DECEMBER in my Modest Epiphanies 2019 Calendar (now sold out). This is a nice balance between ambient twilight and flash, which shows as only a hint on the flax. Most magazine photos with close-up subjects (especially people) are illuminated in the same way, but often with the subject massively highlighted.
The Sugar Loaves – so named by Captain James Cook – are volcanic remnants about 1.75 million years old, adjacent to (and partly sheltering) Port Taranaki. This view is from the base of the most conspicuous remnant, land-based Paritutu Rock, looking out on to Motumahanga (Saddleback), the most outlying of the islands.
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?
An idyll of sheep grazing peacefully by a grove of cabbage trees (ti kouka), on old dunelands behind Wharariki Beach, in Nelson. This is a wider version of the image appearing as FEBRUARY in my Modest Epiphanies 2019 calendar. It was taken on the foot track to the beach – in New Zealand the grandeur of the beach matches its relative accessibility. The grandest beaches require a walk from the carpark, although this is never a great distance (Whatipu on the Auckland west coast is another example).
It’s a late-summery photo, taken around mid day and looking straight into the sun. I believe the lens was shielded from direct rays by getting someone to shade it with a hand, but there is still a slight flare above one cloud. The scene is warmer and more saturated than the native record, of course, thanks to artistic licence in post-processing. However in my taking this as a jpeg (rather than in RAW) my post-pro options have been more limited.
With the Lumix LX3 there was the luxury of being able to choose the format ratio before taking the photo, with three options: 2:3 [the 35mm standard]; 3:4 and the panoramic 16×9 [as above]. This last ratio fits a typical laptop screen and so lends itself well to wallpaper / screensaver applications. And in fact, this very frame was my own wallpaper for a lengthy period.
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.
This is JULY in my 2019 Modest Epiphanies calendar – still available for your purchase, by the way. This winter angle on the tidal flat behind Tahuna Beach benefits from its split focus and from two figures captured by chance (someone with their dog; I saw no one at the time).
The split focus involves firstly a close focus with the telephoto, and beginning the half-minute exposure with flash, then immediately moving the lens barrel to infinity, for the remaining 29 seconds of the exposure. This routine is an awkward one to repeat, but the challenge is to get a balance in the lighting between the flash-lit foreground and the moonlit background. On the tidal flat much of the lighting came from the adjacent motor camp, but fortunately that too has balanced with the low power of the moonbeams.
I could name the dog walker as Sara N. Dippity – thank you Sara. This demonstrates that not everything that intrudes on your long exposure frame is a spoiler. Compositionally the usual challenge at beach locations is finding something interesting to populate the foreground, to add interest and a sense of depth.
Taranaki is famous for its well-watered pastures and of course for its dairy industry. This is FEBRUARY in my Modest Epiphanies 2019 Calendar, which is a selection from my book project of the same title. It features Al (my wife) walking towards a field of maize in south Taranaki, alongside what remains of the old Opunake branch railway. It was taken on a windblown afternoon, and as it happens, we visited this location again in August 2018, on another breezy day – but in winter.
Our recent visit surprised me with the changes to be seen from the same viewpoint over seven years later: the cornfield was back in grass of course, but the boxthorn hedge has disappeared. Also lacking were the summer grasses (and clouds – a cool, clear southwester marked the afternoon). A wintry vista it was.
Photography gives us such a useful and interesting record of little changes in what we assume are “stable” scenes, particularly country ones. I will take more from the same location, sometime!
Purchase my 2019 calendars here: http://www.brewster.co.nz/calendars/
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.
The freedom of the sands! This image is for January in my Modest Epiphanies 2019 Calendar. Although taken in autumn, it is very evocative of summer on the granitic beaches of Abel Tasman National Park. The two islands in the background (at left is a headland) are within the Park boundary but Marahau, the main gateway, is just outside it. Abel Tasman NP is a very popular venue each summer for daytrippers, hikers and kayakers.
