Error #404. Zeiss and Leica not found. Try Monet instead (a photo essay in Giverny)

By philberphoto | Travel Photography

Sep 17

A photo essay in GivernyDSC01206Cryptic title isn’t it? Well, I thought after much gear, a post without a single brand name would be a good idea. Although you could say that Monet, the Impressionist who put his name to some of the world’s most expensive paintings today, has become a global brand.

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You can get acquainted with Monet in many ways. Museums, books, online resources. But one way is closer to his essence than any other. Later in life, when his paintings made him well-to-do, he lived in a large house some 50mi. West of the Paris metropolis, in a tiny but quaint village called Giverny. And he had 2 gardens created for him. One right next to his house, the other one a few tens of yards away, around a pond. Both of these gardens are the theme for many of his works.

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Today, visiting Giverny is both heaven and hell. Heaven because the flowers and gardens are gorgeous, breathtaking even, in a country not known for especially glorious gardens as a whole (there are exceptions of course). Hell because, like so many a fantastic place around the world, there is such a flow of tourists that any connection with the spirit of the place becomes almost impossible amid the bustle and the din.

A photo essay in Giverny

And the sad realisation that 90% of the pictures are taken with smartphones and tablets. Actually, on one of the 2 occasions I went for the shots on this post, a friend of mine shot his iPhone feverishly. I sent him some of my pics, but he never sent me his. Can’t imagine why… [End of pompous, self-satisfied rant]

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Still, I recommend visiting Giverny highly. If you can, don’t go on a frenzied bus tour. Go by car and you will be rewarded with small period villages with some houses going back many centuries (not as in merely 2 or 3), and the lazy valley of the Seine river. Also, to make your trip decently enjoyable, the following tips. Buy your tickets online, because waiting to buy them on the spot can take ages. Be there when most people are busy eating. If you have to, eat when most people are busy visiting. That is what we did, and it served us well. If you do that, you could do a lot worse than “le petit Giverny”. I feared the total tourist trap, and was proven delightfully wrong. The food is as tasty as the “patron” (the innkeeper) is colourful. He even has rooms for guests now.

A photo essay in GivernyA photo essay in Giverny

Once there, not much more to say. Feast your eyes. And forgive me for not eliciting more beauty out of this wondrous garden…

A photo essay in Giverny


Oh, and Monet didn’t do B&W, right? Indeed, but after all, he wasn’t a photographer, merely a painter…




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    • philberphoto says:

      Thanks, Paul, Bstrom, Joakim, Brian!
      No tripod allowed in the gardens, unfortunately. Besides, in season and in beautiful weather, even if you choose the off-hours, there are so many people that a tripod would be quite impractical.
      How I get sharp images? I use a mirrorless camera with manual lenses and focus magnification (in this case, Sony A7R, once with Zeiss ZM 35 f:1.4 and once with Zeiss Otus 55 f:1.4, and shot mostly at f:2.0 and f:2.8. Not all lenses are really sharp at such apertures). Placing focus exactly where I want it is (relatively speaking) easier with MF than with AF. Then, of course the Otus, with its very long focus throw does make it even easier. And now the Sony A7R II with its in-body stabilisation. But that is only 20% of the formula. The rest is: “try, chimp, fail, try again, chimp again, fail again, until I get it right”. There is at least one case I remember where I saw a beautiful sunflower, slightly past its prime, against the sun. I thought it would look great. I must have tried 30 times. Couldn’t get a single one to look sharp. Cursed and cursed more. Still couldn’t get it right. Walked away in disgust. Which quickly fell away, because this garden is too bountiful, too cornucopia-esque to let you mope for long. As Einstein said, 90% perspiration, 10% inspiration. Then when I get in front on my computer, I get surprises. Some that looked great on the LCD fail to excite on screen, and others, that weren’t so promising, reveal more beauty than anticipated. And of course, I am not showing all my pics. Let’s say that, on a single 90mn shoot there I come back with 80 pictures of maybe 30 subjects, and end up with 20-25 worth posting. So what you saw, from 2 visits, is a subset from some 40-50 pictures worth viewing.

  • Bstrom says:

    Florally inspiring. Gardens are a great place to dial in your bokeh potential for fav lenses. My veggie garden has been my Giverny this year and it has really produced some tasty shots and lessons on shooting closeups. Thx for the trip!

  • Joakim Danielson says:

    Interesting article and beautiful photos indeed. Nice with something not gear related for a change 🙂

  • Brian says:

    Love the work. Since this is partly gear related, are you allowed a Tripod in the garden? Wondered how you got such sharp images.

    This is on my must visit bucket list. Last time I was in that area some 17 years ago, it was on our ‘Pre’ honeymoon but when we got to the spot, it was way too busy so we passed on.

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