Snow Farm, Wanaka, New Zealand

While I was staying in Wanaka, I visited the Snow Farm to go for a walk. The ski field was closed because there was insufficient snow for skiing so we saw very few other people. Several groups had brought bicycles to cycle along the tracks, which were above the cloud layer shrouding the valleys below. I was surprised how much development there had been since my last visit, which admittedly was probably a couple of decades ago.Snow Farm is a centre for cross country skiing unlike the other ski areas in the area, and boasts stunning views of the Pisa Range. The ski field operates back country huts which are very popular, making it possible to do multi day hikes on skis.

Adjacent to the ski field is a vehicle testing area known as the Southern Hemisphere Proving Grounds. Here, winter testing facilities are provided for automotive companies from all over the world. These facilities are behind a big fence and the associated structures have grown substantially more than buildings on the ski field since my last visit. It appears to be a highly successful operation. However, snow and ice being in short supply, it is likely to be a few weeks before the facility is operating. Normally it is open from June to September each year.

West Coast, South Island of New Zealand

I have just been over to the West Coast for a couple of weekend trips. It is appealing to those of us living in Christchurch to experience the contrast between the two coasts. While Canterbury is dry, the West Coast is usually very wet. The sea is calm on our side, with plenty of swimming beaches. On the Coast, it is rough, often a boiling cauldron that deters anyone from approaching, let alone entering the surf. Even under deceptively calm conditions there are strong undertows, swirling currents and rogue waves that have caught many unawares.

The Surge Pool at Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks
Mt Cook and Mt Tasman from Revell Street, Hokitika

My two weekends were contrasting, too. Hokitika was so clear and sunny that New Zealand’s highest peaks, Mts Cook and Tasman, stood out from afar. The sky was overcast while were staying in Punakaiki, with the odd light shower of rain. It was pleasant enough to be outside photographing most of the time, though; nothing like the ferocious storm that battered the East Coast, wrecked bridges and roads, inundating farmland and urban areas alike while we were blissfully unaware of the devastation happening on the opposite coast. Christchurch generally receives 650 mm rain each year; this figure is 3000 mm on the West Coast. During the storm, touted as a one in a hundred year event, Christchurch received 150 mm in just 3 days, while in the hill country behind the city rainfall was more than 500 mm during the same period. The rain has now stopped, but rivers continue to run high and cleaning up and repair work has barely begun. I am still waiting to find out whether the roads will be open for my next trip out of town.

Recently a friend introduced me to a slow motion app for my phone, which I played while I was away, trying to discover what works and what doesn’t. This is still a work in progress, but here are two examples, the first from Hokitika, the second from Punakaiki.

Hokitika sunset
Punakaiki surf

Cemeteries

I have discovered that I like the effect of using infrared to photograph in cemeteries. Somehow, the technique seems to suit the mood of these places. This image is from Naseby.

The light coloured path through the centre of the image seems an appropriate route to be taken by the resident ghosts. Misty conditions accentuated the ‘other worldly’ feel to this image. The trees are less substantial when their foliage is reproduced in lighter tones. Turning slightly to the left at the end of the path, the space between the trees indicates to me a route into the unknown.

Aoraki – Mount Cook

Recently I have been using monochrome much more to interpret landscapes. Although colour is assumed to add life and vibrancy to an image, black and white is simpler and in some ways easier to work with. I think this preference for black and white was enhanced as I began to dabble in infrared photography. There needs to be adequate contrast for monochrome to be effective, but textures become more expressive. I use Nik Silver Efex Pro to transform my colour images. Dust spots are a scourge; they show up so much more in these images. I hope that I have removed them all here.

I made this image of Mt Cook, or Aoraki, (the highest point in New Zealand) during a clearing storm. The green foliage in the foreground was distracting in the colour image and the sky is more dramatic after the Nik transformation.

Welcome to my New Place

2021. From 2018 my life changed inexorably. Death, reality check, adjustment, Covid, travel restrictions, breast cancer, more reality check, more adjustment.

