Storm clouds, sud-Touraine, France [Alamy image ref. BCWPWH]

Apparently – I’m not very knowledgeable on these matters so I looked them up on the internet – these clouds are called Altocumulus. They are dark because they hold a lot of water… and are typically seen when a cold storm front moves in.

I haven’t seem many storm fronts like this in the sud-Touraine where we generally have warm, dry seasons and on rare occasions, a light snow fall. In fact when the latter weather occurs, the salt-gritting lorries are out before dawn if there is as much as a centimetre or two on the roads!

I was aware of this storm approaching well before it arrived… the BBC  Radio 4 Long Wave programme I’d been listening to for an hour or so was being broken-up at an increasing rate by staccato crackles. When I eventually looked out of the window of the house where we were were ensconced for a year, the sky had turned from clear blue to ominous black… plus the wind was rising in strength and the atmosphere getting colder as the front approached with alarming speed.

I had taken my Nikon D300 and 14-24mm f/2.8 Nikkor wide-angle zoom which, at the time, was almost permanently fixed to the camera for my shooting style… and used at the 14mm widest setting for about 90% of the time (14mm on the D300’s sensor being the equivalent of a 21mm lens on a regular 35mm film camera). Any front-of-lens filter was virtually impossible with this lens, but recently Lee Filters have produced in limited quantities a very expensive filter system adaptable to the bulbous front element of this superb optic. However, I haven’t used filters since I went digital in 2005, and if I feel the necessity to add some extra effect to sky areas of an image I do it post-production in Adobe’s Lightroom software on my MacBook Pro.

The image was RM licensed by Alamy for reproduction up to 1-page in an editorial context in both a textbook and e-book for a 15-year period under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

La Haute Touche, Indre, France [Alamy image ref. B4NAHM]

The animal and nature reserve of La Haute Touche is the largest zoo in France. Located in a 500 hectares forest in the Brenne National park in the Indre département (36), it has over a hundred hectares open to the public and is the home to more than a thousand animals with more than one hundred species from five continents. The park is only 15 minutes from where I live and provides a very reasonable 8€ (5€ OAP and children) value-for-money for a day’s education and enjoyment.

This zoo is not like the average commercial zoo with cages and aquariums… it is quite different being very open, tranquil, natural and non-commercial (although there obviously has to be a restaurant and café for refreshments). La Haute Touche is more about seeing and experiencing animals in a much more natural environment than behind strong iron bars and thick glass.

I didn’t know it before I took this particular shot only a couple of minutes past the entry point on my first visit, but the safari park at La Haute Touche is reputed to have the world’s most beautiful collection of wild deer which freely roam the forest mingling with many other species. Within the reserve there are 75 species of mammals and 31 species of birds, and most can be seen on by walking or by bicycle… the latter a very good idea (and they are for hire) because of the wide area of habitat that may eventually be covered by the curious animal and nature lover.

The vast size of  the park, allows the animals to be housed and presented in roomy enclosures (some of up to 2 or 3 hectares each), and their environment means that they can thrive in what are near natural conditions for African animals of the savannah such as Hyenas, Leopards, Antelopes and Giraffes.

From my first visit to the zoo – and I only saw, at most, ten percent of the animals and birds, I saved twenty-five images as suitable for stock… which is more than I normally achieve in a half-day shooting sortie. For a specialist “nature” photographer much more is obviously achievable… but for me, not knowing one deer from another (unless it was pulling Santa’s sleigh) I got enough shots to satisfy a general coverage. However, having edited my shoot I can see many gaps which will be filled during my next trip to La Haute Touche.

The Image was licensed by Alamy for use in a retail textbook with a 10,000 print-run for Worldwide distribution for a 12-month period under my “Nature” pseudonym.

Chocolate shop, Poitiers, France [Alamy image ref. B5A2Y6]

In high summer, and in good weather, the Claude Lafond Chocolatier establishment in the rue Lazare Carnot, Poitiers, will be fronted by crowded tables and chairs bordered with troughs of Geraniums to separate those taking tea and cakes or coffee from shoppers and sightseers in the traffic-free “zone piétonne” old quarter of the city. Those people who have come from near and afar will expect to choose from many delicacies prepared every day to amuse and satisfy every palette.

Established since 1957 in the historical centre of Poitiers, the family-run establishment perpetuates the tradition of beautiful selections of desserts, small cakes and chocolates. Together with a staff of more than 50 in other premises around the town, the organisation serves around 1,000 receptions and seminars a year catering for more than 150,000 people.

The shop and café must be well-know further afield too because this image was licensed by a Japanese TV company for use for one year on a programme. The is also much else to see and photograph in Poitiers… but because of my personal situation I have only been able to make two trips there despite that city being only an hour’s drive away. But there and back with a couple of hours shooting amounts to half a day away from my paralyzed wife whom I – being her sole carer for a couple of decades – normally have to return to after a couple of hours away. However, from those two trips I selected 84 images for Alamy… from the 1,456 images with the “Poitiers” tag currently with that agency.

