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wide angle

Roof Repairs [Alamy image ref. C2CN9E]

I don’t have a head for heights… having lost consciousness and fallen a long way during a climbing accident in my late teens. I did spend a few weeks one summer vacation on snow and ice in the Austrian Stubai and Ziller Alps with an art college friends and tutor… but on a rock face with dizzy exposure – not for me any more!

However, the opportunity to photograph roof repairs to the hotel/bar where I reside in France proved too good a chance to turn away from… as long as I didn’t have to look down from on high. No way was I going to climb a triple extension ladder without a rope and the builder above me securely belayed to a chimney stack or other immovable object… but he laughed that suggestion off as he scrambled up steeply pitched roof laths of soft pine and which were only held in place by a few short nails. Plus, there were hundreds of heavy, old reclaimed clay roofing slates piled on top of one another so haphazardly that the top ones bounced as the builders hammered. All appeared ready to slide to the gulf below – not unlike avalanches seen in those Austrian Alps – if I so much as stepped anywhere near.

All looked too high and too insecure to consider a photo opportunity… until it was suggested I clambered into the hotel’s attic space, up onto the old oak cross beams and then wriggled my way through a gap in the new laths and onto the scaffolding walkway… which wasn’t built-up from the ground, but hooked onto the wall of the hotel by two metal brackets… gravity – and nothing else – keeping them in place!

I only took my everyday / go anywhere wide lens – a 24mm Nikkor (equivalent to a 35mm lens’ angle of view on a full-frame digital or film SLR camera) – as changing lenses would have meant letting loose my grip on the roof structure with one or both hands… a no-no! I fired-off a couple of dozen shots from the same angle, both vertical and horizontal, and never even thought of scrambling across the roof for a reverse angle. The lighting was in my favor from my first position, and the background free from telephone and electricity wires across the clear blue sky area.

The only negative point, on reflection, was that the builders were not wearing safety helmets, yellow jackets, knee pads and whatever else the French Health & Safety regulations normally stipulate for the job. There again, to have persuaded the workmen to don such safety clothing would have cost me too much in the bar far below… after which they still would have refused to comply when they would have needed it even more. Like I said… barring accidents!

The image was RM licensed by Alamy for reproduction to illustrate editorial material in a 100,000 print-run monthly magazine under my “Fabricate” pseudonym.

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Dry ditch section [Alamy image ref. C2N7TD]

Although the above image of a piece of scraped earth sold twice shortly after I took the shot, I cannot find many inspirational words to describe accurately what it is nor why it was chosen to illustrate a subject equally unknown to me. However, I did see, stop and take it so it must have warranted a second thought.

In reality, this piece of earth didn’t look very interesting as I rushed downhill towards the supermarket at Yzures-sur-Creuse, about 10kms from where I live. It does me good to do a 20kms round trip on my fixed-gear cycle when I want a bunch of bananas. Walking across the road to shop hardly uses a dozen calories… whereas fifty slightly hilly minutes on a fixie burns off around 500 cals.

The downhill stretch into Yzeures is about 1,5kms of frantic leg thrashing (no free-wheeling possible on my bike) during which I weave around any road repairs, shallow grooves created by years of tractor traffic, and cracks from subsidence… the latter probably being the reason a digger had been digging and scraping the earth between road and farmland so that the seasonal winter rains would be able to drain-off properly without flooding the undulating, weaving thoroughfare. However, it was on my much slower, grinding, uphill exertions on my return that I noticed the rich colour and detail in the fresh excavations… so I shopped and took a couple of shots on a part of the curve which slowed the best texture revealed by the sun’s angle to the road.

Basically what I was looking at was a dry ditch… the section adjacent to the field showing bands of rich brown and yellow colours according to the depth and natural dryness and cracking after the long hot summer. By next year the soil will be covered with grass and weeds from natural seeding which will hold everything together and prevent erosion.

