31 March 2008

The colours of the world

Lagoon, sand, sky

Paua[1], alive, hide beneath their camouflage; the brilliant, swirling blues and greens and purples pressed against that wet, black body on the inside of the shell are revealed only after the animal dies, when only that shell remains, stripped of the living animal. In life, the iridescence has no function—at least, none known to us. But who, on picking up the empty shell for the first time, could fail to be arrested by those colours?


Some years ago, Tony Bridge visited for a few days and, after exploring the Pohangina Valley and much discussion about photography and other matters, he suggested my way of seeing (photographically speaking) was in black and white rather than colour. Until then I hadn't thought much about how I see, so I wasn't sure whether I agreed or not. I still don't know, although I suspect he might have been right at the time, but the comment encouraged me to look harder, to pay attention not just to what I happened to be looking at, but how I looked at it. I began paying particular attention to noticing colours, to identifying what I found attractive or discordant in a scene—colours, forms, tones, textures, and so on.
On the coast earlier this year, it even turned into a kind of game.
“How would you describe the colour of the sea?” I asked her.
She looked hard for a minute or two. “I'd say..., blue-green,” she said.
“With a hint of silver?”
“Hmmm... maybe more grey-green?”
And we'd argue about it. Rarely, we'd agree. Usually, we realised how difficult it can be not just to find the right words for a colour, but even to recognise the colour. Try it sometime. Try describing the colour of the sea, or look at the sky on a clear evening, after the sun's dipped below the hills; look at that light just above Gull doing yoga, waiting ternthe hills and try to identify the colour. It's not blue, it's not silver, it's not white. The closest I've been able to get is to say it's the colour of light—apparently nonsensical but somehow more accurate than anything else.


At dawn, as I struggle with these words, light from the sky illuminates the land; it glows, soft mauve and pink. Starlings rush across the paddock where sheep the colour of old, weathered straw graze among dry grass and crisp, brown thistles. The starlings, black and swift, continue to speed past, too quick to make out details; the impression is of movement and the absence of colour, as if they're shapes cut from the world to reveal the nothing beyond. As mauve fades from the sky the land begins to take on a faint golden hue, a promise of warmth despite the lingering cool night air.


I want to believe the whole world is beautiful; that I can feel at home everywhere. But I drive home in the middle of the afternoon in a light that leaches life from colours, leaving them pale and insipid, without even the character of being weathered, yet in perverse contrast, the dense, dark shadows lack detail and subtlety of tone. I can't escape the feeling that these colours, the way they don't work together, the grey roads and muddy olive-yellow foliage, the jumble of discordant power lines and hedges that truncate abruptly in the middle of a paddock—all these visual blows—result in a simply ugly chaos, like a world bruised. The world outside the window of the car as I drive is a mess, not even complex but merely complicated and jarring; the feeling is dismay: “This is not how The World should be!”

Are beauty and ugliness purely human concepts? Our response to the colours of dusk reflected on a wet beach, or cloud swirling around a sunlit mountain ridge, needs no label for us to appreciate the sight at a deeply emotional level—we would know these things are beautiful even if we had no language. A fly, however, responds in a Evening at Himatangifar less complex but essentially similar way to a delicious mound of steaming shit, and most dogs I know seem to view a roadkill with the same sense of appreciation and desire with which we humans view a limpid pool in a river on a sweltering day. How then might concepts like beauty exist independently from what perceives the beauty? To put it simply, is beauty only in the eye of the beholder?

And what causes me to see the world in the middle of this dry and hollow afternoon as dissonant and bruised? But if I somehow developed the ability to appreciate it all as beautiful, would I therefore have lost all ability to discriminate?


