Monochrome for Hallowe’en

Monochrome for Hallowe’en. Paritutu, New Plymouth, 17 April 2010

A long exposure in deep twilight on my Pentax 6×7 film camera captures the tail lights of a car heading towards a fuel depot on Beach Rd. Monochrome is good for silhouettes and night lights. and with long exposures B&W film had the added benefit of not “going off” as much as colour film did (a.ka. reciprocity failure – look it up).  The mountain is of course a snow-less Mt Taranaki, with the Pouakai Range below the pylon.  Taranaki is still NZ’s energy province but the pylon in view no longer carries current from the nearby power station (now decommissioned). No Hallowe’en scene of course could be as ominous as the scenarios we face globally from our vast fossil fuel consumption and resulting “exhaust”. Conservative estimates of the effects have consistently been exceeded.

Waimea Inlet, full moon

Waimea Inlet, Nelson, full moon. 8.35pm, 28 June 2018

A view of Nelson’s southern suburbs at low tide, from the cycle trail near Best Island. A haze of wood smoke lies over the city, as does the light trail from a plane. The whitest lights are those of the airport runway. The distant hills mark successive earthquake upthrusts over several million years. The inlet is slowly filling in, but that might be another million years (what a fabulous time lapse that would be, if we could see it).

The brightly lit fringe of sea grass made focussing a breeze, especially with a fast lens like the f1.4 Nikon 85mm. This lens is a terrific piece of glass, yet so heavy to cart around! The level bike path gave an easy placement for my tripod, and not a cyclist was seen. The evening’s work was less pleasant with the southerly breeze, although some shelter came from fenceline shrubbery. Waiting around for long exposures on cold winter nights (they are all cold, bar those with northerly rain) makes you keen to reclaim your creature comforts.

Although I was not so far from an occasional passing car (Best Island has over 30 houses), what generally surprises me in these semi-rural settings after dark is the ambient noise. This comes mainly from heavy highway traffic but sometimes from nearby industry as well. Rural quiet may well exist somewhere locally, but on any still night on the Waimea Plains it seems in short supply.

30 secs at f11. Nikon 85mm; ISO 1000


291. There are no eyes here

There are no eyes here
There are no eyes here, New Plymouth. 8.21 pm, 14 March 2013

There are no eyes here / In this valley of dying stars / In this hollow valley /                This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms  –  T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

85mm; ISO 500. 30 seconds at f16. Incandescent light balance



265. Echoes in Westown

Echoes in Westown, New Plymouth. 8.05 pm, 29 August 2012

Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week. –  Spanish proverb

85mm; ISO 640. 8 seconds at f5.6. Sodium vapour light balance

241. Darkness on the Old Mountain Rd, Taranaki

Darkness on the Old Mountain Rd, Taranaki. 6.51 – 6.56 pm, 9 July 2012

To be exempt from the passions with which others are tormented, is the only pleasing solitude.  –  Joseph Addison

Driving north in the early evening, I paused on a 2 km disused section of the old highway, quaint now for its narrowness and rustic one-lane bridge. The night was cold and moonless, with a constant hubbub from the nearby highway. No one came by while I tussled with the split focus (between initial flash and the following l-o-n-g exposure) of gate/mountain with a telephoto.

I’m surprised to see Mt Taranaki lit up by the street lights of surrounding towns, but knew my own parking lights would contribute to the gate’s illumination. I was on my way back to New Plymouth, but after a long day on the road was too cold & weary to attempt more than this.

85mm; ISO 2500. 335 seconds (5.5 mins) at f11



233. High tide, no moon, Waimea Inlet

High tide, no moon, Waimea Inlet, Nelson.  7.10 –  7.17 pm, 15 June 2012
Photographing at night can be fascinating because we lose some of the control over what happens in front of the camera.  –  Michael Kenna

 28mm, ISO 2000. 464 seconds (7 min 44 sec) at f13. Sodium vapour light balance




229. Long exposure from Turtle Cove

Long exposure from Turtle Cove, Golden Bay. 6.09 pm, 3 June 2012

Ah the moon’s too bright, the chain’s too tight, the beast won’t go to sleep…

– Leonard Cohen (I’m Your Man)

85mm; ISO 500. 294 seconds (5 mins) at f16


223. Each of us is born

Masonic lodge, Arrowtown. 6.51 pm, 28 April 2012

Each of us is born into an already existent conversation.  –  Martin Heidegger

28mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f16. Light balance 2500 deg K.



