Le Mont Saint-Michel - France Photo Tour Part 1

November 06, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

My October was an unusually busy month. In just three weeks I travelled across and around France and even spent some time in Spain and Switzerland. I am very grateful to have visited so many striking locations in the Pyrenees, Alps, the French countryside and the major cities. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing my work and adventures in this blog. The first part is dedicated exclusively to the Mont Saint-Michel.

I departed on the 6th of October from the port of Poole, UK. I packed my trusty 5D mark III, a couple batteries, charger with 240V car adapter, zoom lenses spanning from 16-200mm, a tripod and a range of filters. In a few hours I was ready to hit the road in Normandy, France; the afternoon was spent travelling, visiting Avranches and the walled city of St-Malo. The weather was a somewhat hit and miss so I used the time to get familiar with the locations. After an overnight stay in a local hotel I was ready for an early morning shoot of the iconic Mont Saint Michel. The alarm clock sounded an hour before the sunrise. I was soon dressed in the wellies with the camera gear in hand. After half an hour of brisk walk the location was finally in sight. However the sky was still very cloudy and gale force winds were making the whole experience particularly unpleasant. This would normally suggest staying for longer in bed however losing time wasn't an option with so many miles of travel still ahead. The weather forecast was fairly reasonable for the day so I decided to brave out the storm. Changing weather conditions usually bring about some of the best and the most dramatic light. The wait was certainly worth it and in less than an hour there was a break in the clouds; the early morning sun lit the monastery site with a double rainbow developing in the background. I had scouted a couple of water pools in the mud below the causeway. The wellies proved absolutely vital here! (Warning: the mud is very sticky and soft so extreme caution must be exercised wandering away from the footpath). The water never got perfectly still due to the wind nevertheless I managed to capture reasonable reflections. I decided to use the causeway as a lead in line to the abbey since there were no other landscape features available in the mud plane.

Mont Saint-MichelMont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-MichelMont Saint-MichelMont Saint-Michel

Landscape photography doesn't usually involve fast action so it is always nice to maximise image quality by shooting from tripod with mirror lockup engaged and using the base camera sensitivity settings (ISO 100 for Canon 5D mark III). The lenses perform best between f/9-13, and stopping the aperture down also increases the depth of field and increases exposure times, which was very useful for smoothing out the water surface. I also used a 3-stop ND filter to further extend my exposures.

The rainbow was gone in just a few minutes as the light intensified. I searched for further compositions. Initially I went back on to the causeway and used it as a foreground.

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Once the locations was exhausted my attention turned to the nearby farm fields. There were lots of water pools and livestock. Further down a farm road I came across a water channel in a perfect zig-zag shape. This is certainly a fantastic landscape feature however the light was already a little too flat towards the middle of the day. An unusual treat was a French Air Force parachute jumping exercise taking place literally above my head.

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The afternoon passed by quickly eating a delicious three course lunch and visiting the abbey. It is certainly a must in my opinion. The mont was extremely busy in the morning and early afternoon, however by 4PM it became very quiet. Late afternoon light also brought new photography opportunities. I don't get many opportunities to visit this location so I made sure I covered every obvious angle and filled my memory card with relatively simple but pleasing stock images.

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The weather was very changeable throughout the day. I had planned several evening golden hour and sunset locations but unfortunately a bank of grey cloud dashed my hopes. The last and the key photography session took place during the blue hour when the abbey is beautifully flood lit. The illumination is only switched off after the midnight, but undoubtedly the best views are seen during the dusk. I only had a single chance to get it right so I made an extra effort to find some new and clearer water pools. I ventured out as far as the river bed. A mild breeze was not helping to keep the water still and reflective. I had to set up the camera almost at the water level to take advantage of the tiny still area.

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After a few frames I went back to the previous spot from the morning session at the causeway. I faced similar issues however this at least afforded a slightly different composition. While the shoot didn't go entirely to plan I still made great images I am very happy with.

Mont Saint-MichelMont Saint-MichelMont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-MichelMont Saint-MichelMont Saint-Michel

I packed my gear and headed for the car park some 3 miles away. The road trip then took me to Nantes and the Loire valley. I will discuss the photographic challenges and opportunities in Part 2. Please stay tuned.

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, Oxford and West Midlands.


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