It’s dark. It’s cold. But the Marquis de Sade is long gone.

LaCoste, France.

A few things have changed in the last 225+ winters. The castle is in ruins. The fashion icon Pierre Cardin bought it and for the last 20 years has been restoring it without the Marquis’ permission. Just a fun note….the Marquis’ last name is where the word “sadism” comes from… how would you like to have that as your legacy? And the other thing which has changed is that now some of the town’s streets have lamps! Which is of great importance to a photographer because a little light… no matter where it comes from… is rather helpful. It’s kinda like our need for water in order to survive.
I love shooting at night. You really don’t know how it is going to “come out”. Too much light here… not enough there. Different lamps give off different colors of light. It is a shot in the dark.
Here are three shots I captured last evening. Enjoy.

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When I was shooting the last shot, a young man slowly walked through the scene. It happens with the exposures so long… 30 seconds to be exact. So when he arrived next to me, I asked him if he would go back and stand in a certain position. And he said “sure!” The silhouette helped the composition and added a touch of humanity. Let that be a lesson to you… ask and ye shall receive… even in the dead of night with the ghost of the Marquis strolling the cobblestone streets of LaCoste.

Saint-Saturin-les-Apt. Just up the road but 800 years away.

Turn right onto the D943 just a little ways after you exit Apt… drive 10 miles through rolling vineyards and you will enter Saint Sat and step way back into history. It is classic. Several historical monuments…. and by that I mean ancient.

From centuries past it has a large chapel on the top of the top of a narrow rocky ridge high above the valley floor. Remnants of the walled city. A spectacular church that seems to pierce the sky with its dramatic spire. A windmill from its olive producing days. A beautiful village of converging narrow streets and on top of it all… a dam. Plus… it is surrounded by orchards of olive trees and extensive vineyards. And if that wasn’t enough… the 2200 residents… have a great respect for where they live and a unique sense of humor!

I have been here twice. The first time I did not walk up to the chapel, the ruins, the mill and the dam. Don’t ask me why… I just didn’t. Could have been that it was getting late and I knew the cat was hungry. I certainly was. These photos… if I have done my job right…will give you a taste of the village. I love it.

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I have been blessed to be here and have the opportunity to return to places I like at different times of the day under different lighting conditions. And again I could not be luckier than to be married to such a wonderfully understanding and supportive person. Je t’aime Fame.

Boules. Petanque. Bocce. Bowls.

You see it everywhere. Usually in the early afternoon. Usually men with experienced lives. They come from all walks of life. Some are very competitive… others gather just to be with friends. Some have special cases … others just have a sac. In France, the game is called Petanque or Boules.

And to say it is a popular sport would be understating its popularity. It seems anywhere there is a hard flat dirt surface and a place to sit you’ll find it being played. The object is simple. Someone tosses a little red marker ball 25-30 feet away. And the game is on. Next… a player tosses his/her metal ball at the marker ball…. and the closest ball gets the point. Over and over and over. Back and forth. Forth and back. Someone keeps score of course… but really I believe… in the end, the game is not about the points… or who knocked whose ball away… no…

To me it is the quiet gathering of friends. They talk. They laugh. It is the company they keep that draws them back day after day. Year after year. I love to watch them. It is a deliberate game…. albeit slow as molasses … and I have photographed the “goings on” several times. ” Puis-je prendre votre photo?”… goes a long way to breaking the ice. They have never said…”non”.

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Not every photo will be one for the wall. Many photos have their worth in being purely informational. And that is fine. If the photo tells the story that you want it to tell… then you have accomplished your goal. There will be other times when the light is perfect…. their expressions will be wonderful… and the action sublime. That is why I continue to shoot the game of Boules and the friends who play it… every chance I get.
Happy trails.

A sign of a good photographer.

Photographers… like writers, painters… and really any creative endeavor… is a communicator. The artists want to tell you something… or show you something. Their view. And many times, one of the key things to communicate is where on earth you are standing. This is especially true in great magazines like Travel and Leisure. They… the writer and photographer have a job to do and a story to tell.

I have spoken a little of the ‘”funnel” approach to telling a story… shoot wide and then with a series of photos burrow deeper and deeper into the scene until the entire story is revealed. Usually, one shot just ain’t gonna do the trick.

And one of the best communicators is a simple sign. Shooting a sign sounds boring but when you want to tell people where you are… the sign is king. When you want to give a little textural color… the sign is king. And if you want to communicate a bit of humor to liven up the series… the sign is king.

