Magrit and I recently had one of the most exciting photographic experiences ever — 4 photo sessions with the wonderful white horses of the Camargue region in the southwest corner of France.
These photo sessions take place around sunrise and sunset to take advantage of the magic light and are conducted by a French photographer acting as the liaison between us photographers and the local horse handlers/owners known as guardians, who are quite like the American cowboy but without the hat and sometimes even without a saddle. The backdrop for the sessions is usually a saltwater marsh or an ocean beach with the guardians on horseback herding a group of horses charging along a predetermined path toward the photographers.
This is challenging photography as the horses are coming toward you at a very rapid pace, so it is not always easy to come away with images that are pleasing compositions and also in focus. But when you do nail it, the photos are breathtaking.
At times, the thought that you’re for sure toast comes to mind, as you photograph these beasts thundering toward you at breakneck speed. Looking through a 200 mm lens adds to the impression that survival is uncertain, when in fact, this is a very safe adventure even if our hearts missed a couple of beats now and then. At times some of us had to stop shooting when we were sprayed by the water the horses churned up as they were charging first toward and then past us. However, being strapped into chest-high waders allowed us to kneel and even sit in the mud and water to get even closer to our subject matter.
We typically had 7–10 runs of the horses per session so we had many opportunities to hone our technique and to get some great images. Believe me, we had an abundance of images to weed through. Each run lasts 30–45 seconds and your camera blasts away at between 5 to 20 frames per second. (The “20 frames per second” photographer was one member of our group who shot with the new Sony A9).
For each session, the guardians guide the whole group of horses a little ways out into the surf and then encourage them to run at full speed back to the shore where our cameras were firing away. In between sessions, the horses rest, graze, roll comically in the sand, yawn and sometimes mingle and interact with the photographers. Some of them are very curious, especially Desiree, who liked to lean her big head against our shoulders for a friendly scratch and tried to unzip our backpacks in search for treats.
We’re not horse people and are not in on horse body language (are ears folded back a good or a bad sign?), but these horses are very sweet, even shy, and friendly. They are of an ancient breed indigenous to the Rhone Delta area of southeast France and used to be semi-wild. Now they’re domesticated and live on ranches owned by the local guardians who primarily use them to herd the black bulls used in bullfighting in southern France. We were glad to hear that the bulls are not killed in the bullfights.
The guardians themselves are handsome and proud but friendly people and make for great photographic subjects as well as they sit ramrod straight on their mounts, sometimes without a saddle. They are expert horsemen and horsewomen.
We’ve decided to add this amazing experience to our Provence Tour in 2018. Come and join us to photograph (and smell) the lavender and sunflowers of Provence and then top off this wonderful adventure with a close encounter with the beautiful white horses of the Camargue.
Jim and Magrit have been photographing professionally and traveling in Europe for the past 20 years.
They started Photography Travel Tours in 2011 with the goal of educating and guiding photographers to some of the most beautiful and iconic scenes in Europe.
The tours are not just about getting great photographs but also have the side benefits of doing so in wonderful environments. Great food, wine, people, and ambiance.
Read more about Jim & Magrit and their wonderful photo tours here: (http://photographytraveltours.com/about/).
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.