Making sense of my photography hobby in retirement


Cloudy Dawn

Living near a coast with views to the north and east (I’m talking about the southern hemisphere here) you are presented with a range of moods in the sky and on the water that is driven by the weather.  The sea can be angry, or placid. The sky can be clear, or cloudy.  Visibility can reach to the horizon, or be no more than fifty meters.  All of this presents an infinite menu of photographic opportunities.

Cloudy Dawn, Takapuna Beach, Auckland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

This image was taken in early May last year from Takapuna Beach on Auckland’s North Shore.  It is looking slightly east of north just before 9.00 am.  An overnight storm is clearing and the sun is struggling to break through the clouds, while blue sky begins to show itself overhead.

On the coast and in the mountains are two of my favorite places at sunrise and sunset.  These are the times when clouds are lit at their most interesting best.  Because both places are fully exposed to all that weather systems can throw at them, they are also exciting (and sometimes scary) places to be in a storm.


Another Autumn Sunrise

This morning, fully clothed this time, I ventured onto the beach to capture another autumn sunrise.  It was different this time, not so red, but more dappled grays and blues.

We are lucky here to face the east and have a view out across the Rangitoto Channel to the island from which the channel takes its name.  During the day Rangitoto continually changes its mood as the sun  moves from east to west.  On some evenings the setting sun lights clouds over the island with red and orange light.  In storms it presents a very moody face.

This morning we were presented with a pre-storm view.  There is rain predicted for two day’s time.  On such occasions the atmosphere often clears and New Zealand’s fourth largest island, Great Barrier, shows clearly on the horizon.  That happened in the late afternoon yesterday.  Already the sky is overcast.  Let’s hope that the rain comes as predicted.  We really need it after the long hot summer.

I was going to show only two images from this morning, but I have decided to show five instead.  I have been wanting to take photographs from the eastern end of the beach in the morning for some time.  Here are the results.

Takapuna Autumn Sunrise, Auckland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

Takapuna Autumn Sunrise, Auckland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

Takapuna Autumn Sunrise, Auckland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

Takapuna Autumn Sunrise, Auckland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

Takapuna Autumn Sunrise, Auckland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

Autumn Sunrise

When I woke this morning and looked out the window I knew right away I had to capture the moment. So, still in pajamas, I grabbed my camera and walked down to the beach to record the sun rising behind Rangitoto Island and the early morning crowd out getting their exercise.  A man passed nearby walking his Dog. “Good morning”, I said.  “Good morning”  he replied, no doubt wondering why I was still wearing my PJs on the beach.  It didn’t worry me.  I got my pictures and was feeling very happy.

Autumn Sunrise, Takapuna Beach, Auckland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

Going …

Autumn Sunrise, Takapuna Beach, Auckland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

… and coming

Nor the Moon by Day

Observing sunrise is the mountains is a special experience. The mornings are cool and, if you are lucky, the sky is clear. Often the mountain tops show signs of the rising sun even before it appears. This was the case on our second morning in the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park.  At least 30 minutes before the sun rose above the Liebig Range on the eastern side of the Tasman Valley its golden yellow light could be seen creeping down the eastern face of Mt Sefton and over the upper reaches of the Mueller Glacier.  Further up the Hooker Valley Aoraki Mt Cook was getting its first light of the day while the moon still hung high in the sky from the night before (I know that’s not technically correct, but that is how it looked).  Finally the the sun peeked over the Liebig Range and the Hooker Valley slowly filled with light: shadows softened and colours emerged.

Heading a play on the words of Psalm 121:6 – “The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.”

Mt Sefton, Sunrise, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

Sunrise – Mt Sefton and the Mueller Glacier

Sunrise, Aoraki Mt Cook, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

Moon at Sunrise – Aoraki Mt Cook

Sunrise, Mt Wakefield, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

Sunrise, Liebig Range, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

A Word a Week Photo Challenge: Clouds

Kaikoura Sun, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012

This is my first post relating to “Word of the Week”.  Clouds fascinate me.  If I see notable cloud formations I try to capture them in my images. This image was taken while on a whale watching trip on the Kaikoura coast of New Zealand’s South Island.  Although it was about 10.00 am it felt more like 8.00 am because of the lowish overhead cloud with the sun struggling to get through.  This created a more somber mood as the sun was reflected on the gentle swell.


Silhouette, Martinborough, Wairarapa, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012


Memorial Square, Martinborough in the Wairarapa District near Wellington. The early morning sun casting shadows across the square.