The calendar previews photos for a projected book of the same name, and subtitled: Deeper meanings in the New Zealand landscape. See earlier posts for details on a special offer on both my calendars for 2019; this expires on Friday, 7th September. Both calendars are now available for purchase.
An image from my Modest Epiphanies 2019 calendar, now at the printers. The title is taken from my next book, still in preparation, and from which the calendar pictures are a sample.
An epiphany is defined as a moment of revelation or profound realisation, but my photo project only aspires to a modest attainment of this, specifically in relation to the visual understanding of my own country. Thus the subtitle, Deeper meanings in the New Zealand landscape. Yes, there are deeper meanings, or perhaps deeper appreciations of our singularity, both in the big picture and in small details. All of which say the same thing: “This must be New Zealand”.
See my previous post for the special pre-release offers on the TWO calendars we now have close to publication.
“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.
This charming scene is most likely somewhere in the Ashburton area. It’s a nicely set-up quarter plate shot, showing a well established homestead (from around 1870?) and its horse and trap, water tank and dog kennels (with drying skins spread over them). Perhaps that’s the photographer’s sister and niece to the fore – they are only hatless because they’re not in public. An older man in the background watches proceedings, so maybe it’s a day of rest.
Although this photo is undocumented, circumstantial evidence suggests it is by Harold S. Silcock (1883-1951), who grew up in the Ashburton district and taught at Native schools in the Chathams and at Little River (Canterbury), before relocating to the Nelson region. The image is from a glass plate in my own collection; it appears full-page in my Vintage New Zealand 2019 calendar, soon to be announced.
A frame from my forthcoming Modest Epiphanies 2019 New Zealand Calendar, soon to be announced. It shows urban infill below an old Maori pa in Westown, a long established suburb in New Plymouth. A slow motion study in suburban subdivision, this last section of the subdivision development was unbuilt on for years, yet the street lights have shone every night regardless. The ponga (tree ferns) are iconic for lowland Taranaki, a reminder of the high rainfall the region receives.
The pa is relatively small but has a large terrace of old cultivations on the northwestern side, included in the historic reserve. Despite this pa being very well preserved and easily accessed, its history is virtually unknown. Old pa are a strong feature of north Taranaki but as they get little publicity they are largely overlooked by visitors. Magnificent Koru Pa, at Oakura, would be the prime example.
A solid (and chilly!) southwesterly was blowing that night, but the clouds are surprisingly static for a 30 second exposure – helped of course by the wide angle lens. Light balance was set on Incandescent, which brings out the blue of the sky while reducing the heavy orange of the sodium street lighting. The aperture setting ensured a good depth of field, not usually a challenge with a wide angle anyway.
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!
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?!
This is a sample illustration from my long exposure Perfect Evenings 2018 New Zealand calendar. Magnolia flowers are a welcome sight in the southern spring, appearing from July to September, depending on the species and local climate. By moonlight or street light they are even more luminous and lovely than by day.
Printed in just a small edition of 125, most of my calendars have now sold at the special early bird prices quoted in the last post. The three for $30 deal and 5 + 1 for $60 have been very popular. There’s obviously good interest – not to mention good sense – in having giftable items on hand well before the usual rush, especially when so many New Zealanders are taking to the air (and the road) and require packable items for their calls and hosts.
All prices are post-free within NZ and Australia. My best-ever, these prices are current until Monday 2nd October, and will not be repeated. By that time the entire stock will probably be spoken for, and any reprint considered will have to be at standard prices. These will still be good value, however, with various extras offered, in addition to the photographer’s own prompt and personal service!
Perfect Evenings 2018 New Zealand Calendar: Back Cover
My new calendar is a colourful compilation from many evening forays in the great New Zealand landscape. Those excursions aren’t always perfect but even my last one, featuring mainly low cloud, had its highlights (see my recent posts). Many evenings initially seem unpromising but a bit of effort, two gumboots and four wheels usually lead to a rewarding outing.