This kind of “break” in a field reminds me of a “Ha-ha” – a term in garden design that refers to a trench, one side “of which is concealed from view, designed to allow an unobstructed view from a garden, pleasure-ground, or park, while maintaining a physical barrier in one direction, usually to keep livestock out that are kept on an expansive estate. It also may be used to mean a ditch, one side of which is vertical and faced with stone, the other face sloped and turfed, making the trench, in effect, a retaining wall, sometimes known as a “deer leap”.

The etymology of the term is generally given as being an expression of surprise – “Ha ha” or “Ah! ah!” is exclaimed on encountering such a feature. This is the explanation given in French, where it is traditionally attributed to Louis, le Grand Dauphin, on encountering such features at Meudon, d’Argenville. Walpole surmised that the name was derived from the response of ordinary folk on encountering them and that they were, “…then deemed so astonishing, that the common people called them “Ha Has” to express their surprise at finding a sudden and unperceived check to their walk.

So a rough, hardly attractive feature that was barely worth a second look, actually sold twice after I decided to stop and take a couple of shots on passing it a second time. If I can allow myself a chuckle at my perception it would probably sound like… “ha-ha”.

The image was RM licensed twice by Alamy for reproduction up to 1/4-page in a 5,000 print-run textbooks published in South Africa for 1-year under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

Storm clouds, sud-Touraine, France [Alamy image ref. BCWPWH]

Apparently – I’m not very knowledgeable on these matters so I looked them up on the internet – these clouds are called Altocumulus. They are dark because they hold a lot of water… and are typically seen when a cold storm front moves in.

I haven’t seem many storm fronts like this in the sud-Touraine where we generally have warm, dry seasons and on rare occasions, a light snow fall. In fact when the latter weather occurs, the salt-gritting lorries are out before dawn if there is as much as a centimetre or two on the roads!

I was aware of this storm approaching well before it arrived… the BBC  Radio 4 Long Wave programme I’d been listening to for an hour or so was being broken-up at an increasing rate by staccato crackles. When I eventually looked out of the window of the house where we were were ensconced for a year, the sky had turned from clear blue to ominous black… plus the wind was rising in strength and the atmosphere getting colder as the front approached with alarming speed.

I had taken my Nikon D300 and 14-24mm f/2.8 Nikkor wide-angle zoom which, at the time, was almost permanently fixed to the camera for my shooting style… and used at the 14mm widest setting for about 90% of the time (14mm on the D300’s sensor being the equivalent of a 21mm lens on a regular 35mm film camera). Any front-of-lens filter was virtually impossible with this lens, but recently Lee Filters have produced in limited quantities a very expensive filter system adaptable to the bulbous front element of this superb optic. However, I haven’t used filters since I went digital in 2005, and if I feel the necessity to add some extra effect to sky areas of an image I do it post-production in Adobe’s Lightroom software on my MacBook Pro.

The image was RM licensed by Alamy for reproduction up to 1-page in an editorial context in both a textbook and e-book for a 15-year period under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

New windows, Malmesbury, UK [Alamy image ref. ANBG7K]

Last week I wrote that most photographers, at some time during their passion, take shots of windows. For many this subject develops into a theme or collection… and I’ve been doing that for at least forty years and don’t feel like stopping.

Accumulations as such may build-up slowly if not thought of as specific themes… until one day you realize you have many, many examples. As far back as 25 years ago I was unaware of how many window shots I had saved until I grouped them together with the idea of producing a slide show (I think it was fellow Nikon UK lecturer Richard Tucker who produced excellent “slide-dissolve” shows with multiple projectors that influenced me in that direction) but when carefully slotted into A4 hanging clear slide files they numbered more than 400.

It was at that point I knew I had to stop… or start to edit very carefully. Editing one’s images was far slower in the film age… I’m not sure whether photographers generally took fewer shots in those days – whilst film and processing was expensive,there was also the tendency to overshoot multiple angles in case of missing something (no instant-replay visual feedback in those days) as well as take multiple shots of the same scene/subject with bracketed exposures for safety… not to mention the doubling-up of colour transparency/negative and black-and-white materials of the same subject with two cameras!

