Open your hands if you want to held

Open your hands if you want to held – Rumi

Our final visit with Rumi, at least for the time being; here  the anxious, solitary image of Claire reinforces the simple message, one of many brevities which gleam like semi-precious stones in his meandering poetic landscapes.

For New Zealanders the landscape above should also have an evocative power, as flax, ti kouka and nikau feature. I’ve frequently used such backgrounds, while the beach towel was a consistent minor theme in the photos of my youth (when so much leisure was spent riverside, or on the beach).

One of the marvels of the world – Rumi

A soul sitting in prison with the key in its hand. – Rumi

With this pungent comment Rumi sits at the crossroads of western and eastern mysticism. The sentiment permeates all types of introspective spirituality, and is familiar to Christians through Luke’s singular statement that “The Kingdom of God is within you”. Meanwhile it is of course a dominant theme in eastern mysticism.

Rumi wrote voluminously, having no shortage of material to draw on. Contributing to this, his early years had been unsettled, as his family were refugees from Mongol invasion. The family travelled far from his birthplace, ending up in what is now modern Turkey. Scholars have shown restraint in not naming his collected aphorisms Ruminations. 

Thanks again to young Claire for her pensive posing for this blueprint and  foundation for enlightenment.

Modest Epiphanies: Early morning flax

Early morning flax, Awhitu Peninsula. 7.50am, 22 May 2013

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.

1/125th sec at f4.5; Lumix LX3 12.8mm; ISO 80

The Soul is Here for Its Own Joy – Rumi

The Soul is Here for Its Own Joy. – Rumi

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.

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

Roadside view 2: Dark satanic mill

Dark satanic mill at Waiuku
Dark satanic mill at Waiuku, Franklin district. 2.46pm, 27 March 2018

As a magnificent blot on the landscape the steel mill at Waiuku, south of Auckland, is very impressive. In this shot its dreariness is stylised by layering, using the line of pines it is seen through. Another example of a “look-through” composition, this is one I was definitely searching for. Here the main feature seems almost an afterthought, but one nicely offsetting the dark verticals. The scene is also an example of limited palette (colour range), being close to monochromatic. However I saw during set-up the small smudge of green plant life at bottom centre, and the brown building below the belching chimneys.

I took a second shot with the mill in a more central position, yet this was less interesting. The scene above is underexposed of course, to saturate the highlights, and a smaller aperture can be another gain in doing this – and increased depth of field, no small matter with a telephoto lens such as the 85mm. Using f16 has insured sharpness throughout, with the luxury of a low ISO and a hand-held capture, to boot.

The phrase “Dark satanic mill” comes from an eschatological  poem by William Blake, whose text also forms the lyrics to the well known hymn Jerusalem.  This contrasts the forthcoming heaven-on-earth of the title with the hellish blight of many hundreds of mills, which scarred the country as it became the first to industrialise.

1/500th at f16. Nikon 85mm; ISO 250

Mystic pool, Whatipu

7753. Mystic pool, Whatipu

7753. Mystic pool, Whatipu. 3.53pm, 12 June 2014

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.

85mm, ISO 250. 1/250th sec at f11

Hauraki Gulf moonlight: A cautionary tale

8075 Hauraki moonlight

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.

Rangitoto from Achilles Point panorama

Rangitoto from Achilles Pt

Rangitoto from Achilles Pt, Auckland

Two frames merged into one, so same ferry twice – each exposure is 30 seconds, by moonlight. The Point is at St Heliers; it’s a good lookout as long as you don’t get caught (as I did) by the local council’s draconian parking restrictions. Park well down the street!

Claire & co in the wilderness

7707. Claire & co at Whatipu

7707. Claire & co at Whatipu

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.

Signs and sacrifices

7790. Signs and symbols

7790. Signs and sacrifices

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.

Reading the Little Book of Calm

7780. Readings from the Little Book of Calm

7780. Reading the Little Book of Calm

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.)

Claire and pal at Whatipu

7701. Claire and pal at Whatipu

7701. Claire and pal at Whatipu

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.

