Although I took it 34 years ago this composition in thirds seems to have a timeless quality. It makes a fitting follow-up to my previous post: texture remains but vibrant colour is added in this telephoto view from a terrace above the beach at Te Hapu, a private property on Nelson’s far western coast. A built-in sun guard helped to avoid flare. Taken on golden Fujichrome 50, a 120 transparency (slide) film, with an Asahi Pentax 6×7 camera from circa 1972. This photo saw a month of life in my 2017 Golden Bay calendar. I enjoy its slightly abstract quality.
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:
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.
What could be more New Zealand than a landscape with cattle? This combination was unexpected, though. All three beef beasts (Aberdeen Angus?) were recumbent as we came up the beach, enjoying the sea air no doubt. They only rose to their feet as we got closer.
This section of the upper West Coast has been delighting me ever since my first visit in March 1975. It is accessed through Golden Bay; the road winds south along picturesque Westhaven Inlet and along farmed terraces, terminating (for most vehicles) at the sizeable Anatori ford. At the time this rustic scene was recorded, logging trucks still came through the ford from Turimawiwi, but logging has long ceased – and new houses have appeared in this remote part of the country.
Taken with a 105mm telephoto lens, on Kodachrome 64 film.
New Zealand’s varied landscapes must be world-famous because now they are talked of by the mainland Chinese, not just wealthy HKers or Singaporeans. A busload of Chinese tourists joined the 40 cars already parked at the Kaikoura road-end, out on the peninsula. The changes to be seen here surprised me, and I am not referring to the recent earthquake uplift, impressive though that is. No, to me it seemed no time at all since this road-end was a broad, featureless gravelled cul de sac; today it is a well developed tourist amenity.
The bus tourists fanned out across the wide shelf of the reef, while others were intrigued by the nearby seals. Not far back along the road another 30 cars were parked by an outdoor cafe, the first I recall seeing by a New Zealand roadside. How we will cope with our rapidly increasing tourism remains to be seen, but the obvious problem is the same one worldwide – overcrowded hot-spots, with amenity development lagging behind.
Perhaps related to all this, I have a major new project to pursue. While there’s little new to say about our landscapes, at least by the broad light of day, I have conceived a new book-length theme: “Modest Epiphanies: Deeper meanings in the New Zealand landscape”. What exactly does this involve? What are my epiphanies? Are there actually deeper meanings? No doubt some satire and social commentary will emerge alongside interesting new angles on the jeweller’s window (in scenic terms) that is my country, away from the urban centres, that is. Yet I have a feeling Milford Sound and Mount Cook might not even feature…
1/640th sec at f11. Nikon 85mm; ISO 250
5593 High tide at Kaikoura. 8.36pm, 21 February 2011
Looking lately at some of my own images taken in broad sunlight I knew immediately why I do so little of it – the light is so commonplace! Striking images are harder to achieve. At the end of the day however, in evening sunlight or dimming twilight, the world seems transformed – and the landscape changes with the light. Four years ago we were on our way along the Kaikoura waterfront to see the king tide from the wharf, when I took this strange sea, high on the shoreline.
85mm, ISO 100. 5 seconds at f11.
0679 Flotsam on a twilit tide, Golden Bay. 8.30pm, 5 March 2015
In photography the golden hour before sunset is followed by the blue hour of developing darkness. The blue cast can be mitigated with a light balance setting above “Direct sunlight”, which in degrees Kelvin measures about 5500. On the Nikon D700 you can choose to a maximum of 10,000 deg. Conversely, the blue cast can be exaggerated with a tungsten or sodium colour balance – each below 4,000 deg K – especially useful if your subject is lit by old style torch, headlight or house lights. However the reflected moonlight shown here has an unmodified light balance, for a simple composition. Selected by my daughters, each independently.
200mm, ISO 500. 5 secs at f16. Direct sunlight light balance.
9797 Wet feet at the Waiwhakaiho. 8.16pm, 3 February 2015
Zoom lenses are very engaging, but the price of their versatility is their typically lacklustre definition, and the extra care required in their use – especially with focus and depth of field. I have found with the Nikon 70-300mm that no really serious work can be undertaken without a tripod, and a self-timer release of 2 to 5 seconds, depending on the focal length and wind strength. Here a slow shutter speed resulted not only from the polariser (effectively 2-stops) and the low ISO but also the need for a small aperture for depth of field. The polariser works wonders on cloud forms at right angles to the sun, which was low to the left. The gulls are enjoying the dog-free side of the river; their beach was soon covered by the incoming tide.