Abandoned in Venice Street

Venice Street, Wairarapa, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012

Venice Street

Found in the small Wairarapa town of Martinborough, some 80 km north east of Wellington on New Zealand’s North Island.  Martinborough is famous for its Pinot Noir wines, however this scene was in one of the residential streets near the town centre.  Everything here looks as though it has seen better days, unlike the rest of the town which is thriving on its farming and wine economies.

Grey Dawn

Rangitoto Grey Dawn, Auckland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2009

Rangitoto Grey Dawn

Rangitoto Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf can be seen from many parts of the city. This volcanic cone guards the entrance to the Waitemata Harbour and all shipping entering the harbour passes through the channel seen in this view.  The mood of the island changes throughout the day and with the weather.  This image was taken just before 8.00 am on an early spring morning in 2009. The clouds reflect the changeable weather we have in Auckland at that time of the year.

Surf’n Wagon

Surf'n Wagon, Main Beach, Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012

Cool Surf’n Machine

On a recent holiday, while taking my morning walk along the Gold Coast Walkway between Surfers Paradise and Main Beach, I happened on this cool wagon.  It had been setup as a prop in a commercial photography shoot near a surf patrol tower and it sparkled in the early morning sunlight.  This type of vehicle takes me back to my youth.  I am unsure of the make as I didn’t want to intrude into the photographer’s territory, but it may be a FJ Holden with a Californian style wooden trim.  Whatever the make, it was immaculate.


Gold Coast, Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia

I like to take a brisk walk each morning, whether at home or on holiday.  One recent morning while holidaying on the Gold Coast of Queensland, Australia I passed this lifeguard tower at Surfers Paradise Beach and noticed an elderly couple toweling down after an early morning swim.  The thought of these people swimming on an unpatrolled beach known for its tidal rips and powerful surf surprised me at first, but their seeming comfort with the surroundings gave the appearance that they may have done this many times before.  The radiating shadows cast by the early morning sun helped to put the scene into context.

Early Morning Run

Takapuna Beach, Rangitoto Island, Sunrise, Auckland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012

Early Morning Run – Sunrise over Rangitoto Island from Takapuna Beach, Auckland, New Zealand

I was on the beach at 6.30 am yesterday morning just to catch the sunrise.  It looked promising when I first looked out of the window so I took my camera and tripod onto the beach and waited.  This is just one of 40 images I took as the sun crept towards and then broke over the horizon.

Morning Run

Takapuna Beach, Rangitoto Island, Auckland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012

Morning Run

Caught this quickly the other morning just as the sun was trying to break through the clouds over Rangitoto Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf. Many people are on Takapuna Beach in the morning, fitting in some exercise to set them up for the rest of the day.

Rangitoto in Shades of Mauve and Orange

I have just reviewed the viewing statistics of my Flickr page and was surprised (and somewhat delighted) to find the most viewed image was this one taken early one morning about two years ago.

Rangitoto Island, Auckland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2011

Rangitoto in Shades of Mauve and Orange

Rangitoto Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf is a significant part of the view from my house.

According to Wikipedia “Rangitoto was formed by a series of eruptions between 550 and 600 years ago. The eruptions occurred in two episodes, 10-50 yrs apart, and are thought to have lasted for several years during the later shield forming episode The first episode erupted most of the volcanic ash that mantles Motutapu Island next door, and also produced the lower, northern, scoria cone. The second episode built most of Rangitoto erupting all the lava flows and main scoria cone at the apex.”

The island is reasonably symmetrical in shape and can be seen from many parts of Auckland.  All shipping that enters the Waitemata Harbour passes through the channel between the island and the Takapuna/Devonport peninsular.

Depending on the weather and time of day Rangitoto reflects various moods, as this image demonstrates.

Easter Sunrise – A Sign of New Hope

Every year for the past 30 years there has been a dawn or sunrise Easter service on Takapuna Beach to mark the hope for the world that the Easter story brings.  Each year the people who gather hope to experience a beautiful sunrise, but that doesn’t always happen.  This morning however, didn’t disappoint.  It is said that a red sky in the morning is a shepherd’s warning.  For those who live by the sea it usually heralds an approaching storm, or at least a period of rain – but not always.

This morning the sun rose over Rangitoto Island spot on time at 6.53 am and painted the clouds in various shades of red, purple and orange before fading into pale yellows and grays as it rose higher in the sky. The reflection on the Easter story given at the service was about new hope, peace and justice, perseverance against all odds, and seeing things differently.  The evolving sunrise showed a sign for all to see.

Easter Sunrise 2011 Takapuna Beach - Auckland, New Zealand

Rays of Hope - Easter Sunrise 2011 Takapuna Beach, Auckland, New Zealand

December Sunrise

It has been a while since I got up early enough to capture a sunrise. When I looked out of the window early this morning It looked as though we would be in for a show. The clouds looked great and the glow was beginning to show. I was not disappointed.

