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February 29, 2020 … I’ll take what I can find

I seem to have fallen into a rhythm of posting every two weeks, perhaps in the hope that I might have produced sufficient images that I am happy to share. Obviously, I would like to produce great images, but even the best photographers produce a modest number of great shots out of the hundreds of images they make.

Let there be no illusion, my images are rarely, if ever, in that “great” category, and any that come near are usually the result of serendipity. On the other hand perhaps it is not too immodest of me to hope that I can deliver five or six images each week that, to my own eye at least, are pleasing. If you like some of them too, that’s a bonus.

Courting ritual

Dabchicks fascinate me. Like others in the grebe family, their legs are very far back on their body and they are designed for water propulsion rather than walking. I love their parenting technique which includes hiding their chicks in the plumage on their backs. I hoped to see the little black and white chicks sticking up like periscopes from one or other of this pair. Things seem to have moved further on than I thought. I am told the dance I observed is a part of their courting ritual, so the previous youngsters are on their own and the parents are thinking of a second brood.

Photographs such as this would be better taken from nearer to the waterline, perhaps at their eye level. Sadly, neither my agility nor my sense of balance is what it once was, and if I get down low, I have to think about getting back up again. So I tend to shoot from a standing position. I am working on solutions to this that don’t involve getting the camera wet, or me actually falling in.

Super moon

Though I tend to take it for granted, the view across the Hutt Valley from the front of our house is one to be treasured. This shot was taken from our front lawn at about 9 pm on the day of our most recent super moon. I am a little cynical about moon shots. Unless there is something else in the image, and provided the shot is basically well exposed, there is very little to distinguish one moon shot from another. I concede that high quality optics and a solid tripod can help make a better image, but I prefer to have a recognisable context. In this instance, the foreground includes the Avalon tower, formerly headquarters and production studios of TVNZ. The tower is not artificially lit here, but is catching the last light of the setting sun behind me.

Just hanging around

This branch may look familiar. It should. I have used it many times before as it is a favourite roosting site for various shags. I have a particular affinity for the little blacks and the lovely patterns visible in their plumage. These birds made me smile for their gangster-like pose. Apart from small numbers of rooks, New Zealand has no significant population of corvidae, so these are the nearest we come to seeing the sinister bird characters portrayed so well by Edgar Allan Poe. The setting is the Waiwhetu stream where it passes through the channel at Seaview. It often provides nice background colours.

Get your warthogs sharpened here

Petone retains its own separate character, despite having been absorbed into Lower Hutt City. It is slowly becoming “gentrified” which is a matter for regret. A few weeks back it had its annual street fair in which Jackson Street was blocked off for the day and filled with various food and craft stalls. Though I rarely make images of people I thought I had better have a look. This stall made me laugh out loud. I am sure the company concerned makes really good sharpeners but the ambiguity of their name amused me. I should mention that Warthog Sharperners is a reputable company based in South Africa,

Nature’s architects

My workshop has not been seriously used for a very long time, so other tenants have moved in. Mary drew my attention to the amazing curves of a spider web. A little exploration revealed that it was made by the “daddy long legs” spider. Their webs are notoriously messy but every so often they achieve some beautiful curves.

A scented gift

I am happy to observe that my kids all really appreciate their mother, and that this is often demonstrated by a random “just because” bunch of flowers. In this case, she received red roses, and to Mary’s great pleasure they were quite strongly scented. Sadly, most roses supplied by florists lack any scent. Not these. They are lit with natural light from the window against the blackness of my “dark box”.

Sunset in the Eastern Sky

Often, if the clouds are right, a lovely sunset in the west projects its colour in the East. This is another view from our front door looking across the Hutt Valley. Though it was taken at 9 pm the sun is still lighting the lenticular clouds and provides a little colour down on the valley floor.

Midsummer drizzle

Summer cruises around the New Zealand coast and especially to Wellington seem to be a lottery. It is sad that a one-time visitor to our fair city who strikes it on a day of bad weather goes away with a warped view of the place. Still, as a photographer, I find that the misty conditions have a charm of their own. I hope that the visitors travelling on Europa come again on a better day.

