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D200

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.

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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.

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.

Thermal Spa, La Roche Posay, France. [Alamy image ref. B31J11]

Following on from my last article “#43 Gateway to Success?” I’m remaining in the town of La Roche Posay to describe image sales illustrating what the town is really noted for… spa water. Although formally recognised in 1869 as the first spa in Europe exclusively dedicated to skin disorders, the dermatological tradition at La Roche Posay actually spans five centuries and is based on the locally Selenium-rich spring water. Since those early years a unique base of knowledge and experience on skin cure treatment has been recognized the world over. As I mentioned last week, even Napoleon, when as General Bonaparte on his return from Egypt at the beginning of the 19th century, had a thermal-spa hospital built there to treat his soldiers’ skin diseases.

I took many images from different angles of his attractive spa building but the more interesting ones were of the public approach which included the steps as a “lead-in” to the establishment.

Thermal Spa, La Roche Posay, France. [Alamy image ref. B31J4J]

Both images of “Les Thermes du Connétable” were taken with a 14-24mm f/2.8 Nikkor zoom at the wide end which… became an effective 21mm on my D200’s cropped-format sensor. And because the building was above my eye-level on rising ground, I had to pull the corners out slightly to correct the converging verticals. Although I no longer have my old 28mm PC Nikkor, I’m not sure if it would have provided adequate coverage on my camera – with its x1.5 sensor the effective focal length would have been closer to the 35mm PC used on a full-frame camera – although it would have been from much lower down the slope at road level. I have seen on various websites about this thermal spa that their images of this building are very poor and cut-off… so other photographers had similar problems! However, the newer wide-angle version of Nikon’s PC lens, the 24mm, would provide wonderful perspective on a full-frame Nikon… and the Canon 17mm Tilt & Shift even more exaggerated and extreme.

Licensed as Rights Managed by Alamy for reproduction in daily newspapers as well as monthly consumer magazines in France (as a 2-page spread for a very good fee), Russia and Poland under my “a la France” pseudonym.

La Roche Posay, France. [Alamy image ref. AHE43K]

On many occasions when I have been forced to wait for five minutes or more to progress through a break in the traffic at this narrow gateway in the nearby spa town of La Roche Posay in the Vienne I didn’t think to take a “topical” picture of what it is like to drive, live and shop on top of a “bottleneck”. When I decided to tackle such an angle to illustrate modern traffic conditions in a typical French town with narrow streets in it’s “old quarter” it was an exceptionally quiet day!

More than thirty years ago when I first visited La Roche Posay – I think it must have been before the by-pass had been constructed – I remember a string of large lorries pumping fumes from their exhausts as they waited and waited for a signal from a gendarme to progress with caution through the low, narrow arch of the ancient gateway… and then on to a safer passing and crossing point over the river Creuse a few hundred meters distant. Many towns like this were planned and evolved with defence in mind… horses and carts being the only form of transportation many centuries ago.

Formally recognized as being of public utility in 1869, La Roche Posay became the first spa in Europe exclusively dedicated to skin disorders. The dermatological tradition at La Roche Posay spans five centuries and is based upon Selenium-rich spring water plus a unique store of knowledge and experience recognized the world over. And Napoleon, then General Bonaparte, on his return from Egypt at the beginning of the 19th century, had a thermal hospital built there to treat his soldiers’ skin diseases. Perhaps he marched from the thermal spring to Paris through this arch with his troops… than would have made an impressive photograph… had the camera been invented then!

So a lot has happened here and generations have passed through the portals… but the most I had to show for it on this visit was a couple of cars and cyclists… not even the usual milling crowds window-shopping with others sitting at café tables watching the world go by. In what context this image was used I have no idea… others of mine showing the famous spa buildings have been used several times around the world (although mostly for Polish and Russian publications). Maybe it was used alongside a spa image from another photographer? However, it was my second sale through Alamy and actually came within a couple of days of after my very first sale there… so I regarded the image subject as a gateway to success!

