Situated on the Mediterranean Sea, the Étang de Thau is the largest body of water in the Hérault department of France. It is an estuarial lagoon fed by inland streams and rivers, an underground water source, and the tides of the Mediterranean Sea that enter the lagoon through canals at the seaside towns of Marseillan and Sète. With an average depth of only 5 meters (16 feet), it is home to the largest shellfish farming sector on the Med, and thousands of artisan shellfish farmers gain their livelihoods from these waters. The underground water source that feeds the lagoon, located at the deepest part of the lagoon (30 meters, 98 feet), also serves the largest therapeutic baths along the Med in Balaruc-les-Bains. In addition, you can find kite surfing, wind surfing, and sailing schools along the edges of the lagoon.

While the Étang de Thau is home to many human activities, it also has an interesting biodiversity. Sea creatures, in addition to the shellfish, calling the lagoon home include jelly fish, seahorses, and various other fish. On the western edge of the lagoon, you can find the Étang du Bagnas, a smaller lagoon and marshland, belonging to France’s Conservatoire du littoral (Littoral Conservatory). This marshland reserve draws in several different species of birds, including American Flamingos, Little Egrets, Western Cattle Egrets, Pied Avocets, Tawny Pipits, Black-winged Stilts, Black-necked Grebes, Audouin’s Gulls, Mediterranean Gulls, Black-headed Gulls, Sandwich Terns, Little Terns, and Common Terns.

When creating images of this beautiful area in the south of France, I strive to show this interaction between humans and nature by not just capturing the overall scene but by also capturing the many vignettes of life around the Étang. With Crépuscule sur l’Étang de Thau I (Dusk on the Thau Inlet I), I wanted to show this important estuary is both home and travel destination. On the left side of the frame is the port town of Sète, which encircles and sits on the hill known as Mont Saint-Claire. Sète provides the Étang de Thau with one of its tidal entries and France with a commercial and fishing port. On the right side of the frame is the town of Balaruc-les-Bains, and reaching between the two along the horizon are the northern and western shores of the lagoon and the narrow strip of land separating it from the Med. In the reflections of the lights of Balaruc-les-Bains, you can see the nets of local fishermen, and, of course, there are also the private sailboats moored in the lagoon. When just the right weather pattern passes through, the Étang is lit up with these magnificent colors.

This time-blended VAST image was created by combining tilt and shift optical movements on a medium format technical camera with panorama stitching of long exposure images. The result is an image that is not only colorful with silky smooth water but tack-sharp from the rocks in the foreground to the window frames of the buildings in Sète.