This simple, moody abstract is a long exposure in north Taranaki, further north from Turangi Rd (my previous post). The view is from a small headland, looking down on a tide-washed sill above a bouldery seabed. A small aperture (unrecorded) was used primarily to extend the exposure, rather than the depth of field, although this was probably helped too, given the limited focus inherent in a telephoto lens on a 6×7 Pentax. I had enjoyed camping here with my sisters and friends at New Year’s Eve 1980 but had not been back for 30 years. This second visit I was surprised to see the old foreshore road had disappeared completely, and much else besides. Another visit now, ten years later, would no doubt show further erosion.
This is a companion piece to my post from December 2010, of a seascape taken from the same position:
This unusual view at Turangi Road was an obvious candidate for monochrome. I like the four textures so suggestive of Taranaki: the skinny macrocarpas, corrugated iron, long tufts of hardy kikuyu grass and the Michael Smither-like stones and boulders. The sky was grey and cloudy behind. This scene will have eroded more since, as the mudstone coast is disappearing with surprising speed. Here however the face suggests an old riverbed, one which drained the mountain. The shed belongs to an old house now threatened by cliff collapse. The state of the tide prevented a longer view, and a wide angle lens was required, along with a balancing act atop a boulder, the only elevation available.
Another long exposure by moonlight, for which I certainly recall sheltering the tripod from a cold southwesterly, blowing strongly from behind. It meant I had the beach to myself, but airborne sand was a risk. The moon being a waxing one rather than full, it was much higher in the sky (and further west) for the time of night. Round Rock (Mataora) is semi-tidal, and the Sugarloaf is now known as Moturoa (= long island) but this is also the name of a suburb near the port. The surf line lacks character but what I like here is the bold relief of Round Rock against the triangular feature of the Sugar Loaf (so named by Capt. James Cook in 1770), for which harbour lights provide the main illumination.
This uncommon view of Mt Taranaki from the roadside at Kaimiro required a careful climb on to my car roof with the heavy Pentax 6×7 and tripod in hand, as I wanted the mountain to show well above the roofline. Elevated viewpoints so often improve a shot and sometimes I had a stepladder on board for this purpose, although nowadays a closed tripod held above the head will do instead (misaligned digital shots carry no cost).
In composition terms the macrocarpas interrupt the mirrored forms and make up for the lack of interesting cloud. Strong texture is added to form by the twilight reflecting off the ribbed steel. I usually give my monochromes a tint and this involves converting the scanned image to RGB and mixing the three colour values to my satisfaction. I then add vibrancy and sometimes saturation.
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.
Winter turns to spring (in the southern hemisphere, that is) and my thoughts turn to summer, when I will re-visit this favourite place with friends – but not with the 6×7 Pentax SLR that I used here. Of course the roll film in the big camera did not have a digital stamp on it, but the lightweight LX3 Lumix I had along did. The two types of camera could hardly be more contrasting, but I have not used either for some years – nor I have been back to this memorable scene since.
The view looks northeast over half-buried nikau palms to the southern buttresses of the impressive limestone escarpment known as Luna. The steep dune (foreground), former wetland drained by a meandering stream and distant talus slope below Luna (with tiny sheep) sum up Kaihoka’s great range of landscape. My forays into monochrome are only occasional but I enjoy the medium, whose success depends so much on texture. I feel sure this image – freshly processed after ten years “in the can” – meets that requirement.
With this pungent comment Rumi sits at the crossroads of western and eastern mysticism. The sentiment permeates all types of introspective spirituality, and is familiar to Christians through Luke’s singular statement that “The Kingdom of God is within you”. Meanwhile it is of course a dominant theme in eastern mysticism.
Rumi wrote voluminously, having no shortage of material to draw on. Contributing to this, his early years had been unsettled, as his family were refugees from Mongol invasion. The family travelled far from his birthplace, ending up in what is now modern Turkey. Scholars have shown restraint in not naming his collected aphorisms Ruminations.
Thanks again to young Claire for her pensive posing for this blueprint and foundation for enlightenment.
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.
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.
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.