So I’ve been inspired to create a new calendar for 2018, and invite you to enliven the year-to-come with something interesting – if not stirring: Perfect Evenings. In the same format as my previous calendars, the calendar has 13 all-new full colour landscapes, and a big grid for each month. It comes with an A4 letter-rate posting envelope. Presentable and useful, it makes a great gift.
Now available at an extra special price for the next 14 days: $12.50 each, post-free within NZ and Australia.
Or how about even-better prices for multiples (to same address, also post-free): Two calendars $21; Three for $30; Four for $37.50.
Wow! But wait:Five for $50 + 1 free calendar = 6 calendars for $50!!
SPECIAL Early bird PRICES, available until 5pm Monday 2nd October 2017: These will not be repeated!
NZ orders – Payment by cheque or direct credit:
B. M. Brewster 030703 – 0370438 – 000
Australian orders – in $A currency; a payment request will be sent to you from Paypal. Overseas orders – please inquire.
P.S. The images have been selected from a new photo book of the same name, out soon, which wraps up my long exposure photography.
My 2018 calendar is at the printer in Wellington and should be available within the week. The new calendar is a lovely selection from my forthcoming book of the same name: Perfect Evenings, and is in the same postable format as my previous calendars. An easy gift! September isn’t too early if you are flying anytime soon, or like to get organised before the rush. More on price and other details shortly.
My 2017 calendar sold out last week, although some retail returns are expected. This image for June 2017 has been very popular. It was taken at the southern end of the inlet, where from sea level the road climbs steadily and steeply to the top of the limestone. Public roads with grass strips down the centre are not that common in New Zealand, but as this one serves just two farms it’s no real surprise to see it here. “Roads less travelled” lend themselves well to calendar imagery, and this one is in the “even less travelled” category, being off another, unsealed road to several farms which straggle down the coast. The trick is usually in getting sufficient elevation to please the eye with the path fully shown. A misty day helps, adding an uncommon atmosphere.
MARCH 2016: Naked mountain, Arawhata Rd; Opunake district
In an earlier post I asked “Where are the cows?”, meaning cattle of course, as Taranaki is host to thousand of beef cattle, as well as its emblematic dairy cows. However, these two images are the only nod in their direction in my 2016 calendar – an oversight, possibly. Yet it is surprising how few herds are seen along the roadside, and a good deal of pasture is now strip-gazed, a practice lacking in pictorial charm. See previous posts for calendar details, and how to order.
Three samples from my new calendar for 2016: 13 Views of Mt Taranaki, North Island, New Zealand. The two below are by daylight but all three aim to show the textures of the Taranaki landscape. The question remains: Where are the cows?? Their surprising absence will be rectified in another post shortly.
SEPTEMBER 2016: Tumahu, Wiremu Rd; Okato district
The two images above were taken as monochromes, and a tint added later. Many different treatments are possible. Taranaki people never tire of looking at their mountain in its changing aspects and (peekaboo) pride of place, but the challenge is to convey a sense of it within the landscape. Please see earlier posts for more details, and for news of the photo book that this calendar relates to.
Two productions launching at the same time! The 49 views are spread between my new photo book (36 Views of Mt Taranaki) and a 2016 calendar, 13 Views of Mt Taranaki. Both are inspired by the famous Japanese works of Hokusai (c.1830) and Hiroshige (1852 & 1858), all issued under the same title, 36 Views of Mt Fuji. These showed the noble peak from many angles and seasons.
The new book is in softcovers, 21 x 22.5cm, with white wire binding. The first edition is just 50 copies, each signed. There are 76 pages, one image to a spread. It is entirely in colour, and shows the mountain in its landscape from a variety of viewpoints and times of the day (and night!). It will appeal to anyone with strong Taranaki associations – visitors and residents alike.
Price is $35, plus $2.50 postage within New Zealand or Australia. Order 2 books for $65, all up (post-free within NZ & Australia). Sample pages will be posted soon.
My 2016 fine art calendar owes its title to its extra cover pic; there is no duplication and the 13 images are not taken from the book.The images are well textured and nicely tinted. I doubt that there has been a contemporary calendar issued in monochrome for some decades, but my subject matter carries it off.
