Backlit guardian in the Camargue
Backlit guardian in the Camargue

A week in the Camargue with the White horses & black bulls


White horses and black bulls of the Camargue. Video and stills from the land and air.

This May I spent 8 days in the Camargue with 2 different groups photographing the horses and bulls. I also organised shoots for a film company that were shooting from the land and the air. It was fascinating to see the horses running through the water from a different perspective. The wind presented the team flying the drone with some challenging conditions but they managed to fly most of the time.

It was certainly a learning curve. The horses had already been filmed by a drone so were familiar with the mosquito like sound and didn’t seem to be that bothered. It  soon became apparent that the drone was able to herd the horses and drive them from left to right. It couldn’t film them head on however, as the horses would turn away. Once we’d established what worked for the horses and drone, we were able to film some dreamy sequences with smooth transitions and graceful movement. Actually, the movement of the drone is really complementary to the way the horses run.

To make the most of the unusually dry earth, we asked the gardians to dress up and lead the horses around an area of dry earth which we shot towards the setting sun.The backlit dust created an atmospheric effect and it made a nice change to see them on the land instead of in the water. From the air, the shadows could be captured perfectly by the drone, which flew directly above the horses. As the sun got lower, the shadows lengthened which worked better on a large expanse of land rather than the patchy areas covered in green bushes.

We were blessed with good weather all week and we had some stunning sunrises. I’ve been running workshops in the Camargue for several years now and have photographed in all kinds of conditions. Bright sunshine, light drizzle, with the mistral blowing…..and each shoot is equally rewarding . Running the horses and bulls with the rising sun behind them at an oblique angle creates the most dramatic images in my opinion. The backlit water is frozen by the fast shutter speed and turned orange by the rising sun. A slow shutter speed of about 30/sec can create some moody sometimes ghostly images. The beauty of working with the gardians is you have a chance to photograph the horses again if you didn’t get it the first time. With an average of 6 runs per shoot, there are plenty of opportunities, even for relative beginners.

The water was particularly deep this year which meant the horses and bulls had to work hard to run. As such, the action was even more intense with water being thrown everywhere. This had the added advantage of keeping the horses clean. They have a tendency to roll in the dust between runs which turns them from white/grey horses to mainly brown horses which is not so photogenic. The deep water was therefore a blessing in disguise.

The Camargue is a world apart and has it’s own set of rules. I’ve lived in France since 1992 but don’t feel I live in the same country when I’m in the Camargue. The people are very proud and exceptional horse riders but the land is inhospitable and a tough environment to live in all year. This has meant that it has remained sparsely populated and has therefore maintained it’s charm and unique identity. It is always a privilege to spend time there and the magic of the place never wears off.

Every visit is special but now I’ve seen it from the air too, I feel a greater appreciation of this unique landscape. I’ll be back leadng another workshop in October – when it will be different again.Bring it on!

(Thanks to Will Glover and Joe O’Connor for some memorable times with the drone.