There are two main equestrian centres in the Camargue where you can photograph the white horses in action. One is near Aigues-Mortes and the other is near Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. I ran my first photo workshop in the Camargue in 2011 and have run over 20 since. So, as you might imagine, I have a few photos of horses!
I chose to work with the ranch near Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer for several reasons: the horses are bigger and, in my opinion, look more powerful; the locations are better with several lakes to choose from and a great beach; it’s possible to photograph two stallions sparring and you can photograph the black bulls too! Also, the hotel where we stay is only 5 minutes from the locations and the food is fantastic.
Getting really good images is not as easy as it looks however. I guess I have become increasingly selective and reject the vast majority of the images. One of the key factors in making the cut is separation between animals. I prefer to work with around seven horses instead of a herd of twenty. A large herd tends to bunch up and there is too much overlapping. Once I’m happy with the separation, I’ll look at the attitude of the lead horse. The front hooves should be out of the water, the mane flying and ideally there should be good eye contact.
The background should be clean and the water clear of mud. If it’s not windy, which is rare, I look for reflections, which give the image another dynamic. If the sky is interesting and colourful, I tend to shoot wider to give the horses some space around them but if it’s overcast or too bright, I shoot with a tighter crop and generally process the image in black and white.
Motion blur can be fun although the results are rather hit and miss. It tends to work better when the horses are running from across the angle of view rather than towards the camera. I try to fix my focus on one horse and hope that the head is sharp; most of the time it’s not, but that’s the beauty of having numerous runs.
Setting up the photo-shoot is a pretty expensive business, so the cost is best shared by a group. Drone photography is also possible as there are few restrictions in the park. I once worked with a film company to choreograph the runs, which was a great experience. Personally, I think the galloping horses look fantastic even more impressive in a video rather than they do as stills.
Getting the perfect image remains a constant challenge and is a good reason to keep going back for more. I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of photographing the horses so expect to see more in the future!