Photoessay: Dusk to dawn in Queenstown

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Sunset cloud shadow

On my recent trip to New Zealand, I spent some time exploring an aspect of photography which I hadn’t really done much work in up til now: long exposures, night work and astrophotography. Unfortunately there was only one clear night for the latter, and the duration of exposures + noise reduction meant not a whole lot of individual shot opportunities; still, I’m fairly pleased with the outcome – definitely something I’ll have to revisit in future.

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This set is organised as a sequence from dusk to dawn; they weren’t shot on the same day, but around the same 20-odd square kilometre area around Queenstown. I find the most challenging part of very long exposures to be a problem of visualisation: what’s going to become visible or overexposed or over-contrasty is not easy to estimate beforehand, and the meter is of course useless once light conditions become too low. The best way of working I found was to do a test exposure at maximum aperture and a much higher ISO – 3200 or 6400, above that, tonal response starts to become nonlinear when compared to lower ISOs – then scale up your exposure time accordingly. Above a couple of minutes, long exposure noise reduction becomes necessary; for one of these shots (the tree with star trails) the total capture time was close to an hour. The experience of sitting by a very still lake with the Milky Way stretched overhead is one I’ll never forget – I’ve seen it before, of course, but not with this level of clarity with the naked eye. All I can say is that it really puts you in your relative place in the universe.

This set was shot with a Nikon D810 and Pentax 645Z. A couple of technical notes: these were captured before my D810 went in for the white dot fix; I had to junk a lot of long exposures because of the stars that didn’t move! On the whole though, I’m very impressed with the long exposure noise performance of both the D810 and 645Z. MT

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Tree, mountain and stars

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Lake I

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Lake II

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Milky Way

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Unidentified galaxy (if anybody knows which, I’d appreciate a hint!)

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Trees I

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Trees II

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Approaching dawn

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First light


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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards. All rights reserved


  1. Careful! Astrolandscape photography can become addicting.

  2. Nick Coenen says:

    Really wonderful images. Wow. My wallet may be at risk if Lakes, Sunset, or Approaching Dawn become ultra prints….

  3. Bryan Gonzalvo says:

    There’s something about long exposures that I do truly like. This is a beautiful and inspiring set.

  4. Gerner Christensen says:

    I often do not process the vocabulary I wish to engage while seeing photography like this. But some of these photographs fills me with such a warmth and peace that words cannot describe. I am grateful Ming to be granted such joy in life.

  5. Thank for sharing these truly beautiful and evocative pictures and thank you for all the information.
    All the best,

  6. Reblogged this on THROUGHOUT THE LENS.

  7. Outstanding photo set, Ming. I really like this one.

  8. Lucy March says:

    Wow, spectacular set — I especially like Moonrise and Trees I. Light pollution has spoied the night sky in so many areas but happily not, it seems, in Queensland (I spent a summer in Western Samoa and the night skies there were amazing too). I look forward to seeing more of your night work.

  9. John weeks says:

    One of the main reasons I use my Olympus camera. Has Live View/Composite and you can watch exposure come into being and stop when you want. Much easier than calculating the proper time.
    Really enjoy this feature and hope the new sensor technology will lead to better quality. Should know more in February with new release.

  10. Tree, Mountain, Stars….. Wow, wow, wow!

  11. Tree, mountain, stars….. Wow!

  12. David Escalera says:

    Hi MIng, the unidentified galaxy may be Canina Nebula i upload the image to and here is the result

  13. re: “galaxy?”, it looks more like a nebula to me. Without at least a hint of where you were pointing in the night sky, it’s hard for me to say what it is. If it is somewhere in your shot of the center of the Milky Way and you could indicate where, I might be sble to work out what it is.

  14. Hi Ming,
    The unknown galaxy is in fact a nebula. It’s the Carina Nebula around 6500 lightyears away. Depending on the magnification it can look starkly different from your image, still it’s the same.

    Btw. my knowledge of this is purely coincidental. I’m planning an astro/landscape shot this year and needed to find out the optimal position of the milky way for reasons of composition. I installed an planetarium software to find out and as it turns out I still have to wait until September. I guess there is no way to rush the galaxy so I literally have to wait until the stars align. 😉


  15. Stunning photographs! Though I love all of them, I must say the first one is my favourite. The sunset light is just so beautiful and combines really well with mountains.

  16. Tree, mountain, stars. Love it! Just checked the exif on that, and went wow! 85mm and iso 800. I think I need to get out of Helsinki into the Finnish countryside next there is a clear sky forecasted and try night photography. I always somehow thought It would require something like 14 to 28mm focal length to achieve anything nice in night photography. Inspiring to say the least.

  17. The Milky Way picture on my monitor appears to have some concentric circles. Are they web compression artifacts or our galaxy looks completely different from the southern hemisphere?

  18. lensaddiction says:

    Love the light reflections on the lake, I prefer the further away ones. Where did you shoot them from – Jacks Point?

    • I honestly have no idea what the name of the place was – I just drove and stopped when things looked right…

      • lensaddiction says:

        Of course you did 🙂 I was there a couple of years ago but did Glenorchy and Paradise Valley and Kingston, didnt fancy driving those rather twisty roads in the dark 🙂 Tho they are a LOT better from what I remember as a kid.

  19. Beautiful images Ming! Inspired. Always good to spend sometime outdoors.

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