Take a gander at the signs below to see what I mean. I especially like the “elephant” sign. Someone wanted to add a little more graphic interest to a sign that previously had communicated that the passage was very narrow. Funny stuff.

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So….. shoot a sign…. any kind of sign. It will add to your story. It will help tell a more complete story. It will help guide the viewer through your scene. And after all… isn’t that the first duty of a sign?

Juxtaposition. Big word. Big time drama.

I love opposites. Playing on the difference between two things and placing them in close proximity to each other will always add more drama to your photographs.

Life is just more interesting with a little bit of visual tension. A triangular shape versus a round shape. A flat color interrupted by a vivid splash. Light versus dark. Good versus evil. A real object versus a flat painting.

Big versus small. Crisp versus soft. Curve versus straight. The list goes on and on. Just take a gander at some iconic photographs… no… not mine… I said iconic….and more often than not… the juxtaposition of two somethings will be playing a starring role! Go ahead… I will wait.
OK… now onto several photographs I took yesterday. In each there is something playing off against something else. And that my friend is where the interest lies. Juxtaposition.

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Each has a little drama going on. In addition… each displays a little understanding of a very important previous “lesson” and that is… when you are composing your photographs… see shapes… not objects. Then pit them against each other! You can thank me later when someone says…”Did you shoot that?” And you can proudly say…” Yes, I shot that!”

How to develop color-blindness.

I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t love to see a well-executed beautiful black and white photo. I certainly do.

And perhaps it is just because we were brought up seeing so much of it. Sorry… “some of us” should be substituted for “we” in that last sentence. The great French photographers… Willy Ronis (my fav) and Robert Doisneau knew how to capture a memorable photo in Black and White. The Americans… Irving Penn, Diane Arbus, Edward Weston and of course Ansel Adams knew the secrets. And Leni Riefenstahl endowed her images with such amazing power and compositional drama that they inspired photographers for decades and continue to do so even to this day. They all knew that content was foremost. Drama and composition second.

And a close third was the understanding that a wonderful black and white image is not just black and white. A truly beautiful b/w image will usually contain the whole range of tones… from pure white… to dense black and as many variations of grey/gray in between. Ansel Adams was the king when it came to including the entire spectrum.

So how does one develop color-blindness so that when you look at a scene… you just know it will make a magical b/w image?

First… if you are really going for a b/w image… don’t let color throw you off. Vibrant color has a way of doing that. Heh… we are all drawn to the shiny object once in a while! So… look at the tones in the scene. Look for contrast. Flat is bad. Look for interesting shapes that play off each other. Then… compose well… and shoot away.

Below I have included several recent photos that started out as color but were changed to b/w in the processing. More about the pitfalls of that right below the images.

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Now…. take a peek at the photos again… you can just click on the photo to enlarge it. What they all have in common is they all have a nice range of black to white, some more than others. OK… let’s say you have taken the image and now you want to transfer it into the classic b/w. Well… if you are doing this in Photoshop… DO NOT GO TO IMAGE AND THEN TO MODE AND CLICK ON GREYSCALE! If you do that… you don’t get to come here any more! That procedure… albeit… easy as pie will destroy the image data and on top of that… it will give you what the computer thinks is a nice transfer. Bad.

YOU are the photographer. Go into “adjustments” and scroll down to Black and White. Now we are talkin’. Click on that and you will be in the “darkroom” again… adjusting the image that makes you happy. But first… sorry… always duplicate your image before operating on it.

I would love to spend the next hour or so going step by step… but this is not a “how to” blog for Photoshop. Ha!

Just remember… be color blind… do not get pulled off the base by some exciting color. More on composition next time.

Happy trails!

The Home of the Arches.

Sorry… all you foodie fans… this is not about the Golden Arches. No… some of these arches are made of stone… hundreds of years old. The town is Vaison-la-Romaine… and as its name implies… the Romans were here 2000 years ago… building bridges and towns of stone and arches for support. They knew something about how to make things last.

Ahhh… but this is not meant to be a history lesson but instead how to use the arch as a tool to help your subject become the center of attention. And the arch can help that … if you position it correctly. And the same can be said for almost anything that you can see through…or shoot past. A large limb of a tree… a life preserver… a window… quickly come to mind. The list is as long as your imagination.

Here are a few examples of the classic arch being used as a “framing device” to bring more emphasis to the subject.

