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.
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.
An epitaph of sorts, and a good one, being some last words from our late lamented friend Bernie Downey, whose memorial service was today. Bernie was always good-hearted and stimulating company, and he obliged me on this moonlit occasion two years ago at Te Hapu, Golden Bay, by holding his pose for a long test exposure. The lines superimposed came from a Nova Scotian newspaper obituary for Bernie, quoting an email by him. He is sadly missed.
20 secs at f4. Nikon 28mm; ISO 500
SEPTEMBER in my 2019 calendar! Lake Mahinapua is the first stop after Hokitika as you head south down the South Island’s West Coast. Surrounded by native forest, the lake’s a total gem left to us by the last glacial retreat ten thousand years ago. On a weekday morning in April there are few camper vans visiting and even fewer watercraft about, although perhaps a fizzboat and a Nordic waterskier could have added some visual tension here.
As a basically monochromatic study, the textures and horizons neatly summarise the special appeal of the celebrated West Coast landscape. Except in early summer when the flax and rata are in flower, it is not an especially colourful landscape, although it is certainly a green and pleasant one.
The scene has been exposed for its highlights; a high dynamic range image would give a quite different effect. It would show the correct colour for the reeds and distant forest, but without artistry or any emotional appeal. The very literalness of HDR photography Ieaves me cold, seen at worst when a landscape under broad daylight is absurdly combined with a vivid, overarching sunset. Really, which planet do these photographers live on?
1/640th sec at f16. Nikon 85mm; ISO 250
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
This scene is how I found it, except for removing a fallen twig or two. Beside a grave a cherub sits on a plinth, under an elm. An artificial vine crosses her feet and a plastic wreath is nearby – I doubt that she will still be in the same position today, as, sadly, cemetery vandalism is common.
This was the main cemetery for New Plymouth; I have two grandparents and a great-grandfather buried there. The oldest part goes back to the 1860s and includes headstones related to the Anglo-Maori Wars; there is also an extensive section for returned soldiers. Some areas are hilly but these are also nicely planted or fringed by trees and shrubs.
As a cemetery Te Henui offers an unusual variety of scenes, topographies and chronologies. It would warrant a high place in the Lonely Planet guide to NZ cemeteries, come the day. That’s a jest.
1/4 sec at f16. Nikon 85mm; ISO <200
A roadside view from a calendar tour of the South Island, made over autumn with my wife Al. This early morning scene explained the chilly temperature in our camper van overnight. We then drove a little way up the summit road before the snow and slush made it clear that the rest of the way would be on foot.
This telephoto view is from above the main highway, not far from Mitchell’s Cottage. I like the long shadows here, and the interest added by the derelict woolshed and the sheep. The scale of the scene does not come across though, the full grandeur of the range being obscured by cloud. Fortunately this cleared during our long trudge to the tops.
Autumn frost, Waipiata, Central Otago. 23 May 1984
One frosty morning during a calendar tour we wandered the small railway settlement of Waipiata in search of material. This church set amongst lovely oaks caught my eye. The cycling sensation that is the Central Otago Rail Trail was still some years away then; I have not been back since but Google street view shows 12 Main St to be just the same scene. This is surprising considering that so many views change in a just a few years – new roads and subdivisions, trees and hedges removed, railways demolished.
This is of course a composition in thirds, with a power pole providing a half as well. Colour palette is subdued, the highlights being only the cluster of leaves and the church. This would be an attractive scene by twilight as well, with a torch handy.
“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
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
Amongst the leaves, Te Henui Cemetery. 3.06 pm, 2 April 2018
A supplicant cherub amongst fallen leaves – these being a common metaphor for poignant memory and les temps perdus. This simple image again makes use of contrasting blank spaces, as I have resisted the urge to crop it at top and left. The limited palette adds considerably to the effect, assisted by the flat light of an overcast day.
The 85mm lens at close range has little inherent focal depth, but stopping down to a self-timed f16 has maximised the depth of field. Any gain here will sharpen focus for a short distance in front of the focal point – in this case the tiny leaf directly in front of the figure – while increasing it over a much larger zone behind the object. The self-timer was set to the shortest time (2 secs) and I often use this aid with the 85mm, both for hand-held shots and with tripod.
Te Henui is the first of New Plymouth’s two main cemeteries; situated above the valley of the Te Henui Stream in rolling country typical of Taranaki, it was originally on the edge of town. The lower slopes are wooded, making the older sections of this cemetery notably rustic. However, interesting cameos such as the above were sparse. My time was not all spent on photography, as I was surprised to discover (quite by accident) the final resting places of two people who appear in the family history I am at work on.
Memento mori (“Remember, we all must die”) presents a series of cameos from New Zealand cemeteries, illustrating memorable scenes or detail. Of course they have their melancholy aspect, but cemeteries retain a strong human interest and convey an impressive sense of time’s long passage. Often (but not always) these aspects are matched with a park-like atmosphere of peace and calm.
1/250th sec at f16. Nikon 85mm; ISO 500
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
Te Hapu is a wonderful farmstay in far Golden Bay – on the West Coast in fact, after a drive down fabulous Westhaven Inlet. The farm is a rugged 1,000 acres of limestone, and its scenic highlights include what must be one of the best private beaches in the country, Gilbert’s Beach, with its encircling reef and dramatic backdrop of cliff and nikau palms.