2364 Autumn birch, Eltham, Taranaki. 6.17pm, 4 May 2013
One early moonless evening I wandered a small block attached to a church camp, using flash in the deepening twilight. Balancing the light from two different sources often takes some doing, but I was happy by frame 3 on this occasion. I took this in colour, converting it later, then adding a warm colour highlight, a different process from duotone. Later I took some shots using a monochrome setting, and to my surprise although these other photos downloaded as B&W, when the frames were opened for the usual work-over – hey presto, they were all still in colour. Well, keeps the options open!
8301 Winter roadside, moonlit mono. 10.32pm, 13 July 2014
I find myself more drawn to formalist compositions as I grow older. They are by no means easy to do, especially after dark. This one surprised me on a pleasant roadside. Intrigued by its depth, I used the last of my battery to highlight the foreground. In post-pro I have discarded the original colour elements, then chosen a brown and black duotone from a long list of possible combos. Digital duotone is “an imaging process that computes the highlights and middle tones in a black and white image, then allows the user to choose any color ink as the second color” (Wikipedia). In print, duotone (or tritone) is the best way to present half tone (B&W) fine art, and also historical photos.
A pause in readings from the Little Book of Sacrifices. A simple lateral flick-trick found online has brought out some unexpected imagery, while a slight re-framing avoids complete symmetry. A warm duotone was selected after conversion from the colour original. The hand-colouring is hardly brilliant, but this looks to be a hard-wearing image with many possibilities for future embroidery. The rosary was Claire’s suggestion, although her own tastes appear to be more literary than gothic. (Would authors of such fiction, however, please communicate).
N.B. No small animals were harmed in the making of this image.
Monochrome is so often the first choice for nude studies, especially for outdoor venues such as the beach or the bush. These are big on texture but typically have only limited palettes. However when we start with colour, before converting to monochrome in post processing, we can see that the case for colour can still be strong. The example below is not strictly b&w, of course, as the duotone option allows numerous combinations of tones.
At 1200 x 1920 pixels, this image suits desktops with 16:10 aspect ratios. Downloads for non-commercial use only.
This monochrome from the summer of 1980 is to grace the cover of an anniversary publication for PhotoForum NZ. The print was selected by author Nina Seja from the PF archive, where it has lain since publication the same year. It is one of two memorable images from a rainy afternoon in the western Wairarapa. After a dip in the Waingawa River, Jane kindly took cover under a large sheet of plastic. The camera was a Yashicamat 124G, using roll film in a square format. The book is announced at http://photoforum-nz.org/index.php?pageID=93
In post-processing this simple image transforms, giving two quite different versions. In the image above, I dialled back the saturation and increased the contrast (80% in each case), to mimic the current glossy style. In the monochrome below, each colour channel was separately modified in the conversion process, so the flax has come out lighter (the green & yellow channels) and the towel darker (blue channel) – and Claire’s lips also (magenta). The towel merging with the background means the image is now somewhat over-flaxed, while 22-year-old Claire looks even younger than before.
A change of tack now, as I pick up another theme from my early years of photography – the portrait. For people shots I’ve always liked simple set-ups by available light – and a timeless look. However there was no fooling Claire, who immediately nailed this as “Retro”. The location on the northern Manukau bears the New Zealand stamp I was after. A strong, cold sou-wester blew in from the beach and the sunlight was very patchy, yet Claire warmed to the task. However I only got the right vibe when I tried some frames as monochrome conversions, as in the sepia version below. So much of a portrait can be communicated in form, tone and texture. Colour is only occasionally essential.
6361c Claire at Kaitarakihi Bay
These 16:10 images can be downloaded as wallpaper, for screens with that aspect ratio. Permission is for personal use only. Copyright 2014 by Barney Brewster.
The adjective refers to my moving shadows, or rather my shadow having moved during the exposure. I counted 30 seconds before I side-stepped away from the tripod in this full minute’s worth of moonlight. The shadow dilution is evident in the darker imprint of the little Lumix on the tripod. I liked the angle of the concrete ford against the willow – the angle also mirrors the hillside. With the moon rising behind me the tripod shadow could not be avoided, so instead I got creative with the problem.
