You never know where inspiration will come from.
I’ve shot everything from musicians to great white sharks and am always looking for new creative outlets. This time inspiration came from one of my favorite people, Jonathan Byrd. Jonathan is a musician and an amazing writer out of North Carolina. I first met Jonathan during one of his tours through Texas, and his song “Wild Ponies” really hit me. When I asked about it, he said his inspiration came from the wild ponies on the outer banks of North Carolina which of course led me to the Camargue in southern France. Makes perfect sense.
I’ve always loved photographing horses, but I’ve never shot them in the wild. The Camargue horses, found in France near the Mediterranean, are considered one of the oldest horse breeds. They have survived in the wetlands of southern France for thousands of years.
I made the 20 hour trip from Austin, TX to Camargue. I couldn’t sleep the first night due to the jet lag and extreme excitement for what I was about to experience. I was up all night running this shoot through my head, worried I had traveled all this way and wasn’t going to get the shot I was looking for. What lens do I use? What settings? This is a new adventure for me. Shooting white horses in splashing water. It’s a white balance nightmare.
I finally fell asleep around 4:30 am and woke at 6 to pouring rain. We hiked through mud and rain to our first location and my first shot out of the gate was just what I was hoping for. Everything else would be a bonus.
A lot of people have asked how close the horses are. You can reach out and touch them as they run by but I wouldn’t recommend it. When you are standing in the water, they are running toward you at full steam. Sometimes there are five horses; other times there are as many as fifteen. The horses aren’t going to hit you as long as you stand your ground. Of course, I like pushing the boundaries just a hair…I do swim with sharks after all. There’s a false sense of protection when you are looking through the lens, and then you look up, and they are right on top of you. Quite a rush.
One of my favorite shots is the sparring stallions. The horses spar for territorial dominance, but these are young stallions (you can tell by the color still in their coats). The horses are born dark brown, and over the next two-three years, turn completely white. Their sparring is more “horse play” than fighting. It looks a lot more violent than it is. In the end, they kissed and made up.
It just doesn’t get old photographing these guys. After my trip was over, I was sitting in my hotel room at the airport going through my pictures, and I was overcome with emotion about what I had just experienced. These horses are the most amazing animals I’ve ever been around. Even though they are wild, they are gentle, amazing creatures. I always look forward to getting back home after a trip, but this trip was different. I loved it there: raw, unspoiled nature. Even the mosquitoes are pleasant…okay, maybe not. I couldn’t wait to get back, so before I left I booked a return trip for five weeks later.
The second trip was just as incredible. I love these horses and cannot wait to return to them, but right now the humpback whales and great white sharks are getting a little jealous.
You can view all the photos from these two trips in my Camargue Horses gallery.