Dunedin’s Chinese Garden

Posted by Christine Ody, 12 August 2012

With my job I occasionally get spare time in a few places other than home–usually Wellington and Dunedin. If the weather looks agreeable, I usually shoe-horn my camera and whatever lens I feel like taking into my flight bag. A few weeks ago, on 25 July, I had what we call the long Dunedin overnight–a great duty: sign on at 0630, land in Dunedin at 0900, then nothing to do till the taxi picks us up the next morning at 0530.

Although NZ is a Pacific island, Dunedin’s winters make it clear why its original Scottish inhabitants felt right at home. With the temperature at a balmy 5 degrees Celsius mid-morning, I shot out of the hotel and walked for five whole minutes to the Dunedin Chinese Garden. Despite its close proximity to the hotel, and the fact that I’ve been a regular visitor to Dunedin for almost seven years, I’d never been before.

It’s a wee place–but very cleverly landscaped–and it seems odd stuck in the middle of a very Scottish-origin city with a predominance of foreboding, gothic-y looking buildings. But Dunedin recently had a Chinese mayor, Peter Wing Ho Chin (2004-2010), and as chair of the Chinese Gardens Trust he deployed $4.75 million to construct the gardens in an authentic manner, using almost a thousand tonnes of rocks imported from Lake Taihu in China (thanks Wikipedia). It was opened on 8 June 2008. (If you want to know more about the construction and development of the gardens, click here.)

Anyway, the light wasn’t great, but since the gardens’ central theme is a “lake”, I thought perhaps it was a good opportunity to have a play with my recently purchased circular polarising filter and see what I could do with reflections. I always have a clear UV filter on each of my lenses (scratch protection), so I fitted the polariser on over the top. With the wide-angle lens (10-22 mm) at 10 mm the edge of the filter ends up in the photo. However, I kinda liked it–the rounded vignette mirrored the round windows and cavities under bridges in the gardens, so I made the “artistic decision” to leave it visible in a few of the shots that I took. The downside to fitting the polariser on to the camera in almost-freezing conditions is that, after not very long, I lost all feeling in my fingers beyond the middle knuckle. This makes it virtually impossible to unscrew the filter and remove it. So I didn’t.

As I said, the light wasn’t great, but the three shots I put together here show how the polariser lets you see through the water–or see the reflection, depending on its position.

(That’s a little larger than I wanted to put it in there, but am baffled on how to get it the right size.)

I didn’t have my tripod with me–not that it’s too much of an issue with a wide-angle–but I did have to poke the ISO up to 800 to get some of the shots I was after.

Wandering around I couldn’t help having a wee giggle at the thought that it was a bit Hobbitty–all the round windows and little bridges.

While the colours in that one are quite strong and, I think, add to the image, I ended up monochroming quite a few shots because I liked the focus on the structural-architectural type elements–which get distorted and exaggerated with the wide-angle lens. I also found that the high-pass filter in CS5 is a useful thing for “crispening” up images (it’s a new discovery, so everything gets a high pass at the moment). The below works in black and white, and also has hints of Hobbit for me.

This one has a blue filter added. On others I decided to go for the warming filter, and I backed off the opacity to about 41%. I particularly like this one, as it has the steeple of one of Dunedin’s imposing European-style churches in the background–an odd juxtaposition.

I’ve also run all of these through the HDR adjusment in CS5. I probably over-use it, but I like the way it makes the textures, shapes and lines the focus of the image.

At the top/back of the gardens was a little alcove-type area with a wee mahogany table with a pot of flowers in front of an interesting window. I could see the potential for some really interesting shots, but failed to come away with anything I was really stoked with. I was drawn to the symmetry and the graphical elements intrinsic in the layout. Very difficult, however, to ensure straight lines up and down with such a wide-angle lens. Had to do a little bit of post-production warping in an attempt to stop things looking like they are tilting away from the viewer.

This one, looking at it now, might have a bit much warming filter…

I spent probably an hour and a half wandering around the gardens (including a phone call to a work colleague that I answered while standing next to the waterfall, prompting him to ask, somewhat confused: “Are you in the bush somewhere?”), at which point my hands were so numb my camera’s safety was at serious risk because I couldn’t even feel if I was holding on to it or not. Hands frozen to the core, I was forced to retreat.

The best of the rest are below. (And the images I’ve already put in the post, because I can’t figure out how to get them out of the “gallery” that I want to put in here, having already uploaded them into this post. Some more learning to do. Suggestions welcome.)

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