped from full frame, the shot shows something distinctly unusual – duck trails. I have previously found that a moving line of geese at twilight will turn into a sinuous snowy blur with extended exposure, but I was still surprised to see the brown smudge that each duck left as it paddled away from my camera.

These three had been disturbed from the pier by my intrusion, and returned to roost there whenever I moved off. The blue duck is really a white one, but she demonstrates the effect of flash when the tungsten setting is used – a case of mixing light sources of different colour temperatures. I chose tungsten to counteract the powerful cast of the sodium lighting nearby but this worked only partially – sodium has a much lower colour temperature than tungsten (think: household filament bulbs). While tungsten is around 3100 degress Kelvin, flash is 5500.

As it turns out, the sodium only shows in the movement trails, not counting the reflections from other shoreline lights. The flash has supplied the unexpected mosaic on the lake surface –  the lake bottom is not that regular – although I can’t be certain that these effects are not from flash on the rain itself. It is these uncertainties plus the unpredictablility of your moving subject matter that give night photography such creative scope.

22. Te Mata moonrise, Hawkes Bay

Te Mata moonrise, Hawkes Bay. 6.05pm, 22 September 2010

Blame celestial mechanics for the fact that the full moon always rises at or close to sunset, a million moony paste-ins high over well-lit landscapes to the contrary. (If I was really grumpy I’d add how quickly “moonlight fatigue” sets in when half that multitude describe their fakes as “moonlight”).

This is not moonlight; it’s a real moon photographed in dwindling daylight with an 85mm lens on a Nikon D700. Even at ISO 2000, f16 at 500th sec indicates daylight, here underexposed for effect. f16 gives good depth of focus, covering both the trees and the distant cattle. The cows were grazing the slopes of Te Mata, an outstanding rib of rock forming an interesting, driveable backdrop to Hastings and Havelock North on the plain nearby.

The evening before full moon (especially) is great for setting the rising moon against the landscape, or cumulus clouds low in the sky, because the light values of each are roughly similar. Much earlier moons get too high in the sky for this purpose, although they are still useful for reflection off bright surfaces  Conversely, a big moon rising after dark is “only” good for landscape silhouette, if the moon itself is not to be blown out entirely. But the night before full – that’s brilliant.

In composition terms the image above illustrates my developing three-punch theory. According to this, the first punch delivers the scene, the second supplies the elements which give extra character or design, while the third punch is the further detail which adds real depth or intrigue, often only apparent on closer look – in this case the miniaturised cattle.

Alas, there are thousands of one-punchers in my collection – appealing scenes that are like nice stage sets at the theatre, all awaiting further “action”. I have so often forgotten to find a second punch for them. And the third punch is even harder to deliver.

17. A grove in early spring, and a moonlight metaphor

A grove in early spring, Hawkes Bay. 9.10pm, 22 September 2010

Chasing the full moon in Hawkes Bay recently, I saw this scene on the Waimarama road and circled back. A pretty stand of European trees is not such a common sight by New Zealand highways, and in their new leafage these looked promising. It took a while to spot the lone horse grazing within (and only later did I see the second). By moonlight the effect was striking and quite dreamy, but unfortunately the leggy girl with the long blonde hair must have had the night off…

Alas, how different my white stallion looked the following night when he came down to the fence; on this second stop we saw instead a small and somewhat scrawny pony – one of a number, it turned out. In a metaphorical mood, I remarked to Gerry that moonlight is to ponies what candlelight is to people. Where moonlight draws a veil, daylight reveals all. Such surprises showed up in other photos from that night – an unseen curve of tarseal here, an erosion feature there – but these are only minor bugbears for moonlight photography; a bigger issue is just getting the frame properly focussed.

Of my numerous shots here, only this one is halfway sharp. To minimise likely movement of the pony I used a large aperture (f2.8) for 5 seconds at ISO 2000, when a better hedge would be to counteract the shallow focus of the 85mm lens with a smaller f-stop (to deepen the field). Results with the manual setting were no better.

The 85mm is a great lens by daylight, but I need more care and experience with it by night.  This was only my second evening out with the new Nikon D700; after the frustrations of the Lumix LX3 it felt much more productive to be using shorter exposures enabled by higher ISOs, a faster prime lens (f1.4) and a viewfinder easy to compose through.

8. Rustic evening near Omata, Taranaki

Rustic evening near Omata, Taranaki. 10pm, 31 October 2009

Farm animals make good subjects for moonlight photography precisely because they won’t keep still. Sometimes they hold it remarkably well though, as this placid minute in a cow paddock shows. The two leading beasts twitched their heads, to prove the point that this is indeed a night photo – as if the stars weren’t evidence enough.  With the lens at widest zoom and f2, ISO 200 was the setting. The wide perspective has reduced the star stutter; conversely for maximum star trail effects, a telephoto is more appropriate. Unfortunately, for star effects one minute is neither dot nor trail, but some sort of middling dash.

I chose the slope for its simple ridgeline and because the cows would be nicely placed along it. Often some elevation is needed to give a scene that extra sense of depth and here the rising ground served that purpose. The shadow of the trees behind was steadily dropping as the moon rose, but I wanted this in the frame to make a compositional third; the grass seemed a bit blank otherwise. The water trough was not visible at the time and shows too much in other frames. I liked seeing the stock uncrowded, strip-grazing being so common on Taranaki dairy farms. This photo comes without the incredible sound-track of cattle lowing, blowing, peeing and huffing; a sonic performance that as a townie I would never have imagined.

Featured as NOVEMBER in my Moonlight Calendar for 2011, this shot is taken at the fenceline of a no exit road. I’m not against getting closer but our spontaneous wander down it meant we did not have any landowner’s permission. Country people are suspicious enough of vehicles on their quiet roadsides; staying close to your car allows an immediate explanation. Whatever, a no exit road should reduce the chance of disturbance.