In a couple of month’s time Grahamstown’s Festival Gallery hosts its annual end-of.year exhibition. This year the theme is Summer in Miniatures – artworks have to be no bigger than 30 cms. I’ve decided to try out a submission with the idea of ‘Summer Nights’ and use a selection of four night pictures taken this past southern hemisphere summer.
The first two were taken on Ganora Farm which is just outside Nieu Bethesda in the Karoo. Summer Nights 1: Angel and Obelisk was taken in the middle of the night when there was no moon. I wanted to catch the Milky Way stretching directly above the rock and quite by chance I caught the light of my head torch that I was using to light-paint the top of the obelisk. Summer Nights 2: Compassberg Star Trails was taken on a night when the moon was full which is why the landscape is so bright. It’s a one hour exposure looking north to Compassberg mountain and has beautiful star trails arcing across the horizon.
Summer Nights 1: Angel and Obelisk
Summer Nights 2: Compassberg Star Trails
Summer Nights 3: Firefly and Star Trails
Summer Nights 4: Pride Rock Star Trails
Summer Nights 3 and 4 were both taken looking south from Mountain Drive, Grahamstown: so they are overlooking Featherstone Kloof. In Summer Nights 3 I was joined by a firefly that flickered briefly past my right shoulder and up into the sky. It’s another picture taken when the moon was full so I hid beneath a rock overhang to avoid getting direct moonlight on the lens. For the last picture, Summer Nights 4, I highlighted Pride Rock from underneath with a bright LED as there was no moonlight to bring out the foreground. The lights on the horizon are from Port Alfred 60 kms away.
If they’re accepted for the exhibition they’ll be priced at around R2500 for a framed print but I can supply a high resolution digital image for half of that. Contact me if you are interested.
Images taken at low light have always been one of my passions but lately I have been able to take much better images at night. A new camera and lens have helped! So I’ve been taking milky way pictures and star trails – quite a few have been posted in Instagram using my @roddythefox account. A few nights ago I was taking some star pictures in the garden below our house and I swung the camera down and round to capture the vegetation. Here’s the picture I got – I was blown over by the glossy aspect of the leaves, the jungly shapes, the amazing violet-pink sky and the interesting composition.
I saw straight away there were lots of possibilities in the shapes to make some special images. So I enhanced the picture’s contrast, cropped out most of the right hand side and then mirrored it horizontally and vertically to get this dramatic image.
I’m pretty sure I will be using it for Portals. It’s such a great fusion of night imagery with mirroring to find a stunning pattern. I could see, though, that there’s the possibility of another great pattern using the almost vertical leaves on the left hand side of the original. This time I’ve duplicated it many times to arrive at a fantasy wallpaper/wrapping paper design.
One of the unusual things about taking the portals pictures is that I am often looking for an image to complete. So I look for quirky shapes that can be combined into something intriguing, different and provocative. Fortunately for me there are plenty of trees in and around Grahamstown with strange forms which provide me with great material – especially at sunset when the light is changing rapidly.
There’s a hook at the top of the trunk of this leaning tree, with slanted bands of clouds behind. When I cropped through the hooked tree and copied, flipped and joined I got the following two images.
The shapes of the clouds now focus your eyes on the strange silhouette in the centre of the image. One of these will go into the Portals Exhibition but I haven’t been able to make my mind up which it will be.
I’ve been out from home to take night pictures around Grahamstown three times recently when the cloud (preferably no clouds) and wind (preferably no wind or light winds) forecasts were favourable. The moon isn’t such a problem as you can use the moonlight to paint the foreground of your picture. Night photos have been a dominant theme for me lately. I’ve had great results with the fantastic ‘live composition’ option on my new Olympus and I bought an expensive wide angle lens to catch as much light as possible.
The first picture’s taken looking down the Belmont Valley from the hillside below PJ Olivier School. I had to hide the lights of Grahamstown behind the burned out tree stump and rocks but that gives a nice dramatic composition. There was no moon but plenty of artificial light so I used a short two second exposure and took a live composition for 50 minutes. So the picture is actually 1500 images combined.
Belmont Valley Star Trails
The second picture’s from just below the high point of the Oldenburgia Trail – where is goes over Dassie Krantz – south of Grahamstown. This time the moon was full and I positioned myself so the moon, and lights of Grahamstown, were behind me – on the other side of Mountain Drive. The camera settings are almost the same as the first picture. You can see the ribbon of car lights snaking along the N2 and the dotted lines of the two light aircraft flying along the coast. There’s also a meteor – the thin diagonal flash in the centre-left of the picture (in the middle of the Milky Way). The sky’s blue because there’s much less artificial light.
Oldenburgia Trail Stars
The last picture was taken a week later and only a few metres further down the Oldenburgia Trail. This time I’ve pointed the camera south-east, looking down Featherstone Kloof, as the moon was just rising behind the crags to the left. There are a lot more stars and a brighter sky because this composite is one-hour of five second exposures and the camera’s sensor picks up light from the fainter stars. You can make out the glow of street lights from Bathurst and Port Alfred on the Indian Ocean coast 60 kilometres away.
Without doubt the Karoo is cold in the winter months. We are just back from field work based at Ganora Guest Farm, New Bethesda and it was gray and cloudy and cold. I managed to capture the grainy chill in these pictures: particularly in the skies towering over the gravel roads twisting through the big landscapes. We’ve usually finished field work before sunset and so I get the chance for a quiet walk and the opportunity to compose some photos – hopefully beside some sheltered sun-warmed rocks.
Then there’s also the small things that you see when walking through the countryside. The donkeys, pumpkins at a road side farm stall, freshly shorn sheep smelling of lanolin and there were some orange-red blossoms like flame flickering amongst the rocks.
At night the sky sweeps above you and the stars are incredible. This picture of the milky way was taken when it was hazy and cloudy so I was lucky to get the picture when there was a break in the clouds. The farm buildings in the next picture are very bright because a guest’s car drove down to the farm whilst I was exposing the shot. So the farm was light painted for me. There’s a straight diagonal line running across the curved star trails in the last picture. It’s the lights of the SAA flight from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town.
Makana’s Kop dominates the skyline over the township when you are down in the bowl where Grahamstown lies. There’s a prominent straggle of fir trees on its crown and the oldest townships of Fingo and Tantyi run down towards you as you look up to it from the city centre. This sunset picture’s taken from above city though, on the hillside next to PJ Olivier High School, so you look across the Belmont Valley to the Kop. It’s nestling in the crook of the burnt tree stump with the Old Municipal location, Ndancame and Vukani sweeping down the valley to the right of the picture. The last of the light is just catching the houses on the west facing slopes. It’s there that the full moon rises.
A big fire swept through this area in the mid winter of 2014 and there are quite a few blackened stumps like this. I’ve a picture of the same tree stump in this gallery which was taken at sunrise. The trees on Makana’s Kop are clearly visible in the second picture.