Tips For Photographing The White Horses Of Camargue France

Tips for photographing the white horses of Camargue
How to photograph the Camargue Horses

Where is Camargue France?

Along the cost of southern France lies a region known as The Camargue. Covering over 930 square kilometers, this vast region is western Europe’s largest river delta. Most of which is part of the Parc Naturel Régional De Camargue. (Camargue Regional Park). This beautiful landscape is comprised of brine lagoons, marshes and sandy beaches.

The Camargue is conveniently located just east of Montpellier, France making it a short drive from the Montpellier-Méditerranée Airport (MPL).

Weather in Camargue

Due to it’s close proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, Camargue have a relatively mild climate. Winters are cool with average daytime highs in the low 50’s. Summers are relatively hot with average temps pushing 90 degrees during the peak. The summer months are also plagued by some of the most vicious mosquitos that you’ll ever meet. Spring and fall are the ideal times to visit Camargue as the weather is more comfortable and there are less bugs.

White horses of Camargue run down the beach.
The White Horses of Camargue running on the beach

About The Wild White Horses of Camargue

Camargue is home to some of the most famous wild horses in the world. In fact, the horses are believed to be one of the oldest horse breeds in existence. It is thought that they have roamed the wetlands and marshes of the region for thousands of years. These horses are descendants of ancient wild horses and were first domesticated by the inhabitants of the region around 5,000 years ago. With their wild and untamed beauty, these fascinating creatures have become the iconic symbol of the Camargue.

One of the most striking features of the white horses of Camargue is their stunning coat. Unlike other white horse breeds, their color is not the result of albinism, but rather a genetic trait called "gray." These horses are born with dark coats that gradually lighten as they age, eventually turning into a dazzling shade of white.

These magnificent creatures are considered semi-wild, as they roam freely within a designated area of Camargue known as the "Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue." Here, they live in herds and are managed by local cowboys known as "gardians." The gardians play a crucial role in preserving the breed and ensuring their protection.

Three white horses rest with their eyes closed as if they are meditating.
Photograph of Camargue horses resting

Where do you find the White Horses of Camargue?

Getting a compelling photo of the wild white horses might be harder than you think. While it is possible to see them in the wild while you drive through The Camargue, they are often far away and in less-than-ideal settings. If you just want to get a close look at the horses or go on a horseback ride you could contact a local stable and get as close as you’d like to them. While this can be a fun afternoon activity, the stables do not offer very good photo opportunities and I highly recommend avoiding them if you’re trying to create fine art photography.

How to photograph thew White Horses of Camargue

Contrary to popular belief, the horses do not just frolic on the beach all day waiting for a photographer to show up to capture their stunning beauty. A local guardian is required to bring the horses to the shooting location. Unfortunately, the only way get compelling photographs of the White Horses of Camargue is to join a photography workshop or contact a local guide. Some of the best locations are on private property or cross local property and permission is needed to access these beautiful locations. If you choose to do a workshop, check to see if they provide waders for you, otherwise you'll have to bring your own.

Private photoshoots tend to be very expensive and cost as much as $1,000 per shoot depending on the location. Due to this fact, photography workshops are the best way to photograph the Camargue Horses without breaking the bank. While it’s easy to fit a handful of people into a small area with telephoto lenses, I suggest avoiding large group workshops that consist of nine participants or more. Booking a large group workshop might save you a little on admission but you will get fewer shots because it will take longer for everyone in the group to be ready after each run of the horses. Large groups also mean more chances of people getting in your shot. Because of this reason, I limit my Camargue Photography workshop to a maximum of seven participants.

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DSLR vs. Mirrorless Cameras For The Camargue Horses

A DSLR or Mirorrless camera will work just fine for photographing the Horses of Camargue and the type of camera that you choose to bring will most likely be the one that you own. There are some slight differences between the two types of cameras though. Newer mirrorless cameras have more advanced auto-fucus features such as animal eye tracking. Subject tracking might result in nailing a shot that traditional AF might have missed. Mirrorless cameras also give an exposure preview in the viewfinder which will prevent you from completely botching a shot due to exposure issues. While it is always best practice to pay attention to your camera’s meter and histogram, having a live preview in the viewfinder can be a useful safety net when shooting in challenging light conditions. On the other hand, some photographers prefer to see the real world through the lens of a DSLR instead of an electronic view finder.

The Best Camera Lenses to Photograph Camargue

High quality telephoto lenses are essential to photographing the Camargue horses. While there will be plenty of opportunities to photograph the horses in ample light, there will also be scenarios where the available light is very low. Combine this with the fact that you will be shooting at a moving animal using a long focal length and you can see why the fastest lens available is ideal. High quality lenses will also focus much faster than inexpensive ones leading to more sharp images.