199. Arriving at Wellington, evening ferry

Arriving at Wellington, evening ferry. 10.08 pm, 6 March 2012.

 Life is a badly edited film.  –  Fernando Trueba

This was taken without using a tripod or cable release – just holding the camera open on B, on a guard rail on the Cook Strait ferry, has done the trick. The cloud is lit by moonlight, the lower part of the image must be the motorway the boat is running parallel to. We are close to docking. The undulations of the vessel, hardly perceptible onboard, show up in the apparent movement of the city lights. Steep hills are suggested by the absence of lights in some areas.

85mm, ISO 2000. 10 secs at f11. Incandescent light balance.

165. Later that same evening

Later that same evening. 10.52-10.56pm, 17 July 2011

The truth is more important than the facts. –  Frank Lloyd Wright

I clambered up a cutting for this welcome perspective, then waited a while for a car to complete the picture, a 5 min 35 sec exposure. The car is actually a police car looking for me. A strange vehicle has been reported down a driveway, although mine is quite plainly parked in a large tanker layby, just out of frame.

Soon the police will return so I’ll descend to explain myself. Glad they’re on the job, but what’s with the dog? It’s a slow night for sure, but otherwise a great one for moonlight photography.

28mm, ISO 2000. 335 seconds at f22. Incandescent light balance

164. Moonlit evening, passing car

Taranaki moonlight, passing car
Moonlit evening, passing car. 9.57pm, 17 July 2011

Too much light is like too much darkness: you cannot see. –  Octavio Paz

Mt Taranaki and the Southern Cross. I’d had this viewpoint in mind for sometime, as it has a convenient carpark and a sweeping bend. Much depends on car speed, headlight direction and high or low beam – plus ISO choice and moon brightness – but my aperture here was too generous. So I’ve densitised the RAW result to get the desired effect.

Choose a local road but don’t leave it too late or you’ll sit waiting for traffic. And as the evening progresses, each passing vehicle takes a greater interest in your purpose out there.

28mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f6.3

139. Hawkes Bay springtime, by moonlight

Hawkes Bay springtime, by moonlight. 8.28 pm, 22 September 2010

[The object of art is] to make eternal the desperately fleeting moment. –                    Tennessee Williams

The trick with any arc of headlights is to minimise the full-on glare of the lights, something likely to occur at some point in your frame. Here in the second frame from a moonlight sequence you see a short space between the edge of the frame and where the car lights begin – a gap which would otherwise be occupied by a strong glare.

In general a shutter of 15 to 30 seconds best suits headlight arcs, but it depends a lot on how distant your view is, the speed of the car and how far it travels across your frame. At any rate, your exposure can continue past that if you need to relieve the following darkness. On the other hand, the background setting should only be semi-dark so that the headlight trails show well, as they lose their power in near-daylight effects with moonlight photography. This image has been darkened in post-pro for that reason.

The steep slope in front of the camera is not obvious in the wide angle, but it required a dab hand with the tripod set-up. In such situations four-stage tripods must really come into their own. When fully extended the four stages give you more height than you need – except on steep banks and perches. On slopes the fourth extension puts the camera back up to eye-level… for a line-up you’d otherwise be struggling to obtain.

However I do not own such luxury myself! Another tripod feature which I am increasingly using, though, is the spirit level. Slow learner that I am, I find shining the torch on the spirit bubble beforehand saves time in post-pro with the Rotate button. Although it is no big deal to level a horizon in post-pro, it involves sacrificing a little of the frame, and usually I’d rather not.

28mm, ISO 2000. 15 seconds at f5.6. Standard picture control.

133. Trail and beach

Trail and beach. 7.56 pm, 18 May 2011

I say have patience, and shuffle the cards. –  Miguel de Cervantes, 1615

From the 153 m (502 ft) summit of Paritutu, the volcanic landmark backing Port Taranaki, the coastal outlook to Oakura is affected nightly by industrial lighting. Here we look down on Beach Road, leading to a well-lit tank farm but with little traffic after dark and no street lighting.

