Dave Williams: A Visit to Mont-Saint-Michel with Platypod Ultra

Mont-Saint-Michel. Photo by Dave Williams

Mont-Saint-Michel. Photo by Dave Williams

Sitting on a flat expanse in ‘la Manche,’ Mont-Saint-Michel is the seat of a monastery some 1200 years old, and has held its strategic, fortified position since then. The story behind this commune is pretty amazing, being able to boast the fact that it’s never been conquered. Noteworthy attempts were made during the Hundred Years’ War (about 800 years ago), then in 1433 when the English launched a full-on attack and were fended off.

Much more recently, it was the only part of France that wasn’t occupied by the Germans during WWII. This commune was subject to another attack, this time by me! I’d first visited in 2014, but the circumstances that time were quite limiting. I went on the ferry by foot, so when I arrived into Saint-Malo I had to find a bus to take me along the coast to Mont-Saint-Michel, which meant daylight hours and no golden hour.

Because of this, I wasn’t able to get any epic shots; I was simply busy being a tourist at this incredible place. Skipping forward a few years to just five weeks ago, I tried to get to the mount on my motorbike by riding through the night to shoot the sunrise. However, I failed massively in this attempt owing to freezing overnight temperatures, so I had to abort my mission, unable to feel my fingers, and head back home.  

It’s my next attempt that I want to tell you about.

Determined this time, I woke up at 04:30 with my Eurotunnel ticket booked. Having loaded up my motorbike with all the gear I needed, I headed to the south coast, some 100 miles away from home, in freezing temperatures. I soon went numb, but I persevered through the pain with my goal fixed firmly in my mind.

It was about 450 miles from home, and it was absolutely worth it.

When I arrived, I got my gear ready and headed off on the causeway to the island. Knowing what to expect from my previous visit, I stayed on the outside, and aware that the tide comes in very fast owing to the flat plain surrounding the mount, I was very careful to watch the water closely.

I had a shot in mind and began to wander the fringes of the commune trying to find the perfect angle. If I was too close, I wouldn’t see the monastery properly, but if I was too far I wouldn’t show off the scale and grandeur of the place.

The light was just about getting to the right point, and I had walked almost the entire way around the mount in search of the perfect spot. I saw some small pools of water in the sand and tried to line them up for a cool reflection, using my Platypod Ultra to hold the camera rock-steady in the clay-like sand, and then I noticed the shadow of the island casting itself onto the ground nearby.

The shadow was moving fast, but in my head I immediately thought ‘f/22, that’s my shot!’ and raced (as much as you can race on a sticky terrain) towards the edge of the shadow. I was all geared up to catch the starburst of the sunlight and having found the right spot, I was composing and making tiny adjustments to get that starburst effect.

My Platypod Ultra helped me to get my camera fixed and steady when I needed it, but I could continue to be mobile and shoot handheld with it still attached because it is so light and small, so I took full advantage of this and tweaked my settings and position and continued to shoot what turned out to be an awesome sunset that day over a beautiful part of France.

Leaving behind Mont-Saint-Michel, with its resident population of 50, I was headed back home having achieved my goal thanks to my Platypod Ultra and a little determination.

Dave Williams is a UK-based travel photographer and editor of Layers Magazine, produced by KelbyOne. Find him at capturewithdave.com and on Instagram, too!

Ajna Adams