2020 Fall Cypress Tour – Days 2 & 3

After the perfection of the first day it could only go downhill from there, right? Like having your debut novel be your best.

Ok, it wasn’t that bad for the rest of the week, but it was for the second sunrise.

We went to Lake Martin which made for easier launching (but not parking!), but that was the only easy part for me. I couldn’t find my feet so to speak. I paddled around and around and just couldn’t find the shot. Early on I missed this amazing tree of ibises and have no images of any of them close.

Julie and the ibis tree

And while I like the wider, environmental shot of our second guide, Julie, photographing them, I wish I’d been right beside her. Looking back, I should have been. After floundering and failing to find anything to inspire me, I should have stuck to the guides like glue. That is one of several lessons learned on this workshop. The relaxed attitude they had to giving help didn’t cement in my mind that it was there. Not to say it wasn’t available – it was. They just didn’t push or intrude or try to intervene in a person’s process. I should have asked because on this morning my process slept in.

I should have stuck to the guides like glue.


After this shot I put the 100-400 mm lens on and decided to shoot some birds. There were great egrets, great blue herons and anhingas by the dozens. Just check this out –

Woo! Hope you didn’t scroll too fast and miss them. Ha!

Yeah. That’s how many pictures were worth a damn.

At the time of this writing I’ve been living with the shots from this trip for a few weeks and I still can’t find any more from the second sunrise. The Julie and the Ibis tree is the one.

Oh you’re just being picky. I can hear you.

Trust me, I’m not.

Viewed with shots from other sessions, nothing else in this one is worth putting next to them. That’s how it goes sometimes and that’s why I went for the week-long tour instead of the weekend. I put enough pressure on myself to shoot it all and shoot it well that I didn’t need shortness of time to add to it.

So moving onto sunset. Better, right?

Tangled ties

In the garden of togetherness

Not much. It was a lovely area and the light was pretty terrific, but I couldn’t find the shot this time either. I paddled around and all over then finally settled on a couple of trees. Sunrises and sets are tough because you’re racing time. The light only looks its best for seconds and you have to stake a claim at some point even if it isn’t perfect. Looks like the dither disease was catching because two models paddlers, showed up and we laughed about it and shared the same view.

They were both polite and generous about the two trees and let me set up and shoot them first since I was there first. We laughed and jostled afterwards, all part of the fun of a group tour, but this is what I got when I was solo –


Waterfront mood

You can tell it’s a little earlier because the clouds are lit up. That totally makes this relatively boring and static shot a little workable. Full disclosure – the only thing that saved it was Color Grading in Lightroom. I didn’t lean on the color wheels too heavily, but enough to pop saturation in the highlights and shadows. I like the improved feature and have been using it more than when it was simply called Split Toning. I also did a little gentle work with the local Adjustment Brush in the trees, something I would do a lot with future shots.

Which brings me to another realization that came to me during this trip. I don’t process my images as well as I could. As well as I used to.


I said it.

Partly from laziness, partly because I don’t want things to look really fake or make people want to gouge their eyes out. You know what I mean – over-processing has a look. My images started to get that way during my Luminar phase and I was so scared of going there again that I went too far the other way. I backed off too much. I was under-processing. There’s a definite art to editing and I needed to get in touch with it.

In future posts about this trip, I’ll talk about my processing a bit more. I even use Photoshop a little now and again. Gasp!!! Right?

Onto the next morning. We went back to the same place as the first morning. No complaints from me except there wasn’t any mist. Too warm for that. And there weren’t any clouds. Again. Or much color. Yeah, no complaining here!

A snarl in your smile

No color, what? Yeah. Saved by Color Grading again. That’s one of the FEW shots I took with a tripod and so I wanted to do something with it since I went to all the trouble of using one and believe me in water this deep, it’s trouble. I came up with this 30-second exposure, but nothing was happening. So I bailed on the ‘sunrise’ and the tripod to prowl around the trees.

In silence for a while

Sidelight brings out the best in bald cypresses. For this series I drifted slowly outside the grove and pointed my 35-100 mm lens in toward the shoreline. I didn’t even paddle much, instead let the breeze push me.

Emerging from slumber

The moss is truly wonderful even if it is neither Spanish nor moss. In both taking and processing the images I emphasized the difference between the early sunlight and the shaded areas. It isn’t as dramatic as the photos with the mist, but it shows them with a lot more detail.

Out of the shadows of time

After my processing epiphany, I went a bit farther editing all the images from this trip. Mostly I wielded the Local Adjustment Brush and the Graduated Filter using a Luminance Range Mask for very subtle changes. Sometimes I exported to Photoshop and removed distracting elements (and spots from a dirty lens!). My eyes were opened. It’s all about bringing out the best in each image. Emphasizing the thing you wanted to show in the first place. The reason you were attracted to the scene and went to the effort of capturing it.

Scanning the bank

Editing can still look natural even if it is extensive.

Odds on favorite

It wasn’t easy to photograph whole trees without paddling far out into the lake, but I got close here and there. First a live one that shows the terraced levels of canopy –

Multi level

And a beauty of a dead tree, bleached by sun and wind –

Palliative longings

One of the great things about being in the field with other photographers is seeing what captures their attention. This tree got me and another photographer and we chatted about how different it was compared to the living trees. As the light changed, we drifted to and from it trying to find the best angles. Maybe others noticed it, too, but for those few moments it was all ours.

And that wraps up days 2 and 3. There wasn’t a sunset session on day 3 because we packed and drove to the location we’d spend the rest of the week exploring. It took about 5 hours (with a stop for lunch and pie!). It isn’t part of the secret handshake so I can share that location next time.

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