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How do you capture the mistral?

  • Posted Oct. 12, 2009 by Stefan Fletcher Viewed 4449 times

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The mistral is a strong, dry and cold northern and westerly wind that blows from the Alps down the corridor created by the Rhone to vent its energy in the wide plain of the Rhone delta and outwards in the Golfe du Lion. It explains the twisted, narrow streets in Provençal villages and those long lines of plane trees on either side of those country roads in the South of France, where the line of trees on one side is always bent inwards. The name means “masterly” in Provençal and it’s easy to see (and feel) why.

I heard locals in a bar (old habits die hard) talking about this week’s mistral - scheduled to last forever - with respect. As a former kite designer, I can now confess another reason for moving here: I want to fly big bastards (some measuring up to nine metres in diameter) in a masterly wind.

In the move to France I lost a curiously shaped plastic widget without which my sewing machine cannot work. More importantly, I haven’t yet found a supplier of spinnaker cloth which is the best material for making kites (and, presumably, sails). But I do have a camera. So I went out to try to capture something sharp (a road) and something moving (trees whipped by the wind) in the same image. I think I wanted to combine permanence and movement, but the degree of whippiness I wanted would have required hurricane winds which even a mistral can’t produce - at least on land.

This was an attempt at returning to “serious” photography now that my life is becoming a bit more settled. I am disappointed by the result. All I seem to be able to do is salvage poor compositions with a few half-learnt Photoshop tricks. The “old” adage that post-processing can’t make a bad picture better, only different, does apply - but feel free to contradict, and boost my ego, in the comments… The wonderful thing about photography is that it’s incremental; doing something slipshod teaches you how to do better at the same time.

More importantly, if you have tried to capture the effect of strong natural phenomena such as wind or water, add a link to your contribution so that I can learn from you.

Technical notes:
The mistral scrapes clouds away and creates an empty, bright sky made all the more interesting in the changeable and delicate autumn light. I used a 3-stop neutral density filter to slow down the exposure and boosted the clarity, vibrance and saturation - none of which compensated for the fairly poor composition. Oh well…

I wanted to capture trees waving in the strong wind in the late afternoon sun with its long and gentle shadows. This is the best I could do

Another attempt at the same subject, possibly even more botched than the first. By the way, if you can, the music I found absolutely appropriate for this solitary wind was Tartini's Devil Sonata, if possible using a solo violin (my recording is by Andrew Manze).

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    There are 21 comments, add yours!

    • # Tim S.

      The first one is beautiful. It's bit like a painting because of the dynamic fuzziness.

      2009.10.17 Edited Reply Cancel

    • # Jessica

      I love the second shot. Absolutely spot on, in my view of things. I've missed your posts in my absence!
      And kites? I love them. Find that piece of plastic and get sewing! hehe
      Whereabouts in France are you? (if you don't mind me asking)

      2009.10.15 Edited Reply Cancel

    • # Monika

      i dont have a good example to link, but I can imagine wind best as it blows long female hair... the same with rain.

      2009.10.14 Edited Reply Cancel

    • # Tomie Poodle

      excellent set! j'aime bien la dernière...faudra faire la lavande un jour de mistral, ce devrait pas être mal non plus...

      2009.10.13 Edited Reply Cancel

    • # Karen

      hope you find a strange plastic thing so we can see some kite shots. I like the 2nd shot better and you can see the wind, the trees are blurry, that's all you need yeah?

      2009.10.13 Edited Reply Cancel

    • # Michael Sakowicz

      Yeah, I dig the motion in the trees too. And for some reason, I now have that 'Let's go fly a kite' song from 'Mary Poppins' in my head...

      2009.10.13 Edited Reply Cancel

    • # Piyali

      You were a kite designer? Now that's really cool..I love kites, so looking forward to see some kite shots from you in the future. I really like the tones in #2 and of course sense the motion..but since you were not too happy with them, here's wishing you good luck on your next attempt as 'mistral' passes by. (Sorry could not be more helpful than that)

      2009.10.13 Edited Reply Cancel

    • # Thebronzebow

      With the strong winds we have around here I have contemplated that same problem. Have yet to come up with a solution. The colors are lovely and though you are less then pleased with the results, they do give a sense of the movement. I like the 1st one best I think.

      2009.10.13 Edited Reply Cancel

    • # Jon Laysell

      Interesting shots - the trees have a sort of ghostly quality in their movement. I wouldn't be too hard on yourself.
      I wondered if it might help finding taller trees to shoot - or perhaps getting right under them; but it's just a hunch I have nothing to back it up.

      2009.10.12 Edited Reply Cancel

    • # Lynda

      Kite designer? You are pulling our legs methinks. No 2 is easy on the eye. Wouldn't Donovan's ditty from the 60s 'Catch the Wind' have been more appropriate?

      2009.10.12 Edited Reply Cancel