Armada

In the bird viewing hide at Queen Elizabeth II park near Paekakariki I waited in vain for any interesting bird life. The only thing moving was the vast cluster of feathers from some moulting event. They put me in mind of a vast fleet of sailing ships. I have to say that this is my favourite image in this edition.

Lingering on after the wind has died

A few days of consistent Nor’Westerly wind can usually be relied upon to generate some lenticular cloud above the Eastern hills. They often linger for a while even after the wind drops. This image was made from the park at the Western end of Petone Beach looking towards Eastbourne.

Wary, but standing its ground

Petone wharf is on shaky ground, and is not as straight as it once was. It has wooden hand rails on most of its length, and these serve as a handy perch for the variety of gulls and shags in the area. The little shag is the most common of the varieties in New Zealand. They can be easily identified by their long tail feathers and short beak. This one was less skittish than normal and allowed me to walk past it without it taking flight.

A summer morning

I use and like the paid online video tuition provided by Scott Kelby. Almost his first piece of advice for making good landscape images is “go somewhere where there is a good landscape”. Most of us tend not to think of our own back yard in those terms. And indeed there are days when I look cynically at a grey wet Wellington landscape and dream wistfully of distant scenes of great beauty. However, if I wait long enough, the harbour goes still, the sky clears and the Tararuas provide some lofty mountain grandeur as a backdrop.

It’s raining as I write this, but earlier in the week we had several days of pure magical stillness. I was driving from Evans Bay around Pt Jerningham in the late morning. The temperature was a modest 24°C … not really hot, but sufficient to deliver a haze on the distant mountains. The harbour was almost perfect, and the various vessels moving about were leaving clean sharp wakes. On such a day, I did not have to go far to find a pleasing landscape. In case you were wondering, Mary and I live on those distant hills just a little to the left of the edge.

That will suffice for this edition. I hope you enjoy what you see and read here. Your feedback is always welcome.

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February 8, 2020 … articulation

A random post on Facebook last week caused me to think about the processes and mechanisms of human thought, and especially my own. The writer was a person who thought verbally and was shocked to learn that there were people who think in other ways such as in images. This came as a shock to me too, but from the other side of the fence. Somehow, until now I had never understood the difference between verbal and visual thinking. I seem to be a visual thinker.

There is nothing linear, logical or even verbal in my usual thought pattern, as far as I can tell. Nothing that remotely resembles a coherent verbal sentence in my native language. Though I don’t suffer from synesthesia, I can sense that this moves in that direction. Whatever is on top at the moment can be displaced in an instant by something triggered by a smell, a sound, a taste, a touch or something glimpsed out of the corner of my eye. If someone asks what I am thinking about, it takes quite some effort to put together a coherent answer. This can be frustrating to those who want to know what I am thinking, when I am unable to respond. I am not being difficult, I just have nothing useful to give them.

It makes me wonder how, in Heaven’s name, I ever completed my post graduate degrees which obviously required lots of linearly evolving verbal exploration of the topics. If I were to choose a word to describe my thinking processes, it would be “scatterbrained”. Now these are matters for me to explore in more depth and in some other arena. However, I wanted to see how all this impacts on my photography and how it affects my sense of what is art. So this week, you may notice a slight change in the style of the purple prose.

Varnish

On the city side of Wellington’s Clyde Quay is Chaffers Marina, characterised by a generally upmarket fleet of glossy yachts. On the other side of the quay, nearer to the Freyberg Pool is the Oriental Bay marina where the moored boats are much more humble. I made this picture for a number of reasons. First, there is that boat with its lovely juxtaposition of red/gold varnish and white paint. Second, the hull is reflected nicely in almost calm water. Finally, this is an honest-to-goodness home-built yacht, Look at the uneven seams between the planks clearly visible on its side.