Flax woman at the bay

6385b. At the bay

6385b. Flax woman at the bay

In post-processing this simple image transforms, giving two quite different versions. In the image above, I dialled back the saturation and increased the contrast (80% in each case), to mimic the current glossy style. In the monochrome below, each colour channel was separately modified in the conversion process, so the flax has come out lighter (the green & yellow channels) and the towel darker (blue channel) – and Claire’s lips also (magenta). The towel merging with the background means the image is now somewhat over-flaxed, while 22-year-old Claire looks even younger than before.

6385a. At the bay

6385a. Flax woman at the bay

Claire at Kaitarakihi Bay

6361a Holly at Kaitarakihi Bay

6361a Claire at Kaitarakihi Bay

A change of tack now, as I pick up another theme from my early years of photography – the portrait. For people shots I’ve always liked simple set-ups by available light – and a timeless look. However there was no fooling Claire, who immediately nailed this as “Retro”. The location on the northern Manukau bears the New Zealand stamp I was after. A strong, cold sou-wester blew in from the beach and the sunlight was very patchy, yet Claire warmed to the task. However I only got the right vibe when I tried some frames as monochrome conversions, as in the sepia version below. So much of a portrait can be communicated in form, tone and texture. Colour is only occasionally essential.

6361c Holly at Kaitarakihi Bay

6361c Claire at Kaitarakihi Bay

These 16:10 images can be downloaded as wallpaper, for screens with that aspect ratio. Permission is for personal use only. Copyright 2014 by Barney Brewster.

November 2013 Nightscapes

DSC4086 - Mokau Highway

4086 Mokau Highway, Taranaki

 

_DSC8542

 8542 Moonlit horses, Awhitu Peninsula

 

2010-10-20_9308

9308 Tank farm, New Plymouth

 

2-28-1128 Moonrise angel

 1128 Angel at Puniho, Taranaki

Copyright images in 16:9 wide screen ratio, posted for free download as background wallpaper on your desktop (a right-hand click of your mouse over any image will show this option). Downloads are for personal use only.

 

 

246. Desolation Row, Waiuku country

Desolation Row, Waiuku country. 9.18 pm, 28 July 2012

And the only sound that’s left / After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up / On Desolation Row.  –  Bob Dylan

28mm; ISO 2000. 68 seconds at f8

243. Winter in Waiuku country

Winter in Waiuku country, South Auckland. 11.51 pm, 28 July 2012

Nothing is ever the same twice because everything is always gone forever, and yet each moment has infinite photographic possibilities.Michael Kenna

 28mm; ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f5.6

 

85. Midnight girls, Auckland

Midnight girls, Auckland.

3 December 1979.

I was wandering up Queen Street, the main business street, feeling slightly nervous to be out so late on my own with my gear. The models were quite obliging however, and so brightly lit that I could do some quick hand-held photos with the Pentax Spotmatic and move on. Another surprise was the lack of reflection in the window glass. Photographing shopfront displays is usually problematic by day with unwanted reflections, and with street lighting it can still be bothersome. The standard lens was pressed against the glass for this one.

The film was Kodak’s Infra red Ektachrome, unfiltered on account of the tungsten lighting. This enabled an extra stop for the exposure, which was unrecorded but at an ISO of 200 I believe it was f1.4 at around 1/60th second. Holding the camera against the glass helped reduce camera shake. Infra red Ektachrome was a high contrast film, but the exposure has not suffered by it. The film’s infra red sensitivity was restricted to one layer of the emulsion; the other layers simply displaced colours for a surreal effect. The wig was golden as I recall, and her lips and neckline were actually red. My own hair was a similar length at this time but, alas, without any similar sense of style.

Composition and focus were easily established through the viewfinder. While there is some tension from the close cropping at left and the diagonal arm placement on the right, I suspect the frame avoids an intrusive retail placard. The minimal depth of focus which accompanies a wide open aperture has not been a problem here.

I call this photo the near side of night photography, relying as it does on a hand-held camera, instantaneous exposure and completely artificial lighting. It would not be possible to replicate the image by daylight, as the background mannequin would then be better lit.

76. Moonrise at Long Bay, Auckland

Moonrise at Long Bay, Auckland. 4 December 1979

The mannequin once adorned my apartment at Courtville, Auckland. We stowed her in the back for an evening trip up to Long Bay, on the North Shore. It felt like so much lumber to be lugging the tripod as well, but I knew a full moon was coming up, and with no tripod there’s no moonlight photography… you might find lucky fenceposts occasionally, but don’t count on it.

