Chocolate shop, Poitiers, France [Alamy image ref. B5A2Y6]

In high summer, and in good weather, the Claude Lafond Chocolatier establishment in the rue Lazare Carnot, Poitiers, will be fronted by crowded tables and chairs bordered with troughs of Geraniums to separate those taking tea and cakes or coffee from shoppers and sightseers in the traffic-free “zone piétonne” old quarter of the city. Those people who have come from near and afar will expect to choose from many delicacies prepared every day to amuse and satisfy every palette.

Established since 1957 in the historical centre of Poitiers, the family-run establishment perpetuates the tradition of beautiful selections of desserts, small cakes and chocolates. Together with a staff of more than 50 in other premises around the town, the organisation serves around 1,000 receptions and seminars a year catering for more than 150,000 people.

The shop and café must be well-know further afield too because this image was licensed by a Japanese TV company for use for one year on a programme. The is also much else to see and photograph in Poitiers… but because of my personal situation I have only been able to make two trips there despite that city being only an hour’s drive away. But there and back with a couple of hours shooting amounts to half a day away from my paralyzed wife whom I – being her sole carer for a couple of decades – normally have to return to after a couple of hours away. However, from those two trips I selected 84 images for Alamy… from the 1,456 images with the “Poitiers” tag currently with that agency.

One day I would like to get to “Futuroscope” for some extra stock coverage because there are only 129 images on Alamy with “Futuroscope, Poitiers” as the subject including 5 “RF” of which four have people in them (spot check necessary Alamy… Futuroscope is private property and also recognizable faces of strangers cannot be RF)! The big problem I have with a designated location to visit though is not usually one of time, but one of distractions! On my first visit to Poitiers I must have stopped half a dozen times to photograph churches, bridges, market squares and random signs… all of which doubled the 1-hour journey time there. On my second trip I stayed more focused on the road ahead… but it was difficult not to stop on many occasions.

This shot – which I waited for specifically so as to not include people – was taken at the wide end of my 14-24mm Nikkor zoom… the exotic optics holding contrast well despite the various rays of sunlight bouncing around the scene from random windows.

The RM image was licensed by Alamy for unlimited transmissions in an editorial programme (not for advertising) for 1-year by a Japanese TV company 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.

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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