Roadside Cross, Indre, France [Alamy image ref. B4CJFN]

Sometimes, when driving along a deserted country road and thinking aloud – actually I usually think and speak aloud in French to myself as a form of learning amusement (but that’s beside the point) – I catch in the corner of my eye something slightly unusual which makes me slow… and perhaps stop. This scene was such an occasion… a simple but elegant wooden cross, slightly tilting, as if it had resisted the winds for many years and next to it, rather incongruously, a modern traffic sign with just “6T” as information.

Now I know that “6T” means there is a weight limit of six tonnes for larger vehicules traveling along such a narrow, minor route, but what I don’t know is why an editor searched for such a combination – when I have many other images of religious wooden crosses taken at many road junctions in the very Catholic country which France is – chose a particular roadside cross whose calm environs were visually desecrated by a modern traffic sign. Perhaps that was the attraction, the odd juxtaposition, or perhaps the “6T” has a relevant significance in the Bible, or another religious symbolism, which I don’t know about.

Incidentally, my “essential” keywords for this particular image were “roadside, religious, wooden, cross, France” with the other main keywords being “leaning, tilting, weathered, split, wood, crucifix, road, sign, 6, six, tons, tonnes, weight, limit, Le Blanc, Buziak” (I include just my surname – not “Ed Buziak” – in case clients search all of Alamy just for my images with my name as the searchword).

Whatever, it was licensed “RF” – and no, that’s not ”Republique Francaise” but ”Royalty Free” which is a licensing method I’m generally abandoning in favour of being completely ”Rights Managed” and which carries, again in general, although there are no generalities in this game, a higher payment for most usages. However, in this case that impression was turned on its head. Last week I had an RF sale in mid-single dollar figures – albeit for a tiny image file and probably for someone’s personal website and for which I should actually be thankful that the person decided to go the proper, ethical and legal route and pay for the image use -unlike many others who grab and paste from others’ websites – whereas this sale was for a larger image file (although still not huge) and licensed for hundreds of dollars.

Overall it has added to a very good month for me with Alamy… August 2011 was (then) my best month ever after four years with the agency, but September has exceeded the previous month by a good margin. Do I think the world economy is in crisis? Not on the current showing with my image sales I don’t, especially when my past year’s earnings have basically doubled the previous four year’s cumulative total!

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.

Warning sign, France [Alamy image ref: AR6NRH]

I have a growing collection of signs and logos which are now under their own “Directions” pseudonym on Alamy… directions being an overall category for information on conditions, going somewhere, advice on something, advertising this, promoting that… signs that lead you to something else.Generally I photograph them – especially road signs – in sunlight with a bright blue sky as a backdrop… “bleu, blanc et rouge” being the French, British and American national flag colours and very eye-catching when combined.

The problem with ‘straight on’ shots, however, is that the background often doesn’t show the viewer what the sign indicated. To have shown a car upended in a ditch next to this ‘slippery road’ sign would have been an excellent picture opportunity… but is one very rarely seen. – perhaps because drivers really do take caution in these places!

In bright sun there’s another problem… flare! All modern road signs are highly reflective… and any sun striking them is likely to reflect into the camera. From a reasonable distance a long lens can cancel this effect whereas with a wide-angle the problem is exaggerated. I nearly always experience this when I automatically shoot an alternative worm’s-eye view with only the sky as a plain backdrop. These unnatural views are more dynamic and graphic, especially shot with a very wide-angle lens, but they can become isolated and ‘float’ in mid-air with less connection to their related hazard.

To reduce the background (receding perspective) in this shot I used a 12~24mm Nikkor wide-angle zoom set at around at 17mm… but it wasn’t that simple. With such ‘clean’ subjects – they look very good when pristine but most unattractive when dirty and splattered with mud – I spend an unhealthy amount of time cleaning them up… both at the scene with a damp baby-bum wipe I keep in a plastic bag; and later in Photoshop. For all that extra work, it was licensed to an educational textbook publisher in the Netherlands for a 5-year period.

BTW: I always admire the accuracy of French road distances (I measured it on my fixie-cycle and it is 2,1 kilometers exactly) but wonder how the car’s skid marks could possibly have touched as shown in the illustration. Perhaps the artist had been drinking rather too much for lunch!

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