adversity fungi Lower Hutt Machinery Maritime Plant life Weather Wellington

September 14, 2021 … diary of my interaction with the world

Alaster Benn is a softly spoken Scot who is a passionate musician as well as a superb landscape photographer. He makes his living at least in part by teaching photography. I purchased and downloaded a course from him with the improbable title of “Dodging and Burning Masterclass”. I crudely summarise this course as about reacting to the landscape, and about steering your audience towards sharing your experience.

You can find him on YouTube where, as well as his many tutorials, he has produced an excellent series of interviews with other great landscape photographers. The interview series is called “Vision and Light”. There are at least 32 episodes in this series. If you have a hankering to make landscape images, I recommend you seek out his work on YouTube. He has helped me greatly.

I should add that because of the recent Covid lockdown, the images I am offering in this edition are mostly not landscapes. Any shortcomings in these pictures are mine and mine alone and should not reflect badly on Alaster or any others from whom I have taken guidance. Besides, I have so far watched just six of the twenty six chapters in this particular course.

Daffodils, heralds of Spring

Spring has arrived in Wellington according to the calendar and as shown by nature. Daffodils give me pleasure, in the elegance of their trumpets, and in their spectacular choice of colours. I seem to make similar shots at this time most years. Having done this before, should I refrain from doing it again? Or do I try to capture anew, the pleasure I take in this year’s encounter with an old friend?

Turkey tail fungus

I almost passed this by. It was Mary who saw it and drew it to my attention. The turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) was hiding in plain sight. They seemed at first sight to be brown. I came back the next day with the intent to see what I might achieve with the shapes of the fungus. And then through the viewfinder, I saw the colours. How had I not seen this the first time round? Pointing the camera at things that excite you is a rewarding exercise, and it paid off this time.


The fungus in the previous image was found in the Rhododendron Dell in the Belmont Recreation Reserve. Though not yet at the peak of their season, the rhododendrons in the dell are quite spectacular, and are accompanied by a happy display of daffodils.

Too few to make a parliament

Certain kinds of weather discourage landscape photography. The light is flat and uninteresting, and the conditions are unpleasant outside. If the the light was interesting, I might brave the chill and damp. It wasn’t so I played with some of Mary’s collection of ornaments. It’s not a great image, but I like it, and had fun creating it, and that’s why I pick up the camera in the first place.

Light in the eyes

As the unpleasant conditions continued, I stretched even further in my search for photographic opportunity. This is a pottery candlestick holder, with a lit candle providing the somewhat sinister light through holes around the eyes and the beak. So the question I need to ask is, do I like the image, and additionally, why do I like or dislike it? That might boil down to “should I have made it?” Well I had fun making it. It’s not an image I would hang, but I quite like it. And that opens my eyes to the idea that photographic value is not a binary condition. Images can give some pleasure without having to be a masterpiece.


There was a time when Lower Hutt took enormous pride in its public gardens and every berm and traffic island in the CBD was covered with superbly laid out gardens. As each batch of flowers reached the peak of its display, the city gardeners would be planting the next species for a completely different and equally brilliant display. And then the city administrators placed a higher value on the cost than on the enormous pleasure and pride that the gardens brought. Suddenly our city looked bleak and brutal. In recent times, there has been a loosening of the grip and I am seeing some interesting planting around the CBD and especially near the civic buildings. This splash of lurid green attracted my attention, though I didn’t know what it was. It turns out to be Euphorbia. Colour and form make it appealing to me.

The tree

Riddiford garden has been a feature of the civic area near the town hall of Lower Hutt since 1923, so for almost a century. There was a half-way reasonable day so I decided to meander through it looking for any eye-catching views. There were many individual plants that I liked , but this tree on the Eastern side of the garden had real character.


Another rough day and I was not inspired to venture outside. Still life is often an excuse for lack of willingness to face discomfort. Anyway, we have this little brass bell that belonged to my mother. She used it to summon help in her last days at home. I polished it up and placed it on a silver tray.

