Working in the Swamp
Last week, I took a road trip where the ultimate destination was my buddy Andy Crawford's place in south central Louisiana. Andy's work had shown me just how beautiful the swamps down there can be, so when he invited me down and sent me his availability, I jumped on some dates that matched up for me, which also resulted in a nearly three week long odyssey due to my trip to Cape Cod which had been previously planned. I simply left Cape Cod and continued heading south.
One of the great things about working with other photographers is that you sometimes learn a new way to capture a subject . When Andy took me into the swamp, I assumed we'd be working from his boat. And we did, but the morning we headed out to Lake Maurepas for sunrise, leaving his house at 4am, Andy told me we'd be getting out of the boat. So we arrived at the spot he called his favorite for sunrises, and the next thing I knew, he was over the side, waist-deep in Lake Maurepas, and explaining to me how to get out. I was a little nervous about alligators, and even more nervous I'd drop my camera, but over the side I went into the cool waters of Lake Maurepas.
"Cypress Symmetry", above was one of my first images made while standing in the swamp, up to my waist in water. One of the things I found so captivating about Lake Maurepas was how calm it was. The water, both at sunrise and sunset, was almost perfectly still, providing glassy reflections that can really add to an image and make it something unique. In all of the images in this blog, you can see how the reflections contributed to the composition. As a landscape photographer, I'm often checking puddles to see if I can get a fun reflection in them. In this case, Lake Maurepas practically slammed me over the head with the reflections. They were impossible to resist! All told, we spent three hours photographing the morning light on Lake Maurepas. The haze in the air filtered the light, keeping it soft and warm for so long, it would have been a shame had we cut our time short.
To move around in the water, Andy had advised me to shuffle slowly, rather than take big, quick steps. The root systems of the cypresses can extend for quite a distance from the trunks, and cypress knees can extend up, making them easy to trip on. So I shuffled my feet, and if I hit something, I took some time to feel around with my foot and figure out how high it was and how far it went so I could get around it. Thankfully, I managed to stay upright during my time in the water.
It was a bit slower working from the water, as the rest of my gear, such as my Lee Filter Kit, stayed in the boat. I had an idea what I needed on the camera but there were several times I'd decided I needed a different lens, or a different filter on my camera. At those times, I had to make my way back to the boat, and carefully switch out what I needed, working over the boat so if I dropped anything, it landed in the boat and not in the swamp, where I'd likely never find it in the murky waters!
Andy and I returned to Lake Maurepas for sunset that same day. We looked around for a different spot, one that would provide an angle to include the sun if we desired. In the end, my favorite shot didn't include the sun, but was the last image I took as the light faded. "Pink Twilight" captured a stand of cypresses against a pink sky, with the still waters of the lake reflecting them. It was the perfect way to end a day that had started with a similar image. It was a long day- we got in the boat at about 4:30am, and photographed in the morning until 8:30am. We returned in the afternoon at 3pm, and didn't get back to the dock until 9:30pm. I love those days filled with photographing a new place, but man, they can wear you down if you do it too often.
On one of my last days in Louisiana, Andy and I headed to Grand Lake in Atchafalaya Basin. We spent a good part of the afternoon exploring the lake and scouting for locations to capture the sunset. We settled on this spot, which had several cypresses to choose from. This tree stood out to me - I just loved its character. It proved to be the perfect finish for my visit to the swamps!
I'm so grateful to Andy for showing me this corner of the country. The swamps were like nothing else I'd ever photographed, and so beautiful, that I can't wait to go back.