The Incandescent balance, exposure and frame were decided on in anticipation of the next approaching motor… then I waited. Trying out other ideas would mean a busy camera when the opportunity arrived – either in taking or dark-framing an image, a matter of at least a minute – so I didn’t. Much.

Two cars are shown, one going each way. The light balance has turned the surf blue while giving better colour to the roadside. Without full moonlight Back Beach would hardly be visible, and here’s the trap in that event: opening up a few more stops would wash out the car lights. Yet extending the shutter (instead) would work because the headlights would only be in half the exposure – the time it took for the cars to pass by. Oh how photography makes you think!

Light trails work best when their background is underexposed by at least 2 stops, but it depends on the setting – snow and surf of course add brighter contrasts. The lack of a sky makes this image more abstract, and increases the impact. A good elevation and a telephoto lens are both useful for this.

I had climbed the rock before sunset, as the last section is a steep scramble despite the safety chain; other people came up even after dark. It was a great evening for moonlight photography; my descent four hours later was no great problem. My tripod was zipped up in a shoulder bag while the strong glow of the port lights would be enough to see by even on a moonless night.

85mm, ISO 2500. 30 seconds at f11. Vivid picture control


127. Beside some moonlit highway

Beside some moonlit highway. 18 April 1981

When inspiration arrives I want it to find me working. –  Pablo Picasso

“Some highway” means that I do not know exactly where this was taken. On Easter holiday near Tongariro National Park (central North Island), we were off for a drive-about, on the night before full moon. Here we might be on the Turangi road or, less likely, the main highway south, but traffic is light and I’m glad the headlights aren’t coming towards us because they would flare the lens.

So I’m in the passenger seat of John’s Triumph 2000 with the tripod over my lap and I’ve asked him nicely not to move at all for a spell, while the film works its magic. Fortunately he’s a patient fellow and ever ready to indulge the creation of Art. Both depth and movement enhance this simple composition but another 30 seconds would have improved the exposure. Thanks anyway, John.

The car bonnet is visible in this wide angle view; the streak of the passing car would be more orange but for my using tungsten film. Tungsten is the old equivalent to digital’s Incandescent light balance setting – except once your film is in, you can only adapt separate shots to daylight by fitting compensating filters. Tungsten gives a bluer sky to the above, dark though it is, and better colour to carlights and other filament sources.

The quote applies in part because I was willing to work for an awkward shot rather than just relax and enjoy the outing. At the time my expectations were fairly low, as I was doubtful that the tripod could be kept still enough across the car seat for a sharp image. However I was willing to set it up anyway. Tripod work is slow craft indeed, and so your photo intentions require that extra effort.

28mm; ISO 160. Ektachrome slide film; exposure unrecorded but est. 90 seconds at f8


122. Autumn evening, Ngamotu

Autumn evening, Ngamotu. 10.40-10.45 pm, 10 May 2011

North Taranaki this week has been clear and mild for night photography by the  crescent moon. These slender new moons might give only the feeblest of light but if you can see your shadow by them then there is enough for moonlight photography! Nature also provides some magnifiers for moonlight, the best being its reflection on water. Snowy peaks or landscapes also good amplifiers of minimal moonlight.

The most obvious use of reflected moonlight is in seascapes, as in this view from the heights of Paritutu Centennial Park, above Back Beach, New Plymouth. Ngamotu nowadays refers to the beach enclosed since the late 1960s by Port Taranaki, but its original Maori reference is to the Sugarloaf Islands, two of which can be seen here: inshore Snapper Rock (Motuotamatea) and the Seal Rocks (Waikaranga) well beyond.

The moon was really past crescent but not yet at first quarter (a confusing term, say I); it was signing off early for the night by sinking into an approaching cloudbank. Out to sea it was already obscured, seen in the diminished reflection. Over a 5 minute exposure there was sufficient light however for the clouds and sea, even when using the smallest aperture on the telephoto.

It was also long enough to show a ship’s trail on the horizon (rather faint to my eye at the time) and a solitary star blaze in the right corner. The clouds were relatively slow moving,  blurring less than anticipated. The vegetation on Snapper Rock has criss-cross shadows from the stark lights of the Dow agrichemical works, a great blight on the night landscape of this coast.