A two camera setup is idea for photographing the horses. The good setup would be one camera with a 70-200mm f/2.8 and another camera with something along the lines of a 100-400mm, 100-500mm or 180-600mm lens. A 1.4x Teleconverter is also highly useful. A fast prime lens such as a 300mm or 400mm could be a nice option as well but zooms are much more versatile and primes will be much heavier making hand shooting a bit harder.

A 24-70mm could be a nice addition to the kit if you plan on shooting a single horse on the beach where there might be reflections. In this scenario, I'd bring a small belt mounted pouch to hold your mid range lens when you're not using it. Wide angle lenses are typically not needed to photograph the horses as they will be too wide but keep reading to find out why you should still bring one.

Sea Horses | Wild white horses emerge from the ocean in Camargue France
Camargue Horses running in the ocean

Additional Camera Gear to Consider Bringing to Camargue

COTTON CARRIER

While two camera bodies are certainly not required, bringing two is a good insurance policy in case something should happen to your camera early in the trip. And…. If you’re bring two cameras then you might as well put two different lenses on them and shoot with both. Since you’ll be standing and kneeling in water for much of the trip, you'll want a good system to hold whichever camera you’re not using. The Cotton Carrier G3 Dual Camera Harness is the ideal solution for shooting in Camargue because the harness keeps the camera high on your chest, away from the water. The first time I shot Camargue I used my Black Rapid Sling Strip (which I love) but I found that I came very close to dunking my camera on a number of occasions.

LENS CLOTHS AND WIPES

In Camargue, you’ll be photographing around sand, mud, water, the ocean and galloping horses. Your lens is going to get dirty. Make sure you pack a few high-quality lens cloths that are large enough to absorb some water. You should also pack some Moist lens wipes to ensure that you always have a clean lens.

HEAVY DUTY LENS BLOWER

Sand and glass don’t mix. It is best to try and blow off sand from your lens before trying to wipe it away in order to prevent abrasions. I highly recommend bringing a heavy-duty lens blower to Camargue.

FASTEST MEMORY CARDS AVAILABLE

There’s nothing worse than waiting for your camera to write to the memory card while incredible scenes are unfolding before your eyes. For this reason, it is best practice to buy fast cards that have a high capacity in order to decrease buffer times and allow for high burst rate shooting.

MONOPOD?

Tripods and monopods are not required to photograph the Camargue horses since you’ll be shooting at fast shutter speeds anyway. Tripods and monopods can actually get in the way more than they help. A monopod
could be useful to you If you are not used to holding a big lens for a period of time though. Personally, I prefer to shoot hand held so I can follow the horses more easily. Additionally, the Cotton Carrier mentioned above does not allow for easy attachment to a tripod or monopod.

TRAVEL TRIPOD FOR PHOTOGRAPHY NOT INVOLVING HORSES

While a tripod is not needed to photograph the horses, Southern France has a lot to offer. If you’ll be visiting other nearby areas such as Arles or the French Rivera, you might want to pack a travel tripod such as the Peak Design Travel Tripod.

The eye of the horse
Fine Art Camargue Horse Photography

Best Camera Settings For Photographing The White Horses of Camargue

Photographing the Camargue hoses is very similar to other types of wildlife photography. If you’ve done a handful of wildlife photography, then you’ll do just fine photographing the horses.

The camera settings that you choose will depend on the amount of available light. Since horses have long faces, you’ll often be photographing multiple horses and you’ll most likely be using a telephoto lens, you may consider aiming for an aperture somewhere around f/8 when the light is good. f/8 will slightly blur the background while still giving you a little bit of depth of field for sharper horses. When the light is low you will most likely have to open up the lens to the maximum aperture in order to collect as much light as possible.

Choosing a fast shutter speed is essential to obtain sharp shots when shooting moving subjects. The exact speed needed will vary depending on your focal length and how fast your subject is moving. 1/500th of a second is about the minimum speed you want to shoot otherwise you’re going to have a lot of blurry photographs if the horses are running. 1/800th or 1/1000th would be even better if the light allows for it.

The ISO that you need to use will depend on the amount of light that you have. In very bright light you will most likely be able to get away with ISO 200 or even lower. In overcast light consider starting out at ISO 400. In the early morning or late evening, you will have to shoot at a higher ISO than you’d like in order to keep a fast enough shutter speed. You might very well have to shoot at ISO 8,000 or more. Yes, the image will be grainy, but a grainy image is much better than a blurry image.

Posing Stallion rearing up in Camargue France
Photograph of a domesticated Camargue Horse

The Best Shooting Modes For Photographing Wild Horses

The shooting mode that you choose to use in Camargue will greatly depend on your personal preferences and comfort level with your camera. The three modes that you should consider using are aperture priority, manual with auto-iso and full manual. The end settings in each of the three modes should be relatively close no matter which mode you shoot in. The main thing that you’re doing by changing the mode is changing how you interact with the camera. For example, f/8 can be a good target aperture if the light is bright. No matter what mode I choose, I want to dial in f/8. How I reach my target ISO and Shutter speed will be determined by the mode that I choose. In aperture priority, I’d simply choose an appropriate ISO that will yield 1/500th
of a second or faster.

