Maritime Alps, France - Rustic Charms & Hidden Gems

Having visited this area a handful of times in Spring and Summer I was keen to return in Autumn to see the seasonal variation. So, with a 3 day window towards the end of October being my only chance this year I scheduled a quick trip hoping for some autumnal colour and the last kiss of warmth for 2018…

Arriving in Nice is usually a warming experience, not necessarily for the welcome but due to the weather! The plane actually runs parallel with the shoreline as it prepares for landing and you can see the sparkling boats of the glitterati laid out below in opulent harbours populated by the mega-rich. It’s such a tonic to know that just 20-30 minutes away lies a little oasis of calm and a collection of charming French villages.

Around Vence 

My base (and our base during the May 2019 tour) was in St Paul de Vence. A charming and extremely well-maintained old village up in the hills behind Nice. St Paul (as it’s called by the locals) is a hub for modern art and as you wander through its beautifully cobbled and windy streets there are multiple galleries and stores selling all manner of fine art including paintings, sculptures and mixed media. There is also the famous Fondation Maeght which houses a world-renowned collection of modern art. Exploring with the camera here is a relaxed affair, and there are shooting opportunities during the day and night.

Just 15 mins from St Paul de Vence is its big brother Vence. This has the feeling of a busy town but it has a beautiful historic centre including a walled old town and also a small ‘ghetto’ area (of the historic type). This allows for a wide variety of image making possibilities and Vence has a great selection of colourful facades and doorways to explore. The great painter Henri Matisse spent a lot of time in Vence and you can see there is a strong history of art in the area.

Rustic Villages

Nearby to St Paul is the attractive Tourrettes-sur-Loup which clings onto a hillside and has a charming square. Not only do they do wonderful food here but the Church has a very aesthetically pleasing interior and can be a good spot to grab some respite from the sun if required. Exploring man-made shapes and architecture can help develop your eye for spotting natural curves, lines and arcs in the landscape and as such I love exploring these locations. 

About 30 minutes away you can climb further into the mountains to visit smaller villages. The further into the mountains you go, the more rustic they become! Carros is at the entrance to this upper Alps area and it has beautiful cobbled streets which look great at night in particular.

As you travel on from Carros the villages get smaller and smaller and the textured rustic nature of these hideaways are great to play with photographically. Shooting in these villages generally may well appear easier than it really is. I am an avid lover of wild landscapes but over the last 2-3 years I’ve enjoyed the challenge of making order in these more enclosed and inhabited spaces. It’s my belief that the end results need to be compositionally sound and watertight to be successful and that does take some time to finesse. For anyone out there who’s used to the wider vista this would be a stimulating and rewarding way of re-seeing order in compositions.

The Loup Gorge & River

It’s not all about the villages in this area though. The Loup river runs down through the Alps to the sea and there are a number of river areas and waterfalls to explore. Our tour in May 2019 will explore a beautiful river walk which offers lots of opportunities for detailed abstract shots and indeed experimenting with shutter speeds and creating shapes in the water. We’ll also spend some time at the Saut du Loup waterfalls which I’ve become slightly obsessed with! There is a gorgeous sweeping natural arc in the rock here and it’s the kind of place you can spend some time really playing with shutter speeds and compositions. Be it capturing the wider scene or focussing in to a set of abstracts. 

What to Expect

 Throughout our time here in May 2019 we’ll explore other small towns and villages including Antibes on the coast which has a nice mix of old and new and houses the fabulous Picasso Museum– what better place for some inspiration! I’m also keen to discuss composition in further detail with guests and this will involve some image review sessions and conversations about finding order in busy scenes.

Due to the variety of shooting locations there will also be chance to explore and develop alternative techniques such as long exposures, ICM and Multiple Exposures. There will also be time available to discuss using correct filtration and other core principles of photography. 

In summary, this area has a charming and relaxed feel, even though its so close to the contrasting hustle and bustle of the Cote d’Azur. Personally I can’t wait to go back and would be delighted to see you there.

New Home, New Locations...

As some of you know I recently re-located down to Dorset because of my partners work. We're living between Bournemouth and Poole so there's plenty of opportunities for me to find some new shooting locations...

As you can imagine it's jam packed with holiday makers on this coast line during July/August but I've managed to find a few quiet spots on recent early evening sojourns. Usually by 7pm the tourists have retired to the pubs and restaurants for recuperation and aftersun cream at which point this intrepid explorer heads to the quieter spots, up the hills and down by the bays.

A couple of weeks ago I managed a couple of nights out in a row, firstly to the 'ranges' near Lulworth. Here there are some great cliff top walks that are only open at certain times, it's important not to stray too far from the path as this area is owned by the military and in the 'off-season' is an active shooting range!

Out to Sea

I arrived actually hoping to get a high vantage point to catch some late evening sun raking across the fields, however after a fairly short sharp ascent up the cliff I was more intrigued by these amazing cloud formations out to sea. The scene seemed perfect for Black & White and the trick then is to contrast the highlights and shadows to give depth and presence to the scene. Using a polariser on the lens helps darken the sky but also importantly it helps separate the clouds from the background which brings out that contrast you need. There were little pockets of sunlight on the sea which added to the drama.