Autumn is a great season for the night photographer, and by 10th May in Taranaki the sun sets around 5.20 pm, allowing an early start without discouragement by the chill of July and August. Autumn also has more settled weather; wide isobars and an anticyclone are welcome here.

85mm, ISO 2000. 340 seconds (5 mins : 40) at f16. Vivid picture control


111. Power to the rock

Power to the rock. 10.25 - 10.40 pm, 7 November 2011

Here’s a resume of industrial life in north Taranaki. The title is a little deceptive because the power is not going to Paritutu Rock but coming away from it, or rather, right under it, from the power station below our horizon, at Port Taranaki. The station has supposedly been decommissioned but the pylons still hum with transmission. Actually higher than Paritutu is the Stalinist chimney beyond, at 185 m (600 ft). Its location right next to the only natural landmark on this coast for 300 km is a remarkable testimony to New Zealand’s commissar planning of the late 1960s.

The converging verticals were hard to avoid from this low viewpoint, necessary because of the brilliant spotlight at the Dow chemical works, which lights up the rock. A short trial shot of 30 seconds at f4 showed how to get to a 15 minute exposure: drop the ISO from 2000 to 400. When you reach the last f-stop on your lens the only remaining adjustment is to light sensitivity, if you want to make extended exposures for the stars.

Getting good star trails on a wide angle takes longer than it does on a telephoto. Comparing the lengths of the streaks above with those taken with the 85mm telephoto the same night in no. 39. Mt Taranaki at night from Centennial Drive, I estimate that the blaze above would take just 9 minutes with the longer lens, regardless of the need for a more distant viewpoint.

Wide angles still have their uses for the starry sky though. If you are intent on showing the curve of stars around the earth’s rotation points – the poles – then a wide angle is the obvious choice, and the wider the better. On a moonless evening, start with 30 minutes at f16, ISO 200. If your digital battery won’t last that long, use a film camera that does not need a battery for its shutter operation.

28mm, ISO 400. 913 seconds (15.25) minutes at f16. Incandescent light balance.

92. Stars over Mangarakau, Golden Bay

Stars over Mangarakau, Golden Bay. 20 March 2009

Usually with a sky full of star trails you can safely assume “Film!” I haven’t yet matched anything like this with the Nikon D700, although it’s bound to happen sometime. If you do want to streak the sky with stars it’s easier with a telephoto – here I used a Takumar 200mm on my old Spotmatic.

Fuji 100 slide film was exposed for at least an hour at f11 or 16, for maximum star streak. In scanning I have softened the magenta cast, this being the colour shift that comes with long shutter times on film. The blue stars are hard to explain; the range of star colours is probably a surprise to most people too. It does take a dark night to get so many stars on your frame, and it is also hard work composing in the very low light transmitted by an f4 telephoto lens.

The location is a closed school at the old mining settlement south of Westhaven Inlet, on the long road to the west coast. The school is now holiday accommodation but the limestone bluffs behind it remain unchanged. The light scatter in the sky can only come from starlight, given the distance from urban life. It was roughly ten days since full moon, so there was no risk of moonlight brightening the sky until 3am. There was no risk of my staying up to see it, either, as we were getting up early next day for the long walk down the Kahurangi coast.

In setting up this shot I was confident that nothing would intrude on it, as the lower slopes are forested and the district is barely inhabited. However something unexpected came up – at least in one sense: the long film exposure cramped my digital creativity with the second tripod. I wanted to start experimenting with the bright outside light of the schoolhouse, but had to finish the film exposure first. So it did not get the full exposure that I had planned for it.

81. Suburban traffic at twilight

Suburban rush hour, twilight. 7.27pm, 23 March 2010

This is something from the far corner of my photo arena, but it’s a follow-on to my previous posts. Entirely experimental, it results from an outing on foot for which I took two cameras but only one tripod. While the Pentax 6×7 was taking long exposures of a cloudy mountain in the gathering twilight, I played around with the Lumix LX3, just to pass the time. Using 10 seconds and f2.8, I hand-held the camera, moving it in slow circles while aiming at the distant headlights. ISO was a low 100 and the zoom was furthest out – only a meagre 60mm in film terms.

