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Featured Photo Wednesday – Jonathan Wilson

When I look at this picture I feel a sense of calmness. The colors blend so beautifully, perhaps it’s early morning or evening. When we look at  a picture we see it through our own eyes, our own experiences draw out a story. We don’t get to see the picture through the photographer’s eyes, what they were thinking at that exact moment. I want to thank Jonathan for writing this beautiful story explaining the moments that lead up to this photograph in such detail. Thank you for taking the time, and for sharing this story…

If you have a photo you would like to have featured, please email me at submissionsatdigitalcamfandotcom . Every Wednesday I’ll spotlight a new photo. Don’t forget to include links to your photography site, Flickr, twitter you get the point, we want to be able to see your other work! For more detailed info on how to, check out the Featured Photo detail page!

Sunset over a damaged city

Kiwi Jono

This photo is dark and moody deliberately. It tells the story of a city in crisis following a sequence of events that were quite unexpected.

The photo itself was not at all technically difficult and was more about when and where it was captured than how. Before I go into details I would like give you a brief personal account of the events that led up to this.

4th Sept 2010
At 4:35am on 4 September Christchurch was rocked by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake. The earthquake was a relatively shallow 11km (a very important factor in determining how much damage a shake does) and centred 37 kilometres to the west of Christchurch. It was a very rude awakening (in more ways than one).
Life prior to this event was (apparently) quite naïve. No one really expected a big earthquake to effect Christchurch (other parts of New Zealand were seen as a much greater risk) and anyway New  Zealand has a high earthquake building standard.
The only real earthquake I had experienced was in California, in the late 90s, but this was quite different. For a start the noise was incredible (it woke us up even before it hit us), and then the shaking seemed to go on for many minutes although, in fact, the “peak” shaking lasted less than 40 seconds. Books flew from bookcases, things toppled over in the garage and there was a stack of broken items on the pantry floor. Roads to the west of the city suddenly had a 3 metre kink in them and brick building fronts crashed down in town. Power was lost for most of the city (including our home). Care was needed walking around in bare feet in the dark, so as not to step on sharp broken items (fortunately in our case there were not too many broken things to dodge). I drove our family up the hill in case of a tsunami (we are close to the sea), going around boulders that had fallen on the road from the hill.  I have to say that an earthquake is a lot more frightening than I ever imagined.
Amazingly no one was killed – although there were serious injuries. Power was restored later in the day.
The continuing aftershocks meant there was very little sleep for the next few nights. The psychological affect of these aftershocks were, in many ways, worse than the main shake. It’s hard to explain without experiencing it (and I would not have believed it before) but suffice to say everyone’s nerves were on end.
Over all we thought we had been very lucky and the worst was over. After all – the aftershocks will get smaller over time – won’t they?

22nd February 2011
At 12:51pm Tuesday, February 22nd, Christchurch was rocked by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake. The number 6.3 gives no idea of the violence of this earthquake. It was very close to the city and only 5km deep (versus 11km for the 7.1 which was already fairly shallow). Whats more rock is close to the surface in many places and there was a “lensing” effect between different sediment layers. This led to a violent earthquake with very high acceleration. Peak acceleration (mostly vertical) reached 2.2g  –  a shaking intensity equivalent to a MM X+ earthquake. This is one of the highest accelerations ever recorded world wide.
I had just got back into the office (situated near the town centre) with our small team after having lunch together on Columbo St. As I was sitting down, suddenly it felt like a giant hand had slammed into the side of our building. I found myself on the floor and so I just rolled under my desk. The noise was incredible and at times I was just about leaving the ground. I remember hanging on and thinking “is this how it’s going to end?”. Our building is about 25 years old (which is relatively modern) but I was amazed at how much punishment it was taking. Sadly a couple of other “relatively modern” buildings totally collapsed (accounting for most of the fatalities) and another major building that very nearly collapsed (the Grand Chancellor – tallest building in Christchurch).
Once the shaking died down I went through our building and checked everyone was ok – which fortunately they were (despite a few bricks falling through a roof from an adjacent brick building).
Stepping out of our office this is the sight that we were greeted with:


And walking down the road a bit I saw this:


Suffice to say that even the earthquake-strengthened brick buildings did not stand up well to this earthquake which had acceleration levels beyond what even modern buildings were designed for. We were very fortunate that we had a fairly early lunch that day because the walkways where we came back were covered in bricks and the restaurant we were in was on Colombo surrounded by appalling damage.

