A minute with the Mayor.

Yesterday, I went to Castellet to visit with my new friend Marjolaine. She is a wealth of local knowledge and such a humorous person. Her English is amazing along with the other 3 or 4 languages she easily has at hand. As we walked around her village it was similar to taking a guided tour through French history… and the history of her village. She spoke about the Italian immigrants from a hundred years ago that now lend their names to many of the town’s people. She spoke of famous artists and writers who are buried nearby. Each turn of the steep stone narrow streets were underlined with stories. “Gene look at that staircase… Gene… why do you suppose it is wide at the bottom and very narrow at the top?” Before I could answer and get it wrong… she said it was for the sheep to be counted…. the shepherd would stand at the top and count his sheep as they passed… one by one. Clever. And then we came upon a fountain. Every village has at least one. This particular one was almost 250 years old. I said…”wow.” Marjolaine said… that was “young”. The streaming water emerged through the lips of two beautifully carved stone faces and spilled into the basin. “Our Mairie ┬ácarved the heads… do you want to meet him?” Duh… of course! The Mayor is a brilliant artist… a sculptor, painter and drawer. And so… I got one minute with the Mairie.
A treat. A great face. Thank you Marjolaine.

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It has been an unforgettable experience being in Provence for the winter. The kind and generous people. The beautiful landscapes. Their rural life. I am one lucky guy.
I do hope the posts have been helpful and inspiring enough to plan a trip to come here and photograph Provence.
It has the power and beauty to change your life.
Happy trails.

Giggles and grins in Provence.

I have mentioned before that sometimes you just have to shoot the under-belly of the beast… the odd-ball thing… the funny stuff… the hodge podge … you know the stuff you put into a folder called… miscellaneous. I said that for two important reasons. First and foremost… is because these “small shots” can add so much to a story. They are the color and the texture that can make a series of photos so very interesting. The second reason is that it is good practice. And as you know… practice makes perfect. Or darn close. If you use the same exact creativity to capture the “small stuff”… ie composition… simplicity and perspective…. when the “shot of a lifetime” is looking you in the face… you will be ready! And people will say….”Did you shoot that?”… and you will humbly reply… “Yes, I shot that!”. Below are a few of those small shots I have shot over the last few days.

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Now… take a closer look at those shots. Long lens. Short lens. Low perspective. Overhead. High shutter speed to freeze a sheep. Shallow depth-of -field to capture a strawberry in the snow. Simple compositions. Humorous. Contrast of content to add a little drama to the scene. All the things I have talked about are represented here. I won’t pretend they are award-winning… because … well… they aren’t. Nor were they captured with that in mind. On their own they are just little shots… but in the right grouping they would add color and texture to the story. And maybe a few giggles and grins.
So… don’t shy away from the small stuff. Just practice what I preach. Happy trails.

Patina. Showing one’s age is a beautiful thing.

I love old stuff. Old cars that have spent too many days in Chicago. Old brass bird cages. Copper gutters on a Frank Lloyd Wright residence. Stone discolored by water seepage. Paint gone south. The passing years have a positive look on most things. Especially if it is in Provence and painting that old wall is a non non. Why paint it… it is fine! Year after year many things change in this world… but usually not here. It is an inherit respect for age. Whether it be a grandmother or a 2000 year old bridge. Things don’t automatically go into the dust bin just because it wasn’t new yesterday. Maybe that is a major reason why I love Provence. Respect for what was done a hundred years before. So what if it is discolored by rain and sun and snow?
If it works… why knock it down? So what if it isn’t this year’s coolest shade of mauve? I love old stuff. Cool old stuff. And here… it is everywhere.
I took a walk the other day looking for textures… patterns and things that were showing their age beautifully. Yep… I was on a search for patina. Here are a few things I found and photographed. Enjoy.

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And just like so many things I photograph… I look and compose shapes and colors… not the objects themselves. Granted… it is more difficult to create a dramatic composition when all you have to work with is a discolored wall of a thousand year old church. But heh… that is where the challenge is! Look around as you walk. Add patina to your ever-growing list of interesting things to shoot. And pray that when you get that old… you will look so good that people will stop and take your photograph. Happy trails!

Roussillon is definitely an 800 year old Hollywood set.

It has to be. Just look at it! It is perched on a hill of red and ochre “rock”. Picture perfect narrow lanes wind up and down and around just at the right place and angle to catch the light. A tiny town square that looks like it is about to stage an opera. Shutters painted blue, red, yellow, orange and green. Buildings of red, orange, yellow and ochre. It is amazing.
It is Roussillon. And in reality it gets its beautiful and romantic palette from the nearby rich deposits of ochre. Ochre was mined from the late 1700’s till about 1930 for textile use. But today the hills of gold and orange are protected but one can still take a hike on them… just be sure to wear clothes/shoes you care nothing about. I literally took fifty photos yesterday…
but here is a small sample.