The calendar comes with a posting envelope. Price $17.50, plus $2.50 postage. Order 2 calendars for $33, all up (post-free within NZ & Australia). Please order from me directly at email@example.com and I will confirm promptly with method of payment.
With my new photo book 36 Views of Mt Taranaki to be released shortly, it seemed obvious to have our 2016 calendar feature the mountain too. Not so obvious was the decision not to use anything from the book and to turn the images into fine art monochromes – although not strictly black&white, as the image above shows. A few are B&W originals but most have been stripped of their colour data. The tones and textures of the peak lend themselves well to this treatment. I will have more news on the calendar and on the new book shortly.
Front & back covers. 210 x 297 mm. See sample layout below.
My calendar for 2015 has now sold out. In the same format as previous years, the calendar shows evening scenes and cameos from both islands of New Zealand, over the seasons. 100 copies only were for sale.
ANNOUNCING the publication of my nightscapes calendar for 2014! In the same format as previous years, the calendar shows evening scenes and cameos from both islands of New Zealand, over the seasons. A mailing envelope is supplied within.
Price $NZ20, post-free within NZ; $A20 for Australian orders, also post-free. Postage will be quoted for elsewhere overseas. Payment by direct credit or cheque (or Paypal for purchasers without NZ bank a/c).
* SPECIAL OFFER #1: Four free greeting cards (blank, folding + quality envelopes) will be supplied with each purchase. From a new series of 8, many of which appear in the new calendar.
** SPECIAL OFFER #2: Calendar + 8 cards + book. Buy a copy of my Night Visions book (signed!) along with the calendar for $55 all up, post-free, and I’ll put in all eight (8) greeting cards as a bonus… this offer adds up to $89 retail value. Each makes a great gift on its own, while the cards will prove very handy around the holiday period.
ORDERS now taken. 100 copies only for sale, for Tuesday 5th November 2013 release.
To purchase calendars, please email me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
The new, expanded edition of my Night Visions book, developed for the library market, is now available. The new edition retails at $45, but see the new page (alongside) for further details and a special offer for personal orders, direct from the publisher.
The cover of the new edition (above) features a grove of nikau palms under a summer moon on the Golden Bay coast. The image also graces the cover of the 2013 calendar. This features 13 scenes from the book, six of which are newly included.
The calendar will retail at the same price as for 2012: $20 each, post-free within New Zealand. It is now at the printer.
Moonlight photography that looks like daylight! Almost. Until I thought of adding the immediate foreground, this spot seemed unpromising for an interesting shot. Although the high tide was surging below the crumbling cliffs of Back Beach, New Plymouth, the scene just seemed to lack depth. Using the wide angle end of the Lumix LX3 zoom (“30mm”), however, with some foreground for scale, gave a much better effect.
Exposure was 60 secs/f2.2@ISO 400. I don’t recall why the higher ISO was needed but it was justified, and a further small boost was given in post-pro to get this night-for-day look. The photo received enough acclamation for inclusion in my Moonlight Calendar 2011 (October), and we have also published it as a greeting card.
The movement of the flax and foliage shows that a steady wind was blowing (fairly common here); actually I was sheltering from the cliff updraught, and screened the tripod as far as possible from the buffeting. There’s a subtle cloud movement recorded by the long exposure but better still, the sea has been softened and turned an unexpected turquoise.
Strangely, there’s no surf line around Snapper Rock but a nice highlight instead on the rocks at one end. You can walk dryshod to this island on very low tides. There are well defined kumara pits on top from old Maori times and great views are to be had from the spur at other end.
In composition terms I gather that the appeal lies in its simplicity, sense of depth and movement, and its colour contrast. From the cliffs there aren’t that many options for a good frame on the islands (the Sugar Loaves), but this limitation is compensated for by the easy access and frequent changes in the weather, and so, of course, the light.