I eventually cut my “usable” collection down to under one hundred examples… of which about half were successfully scanned on a Nikon Coolscan V 35mm film scanner for uploading to Alamy. It is hard word taking this route… film scanning is fraught with difficulties as well as many frustrating minutes and hours of image correction because of dust, fingerprint blemish and possible tramline scratch corrections.

Because of the “imperfections” with 35mm film scans I took the debatable decision to register al mine – some 250 or so – as Royalty Free… using the rational that they were dated subjects and would probably be used small. However, some of my RF sales have been my outright best-sellers in money terms bordering the $500 mark for single image sales… whilst others have been at the bottom of the barrel at one-hundredth of the top figure… yep, go figure!

In fact I have made the decision to gradually remove all my RF images with Alamy and re-register them as RM… I prefer to know their usages rather than be left guessing forever with “unlimited use” licences. An annoyance which I hope is never repeated was when after a Royalty Free image that had been zoomed six months ago (thus an established registered buyer), was licensed three months ago… and then refunded a couple of weeks ago. For an RF image to have a refund after three months in the client’s hands with potentially unlimited use during that time does not sound like correct or ethical business to me. And, as the sum was for only $6 or so it makes me wonder how Alamy could allow not only this refund, but the sale in the first place when their commission would only have been around $2.50 which would be more than their overheads for the actual transaction. I mean, there is a minimum charge for most things nowadays… like when did your plumber last charge $2.50 for turning up at your house to replace a simple tap-washer?

The image was licensed around 30 years after I took it with a Nikon F2 and 28mm lens but as a 4mb file – scanned using a Nikon Coolscan V from the original transparency – by Alamy RF under my “UK Scenes” pseudonym.

Windows, Malmesbury, UK [Alamy image ref. ANBG5X]

Most photographers, at some time during their passion, take shots of windows. For many this subject develops into a theme or collection… I’ve been doing such for forty or so years and don’t look like stopping, even though I don’t think I’m still “collecting” shots of windows with the same consuming interest. However, whenever I see an interesting one – either from the outside looking at, or from the inside looking through – I can’t help but raise my camera, frame, and click-off a couple of shots just in case they turn out to be more interesting than I thought at that moment.

Perhaps we photographers are preconditioned into thinking about and taking images of windows… after all, the first two famous photographers both used the window as their subject matter. Admittedly, exposures in the early days of photography – or “painting with light” as Hancock of Half-Hour infamy would have exclaimed, were extraordinarily long, and a window would have received and transmitted plenty of light and had enough tonal contrast to record a strong image.

A photograph of the latticed window in Lacock Abbey, made in 1835 by William Henry Fox Talbot (1800 – 1877) was printed from the oldest, thus first, photographic negative in existence.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Fox_Talbot

However, a decade before in 1825 Nicéphore Niépce (1765 – 1833), a French inventor most noted as one of the inventors of photography and a pioneer in the field, produced the world’s first known photograph… a view through an open window – “View from the Window at Le Gras” (La cour du domaine du Gras), although it was a one-off and unlike Fox Talbot’s window image couldn’t be reproduced because there was no original negative.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nic%C3%A9phore_Ni%C3%A9pce
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/View_from_the_Window_at_Le_Gras

So we have history behind our choice of such subject matter and don’t need any further excuses. If we did, in this day and age, it would be the use of colour which was probably beyond the comprehension of Niépce and Fox Talbot but certainly beyond the techniques of the time and for many decades after.

Unless I’m walking or cycling around the French countryside, a window or windows are within my eye-line all my waking hours of the day, as with the above… a pair of windows on two adjoining houses opposite my own in Malmesbury, Wiltshire back in the early 1980s. The image was licensed around 30 years later as a 4mb file – scanned using a Nikon Coolscan V from the original transparency – by Alamy RF under my “UK Scenes” pseudonym.

