Casta Cattle, La Brenne, France [Alamy image ref. AFDKKH]

It’s always a pleasant surprise when a publication chooses two or more images from one’s Alamy stock on the same day… as happened recently with three of mine taken on the same day in the “Parc Naturel Régional de la Brenne.” I have visited the Brenne many times and illustrated it previously… click on “Brenne” in the keyword list in the sidebar right]. It is a 1,672 sq km (646 sq mi) area of natural landscape located in the Indre département of France and was created in 1982. Previously La Brenne was a region in the old French provinces of Berry and Touraine, west of Châteauroux and east of Tournon-Saint-Martin, an area bisected by the river Creuse. Like in all French national and regional parks, there are people living within the boundaries… so the park has 47 communes, of which the capital is Le Blanc with a population of around 7,500.

La Brenne is said to be one of France’s best kept secrets due to its large area and numerous secret locations – some private and others restricted – but a good map and guide will open up a wealth of opportunities to the naturalist and ornithologist. Its origins date back to the middle ages when many lakes and ponds were formed for fish farming by local monks who had established abbeys at Fontgombault, St.-Cyron and Meobecq.

It is an exceptional location for bird life with over 260 species recorded of which 150 are resident or breeders. It is also home to an abundant array of insects, butterflies and dragonflies. The woodlands and heaths provide natural shelter for horses, cattle, wild boar and deer which can be observed from numerous well-constructed hides and observation points.

Le Temple lake, La Brenne, France [Alamy image ref. AFDKKN]

The first of three images used by the same magazine I have already described from another usage, the second image being of the French “Aure et Saint-Girons” breed of cattle. They are also named “Casta” meaning chestnut colour. This breed comes from the south of France, in the middle part of the Pyrenees, and is bred from “Aure” cattle – draught oxen used to bring down timber from the mountains to the valleys, and “St Girons” cattle, a dairy cow used to make a mountain cheese named bethmale.

Originally a multipurpose breed, it is today used mainly for meat. The cow usually produces one calf per year for as many as 15 years… spending five months grazing in the mountains during summer. Only a few farmers continue to use the milk to make cheese, and a small group of breeders from the “Midi-Pyrénées” region are trying to increase the number of cows to save the old breed.

My third sale that day was of the “La Temple” étang, or lake, and was taken with my standard 55mm Nikkor not long after the dawn image of the cows (70mm end of a 70-200mm Nikkor) with the sun still quite low above the horizon and just after the early morning mist had cleared. I was aware of many bird calls and rustling in the trees and surrounding undergrowth, but no large birds were visible for my long lens… although on other occasions I have seen many Grey Herons and Cranes roosting and fishing.

Both these plus the Château le Bouchet image were RM licensed by Alamy for one month in a British magazine with a 100,000 print-run 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.

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.

Septic tank emptying, France [Alamy image ref. B2TTA8]

Yes, it’s a crappy job, but somebody has to do it!

The origin of the word “crap” did not – as is commonly assumed – originate with Thomas Crapper who, although he was associated with lavatories, did not actually invent the flush toilet. He did, however, increase the popularity of the toilet and developed important related inventions such as the ballcock. The word crap is actually of Middle English origin and thus predates its application to “bodily waste”. Its first use, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, appeared in 1846 under a reference to a “crapping ken”, or a privy, where ken means a house. Its most likely etymological origin is a combination of two older words, the Dutch “krappen” – to pluck off, cut off, or separate; and the Old French “crappe” – siftings, waste or rejected matter (from the medieval Latin “crappa” – chaff).

For “Crapper” reference see…

After that tasteful piece of introductory history, and coming to the subterranean subject of the photo above… a “septic tank” is a holding tank into which all the household waste water and products are discharged into. This waste that enters the tank comes from showers, sinks, toilets and baths… and over time the solids (heavy particles) sink to the bottom whilst the liquid scum in the septic tank is discharged out into a soak-away.

Septic tanks have been around for hundreds of years. In the old days a large hole was dug by hand and then a large watertight chamber was constructed from bricks and mortar. Today little has changed in regard to the function of a septic tank, apart from the construction materials (usually fiberglass) and bacteria that lives in the sewage tank. When I had a septic tank installed in the field next to our remote hillside Welsh house in the late 1980s, the builder recommended three separate concrete chambers (a fiberglass tank could have popped-out of the soggy ground when low in contents) and implied that the waste water emerging from the third chamber could be safely drunk!

However, I never tried that experiment… preferring everything to return to Nature where it belonged, and I didn’t have to have the tanks emptied once during the dozen years living there. But when living in France I regularly saw septic tanks being emptied in both rural areas and in villages and small towns… a huge tractor-drawn “sludge gulper” arriving with an accompanying and familiar odour to tell neighbours what was happening. The image above was taken at a house we rented for a year and I was lucky to be upwind for the best view during the proceedings… the apparent “safe” distance being somewhat distorted from using the wide end of my 14-24mm Nikkor.

The Image was licensed by Alamy for use in a retail book with a 5,000 print-run in the Czech Republic for a 12-month period.

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!

Cornflowers, France. [Alamy image ref. B1TXW7]

I did a double-take when I saw this corner of a French cornfield full of Cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) – also known locally in the UK as Bachelor’s Button, Bluebottle, Boutonniere Flower, Hurtsickle and Cyani Flower. It is a small annual flowering plant in the family Asteraceae, native to Europe. In the past it often grew as a weed in crop fields, hence its name (fields growing grains such as wheat, barley, rye and oats are generically known as cornfields in the UK). However, it is now endangered in its native habitat, almost entirely wiped-out by agricultural intensification, particularly the overuse of herbicides, in the United Kingdom where it has declined from more than 264 sites to just three in the last half century.

In “Turner’s Herbal” (1568) it is introduced to the reader as… “Blewbottel, otherwise called Blewblawe, is named in Greek Kyanos; in Latin, Cyanus, or Ceruleus; in Duche, Blaw Cornblumen; in Frenche, au Fioin, or Blaucole, or Bleuet.”

The traditional English name Hurtsickle also receives a mention by Gerarde… “…it hindereth and annoieth the reapers by dulling and turning the edges of their sickles in reaping of corne.”

Whereas the Poppy is recognized by British and Commonwealth forces as the flower for Remembrance Day (November 11th) the Bleuet – as it is known in France – was chosen by French forces because of the colour similarity to the uniform of the young soldiers, who were known as “Bleuets” during the Great War or 1914-18. The bluet was the nickname given to the young “horizon-blue” uniform jacket clad recruits by the first “Poilus” (the French soldiers of WW I), who also used to wear madder-red trousers! The “French Bleuet” is the commemorative symbol of the First World War… a brooch or a pin people generally wore in the button hole.

Licensed RM by Alamy for a Russian Federation consumer magazine with a 10,000 print-run, specialising in arts and crafts, under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

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.

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