#656. Photographing the autumn colours of Provence

By pascaljappy | Travel Photography

Oct 14

Provence is best known for its cities, its traditions, its lavender fields, the beautiful coastline. Not really as a competitor for Algonquin Park, then. And it’s true that you’ll struggle to find sweeping landscapes coloured in bright orange. The closest we have to Pando are chestnut trees groves and they mainly turn a murky brown and bomb you with prickly things. This doesn’t mean you can’t get colourful images of autumn in the area, though …



Now, if you were to walk with me along the busy main road where those photographs were made, you might feel somewhat underwhelmed. Initially at least. Colour, other than shades of green, is rather rare in the area. This is what most trees look like.


Samsung Galaxy S6

Sony A7rII


But, for those who love the thrill of the chase, the game is really worth the effort.



Unlike the better-known fall-colour jaunts, some parts of Provence offer a kaleidoscope of tiny colourful landscapes created by the great variety of local plants. After the dominant species were burnt down (due to severe forest fires as well as by large military deforestation programs to force resistance fighters out of hiding during WWII) pine trees were introduced in the area and now cover most of the visible landscape. But a great number of small ecosystems thrive along streams and rivers that provide shelter for a much more interesting and varied flora. It’s a shame the web can’t yet relay fragrances as summer in the hills is an experience you remember for a long time. And autumn brings about a stunning palette of browns, greens purples and dull oranges that make up in variety what they lack in vastness.

I would love to see what the Japanese masters of photographic delicacy would make of this area.



It’s a wonderful experience because nothing is obvious. Focus on the big picture and nothing strikes you as particularly interesting. But get your eye in, focus on the more intimate landscape and you are rewarded with endless compositions and the tough but thrilling job of organising all this visual mess into something that makes some kind of sense.



Truth be told, I found these hellishly difficult to process. Definitely not my usual 10 second exposure / contrast correction. These required some heavy dodging and burning, individual colour channel editing, selective sharpening, crazy local cast removal … and I’m still not entirely happy with most of the results (see the crazy magenta on the stones and branches at right, below, for instance). Out of camera, the results are desperately flat, out of balance, and colours are nothing like when my eyes saw just minutes earlier. Whether the Sony A7rII is to blame or whether something else is at play, I don’t know (Ming Thein got rid of his A7rII after a similar experience but others seem plenty happy). At any rate, this is the sort of PP heavy lifting that not everyone will enjoy.



Some casts are just impossible to get rid off completely. Some colours simply never materialise in the file as they were in the field. But others come to life in thrilling, if not totally accurate miniatures that still do justice to the original scenes.



At any rate, the mental exercise is worthwhile and rewarding. Viewing these images a couple of days after the shot, now that I have forgotten the details of the originals, I can simply love them for what they are. Not all of them are perfectly accurate. A fashion photographer would go nuts with all the hue mismatches. But I don’t care, the photographs just work as standalone items. Who said drawing with light, photography, always has to be an exercise in scientific perfection ?



So there you have it. 40 minutes of walking, a few hours of post-processing. All within a 5 minute drive from the village center. To me, it makes more sense than flying to the other side of the globe to photograph the more famousΒ glowing aspens of Canada. And I kind of like the multitude of microworlds you can find by looking under low branches or behind thick bushes. They are there for all, who take the time to look intently, to see. They force me to slow down, search, find, visualise, compose, decide the DoF, exposure compensation and process.



And, after a while of shooting mostly with my phone, they allow me to better appreciate the different look of a FF camera with fast lenses. An autumn renaissance of sorts πŸ˜‰



What say you ? Are tiny vegetation worlds as interesting as the vast landscapes that make it into competition finals and calendars ?


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  • Pascal your shots make me home sick for France (well 2nd home)anyway.

  • Steve Mallett says:

    Pascal, I love these!

    I think there are obvious similarities between Provence and Pembrokeshire; no sweeping autumnal vistas of colour here either. The salt air blowing in off the sea tends to burn the leave edges of the sycamores brown and they just look, well, kinda dead! The acer in front of the window as I type is in beautiful colour (ah there goes the squirrel) but that’s not indigenous. But as you say, go poking around and there’s lots to please the eye. If the howling wind and rain abate I may venture out!