One day I would like to get to “Futuroscope” for some extra stock coverage because there are only 129 images on Alamy with “Futuroscope, Poitiers” as the subject including 5 “RF” of which four have people in them (spot check necessary Alamy… Futuroscope is private property and also recognizable faces of strangers cannot be RF)! The big problem I have with a designated location to visit though is not usually one of time, but one of distractions! On my first visit to Poitiers I must have stopped half a dozen times to photograph churches, bridges, market squares and random signs… all of which doubled the 1-hour journey time there. On my second trip I stayed more focused on the road ahead… but it was difficult not to stop on many occasions.

This shot – which I waited for specifically so as to not include people – was taken at the wide end of my 14-24mm Nikkor zoom… the exotic optics holding contrast well despite the various rays of sunlight bouncing around the scene from random windows.

The RM image was licensed by Alamy for unlimited transmissions in an editorial programme (not for advertising) for 1-year by a Japanese TV company under my “a la France” pseudonym.

La Tour Carrée, Loudun, France [Alamy image ref. B50DGA]

La Tour Carrée (the Square Tower) or Donjon, is emblematic of Loudun, in the Vienne département of France. It is the tower of an ancient château constructed by Foulques Nerra, the Count of Anjou (also known as “The Black Falcon”) in 1040. It is a good example of military architecture of the period and has been classed as an historic monument since 1877.

The tower, or donjon, was used as observation post and is all that remains of a large fortress. The walls reach 31 meters (around 100 feet) in height and are more than 2 meters (6.5 feet) thick. From the top of the tower is a wonderful panorama of the surrounding area, and in good weather one can see the Tower of Moncontour 16 kms (10 miles) away. The defence system also included a circular keep which was part of a later fortress which was dismantled under Louis XIII at the request of Richelieu.

I first visited the donjon in 1980 and remember the “exposure” encountered when climbing the rickety staircase winding it’s way around the inner walls with the increasingly dramatic drop below drawing one’s stomach to one’s mouth! I think I closed my eyes for most of the ascent and only opened them on feeling the wind on my face 100 feet above the ground and realising that the view all around was there to see. My last visit was in 2008 when the exposure didn’t seem as extreme (maybe extra safety railings had been put in place)… although I have heard that the donjon is currently closed to visits, which can only be due to the state of the 100-year old wooden stairs rather than the near 1,000-year old stone walls. Although Loudun is slightly off the tourist trail – between the traditional châteaux belt of the Loire Valley to the north and Poitier’s Futuroscope to the south, the small historical town (pop. 7,500) is still worth a detour and visit… and the gardens at the foot are, as always, accessible to the public.

View from la Tour Carrée, Loudun, France [Alamy image ref. B50EPB]

The garden has a medieval theme… it is organised symbolically around twelve squares representing the Twelve Apostles, and in the center a Quince tree representing Christ. This tree is a symbol of love and of happiness – and it has even been said that the Apple offered to Aphrodite by Pâris was actually a Quince.

It is surprising how often tall, imposing structures are difficult to photograph. This tower when seen from afar shows its height but doesn’t reveal its mass… whilst from close-up its mass is apparent but its height is not as impressive. Here I used a Nikon 14-24mm wide-angle zoom at the 14mm wide end from a very restricted but elevated position on a steep grassy bank between the garden and tower proper. The ideal view showing the tower’s west face (this is the south) was not very descriptive of the structure because it was draped with flapping banners from top to bottom and therefore unsuitable for long-term (i.e. representative) image stock. I did take many more shots of the other faces from far and near – as well as views in all directions from the narrow walkway at the top – but this was the view chosen for publication.

The Image was licensed by Alamy for use in a textbook with a 1,000,000 print-run (school textbook probably) for distribution in France for 1-year under my “a la France” pseudonym.

Septic tank emptying, France [Alamy image ref. B2TTA8]

Yes, it’s a crappy job, but somebody has to do it!

The origin of the word “crap” did not – as is commonly assumed – originate with Thomas Crapper who, although he was associated with lavatories, did not actually invent the flush toilet. He did, however, increase the popularity of the toilet and developed important related inventions such as the ballcock. The word crap is actually of Middle English origin and thus predates its application to “bodily waste”. Its first use, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, appeared in 1846 under a reference to a “crapping ken”, or a privy, where ken means a house. Its most likely etymological origin is a combination of two older words, the Dutch “krappen” – to pluck off, cut off, or separate; and the Old French “crappe” – siftings, waste or rejected matter (from the medieval Latin “crappa” – chaff).

For “Crapper” reference see…

After that tasteful piece of introductory history, and coming to the subterranean subject of the photo above… a “septic tank” is a holding tank into which all the household waste water and products are discharged into. This waste that enters the tank comes from showers, sinks, toilets and baths… and over time the solids (heavy particles) sink to the bottom whilst the liquid scum in the septic tank is discharged out into a soak-away.