95mm, ISO 250. 1/50th sec at f11. Polariser and tripod
To Barney’s pulpit rock I climb / Where the sea aisles burn cold / In fires of no return / And maned breakers praise / The death hour of the sun.
James K. Baxter, In fires of no return
28mm; ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f11
28mm; ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f8. Flash
To make the truth more plausible, it is absolutely necessary to mix a bit of falsehood with it. – Dostoevsky
Staying three nights this week at Marahau, gateway to Abel Tasman National Park (Nelson), we had lovely evenings “to behold the waxing moon”. At Kaka Pa Point we discovered an easy path down to a sandy cove, Breaker Bay, above which a street light shines.
My attempt to reduce the overwhelming orange of the lamp was not successful, but produced this unusual image, featuring distant Adele Island (Motuarero-nui). Efforts to incorporate more colour in my night photography was aided by the golden sand here, plus the intensified blues from the light balance.
85mm, ISO 1250. 30 seconds at f16. Sodium vapour light balance
I do not want the peace that passeth understanding. I want the understanding which bringeth peace. – Helen Keller
85mm, ISO 2000. 30 secs at f16
With your silhouette when the sunlight dims, into your eyes when the moonlight swims, and your matchbook songs and gypsy hymns: Who among them would try to impress you? – Bob Dylan (Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands)
85mm, ISO 2000. 5 secs at f11
When I admire the wonder of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands. – Gandhi
50mm, ISO 2000. 15 secs at f11
The love of life is necessary to the vigorous prosecution of any undertaking.
– Samuel Johnson
50mm, ISO 2000. 13 seconds at f8. Flash
Live as long as you may, the first 20 years are the longest half of your life. – Southey
A composition in classic thirds. The quote is personal, referring to my first return to Waikanae Beach since spring 1976, with some ardent memories attached. Youthful impressions can be deepest on the sand!
Bright shore means a flash shore; moonlight being as feeble as the surf here, you can’t stop the waves in-frame by the wan moon. However a good mix of natural and artificial light occurs when a long shutter follows the flash, allowing the moonlight to accumulate on the sensor. The surf then is too blurred to feature.
28mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f11. Flash
Never confuse activity with action. – F. Scott Fitzgerald
28mm, ISO 2000. 2.5 seconds at f2.8. Incandescent light balance, flash
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
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view; While all the women came and went, their foot-servants too. – Bob Dylan
The surreal song lyric [misquoted on the web] fits this enigmatic view from the waterfront pavement at Kaikoura, in the South Island. The scale is ambiguous and the light unusual, but at least more sense can be made of it than of Dylan’s allusion to the Book of Isaiah (thanks, Bob). The rock looms out of the deepening dusk as the street light over my shoulder gradually takes command; meanwhile the sun sinks further below the horizon.
Around inhabited places twilight is an excellent time to be out with your camera, because of changes in relative light levels. Always at some point the artificial lighting is at par with ambient twilight; soon after the twilight fades further, to appear like a backdrop. With digital cameras this transition is easy to capture, not that it is hard to see at the time, but the change at every twilight means that over a few short minutes opportunities are rich indeed.
This composition has some classic elements, including a “third punch” with the two smaller rocks. They have the same companionable role as the supporting characters in a Disney movie, where the leading characters often have two sidekicks. Other minor details embroider the frame – the boat in the swell, an emerging breaker and the headline cloud. To tone down the orange cast of the lamp I used Incandescent on the Nikon D700 light balance.
The smallest aperture on the telephoto was needed for good sharpness overall; a fuzzy background would mean less impact, remembering that the focus fall-off is marked on telephotos of even the most modest length. This is the case for setting up with a tripod before sunset, minimalists take note: it enables the best aperture selection without camera shake worries.
Traipsing a tripod also makes you think more.
85mm, ISO 1000. 20 seconds at f16
Out with some Scottish friends under a brilliant moon – the best since 1993 – we legged a good stretch of the Waiwhakaiho walkway, on the New Plymouth outskirts. Having noted this viewpoint along the way, it was surprising how long it took to re-locate it on our return. On the wild uplands of Tibet photographer Alister Benn used GPS data to find his earlier location, for a great moonlit mountain scene (www.availablelightimages.com) but you and I muddle in the dark instead, on city fringes.
