129. Electric poplar, autumn

Electric poplar, autumn. 9.31 pm, 19 May 2011

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. – Marcel Proust

Out for an evening’s recreation, I soon noticed these poplars on the fringe of New Plymouth. They are lit by the rising moon and distant street lamps, as well as the lights of a neighbouring school, where an evening meeting was in progress.

The challenge was to get the tripod in just the right place to line up the dead branch with the gap in the trees, and then to light-paint the limb to best ghostly effect. Highlighting the foreground interest by waving a torch over it involves Goldilocks timing – you want something not too dark nor too bright. This one is slightly underdone.

The quote applies especially to moonlight photography. New perceptions emerge in the twilight zone from the warmer colour, stronger shadows and greater range of interpretative exposures: night as night? as stronger twilight? as daylight? In terms of composition I’ve used a standard line-up of features near and far, but the extra light source means that “light up” is added to line-up… another reason why night photography offers such creative potential.

Around urban areas there are two types of extra light source: static (houselights; street lamps) and mobile sources (flash, torchlight, vehicle headlights). Even if you are in a remote area for a few nights you won’t need to ration the flash if you carry a solar charger, or one that plugs into your car battery, while an LED torch will go for ages.

After that, however, you must resort to kero lamps, campfires, candles and match flames.  All these have a strong colour cast and go best with an Incandescent light balance. Incandescent will cool the moonlight down yet this effect still works because of a limitation of the human eye. Moonlight is actually full spectrum colour but it always seems blue to us.

28mm; ISO 2500. 30 seconds at f5.6. Vivid picture control

117. Mixed motifs after dark

Mixed motifs after dark. 9.50 pm, 11 April 2011

Out for some night photography, you’d think that the simple equation of dark = dark at least ensured you had plenty of time to set up your masterpieces as you came upon them. That is, without finding the common daylight problem of something changing your scene. Alas, so often this is not the case!

Of course wide clear skies favour night photography with a constant light, but until you are far from people, porch bulbs and car headlights that is hard to guarantee. Last year some  lights at Port Taranaki were switched off just as I was recording nearby Paritutu by their glow. Changing situations at night are matched with slower reaction times, caused by having to fumble about in the dark and by the extended exposures that go with the territory. Many of my frames take minutes before they show up, and things can and do happen even over that short time.

While a high moon is a steady light, when it is low on the horizon the moon’s movement from earthly rotation soon becomes obvious. After the shot above I took some of the moon emerging from behind the tree, with disappointing results. To get the moon back where it was I could move the tripod, but that also shifted the closer elements of the composition, which were just as important.

Clearly the sinking moon is only one light source here. Distant street lamps and house lights add a little to the background, while the main business up close has been done by hand with a small torch. Torchlight was gradually worked over the dead branches. The foreground marks the boundary between my parents’ property and a suburban void beyond. Much of New Plymouth is on rolling country, so that the suburbs are interlaced with unoccupied gullies or damp hollows – most of which will never be built on.

28mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f8