Top Locations for Long Exposure Photography in New Zealand – Part 1.

With Richard’s passion for long exposure photography and knowledge of the best spots in the country, he has put together a list of his favourite ten locations for long exposure photography in New Zealand, we share 5 of these in part 1 of this feature.


Nugget Point, Catlins Coast
ISO 64, f11, 20 Seconds

1. Nugget Point

One of New Zealand’s most iconic and recognisable coastal vistas, Nugget Point sits below the most photographed lighthouse in New Zealand, jutting out to the Southern Ocean where the sky and the ocean become one. Below the cliff-top lighthouse are sprawled the rocky islands for which Captain James Cook named the point, in reference to their resemblance to nuggets of gold.
While I do love being here at sunrise—shooting straight into the rising sun for dramatic lighting and strong colours—one of my best visits here was in much more subtle lighting conditions under a cloudy sky. The softer pastel tones in the sky complemented the cool blue ocean, and long exposures helped blur the movement of the sky into the waves crashing below, causing the horizon line to vanish between them.

2. Purakaunui Falls

Set amongst the forests of the Catlins Forest Park, Purakaunui is one of my favourites of the endless beautiful waterfalls that we have here in New Zealand. The walkout, although short and relaxing, provides a beautiful example of some of New Zealand’s native bush, including tree fuchsia—the country's only deciduous tree. During the autumn months, the fuchsias surrounding the waterfalls come alive with colour and cover the rocks and stream below with yellow, confetti-like leaves. This small pop of colour, in our all but green forests, adds an extra sense to the scene, creating some lovely colour harmony.
While there are various spots to photograph from, I often favour shooting down close to the water, to add some extra foreground interest and capture the water movement around the rocks below.

Purakaunui Waterfalls, Catlins Coast
ISO 64, f11, 1 minute

Moeraki Boulders
ISO 200, f11, 1/4 Second

3. Moeraki Boulders

There are few better places to explore with long exposure techniques than the Moeraki Boulders. I often refer to them as ‘Dragon Eggs’. At sunrise, waves splash across them, reflecting the golden morning light to give them a flaming effect. While I do favour shooting here in the golden hours, the Boulders offer some stunningly moody and minimalistic shots on a grey day, as well as spectacularly popping colours during a pristine sunrise or sunset. 
There are numerous boulders to choose fromeach unique, producing various effects upon the ebbing tides. This makes it a location that I never tire from visiting and challenging my compositional skills.

4. 'That' Wanaka Tree

Wanaka's willow with wet feet is New Zealand's most photographed tree and most ‘Instagrammed’ image; amazing fame for a non-native tree that actually began life as an old fence post. Framed with the mountains of Mt Aspiring in the background, the tree provides a great sense of depth in a photograph. It manages to draw hoards of photographers from all over the globeand although I and other New Zealand photographers may not like to admit it, it is a lovely scene. 
The most beautiful images I have taken here were captured during a recent workshop in what felt like very unfavourable conditions; we were juggling umbrellas, shooting in the rain. The grey morning offered a very minimal look at this lone tree, and with a long exposure, the water and sky became one silky element and the distant hills were lost from view.

That Tree, Wanaka ISO 100, f11, 4 minutes

Milford Sound, Fiordland ISO 100 f11, 8 Seconds

5. Milford Sound

Milford Sound sits within Fiordland National Park. This is my favourite area of New Zealand to photograph, due to the scale and drama of the extensive fiord-covered, wilderness landscape. Milford Sound, part of the Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage site, is the most accessible location in the park, and the only fiord that is accessible by road.
Another of the New Zealand landscape photographer’s must-hit spots, the Milford foreshore provides some of the most internationally-recognisable shots of our country. Mitre Peak rises high above the fiord, its perfect conical construction giving an incredible natural symmetry to the landscape. The calm tidal foreshore offers great options for long exposure photography: various elements of foreground interest can be used to build your composition, and the right tidal conditions create the chance to capture a perfect reflection.  

Capture all of these spots on our Ultimate NZ Photography tour.

Ultimate NZ Photography Tour 2020 – 23rd April – 9th May

Ultimate NZ Photography Tour 2021 – 22nd April – 9th May


About the Author
Richard Young is a full-time landscape and wildlife photographer based in Wellington. He has been guiding groups of photographers in New Zealand since 2010 and founded New Zealand Photography Workshops in 2013.

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