This is the December image from my large format Moonlight calendar 2010. On this night a steady southwest wind was blowing across the lake – as often – at the Kaihoka Lakes Scenic Reserve. The reserve partly encloses lovely twin dune lakes in their original bushy settings, in the top left hand corner of Golden Bay, Nelson. With some Wellington friends we stayed nearby, but the evening above I had the place to myself, as the others somehow preferred the warmth and comfort of the farmhouse. Wandering along the sandy shore by a waxing moon, I saw the rustling of the reeds as a likely subject, to continue my theme of movement recorded in a time-lapse sense.
In this 60 second exposure (at f2, widest zoom, ISO 200) their fronds and tassles are blurred, while their motionless watery footholds are not. The side-lit reeds and the long shadows suggest the moon was still low in the sky at 10.30pm. The depth of focus wide open at f2 is remarkable, given how close my tripod was to the reeds at the bottom of the frame. Wanting a sense of depth and distance, I chose a vertical composition, looking over the reeds as well as through them. Stars shine but unfortunately the cloud was content with a peek-aboo role. This is not the main body of the lake, incidentally, just a corner of it.
For calendar publishing this type of image has three risks: 1. while it definitely sings for arty sorts, it moves lesser mortals… less. 2. it works better in a certain gloom, but since everything depends technically on how it inks (or shows on your screen) the chances are strong that it will appear too dark altogether… here for safety’s sake I have added a small boost in post-processing. 3. The vertical frame is no fit for a horizontal format. Only a square American-style format or an uncommon vertical one will accommodate it.
After midnight, with increasing cloud, the moon shining all too briefly between great gloomy scuds. f2.8, 60 seconds, 400 ISO, slightly cropped to trim intrusive vegetation. One big drawback of the Lumix LX3 for night photography is that while the 60 second shutter enables, the viewfinder disables. Nothing can be seen because it’s too dark! So you have to aim by guesswork, adjust and re-shoot, adjust again and keep at it until you get it right. Trial shots at 3200 ISO make this process speedier, with exposures of 2 – 8 seconds, but another hassle shows up meantime: the zoom auto-retracts. So if you favour the standard end, you must also remember to check the zoom each time, to be sure you still have the same angle of view.
The high ISO trial images are not actually useable because the Lumix is marginal even at 400 ISO, while pics at 800 ISO are virtually useless. I was a bit shocked to read on a high tech website, www.dxomark.com, that the tested limit for good ISO images for the LX3 was just under 100 ISO! While photography is all about such problems, and how to overcome them, my immediate challenge (above) was to nail the peak as it came into view, as the swirling cloud repeatedly obscured it. It was good to have the swirl in a supporting role of course.
The sheltered tree ferns suggest only calm and it was a mild night, thanks to the northwest breeze, but the mountain seemed very close. The top of Kent Road is not far (5km?) from the National Park boundary. This appears as JULY in my Taranaki the Mountain, by day & night 2011 calendar – but can it really be Taranaki without a sprinkling of cows in the paddock?
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.
The last shot possible that evening, as low cloud rolled in to obscure Mt Taranaki and the moon itself. Exposed to the prevailing westerlies, this region has highly changeable weather and many a moonlit evening is lost to incoming cloud and rain… Actually I should have nailed this view earlier that night, but I spent too long looking the other way, out to sea and out of sight of this. It’s taken at f2.8 for 60 seconds, at 200 ISO, and shines as the MAY pic in my Taranaki: the Mountain, by day and night calendar for 2011.
This is unusual firstly for the peek-a-boo moonlit mountain; secondly the even balance of lighting on both peak and pylons; thirdly it’s a major crop from a Lumix LX3, a desperate manoeuvre when a standard lens just won’t pull the scene in. The balance of light values is luck rather than design, helped by the snow still around in late spring. Taranaki is an awesome sight by full moon, but it’s visibility depends on the reflective power of a good snow cover. Over late summer and autumn, when it is bare, the moonlit peak is less conspicuous and sometimes I have to do trial exposures from home to see if it’s really mountain or just cloud on the southern horizon.