Adding shadows also fixed the composition problem of the plane of the ford lacking sufficient interest, although as a monochrome this might still have worked. The warmth of colour shows how the light from a low moon tends towards Golden Syrup – a warmth that daylight can only match when the sun is just above the horizon. I had had to wait some time for the rising moon to clear a spur in the valley, yet when it did there were still the long shadows that are useful to moonlight photography.
The “half-lit” adjective also hints at how the image depends for its impact on your angle of view on the laptop screen, or the brightness of your computer monitor. In viewing terms this is a Goldilocks image – not too hot, not too cold please!
The scene is the Maitai River, on the outskirts of Nelson, but looking like only a puddle here. April is autumn in New Zealand and all along the Maitai the willows and poplars dress accordingly. The ford gives access to a broad field in the narrow valley. Fords are uncommon in this country and culverts are preferred, as New Zealand rivers flood regularly. I would not perch my gear here after heavy rain.
f2 was used at the widest zoom – “24mm”. ISO was a low 100, contributing to a darker effect than I usually seek in my moonlight photography.
So begins another series of square frames… if they are not square on your monitor then believe me, I have counted every pixel. However these are not “as-composed” on the ground glass but knock-downs from the standard 24×36, each time from seeing a new way of interpreting an existing shot. Cutting away waste or just plain simplifying is a useful discipline!
I was intrigued by the peer-through at this stand of pines at the Maude road end, north Taranaki. It had shadow and texture, and the slight shroud on Mt Taranaki was appealing. The square re-composition here is well-filled, and the bottom has a wee echo of the peak’s summit. The diagonal bracing gives extra strength and a sense of depth is suggested by the foreground interest, tonal banding and retreating fence… while it has lots of texture, it could do with some movement, such as cattle in the background.
Texture is the essence of monochrome photography, and so is side-lighting. The sepia or selenium tone was not obligatory but was more fitting than other combinations I tried under Colour Variations on Photoshop. I enjoy playing around with this feature but the palette is limited to blue, green and red.
Settings were f2.8 for 60 seconds, ISO 200. The Lumix LX3 was on maximum zoom, an odd 60mm (in 35mm photo terms); the camera sacrifices its tele function for a fast f2 on the wide end. This trade-off has suited my love of moonlight photography, an extreme form of “available light”.
Depth of focus is phenomenal, and owing to the laws of optics this depth would not be possible on a full-frame digital without a much smaller aperture – perhaps f8. These 3 extra stops however would extend shutter time and make more than tadpoles of the stars. Unfortunately the LX3 lacks a B function, so I’ll just have to try again sometime with the Nikon D700, in order to add star trails to this scene.
I was pleased with this wide angle 6×7 photo. It conforms to the usual conventions, has all I look for in moonlight landscapes, and will blow up nicely. I like the blur of cloud and surf, two star trails and the flax stalks shaking in the wind… but some ugly gorse has been cropped.
New Plymouth’s Back Beach, with its three little Sugar Loaves, is reached by a long flight of steps from Paritutu Centennial Park. Round, Seagull and Snapper rocks (Mataora, Pararaki and Motuotamatea) have varying foot access: Round Rock is accessible at every tide but neighbouring Seagull Rock can be reached only at lowest spring. The far island here is Saddleback, or Motumahanga; Snapper Rock is out of view to left.
The Pentax 6×7 makes a good second camera for moonlight photography, but the extra gear – and tripod – means I don’t wander too far from the car. I mostly use Ilford B&W films, FP4 and HP5 (ISO 125 and 400 resprectively), doing much longer exposures than on the digital, often using f5.6 or f8 and 20 – 45 minutes shutter. The smaller apertures give better depth of field on the medium format and help cover manual focussing errors. Having found the shutter lock leaves a tell-tale shake on bright highlights, I always use a cable release, and then dial my low-tech timer to the required time.
These longer exposures allow me to concentrate on 30 – 120 second possibilities with the digital on the other tripod, rather than racing from camera to camera and back again, setting up new shots. This more leisured approach suits the 6×7 well because of film costs and the greater care that a large and heavy camera requires. It follows that selection of prospective frames is tighter too.
