Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Planning For Sunsets

Planning For Sunsets


I have been a Fiordland fanatic for more than 30 years and have scoured the fiords searching for photographic opportunities.

In the early days I begged myself onto deer recovery helicopter flights to scout for photo locations. One that I found was from the summit of Mount Pender overlooking the entrance to Dusky Sound. 

To make this work for me I needed to have the sun setting exactly over the entrance, so when I returned home I studied my Fiordland map and calculated with the aid of a GPS, the exact time of the year when the sun was where I wanted it at sunset.

This calculation told me that I needed to be there in the second week of January (I can't remember exactly but you get the point) so I planned a one week camping trip  at that time.

Well, to cut a long story short, due to bad weather I did not get my photo so had to wait a year to return. The bad weather taught me that I could not afford to camp on the exposed mountain again as I had my tent fly torn to shreds by the gale force winds on that first trip. Being older and wiser, I camped about half an hours walk down the mountain.

The weather was still volatile, but one night things fell into place for me. It had been raining and I had abandoned any hope of getting my photo and was trudging back to my tent.  Without warning the rain stopped and the mist began to clear as I raced back up the hill and with bumbling hands set up the tripod, clamped the camera on top and took this photo just as the last of the mist cleared. I was over the moon, all that planning over a couple of years came to a climax for just 5 minutes at exactly the right time.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Be Prepared

We should listen to the Boy Scouts. They have some good mottos, one of these  "Be Prepared" is an expression that I too often ignore in my many fits of enthusiasim when seaching for photographs.

A recent brainwave of mine was to photograph the rock formations in the Whataroa River Gorge in South Westland. I had been through the gorge on a commercial rafting trip and I was very taken by the shapes of the river sculpured rock. It was no use trying to photograph from a raft loaded with five other passengers, there was just no room to move, nor would have the other rafters been very happy for me to stuff around for an hour or more looking for a photograph.

The other problem was that there was so much water roaring through the gorge that it would be impossible to stop the raft where I needed to be. Careful planning was called for.

Winter was the right time as most of the precipitation in the mountains would be falling as snow so the river would not flood. A rainfree period of a week or two would also help lower the river level and slow down the flow.

How to access the inner gorge? A kayak is too unstable and I could not use my heavy camera gear, or get out on rock ledges very easily in the gorge itself.

I decided on a two metre inflatable raft with a 3 HP outboard and an anchor should I wish to stabilize myself somewhere in the gorge. I hired a helicopter, loaded it with my raft, camping gear, food, stove and camera gear and was dropped off at the entrance to the gorge.

Sounds good so far. Right?  Well all went well until I pumped up the boat, loaded my gear on board, started up the motor and puttered up through the gorge. I was only two minutes into my journey when I noticed that one side of the raft was losing air quite rapidly. No repair kit and the helicopter would not be back until the next day.

What was meant to be a leisurely inspection of the gorge turned into a nightmare. I did have the hand pump with me so when I selected spots to photograph I would toss out the anchor, set up my camera and as the raft listed more and more I would frantically pump until the little boat was stable again.

Of course I needed to wait for the right light so by the end of the first day I was exhausted from pumping. I needed only a couple of minutes when the light was right but I also needed to pump almost continuously to stay afloat.

I did get a few photos but it was not the relaxed exploration that I had planned. Back to the Boy Scouts, I should have joined up, I might have had a more relaxing  trip.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011


In 1990 Jay Maisel, a famous New York photographer wrote

" I wouldn't want to be starting out today. The average photographer I know who has a studio will be paying anywhere from $2,500-00 to $4,500-00 a month rent. That's just rent. When I moved into a studio I paid $125-00 a month. Today the the rents are so astronomically high - everything is - compared to when I started, and the fees are not much higher."

Forward 20 years and and the decline continues, the gap between costs and fees continues to widen.
To compound the problem, the success of movie films made in New Zealand  has made property owners aware that the film ( Photography ) industry is a multi-million dollar business with huge budgets for film extras and location payments from a seemingly bottomless wallet.

The film industry and a landscape photographer such as myself have nothing in common other than we produce images for public consumption, The film being shot in New Zealand may have a budget of $10,000,000-00 or more, a landscape photographer will be in an old 4 WD and prospecting for images that may sell as calendar pages or as background images in advertising. But we get lumped together as far as the general public are concerned and sometimes when asking permission to access private property we are asked to pay.