Colours and light. So often over these last few months I've been astonished and awed by the sheer power of the light. Elegiac light on distant mountains at dusk as the last sun breaks through rain cloud; evening sun on the hill behind the house, a hill so dry it's the yellow-grey colour of a lion, and behind it the deep blue-black of storm cloud. An angry sky, great clouds piled high into the evening, a thunderstorm in the South-West, black and green, its edges a luminous mist of rain. The car turns a bend in the road and ahead Russell at John & Sam's weddingthe sun's shining through heavy rain, everything behind that glowing gradient of light obscured but in front, the gnarled shapes of old macrocarpas. Near Ohakea a squall drives rain against the windscreen, turns the tarmac into a welter of foaming water, but a minute later it's gone, just a few heavy drops spattering the car, the smell of rain rising from the hot asphalt. Wheat fields, waiting for the harvester, glow bright in drifting sunlight, brilliant against dark clouds. A small flock of finches rises then falls back into the crop, black motes against the ripe yellow. Further West, a more distant but much larger flock rises and swirls like an eddy of wind-stirred dust. They too disappear, down again into the wheat; the impression is more one of movement and grace than individual birds.


In October last year on The Online Photographer, Ctein [2] posted a short article about how the camera he happens to be holding influences the way he sees. If the camera's loaded with black and white film, he says, he “sees” black and white compositions; if it's colour film, the photographer in his mind finds colour photos. The article provoked a good discussion, mostly about whether anyone has ever proved equally adroit with both colour and black and white photography [3], but as I looked at the two photos Ctein used to illustrate his post, I realised neither he nor any of the commenters had mentioned what seemed to me to be an important distinction: that between seeing black and white and seeing in black and white.

Seeing black and white is akin to recognising when colour is unimportant, or at least secondary to other elements like form and movement. SeeingMy driveway at dusk in black and white comprises recognising what something might look like if the colours were replaced by shades of grey. Ctein's photos showed snow chains on the tyre of a large vehicle. The first, a closeup, would have contained little or no colour; in effect, Ctein had seen the black and white composition, in the same way someone else might recognise the graphic possibilities of the shadow of a cat on a white wall (emphasising form) or a handful of shiny nuts and bolts on an old sack (emphasising tone and texture). The second photo, from further out, included the orange-yellow hub and part of the vehicle; this, I assume, he intended as an illustration of seeing colour.

However, the psychological processes are, I suspect, essentially the same: the facility with which one can switch between the two modes of seeing (colour/B&W) depends on one's ability to notice, to pay attention, and to recognise.

On the other hand, to see in black and white is mostly a matter of imagination. To look at a landscape, a street scene, or—much harder—a flock of brightly coloured parakeets and to be able to visualise what a photo of those subjects might look like in black and white differs hugely from the knack of knowing these would make lovely colour photos.


The sun rises through dense, early morning mist, a brilliant yellow-white disc hanging at the end of the long road. Ahead, a truck carrying a digger drives towards that sun through the luminous mist; silhouetted and angular, it looks like a sentient machine from an apocalyptic future. I try to look away from the sun, to lower my eyes from that burning disc, but the urge to gaze into it is almost overwhelming.


Seeing colour and recognising what might work in a photo, isn't as easy as sounds, particularly now we'reMacchapuchare and the entrance to the Annapurna Sanctuary, Nepal bombarded with and have become accustomed to ultra-saturated images. Mike Johnston, primary author of The Online Photographer [4], said recently:

It's often a source of wonder to me that color photography so infrequently uses color to any advantage—many viewers seem to prefer color simply for its verisimilitude—it shows what was, just because it was—without any thought to whether [...] the colors in a picture have any aesthetic affect or impact. Color can ruin pictures for me, as often as not.”
I agree, although as a friend pointed out, most people photograph simply to record and remember, and for that, verisimilitude is a virtue. Still, I suspect Mike had in mind those who photograph because they enjoy photographing as a creative act, and in that context I share his surprise.

Accompanying Mike's post is a photo by David Goldfarb which beautifully illustrates the virtues of subtlety and restraint; to me it strongly resembles an old, hand coloured lantern slide. Thinking about colour and black and white, I grey-scaled the photo and discovered it produced a similarly beautiful black and white version. Whether the subtly coloured or black and white version could be considered better is a matter of personal preference. Again, this seems to me to be mostly about seeing colour—but in this case, seeing it when you have to look for it. In contrast, a photo which simply doesn't work nearly as well in black and white is Joel Meyerowitz's “Still life with newspaper”. Colour—restrained, even muted, colour—seems essential to this photo [5].

