Windmill at Night, Balliang, Victoria

Here we go again. Following on from the theme in the last post, this will detail stumbling around in the dark trying to take photos of a windmill at night near Balliang. Before I get to that though, I just realised in a few months I’ll have been in the same job for 25 years. Huh? Why would I do that? Even worse is I’m back at work in a week after some time off and am feeling mildly suicidal.

That’s not all though. Something else that’s made me suicidal is it’s taken me 49 years to work out food sources which are brightly coloured, but not natural, give me a headache. Oh no! The object for this self-discovery was a humble packet of ‘Lifesavers Fruit Tingles’. Come on, it says fruit on the packet, so it has to be healthy. Right? They’re in all the colours of fruit including an unusual speckled variety, which to my eyes appears to combine multiple pieces of fruit in the one package. Super-fruit!

There I was the other night, munching away on a packet which led to another and something came over me. Feeling a bit of a headache, I went to bed and woke up with an ABSOLUTE THUMPER in which I thought my head was about to explode. It can only be one thing. I had a Fruit Tingle hangover!! Since then I’ve been without sugar and feeling better, but I’ve still got one packet left sitting around teasing me. I’m telling you now. Times are tough out west.



Anyway, besides learning sugar doesn’t agree with me, I’ve also learnt a thing or two about night photography. The most important lesson so far when going out after the sun has gone down, is it’s dark. Did you realise this, or am I teaching you something new as well? Surely the latter?

I discovered this on my first visit to an object which is quite familiar to anyone who’s travelled around rural Australia. The humble windmill.

I’d always considered a windmill would make a good subject for a night picture. The only trouble is, when I started looking out for them they always appeared to be in an awkward position to photograph. Sitting well within a property is a problem, as I didn’t want to be sneaking around at night and getting caught by some farmer with a piece of straw between his teeth wielding a shotgun.

I didn’t give up looking though and the other week I was driving towards the Brisbane Ranges (take note. The Brisbane Ranges are absolutely nowhere near Brisbane) when I saw a windmill sitting right next to a road and even better, it was surrounded by acres of open land. Taking note of the position, I returned in the dark with camera and tripod.

This is the tale of two trips though. On the first it was moonless and on the second it was practically full. Talk about a difference. Oh yeah, this at times will slip into ‘camera wanker’ talk, so I apologise for that.

Let’s start off though with the first trip and the handful of photos I took. Finding the windmill in the dark wasn’t a problem, but the first thing I noticed upon arriving is there’s a small dam I hadn’t seen when blasting past on the highway.


Mm… It was also absolutely pitch black, but I did have my hiking headlamp with me. It didn’t seem to help much, as I stumbled around in long grass which seemed to contain a pothole every inch, trying to get closer to the windmill. In the end I was getting worried about breaking an ankle, so elected to go for a ‘distance’ approach instead.

First problem. How do you focus the camera when you can’t see the object you’re trying to photograph? I’d shine my headlamp which has the beam distance of a wet candle, but I could barely see that feeble light on the standing object through the viewfinder. A handful of blurry photos later, I pulled out the heavy artillery. Yes, I got back in my car, turned it around in the grass and blasted the windmill with high beams. I’d then hop out, focus the camera and leave it with a 10 second shutter delay, which gave me time to get back to the car and turn the lights off. Phew. That’s annoying, plus labour intensive.

Anyway, the water was in the way and guess what else? Yes, the glow on the horizon is not the sun going down, but the lights of Melbourne, which although faint to the eye, appear like a distant nuclear explosion in photographs. It’s then I realised to get a decent dark sky, I’ll have to go a lot further from suburban outskirts. Mind you, I was over 30 km from the furthest point of the western suburbs, so I wasn’t exactly attempting this in the middle of the city.

I continued on, changing the camera angle a few times…


…and kept the shutter speed at a minimum to ensure there were no star trails. I did go for a long exposure at one stage, but this is what can happen to your sky when you do…


…so I reverted back to what seemed a little more normal.


That’s the first trip, so I headed home, making sure upon return I’d be a little more prepared. In starting off, I needed to work out how to focus the camera without using my car, as that’s not really practical, especially in portrait pictures. So, I decided to use a LED Lensor P14 torch to blast the object and focus, which should leave my car out of the equation. I also considered trying to get the camera in a different position, so I wasn’t facing the city lights. Okay, let’s see what happened.

I arrived in the dark, which due to the moon wasn’t actually that dark. Within about 0.2 of a second, I also realised taking photos facing the other direction probably wouldn’t work, as traffic kept going by on the road I drove in on. As you can see by the photo at the start of this post. Anyway, I fiddled around a bit and decided to warm up with a shot facing the road, with tail lights of numerous cars passing by…


…and noted the sky takes on a blue look when the moon is around. One day I’m hoping to see all black, but I’ll have to wait until the moon has a night off. Anyway I continued on, noting one difference to the windmill. It was facing a different direction. Huh? This thing works? Nearly all I’d seen over the past 20 years were rust-buckets about to collapse, but this one just happened to operative.

I clambered a barbed wire fence, a stone wall fence, negotiated the ankle breaking rocks and somehow survived to continue on. Talk about a different look though, with the lamp overhead…


…which allowed me to get a little relaxed with the ISO’s. I did want to capture a picture in a certain direction, but every time I did, there seemed to be a car flying by.

You know what was working? The torch was making life a lot easier. Here’s a photo from my special ‘outtakes section’. This is what happens when you forget to set the timer and take the photo before turning the torch off…


Mm… There’s one thing about the moon. It does make it easier to walk around. An earth mound which I didn’t even see on the first trip came in quite handy. In the background the hills are the You Yangs, but what are those other lights? Geelong I presume. I’m not even facing Melbourne and the horizon is blazing. Talk about nowhere to turn…


This wasn’t working out too well, so I faced towards the open fields and You Yangs with a plane flying past on the left…


…and then a longer exposure to capture some cloud movement.


I liked the look of that earth mound, so I thought I could snag one more photo atop of it, but unfortunately…


…a car came blasting past. It was the last straw, so I pulled up stumps and decided to head home. There I was thinking I’d be standing in the dark, but once my eyes got used to the light I barely needed my headlamp. Vaulting the tricky barbed wire fence was a breeze.

Also, I think I must have stood out to the passing cars, as quite a few times they’d beep their horns whilst driving by. Judging by the amount of empty beer bottles lying around (which I assume had been thrown out of passing cars) I guess I should feel lucky I didn’t cop one to the back of the head whilst framing a photo.

So there you go. That’s the windmill. It’s not perfect, but maybe (just maybe) when the moon has passed I might head back up there. Then again, I can’t see myself getting any photos that’d be dramatically different. Not unless the wind is blowing a gale, which might be an option for some ‘moving windmill’ excitement.

Lessons are learnt though and I had more successful mission tackling the Port Lonsdale Lighthouse at night. That’s the next post…