The Story Behind an Image: Mind vs Photography

Justine Kibler - Hot Water Beach LR

The alarm sounded off at 5am. It was so warm and comfy in bed, and so dark and wet outside. My sleepy head trawled through all the options of what I should do and why. You have to win a lot of battles in order to get a great photograph, and most of them are fought with yourself.

I haven’t taken many great shots in New Zealand so far. And I’ve been here for over a month – a long time compared to my other travels. Would I do any better now? Was it worth the effort? I really need more sleep. It’s cloudy outside anyway, and it’s been raining all night. The forecast was for rain all day today too. Staying in bed is definitely the best idea.

A little nugget of perseverance – or perhaps wisdom – makes me move the alarm back to 5:40am.

5:40am. Nothing has changed outside. No one is commissioning me to do these shots – I don’t have to get up anyway. But I’ve come all this way. But on the other hand I could have another try tomorrow. It looks like this morning’s a write-off anyway.

I let myself fall asleep again. I have two dreams where I take the walk to the beach and see the sun rise. The dreams are so detailed as to feel almost real. They’re beautiful.

I wake 30 minutes later. It has cleared considerably out to the east and it’s much lighter. I think of my future self, back in England looking through other people’s amazing photos of New Zealand beaches, cursing the me of here and now, who didn’t try their best to get their own shots. I would hate myself for it.

Okay, I’m going to go.

I’d prepared everything the night before to make it as easy as possible for me in the morning, and I set off immediately. The walk to the beach feels more like a dream than the dreams I’d just had.

I was at Hot Water Beach, a beautiful place on New Zealand’s Coromandel Peninsula known for its pristine coastlines. This beach was particularly special as during low tide a hot spring is revealed in the sand. Visitors flock to the small area to dig their own hot pools and relax in the great outdoors. This morning low tide coincided with dawn, and the scene in front of me was absolutely magical. With its combination of stunning scenery and buzz of unusual activity, I knew it was a winner. The battle had been won (just), and it felt amazing.


The technical bits

I used my faithful Canon 5D3 and 24-70mm f2.8 lens, which is my most used lens by a long shot. It’s just so versatile. A wide angle was crucial for this scene as there were so many features to capture – the people, the sea, the sky – and 24mm will happily fit something like this all in. I almost always bring my tripod to these types of shoots as it gives me more creative scope. A few years ago I bought a fairly expensive Gitzo carbon fibre tripod, and it was one of my best decisions. It’s so wonderfully light that I rarely think twice about bringing it with me, and in more difficult terrain it doubles up as a walking stick! Those legs have been through a lot, and they’re still standing strong.

A polariser is my other crucial bit of kit. Watching how it changes the clarity and darkness of the sky and water always feels magical to me, and I feel extra smug knowing that no amount of Photoshop can recreate this.

People were the main focal point of this scene so the shutter speed took priority – I couldn’t let them blur too much. I found that around 1/30 seconds kept enough of the details sharp, which then allowed me to have a slightly smaller aperture of f5. I increase ISO only as a last resort, and in this case everything was as sharp as I wanted, so I left it at 100. I nearly always shoot in manual so that I am in full control of how the image turns out.

I photographed in RAW (as usual). This scene had such a large variation of light that I would probably need to recover some of the details in post-production. The 5D3’s sensor captures an impressive range of light, though, and I only needed to pull back the highlights slightly (using Lightroom) in order to get the natural look I wanted. From there on the photo needed very little post-production  – just a small increase in saturation and a shallow S-curve. Trust me, this doesn’t happen as often as I’d like!


In another 5 minutes or so the clouds came in and the sun had gone. Strangers to photography would never believe how fast-paced landscape photography can be. By the time I got back it had started to rain. It rained for the rest of the day.

This post has been created in connection with Light, a startup company  who has created a small camera that plans to maintain the quality of a DSLR all while having the convenience of a smart-phone in your pocket.

12 thoughts on “The Story Behind an Image: Mind vs Photography

  1. Amazing! I never had the chance to soak in the hot water beach when i was there……maybe it was a reason to go back! awesome reading!

      1. Yes, overall I prefer the south… but!… there are also places I love in the north – Coromandel is one of my favourite areas of NZ :) And Taupo/Tongariro! Spoilt :)

      2. I agree completely! I’m not a city person at all but Auckland was a winner too for me. Did you bus it around or hire vehicle?

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