Academic Art creativity Light Tararuas

May 31, 2012 … let there be light*

Tacit knowledge has been a subject of great academic interest to me.

It is an important aspect of management studies and of communication. Crudely speaking, tacit knowledge is stuff that we know, but don’t know that we know. For example, how do we breathe? Or how do we maintain our balance walking on a narrow beam?

We do it, but the moment we start to think about how we do it, the actual doing becomes much more difficult.  Better to focus on getting to the other side and walk confidently, than to start juggling with thoughts of inner ear, moment of inertia,  and centre of gravity.

Yes I know that there are many better academic definitions,  and better examples, but this is a blog with photographs, after all, and not a refereed academic journal article. What has all this to do with photography?

Well, carrying on from yesterday’s little bout of introspection, I made contact with Doc Ross, and he was kind enough to explore his thinking a little further with me.  It is clear that, although he hoped such considerations would apply to all photography, his interchange with Tony Bridge (a serious professional and himself a teacher of photography)  was about the need for a “heightened approach to photography, … even if just subconsciously” .

Somehow, I find my self saying “yes, and no”. My own blog has frequently advocated a more conscious and deliberate approach, with less dependence on serendipity. On the other hand, I believe it is important to really see the world in the here and now, and not just in terms of how it might look in a viewfinder. (At this stage I can hear my own dear wife saying “I have always told you that!” And she has.).  The question that emerges, then, is whether a more conscious, or a more photographically aware stance, would impede the way I see the world. Or would it result in more stilted images?

No instant answer comes to me, but then, why should it? There is a popular cliché that says “Life is a journey, not a destination”.  I seem to be on a photographic journey, and it remains my hope that those of you who come along for the ride by reading this blog will continue to offer advice, correction and encouragement on the way.

Doc concluded his discussion with me yesterday thus: “tell me a story about that which was in front of you, and then by default I will see clearly who you are by the story you tell.” I like that, very much. That’s something I can aspire to.

My image from yesterday’s batch was almost my first of the day. I saw the sky in the North East, and saw some nice colour and made several attempts at the rosy dawn. Then came the sun! I hasten to add that I kept my eye away from the viewfinder while I was taking this. If you are curious, 1/800 at f22. Tararua Sunrise

For a while I thought I had missed it. (Enlarge the image to see the layers in the hills)

I hope it tells a story.

*Gen 1,3



Camera club Light Maritime night Wellington

May 30, 2012 … the shades of night are falling fast*

In deep reflective mood.

On Monday, my friend Tony Bridge, currently travelling in China, wrote in his excellent blog, of a challenge or ‘wero’ thrown down by his friend Doc Ross. My interpretation of Doc’s challenge was that ‘these are good pictures, but they don’t say anything about you and your relationship with your subject’. Wow!

If you are interested in seeing how Tony responded, then visit his blog via the link above.

My purpose in raising it here is to wrestle with the challenge as it might apply to my own photography. Perhaps I am mistaken, or even missing something vital in Doc’s challenge to Tony, but I think every image I make tells the viewer something about me, and how I see relate to whatever I photographed.

My belief is that the image maker has three primary choices to make: where to stand when making the picture, what to include in the picture, and whether to present it to a wider audience. These apply, in my belief, to any image whether made with a pencil, oils, airbrush or digital camera. Of course there are other choices to make in respect of technique, but I regard them as secondary issues.

I look with awe at images made by photographers I admire, and note that the style of their images is usually quite different to my own. And yet, it would be wrong of me to mimic them. It would be theft of their  property, and false to my own sense of self.

My image-making style is coloured by my own history. My working life began as a draftsman.  Perspective and proportion, clarity and simplicity are important to me. A critical observer might suggest that my images have a naïve character to them. Most of them lack subtlety or abstraction. I love those characteristics when I see them in the work of others. On the other hand, I have little affection for “gritty” images that depict ruin and decay. I rarely venture into monochrome. They remind me of Harold Pinter and the “kitchen sink” school of playwrights from the ’50s and ’60s.

