Practical Photography

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Six White Horses 

I would have liked to have said that we were just walking through the marshes  at sunset, when six wild horses came charging by, but unfortunately, this is a long way from the truth.

The idea of this image started approximately twelve months earlier, when my wife and I (both keen amateur photographers) saw some photographs in a local amateur exhibition of similar horses galloping in water. 

After initial enquiries, we discovered that the photo had been taken on a group workshop in Southern France in the Camargue region, and a little more research revealed a number of photographic tour companies based in the UK offering the opportunity to take similar images in the same location. 

Never ones to pick the obvious route, we decided that what we really wanted was to find somebody local, based in the Camargue region, who could perhaps give us better access and more control over a potential shoot, cutting out as many middle men as possible.

After an exchange of emails, we finally made plans to travel to the region, with an local ex-fashion photographer Serg Krouglikoff, who had worked in London, but was now based in Montpellier and who, through his business Createaway would arrange the necessary access.

The trip that was arranged was over a long weekend, and we hoped that this would give us the opportunity, in potentially different lighting conditions, to get the shots we wanted.

Serge and his business partner (and wife) Ross Bennett, were excellent hosts, personally collecting us from Montpellier airport and taking us to the arranged and rather pleasant hotel accommodation in Aigue Morte, a little medieval walled town on the edge of the salt marshes. 

Early the next morning, Serge Collected us from the Hotel, bringing some local Fougasse, a slightly salty and sweet orange blossom flavoured bread, for us to eat on the way to the shoot location.

The first thing we discovered was that there are no wild horses in the Camargue, but the distinctive white horses are bred on the local Manades (farms) and are managed by horse mounted Gardians (French cowboys).

We duly arrived at the arranged meeting point in the marshes and was met by Lucian, a rather serious looking local Gardian, and our contact for the horses. 

A few minutes later some additional horse mounted Gardians arrived herding approximately twenty white horses through the marshes.

We donned waders and prepped our cameras before wading out into the salt marshes.

On advice from Serg, we positioned ourselves knee deep in the marsh and waited for the horses to be driven past.

We were both shooting with full frame DSLRs, set to motor drive, and had selected 70-200 lenses, as this seemed appropriate for the shoot. The pre-sunrise light meant that ISO setting were high to start with, but we were able to drop them down as the morning progressed.

Serg strongly advised us to stand our ground, as the horses approached, as he re-assured us that the horses would split and pass us on either side, and it would also be tricky for us to move without falling once we had sunken slightly into the mud. 

On the first pass, the horses indeed did split and pass us on both sides, but what Serge had failed to tell us, was that we would get drenched in water as they passed.

We quickly cleaned our cameras and lenses (fortunately all our equipment was splash proof) just in time for the horses to be driven past again from the other direction (with another soaking of course.)

In each session we only got two of three opportunities to get the shots as the horses were then rested or changed before the next session

At the end of the second day, we had asked Lucian to reduce the number of horses to six, to try and get a cleaner shot, and we had had a couple of passes already. It seemed that the shoot was nearly over when suddenly, as the sun touched the horizon , we started the get some fantastic light. We shouted to Lucian, to run the horses again and that was when everything fell into place, and I got the shot.

The whole trip was such a fantastic experience we returned to the region with Createaway twice more over the next two years and also experienced some local bull festivals along with more horses in the marshes, and definitely hope to return again this October to photograph the Aigue Morte Bull Festival.

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