When we scheduled two weeks for ourselves in Provence, the beautiful heart of the South of France, we had one thing on our minds: photographing those iconic lavender fields. We’ve all seen photos of those endless rows of purple flowers and wondered if they are real or not. Well we were there, and we can tell you, they are real, and they are magnificent. But even though we did our research before visiting, we still felt the need to do our own scouting while we were there, just to make sure that when it was time to get up early and start shooting, we would be in the right place at the right time.
So, where’s the best place to photograph lavender in Provence? The short answer is Valensole, France. Valensole, France is the best place to photograph lavender in the entire world. True, I we haven’t been to the entire world, but I think it’s literally impossible to improve on Valensole. Regardless, there are still plenty of other sites to talk about, and plenty of other tips to share about getting your lavender photos, even if you just go to one little town. So read on.
When to Photograph Provence Lavender Fields
It’s generally agreed that the lavender in Provence peaks around late June and early July, depending on the weather earlier in the year. Even though lavender was the purpose of our visit, our timing was slightly early due to other travel priorities on the rest of our trip. We had made Avignon, France our home base while we were in Provence, and from there we planned expeditions in search of Lavender. We were in Avignon from May 31st to June 14th, and we saved our main photoshoots for the very end of our stay. Even though we were getting a lot of color on the bushes by the time we left, the locals told us to our disbelief that it was going to get even better in another week or two. So our conclusion is that the end of June or the beginning of July is better, but we were still pretty impressed with what we got in the middle of June, at least in some places.
To be more specific with the timing, the best time of day to photograph the lavender fields is at golden hour in the hour or so after sunrise or before sunset. Just be aware that in June in the South of France, sunrise and sunset are really early and really late. We were getting up at four in the morning and staying out shooting until almost 10pm – something our one year old daughter really didn’t appreciate.
Where to Photograph Provence Lavender Fields
As I said earlier, we spent most of our first week in Provence scouting out which locations would be best for lavender photography. This meant a lot of time in the rental car with a motion sick baby (those roads are hilly, twisty and sometimes scary). But it was worth it in the end because at the tend of our trip when the Lavender was finally starting to look good, we were able to concentrate our efforts in the place that looked like the photos we were envisioning when we started our trip.
Valensole, France (Google Maps) the best place to photograph lavender, period. Here’s why:
- The lavender fields in Valensole are the biggest and best maintained. The rows of bushes are straight as an arrow, and in some places, they stretch from one horizon to the other. Just to make sure that the compositions aren’t monotonous, there are also rolling hills that add depth and variety to your compositions when you want it. It’s like the town was designed by and for photographers.
- The lavender bushes in Valensole are better. I don’t mean that they are better planted or maintained (though perhaps they are). I mean that they are genetically superior for photography. There are two varieties of lavender that you will find in Provence. The first is domestic lavender, which is small and dense with flowers. The second type is wild lavender, which is much bigger, but with flowers that are spaced farther apart, causing the plant to look less purple overall. BUT, in Valensole, they don’t plant either of these. They plant Lavendin, which is a cross between the two. It’s not quite as big as the wild lavender, but it is just as dense as the domestic lavender and much larger. It blossoms like crazy and it is perfect for photography.
- The local farmers don’t seem to mind photographers. In fact, some of them welcome them because the photography draws tourists who buy from the stores around town. This really opens up the possibilities for your photography because you don’t have to sneak around or confine your angles.
Arriving in Valensole from Avignon (Google Maps), it’s almost impossible to miss the lavender fields. If you’d like an address to plug into your GPS, try Lavendes Angelvin (Google Maps) it’s a shop that sells various lavender products, made from the plants in the field directly behind the building. The owners are very welcoming to photographers, and are even happy to give you advice on when to show up. The fields there go right up to the road, and if you have been looking at a lot of lavender photos, you might even recognize the place. We got our best shot here by walking to the far side of the field and shooting back toward the road just after sunrise, composing the image so that the top of the hill is just out of the frame. Make sure you buy something in the shop to thank the owners for being so friendly to photographers. Our hotel (La Fuste) was just outside town and this was the first field we always drove by when we went out for a shoot.