Oh well… To fit my intended photo, the path had to look out to sea and take in the two largest Sugar Loaves off Port Taranaki, so that the frame would feature long surf breaks while avoiding city lights. However the walkway crosses various low sandills and in the gloom all the crests looked the same – until we arrived back here.
In this shot, flash in the first instant is paired with a long interval over which the feeble photons of moonlight build up on the sensor. These two light sources are rarely combined. I missed an opportunity in not re-focussing for background straight after the flash, for the moonlight fill-in. To do this you simply move the focus closer to infinity on the lens barrel, manually, to give two fields of focus on the same frame.
Our friends had gone on ahead but with more time I would have thought of a better pose, while for the ghosting a dark background is clearly preferrable. Obliging here is my wife Narumon; the red poles are sculpture and the light out to sea is actually at the end of the breakwater.
The varying distance of the moon from Earth affects the power of moonlight slightly over the 18-year cycle of the lunar orbit. In March 2011 the moon was again at its closest point to Earth, and so at maximum luminosity.
85mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f11. Vivid picture control, pop-up flash.
Teleportation is easy enough to do by moonlight photography. Even on a cool autumn evening not far enough from the Nelson sewage ponds, planet Earth is a good place to beam down on. I do like to visit but would I want to live on it?
Just kidding. Of the various forms of ghosting in night photography this is the most basic, created under pure, simple moonlight. Other forms are lit by flash, torchlight or car beam, but to get this you simply occupy the stage for part of the exposure – say 40 seconds of the 60 represented here – while requiring your supporting cast to stay put. Here my long-suffering wife Narumon holds her gaze on the laid-back surf of Tasman Bay; I have walked into the frame some time after the shutter opens.
Note that nothing registers of my moving into position, because I have no reflective highlights. In some situations coming or going from place people will show up because they are smoking, wearing light-catching rings or jewelry, or have on something luminous. Or their movement might be caught by a sudden bright light, as in the sweep of a car’s headlights. Sometimes such highlights add an intriguing element to your scene, and sometimes they just look odd. You won’t know until you see it, as the effect is unpredictable.
At the head of the bay are the landing lights of Nelson airport. A snowy peak in the Arthur Range is just visible on the right, while resting on the cobbles are two props waiting to feature in my long exposure studies (see no. 34. Quirky but Perky, by moonlight). The depth of focus on the Lumix LX3 at maximum aperture is phenomenal, especially when the zoom is set at the widest angle. However the autofocus has about a 10% failure rate, while the manual controls are so fiddly for focus that I have never actually tried them.
“24mm”, ISO 200. 60 seconds at f2
The Seaward Kaikoura range rises steeply from the coast although here only the northern outliers are in view. Their prominence is echoed in the rocks along the peninsula shore, which were revealed on the ebb of an impressive spring tide. Although surf still broke over the far outcrop during this long exposure by moonlight, the change in the state of the sea was notable from just a few hours before.
Three little clouds are matched by three short stars (one occluded by a summit) and the three small rocks at the bottom. On the far shore the highway heads north to Picton; I took this in-between occasional car headlights in order to avoid short light streaks. Although telephoto depth of field was adequate, a longer exposure – say 6 minutes at f11 – would have allowed some long headlight trails, as well as perfect sharpness.
However this photo was set up at the tail end of the evening and I was already on the way back to our motel. Waiting out that time would also involve another 6 minutes of dark-processing before I could re-deploy the camera. Ideal exposures are reserved for unwearied, unhurried saints.
The foreground lighting is from sodium lamps on the wharf road. The strong cast of the streetlight suggested an incandescent (tungsten) light balance on the Nikon D700. Because of the relative dimness of the lamps at this distance, using this setting has enabled an attractive high-key blue throughout. There are really only two colours here and while I do like this effect, Photoshop must share the honours.
The enhancement buttons on Photoshop have resuscitated a good number of my favourite night photos, sometimes to my considerable surprise. I shoot in the RAW format and I wonder whether the need for such rescues stems as much from night photography’s uncommon light balances and greater contrasts as it does from my methods not always being exactly painstaking.