If you’re camera has an easy way to adjust exposure compensation while shooting in manual mode, you might consider shooting in manual with auto-iso. This will allow you to program in the desired aperture and shutter speed so the only moving variable will be the ISO. If the light is bright the ISO drops, if the light is low the ISO rises. You can then control the overall exposure by using exposure compensation.

Lastly, if you’re comfortable monitoring and adjusting all of the settings yourself, you could choose full manual. Photographing in full manual is not as hard as it may seem for most shooting situations in Camargue. When shooting in full manual, it’s a good idea to do a test exposure in the lighting condition that you will be shooting in. Check your histogram and turn on highlight alerts. This will give you valuable information about the accuracy of your exposure. Remember to keep an eye on your settings if you will be panning while shooting.

How to photograph the Camargue horses
Photographing four Camargue Horses at Sunrise

The Best Techniques For Photographing the Camargue Horses

AUTOFOCUS

Autofocus is your best friend when it comes to photographing horses. Modern cameras have a wide range of autofocus options to help achieve sharp shots. While many AF features are camera specific, I will give you an overview of things to consider adjusting.

SINGLE SHOT VS SERVO

To understand the difference between Single Shot and Servo it is import to understand how each AF mode affects the camera.

Single Shot AF – Once focus is achieved the camera will stop looking until the shutter button if fully pressed or completely released. This mode is useful for still or slow-moving subjects. For example, if the horses are resting in one place, there’s no need to continuously look for focus, so single-shot AF would be the appropriate focus mode in this situation.

Servo / Continuous AF – The camera will continuously look for focus as long as the shutter button is pressed halfway down. Servo mode is useful for fast moving or unpredictable subjects such as running horses. Servo mode would be the correct AF mode when the horses are active.

FOCUS-AREA

Focus area is the area of the frame that the camera will try to auto focus in. Small AF areas such as a single point or small group tend to lead to faster autofocus and decrease the chances of focusing on the wrong subject. When photographing horses, I typically set my AF area to a dominant single point that is surrounded by secondary AF points. This AF mode helps the camera find contrasts that might be missed by a pin poin AF area.

If you find that you are having trouble tracking the horses with a small AF area you can try using a larger AF area. Keep in mind that AF systems are not perfect and the camera may choose the wrong subject.

SUBJECT / EYE DETECTION

Many cameras have advanced subject detection AF settings. The accuracy of these subject detection features varies greatly between camera models. Some are very good at detecting animals while other are nearly worthless. Most mid-range and high-end cameras allow users to program one of a number of custom buttons so that the camera will switch to subject tracking whenever it is pushed. This allows photographer to quickly turn subject tracking on and off. I suggest using a button on the back of the camera that you can find with your thumb since you’ll want to be able to turn subject tracking on and off while still holding the camera to your face.

AF CASE SCENARIOS

Most professional and prosumer cameras have a variety of AF servo scenario settings. It’s a good idea to know where these modes are located in the menu and how to change them. In most wildlife shooting scenarios, I choose, “continue to track subject avoiding possible obstacles” because I do not want my AF point to jump from my subject if an obstacle should enter the scene.

BACK BUTTON FOCUS

Back button focus can be very helpful when photographing any type of wildlife or portraits. Changing your camera to back button focus effectively allows you to instantly switch between Single Shot AF and Servo since the camera will only focus when you push the AF-ON button. The process for setting up back button focus is different for each camera model. If you’d like to set your camera to back button focus, simply google the model of your camera and type “back button focus tutorial” afterwards. The processes can typically be done in a few easy steps.

Sunset Trot
Wild Camargue horses running in a lagoon

THE FLAMINGOS OF CAMARGUE

In addition to wild horses, Camargue is also home to flamingos! While the pink birds can be seen throughout Camargue, Parc Ornithologique du Pont de Gau is the best place to view and photograph the birds. The park is filled with flamingos and many other types of birds and water fowl. If you’re heading to Camargue, don’t forget to head over to Parc Ornithologique du Pont de Gau.

NEARBY TOWNS & SIGHTS

While Camargue is fascinating within its own right. There are a number or nearby towns and attractions that you shouldn’t overlook. The town of Arles (pronounced ar-el) was home to Vincent Van Gough and showcases the fascinating LUMA building by Frank Gehry. There is an incredible spiral staircase within the building that can be shot with an ultra-wide lens. Pro-tip: Large backpacks are not allowed in the building.

Camargue Architecture Photography
Spiral staircase inside Frank Gehry's LUMA building

Nimes (pronounced Neem) is another great town worth paying a visit to. The town is home to one of the best preserved coliseums in the world and has many other sights including The Jardins de la Fontaine and the Maison Carrée. Don’t forget to check out the Pont Du Gard which is only a 30 minute drive from Nimes.