Give us a lift

In downtown Wellington, on the site of a former petrol station, a new headquarters building is being erected for BNZ. It will replace the other brand new headquarters building that was irreparably damaged by the Kaikoura earthquake in November 2016. The predecessor was demolished in the last year after sitting unusable for some years. Anyway, as I walked down Featherston Street, I stopped to watch frames for the new building being lifted from the deck of the truck on which they came. My eye was caught by the cab of the tower crane doing the big lifts. That’s not a clumsy vignette on my part. There is a streak of cloud aligned with the crane’s boom.

Strait Feronia

Bluebridge operate two ferries between Wellington and Picton in competition with the Interislander line which currently runs three. I was coming back to my car on Customhouse Quay and saw the Strait Feronia arriving from Picton. By the time I got in position, she was moving backwards at a smart clip ready to lower her stern ramp. I was intrigued at the almost total absence of any visible turbulence from the propeller.

Oriental Bay

I looked down on the city from the parking lot in front of the Cotton Building at Victoria University of Wellington. The Carter Fountain in Oriental Bay added some brightness to an otherwise chill Spring morning

Oil Terminal at Seaview

In the North East Corner of the harbour is the Seaview Oil Terminal where various tankers call to offload petrochemicals and other more scary chemicals to be piped into the tanks at the various terminals around Seaview. I like the curve of the deck and the blue sky is OK too.

So endeth another edition. I really must make progress with the course.


September 2, 2021 … sometimes I think too much

Lockdown provides time for thought. I think about many things, but the thinking that I choose to share here is mostly, though not exclusively, about making pictures. The essential photography question for me seems to be: why?

It’s a question I can ask at several levels. Why do I like making images at all? Why do I choose to make images of the kind that I do? Why do some images turn out better than others? Why does a particular image work, in my judgement? Why do I like the images made by others? And why do I insist that I am “making” images rather than “taking” photographs?

To start with the last question, I regard what I do as making art. It’s not great art, but it’s my art. I could make images with oils or pastels. Perhaps I could carve them in wood and no one would dispute that I “made” the image. However, there are those who still think that there are rules as to what is or is not photography. In their view, the image must be a truthful and literal capture made exclusively with a camera, of whatever was in front of the lens at the instant when the exposure was made. If that’s what you want to do, then good luck to you. For my part, the initial digital capture is merely the basis of the ever-changing recipe from which I attempt to make my images. The only factor that governs inclusion or exclusion of other elements is whether or not it appeals to me.

The only thing on which I accept judgement is the finished image. How I made it is nobody else’s business, and I utterly reject the idea that there is some pure form of photography. Photo-manipulation is as valid as any other tool in image making. And in the immortal words of Forrest Gump, “that’s all I have to say about that.”

In the images that follow, I shall try to explain some of the “why” questions that I posed above,

Bucket fountain, Cuba St

There can’t be a Wellingtonian alive who doesn’t know the Cuba St bucket fountain. Erected in 1969, the kinetic sculpture fills each bucket until the balance point moves outside the pivot point and causes the bucket to spill most of its contents into the bucket below. I was walking down Cuba St into the noonday sun and noticed that the backlighting offered possibilities. I made some conventional images with the whole fountain and its urban context, but saw and liked the strong colours of the buckets and the contrast of the dark street shadows and the backlit water.

Pauatahanui Landscape

From Motukaraka Point on the Northern side of Pauatahanui Inlet, still water and attractive clouds enhanced an otherwise conventional landscape image. This one appeals to me for its vertical symmetry, and for the beauty of those puffy cumulus clouds. The colours of the day as winter reaches its end were also appealing. I chose to leave the leaves in on the left to avoid being slave to the symmetry.

Darwin’s Barberry

Often when I first encounter an attractive plant, I discover that it is an unwanted intruder that is classified as a pest. Almost as surprising is the frequency with which the plant originated in South Africa. To quote Ian Fleming in Goldfinger, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.”. I have several lovely South African friends, and they are definitely not enemies. On the other hand, the emergence of so many beautiful South African flora is clearly suggestive of a deliberate introduction, perhaps as an act driven by nostalgia. Anyway, as to the image, I made it in the mouth of my “dark box” with natural light from the window. I have a tendency to crop too close but gave this one room to breathe. The vibrance of the colours are what appealed most to me.