Licensed as Rights Managed by Alamy for reproduction in a weekly consumer magazine in the UK with a 500,000 print-run under my “a la France” pseudonym.

Poppy Field & Walnut tree, France [Alamy image ref. ACWKNY]

I thought it odd that this image was published mid-summer and not on the Sunday closest to November 11th as a reminder of Remembrance Day and the services held throughout the UK in memory of the millions of soldiers who have given their lives in conflicts since the Great War of 1914-18.The Poppy (Papaver rhoaes)is, of course, such an emblem of this anniversary that the day is now more widely known in the UK as “Poppy Day”. The Poppy bloomed across the WW1 battlefields of Flanders and was celebrated by the most popular poem of the period “In Flanders Fields” written by Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae.

Papaver rhoeas, however, is sometimes so abundant in agricultural fields – as in the image above – that it is mistaken for a crop, but the only species of Poppy grown on a large scale is Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy. In it’s native Europe the red Poppy is simply an agricultural weed – but a very attractive one nonetheless for nature lovers, painters and photographers.

I took this and a series of other long views, wide views, close-ups, shallow depth-of-field shots whilst on a mid-May birthday celebration cycle ride in the sud-Touraine. The vivid red flowery landscape was literally “here today, gone tomorrow” as the farmer had cut the entire field when I rode past a couple of days later.

Typically, though unseen here, amongst the Poppy crop were swathes of Cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus). In France the Cornflower is the symbol of the 11th November 1918 armistice and, as such, a popular emblem for veterans, similar to the Poppy worn in the United Kingdom and Canada.

In the past the Cornflower often grew as a weed in crop fields, hence its name (fields growing grains such as wheat, barley, rye, or oats were formerly known as “corn fields” in England). But it is now endangered in its native habitat because of agricultural intensification – and particularly overuse of herbicides – destroying its habitat… in the United Kingdom it has declined from 264 locations to just 3 sites in the last 50 years.

Typically, in this French farmed landscape, there was a Walnut tree. The word Walnut derives from Old English wealhhnutu literally “foreign nut”, wealh meaning “foreign” – although judging by the number of Walnut trees I’ve seen here, the English Walnut is far more more common in France than in the UK.

Ten-Million-to-One chance?

So why was this image chosen from the tens of thousands of others on Alamy? When I did a recent search, there were 34,793 images with “poppy” used as a keyword, 22,253 with “poppies”, 15,526 with “red poppy”, 11,813 with “poppy field”… and narrowing the results down further I found 1,947 with “poppy France”.

But I was still none the wiser because for several of the above searches, none of my poppy images appeared until well after page 10 of 120 images per page – at which point I gave up looking as one’s eyes – and those of picture researchers – would need matchsticks to prop the eyelids open when looking at blobs of red in every shot!

Finally, after doing another search with “poppy walnut tree” as the keywords… Bingo! There were only two examples amongst Alamy’s stock of 20 million images, and only mine had red poppies (the other showing yellow-orange Californian Poppies). So an oh-so-common shot turned out to be a ten-million-to-one shot being used three times this year as inside 1/4-page and 1/2-page size reproductions in UK national newspapers for 1-day licenses with and with print runs of 500,000.

UPDATE: I originally wrote that… “Astonishingly, I very nearly rejected this particular image at the initial sorting stage in Lightroom because it was amongst the most ill-defined of the shoot – even though I was using a 70-200 f/2.8 Nikkor VR (Vibration Reduction) lens, my heart was still pumping from the afternoon’s hard exercising on my fixie-bike, and some of the longer 200mm focal-length images were not what I then judged to be sharp enough for Alamy’s QC (Quality Control) standards… especially considering they were amongst my first three or four submissions to that agency!”

However, on seeing the image used here with ‘sharpening’ (click on it to see an enlarged view in a separate window), it has turned out much nicer than the original ‘zoom’ shows on the Alamy browsing page… so another lesson learned!

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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