Shooting Somewhere New Pt 1

So over the last couple of months I have had 2 weddings to shoot outside of Hawke’s Bay, both of which  provided me with opportunities to shoot some new landscape locations in New Zealand.  Both of these areas were places that I knew reasonably well, but I approached the capture of landscape images quite differently for each of these locations.

I will cover the second location / area in a followup blog post, but I will start by telling you about my recent trip to the central North Island region around Taihape.

I was booked to shoot at a wedding near Pukeokaho on a Saturday in February, and as is normal when the wedding is out of Hawke’s Bay I chose to stay over in the area after the wedding.  And as the coverage of the wedding didn’t include the reception it meant that I was going to get the chance to shoot a sunset and sunrise session in the area.  The nearest town to the wedding was Taihape so after booking my accommodation there my thoughts turned to what to shoot for myself after the wedding coverage was done.

Taihape is a place that is well known for a few things: it is the Gumboot Capital of the World, it is on the main trunk railway line through the North Island, and is also on the main highway that runs through the North Island.  So most people in New Zealand know the town as a place you go through to get somewhere else, and while it sits in a region of pretty dramatic hills and rivers it is not renowned as a photographic destination.

As I had been to or through this area many times before I knew that there weren’t that many locations that I wanted to shoot.

But just north of Taihape is a little church on a hill that I have been facinated with capturing in photographs ever since I first saw a photo, by the legendary New Zealand photographer Andris Apse, which had the church viewed from a distance across a field ( you can find / buy a copy of the image here: ). 

And as is often the case when a town is on the way to somewhere else I had never managed to try to photograph this church in anything other than mid-day light, and had always come away disappointed with my efforts.

So with a sunset and a sunrise shoot available to me, and a subject available just a short drive from my accommodation I decided to really try to get some nice shots of this church this time.

And I certainly got more than I hoped I would.

So after finishing up the wedding shoot I drove the 1/2 hour into Taihape, checked into my motel and immediately headed north to the church. It was probably about 1/2 hour before sunset when I arrived, but given the topography of the area I knew the sun itself would dip below the hills to the west of the church well before the actual sunset time.  I shot from the roads around the church for a while ( the church is slightly below the main road level, at the junction of 2 roads, but at the same time sitting on a small hill ) with a soft hazy sunset happening behind the church.  There were very few clouds in the sky so I knew I wasn’t going to get a specular sunset in that respect, and I decided to make the most of the golden glow on the horizon, and also try to pick out details in the landscape behind the church as well. 

After shooting from the road for a while I walked down the drive to the church itself, and entered the surrounding cemetery. As I was waiting for the sky in the west to darken enough for the ‘blue hour’ tones to appear I had a scout around the church to look at locations to shoot the next mornings sunrise from, and to see what compositions I could see. I find it is always good to plan some compositions the night before if you are planning to arrive in the dark the next morning.

After capturing the last of the amazing colours in the sky as the suns light finally faded away I walked back to the car at about 9pm and headed back to my motel to rest.

After driving for 3 hours to get to the wedding from Napier, shooting the wedding and shooting for a couple of hours at the church I was understandably a bit tired. I still had the job of downloading the wedding photos and video off the cameras to be done before I turned in for the night, and had my alarm set for 5:30am in the morning.

When I poked my head out the door after my alarm went off I could see that it was cloudy, but there was a strip of blue sky to the east which might yield a nice sunrise. So I grabbed my gear and headed out to the church again.

There is something about shooting in the still predawn hours that keeps drawing me back to it, despite the fact that I hate hearing the alarm go off when it is still dark outside. And this morning was so peaceful with very little wind and mild temperatures ( Taihape sits about 500 metres above sea level, is about 70kms from the nearest part of the coast and is only 40kms from a mountain which has a permanent snow cap, so it has been known to get a little chilly even in February ).

I walked down to the church and set up a composition that I had seen the night before, looking to the east, and awaited the rising sun to light up the clouds overhead. Despite what I thought were ideal conditions for a colourful sunrise it never happened. The gap in the clouds to the east stayed there until after the sun had cleared the horizon but the clouds just refused to catch any predawn colour.

The one bonus of not having a colourful sunrise is that there is not the pressure to capture as many angles / compositions as possible during the short duration of the colour, so instead I just left my camera in one place and enjoyed the sunrise with my eyes and ears instead.

I managed to capture a few long exposure shots that morning, which I thought would look nice in black and white, but were essentially the same composition, and left soon after sunrise.

So despite not getting many shots in the sunrise session I captured more than expected during sunset.

So overall I had achieved my goal of capturing this little church in a way that befitted it’s location, and I drove home happy.