I keep within earshot of the timer bell but there’s plenty of latitude, as even 5 minutes of tardy makes no difference at the end of a 4o minute exposure, everything else being equal.
NOTE: Please feel free to comment on this or any earlier post – your appreciation (or lack of it) for particular images will assist me in picture selection for future calendars or book projects. I will leave this open unless the flood of comment-spam becomes unbearable. In this regard, any non-specific comment will most likely be deleted.
In the autumns of 1981 and 1982 I did photo tours of the South Island in a fitted-out van, cruising at a leisurely 40 mph (65 km/hr). With two Pentaxes for my own photography, I could enjoy monochrome or colour just as I preferred, as long as I had both cameras in harness – plus the large format gear for the calendar photos we were actually there for. Truth be told, each time I had an obliging assistant to help with the portage.
Arriving mid-May at Okarito, South Westland, just before dark, we parked near the old boathouse (still there today) and soon after, with the moon already up over the lagoon, I set up this self-portrait. That’s our camper in the background, with the highlights predictably burnt out. The real highlight for me though was having the moongleam off my glasses come out exactly as I had intended – two pin-pricks of light. Leaning back against the railing, hands deep in my jacket in the early chill of evening, I tried to guess the angle which would bounce the rays straight at the lens. That this would also be level with the ridge line was happy coincidence.
The translucence shows that I walked into the picture after the shutter was opened; the density of the shot was just as I had visualised it but the cloud movement was not anticipated. After processing Agfa Isopan (100 ISO?) with a reversal kit the slide was sepia toned for further effect. I have no record of actual camera settings but as the widest aperture on my 28mm wide angle was f2.5, shutter time must have been at least 5 minutes, and more likely ten.
Bullock Creek is not far from the pancake rocks at Punakaiki, on the South Island’s West Coast. This 40-minute exposure by moonlight was taken by the side of the gravel road running up the pastoral floor of the canyon to the backcountry of Paparoa National Park. Mist slowly forms in the middle distance; the limestone cliffs have numerous caves at river level; the trees are all kahikatea, a white pine which doesn’t mind soggy ground – and nor does the flax. The star trails show their curve around the south pole, so we are looking east or southeast here.
The view is wide angle (28mm) and at least a half-hour of open aperture is evident in the length of the star trails, as these take longer with a wide angle. Exposures of this length don’t occur to me very often, as usually I’m weighing up the chance of getting 5 other shots for the same time spent.
Also there are other constraints, even when battery life was irrelevant back in the time of film. Why risk your lens misting up on an autumn evening with a shot lasting an hour? And because with such long exposures you tend to walk away from your gear – to sit in the car, on the porch or best of all, around the campfire – the risk of disturbance is so much the greater from stock, wild animals, walkers and dogs, hunters’ vehicles. We were camped fairly close by, so for this one I returned to comfort and company to wait out the time. No one drove by the entire night.
The monochrome here is Kodak’s fine grain Panatomic-X, 32 ISO. Although this was not a film I used much, the results when reversal-processed with a special kit were impressive. I then sepia-toned the slide for extra contrast. After scanning, however, I decided the more neutral cast given it by “Auto colour correction” was just as appealing, and that’s how you see it.
Actually the foreground is lit by the petro installation on Centennial Drive, New Plymouth, but the fast-approaching squall is by moonlight. My car had to be parked next to my set-up for shelter from the strong wind. The squall came in rapidly and soon hit, so the next shot was abandoned halfway. I discovered that clambering into your vehicle in pelting rain with a long tripod and open-shutter camera is harder than you’d think.
The artificial lighting at this distance balances with the clouds, whose brightness required slightly shorter exposure than the usual Lumix LX3 scenes: 40 seconds at f2, ISO 200. In this wide angle view, movement in the squall cloud is less than expected, although it is only about 600 m away. The well-defined cloud beyond must be heading straight for the camera, as well as being much further out, as 40 seconds is long enough to blur similar clouds if they are closer, or moving across your view.
As the squall had tone rather than colour, and as the foreground colour didn’t add much, I switched to black & white in camera. The moody tint was added later in post-processing, under Colour variations (convert to colour in Mode first). The simple, layered composition gives a sense of depth and works well for me, but would be less effective if the fence battens were unangled.
