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

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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.

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