Septic tanks have been around for hundreds of years. In the old days a large hole was dug by hand and then a large watertight chamber was constructed from bricks and mortar. Today little has changed in regard to the function of a septic tank, apart from the construction materials (usually fiberglass) and bacteria that lives in the sewage tank. When I had a septic tank installed in the field next to our remote hillside Welsh house in the late 1980s, the builder recommended three separate concrete chambers (a fiberglass tank could have popped-out of the soggy ground when low in contents) and implied that the waste water emerging from the third chamber could be safely drunk!

However, I never tried that experiment… preferring everything to return to Nature where it belonged, and I didn’t have to have the tanks emptied once during the dozen years living there. But when living in France I regularly saw septic tanks being emptied in both rural areas and in villages and small towns… a huge tractor-drawn “sludge gulper” arriving with an accompanying and familiar odour to tell neighbours what was happening. The image above was taken at a house we rented for a year and I was lucky to be upwind for the best view during the proceedings… the apparent “safe” distance being somewhat distorted from using the wide end of my 14-24mm Nikkor.

The Image was licensed by Alamy for use in a retail book with a 5,000 print-run in the Czech Republic for a 12-month period.

Roadside Cross, Indre, France [Alamy image ref. B4CJFN]

Sometimes, when driving along a deserted country road and thinking aloud – actually I usually think and speak aloud in French to myself as a form of learning amusement (but that’s beside the point) – I catch in the corner of my eye something slightly unusual which makes me slow… and perhaps stop. This scene was such an occasion… a simple but elegant wooden cross, slightly tilting, as if it had resisted the winds for many years and next to it, rather incongruously, a modern traffic sign with just “6T” as information.

Now I know that “6T” means there is a weight limit of six tonnes for larger vehicules traveling along such a narrow, minor route, but what I don’t know is why an editor searched for such a combination – when I have many other images of religious wooden crosses taken at many road junctions in the very Catholic country which France is – chose a particular roadside cross whose calm environs were visually desecrated by a modern traffic sign. Perhaps that was the attraction, the odd juxtaposition, or perhaps the “6T” has a relevant significance in the Bible, or another religious symbolism, which I don’t know about.

Incidentally, my “essential” keywords for this particular image were “roadside, religious, wooden, cross, France” with the other main keywords being “leaning, tilting, weathered, split, wood, crucifix, road, sign, 6, six, tons, tonnes, weight, limit, Le Blanc, Buziak” (I include just my surname – not “Ed Buziak” – in case clients search all of Alamy just for my images with my name as the searchword).

Whatever, it was licensed “RF” – and no, that’s not ”Republique Francaise” but ”Royalty Free” which is a licensing method I’m generally abandoning in favour of being completely ”Rights Managed” and which carries, again in general, although there are no generalities in this game, a higher payment for most usages. However, in this case that impression was turned on its head. Last week I had an RF sale in mid-single dollar figures – albeit for a tiny image file and probably for someone’s personal website and for which I should actually be thankful that the person decided to go the proper, ethical and legal route and pay for the image use -unlike many others who grab and paste from others’ websites – whereas this sale was for a larger image file (although still not huge) and licensed for hundreds of dollars.

Overall it has added to a very good month for me with Alamy… August 2011 was (then) my best month ever after four years with the agency, but September has exceeded the previous month by a good margin. Do I think the world economy is in crisis? Not on the current showing with my image sales I don’t, especially when my past year’s earnings have basically doubled the previous four year’s cumulative total!

Cornflowers, France. [Alamy image ref. B1TXW7]

I did a double-take when I saw this corner of a French cornfield full of Cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) – also known locally in the UK as Bachelor’s Button, Bluebottle, Boutonniere Flower, Hurtsickle and Cyani Flower. It is a small annual flowering plant in the family Asteraceae, native to Europe. In the past it often grew as a weed in crop fields, hence its name (fields growing grains such as wheat, barley, rye and oats are generically known as cornfields in the UK). However, it is now endangered in its native habitat, almost entirely wiped-out by agricultural intensification, particularly the overuse of herbicides, in the United Kingdom where it has declined from more than 264 sites to just three in the last half century.

In “Turner’s Herbal” (1568) it is introduced to the reader as… “Blewbottel, otherwise called Blewblawe, is named in Greek Kyanos; in Latin, Cyanus, or Ceruleus; in Duche, Blaw Cornblumen; in Frenche, au Fioin, or Blaucole, or Bleuet.”

The traditional English name Hurtsickle also receives a mention by Gerarde… “…it hindereth and annoieth the reapers by dulling and turning the edges of their sickles in reaping of corne.”

Whereas the Poppy is recognized by British and Commonwealth forces as the flower for Remembrance Day (November 11th) the Bleuet – as it is known in France – was chosen by French forces because of the colour similarity to the uniform of the young soldiers, who were known as “Bleuets” during the Great War or 1914-18. The bluet was the nickname given to the young “horizon-blue” uniform jacket clad recruits by the first “Poilus” (the French soldiers of WW I), who also used to wear madder-red trousers! The “French Bleuet” is the commemorative symbol of the First World War… a brooch or a pin people generally wore in the button hole.

Licensed RM by Alamy for a Russian Federation consumer magazine with a 10,000 print-run, specialising in arts and crafts, under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

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