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Photographic Tips

Before tackling an assignment or a subject, I give great importance to the preparation phase, which I divide into two parts.


A maximum amount of information has to be gathered (contacting specialists, researching what has already been published, with special attention to what can be found on the Internet) in order to precisely define the assignment or subject to be handled. Before leaving, I make a general outline of what is to be done which will be modified and detailed once I arrive at my destination. During this preparation phase, most of the major photos I want to take become imprinted in my mind. Don't forget to investigate what the weather will be like or choose the dates depending on what needs to be done. Make maps or gather the appropriate maps.


Budget : Everything has to be calculated in detail. Don't forget to calculate how much the preparations will cost before you leave, the price of any equipment you may need to purchase, the number of film, the price of developing them and the cost of reprints. Transportation: airfare and on-site transportation; lodging and food; miscellaneous expenses, such as a translator, people to help carry the equipment and baggage, etc. Add in a lump-sum of 15% of your established budget in order to cover any "unexpected" (and often, unwanted) expenses.

General equipement : No matter where I go (whether it be to a desert or a volcano, to Africa or to the Arctic regions), the choice of equipment is of major importance, of course. There is a wide range of clothing to protect you against the heat or the cold and it's well worth the expense to invest in top-of-the-range equipment, whether it be for your tent, your sleeping bag, or your clothing.

It's always better to plan for the worst weather, even if there's only a slight chance you'll encounter difficulties. Each detail should be thought out and analyzed. Don't hesitate to ask specialists for additional information.

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An emergency kit, including a GPS receiver, compass, altimeter, SOS flares, a mirror, a whistle, a survival blanket, a camping lamp, flashlight or similar, batteries, and a good first-aid kit must be included in your baggage. When going to an isolated location, a satellite telephone can be VERY useful.

Photographic equipment: I select it based on my subject, some require specific equipment.

For transport I use a Lowepro backpack, the carrying and protection systems are among the best in the world. When I need to move fast, I use a Tamrac banana pouch.

For many years I have worked in partnership with the German brand Leica whose solidity and quality of photographic material has long been proven. I regularly use:

  • an M6 and M7 with three lens:
  • Summilux-M 1: 1.4/35 lens
  • Noctilux-M 1: 1 / 50 lens
  • Apo-Summicron-M 1: 2 / 75 ASPH lens

For my reflex cameras I have a partnership with Canon, whom have faithfully followed me for many years. I always have at least two EOS 1-V in my bag with their PB-E2 boosters and a 5D Mark II to complement but so far I have remained very attached to film. For lens I use the following in particular:

  • EF 16-35 / 2.8 L II USM zoom
  • EF 24-70 / 2.8 L USM zoom
  • EF 70-200 / 2.8 L II USM zoom
  • EF 85 / 1.2 L II USM lens
  • EF 100 / 2.8 Macro L USM lens
  • EF 300 / 4 L IS USM lens
  • EF 500 / 4 IS I I USM lens
  • EF 1.4x II extender


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For panoramic shots I use the full panoramic GX 617 Pro Fuji and its four lens: 90 mm, 105 mm, 180 mm, 300 mm. Its quality and durability make it an indispensable tool for nature photography. The whole is protected by a Pelican waterproof case. For shooting underwater, the RS system from Nikon coupled with Ikelite flashes achieves superb rendering and modeling of light.

A carbon monopod and tripod from Gitzo, a flash from Metz, a reflector, a soft cable release , a maglight .... are all indispensable accessories.

Regarding film, I work mainly with Fujichrome Velvia 50 ASA which offers beautiful color saturation combined with excellent resolution and brightness. I use it both for shooting on volcanoes or glaciers as well for aerial and underwater shots. I under expose at least half a diaphragm, sometimes more.

And of course BW polarizing filters, neutral Singh Ray



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Advice for photographing volcanoes :

The realm of volcanoes offers a broad diversity of images. Whether extinguished or active, each volcano has its own, personal environment and offers a wealth of emotions to any photographer who has a passionate love of Nature's most significant expressions.

Volcanoes are dangerous, especially when they're active. I strongly recommend that no one should go near an active volcano without being accompanied by a specialist. A multitude of dangers await the uninformed -- gases, explosions, landslides, mud slides, pyroclastic bombs, various types of flows, tunnels under the lava, etc.

The area around an active volcano may be extremely harmful to any equipment. Gases corrode the camera bodies' electronic circuits and the crystals of the lenses. Ashes, loaded with silica (glass particles) can infiltrate even into the smallest spaces, scratching lens crystals, films, etc. There are not very many ways to counteract this, except for a dust-proof, waterproof bag, soft chamois cloths, and a fine brush to limit the damage. Once you're back from your assignment, give all your photographic equipment to a reliable customer service department for a complete cleaning and overhaul.

A typical day's work on a volcano: most shots are taken only one hour after sunrise and two hours before sunset (on an average). Dawn and dusk are ideal for photographing explosions and lava flows. The rest of the day can be used to identify and locate precise spots for future shots on the volcanic edifice itself. Lava sprays can be shot in B-pose at night.

Shooting in horizontal light (dusk and dawn) gives a 3-dimensional effect to landscapes because of the shadows. The light is softer and warmer, and each landscape shows itself off at its best from a standpoint of color.

There are two types of active volcanoes: "red" volcanoes and "gray" volcanoes.

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With red volcanoes, the fascinating magic of the lava is an untappable source of images. Dawn and dusk are the ideal times to shoot. Use a tripod and a slow shutter speed: 1/8 of a second at B-pose with a Velia. Beware of heat fogs. If you can, have the wind behind your back, face the heat, and you'll get a clearer photo of the elements. Measure your light spot on the lava and balance it with the sky. When taking photos at night, measure the light on the lava and use a slow shutter speed (or B-pose) to take shots of the lava sprays. Take shots at different shutter speeds to get the best result. When the molten lava gives off strong rays, you have to wear a special heat-resistant suit. If you shoot from a high location, you can highlight the trails taken by the streams of lava.
Gray volcanoes are extremely dangerous because it is impossible to forecast when an explosion is going to take place. Each of these explosions sends tons of rock fragments into the sky, some of which are the size of houses. And you must not forget the threat of pyroclastic flows (a type of volcanic avalanche). Once they start, there is nothing that can be done to avoid or stop them. With a few, rare exceptions, I work with telephoto lenses. The ash plumes which are rich in gases have astonishing colors at sunset. The environment around the volcano -- ash rains, forests swept over by the blast of the explosion, new landscapes, etc. are to be included in the coverage of a volcanic explosion. Be very wary of any rainfall which can cause particularly violent mud slides. I have no special advice to give about this type of shots.

Extinct volcanoes are often located in fantastic decors. Shooting them is like shooting any other type of landscape. But if you fly over a volcano in an airplane, you will see a multitude of details that are invisible from the ground and very clear from the sky. In all three cases, don't forget to cover the way Nature recovers the landscape after an eruption.

Being able to watch the birth of the Earth in person, which is what a volcanic eruption is, is an incredible experience. And as the volcanologist, Jacques Durieux says, "Its one of our only chances to walk on rocks that are younger than we are".