It is a lovely place to wander, although not much of it is level! Some days too the wind blows strongly, especially from the southwest, and anything trying to grow where the wind funnels is bound to take a protective stance against it, as above. I took this when we stayed there last April; the photo features in my new book, Perfect Evenings.
Another sample from my 2018 New Zealand calendar, this one is for May 2018. The holiday park at Kurow was decidedly off-season on the cold autumn night that we stayed there. A bitter, blustery wind was blowing but I coated up and left our snug cabin with tripod and gear, determined to make use of the wan moonlight in such an interesting setting – and was then pleasantly surprised to find that down by the river was quite sheltered. From the several hours I spent on the terraces, covering many angles on the deserted camp, this pic has emerged as a favourite. A second, quite different scene from this frigid outing also features in my upcoming Perfect Evenings photo book.
Monday 2nd October is the last day for my extra special prices on this 2018 calendar, post-free for NZ & Australia. There are still about 20 left – so why not purchase and enjoy?!
Moonlit Mordor, from Arawhata Rd, Opunake. 8.57pm, 25 April 2010.
My 36 Views of Mt Taranaki has sold out. The book used mainly daylight images, just to prove there’s more than one string to my fiddle. Nevertheless I continue to find twilight and night imagery more interesting because of the larger creative possibilities. This is a Lumix LX3 image, converted from colour: a desolate, snow-free mountain, as seen from from a desolate sector of the ring plain. In contrast to the more settled appearance of the other side of the mountain, this is rougher, harder country.
On a personal note, this is a belated coda to my Taranaki series, as this year we have returned to live in Nelson. Despite the hiatus I have been occupied in reviewing my extensive transparency collection, compiling a second book on evening photography and putting together a 2017 calendar, one without a volcanic theme. But about that, more shortly.
“60mm”; ISO 400. 60 secs at f2.8
1116 Rivulet of time: Dreams of a small figure.
This uncommon scene is a reprise on my earlier visit, also in May (2009), with the Holy Virgin. Although we’d had some rain before this secular occasion, my obliging figurine held her position well on the edge of the abyss, and so my only task was to administer the correct amount of torchlight. The location is just below the old weir at the Brook Street reservoir, Nelson. A waxing moon had cleared the manuka above, but moonlight here is lost in strong LED torchlight (the moonlight was not lost on my hi-vis vest, however, and my daughter quickly found me once the nearby comfort of the car had palled). LED lighting is quite cool, like daylight, so I’ve added some warmth in post-processing – the photo equivalent of a teaspoon of tumeric in the dinner pan.
28mm; ISO 500. f11 for 30 secs. 8.39 pm, 1 May 2015
0973 Autumn in the Maitai gloom, Nelson. 5.11pm, 26 April 2015
In late April a quick trip to the Maitai Valley, on the edge of the city, is much easier than the long road to central Otago (where great swathes of lovely poplars and cotoneasters are now gone from our favourite walk at Arrowtown). Although the light balance between flash and background above suggests twilight, this cameo was actually taken half an hour before sundown, in the pre-drizzle gloom of a heavy overcast. Flash is a crude instrument but then so is a hammer – and after a few attempts I felt I had it nailed.
50mm; ISO 250. 1/250th sec @ f7.1. Flash
2364 Autumn birch, Eltham, Taranaki. 6.17pm, 4 May 2013
One early moonless evening I wandered a small block attached to a church camp, using flash in the deepening twilight. Balancing the light from two different sources often takes some doing, but I was happy by frame 3 on this occasion. I took this in colour, converting it later, then adding a warm colour highlight, a different process from duotone. Later I took some shots using a monochrome setting, and to my surprise although these other photos downloaded as B&W, when the frames were opened for the usual work-over – hey presto, they were all still in colour. Well, keeps the options open!
50mm, ISO 2000. 1/6th sec at f3.2. Flash
6858b Mana Island liberty. 4.53pm, 7 May 2014
“This’ll be good!”, I thought to myself, as an evening squall approached Plimmerton, a Wellington suburb on Porirua Harbour. Keen photographers should be out for every passing shower, but of course location is everything – and the right time of day. The squall soon passed over and the clouds parted for an enormous rainbow lit by the setting sun, plus this view of Mana, with its distinctive flat top. The car window has been given first place here, while “liberty” refers to my changing the entire hue in post processing.
85mm, ISO 2000. 1/500th sec at f16
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
The moon could not keep shining if it had to pay attention to all the dogs barking at it. – Anon
28mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f11. Flash
Each of us is born into an already existent conversation. – Martin Heidegger
28mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f16. Light balance 2500 deg K.
Change is the very essence of life. – Anatole France
28mm; ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f11. Light balance 2500 deg K
To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else. – Emily Dickinson
28mm; ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f4
Seeking love keeps you from the awareness that you already are it. – Byron Katie
28mm; ISO 2000. 30 secs at f5.6. Mercury vapour light balance.
If you never did, you should. These things are fun and fun is good. – Dr Suess
28mm, ISO 2000. 15 secs at f8. Col balance 2500 deg K.