Much of New Plymouth is laid out in a spoke-and-hub fashion, chiefly along the ridgetops. Here the traffic winds down sinuous Waimea Road, one of the few routes to traverse the city’s hills and dales. The horizon is still visible; the sky is featureless but three colours enliven the frame. It’s intriguing that the light lines are mainly broken into dots, yet are fluid elsewhere. How many cars are here?? Just two, I think, but what of the street lamps? I suspect they had not yet come on.

One of the main interests for me in long exposure and night photography is how movement is captured, but always with the camera as a fixed viewpoint. Only with no. 44, Moonrise from the Devonport ferry, is the camera moving – on deck, along with the tripod. Here, however, is the uncommon result of both moving camera and moving subject matter. The lights do not show the blur you associate with camera shake, and I suspect that the steady circular motion explains this.

A late twilight so close to the equinox is the result of continuing daylight saving, which in 2007 was extended into early April. As New Zealand standard time is already fixed permanently at 30 minutes ahead of its natural position, for 27 weeks of the year we are 90 minutes ahead of ourselves.

68. Moonlit shipping, Taranaki waters

Moonlit shipping, Taranaki waters. 8.43pm, 26 March 2010

Back Beach is a favourite destination for me – and it’s not too far from home. A pocket wild-place, the beach has many angles and facets, according to the weather, season and tide. As youngsters we would run down the long dune-face to the beach, and I recall my brother rescuing our young sister from a narrow ledge halfway down. Tracks back up along the cliffs were each lost to erosion in later years.

This view was taken from the top of the beach. It was unpleasantly windswept that night  but in this direction at least I could face away from the blast and shelter the camera and tripod. There’s a solitary star – where were the rest? The clouds do not show any movement; they have arranged themselves to mimic the silhouettes of Moturoa (the original Sugar Loaf) and the left foot of Paritutu rock, an outcrop of local prominence. Of course there’s no detail in these volcanic remnants, as exposing for the landscape would simply have washed out the interesting contrast of the lights.

At f2.8 for just 13 seconds, at a low ISO 100, the exposure was fast by my usual standard – especially as the moon was 4 nights from full. Moonlight photography well before full moon  gives a higher moon earlier in the evening, enabling these sea-reflections on a western coast. The zoom on the LX3 was at maximum, “60mm”. I would liked to have got closer.

The lights of the distant ship have not moved much in 13 seconds. The light trails also hint at the sea swell, but the foreground waters are in the lee of Round Rock, where the tide was an hour past high. I am experimenting with surf and swell in moonlight photos of varying exposure length, and with different degrees of reflectance, but must confess I no longer keep a notebook for them. I have relied instead on EXIF data and last year’s tide tables for the details above.

50. In silhouette, Nugget Point night

In silhouette, Nugget Point night. 13 May 1984

The first question asked whenever I show this slide is “How come the car headlights haven’t picked you out on the side of the road”. After all, that’s my own silhouette, for which I stood motionless over many minutes, while gazing up the moonlit south Otago coast. An unoccupied crib (beach house), a single star trail and power pole complete the picture – plus some streaking cloud.

The simple answer is that as the car approached I had just enough time to compose with the wide angle, frantically tilting the camera down to take in the right amount of then-empty road. I was after a sweep of headlights and a rear light trail, and guessed that another car wouldn’t be along for that anytime soon – it was a week night, and off-season in a beach settlement far from any city.

Once the car had gone past I leisurely crossed the road, took up the position to best effect and began my sentry duty. Counted by seconds then, the ingredients were something like: car = 5 seconds, moon = 500 seconds. The 28mm lens on the Pentax was  set at maximum, f2.5, with time elapsed about 8 to 9 minutes. And no other car came near.

Kodachrome 25 was the film. Although a very good one its speed now seems of horse and buggy vintage. It also had a colour chemistry that only a Kodak lab could unlock, in this country anyway. Surprisingly though, for the night photographer a slow film or low ISO setting still gives plenty of creative scope, as well as good latitude and fine resolution – as long as you stick to wide angle lenses. They offer better depth of field and easier focus.

