Night Photography and New Zealand

Our recent photographic tour to New Zealand was the fifth time we have visited in the past 6 years. We have been past visitors to the North Island, as well as experiencing the joys of tramping in the South Island on the Milford track. However, Andy and I were introduced to the magic of the landscapes on the South Island by Kah Kit Yoong and Winnie Ho in 2011. We immediately fell in love with the Alpine vistas, ice lakes, glaciers and rugged seascapes.

We have taken groups of friends to share New Zealand’s natural beauty in subsequent years, and 2014 was no different. However, whereas previously we had timed our shoots around sunrise and sunset, this year we focused on night photography, and in particular utilizing the stars in our compositions.

Understanding the principles and techniques of night photography are important, but rather than reinvent the wheel, may I suggest to anyone interested to purchase and read Alister Benn’s brilliant ebook “Seeing the Unseen”. It has everything you need to understand photographing landscapes at night.

“Seeing the Unseen”

New Zealand is a wonderful location for night images, with its clear southern skies and paucity of population away from regional centres.

We used a variety of techniques:

1. Long exposures during Blue Hour

“Cold and Blue”

Blue hour in near zero temperatures. 22% Waxing Crescent Moon. 1dx, Zeiss 15mm

“Dark Lake”

“Funeral for a Friend”

When I first visited here 3 years ago, there were 8 trees standing proud at this iconic location. Sadly now, one is no longer present.

2. Star Trails after the moon had set utilizing single long exposures

“Night and Motion”

We came back from a evening walk up Hooker Valley where we had hoped to catch the sunset on Mt. Cook. Rain and a dull overcast sky greeted us, so after a few images we returned and settled in for a quiet night. We awoke at 4am to clear skies so took full advantage of this opportunity. The moon had already set (59% waxing gibbous) so the foreground was illuminated by a rising Venus.

3. Images of the Milky Way with sharp stars utilizing the “Rule of 500” and high ISO

“The Way to Aoraki” - Milky Way over Mt. Cook

“Heaven and Earth”

4. Star trails with a near full moon utilizing shorter stacked exposures


A slightly different night-time take on this much photographed tree. 20 stacked images. 80% moon. 1dx, Zeiss 35mm f1.4 : 4 min exposures.


Well, not really, just some star trails facing east, which results in the dual rotation effect of the stars (revolving around both poles). Multiple sources lighting this image, with the stars, Venus, rising sun and a neon light (from the sea baths/swimming pool right of image) all contributing. Careful observers (at least those using Chrome or Safari) may also notice 2 light trails that crosses the path of the stars. One of these is the International Space Station.

Understanding the different techniques and when to apply them is important in realizing your creative vision irrespective of the environmental conditions you are challenged with.

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