December Sunrise - Takapuna Beach, North Shore, Auckland, New Zealand

Imagining Takapuna e-Book Project

This project started with a problem.  What do you do with your growing collection of photographs that have a common theme to them?  When you create the images you don’t necessarily have a specific project on mind.  The shot presents itself, you frame it and press the button.  Maybe you then post the resulting interpreted image on Flickr or a photo blog.

The idea of a photo e-book began to grow when some friends gave us a photo book of a popular local holiday spot .   Maybe I could produce one for our local area, I thought.  At about the same time one of my sons suggested that I look at Scribus, a piece of open source desktop publishing software.  He had used it to produce an in-house newsletter at his workplace.  Further investigation found that it could produce output in a PDF format.  This had some appeal as the final document could be output a PDF and sent to a book printer such as Blurb, provided it complied with their requirements, or it could be published as a viewable or downloadable PDF on the web. A project had been born.

Imagining Takapuna proved to be quite a learning experience, which can be broken down into the following stages:

  1. Learn how to use Scribus – This required finding and then following a on-line tutorial on page layout and import of text and images;
  2. Map out a book idea – Determine a storyline, themes, master layout, etc;
  3. Explore image portfolio to find image candidates for inclusion in the book;
  4. Build the pages with images and text;
  5. Edit, not once, but at least three times.  You can get too close to the project and overlook even obvious errors;
  6. Review – Have someone not related to the project to review the “finished” article and offer constructive feedback.  This will raise questions about why text or images have been included, and why others have not.  Maybe the text mentions something that is not represented by an image.
  7. Time out – Set the project aside for a few days to divorce yourself from it and clear your mind.  Then come back and take a fresh look.  It is amazing what you see (or not) after a break.
  8. Finalize – It is easy to tweak forever.  Reach a point of finalization and call it quits.
  9. Publish – Put your head above the parapet and await response.

This e-book “sort of ” follows the above process.  While it attempts to follow themes, it is by no means a comprehensive representation of Takapuna and what it has to offer.  It is more an experiment in production and a learning experience for the future.  It has helped to arm me for more intentional projects in the future that can be planned and deliberately executed.  If you view it in that light then maybe you will forgive me for any shortcomings in this first production.

Images in the e-book include sunrise and sunset, surfing, stand up paddling, Sunday and Christmas markets, Takapuna Criterium, cliffs and reef.

Imagining Takapuna can be viewed by clicking here on the cover image above. It is best viewed by downloading the file and opening it in Adobe Acrobat and following these viewing tips.

PDF Viewing tip
Make sure you’re viewing this in 2-page spreads if you want this to look its best.
In Acrobat go to: View > Page Display > Two Up.
Select “Show Cover Page During Two Up” to make sure the pages aren’t out of sync.
Select “Show gaps between pages” for the final touch.

Surfing for Breakfast

Most mornings along the beaches of the Gold Coast there are surfers out in the water trying to find the perfect wave before breakfast.  As soon as the sun peeks over the horizon boys and girls appear with their surfboards and take to the waves.

This image was taken from Main Beach, Surfers Paradise and shows the distant buildings of Burleigh Head on the horizon.

A quick surf before breakfast - Main Beach, Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia

Long Man

Early morning at Surfers Paradise. Out to get some sunrise images.  Views this way. Views that way.  Turned around, and there he was.

Caught on Camera - Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia

Dawn Sky – Central Otago

As I wonder what each day will bring when I wake in the morning one of the first indicators I look to is the dawn sky.  I love dawn skies for their brilliant colours and how the shades of blue, orange, yellow and mauve change as the sun gets closer to the horizon.

Wedderburn Dawn

The overcast conditions we experienced on the Otago Central Rail Trail produced this show of colours.  It developed slowly from mostly dark blue clouds tinged with red, to this show of orange just before the sun appeared.  The morning was cool, but not cold.  Even while I set up the tripod the colours changed.  I was all fingers and thumbs in the dark as I hurried to get ready.  “More haste, less speed”, my mother used to say.

So, what sort of day did the dawn herald?  A ride through the sweeping Maniototo Plain with the Rock and Pillar Range ahead and the Kakanui Mountains on the left.  The landscape colour is mostly brown and gold.  With the overcast sky it was also moody.  The Central Otago painter and artist Grahame Sydney accurately captures this moodiness in his many paintings of the area.