85mm, ISO 2000. 88 seconds (1.5 mins) at f5.6
The tide was a high spring one at the wharf, one memorable summer’s evening. The square format can be applied in later processing to any 2:3 frame from a digital SLR camera – and for several reasons. Although here it was primarily to improve the composition, it also crops flare from the rising moon on the far right of the original frame.
Colourwise this shot turns upside down my earlier post (No. 94 Kaikoura moonrise) from the same wharf – it was a productive evening. This is interesting for its mix of three light sources as well as its abstraction. There’s moonlight in the sky, plus sodium lighting on the sand (which is only just covered by the surf), but the violent green on the rocks comes from what I took to be a mercury vapour lamp, at the end of the wharf. The line of pink is moonlit cloud, and a ship on the horizon, not noticed at the time, has also registered.
The unexpected turn-ups are what keeps night photography interesting. The fortunate aspect here was that all three light sources were in a good balance, an effect sometimes very hard to achieve. The light balance control was set to Cool white fluorescent; I had expected this to absorb some of the green but it has not made much of a difference really. I’ve been wondering why the sodium here is not a good deal stronger, considering the incandescent (tungsten) setting was not used.
One big advantage of digital over film work is the ability to change light balances without having to add or remove filters, particularly in alternating between incandescent and daylight. Quick adjustments can be made also for other light conditions or cloudy skies. When light sources are mixed, there’s plenty of creative scope in trying one balance and then another.
The drawback appears the next time you pick up your camera and take photos without checking the balance properly…
28mm, ISO 2000. 30 seconds at f11
Te Hapu is a cattle station south of Westhaven Inlet, an hour down the scenic coast from Collingwood in Golden Bay. It’s a big, rugged belt of limestone and its holiday cottages give city dwellers the chance to enjoy the landscape and splendid isolation (www.tehapu.co.nz). The four of us had the Shearing Shed Retreat for a few nights. It’s solar-powered with a lovely outdoor bath, but best of all is nearby Gilbert’s Beach, preserved by a locked gate from access by all and sundry.
Gilbert’s broad beach has an offshore reef, making it a safe swimming spot with clear water. A backdrop of scattered nikau and huge limestone buttress enhances the experience and as a location for the perfect summer idyll Gilbert’s lacks only shade – not that this mattered when I took the shot above.
It shows the last of the twilight when a half moon is in the western sky. The rosy glow was superb and the perfect balance of the two natural lights was striking. However the window of opportunity was narrow and the pink lasted but a minute or so. Soon after I could get landscape detail or a good reflection – but not both.
Focus was by eye, fortunately, but I was glad of a small aperture to get a good depth of field with the telephoto. This was our last night at Te Hapu; on earlier evenings we had had the pleasure of the crescent moon gracing the sunset sky, but only now was the moon in the right quadrant – and bright enough – to give this effect.
The half moon is at roughly at 12 o’clock position at sunset. In terms of the lunar cycle and moonlight photography it’s a good time for landscapes which need a westerly light – late afternoon in daylight terms – because the fuller moon only reaches the position well after midnight, or in the wee hours before dawn.
85mm lens, ISO2000. 30 seconds at f13
Heading south to Dunedin, we broke the journey at Kaikoura. Situated on the east coast 2.5 hours north of Christchurch, Kaikoura is a minor fishing port but whale-watching has made the town a fast-developing tourist destination. Mountains rise abruptly behind it and with the peninsula walkway also to enjoy, the place has a lot to offer visitors.
Before sunset we strolled the waterfront towards the port, watching the spring tide spray the road occasionally or erode the pohutukawa shore. It was a perfect summer’s evening after a long, hot day; it was also the night before the Christchurch earthquake – when it happened, we were barely 2 hours away, on the road down.
The nights that follow full moon offer one particular delight for the moonlight photographer – moonrises after dark, by which some lovely scenes result. You can’t get these shots before full moon, although you can of course do the setting moon before dawn instead. Here the moon was two nights on the wane, so it rose about 75 minutes after sunset.
For that interval I was happily occupied on the Kaikoura seafront and port precinct, and the tide was well on the ebb when I took this from the wharf. The lamps must be mercury rather than sodium, thus the green cast to the volcanic rocks. Focus was manual, and found by eye for a change, instead of estimation. I selected f8 rather than f11 because the shorter exposure time would give less distortion to the rising moon.
