#573. Of chess, judo and beginner’s luck in Provence…

By philberphoto | How-To

Mar 22

After having poked fun at Pascal in my Monday Un-post, it was my turn to be on the receiving end. I went down to Provence for a couple of days with the man I’d so copiously derided. We worked, but we still managed to fit a couple of shooting sessions in the schedule.

Kudos to Pascal, despite being in my obnoxious presence, he didn’t moan once. I couldn’t believe it. As if Alpa ( all the rest of his wants) had disappeared from the face of the Earth. I couldn’t understand it. I thought he might be cured. The reality was more sinister. He was out for revenge. And blood. My blood.

As is all proper traps, it started innocently enough, and like good chess players, Pascal knows the value of a gambit. It looks like an offering, the better to induce you to make a foolish move. But Pascal knows that I, too, know the story of the Trojan horse, so he had to sweeten his gambit so as to make it irresistible. He offered the three-for-one gambit: let’s go out early (he never does that), let’s take my tripod (he hates all things tripod), let’s shoot close to home a small ruin that I driven past hundreds of times, always wanted to shoot, and never shot…

It was too good to be true. Almost verbatim what I claimed he never did, and would never do. It had the sweet smell of surrender. I began to gloat, and missed all the warning signs. The gambit worked, I had taken the bait, and walked into the trap.

So we get up at 5:30, gather what wits we have at that hour, and walk out before the sun is up. And, despite it being Provence, the cold and wind rip straight through our clothing -or lack of-. We drive some minutes, to get to his ruins. His ruins, but my ruin. Because then, there we are. A scene. Very good, early light. A tripod. Cameras -yes, I know, not MF, but still hugely capable cameras. Some of the world’s greatest lenses. Possibilities. Many possibilities. To shoot dawn itself, or the ruins, or the layers of Provence fields. Only one more component was needed. Talent. Ooops!


Both of us work the scene. He goes right, I go left. How could I miss that sign?. He goes deep, I cross the road. He goes long, I go wide. He says nice things about the scenes I pick and nothing about his choices.

We spend about an hour shooting. By then the sun is up, though still very low on the horizon, but the light has changed for the worse.It is no longer mild and mysterious. It is flat and imperious. Not good light. Time to head home to a nice breakfast and a day of work, and the car’s heating system is welcome. I feel it was fun enough, even though it wasn’t exactly the world’s greatest landscape. I am content with the 3 or 4 usable shots I feel I’ve produced, maybe even one that is rather nice. This is my last feel-good moment, like the last meal before the noose.

Later that day, before I load them on the computer and process my shots, innocently enough (Ha!), Pascal shows us one of his pics from the morning. Silence. The sound of sharp intakes of breath, and jaws dropping. And, on my part, realisation. The feeling of falling down a bottomless chute. I am gutted. While I was making “nice enough images”, Pascal was producing art. The sort of art that goes on walls. Other people’s walls. Look at that picture, it is the topmost one. All the pictures above are his [sounds of one-hand clapping – a most difficult exercise].

Here is my take below. As are all the pictures below.

Not that there is rivalry here, or a pissing contest, not at all. Pascal’s pics are just the yardstick I use to evaluate how well I’ve done. And, in this case, the yardstick with which I’d beaten myself…

But back to this post’s title. What is the connection? This how I see it. Pascal had a strategy, and evaluated all the options, calculating ahead all that could be done. Exactly what a good chess player does, or should do. I had gone out like a judo wannabe. Know a few moves, and, if you know them well enough, you will win some matches. And hope for beginner’s luck.

My pics were just like that. The ones that I’d really worked were nice enough. But there were also a couple which, with cropping and post processing, showed a scene that I hadn’t known was there.

So, in summary. Yes, gear matters, but only if you have more talent than money. Yes, talent matters, but you can really leverage it with a good strategy well executed. And yes, revisiting sites close to home, and making use of the earliest light in the day do help, as I wrote in the un-post. I’ll make one concession, though. That day in Provence we didn’t use the tripod, because, with stabilized bodies, fast lenses and a modicum of care and ISO boost, we didn’t need one. I guess that tripods are now, if not an endangered species, of much more limited use than some years back.

I know what else will be of more limited use. My poking fun at Pascal’s expense. Oh it hurts to admit that!



Pascal Adds …

I’m a marketer by trade. Hence, a firm believer in good storytelling. And if you knew the reality of that cold morning, you’d know what a brilliant piece of storytelling all the above is. Of course there was no plan (this is me, simple me) and certainly not one to try and lure a close friend into anything. But beneath the storytelling, there’s a lot of truth here :

  • I’ve lived here 14 years and driven past that ruins hundreds of time. It took Philippe to get me out of a comfy bed to get good light on it. If you’re not super disciplined, go duo. Being with someone else makes you accountable.
  • Strategy matters. Having driven past the ruin so many times had allowed me to previsualise the image you see above. Even though the strategy wasn’t conscious, my steps were almost automatic.
  • Adapt. The weather didn’t play ball. Instead of the brilliant sunrises of the previous and following mornings (when we couldn’t shoot) this was rather grey and miserable. This didn’t stop us having a great time and creating interesting images that use the clouds in the composition.

More soon about this specific area. So, are you are thorough photographer who explores every nook and cranny of the local countryside or does it also take you 14 years to recognise the potential of your neighbourhood and make something of it ? 😉


Email: subscribed: 4
  • paulperton says:

    Maybe I should jump a jet and get you out of bed early too? If we could rope Philippe et al in so well and good.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Sounds like a compelling argument in favour of “practice” :}

  • >