For this image of the Étang de Thau, located in the Hérault department in southern France, I wanted to not only capture a beautiful sunset but also illustrate the dependence we have on the natural environment. The Étang de Thau is an estuarial lagoon that is home to the largest shellfish farming area on the Mediterranean Sea, and thousands of artisan shellfish farmers and fishermen earn their living from these waters. While we cannot see below the surface of the water, it is where the fishing nets in the foreground capture and the shellfish racks near the horizon line grow the bounty destined for restaurants and dinner tables. However, this bounty is highly dependent on the actions of the people that live and visit the surrounding area. The runoff from upstream farms, vineyards, and towns has a significant impact on the nutrients and organic matter in the lagoon, at times decreasing the levels of oxygen in the water to a point to make the seafood toxic to consume. Because of this, the quality of the water is constantly monitored and during times of toxicity, harvesting is halted until the balance has been restored.

Living close to the Étang and having eaten the succulent mussels and oysters that are grown there, I hold the place near and dear to my heart. To me, it’s a magical place full of things that give you a real “joie de vivre,” so much so that it is easy to forget that the Pyrenees are not far away. The silhouette of the mountain to the left side of the frame is the Canigou. With an elevation of 2,784.66 meters (9,136 feet), it was once thought to be the highest peak in the Pyrenees. Weather patterns like this, where it’s clear at the horizon all the way to Spain but cloudy at just the right altitude to give a spectacular sunset are relatively rare and only happen, at most, a handful of times a year.

This VAST image was created by combining tilt and shift optical movements on a medium format technical camera with panorama stitching.