Finding other fields isn’t difficult because for the most part they are adjacent to one another. Some are almost endless, and some are merely very large. There are also fields of poppies, lupins, and sunflowers, though the sunflowers were far from ready to blossom during our stay. If you spend an afternoon driving around town, you should be able to get a feel for the layout of the fields and spot the angles that you like. We did that, end then picked which places we wanted to use for sunset and sunrise, then we napped during the middle of the day. Here are a few more places we found some nice views:
- Not far from Lavendes Angelvin, just a few minutes down the road (Google Maps), there is a dirt road on the right leading to a tree and a small structure. Early in the morning, the light comes over the hills to the left of the house, creating beautiful backlighting for the lavender fields on that side, and log raking shadows to the right.
- Shortly before that there are some fields on the left side of the road that stretch out far into the distance. They look nearly straight, but with a zoom lens you can really make the bumps in the field stand out (see this Google Street View angle).
- There’s no name for this place except “unnamed road,” but here it is on google maps. Here you will find two interesting sites that we chose to shoot before sunset. One is a ruined structure in a field of lavender not far from the side of the road. The other is a field of lupins. I didn’t care for the light on the lupin field in late afternoon, but there was a copse of trees in the corner that we used to create open shade for a photo of Dannie and Lisa.
In Valensole, there is very little to do other than photograph the flowers, but L’Occitaine does have its headquarters there, and though we skipped the museum and the factory tour, Dannie did enjoy shopping in their flagship store front (Google Maps). The nearby town of Manosque, France (Google Maps) is less photogenic, but there are a lot more businesses if you need to buy a meal or stock up on supplies of any kind.
In Sault, France (Google Maps), the main crop is domestic lavender, instead of the lavendin they grow in Valensole. Either because of the different plants or because of the hillier terrain, the lavender there was not very colorful at the time we visited. I definitely thought that Sault had a lot of potential for photography since the fields were spread out over rolling hills and I saw a number of compositions in which I’d be able to layer hills of flowers behind one another for a lot of depth. There was a lot of great scenery, and I’d love to come back sometime just a few weeks later in the year.
Driving to Sault from Avignon (Google Maps) takes you along a number of twisting mountain roads that could be very intimidating to anyone who is afraid of heights. But if you don’t mind the drive, then the views are amazing. As you come out of the mountains, you see a huge basin filled with farmhouses and fields of lavender plants, and you can drive amongst them easily enough. The roads are narrow and you might have to make a tight squeeze if another vehicle approaches. Unfortunately, the farmers here mostly put up signs asking you not to trespass, but you can take some pretty nice shots just from the side of the road.
But honestly, some of the best fields are actually on the outskirts of town (the hilly fields I mentioned earlier). While exploring these fields, we also found what looked like a giant ocean of wildflowers (Google Maps), where we took some of my favorite photos from our trip to Provence. Just have your GPS take you to the intersection of D245 and D34 (Google Maps) and drive around.
It’s hard to search for pictures of Provence lavender fields without coming across an image of Sénanque Abbey (Google Maps). Much like in Sault, the lavender fields weren’t quite ready yet in mid June, but it’s pretty enough for photography even without the extra color. The only downside is that access to the fields here is very limited. The fields are completely fenced off and there is plenty of signage warning you to keep out. Thats probably why so many of the photos of this place online look so similar. They are all taken from the same vantage points, just outside the fence.
But I’d recommend paying a visit regardless. Just driving there is a feast of scenery. On the way to Sénanque Abbey from Avignon via D900 (Google Maps), you go along a road with scenic vistas of the cliffside town of Gordes (Google Maps), rising above a landscape of farms and hills. The abbey itself is nestled between two steep hills, so there will never be golden hour lighting. I’d recommend visiting in the morning or afternoon anyway, just to avoid the harsh overhead light in the middle of the day, and to avoid any crowds that might show up to tour the place. Remember to be quiet and respectful since the Sénanque Abbey is an active place of worship
There is only one lavender field in Avignon, France, and though it is not as big as the crop fields in Valensole or Sault, what it lacks in grandeur it makes up for in convenience. It is located not far from the popular Pont d’Avignon, right by the bus stop (Google Maps). It’s basically a garden, and since there are no “keep out” signs, you can always see tourists walking through, taking selfies in the quintessential local flowers. As an added bonus, the beautiful bridge can be worked into the background for a more interesting shot.
I don’t know how Avignon got it’s lavender blooming before anyone else, but it was farther along even than the plants we saw in Valensole. Maybe with a smaller field the plants just get a little more attention. If you can’t make it all the way out to the big lavender fields, but you still want some more flowers, consider a short day trip to Fort-Saint Andre, a huge castle with amazing gardens inside.
