Roadside View: From the Lindis Highway

Roadside View: From the Lindis Highway. October 2002.

The view west from the sharpest corner on the Lindis Pass-Tarras road, heading north from Wanaka. I had driven to Central Otago to meet up with a Wellington friend, thinking that Spring would follow me south. It didn’t, and a biting southerly blew for some days. When it relented some beautiful weather followed, but here I was back on the road for home, and on the safe side of it. I parked a good distance from the corner and walked back for this striking scene, which I had noted on the way down.

The modest Lindis River flows below the new-leaf willows. The beehives were an unexpected touch and in composition terms they could be called “third level” – detail which adds interest to an image, but which is not always seen at first glance. The clouds are emphasised by a polarising filter, but the high contrast is also inherent in Fujichrome, the film used here. This well saturated slide film (all “chromes” were slide films) reigned supreme from the late 1980s. Slides from the 1970s and early ’80s now seem dull, colour-wise, when compared with later films, which were contrastier and more saturated.

This arid scene is typical of the Central Otago, although the compressed topography is not quite so. The geology is schist and the climate dry and continental. Not far north from here, Otago turns into Canterbury, another distinctive and more angular landscape, based on greywacke.

May 2018 in new Perfect Evenings calendar

Quiet night at Kurow, North Otago

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?!


218. Wintry evening, Kurow

Wintry evening, Kurow. 11.15pm, 30 April 2012

To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.  –  Emily Dickinson

28mm; ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f4


216. Seeking love at Kurow

Seeking love at Kurow. 10.26 pm, 30 April 2012

 Seeking love keeps you from the awareness that you already are it.  –  Byron Katie

28mm; ISO 2000. 30 secs at f5.6. Mercury vapour light balance.




90. Purakaunui Falls by moonlight

Purakaunui Falls

south Otago, 14 May 1985

Overcast evenings at full moon can be really frustrating. When the moon is full you know it’s somewhere up in the sky, this being one certainty of the laws of celestial machanics. But you can’t see it. The real reason cloud is such a dampener on moonlight photography is that the extra 2 to 4 stops needed for the lower light add up to some very long shutter times. However such times are still practicable with film and manual cameras, where the durability of batteries is not an issue.   

On an autumn evening on the Caitlins coast I saw that this premier scenic gem of south Otago rather unhelpfully faced south, and that even with Ektachrome 200 I would need a really long exposure. The 28mm wide angle on the Pentax went to f2.5 wide open. I allowed for the sky-crowding trees and high cloud by adding some extra stops to the calculation, and settled on 40 minutes as the appropriate shutter time.

We then faced a long wait on the boardwalk next to the falls, serenaded by their constant cascading rhythm. The tripod was on an adjacent rock, so avoiding vibrations from our pacing up and down. It was no surprise that on a week night in May we had the whole place to ourselves, but it made camerawork easier all the same. If there was any upside to the cloudiness it was that it gave a mild rather than frosty night for outdoor activity, as we counted off the minutes of muted moonlight. 

I was pleased with the blur of the water here, although this effect generally takes no more than half a minute. The waterfall is much photographed but even so I have never seen it captured over a similar time-frame. The 40 minutes was actually only enough for the highlights, but that has probably created more impact, if only in a monochromatic style. No doubt this picture would be equally rendered with black & white film, especially if the print was then toned.

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!

11. Self-portrait by moonlight, Jack’s Bay, Otago

Self-portrait at Jack's Bay, Otago. 19 May 1981

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.