Tom Mackie: France on Fire

Tom Mackie

I've discovered a great way to enjoy the British summer, especially when it doesn't act like summers should. Enjoy it in Provence. While I was getting news from photographers back home saying they couldn't get out with their cameras because of the persistent rain, I was fighting off the sun from flaring into my lens in the middle of a sunflower field. I spent nearly 3 weeks in total photographing along the South coast and doing my first Provence workshop. The workshop was a good mix of locations starting in the quaint harbour of Cassis then photographing the lavender fields on the Valensole Plain, the classic villages of Rousillon, Gordes, Le Beaux and finally the towns of Saint Remy, Arles and Avignon.

In true landscape photography fashion, many of the days started at 5am to capture the best light. After the first couple of days of little or no decent light at sunrise it was very easy to become discouraged. I have been caught out in the past by either believing the weather forecast or just wanting to stay in bed only to miss out on fantastic light. My perseverance was rewarded with this incredible sunrise over a lavender field. Landscape photography is very much like fishing. There are times when you come back with nothing, but sometimes you get lucky. By reducing the variables you increase your chances of being lucky.

On the way to Arles it became clear why the beauty of the landscape and light of this area enchanted Van Gogh. He said; "these canvases will tell you what I cannot say in words, that is, how healthy and invigorating I find the countryside." We stopped to photograph some of the many sunflower fields that perhaps inspired him to paint his most famous paintings of sunflowers. I've photographed sunflowers in various different compositions; close details, single flower against blue sky, telephoto to compress patterns of the whole field, so it was a challenge to come up with something different.

Tom Mackie

I tried putting the camera mounted with a 16-35mm lens on the ground pointing up to through the sunflowers, but it just didn't have the wow factor. Nature was letting me down with too many leaves and not enough flowers. I noticed as the clouds were tracking across the sky they were dispersing into a beautiful mackerel formation. I knew I had to incorporate this into my composition some how so proceeded to walk through the field looking for particular sunflowers that stood out from the rest of the pack until I came across these three perfect flowers. I mounted the camera on the tripod and positioned the lens so it was parallel to the flower heads to ensure precise focus. A polarising filter helped the clouds to pop against the deep blue sky. I also used a 0.6 ND soft grad to balance the tone of the sky with the sunflowers.

Provence was a wonderful place to relax and unwind. I will miss having lunches in the tree covered outdoor cafes watching the world go by, drinking Leffe beer, exploring the back streets for quintessential French scenes, absorbing some of the history, walking through lavender and sunflower fields and of course the friendships built during the workshop.

Well, at least until next year...

If you would like to join me next year in Provence, book early as the workshop is limited to only 5 spaces.

Tom Mackie





Seeing the Image


Being a photographer, I can't look at anything without thinking about compositions and lighting. This can be a problem for anyone accompanying me, especially non-photographers. Walking through the streets of Menton, France the lines of this scene screamed out to me. The vertical and diagonal lines work beautifully together to form a Z or S curve. Incorporating an S curve into a composition adds a sense of movement to an otherwise static image. It just needed a human element to complete the composition.

Tom Mackie

I asked my friend to walk up the stairs until she was in the third of the frame. The colours of her clothes didn't work with the scene so we arranged to return the next day dressed in the obligatory red. Unfortunately, there was a builder's truck parked in my composition so I had to work around it. Serendipity was in force that day because when I moved closer to eliminate the truck, the composition became stronger by making it tighter as a horizontal. It's always fun working with a model and entertaining to on lookers as I shout out commands to make adjustments to the model's placement, clothes, position of head and hands. When I'm constructing an image, I tend to block out all distractions around me. It helps me to focus especially in urban locations.

Tom Mackie

About the Author

Tom Mackie is recognised as one of the world’s finest landscape photographers, his understanding of light, perspective and colour; the hallmark that has established his name both internationally and here in the UK. He has written several books and regularly contributes to a number of photography magazines. You can view more of his work on his website