How to Photograph Provence Lavender Fields
A quick plug: We recently published our new Lavender presets for Lightroom and Photoshop. They are designed to make editing your lavender photos easy and fast, without the “filtered” look you get from global edits. You can learn more about the presets here, and you can download Lightroom and Photoshop here.
Rent a Car and Drive Around
I’m sure it’s possible to join a tour or hire a private driver, but believe me when I say you will not regret renting a car. If you make Avignon your home base like we did, you can park in Parking des Allees de l’Oulle for a relatively small daily rate. We had a car that we rented in Paris and drove around for the entire month of June, stoping in Beaune on our way to Avignon. There are so many places you will want to visit in Provence, and having your own vehicle will give you the freedom to enjoy everything at your own pace.
More importantly, at least from our point of view, the towns with Lavender fields in Provence aren’t actually that close together. There might be one or two hotels right next to the fields, but they are likely to be booked during the peak season. And once you get to the area you like, the fields are so big that walking from one to the next will take all day. You need to have a car if you want to take more than one photo while the light is good. Use your car to explore during the heat of the day when the light is ugly, and think about which locations will look best in your photos, and where the sunlight will be coming from when the light is right.
Get Up Early
It’s true that golden hour seems to be longer and more colorful before sunset than right after sunrise, but it comes with a number of downsides. The main reason we have always liked early photoshoots better is that it’s the only way to beat the majority of the crowds. Most tourists are enjoying one of their few vacations of the year, and they aren’t really in the mood to get up before dawn. The lavender fields in Provence can get crowded with other photographers, getting in each other’s way and mucking up your compositions. You’ll even see a few of them out at sunrise with you, but it’s nothing like the crowds in the afternoon and evening.
Pick the Right Lens
When you see those vast fields of straight lines, your instinct will probably be to reach for the wide angle lens. That’s not a bad impulse. Wide angle lenses, like our Nikon 24-70mm (affiliate link), exaggerate space – that’s why they are popular for photographing the interiors of buildings – and make the already huge field of flowers look nearly infinite. Try holding your wide angle lens at different heights angles to see how it stretches and the rows of flowers. You can get down low to fill the sides of your frame with closeups of the blossoms (this is especially useful if there are other people nearby you need to crop out) or you can get up high and shoot downward to draw attention to the larger scene.
But don’t neglect the zoom lens either. I did a lot of my photography using my 70-200mm lens (affiliate link). The ability to compress the distance and make some things look like they are closer together is an opportunity for creativity. It makes hills look steeper and it makes the flowers look like they are packed very densely. They also make it easy to crop out any elements of a scene (like cars, roads or people) that you think detract from the image you want to create.
Update: You can now read my tips for using a zoom lens for creative travel photography.
Visit our resources page for a more complete list of the gear we use.
There are a few reasons to watch your step while you are amongst the beautiful Provence lavender fields. The first thing to be careful of is the ground itself. The soil in between the rows of lavender isn’t as easy to walk on as Dannie makes it look in the photos. The dirt is so soft that you sink in it, but it is also full of jagged rocks that make you feel very unsteady and actually pose a bit of a hazard if you are wearing open toed shoes.
The lavender is also swarming with bees, even very early in the morning. We didn’t get stung even once while we were there, but the threat of a bee sting was hard to ignore with the constant sound of buzzing in the air. The bees seemed to be very preoccupied with collecting pollen from the incredibly fragrant flowers, but if you have allergies, you should take all the precautions you can here. Early in the morning there are also many snails on the ground, you should be careful not to step on them. The snails won’t hurt you, but crushing them will make you feel bad.
And finally, keep in mind that even if you are one of many photographers exploring a field of lavender, you are on someone else’s property. The farmers depend on those flowers for their livelihoods, so be extra, extra careful not to damage the plants or the soil with your feet or gear. Lisa always wanted to pick the flowers (a habit we had taught her in wild fields), so we had to explain to her constantly that these ones we just for looking at. If a field says no trespassing, then don’t trespass, even if no one is looking. Everyone deserves to be shown the respect that you would want someone to show while visiting your own home or business.
So go out there and enjoy the lavender fields of Provence. They are among the most amazing views in the world and one of the few sights we have seen that was everything we expected and more. Bring your camera, but don’t forget to spend some time relaxing as well. If you have other questions that we didn’t answer here, please ask them in the comments below, or reach out to us through our contact page. And don’t forget to download our Lavender preset brushes and actions.