    • pascaljappy says:

      Ah squirrels are a component we largely miss. There are a few around but not very many. Will be in the UK in a couple of weeks and hope to be able to spare a little time for an arboretum or some area of colourful foliage just before the leaves fall. Cheers

  • John Elliott says:

    Very nice images and capture of fall colors. Too bad that SE Texas doesn’t see those colors. Being from the NE of the U.S., I miss the autumn. Your images seem to be a great advertisement for the capability of the Loxia 85. Being a rank amateur, I subscribe to DS to get inspiration, information about composition, camera and lens use and settings, and opinions on gear and to admire the type of photography I aspire to.

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    It is a strange matter, that what the trees in the autumn are ready to discard as garbage has some of the most vivid colurs of the whole season of the tree’s life.

    And so beautifully caught!

    ( And how the branches bend and twist on their way up always fascinates me!)

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Kristian. There has to be some explanation for that, but it’s not clear to me either. A biological sense of humour, maybe ? πŸ˜‰

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        and, as you return from photography to biology – not to forget that they can enhance each other, to help animals find their flowers, fruit and berries they hide these colours for the rest of the year? πŸ˜‰

  • Clifton Whittaker says:

    Vistas can be nice but I’ve often had more satisfaction from separating out bits and parcels for individual fall color scenes. Just as you have done here. Love this work, Pascal.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks a lot Clifton. The satisfaction that we get from finding something that’s not obvious is really a big part of the pkeasure of photography, isn’t it ?

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        I did send a comment along those lines, Pascal, but it doesn’t seem to have materialised at your end.

        A landscape gardener will explain that there AREN’T always colours in the garden – or a landscape – and that in planting, we should search out plants with different foliage to compensate for those seasons when flowers or autumn tints are simply unavailable. Sometimes it’s the shape of the leaves – sometimes, the “habit” of how the leaves hang – sometimes it’s the surface (matt, glossy etc) – and more often, it’s variations in the greens we’re accustomed to seeing in plant leaves. I would add bark – textures, colours, shapes etc.

        And to thoroughly enjoy these features – and the ones you spotted – we are encouraged to develop our “seeing eye”. The stuff’s there, alright – for anyone who’s prepared to look. But until we fine tune our powers of perception and observation, it could just as well be a painted canvas.

        This stuff is also very much in the style of our mentor, Susan Sontag. Amateurs abound – cellphones abound (and I do occasionally see more enthusiastic amateurs pointing their cams at these little treasures). But there ain’t 2 billion of them doing it. And the odd few who do are probably being restrained by a loving wife from spending the money put aside for the next trip to the Azores on something as mundane as a decent camera anyway – they’re just closet photographers, under surveillance from a more powerful force. They even gallop up to you, if you’re out & about when they are, to have conversations about cameras and lenses and . . . .

        • pascaljappy says:

          Ha ha πŸ™‚ Nice, Jean Pierre. I take that as a challenge to return in the Winter time and find landscapes of bark and twigs. Challenge accepted πŸ™‚

          • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

            When I find a suitable software to set the tiles in place, I am going to produce a collage of photos of bark on various local eucalyptus trees – the variations in tints and textures are extraordinary, and I now have several dozen shots of them, taken while out walking Cris-the-Dobermann. It’s fun – I also take macro shots of all sorts of leaves, flowers, nuts, etc and if I show them to non-‘togs, I get comments like “why on earth did you take a blurry photo of that street sign” – referring of course to some object-in-bokeh, in the background. This bad habit of shooting practically anything has other advantages – I can practice getting great sky effects, there’s always a sky (but not always any other photographic subject around), and by aiming the cam at the sky, repeatedly, I get a very good feel for what will – in due course – make a decent sky in a more considered photo. Practice – practice – practice. And digital makes it so easy – it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, in materials – and you don’t need to put yourself to the time & cost of producing prints, to curate your practice shots. πŸ™‚

            Some of that has a particular importance, here – we are closer to the equator, and that brings with it what some see as “harsher light”, during the day, unless the sky is clouded over. Practicing on skies, backgrounds, anything at all becomes very necessary, when learning to exploit these “harsh light” conditions and come up with decent photographs. Like many other things, it is a “problem” – and we have to learn to exploit it, and to turn it to our advantage. So that instead of wrecking an otherwise good shot, it becomes a major ingredient in taking a successful one. It won’t fall in your lap – you have to work for it – but personally, I think it’s well worth the effort.

  • paulperton says:

    Nice one Pascal. I’m getting a travel itch again…

  • The anynymous grunter says:

    Excellent works. Thanks for your insight and for getting ideas of trying similarly challenging motives.

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