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And here are a couple photos that utilized something besides the classic arch in order to help “frame” the subject and concentrate the viewer’s eye on the subject.

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Now remember… the number of tools you can use to direct the viewer’s eye to your subject are numerous. Don’t forget our old standby of “leading lines.” The photograph below was shot yesterday.

And yes… I changed it to a black and white photograph… but it is the leading line of the path that should be drawing your attention. But if you are hankering to get the handle on the original form of photography… black and white… that is next time. Some of it… is being able to see in black and white.

Happy trails.

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The darker side of photography.

A friend once asked me…”When it is really sunny out… how can I shoot … everything looks so contrasty during the day?”

Well… I understood where he was coming from because I knew he came from Arizona. Forget soft light at high noon. My answer is … you can do one of three things. Put the camera back in its case and watch TV. Or you can find some “open shade” to shoot. It is soft in the shade but it will be well lit since the light will be there… but not harsh. I love to shoot portraits in “open shade” Or you can just roll with it and embrace Mr. Sun as your friend. Take advantage of the harshness by searching out interesting shadows… or great silhouettes.

A great silhouette has a recognizable shape but without the visual details. You see it and know it, but since it is dark… it becomes a very graphic and dramatic image. Here’s a silhouette I shot yesterday.

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When shooting a silhouette… make sure your background is simple and there is a huge difference in light between the subject and the background. The greater the difference … the greater the visual impact.

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Now… the two photos above are examples of shooting shadows. Many times you don’t have to “see” the object that is creating the shadow… but the viewer will know it’s there. The mind will fill in what is not there. It too can be very dramatic. So…. when the sun is setting your retinas on fire…. grab the camera and get outside and wander into the dark side of photography. You will probably get a suntan at the same time you get some dramatic photographs.

Happy trails.

Those magical perched villages.

I am staying about a half of a mile from one of the oldest in France. Saignon. It is over a 1000 years old… and like most hilltop villages it is constructed of stones. And usually there is a solid… strong… fortress-looking church that dominates the town. And it almost always occupies the highest point… except for the ruins of a castle.

Over and over again you’ll witness the same identical scenario. Town of stone. Castle in ruin. If one is looking for an answer as to “why?”… it is simple. The Duke moved out and went to the seashore… that is one possible answer.

But it is normally attributed to the fact that there was The French Revolution… 225 years ago. To make a long story short… the village people who lived well below the hilltop… overthrew the “Duke”… and dismantled his castle of stone in order to make their new homes …giving original meaning to…”moving on up.” Hence… castle ruins… homes of stone.

I love them. Every village is different. Some with “streets” so narrow that car traffic is prohibited. Some tinted by the yellows and reds that originate from the mountains of ochre-colored rock surrounding the towns. Others with streets of rough cobblestones. Others with asphalt lanes with a concrete depression in the middle to carry off the violent rains. Others in need of repair…. ie… great patina. Did I tell you I love them?

To be able to walk these streets this winter in search of a worthy photograph is the wonderful gift from my wonderful wife. I will never tire of getting excited about a shaft of warm light illuminating a stone wall that I know has felt the sun caress its facade over and over again for a 1000 years.

Enjoy these photos of Saignon. It is a magic that never gets old.

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And here is a little photography advice… walk. Look. View the same subject at different times of the day. Try different perspectives.
I can often tell how tall a photographer is just by looking at their photos. Especially the ones that never bend down or climb to get a different more interesting view.

Happy trails.

Kansas it ain’t.

After a short drive in the early morning thick fog down the D900 and a right on the D938 takes me to Pernes-les-Fontaines.

Pernes-les-Fontaines, a walled city built over a thousand years ago complete with a drawbridge, a magnificent tower and a large dog that knew I wasn’t there for the boules game. I was told Pernes-les-Fontaines had tons of fountains… literally a hundred. Well… actually it 32. But I must say, I loved it. Most of the wall is still intact. Patina and all. Life is not crazy fast… perhaps because it was January…. but mostly because so many villages in Provence don’t allow cars to race through town. If they did… none would have mirrors or doors after a few hundred feet. Here is a visual timeline of the day.

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And the dog? Its owner snapped a leash onto his collar as he was stalking me. Funny… I was using my best French to say…”go home!”… it must have been the accent.

And a quick photography recap…. look for interesting angles… let a single subject dominate the scene…. avoid putting the subject right square in the middle… let light add drama…. and don’t be afraid of the fog.

Happy trails.