Composition is once again in natural thirds. A little bit of cloud and some foreground interest add depth. This was an impressive moonrise, the scene enhanced by the vigour of the surf on the rocks. I checked the lenses several times for spray, and for some time kept a wary eye on the unpredictable slop over the wharf. The only other hazard was the occasional motorist from the fishing group nearby.
85mm lens, ISO 2000. f8 for 15 seconds. Incandescent setting.
We had three moonlit nights at Waikanae last month on our way south. The beach is on a long sand coast, this stretch being renowned for its bird life. Their abundance is related perhaps to nearby Kapiti Island, predator-free and about 8km offshore. Kapiti is the most significant island on the entire west coast of the North Island, and its distinctive profile and wildlife sanctuary status earn it a special place in the hearts of Wellingtonians.
This was the last photo I took on my third night under clear skies – or formerly clear, as soon after dark cloud came in from the west with great speed, and was then about to envelop the waxing moon. Using the “Feature your problem” principle, I have here made something of this fast-moving cloud, while adding extra interest to the foreground.
The moody blue of the background is of course my old friend tungsten, although this option on the D700 is called Incandescent. I chose it not so much for mood but to reduce the sodium orange of the strong shore lighting coming from the boat club. From this, tungsten has turned the gentle surf into a line of pink. The solitary light on the island must be from Department of Conservation quarters, as their staff are the island’s only inhabitants.
The “classic thirds” composition is unsurprising for this type of landscape. The foreground mimics the island profile; lighting was applied by hand with a finger torch. This has a colour temperature close to daylight, explaining the cool rendering here by tungsten. I did not quite get the balance right, so this part has been burned in later.
A long exposure of 5 or 10 minutes would have streamed the moving cloud more conspicuously, as the effect is only just apparent here. I suppose that in my frustration at the unexpected overcast I simply gave up on the evening’s potential too soon!
28mm lens, ISO 2000. f8 for 30 seconds.
9.31pm, 19 December 2010.
Although the lighting looks fairly natural here it actually wasn’t, as during the 2-minute exposure I shone a small LED torch over the foreground rock. In this case the torchlight was a close match to the departing daylight in colour temperature, and my sense of how long to move the torchlight over the lichen was accurate – so I got the natural effect I wanted.
Selecting f11 on the Nikon 28mm wide angle gave the desired depth of focus, and this was set using the depth of field bracket marks on the lens. If you definitely want a sharp horizon then allow an extra stop at that bracket end, but wide angles are generally forgiving of critical-focus. Even at 2000 ISO, f11 required 122 seconds of shutter. I counted them out as I waved the torch around. My electronic cable release is just the basic model, having a button to lock the shutter open but no timing mechanism. It’s price new was outrageous even so, and appeared to bear no relation to the low cost of materials, given the cheapness of non-branded electrical items these days.
Colour temperature was set to Cloudy, and Vivid was chosen for contrast. It was a drizzly night and an umbrella hovered over my gear for much of it, however this was a quiet and sheltered spot which felt secure to work from. Most of the houses nearby are holiday homes, largely unoccupied even the week before Christmas; the lakefront is public reserve, undeveloped but quite accessible.
There’s a minor sense of time passing in the drifting cloud and in the tiny surf on the lake, caused by a persistent northerly; the telephoto from this point showed the distant buoys bobbing. A street lamp reflects off a more distant rock while the apparently autumnal glow on the trees to the left of the house also comes from sodium lighting. To mention more lasting things, the boulder is likely a volcanic bomb ejected in the last Taupo eruption, around 200 AD.
The mannequin once adorned my apartment at Courtville, Auckland. We stowed her in the back for an evening trip up to Long Bay, on the North Shore. It felt like so much lumber to be lugging the tripod as well, but I knew a full moon was coming up, and with no tripod there’s no moonlight photography… you might find lucky fenceposts occasionally, but don’t count on it.
In the Pentax was Ektachrome 400; it was fast for the time but was not one I liked much – someone had paid me with a few rolls. How quickly we take for granted the digital benefit of instant feedback, so useful when you’re freehanding with your light source, or mixing sources. On film a shot like this would be guestimated in a number of steps.
