Containers by Night

Port Botany Container Terminal, 26mm, ISO 100, 60sec, f16

I love night photography – some of the most magical images I have seen are night shots. The colors are more intense, the mood you can achieve at night is often stronger and subjects which are just boring or drab during the day seem to ‘pop’ out in night photographs.

The photo above was inspired when recently reading Lance Keimig’s book Night Photography: Finding your way in the dark. Keimig covers all aspects of night photography in fine detail, but one chapter in particular inspired me to be a bit more adventurous than is normally my nature. In chapter two of his book, Keimig makes the point that getting about in the dark with a camera will often draw negative attention to you, so he gives a to-do list. Some suggestions include taking samples of your photos to show security guards that your there just for the art, he suggests you never run because that will always result in a chase and most importantly, if you want to get into restricted places, permission is better than sneaking in.

One Friday night, with nothing better to do, I thought I would take a drive down to Port Botany to see if I could get a shot of the shipping containers. I had always admired Jeffrey Smart’s paintings and I wanted to see if I could get some of the feeling he captured. I traveled around but could not get anywhere near them, they all seemed to be far behind locked gates. Way down the back of the Port I found myself amongst these massive white gas storage cylinders. They looked very imposing and I got to wondering if I could get that feel in a photo. There was no one around and I did not have to climb any gates so I parked the car, set up the tripod and started to make my exposures. It must have been 2 minutes and a security guard wanted to know what I was doing.

To cut a long story short, it turns out he was a Canon man and had a strong opinion about my Nikon. One and a half hours later, not only had I included some of his suggestions in my shots but the young man who had recently arrived in Australia from Turkey had given me a better appreciation for Islam, and Turkish politics, I had been able to explain some of the finer points of Australian politics to him and we had both agreed on the good and bad points of capitalism and globalisation. WOW! Photography – a new way to meet people.

Back in the car on the way home at 1am, I had given up hope on a container shot until from the corner of my eye I spotted an open gate – with no one around. I hit the brakes and wondered how far I could push my luck.

I calculated that if I was careful (read invisible), I could get a token shot or two. With high hopes, I dove the car through the gates and parked just inside. My heart pounded because I had not done anything so stupid since I was in my teens. I got the tripod out of the back of the car and you can imagine my dread as in the distance, towards the back of the yard, I noticed a small figure run for a container fork lift and gun his engine. Turning the machine between the stack of containers I lost sight of him but could hear the roar of his motor echo as he came closer and closer.

I knew I had seconds before he would be on me but Keimig’s advice stayed with me – don’t run I thought. In the moments before he arrived I noticed the security camera above my head. Clearly one for the dramatics, when he arrived, he had his drive lights turned to high beam and the fork was lifted to its top position 20 meters above the ground. Stopping right in front of me the rather big Mauri man looking down on me shouted over the noise of the engine,

‘what are you looking for mate?’.

I explained, holding up my tripod and camera,

‘I just want to take a couple of shots mate, is that OK? I won’t be long’.

My jaw almost hit the ground when he answered,

‘sure mate, that’s OK, just leave when you’re finished’.

And with that, he backed up the machine, lowered his fork and returned to the back of the yard.

The product of the next 15 minutes was the shot you see above. Enjoy.


2 thoughts on “Containers by Night”

  1. This is am amazing shot- so much good info on night photography too! I look forward to seeing more of your work.


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