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.
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.
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.
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.
Simply said… they make hats. More correctly said… they are true artisans designing and creating by hand their passion… le chapeau. Hats for ladies and gents specifically for Provence in the hot summer months. Lightweight. Airy. Exquisite craftsmanship. And pretty darn snazzy. I met them at an outdoor cafe. Later Alain told me that is what they do on a Saturday morning. Go to their favorite cafe… have a cafe… and meet friends as they stroll past. After endless hours of designing and creating hats… the cafe is a chance to relax… sit in the sun… and catch up on the “latest” with their many friends. Not exactly a Facebook encounter. One on one. Laughing. Giggling. Sharing. It is a beautifully simple life. One based on art and people. I like them. I was invited not to their shop in the village… but to their home to photograph them and the creation of… le chapeau. Some photographs can tell a story… but it is sometimes difficult to capture a passion for a craft let alone a connection between two human beings. They like each other. A lot.
I can only hope these fleeting photographic moments do their craft and them justice.
The photographs themselves are a mixed bag of low indoor light, filtered sun light, shallow depth of field and deep focus, hand-held camera, tripod, still life and moving energetic people. A fun photographic challenge. A fun day. It is days like this and people like Alain and Valerie that have made this adventure so productive and so so enjoyable. Did I tell you she also makes a killer orange preserve?
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?”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sorry… this has very little, if anything, to do with amour. Nope… it has everything to do with keeping the subject of your photograph… simple. Singular. One thought. One thing that dominates the scene. You should be hearing people say…”I just love your photo of THE… (insert singular subject here).
To illustrate… I was once shown a photograph of a golf course. I asked…”What interested you most about the scene… what said… heh, take a picture of me?” She replied…”the water feature over there.”Well… it was only a dinky piece of the scene… so my eye was sent searching around looking for the reason she had pushed the shutter… like in a “Where’s Waldo” episode.
Nothing dominated the scene.
So here’s a compositional tip… keep it simple. Hone in on the subject like a laser.
You know… k…i…s…s.
Above you will see a photo of a group of mis-matched chairs. It was taken in Bonnieux…. a few miles away.
Notice I said… “A group…..” There are several chairs, but the subject is singular.
To me, what is also interesting about this photo is that it tells a little story about the village. It is hilly. The streets and homes are made of stone. And it is very very old.
We will get into a photograph’s ability to “tell a story.” But that is for another day. Today… just keep it simple.