With a low ISO setting, when your compositions require serious depth of field, as 35mm/full frame non-wide lenses often do, then the small and smaller f-stops involved  mean long and longer exposure times to compensate. And more and more patience – so often a scarce commodity!

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.

40. Nightfall in blue at Waiwhakaiho

Nightfall in blue at Waiwhakaiho. 9.06pm, 9 November 2010

The Te Rewa Rewa bridge is a striking structure which extends New Plymouth’s coastal walkway towards outlying Bell Block (see no. 6). I set up this frame some 55 minutes after sunset, on my return from a long wander on a perfect evening. As the perspective suggests, the lens was wide angle (28mm). Exposure was 30 seconds at f16, ISO 2000, or just two or three stops faster than broad moonlight. The light balance was set on tungsten, which accounts for the engaging blues.

Fill-in flash has lit the foreground. Flash has some intriguing possibilities at twilight, generally to highlight foreground detail otherwise shrouded in gloom. Adjustment of ISO modifies how brightly your closest surfaces are lit by the constant flash; to this shutter speed or aperture can then be matched for the background twilight – all on manual settings of course.

At this hour the bridge was unpopulated, and even the distant city lights have failed to impact. I was surprised however by a cyclist arriving on a reclining machine with cinematic side lights, which resembled something from a sci fi movie. He appeared at the far end in blue, but quickly changed to red as he approached and glided past. I have him to thank for the extra highlight added here. In composition terms I consider it the third punch, the mountain forming the second. Often I am at places which have plenty of two-punch prospects, but have a dearth of thirds.

I have over-levelled the frame a little in post-processing, and the compact square format has cut away most of the river reflection to the right. Missing also is the slender moon, too high in the sky at this time of the month to be in the frame. With moonlight photography one can’t help but learn a little about celestial mechanics: only the newest of moons will ever be seen in the western sky soon after sunset.

39. Mt Taranaki at night, from Centennial Drive

Mt Taranaki at night, from Centennial Drive. 9.30pm, 7 November 2010

Taken from a perennially windy location above Back Beach, New Plymouth, this recent evening was notable for its wonderful calm. The photo is yet another attempt to nail a perfect score from this outlook. A tiny sliver of moon had set on the western horizon, which my 85mm could hardly do justice to, but the lens was just right for this scene, cropped from the usual D700 rectangle.

The near pylon is lit by huge floods from Dow Chemical; the far structures are close to the tank farm, the usual glare from which some bushes close to hand were the screen. Traffic here is generally light so it was luck to get the car lights, as evidently the tankers have Sundays off. Lack of moonlight means brighter star trails and looking south gives them their slight curve. Southern hemisphere stars “revolve” around a point not far from the Southern Cross. Even without moonlight the receding snow cover on Mt Taranaki is visible, while the pylons look better with light balance set to tungsten.

Exposure was f16 for just over 8.5 minutes on the bulb setting, at ISO 500. I did a trial shot at faster settings, then extrapolated a longer one for the star trails. If you don’t use manual on your camera you might not understand how all the settings work in multiples, either doubling or halving (depending which direction you’re heading on the dials). One equation can be the same as any other relative to the light admitted, but results can be substantially affected by variations in shutter speed, aperture and ISO selection. Lack of knowledge of the interplay of these variables must frustrate many a picturemaker.

For this sort of night photography a higher ISO is a hindrance, and to avoid overexposure from your intended time, once you have stopped down to the smallest aperture your only choice is a progressive dropping of the light sensitivity (ISO).

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.

32. Waimarama church at night, Hawkes Bay

Waimarama church at night, Hawkes Bay. 8pm, 23 September 2010

Heading out for the first time to the coast at Waimarama, I was anticipating a typical modern bach-and-beach settlement, so was surprised to see this old style church on the edge of town, so to speak. The moon was rising directly behind it, giving me some quick exercise with the new 85mm telephoto, and it was only when a car came by that I saw the potential of a wide angle view with headlights on the building.

An obliging Gerry then drove around the corner into the side road seen above, in a 30 second exposure at f16. ISO was 2000; the 28mm lens took in all of the church while leaving out the wall in front of it. The light balance was tungsten, which gives more natural greens by artifical lights while saturating the sky. A daylight balance would have been OK but the same range of good, clean colour wouldn’t be achieved.

