November 2012 - Motorway Madness

Category: News 05 November 2012


The Rhone River, the Palais des Papes and Pont Saint-Bénezet, Avignon, Provence, France.
 Canon 5D mkIII, 24-70mm lens @ 45mm, 1.3 sec @ f11

On the Autoroute passing Aix an awkward silence settled in the car. I had asked my passengers what they knew of the Papal Schism of the 14th Century. Well, I reasoned that they may like to ponder why the classic view we were en route to photograph that evening featured a Papal Palace in the first place, and anyway how else should we pass the time as we slowed to a crawl due to the torrential downpour currently deluging the Bouches-du-Rhône? Fat rain drops bounced off the tarmac and visibility deteriorated to a few metres; I could feel the mood in the car tangibly sinking as our guests on our very first Provencal Workshop contemplated the likelihood of a sodden and fruitless tripod vigil. Josh from Machynlleth came to my aid by revealing that the Welsh Prince Owain Glyn Dwr sided with the French Popes, principally to spite the English. There you go; proof positive that you get a lot more then photography on our Workshops. The high cultural tone of the conversation soon plummeted as we reverted to joshing Josh about his inadequately small sensor and quizzing Garry from Houston as to whether my Discovery would qualify as a Bad Ass Truck in Texas.

At Avignon the sound of tripod legs clicking into place resonated along the River Bank. The rain had stopped but the heavens were still black and heavy. Over the Rhone a sky of mood and anger lay heavily. Momentarily the weakest of diffuse yet directional suffused through the sky from the south west, painting the Palais des Papes and Pont Saint-Bénezet as a subtle, steely, minimal colour masterpiece. We urged our guests to get their acts together and expose there and then; it was An Official Decisive Moment. It lasted just seconds.

We stuck it out but the Moment had passed. Still we lingered, waiting for the floodlights to illuminate the scene at dusk. When it was dark inexplicably some lights came on, others did not. So be it, that's photography; often frustrating, occasionally exhilarating. On the way back the heavens opened again and forward progress waned, dinner would be late. We heard later a typhoon had hit Marseille. We didn't care; we'd exposed, and tomorrow at dawn we'd be in amongst the vineyards with the first light of the day kissing the Montagne St Victoire, hopefully.

A vineyard nr Puyloubier with the Montagne Ste Victoire at dawn, Var, Provence, France
 6 frame panorama, Canon 5D mkIII, 24-70mm lens

Two weeks later we were again immobile on a Motorway. The trees to the side of the M6 were catching the slanting afternoon light beautifully, glowing in their autumnal splendour. Undiluted frustration coursed through my veins; I was hoping to make it to Langdale in time to expose but we'd been sat stationary in a jam south of Knutsford for an hour as the perfect light tormented me; the day and autumn seemed to be slipping from my grasp. More historical speculation with Matt and Wendy that the name of the dismal service area stems from the Viking King Canute's ford did little to dispel the angst. We were en route to Dunfermline for a Road Show, but I was hoping to squeeze out a couple of autumnal shoots in the Lakes District on the way. We arrived at Dungeon Ghyll as darkness settled. I tried unsuccessfully to be philosophical about the lost opportunity; Cumbria looked at its best but there was always tomorrow. Wendy sighed as I stomped about the hotel room; she'd seen it all before so many times.

The next day at dawn the heavens opened again and the tops of the Langdale Pikes above were invisible. We tried to make something of it by heading for Blea Tarn and shooting pictures of our outdoor gear in use for the upcoming "Soft Wear for Harsh Climes" eZine feature, but inside a worm was turning. We'd driven away from Provence in perfect conditions, now this frustration. From years of such experiences I know it's all part of the game, but it doesn't make it any easier to deal with.

Soft Wear for Harsh Climes.
Photo: Wendy Noton

Two days later I was back on familiar territory, chasing the light and the last autumnal colours just down the road from home at Stourhead. A mesmerising afternoon with gorgeous clarity of light and vision followed. As the shutter opened and the breeze ruffled the flame red leaves relief suffused through me; I was exposing again, the autumn wasn't quite yet past. Trudging back to the car with the tripod on my shoulder and mud on my knees I felt at one again; too many motorways and not enough time behind the lens had been the problem. A familiar face passed; my friend and fellow pro Charlie Waite with a group in tow. We chewed the cud for a few minutes, swapped anecdotes and moved on; small world.

Autumn colours, Stourhead, Wiltshire
Canon 5D mkIII, 70-200mm lens, 5 secs @ f22

Further satisfaction ensued that evening; Sharyn had just activated the November Issue of the Chasing the Light eZine. I always get a kick when a new Issue goes Live; it represents so much work for all of us. This month Behind the Lens relives my autumnal manoeuvres of 2011, whilst the Compositional Tutorial flouts the Commandments in Sutherland and the Field Trial stays dry up to the waist. EZine Editor Freya Dangerfield kicks off a new feature "The Bizz" by giving our f11 members everything they need to know about the world of book publishing. If you ever fall into the trap of thinking you have to go far afield to make evocative pictures the Guest Feature is for you. Anne Burke's highly imaginative project "Five Days a Week" involved making a picture by noon every week day for a year. The end result is a series of images mostly shot within her own home and garden which forms a brilliantly perceptive and visually cohesive body of work. Plus there's the usual Member's Gallery, we think it's high time you submitted your images for some constructive appraisal here. Last month we included our first Video Tutorial on the Fundamentals of Post Production; the next will be online and available for our f11 Members by the middle of the month, and every month thereafter. And there's f11 News; it's all got an unstoppable momentum now and we're just going to keep offering more.

Coming up is our November Jurassic Coast Workshop. It's been sold out for months but bookings for our March Course are now live. So too is the opportunity to join us in Umbria next May. I can promise you inappropriate comments, random historic anecdotes, ribbing and banter, as well as fabulous photographic locations, tuition and inspiration from dawn to dusk. Don't take all that on my word, you can read what past guests have said here.

Littondale in autumn, Yorkshire Dales
Canon 1Ds mkIII, 24-70mm lens

For us now we've a few more motorway jams to avoid as Road Shows in Stafford and Cheltenham are imminent. Soon though we'll be navigating much dustier Asian roads; by the end of the month we'll be off on a Big Adventure. You'll hear all about it first here. Also there's been some lively discussion going on recently on my Facebook page of late; we'd like to hear from you too

Montagne Ste Victoire at dawn, Var, Provence, France
Canon 5D mkIII, 70-200mm lens

Stay tuned, and keep exposing.
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David Noton Photography
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