Such sculptures were , and perhaps still are something of a pop art cliché. My one is about 12 cm tall and was received in a “secret Santa” gift exchange with a $10 limit at work. This was one of the rare times I got a gift by this means that I liked. So why did I make the picture? We were not yet in lockdown for the pandemic at the time, so it must have been the weather. Anyway, I find the curves of the piece aesthetically appealling and as with the previous image, used the dark box to attain the desired contrast.


It was raining. Mary had been to the back door for something and called me to come quietly. There is a clump of lavender that sits immediately up against the glass of the conservatory at the back door, and there, pecking away, was a beautiful little goldfinch. I tried shooting through the glass but as it was raining quite steadily that was never going to work. I went to the front door and engaged stealth mode to sneak around the house to the back in the rain. Amazingly, the bird ignored me. This was perhaps due to the rain, but either way, I was happy with the outcome.

Tui gathering

There was a time when the tui numbers were in severe decline. Not now. These boisterous nectar feeders are present in greater numbers than I have ever seen. It’s funny watching them at Mary’s nectar feeder. An inverted wine bottle full of sugar water feeds into a shallow dish. The birds drink until the level allows air into the bottle and the water is released until it stops the flow. It’s like watching a heliport with no air traffic control. Each bird seems to fly onto the platform without regard to fact that it is already occupied. The displaced bird flutters around squawking indignantly and rejoins the circuit to repeat the process. I tried to get all of the local flock but managed only six of the eight. Why did I make this image? Because I love birds, so if they are distracted so that I can get close, then I’ll be there.

Yellow admiral caterpillar

A photographic friend who is superb at macro photographs of all forms of wildlife is blessed with a young daughter who is superb at finding specimens for him to photograph. Mary is almost as good in that capacity for me. One day recently she came home from her morning walk with this colourful caterpillar. With the aid of fellow enthusiasts it was identified as the caterpillar of the Yellow Admiral (Vanessa itea, or in Maori, kahukowhai). Oddly they feed almost exclusively on nettles, and I was unaware of any growing nearby. This one was found on common groundsel. The photograph was made with a macro lens using panoramic stitching techniques. This caused some odd digital artefacts but gave a good picture of the caterpillar.

Camellia japonica

Mary has a lot of friends, many of whom know that her husband is an eccentric character who is always taking photographs. Some of them very kindly give her things that he might use to make photographs. This lovely camellia came from our neighbours and was photographed with a ceramic vase as a backdrop. The glaze was metallic so it creates a somewhat confusing context for this almost perfect flower.

Proverbs 31: 10-13

I rarely photograph people, and even more rarely photograph Mary mostly because she doesn’t like it. Now and then, I get away with it. Our kitchen is small, and I had the camera on the tripod opposite the oven, and triggered the camera remotely from the doorway behind that. Amongst other things, Mary makes a great variety of muffins. I get some, and neighbours and family get some, and sometimes people who volunteer in the same places that Mary does get some. Half of this batch was filled with lemon curd and as an experiment, the other half was flavoured with ginger marmalade. I can testify that both were delicious. The image is made with natural light and I was pleased to get way with it. Though I have a couple of flash lights, I rarely use them.

Seaview Marina

Covid lockdown regulations have eased very slightly in areas outside Auckland, This means I can travel strictly within my local area for exercise. Well, a fine day and a hint of permission were all I needed. Why did I make this image? It contains boats, moorings, the sea and some reflections. No further encouragement was required. It’s not a great photo, but just being there near the boats brought me pleasure.


Way back in 1982, I had the great pleasure of spending six weeks at Eindhoven in the Netherlands. During a weekend break in Amsterdam, I purchased this small pewter figurine as a memento for my late mother-in-law who was herself an expert craftsperson in all forms of fibre. Anyway, a wet day had me looking for an image to make, so I gave this a shot. I decided to apply some “radial blur” to the wheel to create the impression of the spinning wheel in motion. I quite liked the effect.

Last light of day

This is a kereru, the New Zealand native wood pigeon. It’s a large bird, at least the size of a good chicken. This one was sitting in the small kowhai shrub on our front lawn. It was being illuminated broadside on by the setting sun down the Northern side of our house. It knew I was creeping up on it, but had not identified me as a threat. I find this image pleasing, mainly because I got the bird in focus and the light is beautiful.

That will suffice for this edition. I hope to see you next time.