David Noton On Location
The vineyards around Château-chalon, Jura, Franche-comté, France. 15:00. 22 October 2017. Vineyards that softly roll back towards the Swiss border, David Noton details the secrets of adding scale to an otherwise rather run-of-the-mill photograph
He’s got ants in his pants, but that means another new travel photo and column!
From the belvedere in the village of Chateau Chalon perched high on a cliff in the first ripple of the Jura mountains, the prospect of the surrounding patchwork of vineyards turned gold by autumn’s chills is, well, as it says on the tin, a belle vue of a beau paysage. "So the view is feminine but the landscape masculine," I enquire of Nico, our friend, local guide, language teacher and fellow professional photographer who is stood beside my tripod. He replies with a grin and gallic shrug; isn’t it obvious? Well over 40 years since I sat my French O level I’m still struggling with the concept, but I’ll not stop trying; I am after all a fully signed up Francophile. Looking down now on the vista of vineyards gently rolling back towards the Swiss border it’s rather easy to see why.
Welcome to the Jura, a region of deep limestone gorges, high mountains, waterfalls, caves, dense forests, alpine meadows, rustic villages, vine clad landscapes, hill-top chateaux and nutty cheese in the Franche-comté region of eastern France. Sounds great doesn’t it? Especially for a landscape photographer, and yet few people outside of France have heard of it. So we’re off to Franche-comté I say as we pack for another foray sous la manche, only to be met by blank faces. That of course is all part of the appeal.
It’s late afternoon and the restaurants in the village are slowly disgorging their diners after long languid Sunday lunches. I’m waiting for the light on the land below, enjoying the convivial atmosphere and banter with Nico. We met via social media, then on my first visit I literally bumped into him in the car park at the Source du Lison. It’s now my fourth visit to his region; it’s really got under my skin, and of course Nico’s local knowledge is so valuable, as this evocative location demonstrates. Last year I shot from below looking up at the village, this year I’m working the reverse. A tight long lens shot of the patchwork of vineyards is the image I’m after, with all the texture in the scene revealed by the low side-lighting of the autumnal afternoon. But I need something, or someone in the frame to bring it to life.
One tiny figure just in the right place in a composition can give an image scale and enliven it immeasurably. It’s a role normally undertaken by Mrs Wendy Noton, but I lost her to the cafes and boutiques hours ago. What are my chances of someone coming along just at the right time? Slim, I guess, and yet there are plenty of locals about taking their post lunch strolls; you never know, I may get lucky.
All photographers should acknowledge the role luck plays in their photography. Most successful images come from lucky breaks, be it a shaft of light on the land just at the right time, or a chance encounter with someone truly unique. But Lady Luck favours the prepared. The more I practise the luckier I get. The clichés go on, but the simple fact remains; I know if I put myself in the right place at the right time sooner or later I’ll get lucky.
And so it transpires: one figure walks into the frame and my shutter clicks. I’d pre-composed, focused, rotated the polarizer to saturate the colours, checked the aperture and exposure and was ready. Without that tiny figure in the bottom left corner of the frame the picture would be unremarkable. With that person however, it just works. This game of photography is all about preparation, making the right decisions, and waiting. It would have been easy to wander off looking for other options, but I’ve learned to trust my instincts, and stick with an idea; faffing about never works. Patience is a landscape photographers greatest virtue and rewards in leaps and bounds.