Like many times the actual scene I was hoping to capture, of sun raking across the fields, never materialised as the sun wasn't 'playing ball' and there was a little stubborn cloud cover stopping it directing the last evening light in the location I was hoping for. However as I packed away and started to walk back down the cliff path towards the car (and a well deserved Twix) there was one final burst of fiery orange summer sun, so, quick as a flash (photography pun intended - get it?!) I swiveled my bag off my back and attached a long lens to fire off a couple of shots at some of the summer grasses, nearly shooting straight into the sun. This direct light causes a block of colour and sun flare which coupled with the large aperture and resulting shallow depth of field helped produce this image below.

Summer Sun

This image is 'straight out the camera' i.e. no editing, no added colour, no preservatives (!). Using this technique of shooting (nearly) into the sun and due to the late hour and the depth of orange naturally present it's possible to let the light do the work. Satisfied and in need of some sustenance I trooped off back to the car.

The next evening I headed to Kimmeridge Bay, a slightly unassuming and 'off the beaten track' small bay on the Isle of Purbeck (near Swanage). It's quite well known among photographers due to the natural rock/clay 'shelves' that are present just off the shoreline. Depending on the tide you can actually walk out (carefully, they are v.slippy!) onto these shelves and although most people set up on the main rock formation (just near the entry) I find it more peaceful and more compositionally pleasing to head to a far shelf looking back along the beach. There was some nice light as I arrived so it was a fairly quick set-up and then a case of trying to perfect the composition to make full use of the rocks and their various angles and textures. Finding the right aspect ratio is equally important as some scenes suit portrait, some landscape, either way the overall balance of the composition should dictate that.

It's quite easy to be overwhelmed by the geographical magnificence of this place and just end up pointing the camera at everything. I find looking for angles and shapes in the rocks that will lead the eye or just balance the overall composition is very important, no doubt with more visits here I may find more pleasing angles. There was a rather heavy sky which you can accentuate with a graduated filter, this was especially pleasing as the strip of sun light that was present was further accentuated. I'd been to Kimmeridge before in very flat grey conditions so was more than a little bit chuffed to be treated to this display.

The third image below was taken soon after arriving and as such there was a lighter feel to the scene, whereas the first two images shown below were taken later when the ambient light had faded and there was just the strip of sunlight on the horizon...

Kimmeridge Bay #1

Kimmeridge Bay #2

Kimmeridge Bay #3

2016 - Catch Up part.1

This blog is really for the benefit of my email subscribers, I realised that in the midst of busying myself photographically with a myriad of projects I'd rather neglected to keep up my regular newsletters. What with posting to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & the website it's easy to become fragmented in the image sharing process, so this post acts as a 'recap' of sorts for the first few months of 2016...

Specifcially in this part.1 I'll be sharing some images from the a trip to the Lake District in late March. I was around the Buttermere, Crumnock Water, Wast Water areas and yet again got relatively lucky with the weather; i.e. It didn't just rain for 48hrs!

After a long day at the Photography Show at the NEC in Birmingham (working on a top secret project, coming soon!) I journeyed up to the Lakes and arrived around 10pm. Having checked the weather forecast and being realistic about my fatigue I treated myself to just a 7am wake up, had a particularly bad omelette for breakfast and was off out to Crumnock Water at a sensible hour.

Despite it being a pleasant Sunday am it was still very quiet, there were some nice reflections on the lake, often unavailable later in the day as the surface is far less placid as the day goes on. I also found some interesting compositions with the trees by the lakeside, in particular I like the golden collection sandwiched between the two banks of green pines either side. It's these contrasts and shapes that have been drawing my eye more recently over the wider vista.

After a morning of lake circumnavigation I decided to head up...and UP I went! Although I did take the slightly easier option up the Honsiter Pass (by car) it was only because I knew I needed something left in the legs for the following walk up to the summit of Haystacks. The Weather was closing in a little by this point and you can see in the image above (of the darkening sky and imposing peaks) that there were even the last touches of Winter on these higher peaks. With the camera staying in the bag a little more this walk was about enjoying the scenery, getting some fresh air in the lungs and some scouting for a future visit...however, you can't beat the odd phone selfie!

 What a poser...above Buttermere

What a poser...above Buttermere

With just 2 days in the Lakes, and 1 of those ticked off I made the slightly long and looping drive from Buttermere around the Northern end of the Lakes and back down the Western side to Wastwater, it's only a few miles as the crow flies but there are no roads across this central area due to the mountains, which is good! Staying in an enjoyable little pub my arm was twisted to take part in the pub quiz that was taking part...on my own, in a team of 1. Fearing a ritual humiliation by coming last I was pleasantly surprised to find that I scored above various teams of two and four, I'd like to say it was my good schooling but perhaps the competition had just been drinking more than me that night!