The last time I looked at census figures for New Zealand I noticed that the average annual income for those who choose to describe themselves as professional photographers was less than $17,000-00.  That income in any ones eyes is at poverty level. The truth is that most photographers need to have a partner working full time to bring in a supplementary income. There are very few photographers who earn a decent income. Those that do are specialists known for their outstanding skill and they can command respectful fees but they account for probably 10% of the industry.

Every year there is a fresh batch of bright eyed photographers graduating from our schools of photography. Many expect to make photography their profession and it is sad to see so many of them fail. At least once a week I am asked by a budding photographer how to become  a professional. All I can tell them is that they need to specialise, they need to produce outstanding images, they need to charge fees that are not degrading to the industry, they need to have a strong code of ethics and they need to realise that it may take them ten years to establish themselves. But I also remind them that there is hope, the cream will always rise to the surface, there are some photographers making good incomes. Hard work and skill will win through.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Limitations of Transparency Film

For years I used transparency film in larger format cameras such as the Linhof  6x12cm. and Fuji 6x17cm. In my opinion the dynamic range of transparency film is barely  adequate when photographing normally lit out-door scenery. I have always struggled to compress the visible contrast range onto film.

I used all sorts of techniques such as graduated filters, dark room developing variations and print manipulation to drag down highlight areas and boost shadow zones, but I still struggled.

Learning to expose accurately helped and as time went by I learned to analyse each scene and calculate the contrast range, I learned which transparency films had the most exposure latitude and matched the film to the subject. The closest I ever got to achieving the perfect exposure ( I do not mean the image but the calculation of exposure )was more than 20 years after I started using transparency film.

The image is the cover photograph of my book "New Zealand Landscapes"

On your screen it probably does not tell you much but the process that went through my mind at the time was the result of 20 years of experimentation. I sat in my little Stabi-Craft in George Sound in front of this scene and watched the play of light. The contrast range was way out of range of any film.

Sunlight on white clouds at one extreme and dark green bush in shadow at the other. It took me an hour or so but I waited until the higher cloud was shaded from direct sunlight and and the foreground bush and small islands were softly lit by sunlight. At that point I "knew" it was within the capability of the film I was using.

So with experience and patience, it is possible to compress  the visible extremes and squeeze  the exposure to match the capabilities of your film. Ansel Adams was a master at this. I admire him because of his refusal to accept the limitations of film. He experimented and developed (sorry)  the zone system, and found a way to compress a very wide tonal range onto film.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

A photographic challege at a unique "Farm"

Andris Apse Landscape Images

As a freelance landscape photographer I seldom accept commissions but every so often an interesting assignment is offered to me. I was phoned and asked if I could photograph "The Farm" in Kaipara Harbour, being interested in rural as well as wilderness scenery, I accepted. My partner Lynne is a little more inquisitive than I and has far wider general knowledge, she determined that "The Farm" is a sculpture park  owned by Alan Gibbs.

I expected to be photographing sheep and cattle on rolling green pasture, instead I was confronted with huge outdoor sculptures by famous names such as Eric Orr, Sol LeWitt, Daniel Buren, Richard Serra, James Turrell, Andy Goldsworthy, Leon van den Eijkel, Neil Dawson, the list goes on.

All were challenging and forced me to think of ways of showing each work at it's best while incorporating the environment of the farm. I used Canon 5D ll digital with my Leica Lenses to get the best possible resolution and in some cases used the HDR process through Photomatix Pro to extend the dynamic range.

My favourite sculpture is Richard Serra's "Te Tuhirangi Contour" Made up of 56 steel plates 6 m. x 4.58.m. and 50mm. thick. That is 257 metres long and erected on a single continuous contour. The plates are shaped to follow the curve of the contour.

This steel sculpture is a rusty red colour when dry but I chose to photograph it at dusk during light rain to give the wall a wet sheen.

Another fascinating sculpture is  Anish Kapoor's "Untitled" Standing close to the 8-storey high work, it’s gigantic character kicks in. Composed of a vast PVC membrane stretched between the two giant steel ellipses, it has a quality which Kapoor describes as being “rather like a flayed skin.”

During one of the site’s frequent westerly winds it takes on a life beyond what Kapoor could ever achieve indoors.  Entering from the west the wind  doubles in force and is amplified as it passes through the narrow waist and out the wide horizontal mouth of the leeward end. The sculpture breathes: expanding and contracting with each gust.

I decided to feature the interior of this sculpture and to give the image scale I asked Lynne to stand near the entrance. She can just be seen at the far end where the lines converge in white trousers. Because of the amplification of any wind, it was very difficult to use a tripod. The membrane bucks and heaves like a living animal.