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In this one-of-a-kind place it is easy to make use of “leading lines”, flat graphic patterns, strong geometric shapes and interesting perspectives. And your settings? Get as much deep “depth of field” as possible… you don’t want to have anything soft… it is just too darn gorgeous. Happy trails… and remember… no white shorts.

Bonnieux… the fifth time around.

Bonnieux is one of the most beautiful perched villages in France. That is why I went there the first time. It was beautiful then… and it is beautiful now. And it hadn’t changed a bit during my several times to see it and to photograph it. Why would it? It is hundreds of years old…and parts of it are even older. Time seems to have no effect on it. I knew where the arches were. I knew where the Madonna “in a cage” is on the very top. I thought I knew it like the back of my hand. I thought I had discovered all of the great angles revealing its stunning architecture. I thought I knew all of its stone staircases. Well… yesterday I saw it again with new eyes. My son is here for a few all too short days with his wonderful and supportive wife. I say supportive because well… after “just a minute I think I see something”… for the 103rd time… one would think she would say…”Chris… put the camera away … I am chilly”…. nope. “Go for it, Chris”. My wife is exactly the same. “Go for it, Gene”.
When you are with someone who is looking at something remarkably beautiful and ancient… for the very first time… with all the excitement of Christmas morning with all of its new presents… one’s own views change. You begin to see everything differently. The “I’ve seen that”…. becomes “wow… look at that!”. And so it was with Bonnieux. I saw different angles. I saw different textures. I saw different contrasts. I saw it with new eyes. Here’s just a couple photos. More to come.

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So today’s “lesson” is not one of settings and getting up early to make sure your battery is charged. No. The lesson is… no matter if you have seen something before… there is nothing like seeing it again with new eyes. Thanks Chris.
Happy trails.

Composition… or as they say in French… composition.

Composition……”the plan, placement or arrangement of the elements of art in a work”. It is a simple thing… it is the placement of things in the work…ie… the photograph. Well… that is like saying “there are dinner jackets and then there are dinner jackets… this is the latter”…. to quote from one of the latest James Bond movies. In other words… there are great compositions and then the not so great. I am not a lover of rules… but as I have said a few posts ago… something should dominate the photograph. It should be the visual anchor… the thing the eyes goes to first and foremost.
And if you have helped the viewer’s eye a bit by “leading” them to your subject… then that is all the better!
The great master painters perfected it. And heh… if it was good for De Vinci… it ought to be good for Tony Balducci… a grade school chum. If you do present a bunch of things about the same visual size and impact… then get ready for people to ask… “What is it?”. And above all… if something in the photo doesn’t add to the photo… don’t put it in the photo. Crop it out… or don’t have it there in the first place!!!!
Here are a few shots that get to the meat of the matter.

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And another thing… the subject can dominate the composition by size… or position. Sometimes the eye will be drawn to a small piece of the shot… because of its color or its position… or the lack of “nothing around it”.
But never make your photo into a “Where’s Waldo contest for the eyes.” In French or English… that is a non non.
Happy trails.

Fog or brouillard… it is still magical.

Weather events… you gotta love them… if you have a passion for photography! A dusting of snow… right after a good downpour… or an ice storm… thunderous cloud formations… all present the photographer with a look that just doesn’t happen every day. Fog is especially generous with its beauty. It is almost a built-in depth-of-field setting. It is mystical as everything recedes into the quiet cauldron. Obviously, if it is “thick as pea soup” and you can’t see past your nose… then that is just too much a good thing. Then… just wait. It will thin out. Also… it is just what the doctor ordered if you have intentions of transferring the color photo into black and white. Nature has already done most of the work for you.
Click on a few buttons and voila… it is art. But here are a few tips… one… having it “backlit” is a good thing. The subjects close to you will “go black”… and become milkier as they recede. Yummy stuff.
Here are a few recent shots I have taken in the fog.

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Now… when you are shooting… since nature is automatically supplying most of the “depth-of-field” settings for you… set your camera at F-22 or as close to that as possible. And perhaps you will need a tripod… but probably not. It looks gray but believe me… there is plenty of light in the sky. An added bonus of shooting in the fog is that you don’t have to avoid the sky… make it part of the composition. It is not going to harm anything. So… when the cold air hits the warm ground… make sure your battery is charged and get out there and capture one of nature’s most beautiful weather events. Happy trails.

Patterns, textures and things… oh my.

