Whilst we were staying in Kaikoura, I wanted to try again to get some photographs of the stars. We hadn’t really been anywhere during our time in New Zealand where it was dark enough for star photography, and I had never really had the subject I wanted either.

Luckily for us, we were staying quite a long way from the main town and we were right on the beach. A perfect setting I thought for some night sky photography.

Kaikoura is an amazing place in terms of landscape, on one side you have beautiful black pebble beaches stretching out into the blue Pacific Ocean, and on the other, vast mountains reaching up into the sky. If you can get the two together in one shot then you’ve got one hell of a view.

The light from the town actually adds some colour to the shot which is reflected on the ocean and drawn all the way up the shoreline

My plan was to shoot out in the direction of the ocean with the Kaikoura Peninsular in the background. That would break up the foreground and the sky nicely and provide someone other than a flat shot where the ocean met the sky on the horizon. I also thought that trying to capture the waves from the sea retreating back off the beach would add a nice smoky blur to the scene, with the dark pebbles reflecting starlight off their wet surface.

Like most of my photography plans however, this was not how the evening played out. There were definitely some positives to the whole situation, but unfortunately there were quite a few negatives as well.

The first thing I noticed was how beautifully clear the sky was. There were a few wispy clouds here and there which was no major issue, but on the whole the sky was clear. The next thing I noticed, as it was pretty hard not to, was the moon. It was one of the brightest moons I had ever seen, and it just happened to be sitting right in the direction I was shooting.

I tried to point my camera towards the left a bit more, but that meant that I was pointing closer to the town which meant more light from the buildings, street lights and cars.  Any shot I got was just flooded with light causing it to come out extremely overexposed. It was almost like shooting under the light of the sun.

To try and compensate for this, I closed the aperture and sped up the shutter speed as much as I could to shut out as much light as possible while still capturing some movement from the waves. It took a bit of fiddling around to get the right balance but I got there in the end.

By doing this however I wasn’t getting nearly as much movement from the waves as I wanted as the shots were only around .5 – 1 second long. I tried to overcome this by taking multiple shots one after the other. I timed this so I began shooting just as the wave was coming in, and I carried on shooting until it had crashed onto the beach and drained back to where it started. Post processing I then merged these photos together to create one shot.

I managed to get some of the smoky blur I was looking for from the waves on the beach although the beach itself was quite steep which meant the flow of water was a lot faster than anticipated. The light from the town actually adds some colour to the shot which is reflected on the ocean and drawn all the way up the shoreline which I quite like.

It’s a nice contrast to the deep blue and black of the sea and sky. That pesky bright moon also did me a favour lighting the sky, transforming the colour to a lighter blue, and bouncing light off the damp pebbles on the beach which I think adds a bit of texture to the foreground.

To be honest, the photos came out better than I expected. Not quite what I had in my head, but I’ve come to expect that by now. Nothing ever happens the way I visualise it. I don’t know whether it’s my capability that causes these issues, or simply my bad luck. Nonetheless it was nice to spend an evening on the beach in such an amazing setting listening to the waves washing up and down the rocks.

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