Photographer David Bacher was recently on assignment for National Geographic Traveler, in Drôme Provençale, France, and shares how he captured the essence of the local landscape.
I took this photo of the small city of Grignan, France, late in the day, just before sunset. It was a rather straightforward landscape shot, but I feel that it’s the simplicity that makes it beautiful and that defines a sense of place.
Probably the most difficult element of making the photo was finding the geometrical topiary garden itself. I spotted the garden while photographing Grignan’s 12th-century castle, which culminates with a terrace overlooking the beautiful Provençale countryside, from which vantage point I could see the garden from above. However, the shot of the garden from the castle wasn’t very interesting—it was bordered by a campground on one side and a small forest on the other. It could have been a topiary hedge anywhere in the world.
In the distance, I spotted the ring road that encircles Grignan and made mental note of a little dirt side road that led toward the garden and the base of the village. I decided to drive there in the evening to catch the soft, warm light that’s often prevalent in the south of France. Finding the small dirt path, which jutted off from the main ring road around Grignan, was not an easy task. I took several false turns but finally found the road and meandered along in my car over a bumpy mix of hard-packed dirt and stones before arriving at the garden.
It was approximately 30 minutes before sunset, and I decided to set up my tripod in order to benefit from both a large aperture and a low ISO setting. There was an elevated walkway just in front of the sculpted topiary, which allowed for a nice wide-angle, 24mm perspective of the garden itself and the perched village of Grignan behind. There were a couple of families picnicking off to one side, and the kids were having fun running through the topiary maze. I usually feel that natural shots of people add to photos, but in this case the children’s small, fleeting silhouettes would have taken away from the painterly simplicity of the landscape. I shot several horizontal and vertical frames at five- to ten-minute intervals before sunset. I thought perhaps a vertical image with more sky showing could have been a candidate for a cover photo. The best shot was this one, made just before sunset, when the warm sunlight cast a Zen-like ocher glow on Grignan’s houses and its chateau above. There was still enough ambient light to see the detail in the topiary, which was not the case once the sun disappeared past the horizon.
Photo Tip: Look for simplicity in a landscape photo when the goal is to define a sense of place. And always think about how a different vantage point can make an image stronger, which may require moving a few steps left or right or completely changing your location, as I did for this photo.
Read more about Drôme Provençale and the essence of France in Traveler magazine.
See more of David’s photography at www.davidbacher.com