While I try not to be rule-bound in making my compositions, I also know that some time-worn conventions help make a better image. For example, I try to avoid having eye-catching material intruding at the edges of the picture. I also try to ensure that it is clear to the viewer what the subject of the picture is.

Seeds of an idea

Mary came into the house with a beautifully symmetrical dandelion seed head and thought I might like to make a picture. At first, I was not enthusiastic, but conditions outside were uninviting, so I set up the camera with tripod, macro lens and my “dark box”. To be clear, the seed head was positioned outside the box, and was illuminated by light from the window. I rarely use artificial light. I use the box to provide a totally black background behind the subject.

This image is made using a technique called focus stacking . It consists of about eight images, the first focused on the nearest point, in the front centre of the subject and each successive image is focused a little further back until the last one reaches the “equator” of my little globe. The images are then merged in Photoshop (which is not a bad word, nor is it in any way “cheating”). The software takes the in-focus sections of each image and if I made enough images produces a fully focused whole. I have attempted this several times before, but I think this one is the most successful to date.

Giant dragonfly

In the Pauatahanui Wildlife Refuge, I was walking along the trail to the Thorpe Family bird hide when my peripheral vision was captured by a transparent blue thing flitting about. To be honest it was not until it paused on a bush that I got a clear view and could identify it as a dragonfly. Later inspection of the picture suggests that it is the New Zealand bush giant dragonfly (Uropetala carovei) or in Maori, kapokapowai. I had the long lens on ready for birds so had to step back to be able to focus … and the darned thing instantly zipped off on its erratic zig-zag course. However, it didn’t stray far from where I first saw it so I stood patiently and attempted a shot each time it paused. The autofocus systems on modern cameras are wonderful in many circumstances, but not in this case. The camera doesn’t know whether I want to focus on the third stalk of grass, the eighth, the insect or anything else that might be in the direction I am pointing it. Most of the images I took were not as sharp as I hoped for but I got lucky with this one. Isn’t nature beautiful? I would have liked to miss the shiny blade of grass across the lower left, but I’ll take it.

Dabchicks with a dabchick chick

Many of my favourite photographic gurus counsel against setting out with a photograph or even a plan in mind. Rather they advise keeping an open mind and waiting until something grabs your attention. This is consistent with my erratic way of thinking as discussed earlier. However, I am prepared to make an exception for dabchicks. The New Zealand dabchick (Poliocephalus rufopectus) is a member of the grebe family and it holds a special charm for me. This is especially true when they have chicks. In the first week or two the chicks ride on the back of one or other parent, hidden in the plumage except when they stick their heads up to be fed. By three or four weeks they are too big to be carried. They are still fed by the parents for up to ten weeks after which they make their own way in the world. Their legs are very far back on their body and the feet are much better for propulsion in water than walking on land. Scientific naming conventions are rarely as direct and prosaic as in this case – Poliocephalus rufopectus translates as grey head, red breast.

Near the end of the free ride

Here we see two chicks on the back of the left parent, hoping that the other parent will dive to the bed of the pond to get food. What they may not know is that the success of the almost constant feeding will make them too big to be carried after about two weeks. To my eye, the appeal of the two dabchick images above is more in the story than in any artistic value or composition. This tends to confirm the advice that it is often better to shoot what catches the eye than to make a preplanned image.

Soft shades

Most of my photography is a solitary activity. I don’t mind being in my own company. On this occasion, I had a friend with me and after visiting the dabchicks together, we went up over the ridge into the Maungakotukutuku Valley where there seemed to be some swirling mist about the tops. Well, when we got down into the valley, no swirling mist, just soft but steady drizzle. It was different to the effect I expected to find, but I am always a sucker for receding layers of landscape in soft shades of grey. Sadly, they tend not to do well in the eyes of other judges. On the other hand, I don’t care. I like them.

The Prancing Pony

In Oriental Bay, I pulled in to a rare empty car park slot with the intent to get a shot across the harbour. My butterfly brain was instantly distracted by this beautiful Ferrari California in the adjacent slot. Pininfarina was a design genius, and the underlying machinery is amazing also. I am torn between admiration for the sheer beauty of the thing and my revulsion for the ostentatious consumerism. Despite being a ten year old car, these things sell for about NZD$160,000. A new one would go for double that. I would never spend more than a tenth of that on a car.