The next morning and dizzy from my general knowledge exertions I pushed myself to get out early to Wast Water, just a couple of miles away, so at 5.30am I crept from the pub and jumped in the car. I'd never been to Wast Water and crikey have I been missing out. It's such a great place that is still seemingly very quiet, especially at this time of year, and really is classic 'Lakeland'. It was quite a grey day so compositions were more 'enclosed', perhaps with a view to capturing the spirit, colours and feel of this amazing area.

After a little bit of time at the lakeside I set off on foot on what can only be described as a slightly sturdy 6-7 hours of walking - I covered around 13 miles with an elevation gain and descent of 2,500ft...with the camera and two lenses, however I did have the good sense to leave my tripod in the car!

The images above, with the exception of the sheep shot, are from the Mosedale area which is a very dramatic 'bowl' of a view just on the walk out of Wast Water and between Red Pike and Kirk Fell, with the peak of Pillar up ahead. I spotted the two walkers heading on and couldn't resist the chance to use them to show the sense of scale...it's as engulfing a view as you can get in the albeit relatively tame peaks of England.

Having had some time to reflect on these images, and indeed print some of them to A3 size on quality paper it's actually the abstract image of the scree that is arguably my favourite of the above. The texture and colour represents everything about those scraggy, rock strewn mountainsides that I love about the Lakes.

Carrying on up and over the back of Kirk Fell I descended with Ennerdale on my left and actually I ended up going a little off piste at this point. Having come down the back of Kirk Fell (and walked off the map I had with me) there was a slightly alarming moment where I realised my only sensible routes back were (a) the way I came or (b) straight up a rather steep looking gap between Kirk Fell and Great Gable. Trusting my compass I decided for option (b)...it looked more direct and I hate backtracking my steps.

The route...

Option (b) was steep!!! And, I was tiring at this point, low on water, no food left etc. It wasn't exactly a stranded in the Himalayas situation but suffice to say I left the camera in the bag for 90 mins or so whilst I trudged my way up to Beck Head and the reassuring view back down to Wasdale before the cloud really dropped in.

The last image of the day, and in fact the trip was just before that brutal final ascent, looking back into the uninhabited Ennerdale valley, with clouds coming and some sunlight gracing the rocky ground. This image printed large looks great (if I say so myself!) and in my hour of mini-desperation I'm happy I took 2 mins to stop, compose, shoot and enjoy this remote part of the Lakes, before the drive back to reality and the call of work & traffic of the South.

Spring Greens...

As many photographers in the UK are well aware Spring is in full swing and the colours are starting to splash and saturate back across our landscape. In fact near me in Hertfordshire it's felt particularly 'summery' in the last few days, I still don't feel like we got an actual Winter, so it feels terrible to think Spring may be turning into Summer so soon!

Devoid of time for any distant travels with the camera recently I've been focusing on a particular area around Ivinghoe Beacon to keep my 'eye in' and look for interesting light and shapes especially. It's proved to be both challenging and enjoyable. Let's deal with the enjoyable first; being just 35 mins or so away from my house it's nasty but not brutal to be there for a 5.45am start, better still you can catch the last hour of light before sunset and get back for some well earned dinner.

However, and this is where the challenging part kicks in; the light at either end of the day has proved to give quite different results on the mainly green fields around the area. Some of you reading this may have seen my blog last week which had some early morning shots from a location just the other side of the Beacon, the intensity and vibrancy of the hues vary quite markedly from early am to late pm. Add to this the rather flat RAW files that we tend to capture and it's been a careful job to recreate what my eye saw at the time.

Let's compare these two images, both with a White Balance of around 5400k but the first taken at 06.33am and the second taken at 20.19pm...

06.33am (28/04/16) - 5450k WB

20.19pm (04/05/16) - 5318K WB

Quite different, right? Yes, and of course the White Balance is just one aspect to consider but it's useful to note they were very similar. In terms of processing in Lightroom; whilst I was actually adding a minor bit of vibrance (+7) and saturation (+5) in the early morning shot, along with the usual minor tonal adjustments (highlights, shadows, whites, blacks etc) to take the flatness out of the RAW file, I was actually taking it away in the evening shot (vibrance -10, saturation 0, and contrast -20).

What's important to say is that I feel I represented the colour palette I saw 'correctly' in both images, the early morning scene was paler with more yellow in the hues and the late evening grass was a much darker and richer green. The location was not exactly the same of course but the progression of the crop is similar in both places. Someone with far more knowledge than me could probably explain the cause of these variances in hue from a scientific point of view, but in some ways the reason why is secondary, the main challenge I had was dealing with it from a capture and processing point of view and wrestling with my internal doubts about how I could accurately represent the differences.

 Sheep-tastic...

Sheep-tastic...

Those of you who've been out and about recently, especially in the South East will no doubt recognise these variances, In the past I've heard some photographers saying how Green was such a difficult colour to deal with...until this week I'd not really run into it, now I can wholeheartedly agree!