The Story behind the image. Part 1: White Horses of the Camargue at sunrise
I’m going to start this series with an image I took in the Camargue in 2011. It was the very first image I took of the famous white horses during my inaugural photo workshop. It has more sentimental value than technical prowess but it is an image that means a lot to me personally. When I look at this image, I remember exactly how I felt at the time and surely that’s what photography is all about. Keeping your memories alive and sharing that special moment with other people.
I first started noticing images of the white horses about 12 years ago. I was blown away by their beauty and simply had to go to the Camargue National Park and see them for myself. I live about 4 hours away from the Camargue, so getting there was easy. I did some research online and found a ranch that set up shoots for photographers. I called the ranch and spoke to the person in charge. We discussed the possibility of running photo workshops and scheduled a trial shoot to see how it all worked.
A year later, I was standing by the side of a lake with a group of clients, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the horses. It was still quite dark (5.30am in May) and in the distance we could just make out a herd of horses. I still remember the frisson of excitement as the horses got closer. It was a stunning morning. There was no wind and some light cloud cover. As the horses approached the sky turned pink and we were rewarded with a spectacular sunrise.
I asked the guardians to guide the horses into the water and let them settle while we waited for the sun to rise. It was magical, almost spiritual. The silence was only broken by the sound of shutters. We set up behind the horses and the guardians positioned themselves either side of the horses to create balance and separation in the composition.
Most of us chose to shoot the scene in wide angle to make the most of the sky and reflection. I chose a focal length of 24mm and the settings were ISO 800, 1/80 sec, F/8.0.
As you can see, the water behind the horses wasn’t perfectly calm, despite there being little or no wind. I asked the guardians to position the horses at the edge of the calm water, which was about 12m away, so we could make the most of the reflections. The water is very shallow at the edge of the lake which is ideal for the horses to run on but not ideal for us to photograph, as they churn up a lot of mud. There were limited locations on the edge of the lake which were suitable for the horses, so the compromise was to have lumps of mud in the foreground. (see below)
I knew that in post-production, I could remove the mud and create a clean foreground. I prefer to keep my images as true to the original as possible but in this case the unsightly mud spoiled the image. I explained to the group the merits of the clone tool and the spot healing brush in Photoshop or Lightroom. A light touch and some patience can produce some very good results. It took about 20 minutes to clean up.
In photoshop, I checked the white balance, which was shot at 5150K, to see if a warmer or cooler image would look better. I always check this as the camera doesn’t always get it right. 5150K looked fine so the next thing to look at was the shadows. To keep the image looking as realistic as possible I only lifted the shadows by a small amount, so the horses remained as silhouettes. The technique of lifting the shadows to create an HDR type of image, is often often applied to images with a lot of contrast. It reveals more detail in the subjects but can look rather unnatural when it’s overdone.
I’ve now run over 20 workshops in the Camargue and have got more demanding as time goes by. I prefer to see each horse separated from the other and I’ve become more demanding when it comes to separation of the subjects. However, this image still makes me smile and frankly, that’s the main thing!
Next time, I’ll discuss my move towards black and white when post-processing the horses.