I thought again about Tony's assertion that I see in black and white. This I believe I understand—loosely put, it's the subconcious translation of colour into monochrome tones, and, as I've said, it differs from noticing (seeing) black and white. But what about seeing in colour? Can one make a similar distinction between seeing colour and seeing in colour—between noticing and translating? Or, because we're overwhelmingly confronted by colour, does the distinction disappear? If “seeing in” black and white is primarily a matter of imagination, what might we be imagining when the subject already presents in colour?

I suspect the process, for colour, amounts to imagining how particular hues might be accentuated, muted, or otherwise altered. The photos by David Goldfarb and Joel Meyerowitz appear to be the results of just such a process—neither photo seems “true to life” [6] but that's not what matters. Farmer at Kileswar, GujaratWhat does matter is that those photographers saw the potential for photos that express something other than, or in addition to, what might be evoked by more literal records.


Desiccated kelp litters Wharanui beach, flotsam strewn right across the beach and beyond the shingle dunes, wrack from a huge sea in the recent past. A flock of black-billed gulls battles into a headwind, making slow progress along the beach towards a cluster of juvenile black-backed gulls fossicking among the wrack or standing, hunched, facing into the wind. Near the ruins of a crayfish carapace and part of one spiny leg, a dead fish—red cod, I think—lies next to a torn-off kelp holdfast. The fish's empty eye sockets gape up at the sky; its open mouth, fine-toothed, seems fixed in its final gasp, drowned in air. A shard of paua shell gleams on the shining, salt-wet shingle. Wild sea, wind, birds in a vast blue sky streaked with white cloud. I look out over the chaotic, turbid surf to the empty horizon and imagine my gaze going on to Antarctica then further, into and beyond imagination. Suddenly, I understand that to call this beautiful or otherwise is meaningless. All I know is that living somewhere like this seems to be the most important thing in the world.


Of course, noticing and imagining aren't alternatives. All non-accidental photos require some degree of noticing by the photographer; this is an unavoidable consequence of the decision to point the camera at something in particular and to press the shutter at a particular moment. Similarly, it's hard to imagine anyone photographing anything while completely lacking any imagination about the outcome—the photo. I might be wrong about all of this, but it's been fun wondering about it and paying attention to what I'm doing when I'm looking at the world; noticing how I'm looking at it, what I'm seeing and imagining.


The wet shingle feels cold beneath my bare feet. I return to the car and resume my journey, on to Blenheim, then Picton and the ferry. Somewhere in Cook Strait I look up at the sky, to where a lone, white cloud hangs in an aquamarine sky. Stretching from the cloud, a faint trace of shadow darkens the blue, so subtle it seems to vanish under a direct gaze; it can be seen only by looking off to the side. Perhaps that's the case with most things subtle—the trick is to pay enough attention, but not too much. And perhaps I've paid too much attention to this topic and lost sight of what I thought I was seeing. So, I'm going outside, partly to look at the colours of the world but mostly to enjoy it. I suggest, if you can, you do likewise.

On Himatangi Beach

1. Haliotis spp. (the Maori name paua usually refers to H. iris)
2. Apparently, Ctein is pronounced “Kuh-tine”, and it's his full name. From what I can gather, nothing about him could be described as ordinary; "larger than life" might be more apt.
3. According to some of the commenters on Ctein's post, examples of photographers who have proved themselves adept at colour and black and white include Harry Callahan (the photographer, not the other one), William Klein, and Sylvia Plachy.
4. I recommend The Online Photographer as one of the best photography oriented blogs. Sure, like all of them, it has plenty of opinion, but it's generally well-argued (and well written); it's a good source of news and ideas; and many of the articles I find excellent for learning about photographers I knew little or nothing about.
5. The online version doesn't do it justice, at least not compared to the version I've seen printed in Geoff Dyer's magnificent book, The Ongoing Moment — and the plates in that book appear no more than adequate to illustrate Dyer's assertions.
6. Of course, a “true to life” photo—one that substantially achieves verisimilitude—is unattainable, as yet another recent T.O.P post suggests.