In the winter it is cold on the plains below the mountains.  At nearby Ophir in the centre of the historic gold rush area New Zealand’s coldest ever  temperature of -21.6 degrees celsius was recorded on 3 July 1995.  In the summer Alexandra near one end of the Rail Trail often has the country’s highest temperatures.  During autumn, when the frosts hit the trees, the countryside is ablaze with yellow and gold.  In the winter the surrounding mountains are capped with snow.  This set of seasonal changes has its impact on “Central”, which makes it such an alluring place to visit.

I know that not every day can start with a blaze of early morning colour, but I still look forward in the hope that it will be there.

Early Morning Dip

On many mornings throughout the year, at around about dawn, there is a group of swimmers who come to Takapuna Beach on Auckland’s North Shore to swim.  In their form-fitting wetsuits and rubber bathing caps they take to the water like a pack of seals to swim the approximately one kilometre length of the beach and back again.

One morning in early March there was a wonderful golden sunrise which silhouetted this group entering the water at the southern end of the beach.  Rangitoto Island is outlined in the background; the sunrise reflected in the wet sand.

Sony Alpha DSLR-A200, 1/60 sec, F22, ISO 400, Sigma DC 18-200 mm lens ay 75 mm

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Tui at Dawn

One of the most common of bird species on Tiritiri Matangi Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf is the Tui.  It’s distinctive tuft of white feathers at the throat helps to mark it out from other “black” birds on the island.  So does its melodious call.  As the Auckland region became more urbanised and land cleared for housing, the call of the Tui became a less frequent occurence near where people lived.  However, tree planting on Tiritiri Matangi and  establishing urban green belts has brought the Tui back to the suburbs.  Tui tagged on the island have been found in parts of urban Auckland in recent years.

I captured this image on Tiritiri Matangi last weekend during an early morning walk to experience the “dawn chorus”.

Sony Alpha DSLR – A200, 1/400 sec, F6.3, ISO 200, Sigma DC 18-200 lens at 200mm

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An Open Sanctuary

Tiritiri Matangi is a unique island located at the end of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf.  The island is an “open sanctuary” where visitors are encouraged to visit and see rare and endangered native birds in their native habitat.  According to the Island’s official website “120 years of farming saw this 220-hectare island stripped of 94% of its native bush, but between 1984 and 1994, volunteers planted between 250,000 and 300,000 trees. The island is now 60% forested. The remaining 40% will be left as grassland for species such as the Takahe.”

We were fortunate to visit Tiritiri last weekend and stay overnight in the bunk house near the island’s historic lighthouse.  This lighthouse was an important navigational aid to shipping entering Auckland’s harbour before the era of GPS and satellite navigation. Built in 1864, the cast iron lighthouse was pre-fabricated in Pimlico, England and transported by ship in sections which were bolted together on site. It is over 21m tall and 4.7m in diameter at the base and was originally painted red. It is now fully automated and flashes every 15 seconds.

One of the treats available to overnight visitors is to hear the dawn chorus as the birds greet the new day.  This image was taken from the Wattle Track before it enters the bush canopy and captures some of what the island is about.

Sony Alpha DSLR – A200, 1/640 sec, F5.0, ISO 200, Sigma DC 18-200 lens at 55mm

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Early Morning Display – Takapuna Beach and Rangitoto Island

I was up at 5.30 this morning.  The night had been hot and as I’d  had a fitful sleep so I decided to start the day early.  You have to be quick with sunrises.  What got me on the beach was the sight of the rising sun catching in the hair of a girl running with her dog.  It would have made a terrific photograph, but you have to be in the right place to capture it.  By the time I reached the beach the sun had already broken over the horizon in the east, but the blues and oranges in the sky were great.

Of the three images I captured of the sun showing through the clouds, this one is the best.  I love taking sunrises and sunsets, and slowly I am learning what works and what does not.  With more time I could have chosen a different viewing point, but as I said, you have to be quick to capture the moment.

Sony Alpha DSLR – A200, 1/13 sec, F22, ISO 100, Sigma DC 18-200 lens at 18 mm


Fire in the Sky

Mangawhai Heads is one of our favourite places in New Zealand to visit. In March 2009 we were there both to visit friends and to take part in the annual Mangawhai Walking Weekend.  I woke early on the Saturday morning, which is something I normally do when sleeping in a strange bed, and discovered this magnificent red and orange sky silhouetting Little Barrier Island in the distance. The street lights in the foreground were like Christmas tree fairy lights twinkling in the remains of the night. Early morning mist envelopes the valleys between between me and the sea.

Sony Alpha DSLR – A200, 1/10 sec, F 29, ISO 400, Sony DT 18-70 lens at 45 mm