First, figure out focus (not 100% here), then remember previous settings for moony reflections, adjust for faster film, assess strength of torchlight and distance from foreground, and then judge the lapse of time as the beam moves up and down the mannequin. Shoot and advance film for next attempt… wait days or weeks for results. Naturally, you hedged with various exposures – bracketing, it’s called – but film was never free, and neither was processing.
The torchlight is an old filament bulb, and today’s torches would deliver a much cooler colour temperature. While the exposure was unrecorded, the tiny surf still visible means the shutter was only for a few seconds. The good depth of field and slight curve to the horizon shows a 28mm lens. The clouds were a photographer’s pleasure; the distant spark is from the lighthouse on Tiritiri Matangi, in the Hauraki Gulf.
I was pleased with the result, and even when adapted to this square format there’s still room for an art director’s headline. The mannequin had a long, productive life and featured in other scenarios I dreamed up around this time. We finished the evening with a midnight swim.
It was midnight by the time I got here for some moonlight photography. Oakura is a good stretch of sand, in Taranaki terms. The place is very popular in summer but in these small hours all was quiet and deserted. No dog was walked and no beer was chugged in the carpark.
One problem for night photography at seaside resorts is street lighting. Even distant lamps will filter in under the moonlight, at a quite different colour temperature. The orange cast of most New Zealand street lighting is the difficulty. The answer is to use the tungsten setting to moderate the orange – and to get as far away from the lamps as possible. Distance from them also increases your chance of a balance with moonlight, as above.
So the extra glow on my legs is not sunburn but low-level sodium from the street. Parka Man looks out to sea and the next wave, on a mild summer’s night. The blue note is tungsten’s second contribution to this frame. Colour is an equation, and in taking away one hue you have to add another. This has creative application in setting mood.
ISO was a low 100, at f2 for 20 seconds on the Lumix, implying a bright scene by moonlight standards. The Lumix LX3 is a very advanced compact by Panasonic, whose market penetration has surely been assisted by the adoption of Zeiss lenses. The widest end of the zoom was used – 24mm in film terms – but not the self-timer. I have walked into the scene once the exposure has started, demonstrating a certain lack of substance which should appeal to the Buddhist segment of my readership.
Squaring up the original frame gives the canvas some peripheral interest – two stars top left, plus shipping and Saddleback (Motumahanga, the outermost Sugar Loaf). The proverbial footprints in the sand, a slight flare from the moon and low cloud above the central highlights all add further texture.
Only with highly reflective scenes can the moonlight photographer stop down to f16, even with ISO 2000.
While using 30 seconds, that is, the last speed on the Nikon D700 before B. The Lumix LX3 has one thing over the D700: an extra speed, 60 seconds. Of course you can do any length on the B setting, but you must time it yourself, which is less convenient.
Admittedly there are worse hardships, but for me f16 is an aspirational aperture. I use it and B without hesitation in two situations. The first is for l-o-n-g exposures for star trails and the second is where I want the deepest possible focus. This especially applies to the shallow field of my regular partner, the 85mm lens (as above).
By extending the field of sharpness over the greatest distance f16 usually covers careless or difficult focussing. If you have manual focus, work off the bracketed scale on the lens barrel: set the near bracket a little closer than your estimated distance to the foreground interest. Or try some pre-focus frames. Sometimes I do trials with f1.4 and a few seconds. The results are always awful but can be deleted as soon as you have the correct fix – and once you calculate what f16 will need (a 7-stop difference).
Not every camera can manage ISO 2000 without excessive noise – electronic static comparable to emulsion grain, the old bane of fast film. A full-frame (FX) digital camera apparently handles this problem better than the sensors in DX cameras or compacts.
The shot has squared up fairly well. We’re looking northeast to the Sugar Loaves at New Plymouth, from near the Oakura River. The receding wave leaves ghostly impressions of movement. The tripod was set up at the top of the tide but I still had to move around as rogue ripples came up. Here 60 seconds would have doubled the risk of a shaken tripod; the wasted frame would take 2 minutes to clear.
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.
The north Taranaki coast is all soft ash-and-mudstone, and eroding fast. In 1980 we spent New Year’s Eve camping on a spot which is now on the surfline shown here. In April I returned for the first time in 30 years and was surprised to see how much solid earth had since gone seaward.