Of course all power was out and when I tried to reach my wife Cathy the mobile phone network was totally overloaded. Now I had a difficult decision to make. Stay and help out or go and check on my family. I started calling out in front of a couple of buildings to see if there was anyone that needed help. No responses and when I briefly contemplated going into one, another aftershock hit bringing down more bricks right in front of me. Some of the workers (who were repairing buildings from September) had already started rescuing people with the gear they had on hand.
At about that time I heard from someone in passing that there had been cliff collapses around Redcliffs School (where my children go to school) and I was very concerned for their safety so I decided I would make my way home as quickly as I could. Although I think it was the right thing to do (with the information I had), it still bothers me sometimes.

Fortunately my car is a 4WD and was not sitting under a pile of bricks like some, so I started my journey on grid-locked streets. All the usual road rules were pretty much out the window. I assumed that the Ferrymead bridge would be down (it wasn’t but it was blocked with a dangerously leaning crane at that time), so decided to take a longer route around the base of the hills. This allowed me to check on my mother on the way.
When I got to my mother’s house (a modern house), it was obvious that it was in a bad state. The whole house was twisted and the front door had been spat out in two pieces. I rushed in calling out for my Mother and was relieved to find her car was not in the garage. Later on I was to find out that she was on the other side of town and safe.
The journey home was a complicated route due to broken roads (some on the hill collapsed even), toppled lamp posts and liquefaction on many roads. I even remember going under a damaged rail bridge with a derailed train on it. As I got nearer to home, it seemed the damage got worse and I grew more apprehensive for the family’s safety. Given the circumstances my route worked well, even so two hours had elapsed when I eventually got home, a journey that would normally take 20 minutes.

I was absolutely amazed to see our house standing intact with no obvious external damage to the house itself (fences and yards are another story). Incredibly most of the windows had been “popped” open by the flexing of the house. A quick check found that nobody was home, so I made my way to the school. The cliff collapses were obvious and it was a huge relief to spot Cathy and the children gathered with a large group on the front field. There was a happy family reunion. All the children at the school were fine but seeing the cliffs collapse so near by was a terrifying experience for them (there were two fatalities next door to the school sadly). Cathy was in the Redcliffs library (now demolished) when the shake hit and had to contend with flying books!

Here are some shots from our neighbourhood and home:





Once we got home I set about helping some neighbourhood friends who were not so lucky with their house. They stayed in our lounge a couple of nights – we all slept down stairs because it was more unpleasant upstairs in the frequent aftershocks that were occurring.
Power and water were out for a few days and sewers were in a bad state. On the 23rd we queued to get water  for 4 hours– we now keep a better stock of water in our garage!
On the third night we were evacuated at midnight (15 minutes to get out) because there was some concern about the stability of the hill above us. Fortunately we were able to return a couple of weeks later and this time away was an opportunity to get out of town for a couple of weeks and experience the luxury of running water and flushing toilets! Sadly most of the houses around us are going to be demolished and rebuilt due to the damage they sustained. Ours is repairable (we think). Work wise we were out of our office for 6 months – all working from home.

It’s nearly 2 years since the event and still there are so many buildings and houses to be demolished. In the CBD (Central Business District) it looks like over 70% of buildings will be demolished.  Roads are still very rough (we are counting 6 punctures, 2 wrecked tyres and 1 wheel bearing so far) and every day there is a new diversion in place. We were told last year that our insurance claim will be settled within 5 years (yay!).  Such is the scale of the disaster.

There is a risk that these experiences might sound a bit like I’m complaining but that’s not my intent – in fact we know just how lucky we are. Our entire extended family is fine but most people we know (either directly or indirectly) of someone who was killed in the Feb 22nd earthquake. The final death toll is 187 people and several thousand injured.

