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300mm

Watering Maize, France. [Alamy image ref. AEF1PR]

This was my fourth image sale in my early days with Alamy and it was a bit of a surprise because the subject matter was not “impressive”- being an old Ford tractor and crop sprayer. With my submissions to Alamy I had been concentrating on more modern machinery for my “Farming Today” folio of images – thinking that potential picture buyers would always be looking for the most up-to-date subjects for illustrations. Not so! In fact there must be an enormous number of subjects which have missed being captured digitally since around 2000 and therefore are increasingly scarce to find unless careful scans have been made from previously taken film originals.

But, by chance I saw this farmer in a local field in the Indre-et-Loire département of France spraying his early Maize crop… although as it was a small field and he as towing a very large tank of liquid I think he was watering his crop rather than spraying it with fertiliser or pesticides. He was working further and further away from my roadside position so I had to use my old 300mm Nikkor to get reasonably tight framing. My 70-200mm would have been too wide even at the long end and my only other telephoto at the time – a 500mm f/8 Mirror lens – was unusable being too long, too slow and difficult to hand-hold and pan with a moving subject.

My suspicion about water rather than chemical spraying may have been influenced by the requirements for maize being 30-60 mm of rain and/or irrigation per week, with requirements for advanced sweet corn being increased to 80-90mm per week during hot weather… and it was a very hot summer. Also, the farmer was in an unenclosed tractor cab and at risk from spray residue with wind and working direction changes. However, the point I have made to myself is to ask farmers whenever possible and practicable what they are doing and why. I find the chatting is usually very friendly and entertaining… and it provides accurate caption and key-wording information!

Licensed RM by Alamy for use in a South African educational textbook for 1-year under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

Wild horses, la Brenne, France [Alamy image ref: AFDK4N]

About half-an-hour drive from my base in central France is a concentrated area of wild habitat and wetland including over a thousand lakes. It’s a haven, as one can imagine, for the wildlife photographer and living so close I thought it would be a ‘natural’ for me too. Well, I obviously didn’t reckon on the necessary investment in stealth, patience, long lenses, camouflage and… did I mention patience?

I found out quite quickly that although I regularly get up at 5 ‘o-clock in the morning… that time of day was too late to make a start. I‘d also read many photo books profusely illustrated with what could be called ‘intimate’ close-ups of nature… which indicated that photographers were literally living with their subjects. Another downside was that nature also means insects… and I don’t like getting bitten or stung. Then there was the problem of long fast lenses… the most desirable were simply out of my price range and the least desirable were called just that for good reason. So overall, it wasn’t for me… I decided there were plenty of other subjects to specialise in… and therefore enjoy!

However, one late August afternoon, I was driving through the Brenne and saw a herd of around fifty wild horses grazing on an unfenced area of scrubby grassland. I parked and started to approach… the horses didn’t look up but carried on grazing whilst slowly wandering further afield… I approached some more… but the animals galloped away a little then continued grazing. I think they have a second nature which tells them, ”This photographer has neither a very long lens nor sugar cubes!”

I was carrying a telephoto lens though – an old 300mm f/4 AF Nikkor which was very sharp if and when it could be held steady. With the aperture 1-stop down at f/5.6 the minimum shutter speed indicated was 1/250th… not quite fast enough when adopting the “reciprocal of the focal length” rule of shutter speed and focal length as the 300mm on the Nikon D300’s APS-C size sensor becomes 450mm with the x1.5 multiplication factor. Being a little breathless after the exertions of the chase, my Gitzo monopod gave me the equivalent of an extra couple of stops of shutter speed for steadiness. Also there was quite a lot of haze that afternoon, so the image had to be strongly tweaked in Lightroom to bring out the back-lighting on the horses’ outlines.

When I look through my Lightroom catalog there are almost 150 shots from that afternoon’s shoot (I really need to edit that number down by 75%)… of which from the bunch I uploaded to Alamy, a general view of the horses’ asses was the one licensed for use here in France for a textbook with a one million print run (educational?) for one year. As a one-off it was rewarding… but the experience doesn’t make me a wildlife photographer!

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