The best perspective on the beach is from the southern end, as it takes in the Mimi estuary and the bluffy coast north to Pukearuhe. We cut across farmland to some low cliffs, and there at dusk came close to the edge, to look down on to a mudstone shelf and a high tide. Over this shelf the surf was breaking – the wet line runs down to the fallen fragment – but the time exposure, roughly a minute, blurs this completely.
The effect is also noticeable on the middle right rocks, yet a vague sense of sea swell is visible running up the frame, past the protruding log. In contrast, anything not moving in the frame is perfectly sharp. This stems from a technical advantage that dusk has over moonlight photography, in that the much higher light levels match long exposures with the smallest of apertures. From this you get the very best depth of focus.
For this I used medium speed Ilford FP4 film, ISO 125, with a standard lens on a Pentax 6×7. It’s a heavy camera so vertical views challenge the tripod head, but the big negative prints up very nicely. Vertical is not easy with seascapes or coastal vistas, with their broad horizons, because strong vertical elements are usually needed. Once again my favoured “Elevation!” tactic came into play, to find a double curve of coastline to tie up the composition.
An extra tint has been added after scanning, yet I feel the photo might lack tonal drama. However the main drawback to my mind is the need for a scale indicator in the foreground.
Moonlight photography that looks like daylight! Almost. Until I thought of adding the immediate foreground, this spot seemed unpromising for an interesting shot. Although the high tide was surging below the crumbling cliffs of Back Beach, New Plymouth, the scene just seemed to lack depth. Using the wide angle end of the Lumix LX3 zoom (“30mm”), however, with some foreground for scale, gave a much better effect.
Exposure was 60 secs/f2.2@ISO 400. I don’t recall why the higher ISO was needed but it was justified, and a further small boost was given in post-pro to get this night-for-day look. The photo received enough acclamation for inclusion in my Moonlight Calendar 2011 (October), and we have also published it as a greeting card.
The movement of the flax and foliage shows that a steady wind was blowing (fairly common here); actually I was sheltering from the cliff updraught, and screened the tripod as far as possible from the buffeting. There’s a subtle cloud movement recorded by the long exposure but better still, the sea has been softened and turned an unexpected turquoise.
Strangely, there’s no surf line around Snapper Rock but a nice highlight instead on the rocks at one end. You can walk dryshod to this island on very low tides. There are well defined kumara pits on top from old Maori times and great views are to be had from the spur at other end.
In composition terms I gather that the appeal lies in its simplicity, sense of depth and movement, and its colour contrast. From the cliffs there aren’t that many options for a good frame on the islands (the Sugar Loaves), but this limitation is compensated for by the easy access and frequent changes in the weather, and so, of course, the light.
Moonlight exposures are especially good for showing movement, but here’s something quite literal: a minute hand blurred over a 60-second exposure, on the Lumix LX3. There’s actually a third hand (sometimes called a second hand) that you can’t see due to its constant movement. And the clock’s 12 minutes fast.
The surf on the sheltered beach at Puponga (Golden Bay, Nelson) is really minimalist, so the lapping of the tide is just a subtle blur. However it works in well with my shadow to give some added depth. The clock is perched on a big burnt log. Not everyone takes a big clock with them on holiday, and not everyone likes their photos spiked with incongruent objects, but to me it’s all about the picture-making. After all, an element of surprise often features in a striking or original photograph.
Although some colour is visible this scene is closer to how we see by moonlight; in conventional terms however the shot is underexposed, and only right for the highlights. So this required a slight boost in post-processing. My standard starting point for a high, bright full moon is f2 at 60 seconds, 100 ISO, or 1.66 stops more than f3.5 at 100 ISO for the above. Given the low, feeble moon behind me in the pic above, I’m puzzled the shot has come out at all.
Also notable is the excellent depth of focus. Sure, the lens was at widest zoom (“24mm”), and the small size of the LX3 sensor helps too. The Lumix uses an infra red beam-assist for low light focus, which although spot-on here is often unreliable. Mis-focuses occur roughly 20% of the time and are frustrating because they take up camera time – typically, 2 minutes each: one minute to expose, one minute for dark frame post-pro. The Nikon D7oo I am now using has a similar mode; however for moonlight photography it seems to do no better. Solution: the manual focus option.