A philosopher once said….”If it catches your eye…. shoot it”. Or was that my first photography teacher way back when? No matter… it is true. Before the age of digital…. meaning yesterday… one would have to think twice before pushing the shutter willy nilly. First… it cost moolah to buy the film and then it cost more to develop and print it. But still… if you didn’t shoot it, sharing with others what you saw…. would be out of the question. Of course digital is a very sharp double edged sword.
Yes, you can shoot and erase to your heart’s content… but also with the unbelievable images from around the world comes thousands of images of “a basket full of kittens”. Tell them to stop that! Ahhh… but I digress.
One category of images that I shoot time and time again is “textures, patterns and just plain things”. I can’t stop myself. If it catches my eye… I shoot it. Why? Well… it caught my eye. Something about the juxtaposition… or the color against color… or the ordered chaos… or the humor or just because. I am not really thinking about showing it to others… I am only pleasing myself at the moment. Instant gratification. And heh… I can always view and erase. Below are a few that found their way into the “P,T andT” folder.

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Shooting this type of photograph is also a great way to practice lens selection, aperture and composition.
Especially composition. And some day… the light will be marvelous… you’ll grab the “right ” lens… compose it with ease and you will squeeze the shutter. And voila… what was just a “thing” yesterday will today become art. And people will ask… “Did you shoot that?” You know the answer.
Happy trails.

I love snow.

Well…. I can hear it now…”He’s fibbing through his long johns!… Gene absolutely hates snow… why do you think he lived in California for 5 years?” And they would be right … up to a point. True… it is cold. Too cold. It can be dangerous. Too dangerous. I don’t ski…. except apres skiing. I hate driving in it. I hate what it becomes… slush and ecchhh. Horrible.
All that being said… I love snow. It is the look. Rain doesn’t have that look. Fog comes close but not the same. New snow has the power to visually simplify everything. It makes black and white photography a dream. Everything becomes more graphic. Nothing worse than brown on brown. But make it brown on white and voila… you have art! Contrasts fill the lens. The common place becomes… wow… look at that! I woke up knowing it was going to be an interesting morning. It helps to be staying down the lane from a couple vineyards and several cheery orchards. Nice of them to plant all of that near me…. twenty years ago. How did they know I would be here… within walking distance… just after four inches of snow had fallen… with my camera, tripod, hat, gloves and long johns. And… to plant the vines and trees in such lovely geometric patterns… well… if that isn’t French hospitality… I don’t know what is. Here are a few shots that I took yesterday.

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Take a peek at the above three photos. Yes… the subjects are orchards and vineyards but… in my world of seeing shapes instead of objects… they become lovely patterns. Patterns against patterns. All played out on a background of white. That is why I love snow. It is such a strong dramatic look. So… the next time it snows in your neck of the woods…dress warm… take a walk.
You will be rewarded with the quiet and the beauty of snow. I was.
Happy trails.

Animal House.

This little “post” is all about shooting things that you have no control over and things that you have almost total control over. First the “no control” subject. Yes. Goats. In particular… baby goats… the original kids. They do not listen. They do not slow down. They don’t pose. They don’t understand French or English or any of the Romantic languages. They don’t do anything except move like a pin ball in a pin ball machine. Erratic… off the wall bundles of joy. They are hilarious. And when they are not outside… they are usually hanging out in a large shed eating and working on their game of antics. So for a photographer… there in lies the challenge. They are usually dark in color…. moving quickly and they are in a low light situation. What to do? Now if you want a blurry shot… then you have no problems. But if you want to actually see them in focus… here is what you have to do. Change your settings. Immediately.
First… bump up your ISO ( light sensitivity number)… it should have been at 100 for a smooth look… but we are desperate here… we want the shot so we will accept a little bit of “grain”. Go ahead… bump it up to about 400 or 800. Choose an F-stop that will allow the shutter speed to be as quick as possible… that is right…anything below F-5.6 should do the trick. Now… put your camera on “multi-shot”… because …. well you just never know what is going to happen in a split second. Now… you are armed. Go and capture those little guys! Now… it is not everyday that you shoot a goat… pardon the expression. I know some one will be saying… just shoot them with the flash on. And I say… I hate the flash. So…. the next time you are shooting goats or kids… or anything that moves quickly… in a low light situation… apply those settings and go to town! Forget one of those settings and you will not get the shot that will have people saying…”Did you shoot that?”.

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Now… on the other hand or hoof… when you have total control… or close to it… it is indeed a completely different animal. Let’s talk Chevre cheese. Yes… it is a delicious product of goat’s milk but…. It doesn’t move. You can pick it up … turn it around and you can put it almost anywhere to shoot. I chose an old wooden serving plate. I placed it near a window for a little light. Now…. the options come in. Angles… angles… angles. You get to choose… you are the photographer. It is not going anywhere so I got to shoot it anyway I wanted. Also… I chose a pretty shallow depth of field… ie… an f-stop of 3.2 or 3.5. Love that look! And the shutter speed didn’t matter… just so I didn’t dip below 1/25th… because I can’t hold the camera perfectly still any slower than that. I chose not to get out the tripod… well… I really didn’t need it and anyway… it was in the car.

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So… when you have the time… take your time. Move it around. Try different angles. It is up to you. And of course the best thing about
shooting food is… well…you get to eat it afterwards…. which is not an option when you are shooting kids.
Happy trails.