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Cock and hen, France. [Alamy image ref. AR6NRN]

One of the few images from my collection on Alamy – now numbering close to 7,500 – that has stumped me for keywords, is the above. Maybe I didn’t think this early-morning, back-lit, farming image would ever be seen… let alone chosen for use because I’d encouraged the two characters to pose by placing pieces of bread on the grass at a nice frame-filling, pre-focused distance from my Nikon 70-200mm zoom.All I had to do was click the shutter every time these cute creatures stood still for a moment – if you’ve never tried photographing friendly fowl before, you won’t know how quickly their heads bob up and down and blur a high percentage of shots!

However, when it came to key-wording, all that came to mind for the “Essential” box was “cock, hen, poultry.” I had also written “Cock and hen – poultry” as the caption, as well as “farm, bird, birds, rooster,” in the additional keywords box… but that was it… probably my shortest set of keywords of all my images so far on Alamy.The result? This image sits 1st of 648 Rights Managed images (there are 985 including RF) with “cock, hen, poultry” as the keywords. Scratching around a bit more I found there are 1,821 images using “cock, hen” as keywords, and more than 27,000 images found using the single word “poultry”. Interestingly, when “poultry, hen, cock” (the original three search words but used in reverse order) are used in the keyword search, my image drops down from position #1 to 165, although the total number of RM images found stays the same at 648.

All of which makes me think that perhaps during 2011 I should start to look at my frequently excessively descriptive key-wording… and start to pare it all down to the basic essentials. I did a lot of kissing – with both men and women… as is normal here in France – over the New Year, so perhaps I should take the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) acronym to heart.

Used in a UK national newspaper with print run up to 5 million, inside spot size on a 1-day license under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

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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!

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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