The advantage of the square format for the photographer is that neither horizontal (usually) nor vertical lines are immediately favoured as elements in the composition, meaning that all lines on offer to the creative eye compete on equal terms! However, to be sure that I do not fall captive to the lure of the square format, this image completes the current series.
The coast here is now protected as the Tapuae Marine Reserve, a development which contrasts strongly with my boyhood memory of a suspiciously smelly outfall in this neighbourhood – on Paritutu beach below the chemical works.
Neudorf is an orcharding district near Upper Moutere, Nelson; I took this not far from where my girlfriend and I were staying in a worker’s cottage, occupied by her apple-picking sister. Not a simple composition, this experiment in moonlight photography will not appeal to everyone, but it has held my own attention with its selective focus, deep tones and unusual tints. I’m not pleased with the background, but these are so often hard to assess in nocturnal camerawork.
Without a powerful torch most focussing by moonlight at close range can only be approximate with a roll film camera (such as the Yashicamat 124G), which is no surprise with a bigger format. Additionally the film was Ilford Pan F, a slow 50 ISO, although here it was marginally uprated to 80 ISO. Once reciprocity slow-down is factored in, exposures at f3.5 (max aperture of standard lens) are in the vicinity of 10 – 20 minutes, and recalling my impatience to take other photos around the orchard, the exposure above would have been at the shorter end. I had 2 cameras but only one tripod.
The depth of tone here reflects the fine grain of a slow-speed film, while the odd effect of two tints is achieved readily in Photoshop. After scanning I converted Mode to colour, and then under Colour variations I played around with different combinations, with Shadows and Highlights. There are only three colours available (red, blue or green), or their mixture in layers.
If you live around about our southern latitudes then May is a good month to go moonlighting: the nights are often clear and the moon is higher in the sky than in summer (in reverse of the seasonal solar arc). Best of all, however, is the early start you can make in the evening, especially on the night before full, when the moon is already up. When you have creative juices rising too, though, one tripod and slow film does hamper you.
We were touring the South Island on a calendar assignment, and had arrived for Easter at Graham’s bucolic pad at Woodstock, south of Hokitika. He and Sue were paying $10 a week for this… everything in sight here had seen better days, including my white Morris van peeping around the corner. However the derelict Wolseley was a spare. The house was just back from the highway; oddly neither house nor highway are there now, the main road south being moved coastways sometime in the 1990s.
This looks wide angle; actual exposure was unrecorded but likely to be f8 for an hour. Assuming your gear is safe from hazard or interference, long exposures from a garden can be quite comfortable ones for the photographer, as you head back indoors for the duration – while keeping one eye on the clock.
A faint star trail is visible above the roofline although moonlit skies are really too bright to do the stars justice. The breeze has blurred the washing on the line, as well as the trees at the back. The house lights are not direct; even after soaking through the curtains their wattage is stronger than the wan sunlight reflected by the moon (just 1 or 2 watts). The water tank supplied the household; the late tomatoes supplied the salad. Further interest could be added had I got someone to stand for just a few minutes on the path to the right of the tomatoes. A spectral figure would then deliver a compositional third punch.
The film was Kodak’s slowest panchromatic B&W, Panatomic X, rated at 32 ISO as I recall. It was developed by a reversal process and then sepia toned, to add contrast. This procedure was a fraught one as frames were toned singly and I lost a good number to careless handling. However this one survived, to be screened many times as a personal favourite; fortunately I understand the sepia chemicals make it resistant to light-fade.
The 7.30pm time slot is only approximate, as you are looking at a 20 minute experience. The night was close to new moon, so this cannot possibly be by moonlight (for a change) but instead the illumination is from the working lights of Port Taranaki, well below the viewpoint here.
This wide angle shot on the 6×7 Pentax was recorded on HP5 film, ISO 400. I neglected to note f-stop (probably f8) but the exposure was calculated after a quick trial with a digital camera at higher settings, then doubled to allow for reciprocity slow-down. Twenty minutes was enough for good star trails, I thought, however they are only starting to look interesting. Must have forgotten that wide angle lenses minimise star movement; telephotos maximise them. Their slight curve above suggests the view is to the southwest, as to our eyes the stars revolve around the South Pole.