In the Pentax was Ektachrome 400; it was fast for the time but was not one I liked much – someone had paid me with a few rolls. How quickly we take for granted the digital benefit of instant feedback, so useful when you’re freehanding with your light source, or mixing sources. On film a shot like this would be guestimated in a number of steps.

First, figure out focus (not 100% here), then remember previous settings for moony reflections, adjust for faster film, assess strength of torchlight and distance from foreground, and then judge the lapse of time as the beam moves up and down the mannequin. Shoot and advance film for next attempt… wait days or weeks for results. Naturally, you hedged with various exposures – bracketing, it’s called – but film was never free, and neither was processing.

The torchlight is an old filament bulb, and today’s torches would deliver a much cooler colour temperature. While the exposure was unrecorded, the tiny surf still visible means the shutter was only for a few seconds. The good depth of field and slight curve to the horizon shows a 28mm lens. The clouds were a photographer’s pleasure; the distant spark is from the lighthouse on Tiritiri Matangi, in the Hauraki Gulf.

I was pleased with the result, and even when adapted to this square format there’s still room for an art director’s headline. The mannequin had a long, productive life and featured in other scenarios I dreamed up around this time. We finished the evening with a midnight swim.

45. Karekare before dawn, west Auckland coast

Karekare before dawn, west Auckland coast. 25 October 1980

I took this on a rare night in which I stayed up sleepless till well past dawn on the wild Waitakere coast, with a Pentax Spotmatic F and three lenses.  By sunrise I was truly worn out and the long drive home was grim – fortunately I had the passenger seat and the weekend to recover.

However I loved the results, which showed only modest colour shift from long exposure, even on Kodachrome 64. The sense of scale and depth of focus suggest the 28mm wide angle here, approx 10 minutes at f2.5. The islet is Panatahi and we’re looking southwest. The modern aerial on Google doesn’t show the stillwater but probably the stream has changed course since.

The picture elements here are very simple: an even vignetting from the lens barrel plus almost a mirroring of sky and lagoon, two brief star trails in similar positions – but why is the islet right in the middle? The rocks are volcanic, the sand more likely grey than tawny, and the tinge to Panatahi tells of a declining moon. Time of night I did not know but it must have been about 5 am.

The beach was broad and the tide out. I’d had this entire landscape to myself for many hours, yet at one point while crossing a long reef to the south this perfect isolation was nearly my undoing. While lugging my gear – and just a short time before taking this photo – I almost stumbled into a gaping chasm in the reef, from fatigue and inattention. No doubt the incoming tide would have found me long before anyone else could have.

Let’s not ignore the safety side of moonlight rambles, especially solo ones. Cell phones and emergency beacons can be unreliable; help is so often far off; fatigue and the gloom lead to misjudgements – the outdoor moonlighter from time to time faces serious risk to life and limb. A daylight reconnoitre beforehand is a good idea.

44. Moonrise from the Devonport ferry, Auckland

Moonrise from the Devonport ferry. 1 February 1980

This scene capped a great summer’s evening, and an entire slide film. First up was a moonrise over Rangitoto (Auckland’s youngest volcanic cone, in the Hauraki Gulf) from Cheltenham Beach, complete with kids frolicking in the surf… then a series from the open deck of the ferry. The bright idea of setting up the tripod there was probably by way of light relief after a few anxious moments beforehand, when it looked as if we might miss the the last ferry back to the city.

As the boat pulled away from the wharf, I thought the movement over the water could deliver some unusual effects from the waterfront lights. Judging exposure was simply guesswork, but each frame was in the vicinity of 10 to 30 seconds, around f8 as I recall.  Composition was no problem through the Pentax viewfinder and the standard f1.4 Takumar lens. The apparent size of the moon is not due to a long telephoto but simply an elongation caused by the movement (to left of frame) of the ferry, on its diagonal course for the opposite shore.

The film was Ektachrome 64 – guess the ISO – and it cost me $2.50! I always kept an eye on the phases of the moon, and as the evening looked promising I took the trouble to lug a tripod along – despite being on foot. However even today, when I know full well that unusual results so often require unusual effort, I find tripod-carrying a chore, and don’t always take one with me on shorter, “fun” outings.