I took this on a rare night in which I stayed up sleepless till well past dawn on the wild Waitakere coast, with a Pentax Spotmatic F and three lenses. By sunrise I was truly worn out and the long drive home was grim – fortunately I had the passenger seat and the weekend to recover.
However I loved the results, which showed only modest colour shift from long exposure, even on Kodachrome 64. The sense of scale and depth of focus suggest the 28mm wide angle here, approx 10 minutes at f2.5. The islet is Panatahi and we’re looking southwest. The modern aerial on Google doesn’t show the stillwater but probably the stream has changed course since.
The picture elements here are very simple: an even vignetting from the lens barrel plus almost a mirroring of sky and lagoon, two brief star trails in similar positions – but why is the islet right in the middle? The rocks are volcanic, the sand more likely grey than tawny, and the tinge to Panatahi tells of a declining moon. Time of night I did not know but it must have been about 5 am.
The beach was broad and the tide out. I’d had this entire landscape to myself for many hours, yet at one point while crossing a long reef to the south this perfect isolation was nearly my undoing. While lugging my gear – and just a short time before taking this photo – I almost stumbled into a gaping chasm in the reef, from fatigue and inattention. No doubt the incoming tide would have found me long before anyone else could have.
Let’s not ignore the safety side of moonlight rambles, especially solo ones. Cell phones and emergency beacons can be unreliable; help is so often far off; fatigue and the gloom lead to misjudgements – the outdoor moonlighter from time to time faces serious risk to life and limb. A daylight reconnoitre beforehand is a good idea.
This was my first night out with the new camera, so I was keen to see what ISO 2000 felt like for moonlight photography; also the extra scope having f1.4 on the 85mm lens – not a lens I’ve used before. I had a new 28mmm lens to try out too.
I’d decided on ISO 2000 as the general limit for night photography after studying www.dxomark.com, a useful website which ranks sensor ISO fidelity limits (amongst many other things). The Nikon D700 scores well with good colour and saturation up to ISO 2300, helped perhaps by the full frame: “Give those pixels and photons lots of elbow room.”
This night a spring storm had been blowing for days, but we were wrapped up and at least had our backs to the horribly cold blast. After finding our way to Clifton Beach and through the motor camp ($1 in the slot) we parked right at the road end. Then a walk along the stony beach, under the cliffs, to this place, which I’d never been to before… Google’s satellite images don’t really put you there, but I do find them useful after a visit.
This is one of the first views I took on the 28mm lens, at the maximum of f2.8 for only 8 seconds, not bad for two nights before full moon. As usual, I screened the tripod from the wind as much as possible. It blew from offshore so there was minimal surf, which is a relief when you’re working close to the tide, even in gumboots. The cloud adds interest to the sky; stars have been stopped; the colour on and above the cliffs wasn’t visible at the time, of course, but I was pleased to see the lines of cobbles along the beach clearly in the viewfinder, even at f2.8 max. There is vignetting in the sky at right, which surprised me.
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.
FEBRUARY in my Moonlight Calendar for 2011 – a simple scene that seems to intrigue people, a minute of miniature surf on the cobbles of the Boulder Bank. The Bank is a unique natural formation 18 km long sheltering Nelson Haven, Port Nelson and the city. Here, some 10 km along it, we’re looking across Tasman Bay to the hills of Abel Tasman National Park and Separation Point. It was a still evening, common enough for the Bay this time of year, and while I knew the wave lap on rocks would look good, I expected a more visible streak of surf than the sea-mist which turned up instead.
True the surf was small, but it was perfectly formed and enough to wet your gear if your tripod was too close to the action. Quite apart from the uneven footing, finding a suitable spot in the tide for the tripod was a challenge, as further away from the surf there would be less impact. There’s a lot to be said too for knowing the tides, but this evening I’d forgotten the tables. Since then I’ve bought two of them – one for the car, one for home – as they contain daily sun and moon times also, always good to have on hand.
Although the Lumix LX3 zoom is restricted by a lack of telephoto, the standard setting has good depth of field, as this frame demonstrates at f2.8 and 200 ISO. My new 85mm Nikon lens might have handled it better, but a longer exposure on f16 and higher ISO would be needed to get close to the same depth of field. This would mean more cloud movement too, which is sometimes good but here I wanted the distant cloud as it looked, even if some drift is detectable. This shot could have been a good monochrome, but that has only come to me more recently.