So, the question is, should I be trying harder to find uniquely “Brian-esque” ways of picturing the world? At present, I believe my pictures pay homage to the world as I encounter it.

The “Brian” dimension can be found in the position from which the subject is viewed,  the extent to which material is included or excluded to focus on a particular subject, and the fact that in some particular context, I have selected it for viewing. Those things should all tell you a lot about me and my relationship with that which was photographed.  How, if at all, should any such relationship be made more explicit?

Last night, I joined twenty-three fellow camera club members on a “nightshoot” commencing at the rotunda in Oriental bay. Despite a bleak start to the day  and a sudden and vicious hail storm in the morning, the evening became clear and calm, and a magic night for purposeful photography.  I made a lot of images (106)  and am quite pleased with at least a dozen of them, which, as any photographer will tell you, is a good result. Which image most captures my interaction with my surroundings? They are all of different subjects so choosing one is hard. I shall go with this one of yachts in the Oriental  Bay marina. The exposure was 8 seconds which will account for the softness in the masts as the boats will have swayed in that time. Oriental Bay Marina

What, if anything, does this picture say about me and the subject matter? Or have I misunderstood Doc’s challenge to Tony?

Any and all feedback welcomed.

*you can take your pick as to where I got this thought from. It is either Longfellow’s “Excelsior”  or “Upidee” by GD Knight. I suspect the latter, as I sang it at many a student party in the early sixties.

Academic night Petone Retirement Seaview Work

May 29, 2012 … the morning after the night before

That’s it! Teaching is done! Real life begins!

Having completed my last lecture yesterday, only the marking of final assignments, and helping in the preparation for the oral defence by two of my PhD students stands between me and the totality of retirement from academic life.

After the lecture, I went with those of my class who could stay, to have a drink at “the Backbencher”, a popular pub nearby. Since I was driving, I didn’t stay long, but I enjoyed their company while I was there. And so, I headed home.  Just before I passed under the Petone overbridge, I had noticed some nice reflections along the foreshore.

I drove a few hundred metres further, regretting that I had not taken the Petone exit to catch the shot, knowing it would not be like that next time I passed. Then it occurred to me that there was no need for regrets. The situation could be recovered! A quick diversion into Korokoro, and back over the motorway, and down to the Western end of Petone put me in position to catch the reflections after all.

I had my little “gorilla pod” with me, and though it’s not quite the equal of a real solid  tripod, it served well enough, sitting on the boot* of the car.  The wind was not completely still, and there was a lot of moisture in the air, as you might judge from the halos around the street lights on the Esplanade, and in the glare above the oil terminal at Seaview.  Reflections on Petone Beach

The row of green near the waterline on the right comes from some lights on the underside of Petone wharf.

Lesson for the day … seize the moment!

*boot = trunk

Landscapes Petone Weather

May 28, 2012 … it’s an ill wind

Though I know exactly what is implied, I have really never understood the derivation of phrase “turned to custard”.

I like custard!  Custard is positive. If anything, the advent of prepacked custard in the supermarket chiller has enhanced my liking for it. Nevertheless, in the language of the day, yesterday’s weather turned to custard.

I could see a number of photographic possibilities, most of which could be accessed  from places where it was impossible to stop, and where I neither I nor my camera would remain  either safe or dry. So I kept driving.

At the crest of the Wainuiomata hill road, I stopped, and put the camera on the tripod with a big lens, but kept it inside the car.  Erecting a big tripod with legs at all angles inside a car is no mean feat. Fortunately I was alone. I opened the passenger window facing West, and braved the rain driving  in from the Northwest. The passenger seat will dry out in a day or two.

The resulting picture is of  Petone from the crest of the hill, in yesterday’s gale.

Petone in a galeMy preference for warmth and comfort jeopardized the image because the car was literally bouncing in the wind which was gusting to about 90km/h. I had to wait for the occasional lull in order to press the shutter.  Even at 1/800 of a second, that foliage in the foreground is lashing about.

