Consider the dreamlike quality of a herd of white horses as they thunder—manes flashing, foam flying—across the marshlands of France’s famous Camargue. Consider, too, the prospect of three days of electrifying photography, capturing every nuance of these powerful horses hurtling directly toward your camera or of stallions engaged in battle for herd dominance.
"An excellent trip, excellent leaders, gourmet food and lodging. The leaders were exceptionally helpful in trying to assist in every possible way. We were working with animals that cannot always be controlled and the leaders as well as the owners of the horses absolutely went out of their way to provide us with the best possible shots at the best time and light of the day."
In the wild, the white Camargue horses are found only on the wetlands and salt marshes of southeastern France. They are thought to be descended from prehistoric horses that lived during the Paleolithic period more than 17,000 years ago. Throughout history, this ancient breed is believed to have been crossed with several other breeds—particularly Arabian horses. This genetic combination permits these brawny animals to withstand the region’s bleak, cold winters and intensely hot summers. They are so strong it is said they are able to canter through mud up to their bellies!
The Camargue horse is the traditional mount of the gardians
. These cowboys of the Camargue are responsible for rounding up the wild black “fighting” bulls that graze the land. Over time, the gardians
have developed the original breed of Camargue horses into a surprisingly agile, surefooted and reliable mount. The Camargue is considered one of Europe’s few remaining original breeds, although it was not officially recognized as a unique breed until 1976. Today, there are about 30 separate herds spread over an area of around 203,000 acres. Foals are born starting in April. Though they are dark in color at birth, all the Camargue horses are white when mature. It is speculated that white coats may provide a natural mosquito repellent for animals adapted to salt marsh living.
Our shoot concentrates on photographing the horses during the best light of day, with the goal of creating images depicting as much of their untamed life as possible. Horse drives orchestrated by the gardians
are at the top of our shooting list, but fighting stallions and quiet moments in the marshes are also on our agenda.
To enter the countryside in the interior of Provence is to cross an unseen border. This area is markedly different. Here, the air is warmer and dryer, the pace slower, the fragrances pungent and the light-filled setting spectacular. The region draws artists and photographers with its impressionistic palette of colors and sensuous landscapes. The mood is set by the charm of the red-tiled roofs of its distinctive stone buildings, well-preserved ancient Roman structures, and lush river valleys—and, in summer, by the deep purple bloom of lavender. This is the heart of lavender country. We have timed our tour for early summer when the lavender fields are in bloom under the brilliance of the Mediterranean sky. The sun-drenched villages with panoramic views, the lavender-scented air, the summer produce and flower markets, and the allure of alfresco food and drink all combine to create an enticing open-air lifestyle.
Don’t miss this exceptional opportunity to hone your skills on an amazing abundance of subject matter. From the hilltop villages rising harmoniously in ancient landscapes and the deep purple of row upon row of lavender in bloom, to the thrilling excitement and beauty of the renowned white horses of the Camargue, this trip offers endless possibilities for exceptional photography.
Be sure to read Jeff Vanuga's 2015 White Horses of France's Camargue trip report in the Photo Safaris blog. (NOTE: Our 2015 trip did not include lavender photography in Provence whereas our 2017 itinerary does.)
Depart from home.
Day 2 (Jul 9)
Arrive in Marseille, France. Transfer on your own to our airport hotel by taxi or free hotel shuttle. Meet with the group this evening for dinner at the hotel restaurant. (D)
Following breakfast, we drive to the small town of L’Isle sur la Sorgue. This evening we shoot in the Roman city of Avignon. (BLD)
In the morning we are at 12th
-century Notre-Dame de Senanque Abbey to capture the iconic image of purple lavender fields stretching from the weathered gray stone walls of this Romanesque abbey. We are not far from Gordes—considered one of the most beautiful villages in France. Unique buff-colored stacked-stone buildings capped by terra cotta roofs wind their way up to a hilltop rising above the Luberon plain. It is market day—the central area at the foot of the castle is bustling and photogenic. Afterward we have time for lunch and to explore among the narrow cobbled alleyways, dry-stack walled hairpin streets, and the houses perched at the base of steep cliffs. We finish the day on the Plateau of Sault where we photograph the extensive fields of lavender in late afternoon rich warm light of Provence. (BLD)
Our early morning shoot is in the picture perfect hilltop village of Roussillon where blazing ochre-pigmented cliffs and red stone buildings with red tiled roofs contrast with green pines. The view is panoramic. After lunch and photography in the village of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse at the foot of a 750-foot-high cliff, we concentrate on the lavender fields on the Plateau of Valensole. The plateau covers an area of 300 square miles and the seemingly endless rows of lavender blooms stretching to the horizon inspire graphic compositions. (BLD)
After breakfast, we drive to the seaside town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. In the afternoon, we visit one of several ranches for our first photography session with the striking Camargue horses. If inclement weather disrupts our horse shooting schedule, we may photograph the impressive flocks of pink greater flamingos in a nearby bird park. (BLD)
For our shooting sessions today and tomorrow morning we bring the ranch horses to different properties, allowing for a wide range of photogenic backdrops and behaviors. We photograph the white horses running through the shallow water of salt marshes and along the beach in the waves and salt spray. With shots of fighting stallions, mares with their dark foals in the fields or at the ranches, and detailed portraits—head shots and gardian
riders in their gear—we have opportunities to capture this time-honored breed in a variety of environments unique to this seaside estuary. (BLD)
After our final session with the horses this morning, we drive to The Roman city of Arles to have lunch and photograph at the local market. We return to Marseille this evening. (BLD)
Day 9 (Jul 16)
Depart for home this morning. (B)
This was an excellent tour—one of the best and I have been on many. The leaders were superb and the lodging and food excellent as well. I would recommend that anyone who likes horses to go on this one.
The Joseph Van Os Photo Safari to Provence France exceeded all of my expectations with great camaraderie among the pros and clients, and well-organized logistically from the meals, hotels and photo locations.
- Create dramatic images of white horses emerging from the blue ocean surf—directed toward our waiting cameras
- Three shooting days—four photo sessions—with Camargue’s spectacular white horses
- Fields of lavender in bloom, sun-kissed landscapes, medieval hilltop stone villages
- Enjoy outstanding Provençale cuisine and accommodations
Jul 08 - Jul 16, 2017