Paritutu strictly refers to a volcanic outcrop behind the port, some 153 m high (500 ft), but this shot is taken nearby, at road level. The floodlight from the left is from the Dow chemical plant, the sodium glare on the right from the tank farm. The march of pylons comes from a decommissioned power plant at the port. All in all, quite an industrial setting for Paritutu Centennial Park, yet the park came first (1940). It includes the Sugar Loaves, volcanic remnants quite distinctive to our coast, which north of Kapiti is otherwise entirely island-free .
The exact time and length of exposure for this I never recorded, but the film was Agfa Isopan (100 ISO?), developed as a B&W slide and then sepia toned. Over 1981-82 I developed a good number of monochrome films with a reversal kit; the results however were always fussy and frequently spotty – photos from negatives are easier to rescue. This pic, though, has always screened to a warm response; it puzzles audiences used to daylight and to glorious Kodachrome.
That autumn I was touring the country with a lady friend, doing my first calendar for Friends of the Earth. On this tranquil evening in south Otago I’m standing by the Linhof 4×5, timing a long exposure of the limestone cliffs across the bay. A good jacket and a cap warms me from the stiff sea breeze, and gumboots (wellingtons) keep the damp away; waterproof boots are a real boon for the night photographer. The translucence shows that I’ve walked into the exposure after it’s begun, as self-timers can’t do time (B) exposures. The beach is wide and gentle on the receding tide, while surf breaks on the far rocks. There is some movement in the thin cloud cover also, although the cloud was only intermittent. The two shadows are matched with reflections off the wet flats.
Composing a well-lit scene such as this was easy with the f1.4 standard lens on the Pentax Spotmatic F, but focussing was more problematic. Nowadays when I use this same camera for moonlight photography I do a minimum of f4 for 10 – 20 minutes (100 ISO film), or sometimes f8 for longer, to increase depth of field and thus improve focus. With a slower wide angle lens focus is less of a worry but then it’s harder to frame the average moonlit scene, and to see what’s in it. This pic features in the introduction to my Moonlight Calendar for 2011.
FEBRUARY in my Moonlight Calendar for 2011 – a simple scene that seems to intrigue people, a minute of miniature surf on the cobbles of the Boulder Bank. The Bank is a unique natural formation 18 km long sheltering Nelson Haven, Port Nelson and the city. Here, some 10 km along it, we’re looking across Tasman Bay to the hills of Abel Tasman National Park and Separation Point. It was a still evening, common enough for the Bay this time of year, and while I knew the wave lap on rocks would look good, I expected a more visible streak of surf than the sea-mist which turned up instead.
True the surf was small, but it was perfectly formed and enough to wet your gear if your tripod was too close to the action. Quite apart from the uneven footing, finding a suitable spot in the tide for the tripod was a challenge, as further away from the surf there would be less impact. There’s a lot to be said too for knowing the tides, but this evening I’d forgotten the tables. Since then I’ve bought two of them – one for the car, one for home – as they contain daily sun and moon times also, always good to have on hand.
Although the Lumix LX3 zoom is restricted by a lack of telephoto, the standard setting has good depth of field, as this frame demonstrates at f2.8 and 200 ISO. My new 85mm Nikon lens might have handled it better, but a longer exposure on f16 and higher ISO would be needed to get close to the same depth of field. This would mean more cloud movement too, which is sometimes good but here I wanted the distant cloud as it looked, even if some drift is detectable. This shot could have been a good monochrome, but that has only come to me more recently.
The JUNE image from my Moonlight calendar for 2011. Note the blue of the sea and background, the white boat light and clean sodium fill on the shrubs in the foreground… all signs of a tungsten setting. Tungsten refers to filament lighting, so this answers the orange cast of most street and home lighting. Tungsten also adds a coolness to moonlight which is in tune with our actual perceptions, although moonlight is basically golden sunlight – reflected sunshine that hits us less than 2 seconds after bouncing off the moon. The moon’s warmth changes with its elevation in the sky, the same as with sunlight. Moonlight warms conspicuously when the moon is closer to the horizon, when its angle of strike through the atmosphere is more oblique.
