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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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Lamborghini tractor and roller [Alamy image ref: AE894P]

I was surprised to see an off-white tractor rolling across the mostly flat, farmed, French landscape which borders the “Thousand Lakes” area of the Indre département also known as La Brenne. Although there are around 1,200 lakes in that fairly small region, many are probably the size of English dew ponds so the impression created by the name is a slight letdown for those visitors expecting watery scenes to vie with those of, say, Sweden.

But back to the tractor… from afar I was expecting to see another marque; any marque apart from a Lamborghini – a name which ranks in the top echelon of Italian mid-engined high-performance sports car makers and engine suppliers for Class 1 World Offshore Powerboat racing. In fact Lamborghini tractors were manufactured during the Second World war, more than 20 years before their first supercar was launched. And typical of current Lamborghini advertising, they state, “Professionals choose Lamborghini tractors for two basic reasons: its advanced technology and the good looks assured by its elegant and exclusive styling. Whether you’re guided by rational or emotional considerations, in the end it makes little difference!” Note: The Lamborghini I photographed was certainly not very beautiful so must have been a model from the ’80-90s.

Although tractors working farmland travel fairly slowly, there is a common problem when photographing them in the Summer of raised dust, plus a more interesting phenomenon – heat convection, or atmospheric shimmer seen when very warm, dry air rises off the land. Obviously the further away the tractor is and the longer the telephoto lens the greater the distortion that may be visible in front of the subject… but as the tractor approaches the air will be clearer with definition improved.

I used a 70~200mm f/2.8 Nikkor telephoto zoom for a small series of shots, turning the zoom ring as the tractor approached to keep it fairly fully framed in the viewfinder… this selected image being taken at around the 130mm mark. Although that more recent Nikkor lens has “VR” (Vibration Reduction) built-in, I hardly ever used it in action – preferring a Gitzo Basalt Monopod for steady support with moving subjects.

The image was licensed for a 1-year period, surprisingly (and a first for me), to a Japanese TV company for use during a regular show, presumably as part of a studio backdrop montage for an agricultural, news or discussion program. I can only guess what a photo caption for the tractor may include… “Italian Job” or “French Connection” perhaps?

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