The recently cleaned part of the Hutt River estuary where the herons are usually found is on the far side of the river to the right of the picture. The roosting tree for the shags pictured in the blog two days ago is on the near side of the river, approximately adjacent to the building with a bright light on each corner. The Petone wharf is almost discernible near the top left of the picture, but it faded in and out with the gusting rain.  The line of traffic coming towards us is on Petone’s Esplanade.

And there was no custard when I got home.

Lower Hutt Sport

May 27, 2012 … Saturday sports

Another chaotic day, and not even another dollar to show for it.

… not that I am pursuing dollars so much these days. Yesterday afternoon, I went to watch granddaughter Maggie play netball again. I don’t intend to post a netball shot every time this happens, but unfortunately, with house guests, and being out to dinner in Waikanae last evening, I didn’t really take anything else yesterday.

Zoe scored the team’s only goal. As the ball dropped straight into the net, her dad (with a Sony alpha-77) was so entranced I think he forgot to take his own shot. His troubles were compounded a little later when a passing seagull expressed its opinion of the Sony by dropping an unwanted gift right on the lens barrel. It was necessary to clean it up before using the zoom or focus grips. (And I don’t even know how to spell Schadenfreude)

Netball - future-fernsPerhaps this shot will convey the enjoyment the children have from the game, but in my role as a sideline critic, I think they need to ramp up the competitive instinct. They tend to stand aside politely when the opposition really compete for the ball, and the scoreline tends to reflect this.

But they improve each week, and it’s fun to watch.

Birds Light Maritime Seaview

May 26, 2012 … home to roost

Everybody has to be somewhere.

And in my case, where I  am governs where my camera is. I spent much of yesterday finishing off the editing of the commission I referred to in yesterday’s blog. Then a chunk of the afternoon was taken up helping the new treasurer of the camera club sort out the tangle of paperwork I had bequeathed to him when I changed roles to become the secretary (much more suited to my skills). With that done, I found myself on the Eastern side of the valley and the sun was getting low in the sky.

Drawn, as always, to the sea, I went down to Port Road on the Eastern side of the Hutt River estuary and looked for whatever was to be seen, but planned to visit a stranded tree which has floated down the river  and lodged itself just North of the confluence of the Waiwhetu stream where it has become a regular roost for shags.

On my previous visits, the shags there have been very skittish, departing en masse as soon as they detected my camera. In fact I have sometimes wondered if the birds sensory abilities include the ability to detect the autofocus transmissions from the camera.

Anyhow, I parked, walked up the opposite side of the road to be downstream and down-sun (is that a word?) from them, using the young pohutukawa trees as cover. I counted eight pied shags perched on the one tree.  I must have looked very dodgy to passers-by, lurking in the bushes with my lens poking through.

The birds seemed unperturbed, so, with my camera to my eye, I walked quietly to the next tree and then the next, until I was out in the open, adjacent to their roost, and still they stayed in place. Very unusual.   Of the series of shots my preferred image is this one, an example of what learned judges used to call “contra-jour”  … against the day.Shags roosting on a washed-up tree, Hutt River

For orientation, the river is running from right to left in this image. The rightmost building visible through the trees is the Unilever factory in Petone.



adversity creativity Photographic commissions

May 25, 2012 … better to light a candle than curse the darkness

From the beginning, I have said I value feedback.

My eldest son David asked a valid question on the forum  at the end of yesterday’s blog entry … “Is ‘a photo a day’ cramping your style – discuss?”

Hm. There are two dimensions to this.  First, there is the inevitable conclusion that the picture that provoked the question (wine glasses)  is rubbish. He is right. It is. Second, and more importantly, there is the recognition that images produced under duress are less likely to be good ones. Images made for the joy of it are more likely to be winners.

On the other hand, I am not yet ready to abandon the photo a day idea, because every time I press the shutter, it teaches me something. All too often it teaches me what doesn’t work, but that too is valuable knowledge. I am not sure I can afford to give up such a  valuable aid to learning. As a result, I inflict my failures and mediocrities on those who read these journeys, but I hope there is a fair mix of successes amongst them.

