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Brenne

Sentier du Blizon sign, France. [Alamy image ref. AFDJRH]

La Brenne National Park in central France covers 166,000 hectares – or several hundred square kilometres – and is situated about 80 km south-east of Tours. It’s an area of shallow man-made lakes – more than 2300 in total according to some sources (I have to say I can’t believe it, rather than I doubt it). The first lakes were dug in the Middle Ages for rearing fish, and there are some fairly recent ones as well which I believe were for clay extraction used for the manufacture of roofing tiles. For the ornithologist and botanist the area is a haven of discovery with apparently more than 2,300 insects and animals as well as more than 1,200 plant species recorded. Noted are the European Pond Turtles, Purple Herons, Black-Necked Grebes, Eurasian Bitterns as well as many Orchids, Dragonflies and Frogs.

The “Sentier du Blizon” (Sentier = trail) is a lake and marshland location with a Nature Trail about 1.5km (1 mile) in length there and back where one can spend a single day watching and listening to wildlife. This sign itself is a modern design which blends-in well with the surroundings.

It is not the first time I have sold a sign rather than the location it announces… I suspect many photographers arrive at such beauty spots and concentrate on the subject itself rather than the information provided about it. As a matter of course I photograph town names at each place I visit because I don’t have an iPhone or other such device with GPS data recording… so unless I make a visual record (my mental recording is suspect) I’m apt to forget exact locations I have been to – especially in the Brenne where, to be honest, more than 2,000 lakes look very much the same – before I’ve returned to my base above a bar… which sometimes doesn’t help matters!

Licensed RM by Alamy for reproduction in a French retail book with a 5,000 print-run for 1-year under my “Nature” pseudonym, which includes everything to do with my countryside but non-farming landscapes, woodland, animals and flowers, etc. images.

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Château le Bouchet, Indre, France. [Alamy image ref. AHN2EG]

This image of the Château le Bouchet was taken through a gap in the trees alongside the Etang de la Mer Rouge with a telephoto lens. The lake was named by the Lord of Le Bouchet, who owned the château and the artificial lake, who had been to the Holy Land on a Crusade and been held prisoner for a while near the Red Sea. I can ‘t find authenticated proof of this story and it puzzles me because as far as I know most of the thousand and more small lakes in the Brenne were created artificially after the extraction of clay for roofing tiles… and I’m not sure this industry was carried out at the time of the Crusades.

Another unauthenticated story about the Mer Rouge was that another owner of the Château drowned whilst fishing… his chest-high waders accidentally filling with water and eventually dragging him  down below the surface of the lake. Again I’m curious because when I‘ve seen some of these lakes drained – many have a sluice gate for such an event – all have been revealed to be very shallow… perhaps three feet deep at most.

So I know of two puzzling stories – a dubious name source from a prisoner, and a drowning – connected with the romantically named lake at the foot of this fortified château. Both are dark in character… so I feel, for once, that the image of this particular château which has a sombre and brooding feel, poking its turrets through the surrounding woodland, is enhanced for once by the gathering storm clouds rather than my (obligatory) blue sky background.

Licensed RM by Alamy for reproduction (with two other images for the same feature) for 1-year in a French textbook with a 5,000 print-run under my “a la France” 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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