This blog has languished for years as I reinvented myself. A work-in-progress. Isn’t life always that anyway? Now I am keen to return. My early posts are still here as a benchmark. They are boring. Too long winded. An attempt at completeness, perfection; now my aim is more a commentary on my perceptions of life. Changing through time. More frequent posts. One photo at a time. I thought to change the title. Nature is still my primary interest so I left it the way it is. You won’t see too many humans here so the title mostly serves.

I made this image in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens when I was feeling hemmed in by too many people on a Sunday afternoon. Not the time of day I’d choose to go. I was there with a friend and my infrared-converted Nikon D750. Looking up at the sky for a means of escape, these two trees asked me to express their relationship. I called it Canopy Dance.

Emu

Emu

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The emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) is a large, flightless bird, in the ratite group, second in size only to the ostrich (found in Africa). Native to Australia, the emu’s closest relative is the much more rare, and colorful cassowary. New Zealand’s kiwi is another, slightly more distant, relative.

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A few emus are farmed in New Zealand, but we also have an opportunity to see them in captivity at our local wildlife park. The ones that I have photographed are at Orana Park, in Christchurch. The emu is not endangered, so there is no rearing program for them here, nor are they likely to be the subject of a research project. They are kept at the park so that people can observe them behaving naturally in an outdoor, semi-wild environment.

The birds often pace up and down along the fence line emitting a booming sound. It is mostly the females that produce this noise, while males make a grunting sound. An inflatable throat pouch creates the booming, which if emitted at high intensity, may be heard up to 2 kilometres away.

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On hot days the staff turn on a hose to create a temporary pool in their enclosure, which the emus use for bathing. They sit in the pool, immersing their feathers, then stand up and shake off the water. Although they can’t fly, emus can run very fast. They have powerful beaks, so visitors need to be wary of getting too close to the wire. In the wild, they should not be approached, as powerful legs and feet can inflict a damaging kick.

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Emus’ soft feathers are very attractive, so it can be tempting to stroke them. However, this is probably not an impulse to give in to!

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Gorillas

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Orana Park, a wildlife facility here in Christchurch, recently acquired three male gorillas from Taronga Zoo in Sydney.  They are western lowland gorillas, endangered in their West African homeland, and are part of an international zoo-breeding program.

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The oldest, and largest, Fataki (12) is a silverback, dominant over his much smaller younger brothers, Fuzu and Mahali (7), who are nevertheless inclined to tease their elder brother.  They chase each other around the enclosure and beat their chests, hooting loudly.  In spite of these apparent displays of aggression, gorillas are generally peaceful animals unless seriously upset.  They are great fun to photograph, the challenge being to keep the building and other unnatural bits and pieces out of the image.

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It isn’t too hard to get a nice portrait, but capturing interaction between them is a little more difficult, and I don’t yet have anything I’m happy to post (watch this space).  A dark, or black subject is always challenging.  Because the jutting brows obscure the eyes I find that I have to work hard to see them clearly, but lightening ‘shadows’ in the raw file in Lightroom helps a lot.

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Introduction

Practicing the skills of photographing mammals

Nature photography is one of my passions, and my favourite photographic subjects are mammals. I say ‘mammals’ rather than ‘animals’ because I really do mean that, and don’t include birds, reptiles, insects, etc, which are all members of the animal kingdom. This may seem an odd preference for someone living in New Zealand where there are almost no native mammals. We have just two species of bats, and I have never even attempted to photograph these. They are not very common, nocturnal, and fast! We do have a number of introduced species that are established in the wild, but somehow they don’t interest me so much.

For me, then, opportunities to photograph mammals in the wild are restricted to trips overseas. I spend about 3 months each year camping and hiking in the western USA, and have visited other countries too. However, to improve my success rate in the wild, I practice on captive mammals, especially in wildlife parks and zoos that keep their mammals in natural-looking surroundings. Here in Christchurch, we have Orana Park, and the Willowbank Reserve. Both these places allow most of their larger animals, at least, to wander through outdoor areas that are visible to the public without the impediment of obtrusive fences and other man-made structures. So I try to make images of these captive mammals that look as natural as possible.