The Cut is a passage dredged 100 years ago in the Boulder Bank, an impressive natural breakwater. Port Nelson is nearby and other, bigger boats came through the Cut that evening, but none described an arc as simple as this fishing boat’s, in a minute exposure at f2.8 and 200 ISO. Two minutes would give a better effect but longer exposures aren’t possible on the Lumix LX3; while it has a generous 60 second setting (hard to find on more sophisticated cameras), there is no B setting, for time exposure.
I checked my file sequence to confirm the boat was going out, not coming in. Tasman Bay is quite sheltered and the lack of swell is evident in the even curve of the light (no squiggles), although there’s minor movement of the distant yacht on the high tide. Other movement is visible from the breeze in the greenery, but not the flashing of the harbour lights. Background lights are those of Mapua. Some foreground was unavoidable from the only vantage point available on the cliff above, but I believe it adds some sense of depth all the same.
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.
Waikawa is a fairly typical New Zealand beach settlement, not far from Levin, and about as far as Wellingtonians ever want to drive for the weekend. Sodium lamps are sprinkled throughout this well-lit settlement, as it has numerous permanent residents as well as seasonal ones. A letterbox or the lack usually tells the difference, although here the absence of a formed driveway says it all. This house was handy to where we stayed, it’s a really quiet location and my company had long retired. Personal safety never seemed an issue at Waikawa but my moonlight creativity that weekend was hampered by unsettled weather and a chill southerly.
My shadow seemed a more interesting option than having the tripod shadow in the frame. The problem with the Lumix LX3 used here is the viewfinder does not work in such low light, often requiring several test shots at high ISO to get the framing right. Maximum setting of f2 on the wide angle allowed a low ISO of 100, exposed for one minute. On the Lumix this is close to the limit for noiseless images with good saturation. On Light Balance tungsten was selected to reduce the orange glare of the street light, and this choice can be detected in the blue moonlight filling in the tree-shadow on the house. In photographic terms moonlight is actually pleasantly warm, not cool. Photographers sometimes use tungsten film to render moonlit scenes closer to the way the human eye perceives them.
While street lighting at close proximity is too strong to mix with moonlight, there are opportunities at the fringe, and sometimes the infiltration of quite distant street lighting can be quite surprising. This is simple composition with strong coloration, good lines and a sense of depth, while I believe the shadow adds some piquancy. The image appears as MARCH in my Moonlight Calendar for 2011.
The new footbridge on the northern outskirts of the city was only open a few weeks when I took this photo, which is AUGUST in my Taranaki: The Mountain 2011 calendar (now available). Built to a clever design suggesting whale vertebrae, the bridge extends a popular coastal walkway across farmland to the suburb of Bell Block. The novel structure has had a lot of attention and each time we’ve visited, usually close to sunset, there have been heaps of people around – and always a photographer or two. Of course the thing is to go when the mountain is visible… a cool southerly seems to assure a clear view, but be sure to dress for it. And people do add something to a bridge scene, in the sense at least of “Here’s a figure for scale”.
Whatever your feeling for crowds, they melt away as soon as the sun drops below the horizon, so as twilight deepens you quite quickly have the place to yourself. Here, about 45 minutes after sundown, the f2.8, 60 sec exposure at ISO 80 suggests twilight was almost over, the residual illumination being almost as low as moonlight. Two short star trails are visible but I was disappointed by the city glow below the peak (about 30 km away here). Standard lens setting, slight crop, although a longer lens would seem obvious to bring the mountain in more. However even without the limitations of my Lumix LX3, there is a problem with the curving approach ramp. In trying to keep the peak lined up with a telephoto, one is soon off-level and down the embankment. Daisy Day (www.taranakisurf.com) and other photographers have taken long lenses to more distant hillocks, maybe hoping for the same line-up, but since then the farmland has been posted off-limits.
Well if you’re going to have problems in life, these are the sort you’d be happy to settle for.
