In this first part of the France photo tour blog series I have shared my work from Mont Saint-Michel. After a successful and motivating photo session in Normandy I headed South. Admittedly, my geographic knowledge of France wasn't very extensive nor I haven't done the homework well. A few minutes on Google maps suggested Nantes as the destination for the morning blue hour shoot. To my great disappointment neither the Château des ducs de Bretagne nor the cathedral didn't have any floodlighting and both turned out to be distinct afternoon or evening locations. I similarly struggled to find any reasonable subjects lit by the morning Sun. After a very frustrating start of the day I set off driving east along the infamous Loire valley. The first stop was
Angers is major French city just 15km to the east. It is also a home to a great medieval castle which was my next destination. Initially I had planned to travel further for the evening blue hour, however I was soon convinced that the city had plenty to offer for the whole day. After a good lunch and a visit to the castle I spent the afternoon photographing the external defensive walls of the castle. I was particularly impressed with the upkeep and beauty of the gardens - they provided a great foreground. Initially it was a waiting game for the light to come out from behind a think layer of stormy clouds. The patience paid off and the castle was lit by beautiful mid-afternoon sunlight.
I was pleased with the images. I then realised the location was also well-suited for the blue hour photography. Sure enough I wasn't disappointed despite considerably cloudier weather. I had already pre-selected the best composition earlier in the day; so I simply waited for the flood lighting to match the brightness of the sky with the camera ready at the very same spot. The results matched my expectations for the evening and I was ready to plan the day 4.
After some deliberation I headed to Bordeaux for the next day shoot. It took several hours of intense driving to reach the city. My budget didn't allow for any toll roads so I quickly realised that regular French highways are not of very high standards of safety and repair. I arrived just before 2AM and I definitely needed some good night's sleep before continuing my photographic journey. Regrettably, this meant missing the sunrise; I had little knowledge of the city so most likely this made very little difference. The daytime was spent getting familiar with the surroundings. It was blindingly obvious that Bordeaux Musee National des Douanes was the location to go for if you have just a single evening. With the evening planned I still had some time to visit the wine making region. Saint-Émilion village was an easy choice to make.
I came back just on time for the evening shoot in central Bordeaux. Practical advice: whatever you do always park the car on the west side of the river and walk or get the tram. City centre remains extremely busy even late at night so finding a parking space can be a major issue. I started the shoot at the Opera theatre waiting for the ambient light levels to drop. The square was extremely busy so it must be more suitable for very early mornings. Monument aux Girondins was the second target. I didn't have much time so I had to work extremely quickly. I opted for the close up shot of the fountain that was planned during the daytime scouting.
Without taking any more time I ran off the to Le Miroir d'eau. The light was already perfect. The tripod was swiftly set up and levelled in the fountain. I made several exposures at different focal lengths using the excellent Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS lens and I also experimented working with and then without the grad filters. I wanted to make sure that I didn't leave without getting The shot. Sometimes it is far easier and better to make the final decisions at the comfort of my desk. Just a few minutes later the sky was gradually becoming solid black. The window of opportunity for blue hour photography is very short indeed at most southern location. The evening session was over.
Ideally I would have liked to stay for the sunrise at this same location. However, I really had to keep travelling and reach the Pyrenees by the morning. I am sure one day I will return to Bordeaux and work on the remaining images I missed out on this time.
Please stay tuned for the Part 3 discussing the autumnal French and Spanish Pyrenees photography.
All images are available to purchase as prints and may be licensed for commercial use. 1-2-1 landscape photography tuition is available in Bristol, London, Oxford and West Midlands.