Needless to say, night photography hinges on a tripod. Fenceposts, little beanbags, mini-tripods and obliging rocks will only take you so far… to contemplate anything more than the most casual of photography by extended exposure, a tripod is essential. I recommend something solid, with a quick-release plate for loading the camera. The legs should be easily adjusted and the head should move without fusswork. And be warned – plastic wears out quickly.

35. Saturday night in the Domain, Auckland

Saturday night in the Domain, Auckland. 22 August 1981

Suggesting an alien spacecraft landing, this scene is one only a vertical composition could accommodate. Unspooked, Jane was also accommodating and held her umbrella pose well for almost a minute, as cars drifted past on Domain Drive, somewhere near the Auckland Museum. We had wandered through the Domain at dusk; it was too cloudy for any moon but the drizzle gave us a wet road and reflections.

The pink umbrella sets off the wintry leaves (still there owing to the streetlight?) and the light trails. I was using Kodak 2483, an E-4 microscope film which I had some fun with over 1981-82, after buying some outdated rolls for 50 cents each. Its strong contrast preshadowed the advent of vivid slide films sometime after Y2K. 2483 was also distinctive for its fine grain, although this was achieved with a laughably low ISO of 16. What took more getting used to was the strong magenta bias – a shocker at first, although I soon learned how to apply it. Here the cast is emphasised with a further colour shift likely from the long exposure, known as a reciprocity effect.

The low ISO enabled long exposures earlier in twilight. Exposure for the above was unrecorded but was probably f16, the smallest aperture on the standard 50mm lens (Pentax Spotmatic F), for around 45 seconds. As I haven’t worn a watch for 30 years, I always just counted the seconds off. Now that estimates can be checked against actual time elapsed on a digital camera I see that mine are no more than 5% out – for the first 2 minutes anyway…

Given the high contrast, the exposure is about as good as you’d get on the one frame of film. With film of course there is not the instant feedback on exposure guestimates, meaning I regularly lost frames in bracketing or from careless estimates. At least I didn’t lose friends as well – their patience for my photo experimenting was remarkable.

3. Waitakere nikau and the rising moon

Waitakere nikau and autumn moon, Auckland. 7.39pm, 29 March 2010

This simple image is actually a suburban west Auckland scene, of native trees along the boundary of a friend’s house in Woodlands Park, in the Waitakere ranges. It features as the MAY image in my 2011 Moonlight Calendar, and has been published as a greeting card.

The red highlights just visible come from the house; the moon is shining through a light haze. I was pleasantly surprised this came out so well, earlier shots featuring the moon point blank having given no great encouragement. However the right exposure subjugates all else to the brightness of the moon – thus the silhouettes. Exposure was 3.2 secs at f2.8 on my Lumix LX3, ISO set at a high 400 in error.

The photogenic nikau is very much a New Zealand icon but for me the palm has other associations too, when I was a partner in Nikau Press, a small publishing house still operating in Nelson. This particular night I was a frustrated photographer, as my photo-fun was soon foreclosed on by social obligations, pleasant though they were. Daylight photographers have it easy.

2. Harataonga moonrise

Harataonga moonrise, Great Barrier Island. 9 February 1982

Harataonga is a gem on the eastern side of Great Barrier Island, about 100 km east of Auckland. We camped out there for several days in February 1982 to get photos for a Friends of the Earth calendar. From a headland near the beach I got the Linhof 4×5 ready before dark, as a field camera takes a fair bit of setting up, with a black cape and upside down frame-and-focus. I used a moderate telephoto lens and exposed Fujichrome for 45 minutes at f5.5, pretty much as a guestimate.  The moon had risen above the frame and its light is diffused through slow-moving cloud.

This is the full frame; I have resisted the temptation to trim the skeletal tree or to recompose. The outline offshore is a rugged islet; the creek is tidal but deep; the headland is an old Maori pa site. The photo gets a range of reactions, mostly favourable but occasionally I hear a definite “Hallmark!!” It appears as September 2011 in my new large-format Moonlight photography calendar. We have published it as a greeting card too.