Photographing the Charm of the Provence
Can you smell the lavender in full bloom on the vast Valensole plateau or imagine the over-the-top charming French villages and the beautiful white horses of the Camargue in Provence, the charming south of France?
With this photo essay, we’d like to introduce you to this amazing corner of Europe and inspire you to go and experience it for yourself. And if you’d like to travel in the company of a small group of congenial photography enthusiasts, we’ve created a trifecta of a bucket list destinations for you to photograph — Lavender, French Villages, and White Horses — all during one exciting Photo Tour in 2022.
The end of June and the first part of July are the best time for photographing the vast lavender fields on the Valensole Plateau in the south of France. We capture iconic images of the rolling tubular rows of lavender and enjoy the wonderful scent of the purple flowers in full bloom during our 2022 Provence Photo Tour from June 30 to July 7.
Magrit and I have spent 6 years scouting and photographing on the plateau and know where to find those additional elements which really make the lavender images interesting and complete – sculptural trees, ancient stone structures, sunflowers, rolling terrain, and farmhouses.
We stay in a lovely Provencal hotel near the small tonw of Manosque. This allows us easy access to the Valensole Plateau. We start our days with a leisurely breakfast, then pack up the vans and head into Manosque to photograph the charming town center. After lunch, we order take-out sandwiches and snacks for our afternoon and early evening sessions on the plateau. This agenda works very well as it allows us to sit out the mid-day heat. We arrive on the plateau mid-afternoon and spend the next 6 – 8 hours in various locations finding the optimal photographic compositions.
The first two nights of the tour are based out of the village of Roussillon in the Luberon region of Provence. Roussillon is one of the most beautiful villages in southern France and extremely photogenic. Roussillon is noted for its large ochre deposits found in the clay surrounding the village. The Romans already used these ochre pigments to color their pottery and even now, all house facades in Roussillon are painted in the glowing rust, ochre, orange, and golden yellow colors of the clay the village is built on.
Roussillon is a wonderful place to roam and explore with the camera and we spend the late afternoon and blue hour doing just that. And of course, we also enjoy a delicious al fresco dinner and lovely crisp rosé wine.
On the left, you see soap of many colors and scents at the Roussillon farmers market.
During our stay in Roussillon, we also make a detour to the village of Sault (pronounce “So”) in the north. We enjoy a leisurely lunch and time to stroll and photograph the village before heading to the countryside a bit to the north to capture lavender fields and the bories on the Sault Plateau.
Bories are old beehive-shaped stone huts used by shepherds as shelters from the elements. The landscape in this area is higher in elevation and wilder than the Valensole plateau and allows for completely different lavender photographs. This is where a longer lens can come in handy. I really like my Sony 100-400 mm here. I love snooping around the landscape with the 400mm searching for pleasing compositions.
Leaving the Sault region we head back south and stop in the hill town of Gordes. Here we find a fantastic viewpoint from which to photograph this ancient village in the late afternoon light.
Lacoste with its many medieval architectural features is another quintessential Provence village in this region. This is our second favorite village in the Luberon. It is perhaps one of the most splendidly preserved hill towns in all of France. The village and castle used to belong to the Marquis de Sade (of sadistic fame) and is now the property of the French fashion designer Pierre Cardin. Also, the Savannah School of Art & Design has a small campus here.
In order to preserve the historic integrity of the town, asphalt is not allowed and only ancient cobblestones cover the windy narrow lanes. A tasty early dinner before an evening Blue Hour session tops off a superb day of exploring and photographing.
THE WHITE HORSES OF THE CAMARGUE
In 2018 we decided to add photographing the Camargue horses to an already stellar photo tour. This is on the bucket list for many photographers for good reasons and we can’t wait to go back for more. The photo sessions with these beautiful horses are very addicting.
The Camargue horses are said to have lived in the Camargue marshes for thousands of years. These days they’re no longer wild but well taken care of by local ranchers.
We collaborate with the legendary French photographer Patrice Aguillar, who acts as the liaison between us and the French cowboys known as Gardians.
On this tour, we arrange 4 sessions with these amazing creatures, 2 at sunrise, and 2 in the late afternoon and sunset. Each session takes place in a different location and the number of horses involved varies roughly from 1 to 15.
One session will be in a brackish marsh with about a foot of water. We are all wearing chest waders so that we can kneel or even sit in the water if desired. Patrice will direct the Gardians to herd the group of 10 horses out into the marsh to a distance of about 150 yards from our group. The Gardians will then herd the horses at full speed directly toward us while trying to stay on the periphery just outside of our photo frames. This all happens very quickly and we are all keeping our fingers on the shutters and zooming and composing as the horses are charging toward us. This is challenging photography but also the most exciting shooting we have ever experienced. We really put our autofocus systems to the test.
To experience a group of powerful white horses charging toward us at break-neck speed is exhilarating. And the good news is that this high-octane adventure is absolutely safe as the Gardians are very skilled at directing the horses and the horses themselves are very gentle by nature.
During another session at sunrise on an ocean beach, we work with only a single horse. One of the guardians in a wet suit will lead a beautiful stallion out into the surf, then turn him around and let him run back through the surf to the beach where we’re ready to capture the action.
At sunrise, we also have a fun opportunity to photograph a young couple dressed in the attire of the local horse people while they ride along the beach or up a sand dune.
Have you ever tried the photographic technique of panning? If so, you will know how challenging it can be and how thrilling it is when you get a good image. The idea here is to use a slow shutter speed of about 1/20th of a second and to pan the camera at the same speed of the horse as he is running from left to right or vice versa right in front of you. The desired effect is a blurred background and a relatively sharp horse to convey the sense of speed and motion.
One afternoon, we also get a chance to visit the nearby Parc Ornithologique De Pont De Gau, a 150-acre park and wild bird sanctuary. It is located just 10 minutes down the road from our hotel in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. We capture great photos of herons and colorful flamingos feeding in the shallow waters of the ponds. With a long lens of around 400 mm on a full-frame body, we get fun images of the long necks of the flamingo intertwining.
It is very sad to leave the Camargue as this is the last stop on this exciting photo tour. We then head back to our starting point, the Marseille airport, to say goodbye.
Magrit and I look forward to meeting up with another eager new group of clients next June for our 2022 Provence Photo Tour. Come and join us on this exciting adventure!
|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.