Hanging in there.

After I made the image of the seed head earlier, I neglected to clean up after myself. A day or three passed by and the poor thing began to droop. It was in a water-filled vase, so it fought the good fight for a while before it began to droop. Finally remembering that I needed to put things away, I went back to the dandelion, and loved the beautiful curve that I saw. A few seeeds had dropped so the head was not quite as symmetrical as it had been, but close enough that it still made a nice image. Since I had not yet put the dark box away, it was pressed into service again, and another image was made before the dandelion was finally discarded. This is still in natural light from the window.

Lindanger is not in danger

A hazy morning with no wind tempted me down to the harbour in Lowry Bay where the tanker Lindanger was emerging from the mist near Miramar. CentrePort’s two tugs, Tiaki and Tapuhi emerged from the mist behind Matiu/Somes Island and made fast at the designated tug-safe areas. As the trio approached the Seaview oil terminal, the red paint became more obvious. A friend who is both a professional photographer and an experienced photographic judge once told our camera club that any image that contained a large clear splash of red had a significantly greater chance of being accepted by other photographic judges. As an accredited judge myself, I suppose there is some truth in this, but usually I want more than just a splash of colour. In this case the reason I made the image was the separation from the bank of mist in the background.

White fronted tern getting rest while it can.

My many encounters with terns always reinforce the delight I take in their delicacy, the sheer elegance of their presence whether in flight or at rest. If the red-billed gulls are weight-lifting gymnasts, then the white fronted terns are a ballet troupe. They tend to come ashore in times of sustained strong wind and find a place where they flatten themselves below the flow of the wind. The whole flock usually weathercock into the wind. In this case, the flock was on the crumbling jetty near the remains of the old patent slip in Evans Bay. I was amused at the way they merged with the guano-mottled concrete of the wharf.

Wind, wind, and more wind

When the wind is strong enough to be annoying and nothing else comes to mind, I often choose to follow the Wainuiomata Coast Road down to the Southern shore near Baring Head. On this occasion, though the wind was not all that strong, I saw some fairly forceful waves near Turakirae. I love watching long slow waves. If the waves are more than ten seconds apart they tend to be worth watching. Slow majestic walls of water advance towards the rocky beach and arrive with a thump that you can feel in the ground through your feet. The white wind-whipped wave crests contrast beautifully with the deep green wall of each succeeding wave.

One of many stairways in Wright’s Hill Fortress

A few days ago we observed Waitangi Day, New Zealand’s national day. After attending morning observances I drove to the South side of Karori intending to look for landscape opportunities from the top of Wright’s hill. When I got to the top, I discovered that the people who manage the old World War II fortifications were having an open day. The fortress is an extensive network of tunnels and gun emplacements under the upper part of Wright’s Hill. Though I am not fond of enclosed spaces, I had never visited before so I paid the $8 to the restoration society and set out along the tunnels. There were lots of other visitors but the extensive nature of the tunnels meant that I could easily get images without other people in them.

The Engine Room in Wright’s Hill

In the 1940s when the complex was built, it was necessary for the facility to have its own power to enable all the activities associated with the two big 9.2 inch guns installed there. To the great sadness of the restoration society, the two Ruston Hornsby 6VCR diesel generators which provided power for the guns are both missing major vital parts. Ruston Hornsby is long defunct, so spare parts are no longer an option, and any replacement bits will likely need to be made from scratch. The smaller 4VRO provided lighting and forced air for the facility and it has recently been restored to running order. Why did I make this image? My dad spent much of his life working in ships’ engine rooms and I was often allowed to clamber down the oily companionways to inspect the mighty machinery. Engines like these hold a place in my heart and remind me of my Dad.

That is all for this issue. I am not sure whether my thoughts about thinking make sense to anyone else, but they may explain the scattergun approach to subject selection.