Yesterday I had no chance to engage in creative photography, as I was working on a commissioned work. Amazing how much time it took to tweak and adjust them afterwards.

Interior photography

I have just acquired Photoshop CS6, but haven’t learned how to use it yet. It might have made it much easier to achieve distortion free verticals.

Please keep up the feedback. Even if I don’t follow your advice, I value it.

adversity creativity night

May 24, 2012 … I should have drunk the wine

Desperation time again …

Nine thirty in the evening with no worthwhile photo. I promised myself I would not be getting into these situations. Yet there I was again. Tripod, black background, two wineglasses, some wine, a remote trigger and a candle, and I produced something of no great virtue, but it is a at least an image of the day. Lights were turned out, and the only light used for the exposure was from the candle.

In hindsight the glasses needed a good polish, and I was forced to spend a lot of time in Photoshop erasing the worst of the smudges.  And it’s not even as if I got to drink the wine (a pleasant, if modestly priced South Australian Shiraz) Two glasses of wine and a candle

Maybe I will be more diligent today.

Birds creativity Seaview

May 23, 2012 … golden opportunity

Serendipity has its place.

Planned photos probably have the highest yield, but lucky accidents are good too.

Late yesterday afternoon, I was in Seaview (the industrial suburb at the Eastern end of Petone), beside the recently cleaned and now concrete-lined Waiwhetu stream, trying for variations of ripples on reflections. I was standing with my camera on a tripod on the edge of the stream, throwing pebbles to create new ripples when a van pulled in behind me. Very close behind me!

My friend Brent who is also an obsessive photographer of birds was driving past and had spotted me, so stopped to chat. As we were discussing the photographic possibilities of the area, I pointed upstream, in the opposite direction to where I had been focusing.

I have mentioned before the necessity of looking in other directions. On this occasion, Brent and I and saw a patch of still water reflecting the sunlit background very nicely. From the depths, a Pied Shag (Phalacrocorax varius) popped to the surface and looked around. I grabbed the other camera with the shorter lens and took the shot before the ripples died and before it dived again.

Shag on golden waterWhile I had noticed that the scene was colourful, I had not noticed the golden hue, and indeed was unaware of it until I was cropping and adjusting exposure on the computer later. I have added no colour to this image. If I decide to use this image for any competitions, it just about names itself. The only possible title is “On Golden Pond”.

Some days are difficult, and then there are days like yesterday where I got at least seven images I could work with.

It was a good day.

Academic Architecture Landscapes Light Lower Hutt Weather Wellington

May 22, 2012 … last (and first) light

Class preparation done, but no “photo for the day” in the can!

Aaagh!  Still, it was 4pm and as we get are getting nearer to Winter, the sun was already low in the sky. Lovely light and long shadows.  So, like Elvis, I left the building.

Across the road, I paused for a moment on the corner of Lambton Quay and Molesworth Street  as I attempted to capture the afternoon light. With the sun descending behind Parliament, I used Ra Vincent’s sculpture, “Two Pouwhenua*, Waititi Landing” to frame that one tree still catching a little of the light.  I am sure that the sculpture has a picture in it. This isn’t it, but I shall keep trying. Sunset in the Parliamentary precinct

I went a little way up Bowen Street behind the Ministry of Economic Development into the precinct of the Bolton St Cemetery where there are the gravestones moved in the late 1960s to allow the building of the motorway nearby. On the footbridge over the motorway, I played with vertical panning shots as cars passed underneath.

Then back to the university building by the railway station where I conducted what is likely to be my penultimate class as a university lecturer.

As I said, I am not satisfied with the shot above, so at the risk of creating a new cliché, I throw in yet again, a dawn shot from my bedroom window. Those clouds came to nothing.Hutt Valley Sunrise

The day lived up to its promise.

*Pouwhenua  is part of Maori culture. Traditionally, it is a carved pole or stick which marks a place of significance, or a boundary. Sometimes they are small enough to be used as a weapon. This particular sculpture is a highly stylized interpretation of the pouwhenua