Photos (click to enlarge them):
1. Three elements on a long coast.
2. Gull and tern, loc. cit. I find it difficult to imagine most wildlife photos in black and white.
3. Evening at Himatangi Beach, Manawatu, a few weeks ago.
4. Some subjects seem to cry out for black and white. Colour can often distract rather than complement.
5. My driveway at dusk.
6. Macchapuchare and the entrance to the Annapurna Sanctuary, Nepal. March 2007.

7. Farmer at Kileswar, Gujarat, India. Early 2007.
8. Not my feet, on Himatangi beach. The beach here contains some ironsand, hence the dark colour.

[Update (8 May 2008): Mike has posted another thoughtful—and controversial—discussion about colour vs B&W on T.O.P. The comments so far are notable mostly for disagreeing with his assessment of the use of colour in a photo by Udayan Behera. I'm inclined to agree with the disagreement, but don't let that put you off reading and thinking about what Mike has to say. In particular, try applying his suggestion of blurring a photo to help assess whether its colours "work" (or just remove your glasses).]

Photos and words © 2008 Pete McGregor

13 March 2008

Digital photography: a few questions

I returned from the Ruahine on Monday afternoon after 4 days; before then I'd been home for 2 nights after having been in the Ruahine for three nights. Seven of nine nights: not a bad session in a place I love, I reckon. I'm a bit worn out, though, and my right knee's playing up, so I'm popping voltaren and looking forward to taking it easy for a wee while — at least until I head South at Easter. But, I'm aware the blog has been taking a back seat, so here's a filler I hope some of you will find useful. As for you others, well, just ignore the geek stuff and enjoy the photos.
Pourangaki River and rata log

Late last year a good blog friend wrote asking whether I could help with some questions about photographing with a digital SLR. Some of his questions I'd encountered before from other people, and it's likely many others share a similar confusion. I know I did!

I've paraphrased his questions (sometimes to the extent of taking liberties with them) and answered them as best I can in this post, trusting at least some of my responses will prove useful to at least someone out there.

Why it is better to shoot in RAW?
RAW files are the data the camera's sensor collects. They're compressed, but with no loss of data, whereas JPEG files discard some of the data (that's why you should never resave JPEGs more than is absolutely necessary—each time you save a JPEG, you lose more data).Pourangaki River spate Moreover, RAW files are not processed—no sharpening, no saturation adjustment, no noise reduction, etc. They're just the information the sensor records. You apply those corrections later using computer software that's much more flexible and powerful than the in-camera processor. Therefore, many settings on the camera don't matter because you can change or apply them later; moreover, if you don't like the result of the conversion, you can try again with different settings. Colour balance is a good example; I leave it set to “auto” (or, very rarely, might choose a fixed colour temperature) and set the colour balance later on the computer.

When using RAW files, don't you need to go through a complicated process and use specialized software to work on the images?
No, and yes. The process isn't particularly complicated, but you do need specialised software to convert RAW files into editable formats. Very simply, all you do is upload your RAW files from the card onto your computer and then into a RAW converter program, apply the tweaks you want (sharpening, colour balance, exposure corrections, etc.) and transfer the files to an image editing program like Photoshop[1].

Most (all?) SLR cameras come with a RAW converter program, but Photoshop (including Elements) can also do the conversion for you. The other option is a stand-alone RAW converter. I use Male whio, Pohangina River, Ruahine RangeAdobe's LightRoom (v. 1.2) and find it excellent[2]. Some photographers swear by Breezebrowser or Bibble, and Capture One Pro seems to be the top-of-the-line converter if you can justify the expense (I can't). LightRoom has several modules, but the essential, RAW conversion functions in LightRoom seem identical to those in Photoshop so you could get away with PS alone. I do like LightRoom, though.

