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

61. Wairakei geothermal from the highway, Taupo

Wairakei geothermal from the highway, Taupo. 9.27pm, 20 December 2010

The main highway north of Taupo crosses a futuristic nightmare, a mass of hissing pipes and pallid infrastructure related to the nearby Wairakei power station. By the ordinary light of day this hardware is hard to redeem, but it’s easy to add interest at twilight – especially with an LED torch. This tiny wonder was fresh in my hands as a seasonal gift from our printer. It was a joy to wave about, for my simple mind at least.

The Nikon D7oo was set off for numerous short intervals, to the stoccato soundtrack of steam from the pipe sphincters, and the frequent rumble of heavy trucks and holiday traffic.  Each time, I beamed the torch in casual circles over the upright pipes to supplement the deepening twilight. Approaching headlights were only a minor problem, but the vehicles then shook the bridge; the vibrations went straight up the tripod. For this wide angle view (28mm; 20 seconds@f8/ISO 2000) two legs – not mine – were put through the railings to keep the top rail out of the frame, as the bridge crosses at a diagonal.

Picture control was on Vivid, an obvious choice for the flat light of drizzly nightfall. On the Nikon you have to remember to change Vivid back to Standard before your next hyper-sunny scene. Colour temperature was Daylight, but judging by the magenta cast, it is not quite. The LED torch mixes well with a daylight setting as it has a very cool beam.

This type of composition is undemanding for focus, and f8 easily copes with it, but there’s another problem creeping in for me – lack of a level frame. True, my tripod head has a spirit bubble waiting to be checked, so this is clearly what’s known as an operator problem. According to Ken Rockwell’s maxim, “Most cameras are more intelligent than their owners”, this must be a common thing.

28. Twilight at the MDF plant, Waimea Inlet, Nelson

Twilight at the MDF plant, Waimea Inlet, Nelson. 6.07pm, 8 May 2009

The rugged Nelson hinterland has many forest plantations to supply this “dark satanic mill”, sited on a reclaimed shore of Waimea Inlet, not far from the town of Richmond. My approach was at sunset, across the mudflats of Tasman Bay and along an uninspiring shoreline, access which I had reconnoitred the month before. This time I came back with tripod and gumboots, and had an hour or so to fill before the moon rose, and other things. The tide was still far off, so I had only the baritone rumble of the mill for audio.

Industrial photographers pair twilight and artificial lighting because when faced with such tubercular monstrosities as this, it’s really the only lipstick you can apply. The twilight was much deeper than the sky suggests, but the lighting balance is about right and the shutter speed of one second has allowed a sense of movement in the vapour clouds (f2.8, ISO 400).

Usually I select tungsten as the colour temperature, to deal with the orange cast of artificial lighting and to add more saturation to the blue background. Oddly, however, the daylight setting delivered more verve and drama for this one, so that’s what you see above.

Colour temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin, and in photographic terms it ranges from roughly 1,750 for candlelight to over 12,000 for blue sky, with moonlight (4100) and bright summer sunlight (5400) in between. Tungsten refers to filament lighting and is fixed at 3200 deg K for photographers.

Using the tungsten setting for daylight pictures makes for very sombre, bluish hues; with professional lighting however it delivers a full range of colours. Mixing daylight with pro lighting on tungsten film is an old professional’s “trick”. Advanced digital cameras have auto adjustments for colour temperature (white balance); this probably makes it harder for digital photographers to relate to the limitations of colour film, with its lack of flexibility with different light sources.