13th June 2011
At 2:20pm the earth again shook. This time it was magnitude 6.4 and was centred within a kilometre of our home. Again very shallow but because it was towards the east of the city, it had little effect to the west and just increased the existing damage in the CBD (leading to yet more buildings being written off).
I was working at home at the time. When the shake started it was very familiar but no less frightening! You might not believe this but after the shaking stopped it was very surreal inside the house – everything looked oddly murky and dream-like. I can only guess it was very fine dust kicked up but it is strange as I had not seen it before (or since).
Anyway we rushed outside to see some boulders rolling down the hill behind the houses over the road. I went over and checked everyone was all right (the rocks stopped short). Looking towards Redcliffs I could see a large cloud of dust. This earthquake cause even larger cliff collapses in this area.
An hour before this shake there was a 5.7 aftershock that led to Cathy picking up the children from the school along with some of their friends (and letting their parents know). We had liquefaction coming up under our lawn and this served as a useful distraction for the children. After a while the grass raised like a blister which keep increasing in size over time. Stepping on it was like stepping on a giant jelly – you could literally send waves across the lawn!

Some photos from the June 13th Earthquake…

Lawn Jelly

Lawn Jelly

Liquefaction Camel

Liquefaction Camel

Remains of some houses after a huge cliff collapse



The Photo – Sunset over a damaged City
If you have managed to read this far then you certainly deserve to be rewarded with further details on this photo.
The photo was taken on July 17th 2011 from a hill overlooking McCormacks bay towards the city. There is a strong effect from the July 11, 2011 volcanic eruption  (Puyehue) in Chile.  Ash made it over to New Zealand causing very strong colours at sunset. Also visible in the sky is a trail from a jet that passed over the city – can’t say for sure why it was so prominent on this day but it certainly stands out.
The damage to the city is obvious from the dark areas – both in the foreground ridge and the dark downtown buildings. Also in the foreground the effect of liquefaction “volcanoes” can be seen in the water.


The equipment I used included:
Camera: Pentax K-x
Lens:  Pentax FA100 f2.8 macro
Tripod: Velbon Sherpa 450R

For composition, as usual, I tried a few ideas but this one seemed to fit best and roughly fits into thirds which I thought made it look a bit more interesting. I feel that ideally the dark city could have been a bit higher but the sky was so interesting as well – so it’s a compromise.

I often use program (P) mode (except for when I need manual mode for very low light shooting etc) and this is what I chose for this photo. As an aside the reason I use P mode a lot is that Pentax has a very good P mode that changes to Aperture priority just by changing the rear control wheel (on the K-5 you can also lock to a shutter speed by turning front wheel).

Also I have to admit I am a habitual JPEG shooter. I do understand the advantages of using RAW but because I don’t usually do a lot of post processing (I’m at a stage where I prefer spending time with my camera in my spare time), I find JPEGs to be quicker and easier to work with. That said, these days if I see a shot that I really like the look of I would probably use JPG + RAW (the K-5 I now have allows file format change with a click of a button and also allows you to retrospectively save the last shot as a RAW).

I started by setting ISO to 100 and the aperture I wanted (f11 for good depth of field). I tweaked exposure compensation for the right exposure and selected a white-balance by trial and error until it looked right for the scene. In this case “Daylight”. I used a remote to avoid camera movement. After a few shots I was struggling to capture the scene as I saw it – there was much more dynamic range to the scene than I could capture. Now normally I’m not a big fan of HDR but the K-x HDR mode is relatively subtle so I gave it go for this shot. I was surprised with the result because this image actually looked  something like what I was seeing in front of me.

In summary the settings ended up as:
ISO 100
Program mode (Hyper Tav – fixed aperture)
White-balance – “Daylight”
HDR mode
0.5 second exposure (shortest of the 3 exposures – I think others were 1s and 2s)
Remote control

As I mentioned earlier, I’m not big on Post Processing and its fairly minimal. I used GIMP (I’m cheap and I like to use Linux) and made the following tweaks:
Some sharpening (the FA100 is wonderfully sharp but you lose a bit with HDR mode and the hazy distant background benefited from some sharpening as well)
Increased contrast and tweaked brightness

That’s it really – nothing too clever but hopefully you get some ideas from it.

Related posts:

Featured Photo Wednesday - Suzanne Hunt
Featured Photo Wednesday - Stuart L Gordon Photography
Featured Photo Wednesday - Oliver Henze


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