I've heard that LightZone is great for RAW processing.
It looks excellent but I've never tried it and can't afford it[3], particularly now I've bought Photoshop CS3. LightZone might be a better option than Photoshop for photographers, particularly those who don't want to invest an inordinate amount of time learning the latter. LightZone seems to be based on Ansel Adams' Zone System; moreover, unless I'm mistaken, its major advantage is that you can edit selected areas in the RAW image itself—with LightRoom, you can only change the entire image; selective edits have to wait until after the conversion. Photoshop is always likely to offer a greater range of more powerful editing tools, but at the cost of a long, steep learning curve.

Photoshop is apparently being redesigned to make it task-oriented (modular), and given the success of that approach with LightRoom, such a redesign would probably tempt many undecided customers to opt for the industry standard Photoshop rather than LightZone.

What are "embedded or non-embedded JPEG files"?
Digital SLR cameras allow you to shoot RAW files with the option of including a “bundled” version of the image in compressed format; this has the “.jpg” extension. Thus, when you upload the file to your computer, you have two versions of the same file: a RAW file and also a compressed, processed file you can view with any image viewer, Male whio, Pohangina Riverincluding, for example, Windows Explorer. Most programs (including many image editors) don't recognise RAW files—you need a special program to convert RAW files to an editable format. The embedded JPEG files are useful for easily sorting through your photos to see what you've got, and also if you don't have access to a program that can edit RAW files—you can work on the JPEGs instead.

I've heard about using the histogram before, using it for processing in PhotoShop, but have no idea how to read this while looking at the camera. May I ask what looking at the histogram does for getting the image right?
Put simply, if the histogram on your LCD screen truncates abruptly at either end, you've lost details in the shadows or highlights. Truncation on the left side of the histogram means the shadows are blocked—you have solid black and you can't retrieve any detail. Truncation on the right side of the histogram means the highlights are pure white, i.e. no information, no detail. This is usually a more serious problem than blocking the shadows. RAW converters, like LightRoom, do allow you to “recover” some of this “lost” detail, apparently by extrapolating from other colour channels, but it's best to avoid the problem in the first place. If you see your histogram's truncated on the right, take the photo again, with decreased exposure and see if the histogram now falls entirely within the limits. This is called “chimping”. My LCD (and I assume those of most cameras) shows highlight truncation (clipping) as areas that blink off and on, warning you that you have apparently no detail in those areas.

In theory, you should try to keep the histogram as far to the right as you can, without truncating it. On the LCD, the photo might look overexposed,Tuatara, captive at Mt Bruce but theory says ignore that—it's the histogram that's important. However, in practice, I find this “expose to the right” rule can lead to clipping one of the colour channels, so if the photo has bright, saturated colours (yellow or red flowers, for example), I try to keep the histogram centred or only slightly to the right. Some of the most recent displays actually show the red, green, and blue channels separately—a good feature which helps you avoid clipping one of those channels.

Of course, if the contrast range is too high, preserving highlight detail by shifting the histogram to the left (decreasing exposure) will block up the shadows. There are fancy ways of solving this, but I don't want to confuse you any more than I already have... ;-)

In short, look at the histogram after you've taken the shot; if the right side's chopped off, decrease the exposure; if the left side's chopped off, increase the exposure[4].

At what size do you usually shoot your images?

At the largest setting; i.e. maximum dimensions, highest resolution. It's easy to shrink the images, but even the best interpolation algorithms struggle to enlarge very small images. If you find you need to reduce the size or resolution to save space on your memory card, buy another, larger card. Even the best quality cards are cheap, especially if you buy them from somewhere like Flashcards.co.nz (highly recommended—and that’s an unsolicited recommendation for which I get nothing other than knowing you’ll get excellent service).

I want to have the highest quality images with the best resolution for the media that I show them on.
For computer monitors, a resolution of 72 pixels per inch (ppi) is fine; 96 ppi is the best you can get; anything higher is wasted and simply increases the size of the file. Resize your photos to the dimensions you want (for my blog I don't go above 700 pixels wide) at 96 ppi.