The full moon was behind the steeple but rising rapidly. On the side road the tail lights are more evident than the headlights, despite these being the main light on the trees and the front of the church. Gerry then idled the car at the road end, and this shows in brighter lights at the end of the trail. The red structure across the road is a corner of the local playcentre (another sign of year-round community).

The main challenge in this type of photo is in getting the two light sources in reasonable balance. We achieved this – after a few trails – by having the car move no more slowly than  usual, so that the headlights swept the front of the church for only a few seconds. Thereafter, continuing the exposure allowed the moonlight to do the rest. f16 is an unusually small aperture for moonlight, and it only suits a certain sort of photo – but what great focal depth you get.

20. Spring willows and traffic from Waimarama, Hawkes Bay

Spring willows and evening traffic from Waimarama, Hawkes Bay. 7.55pm, 22 September 2010

So it can’t be daylight with a sweeping light trail like that, can it? The distant glow of  Waimarama township also gives it away. I prefer traffic going the other way for those fine red streaks, but in this wide angle view the headlights aren’t overpowering and colourwise they set off well the spring yellow of the willow buds. I had started with the bare trees on the right, but on their own that was less successful.

For this moonlight photography composition in classic thirds (or is fourths?) I used maximum aperture at f2.8, for 13 seconds, ISO 2000. Light balance was on auto, not tungsten, for spring warmth. Getting your shutter open just before the headlights show up isn’t that simple. For example, using the self-timer instead of a remote release adds a few seconds’ delay to the process, while timing the length of exposure to get the full sweep of the lights is another variable. Practice, practice.

The location is the top of the hill where so many summer photos of this coast must get taken. There was surprising traffic both ways for a Wednesday night, and I was happy to be well above it on a side road. However I do admit that I began at the layby, the usual vantage point – taking the same postcard scene I’d noted in town earlier in the day – before it occurred to me to wander down the side road in search of other viewpoints.

The bits and pieces in the foreground were not removed because I did not notice them at the time. Here by the roadside gumboots saved the day once again in the usual mud-bites-man encounter… Waimarama has a tavern, shop, old church and a playcentre. Also a domain, we discovered. Offshore is Bare Island, impressively cliff-bound from the beach but evidently on the seaward side it’s of easier contour and vegetated.

18. Pineapple Drive by moonlight, Waimarama, Hawkes Bay

Pineapple Drive, Waimarama Domain, Hawkes Bay. 10.25pm 23 September 2010

Last week was my first visit to the Hawkes Bay coast via the hill country – I come from across the island, on the opposite coast. Apparently there are three other beach settlements south of Cape Kidnappers, each reached singly by long road from the inland highway.

Arriving somewhere for the first time at night is usually such a different experience, and when we came upon these fat little phoenixes in the dark we laughed. Even in a domain they were still so unexpected and unaccompanied – there was no pavilion or other structure you usually find along with this sort of beach embellishment.

Seeing such an unusual avenue of dwarves lit up by headlights, we set about doing something on it. It’s fun to have someone else along to help make interesting images, however it took quite a few runs by Gerry in her car to get what I was after. At least we had the place to ourselves, and had no worries about other traffic.

The challenge was to match the strong illumination from the car with the much weaker light from the moon, as moonlight is roughly par with the light from a 2 watt bulb. Either we had to turn off the headlights or do faster runs, to reduce their effect. Using just the blinking hazard lights achieved this and a bit more. Exposure was f8 for 30 secs, at ISO 2000, on the new Nikon D700, with the 28mm lens. Actually f11 would have been better, as I’ve had to damp down the daylight effect we ended up with.

However my first move had been to select tungsten for light source. Once available to photographers only as an entire length of film, this setting tones down the orange hazard lights while cooling the moonlight. It’s a great option for extra creative effects, especially underexposure by moonlight. Having not yet mastered custom settings, I still had to remember “Tungsten!”

9. Late sailing through the Cut, Nelson

Late sailing through the Cut, Nelson. 11.06pm, 11 April 2009.

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.

4. Twilight view from South Rd, New Plymouth

Twilight view from South Rd, New Plymouth. 9pm, 9 December 2009

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 ( – 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.