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Plum tree blossom, UK [Alamy image ref. AX668R]

For the past decade in France I’ve very much been a “blue sky” photographer… which is easy really because the climate in the sud-Touraine, compared to my decade or so in the hills of mid-Wales, is sunnier – warmer by around 12 degrees Celsius on average – and also much drier. Where I am now there are about as many days of blue sky with fluffy white clouds as there were in Wales with totally overcast cloud cover and the occasional patch of blue sky peeping through.

When there were blue skies up above in west Wales I would work overtime at the wheel of my car covering as many locations as possible within the limitations of the number of bracketed exposures I could make with a pair of Pentax 6×7 bodies which gave only ten shots to a roll. On this occasion I had been driving back from Shrewsbury and came across this glorious Plum tree on the Shropshire-Powys (English-Welsh) border. I stopped initially after seeing the striking display of blossom against the blue sky… but before becoming aware of a very old woman leaning on the entrance gate to her cottage garden. It was almost a scene from a Helen Allingham painting… but there were essential elements missing such as the traditional old-English garden Hollyhocks and roses, as well as a number of modern appendages in view such as TV aerial, telephone wires, gaudy plastic child’s swing, etc., making it impossible to create a shot of similar Edwardian-period attraction.

The Plum has many forms and varieties… my favourite being the Mirabelle, which I have never seen growing in England, but is common here in France. It was probably cultivated for European soils by the Romans, from origins in the Anatolia Caucasus. Shakespeare refers to cultivated Plums, Prunes and Damsons… and many gardens of his time must have contained a large variety of those fruits. From his contemporary, Gerard, in his own “Herball” (1597)…

“To write of Plums particularly would require a peculiar volume… Every clymate hath his owne fruite, far different from that of other countries; my selfe have threescore sorts in my garden, and all strange and rare; there be in other places many more common, and yet yearly commeth to our hands others not before knowne.”

The Image was licensed by Alamy for use in a retail textbook with a 5,000 print-run for use in France for a 1-year period under my “Nature” pseudonym.

Methodist Chapel, Wiltshire, UK. [Alamy image ref. AP2TEK]

Chittoe Heath Methodist Church was built in 1882 and is a simple rectangular chapel with rear extension, built of red brick with yellow detail. However Methodism had been going in the village of Chittoe for many years before that date. The present building was built on land donated by the local squire because the “society”, as it was then, used to meet in a house close to his own manor house. The singing was so exuberant that in desperation he gave the land for the new chapel to be built, as far away from the Parish Church as possible! The building is relatively unchanged since those days and there is a small graveyard beside it. The sign over the door proclaims its “Primitive Methodist” background. It is believed that Chittoe Heath Methodist Chapel was the original inspiration for the BBC radio programme of yesteryear called “The Chapel in the Valley”.

In 1808 the Methodist lay preacher Hugh Bourne was expelled from the Methodist movement. Bourne and his 200 or so followers became known as Primitive Methodists, a name he adopted from a statement that had been made by John Wesley in 1790: “I still remain a primitive Methodist.” Bourne’s followers were also called Ranters.

Bourne built his first Primitive Methodist Chapel in Tunstall in 1811. By 1842 membership had increased to nearly 80,000 with 500 travelling evangelists and more that 1,200 chapels. Membership continued to grow and by 1875 had reached 165,410. Unlike the Wesleyan Methodists, the Primitive Methodists encouraged women evangelists and they also provided many leaders of the trade union movement in the late 19th century.

I can’t remember exactly which lens I used for this image, but am fairly certain it was my Canon 35mm T&S lens rather than 35mm PC (Perspective Control) Nikkor… I briefly had both systems at the time. Many years later I scanned the slide with a Nikon Coolscan V to produce a 48mb image for Alamy (the minimum size accepted by Alamy was reduced to 24mb around two years ago).

Licensed RF (Royalty Free) by Alamy as a 448 x 688 pixel (900 kb) file for unlimited use under my “UK Scenes” pseudonym.

Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, UK. [Alamy image ref. AP2RYJ]

A few days ago, in response to a question on the Alamy Forum entitled Street Photography, David Kilpatrick wrote the following which I had not really considered before…“Check Alamy against your landscape subjects. If there are no similar images, stick to RM. If Alamy if flooded with RM landscapes of the same scenes, but very few RF, maybe designate them RF (same would apply in reverse). And remember that most national parks, private lands, owned forests, etc can not be RF in theory as they include property.”

Which made me think about an unexpected RF (Royalty Free) sale of an image of Bradford-on-Avon I received in 2008. Of the 138 (relatively few in number) images of that beautiful English woollen town on Alamy, I counted 20 listed as RF, including all seven of my own shots. To those who have never visited that famous location, the view of the old lockup and one time chapel on the ancient stone multi-arch bridge across the river Avon, with the terraces of Georgian stone buildings spread out on the hilly background, has to be the definitive image of that famous West-country town. However, there are only seven out of 138 images of this un-missible view on Alamy, and of those seven (including three of mine) only one is a vertical shot (again mine). Can it be true that most photographers rarely turn their cameras through ninety degrees to see and take a completely different view? My goodness… when I was much more active as a freelancer, the vertical shot was almost the first one to look for because “magazine covers make more money” was literally engraved on one’s mind – although more likely written on a scrap of paper Cellotaped as an aide-memoire to the inside of the lid of one’s camera case!

But to retrace my steps a little… when I took my shots of that attractive town bridge back in the early 1980s it required an extra-wide-angle lens to get it all in from the restricted viewing point… and at that time there were only a few such lenses available for professional camera systems. I had been trying the Canon F1n system (only for about 12 months until an F1n body suffered internal breakages never experienced in the previous two decades of hard photography with my preferred Nikon F and F2 cameras) which included the Canon FD 17mm wide-angle lens. At f/4 wide open it was not very easy to focus, and the corner sharpness was not too good either, but it allowed me, then, to capture many extra-wide type shots which today are more commonplace with the proliferation of exotic, but less expensive, lenses such as the 10~24mm and 12~24mm zooms for Nikon for example… oh, and not forgetting the remarkable 8~16mm lens recently introduced by Sigma for a variety of DSLR camera fittings which has received very good reviews. These are exciting times for photographers!

But I digress… the advice from David is excellent and worth following if shooting new areas and worth rechecking on if you have old stock shots languishing in the “never zoomed probably doomed” category. My original decision to list most of my 1980s shots as RF on Alamy was more to do with the fact that they were all scanned 35mm trannies which had not only been home-processed, but sent to editorial offices through the post enclosed in slide sleeves more than a few times, handled by researchers probably sipping their morning coffee… and were therefore thought (rightly or wrongly) to be of lesser quality because of increased grain and noise as well as odd colour shifts, harsh contrast and heavy retouching of dust and camera film-gate tramlines (remember those?) compared to today’s clean digital files straight from the camera.

My surprise was to see the above image licensed by Alamy under my “UK Scenes” pseudonym in September 2008 as a 2 MB compressed Royalty-free image for a sales figure of $421.96 despite it having harsh contrast and a rather bleak winter feel. Even though I have no idea of it’s final use or uses, it did have ample space across the plain sky as well as on the deep shadowed foreground areas for titles and text overlays if needed for a magazine cover, book cover, poster or advertisement. Oddly, considering the normal viewing angle and attitude of our eyes, my horizontal / landscape format examples of this same scene have never sold or ever been zoomed!

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