For printing, you need a much higher resolution: other things being up to par, 240–300 ppi will give you aPowelliphanta snail, Ngamoko Range beautiful print. Of course, if you try to produce an A2 size print at 300 ppi, you'll have to enlarge the photo (i.e. interpolate) substantially (“up-rezzing” is the jargon). If you do want a print that size, let a good, professional lab do the up-rezzing and printing for you (unless you’re an expert, in which case you’ll get nothing from reading this).

For projection, you're again limited by monitor resolution. Use a resolution of 96 ppi and set the dimensions to fill the screen on the computer you'll use for projection (1024 pixels wide is a good choice if you don't know what computer you'll be using). This is the one area where, in my opinion, film still has a significant advantage. I've yet to see a projected digital image that approaches the quality of a good, projected transparency.

Perhaps the most important thing to do is make sure that your monitor is properly calibrated. If your monitor has, say, a green cast (you probably wouldn't know, because you're used to it), or if its contrast is set too low, your photos on other monitors (especially correctly calibrated monitors) will look weird. It's possible to calibrate by eye (approximately), but hardware like the Huey Pro (which I use) and other systems make it relatively easy and reliable.

Do you use the noise reduction setting or the sharpening in-camera setting?
Sharpening in the camera only affects the embedded JPEG file, and as I work on the RAW file, I don't bother with this setting—it has no effect on the RAW file. On my 20D the only noise reduction option is for long exposures; I've turned this on, but I'm not sure if it affects the RAW file. I don't think it does; I think it affects only JPEG files (embedded or standalone).

However, when I was overseas I had to use the embedded JPEGs because no Internet cafe had a RAW conversion program, nor any useful image editor. Therefore, I set the sharpening to medium, because unprocessed digital files are inherently soft because of the anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor.

My suggestion is to ignore these settings. Leave them on the factory default settings and use the RAW files. (You might come across recommendations, including some from high-profile photographers, to turn off the sharpening. This shows that even high profile photographers sometimes don't understand everything, even if they think they do. Nor do I).

What camera settings should I use if my photos are intended to be similar to the kind of photos you take? (Some photos I'd like to one day print up on paper, too).
Here's a summary of how I use the important settings on my camera:

ISO: The ability to change the ISO is one of digital's major advantages over film. No trying to change films mid-roll, no fiddling with “pushing” or “pulling” films—just dial it in and carry on photographing.

Choice of digital ISO is similar to choice of film speed. The higher the ISO the more noise you'll have in the shadow areas. This shadow noise is exaggerated if you River bank & coprosmaincrease the exposure or add fill light during image editing, but image noise is generally low in most digital SLRs (particularly Canon cameras) so don't fret over it. My inclination is to err on the side of a high ISO—I'm more likely to ruin a photo with a too-low shutter speed than an slight increase in noise. I guess it also helps that I don't wail and gnash my teeth over a little noise; in fact, I often like it.

I generally leave my 20D set on ISO 200, sometimes 400. If I can use, or want, a slow shutter speed I'll use ISO 100 (the lowest for this camera); if there's little light, I'm happy dialing up ISO 800, 1600, or even "Hi" (3200), but as I've said, I rather like noise (my mum reckoned I did, too).

The one minor disadvantage of being easily able to change the ISO is you have to remember to change it!

Program modes: I never use any of those fancy portrait/macro/night scene/fireworks/blahblah modes. I use two modes on my 20D: aperture priority (“AV”) and, occasionally, manual (“M”). I use the manual mode when I want flash as a main light (e.g., for high magnification macro work) or when I want a consistent exposure over several frames (e.g., if you want to stitch several photos for a panorama you need the same exposure for each frame or the joins, particularly in the sky, will show).

Colour balance: Leave it set to “auto”. Sometimes, setting a fixed colour temperature makes the post-processing (editing) a little easier and faster, and it's useful for consistency over several frames (as I mentioned above for “Manual” mode), but I've never found the other settings (“shade”, “cloudy”, etc.) useful. You'll need to correct the colour balance in your RAW converter anyway.

Aperture and shutter speed: no different from a film camera. Try to get these right, and if you're not confident and the photo's important, bracket your exposures one stop or more either side of your (or the camera's) best guess.

