The Story Behind the Shot: Whakatāne Morning View Towards Moutohorā

By James Stanbridge

This post originally appeared on 14 April 2018 on James Stanbridge’s website and has been posted here with his kind permission. We feature James and his project, Nature is My Church, in D-Photo issue 89.

I drive down Hillcrest every morning on the way to work, and I always see this particular view coming down the hill. I was finally early enough, and on a nice enough day, to get the shot.

There's a road that winds down past the local lookout over town, and as you come around the corner, Moutohorā (Whale Island) is perfectly framed above the river and the town. You get this feeling like, "Ah, I've made it" as you descend down the remainder of the hill into the township.

Whakatāne Morning View Towards Moutohorā  , Nikon D810, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 ED VRII @ 135mm, f/8.0, 1/200s, ISO64

Whakatāne Morning View Towards Moutohorā , Nikon D810, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 ED VRII @ 135mm, f/8.0, 1/200s, ISO64

I knew it would pose a problem trying to get the shot, as this particular view is one you only get from the car, and the road is very narrow and windy. It’s so narrow that there’s a road sign at the bottom of the hill warning wide vehicles and motorhomes that they are prohibited from using the road. They have to go the other way.

Luckily you can clamber along the concrete barrier on the side of the road, if you’re careful and brave enough. Not on the road side, mind you, and there's thankfully a pathway a couple of meters below should a fall occur. Still, rather precarious, with cars zooming down one of the tightest roads in the bay, mere centimetres from your face. I am the type that is more interested in getting the frame than I am with my own personal safety, or the safety of the gear. It’s all tools – provided to get the shot, and if you don’t get the shot, you don’t get the shot, if you know what I mean.

 I managed to clamber along far enough, stepping on flax and branches, and tree trunks, and piping (hopefully I didn’t break the plumbing — I have no idea what it’s there for). Whilst in my strange position, I even had a conversation with a lady walking on the path below. We both exchanged pleasantries and agreed that we are very blessed to live in this area. She was nice enough not to give me any strange looks, or snarky comments on why I was in the awkward position I was in.

Worth it! And very happy to finally find the image, although it is subtly different from the initial shot I had in mind. The trees framing the shot above were a happy accident, and it came out better than I had envisioned. The vegetation around the sides of the photo pull the viewer’s eye in to the center, through town, and out towards our majestic, iconic island, Moutohorā (Whale Island). From this high viewpoint, the close proximity of the island to land is highlighted (it is only 9km from land at its closest point), and it takes on a larger than life perspective. Perfect!


Head to James’s blog at to see more of his work and check out our feature on him D-Photo in issue 89.