I heart Provence.

Well… it is February 14th… Saint Valentine’s Day. Wikipedia says…..The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. By the 15th century, it had evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”). Valentine’s Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.
Well… there you go. Saint Valentin… the man… is a little bit more murky. Beatings… beheadings… miracles performed… it all gets very too “Middle Ages brutal” for me… so I will just stick to the Hallmark version. So much nicer.

I shot the photo below a few days ago… it is one of those times when the camera is a terrific tool just to record stuff. A snapshot if you will. And that is just fine. I have folder upon folder of archived photos…. ie snapshots. Of course… don’t ever tell the folders marked “art” that the “snapshot” folders even exist… much less let them know they are sharing storage space with them.

IMG_4604

Fame….Je t’aime pour toujours et √† tous √©gards.

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.

IMG_6032 bwcopy

IMG_6025alt

IMG_6031

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?”.

IMG_5880 copy

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.

IMG_5943

IMG_5947

IMG_5956

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.

Gordes. The quintessential French perched village.

Well… first let me say to all those folks who were expecting this post to be about a funny farm animal ( because I said it was) … they will have to wait a couple more days. Instead…. let’s talk about Gordes. It is beautiful. It faces directly south. It is older than all get out…. you know… well over 2000 years old. It is made of yellowish stone. It has a great church. It has a castle. It has narrow streets of worn cobbled stones. And a photographer’s dream. Unfortunately, there is one view… across the gorge that 99% of anyone wanting to shoot a cityscape… well… let’s just say it is the “go to” spot.
That is a problem in itself. How to make YOUR shot different from someone else’s. In your favor is your passion to get something different. After standing where most people stand… what is left is… the time of day! Most people who are not as passionate as you will get up… have breakfast… plan the day and around noon go out and “see what they can get”.
It is what separates the “men from the boys”… the wannabees from us… the snapshot from the photograph. Timing.
I chose sunrise because I knew the look would be different from the others. And I knew I would be the only one out there… who in their right mind would get up at 5:30… drive a half an hour… set up the tripod in the dark…in the freezing cold and wait.
My friend, it is the early bird that catches the worm… and a congenial wave from the bus driver. And hopefully… a nice photo.

IMG_5929 copy

Yes… the exposure was long… about 30 seconds. F-22 to make sure everything was in focus. And many shots… because the sun waits for no one… it is rising come h___ or high water. And with it comes different settings.
But remember… always look at the scene and if you have the time…ask yourself, “How can I make this different?”.
Your thoughts and answers will determine if it was worth getting up with the chickens and the bus driver.
Happy trails!

Rules, laws, guide posts or mere suggestions?

Did you ever notice that your photographs that garner the most attention ( forget Uncle Al in his birthday suit ) are the simple ones? The ones that captured a fleeting moment? Or that one with the powerful dramatic composition? People love that stuff… because they react to strong single-minded composition… without really thinking about it. It is built in.

Let’s talk a bit more about composition. More rules have been written about how to achieve a swell composition than almost anything else in photography. Don’t these people have something else better to do? Apparently non.

The only rule I really like is the… Golden Rule. But of course that doesn’t help you get a strong simple composition. But here is something that will. I like leading lines. Use those when you can. If the sky is poopy… ie… boring… dull or flat or is just too darn bright…. avoid it like the plague. If it doesn’t add to your photo… don’t put it in your photo. Have one subject in the photo. Adhere to the KISS method… it is not a photo law but it is a darn good suggestion. And… something should physically dominate your photo. Here are a few that I believe satisfy those suggestions.

IMG_3524

IMG_3685

IMG_5151

IMG_5486

IMG_4750

Remember… the viewer should not have to ask why you shot the photo. They should only ask…”You shot that?”
“Yes, I shot that!”

Next time… a frenetic encounter with another one of God’s more interesting four-legged creations.
Happy trails.

The Berger.

No… not “hamburger”…. a real one… a pro… the good shepherd kind of Berger. Meet Herve… his dogs and his flock.

It wasn’t exactly as difficult as photographing a non-stop moving infant… but darn close. Think of one with four legs, hoofs, a wooly backside and scared of one thing… those dogs. The relationship between dog and flock is akin to the same relationship between the authority figure and the chain gang members in Cool Hand Luke. It is true. Always being watched. Always being barked at. And if one steps out of line to chew on a little grass just over there……. whoa Nelly… watch out! As I said, Herve is a pro. At times he has nearly 2000 sheep under his control and protection. But today… it was 200. Herve never stopped walking… the sheep never stopped walking ( except for a handful who just thought the grass was greener just off the path… wrong idea) and the dogs… they never stopped working. Staring the trouble-makers down… giving them the old “what for” in dog speak.

In minutes it was over. Past the river… over the bridge… down the road… into the brush.

IMG_5577

IMG_5644 copy

IMG_3050 copy

IMG_5631 copy

IMG_5575

IMG_5684

A photographic challenge. Constant movement. Changing light. “Depth of field” control. And unlike a lot of models I have photographed… these guys did not listen to direction… except from those dogs. Happy trails!

Sunrise in Provence is a little different.

And the difference is… well… it is Provence! Low mountains. Sturdy stone buildings. Cyprus trees. Rows of dormant lavender. It is quiet except for the distant barking of hunting dogs eager to get on with their day. And it is 7:45 in the morning. An equation you just don’t have in front of you every day. Pinch me.
In the end a nice photograph in low morning light is the product of having an alarm clock, patience and a tripod. To put it in a more memorable fashion… it is the end result of executing the “The 6 P’s of Production.” Precise Planning Prevents Piss Poor Photographs.
Something to live by!

IMG_5790

But honestly… photography that excites yourself and one who views it… can be executed anywhere… anytime. Just follow the “6 P’s”… and once in a while… get up early… you’ll have the world to yourself… except for those distant barking dogs.
Happy trails.

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.

IMG_5338 bwcopy

IMG_5348

IMG_5360 croppedcopy

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.

IMG_5138

IMG_2003

IMG_5092

IMG_5174

IMG_5205

IMG_2120

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”.

IMG_4215

IMG_4206

C31U8309

IMG_1151 copy

IMG_4188 copy

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.