Finally, a very important point. When you convert the RAW file and send it to Photoshop, make sure you convert it as a 16-bit file. I won't go into the theory of it; I'll just point out that it allows you to edit far more aggressively without the photo beginning to fall apart, i.e. showing artefacts like “banding” or posterization. Y(ou can use most of Photoshop's tools in 16-bit mode now, but not in PS Elements; in particular, with a 16-bit file in Elements you can't use layers; you must convert it to 8-bit mode.) Often, this doesn't matter, but if you want to alter contrast or saturation, etc., substantially, you're safer in 16-bit mode.

Hope this helps rather than confuses. If something's not clear, just ask, and if you think I'm mistaken about something, please, do query it. I, too, have an enormous amount to learn.

Pohangina River, reflected colours

1. Sometimes you don't even need to edit the photos. For example, all but a few photos I posted of this year's Baring Head Bouldering Competition were processed entirely in LightRoom and exported from that program, resized for the blog.
2. However, Lightroom cost me nothing because Adobe distributed it free to Rawshooter Premium users (they bought out Rawshooter and the free distribution was part of the deal). If I had to buy Lightroom, I wouldn't. I'd use Photoshop's converter (Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), which is incorporated into Adobe Bridge.)
3. LightZone 3 currently (11 March '08) sells for NZ$198 (c. US$150) for the Basic version and NZ$331 (c. US$250) for the Full version. During March '08 you can get a discount of 20% on these prices. Still unjustifiable for me, regardless of how much I'd love to run it through its paces.
4. Apologies if this is second nature to you, but for the sake of those for whom it isn't: To decrease the exposure, increase the shutter speed, decrease the aperture (i.e. increase the f-number), or lower the ISO. Note: these work only if the camera is set to “manual” mode; if it's set to, say, AV or T or (heaven forbid) P, you must use the exposure compensation dial.
5. The number and range of quality of websites discussing these and related issues is astronomical. One of the better starting points (probably the best known) is The Luminous Landscape, although some of its earlier articles are now substantially dated.

Photos (click to enlarge them):
1. The Pourangaki River, Ruahine Range, on 3 March, the day we walked out after a great couple of days in a magical place.
2. This was what the Pourangaki looked like less than 24 hours before. A good lesson — like most New Zealand rivers, those in the Ruahine rise fast but fall fast too, so don't try to cross when they look like this. Wait a few hours and enjoy the place.
3, 4. Another river—the Pohangina—a few days later. We came upon these two male whio (blue ducks; Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos) at the upstream entrance to the small gorge between Leon Kinvig and Ngamoko huts. The bird at the back is whistling ("whio" is also the Maori word for "whistle"). Females have an entirely different call, a kind of rattle. We saw 4 or 5 birds on this last trip, all males.
5. Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus). CAPTIVE, at Pukaha Mt Bruce. As much as I'd like to say I photographed this gorgeous reptile (not a lizard) in the Ruahine, it's a sad fact they survive in the wild only on some of New Zealand's offshore islands. This is Rewa, a female captured on Stephens Island in the 1980s. She still trailed a few scraps of recently moulted skin. I photographed her through the glass of the cage she shares with her mate, Tahu: glass well smeared with the enthusiastic finger and nose prints of many small humans. The trick with this sort of photography is to get the lens as close as possible to the glass and to shade the glass to eliminate reflections or light scattered by those little human prints.
6. On the other hand, I photographed this native land snail (Powelliphanta sp., I think — I'm trying to get an i.d.) at the top of Shorts Track on the Ngamoko Range as we walked out last Monday. The shells, usually empty, can be seen fairly readily, but it's rare to find the living animal and even less common to find one active. Yet another of our wonderful endemic animals in need of active conservation.
[Update: Kath Walker, snail expert from the Department of Conservation, confirms it's Powelliphanta marchanti.]
7. Coprosma sp. seedling growing on the river bank below Ngamoko hut.
8. Pohangina River between Leon Kinvig and Ngamoko huts. The gold is sunlight reflected from a grassy slip just downstream; the blue is light reflected from the shadows. Photography is often a matter of seeing the light.

Photos and words © 2008 Pete McGregor