The Photograph Explained: Pier, Glenorchy, New Zealand by Richard White

Pier Glenorchy

Silver gelatin photograph

The image presented here was taken in the South Island of New Zealand when I was leading a small group of people on a photographic adventure a few years ago. It was an image that I had earmarked for use in a limited edition book that I have just released, titled Places I’ve Been, but as time went by was left out of the final fifty. Maybe it will rise again on another day.

On the first part of our trip we were staying in Glenorchy a short drive from Queenstown. We had risen just prior to sunrise and walked down to Lake Wakatipu and the pier that seems to be a bit of a landmark for this small town on the northern end of the lake.

I had made many trips to that area and that pier previously, but had not seen it as it was that particular morning. This is one of the beauties of revisiting a place many times, that you get to see it under many guises. The things I thought in our and my favour that morning were, the sky was wonderful, the wind was still asleep, a good dump of snow still covered the mountains and the real bonus was that there was a light frost covering the pier.

People in the group began to photograph at the head of the pier and the surrounding area. After helping a couple of people with some compositional ideas, myself and another chap walked out along the pier. He set up a shot and we started to discuss his composition and ways that may improve what he initially had. As all this was happening I noticed that the frost was beginning to melt almost immediately as the sun showed us who was going to be in charge for the day.

Explaining what was happening and knowing that this was a first for me, I left my fellow photographer, walked about two steps to the right of him and set up my camera. Now I knew that I had to be quick. I set up my 4 x 5 camera, the camera I only use for black & white landscape photography, chose a 65 mm wide angle lens because of the area I wanted to cover and framed up so the bollards were almost central and eye catching as soon as you looked at the image. The right corner of the pier was purposely placed so it was just above the bottom right corner and fortunately the left edge fell in a nice parallel line to the mountain reflection. Although I always try to avoid placing the horizon line in the centre of an image, when you have foreground interest it seems that it is not so obvious. Had there been one of those bland blue skies no doubt my composition or cropping of the image would have been different, if at all.

The frost was going and I was beginning to get anxious. My fellow pier dweller interrupted me and asked a question which I could fortunately answer in the blink of an eye. The frost, the frost, where’s all the frost. My kingdom for more frost. I took meter readings off the dark part of the mountains, the bollard to the right, highlight and shadow, and the bright part of the cloud. Deciding also that I would use an orange 21 filter, my chosen exposure was 1 second @ F32. Although I was using a wide angle lens, I wanted to make sure that I had sharpness right the way through the image. My film choice was TRI-X, something I have used exclusively with 4 x 5 for the past 20 years.

I pressed the cable release and listened to the greatest sound in the world as the exposure was made. The frost continued to disappear before my eyes, but I had what I wanted and even if things had remained static there was no advantage making a second exposure unless of course the first one had dirt spots in the brightest part of the sky which we all know never happens, right?

Now I’m back home, have processed the film and decide to make a darkroom print. The contact print which I made at grade 1½ showed me that the contrast level was getting close. For my 8 x 10 print I increased the contrast to grade 2. The straight print showed that I had some work to do in some areas, but the overall contrast of the print looked correct. During my initial exposure of 16 seconds I dodged the dark side of the shadowed mountains, the shadow area in front of the right bollard and the shadow area in the bottom right hand corner. All these areas had two seconds less than the base exposure. Then I burned the left hand bollard for an additional 5 seconds, the snow capped mountain area on the left and the sky and top part of the mountains each for also 5 seconds. The scanned image looks as though it has picked up a bit more contrast in the sky, but for this exercise I can live with that.

Richard White's darkroom

It was actually nice to revisit this image again as I knew that I would be seeing it with different eyes, which is probably one good reason why we should never throw away negatives, unless of course they are real duds.

Richard White with 4x5 camera

Richard White