In March of 2019 I experienced my first cypress swamps. Only one day was spent in a kayak, but I knew, just from that short time, that I wanted more. So I told Josh at Wild Louisiana Tours that if he did a week long workshop that I would come down again.
He did. So I did. And wow. It was great.
It wasn’t perfect and neither was I, but overall it was a terrific time and I got images I am proud of. I can’t believe I waited so long to do the photo workshop thing, but there it is.
Because of areas being overrun and basically ruined, all the tour participants agreed to keep some of the locations secret and so I won’t reveal any exact information. For some of our shoots I couldn’t tell you where we were anyway because it was dark, usually 4:00 in the morning and me with no coffee (more about that later). Even in full daylight the view from the back of the van isn’t so great. But enough of that.
Here we go.
Every day we went out for sunrise and sunset shoots. This meant we paddled in the dark a lot. And I forgot my headlamp (note to self!). No matter, we all got where Josh wanted us and wow. The first morning was amazing. We were in the lower Atchafalaya basin. The Atchafalaya is a river that runs basically parallel to the Mississippi through parts of Louisiana.
There wasn’t a lot of color in the sky on day 1, but we were lucky enough to get some mist at the waterline. Just after spending some time shooting the twins up there, I turned around.
Have I talked about the importance of turning around when you’re shooting landscapes? If I haven’t, shame on me. It’s key. Especially if you’re feeling a little disappointed in the weather or the light or whatever. Keep your eyes open and turn around! Then send the universe (or your fellow paddlers) positive vibes that the perfect shot will materialize –
Oh sure, these misty shots are super appealing, and I kept shooting them for that reason, but the one with the kayaker tells a story. I tried to keep that in mind every day because ultimately, I want to put a photo book together with my cypress images. That was how I approached each shoot – the photos needed to tell the story. I knew I had to shoot the many aspects, moods and details of cypresses. For the most part that worked.
After the mist burned off and the sun rose, I paddled into some areas that were still partly shaded. I literally gasped when I saw this scene open before me. It reminded me of a cave.
The main reason Wild Louisiana schedules the week-long tour in November is for the fall foliage. Cypress trees change color and it doesn’t look like any other forest. As it would turn out, the timing wasn’t right for a lot of color up north where we would be heading, but here in southern Louisiana, we had some.
Back into the sun – oh what a difference! That’s part of why I fell in love with cypress lakes. There’s so much variety. The light, the trunks, the moss…all of it alchemy…mystery.
The trees in this area are positively ancient. So different from the young trees on my previous visit. The oldest cypress tree on record was found in North Carolina and is estimated to be 2600 years old. These trees don’t have verified ages, but I think some are close. The reason they weren’t logged for timber is because when they get this big, they become hollow; like a barrel. Some don’t grow very tall, but boy can they get wide at their bases. I could fit the kayak flat against this one with room to spare!
And so our first sunrise drew to a close. The light was going and we all needed coffee and breakfast! Back to the hotel for some food and downtime. A few people said they had naps, but I chose to do some processing. I have never taken my laptop and hard drive on a trip before, but would prove worth the effort for some lessons I learned about editing. We didn’t have as many communal processing sessions as I would have liked, but when we did get together it was helpful.
In the mid-afternoon we headed out for sunset. Right back to the same place as the morning, but what a difference an afternoon makes.
It’s hard to find the words to write about taking images like these. It was very special to be there and to have the presence of mind to take advantage of my very good fortune. I felt on as a photographer. In a groove. Things just seemed to fall into place and the shots are some of my best.
Not every day would be full of winners. There would be times I would fumble and flounder, but this first day wasn’t one of them.