The Stony is the largest river on this western side of the mountain; certainly it has the widest bed and the strew of boulders suggests the awesome power of floods which descend periodically from the slopes. With a friend I arrived right on dark at the Blue Rata Reserve, an outlier of the national park. A short walk through the bush brings you out onto this broad reach of sand and boulders. Needless to say, we had the place to ourselves and it was a really beautiful night, with only a slight breeze coming down the riverbed. It makes a strong impression arriving somewhere for the first time by moonlight, and I was grateful for the company (thanks Dave) as it felt a bit spooky as well. However it was a great way to spend the last evening of summer.
The moon had been up for just over an hour, as the oblique lighting of the rugged slopes shows. By late summer very little snow is still about, and well into autumn Mt Taranaki (2518 metres/8260 ft) is entirely bereft, sometimes as late as mid-May. The lack of snow makes it easier to balance the elements within the exposure; I set the Lumix LX3 at f2.8 and one minute at ISO 200 for more of a moonlit feeling. The tripod was partly in the water, and set lower than usual to get the rapids in – one minute will always do great things to tumbling water, waterfalls and the like. Depth of field is sometimes a problem at f2.8 but not here, and as long as you are willing to make the journey this is not a difficult photo to take. However to get this side of Taranaki really well-lit by moonlight requires a much later hour, when the moon is more westerly.
This is the DECEMBER image from our Taranaki: The mountain 2011 calendar, which celebrates Mt Taranaki’s hold on the local landscape. South Road is the main artery to western Taranaki, a fairly unpopulated district but one full of possibilities for the keen photographer.
In early summer the last of the season’s snow was receding on the tops, roughly 27km away. Digital was my first preference here, but for all its merits as a low-light camera the Lumix LX3 stops at a standard setting (60mm equivalent), so I resorted to my trusty Pentax SP F (Suva, June 1974) and of course a tripod. A 100mm lens was used to flatten perspective and bring in the peak; the 200mm lens was even better but that shot was spoilt by camera shake.
Then it was game over, as the peak became too dim for the purpose. Twilight at this latitude (39 degrees south) gives a balanced light for these compositions for only a short time, although in summer the interval is a little longer. Exposure not recorded but roughly two minutes at f16, on Fujichrome slide film. The number of points on the starry lights indicate how many blades are inside the lens, according to Ken Rockwell (www.kenrockwell.com) – something I’d never even considered. This photo gets a range of reactions; it’s quite captivating to some, but seems a little contrived to other (sophisticated?) eyes – the variety of comment on a single photo can be really surprising. We have also published this image as a greeting card.
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.
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.
Mt Taranaki from above Inglewood. 10.02pm, 27 June 2010
This image graces the cover of my first Moonlight photography calendar, for 2011, and is now available also as a greeting card. I’d had the location very much in mind for the first full moon of winter, but the weather over previous days had been particularly dismal, even by Taranaki standards. An unexpected break was announced by a friend calling from Nelson, and I was astounded to look out to clear skies. This proverbial window lasted only a few hours, during which we covered only two locations, this being the first, roughly 20 km from New Plymouth.
The night was memorable for the striking clarity of snowy Taranaki and the constant motion of the low cloud around it, as well as the varying layers of mist over the nearby country town of Inglewood. Also memorable was my narrow escape from a high voltage electric fence which I had assumed was safe from its lack of insulated wires. Owing to the narrow shoulder of ground on my side of the fence I interlaced the legs of two tripods with the fence wires to secure stable positions. A few minutes after I had removed both tripods we heard a sudden loud and unmistakeable hum from the wires as the current began moving…
The exposure was 60 seconds at f2.5, ISO 200 on my toy Lumix LX3. Autofocus failed me on a number of times here – rather frustrating with minute-long exposures (2 mins really, to complete post-processing). The band of amber is street lighting reflected by the mist; the line of light at lower left is the signature of a distant truck with headlights at full beam. In the dense mist of the lower country I drove the backroads very slowly; out on the breezy hilltop with my cameras I was grateful for my big coat and gumboots.