Plum tree blossom, UK [Alamy image ref. AX668R]

For the past decade in France I’ve very much been a “blue sky” photographer… which is easy really because the climate in the sud-Touraine, compared to my decade or so in the hills of mid-Wales, is sunnier – warmer by around 12 degrees Celsius on average – and also much drier. Where I am now there are about as many days of blue sky with fluffy white clouds as there were in Wales with totally overcast cloud cover and the occasional patch of blue sky peeping through.

When there were blue skies up above in west Wales I would work overtime at the wheel of my car covering as many locations as possible within the limitations of the number of bracketed exposures I could make with a pair of Pentax 6×7 bodies which gave only ten shots to a roll. On this occasion I had been driving back from Shrewsbury and came across this glorious Plum tree on the Shropshire-Powys (English-Welsh) border. I stopped initially after seeing the striking display of blossom against the blue sky… but before becoming aware of a very old woman leaning on the entrance gate to her cottage garden. It was almost a scene from a Helen Allingham painting… but there were essential elements missing such as the traditional old-English garden Hollyhocks and roses, as well as a number of modern appendages in view such as TV aerial, telephone wires, gaudy plastic child’s swing, etc., making it impossible to create a shot of similar Edwardian-period attraction.

The Plum has many forms and varieties… my favourite being the Mirabelle, which I have never seen growing in England, but is common here in France. It was probably cultivated for European soils by the Romans, from origins in the Anatolia Caucasus. Shakespeare refers to cultivated Plums, Prunes and Damsons… and many gardens of his time must have contained a large variety of those fruits. From his contemporary, Gerard, in his own “Herball” (1597)…

“To write of Plums particularly would require a peculiar volume… Every clymate hath his owne fruite, far different from that of other countries; my selfe have threescore sorts in my garden, and all strange and rare; there be in other places many more common, and yet yearly commeth to our hands others not before knowne.”

The Image was licensed by Alamy for use in a retail textbook with a 5,000 print-run for use in France for a 1-year period under my “Nature” pseudonym.

La Haute Touche, Indre, France [Alamy image ref. B4NAHM]

The animal and nature reserve of La Haute Touche is the largest zoo in France. Located in a 500 hectares forest in the Brenne National park in the Indre département (36), it has over a hundred hectares open to the public and is the home to more than a thousand animals with more than one hundred species from five continents. The park is only 15 minutes from where I live and provides a very reasonable 8€ (5€ OAP and children) value-for-money for a day’s education and enjoyment.

This zoo is not like the average commercial zoo with cages and aquariums… it is quite different being very open, tranquil, natural and non-commercial (although there obviously has to be a restaurant and café for refreshments). La Haute Touche is more about seeing and experiencing animals in a much more natural environment than behind strong iron bars and thick glass.

I didn’t know it before I took this particular shot only a couple of minutes past the entry point on my first visit, but the safari park at La Haute Touche is reputed to have the world’s most beautiful collection of wild deer which freely roam the forest mingling with many other species. Within the reserve there are 75 species of mammals and 31 species of birds, and most can be seen on by walking or by bicycle… the latter a very good idea (and they are for hire) because of the wide area of habitat that may eventually be covered by the curious animal and nature lover.

The vast size of  the park, allows the animals to be housed and presented in roomy enclosures (some of up to 2 or 3 hectares each), and their environment means that they can thrive in what are near natural conditions for African animals of the savannah such as Hyenas, Leopards, Antelopes and Giraffes.

From my first visit to the zoo – and I only saw, at most, ten percent of the animals and birds, I saved twenty-five images as suitable for stock… which is more than I normally achieve in a half-day shooting sortie. For a specialist “nature” photographer much more is obviously achievable… but for me, not knowing one deer from another (unless it was pulling Santa’s sleigh) I got enough shots to satisfy a general coverage. However, having edited my shoot I can see many gaps which will be filled during my next trip to La Haute Touche.

The Image was licensed by Alamy for use in a retail textbook with a 10,000 print-run for Worldwide distribution for a 12-month period under my “Nature” pseudonym.

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