Thin low cloud was billowing over the summit but it was hard to tell how it would show up. Another variable was how panochromatic film would respond to the fairly orange light, in a long exposure – actually no problem. Framing was awkward wide open at f4, as not enough light was transmitted for the viewfinder.
While the shutter was open I hoped a car would not drive into the carpark, which so far I’d had to myself. Wouldn’t the sweep of headlights overpower the foreground? Really I need not have worried, and in any event such intrusions sometimes add interest in unexpected ways. The perspective does not convey the scale of this volcanic remnant, but the sign at bottom left might help… I couldn’t leave it out anyway. A staircase and then a safety chain takes you to the 153m summit, where a trig point is just visible, and a great view. In pre-European days it had a Maori palisade. It would have been a very windy place of refuge.
A 6×7 Pentax shot, with sepia added in Photoshop after scanning the 120 negative. Still being used by Craig Potton, pre-eminent NZ landscapist, the 6×7 is a scaled-up version of the popular 35mm Pentax of yore. A whopper to handle, it is at least simple to use, although reloading is fiddly. However the 6×7 advantage in offset reproduction is clear when comparing, say, calendar images against those from 35mm originals. As a young photographer I admired the picture quality in glossy magazines without realising so much of it came from medium and large format cameras, using tripods and lights.
The 6×7 is a trial to take moonlighting, not only because it’s heavy. Increased format size is matched by decreased focal depth, so that it is harder to cover your subject well, and the 120 format is less forgiving of sloppy focus. To compensate for dim and difficult focusing, I select a smaller aperture (to extend depth of field) and lengthen exposure to 10, 20 or 40 minutes. My usual alternative to simply sitting around, waiting, is to take a second tripod and camera outfit, and work both at once – but I wouldn’t recommend this for a windy beach at night, because the sand risk means there’s just no work-space. I took the above photo in a bitter wind, with all my gear on my back.
The standard lens was set close to infinity, exposure unrecorded. Taken at the foot of Paritutu, the foreground is a blur of surf at mid-tide. For a high moon like this, earlier in the evening, go out 3 or 4 nights before it’s full. Not every “Seascape by moonlight” is genuine but yours can be authentic even at first quarter (the half-moon), if silhouette and reflection are your aim. If you use film, be sure to vary exposure and note your settings – as well as the age of the moon – until you are familiar with results.
This image is one I was thrilled to get. It’s taken from an elevated platform some way up the steep steps from Back Beach to the carpark. The location is Paritutu, a volcanic relic of old New Zealand and a favourite haunt of mine; the giant rock somewhat shields this viewpoint from industrial intrusion. Offshore is distinctive Saddleback (Motumahanga), one of the Sugar Loaves (Ngamotu) – and the light trail of a departing ship. Just around the corner to the right is the harbour, a decommissioned power plant (and 195 m chimney) and fuel depots.
Exposure was 1 minute at f2.8, ISO 100, lens at maximum setting (60mm in 35mm terms). The moon was 4 nights away from full, so far from maximum strength, but seascapes using reflection and silhouette require the least exposure of moonlit subjects. This could be one reason for their relative commonness, although I believe the light trail rescues this example. There is nice detail in the foreground rocks, the surf is wispy, the clouds have come out well… taken in monochrome, with a sepia tint added later. My earlier, colour versions of shipping movements from the beach were disappointing for the lack of a good telephoto, which I will re-visit and remedy sometime soon.
The elevation here adds a sense of depth unobtainable on the beach. As a sheltered corner of the coast the steps were very welcome after four exciting but tiring hours on the wind-swept beach. Not a soul had come by in that time – I had the place to myself the entire evening. The 6×7 Pentax had unfortunately packed up at the last frame on the beach, leaving me just the Lumix LX3 to play around with. One minute exposures are followed by a dark frame minute before your image appears – meaning you have plenty of time to enjoy the silence of the stars, to the soundtrack of the surf.
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.