White Horses of the Camargue

December 23, 2014  •  2 Comments

I was torn as to what to cover with my last blog of the year and was tempted to do a memorial to our chocolate labrador which we sadly lost suddenly a few months ago, but I wanted the year to end on a happy note so instead I am going to talk about one of my highlights of the year, a trip to the south of France to photograph the white horses of the Camargue.

The Camargue is a protected area on the coast of France just south of Montpellier and is a vast expanse of marshes and reeds and is home to a wide range of wildlife, but is particularly famous for flamingoes and the white horses.  The white horses have been here for centuries and are allowed to roam free, although there are a number of ranches which are responsible for the horses and they are all branded with the mark of their ranch.  Access to photograph the horses is restricted and you can only do the types of shoot we did with an organised visit, and also requires a local fixer to arrange the activities. 

The trip was organised by Jonathan Chritchley of Ocean Capture, who is vastly experienced in arranging photographic trips around the world.  We were staying deep in the Camargue on a ranch close to the marshes where we would photograph the horses.  In all there were five sessions organised, a shoot at dawn, requiring a 4.45am wakeup!, a shoot with mares and foals, a shoot on the beach, a sunset shoot, and a shoot of sparring stallions.

The horses are pretty much wild, but they are very calm and inquisitive, so we were able to get right up to them, even the mares with young foals.  For the action shots of the horses running, they are herded by keepers or gardiens, and although they try to direct them a particular way, if the horses decide they are going somewhere else, they will go that way, so it was vital to keep a close eye on what they were doing at all times!  They also like to pick up bags and with camera bags containing expensive equipment the last thing you want is a horse running off into the marshes with it!

The first shoot was at dawn and I was already happy with the whole trip after this shoot as I was really pleased with some of the shots,

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After some shots of the horses in the lagoon at sunrise we then got the chance to shoot them running towards us

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Then it was back to the hotel for breakfast and  a rest before the afternoon shoot with mares and foals.  This proves particularly challenging for Jonathan as the horses are allowed to roam free, and so there is no guarantee where the mares and foals will be.  Fortunately a group of around 9 mares and foals along with a stallion had been spotted earlier in the day, and with permission to go onto a private reserve to visit them granted we got some great shots and were extremely lucky that the storms brewing waited till be were on the way back to the hotel before breaking.

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Next morning it was off to the beach for photos in the sand dunes and horses running in the sea.  After the initial shock of a naturist nearby on arrival we were able to get some fabulous pictures with a stallion in the dunes and galloping along the beach and out of the sea

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The next shoot was a sunset shoot, again in a lagoon but at a different location to the previous day and with different horses.  The weather was again perfect and we all got some great shots and also got to spend time close up with the horses,

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The final shoot on our final morning was the sparring stallions.  This is the most unpredictable of the shoots, as there is no knowing how the two stallions will behave.  Although the sparring looks violent involving biting and kicking, there are rarely injuries and this is normal behaviour in the herd to establish who has the right to mate with the mares. After an initial hiccup when the stallions escaped and ran off into the distance, they were retrieved and once again we all got some fabulous images

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The most surprising thing about these encounters is that between the sparring the stallions were friendly and even came up to investigate us and have a good sniff!

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This was an absolutely amazing trip, one I will remember for a very long time, and would happily do again tomorrow!  I am also delighted that I have recently won a Highly Commended and a Gold award from the National Photographic Society in their monthly competition.  A special thankyou to Jonathan from Ocean Capture, Patrice and all the locals helpers organising the shoots, and to everyone else in the group for being such good company on an amazing adventure.

Finally Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone and I look forward to seeing what 2015 has in store! To finish off, a couple of shots of flamingoes!

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Comments

Jonathan Chritchley(non-registered)
Great review Andy, and some absolutely fabulous photographs! I'm delighted you enjoyed the adventure, as did I, and hope to see you again very soon.
Thank you so much for your kind words, which are very much appreciated.
Wishing you and yours a wonderful Christmas and happy and healthy New Year
Jonathan Chritchley
steve malcolm(non-registered)
great blog Andy,

I enjoyed being on the safari with you. you were great company.
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