2020 Fall Cypress Tour – Days 4 & 5

Time flies huh? Already day 4. By now we are safely ensconced in our cabins on the eastern side of Caddo Lake in Uncertain, Texas.

Yup. Uncertain. Three of the town’s 90-odd residents were featured in a documentary of the same name.

Love it. And I loved the first place we did a sunrise shoot. A little bayou somewhat disconnected from the bigger part of the lake. Secluded, like a small pond.

It was freezing. Even this northerner was wishing she brought some chemical hand and toe warmers. A hat. Gloves. The down coat I left in the car. OMG. I hadn’t counted on it being so cold. We were more north than I thought we would be, but I could endure it for this –

Deep in the heart

Witch haze

When I stopped dithering over the trees in the open water and paddled into the backwaters, my jaw literally dropped open when I paddled in. Because it was a little windy, I let it push me while I shot some video and that’s how I came into these tight, foggy areas. Easing in on a glide.

There wasn’t much color left in the cypresses themselves, but those little saplings were hanging onto theirs and it’s those little swaths of yellow that make these images work.

They persist in their beauty even as the fog lifted.

And your smile never faltered

And then.

I had to get out of the boat.

Lucky for me the shoreline here was pretty flat and dry because the coffee I had earlier had to go. It wasn’t even a full cup, just a few swallows, but damn it got painful fast. I couldn’t do anything until that problem got resolved. All the while hoping none of my fellow kayakers had a long lens turned in my direction!

My mad dash put me in a cool spot though.


Drown in all the evidence

Which brings me back to processing. I didn’t do many in black and white, but those scenes called out for it. The second one had some blue sky reflected in the water that grabbed my attention because it was unusual. As I worked the image in post it became obvious that the color was a distraction. Same with the first one of the base of the tree. The color was an element because it was there, but it wasn’t doing anything for the the image, so I converted to monochrome and massaged a few other things to bring out the shape of the trunk more dramatically. I had to so a little more in post because I was in too much of a hurry to get a better composition. In this case, the image could be saved, but many others couldn’t. My bad.

This next scene, too, had blue sky, but after letting Josh work through the post processing, I was convinced. It had to go. Oh and it’s also my very first stitched panorama. Only two photos worth, but hey.

Cypress stretch

Not only was I getting stagnant with processing techniques, I wasn’t even keeping up with technology. Lightroom has had photo merging for quite a while now, but I hardly ever use it and never to create a panorama. It never occurred to me that I could do it with shots I didn’t deliberately take with that end in mind. Another revelation!

Happy with the results

As the light got harsher, we gathered in the sun to warm up and wait for stragglers. We headed to a tiny restaurant for a delicious breakfast and more coffee! From now on it would only be an after sunrise beverage. We also talked about where we might go for sunset. For just this session we’d leave the kayaks behind and walk a bit in Caddo Lake State Park.

Unfortunately, I had the wrong shoes to set up with the cool kids on the shore of the lake where it was really soft and mucky. So I headed up to the longer of two boardwalks to see what presented itself.

Turns out, only this heron, and reluctantly at that.

Just avoiding hyperbole

Of course I didn’t have the long lens with me because I was using a very small waist pack for my gear (forgot the shoulder strap for my drybag – doh!). When the heron finally flew out into an open spot, my longest lens was the 35-100, so again an environmental shot of a pretty large bird. And again, I got some advice for processing. My initial instinct wasn’t to zoom in as much as this, but it works. Works better than a wider shot because the bird got lost. Now because of the crop and a few other touches, it pops. The sun had gone behind the tree-line and the atmosphere was moody and dim, but still clear. Even though it’s the only shot from this session, I’m happy with it and think it adds to the story.

After I slept like a dead person, we were up and out for day 5. By popular vote, we went right back to the same little pond for the morning session. I wore just about every piece of clothing I could put my hands on and ignored the coffee pot. Because I didn’t get any wide open shots the first day, I explored a different area and got one shot I don’t hate.

Reintegration of the senses

Check it out – purple haze.

Crazy the things sensors come up with sometimes. I had an idea to change the white balance to something more approaching reality, but in the end decided to leave it. With some of my re-discovered editing skills I think it works pretty well. A big challenge in cypress lakes is separation – you have to get the trees separated not only from the background, but from each other. There has to be distance between them. Fog definitely helps give it the space and depth it needs and we got lucky again!

Balance of uncertainties

As I went through the editing process, I noticed many soft images. When it’s foggy it isn’t as critical, but I should have slowed down. I should have stopped the boat completely and concentrated. One thing that helps me do that is going into Manual Mode. After 20 years of using an all manual, mechanical camera it’s weird that I hardly shoot in Manual, but when I do it slows me down and forces me to be deliberate. Something I should have done here in the cypress backwater, but there it is.

Manual Mode instills deliberation of composition and understanding of the three elements of exposure.

Cold world

Because our group got along so well and were polite and generous with giving space to each other, when one of the guys asked where I found the bendy tree the previous morning, I told him. He meant the first shot up there. After I got my wide shot I went over to see if he found it. He had and was photographing it when I drifted in, shooting video once again (yes, I will share it when it’s edited).

Then I went further back into the shallows and literally caught my breath –

Secret longing

Such perfection. I just had to wait for the light.

And wait.

By this time I was shivering so much I made ripples in the water. Literally had to make myself stop so I could have a smooth reflection when the time came. Eventually I couldn’t wait much longer and went with what I had. I was desperate to get into the sun to warm up a bit before my teeth started chattering.

But oh, it was worth it. That’s seriously one of the best images of the trip. One of the best I’ve ever taken.

After a little break in the sun, I went back and found a few more little treats.

Prima backwater

And check this out – a beaver lodge!

Beavers of the bayou

The first one I’ve ever seen in this area. No sign of the rodents themselves, but I love how they’ve got their home anchored between cypress trunks.

After more breakfast, coffee and camaraderie, we headed out for sunset. This time on the westernmost side of the lake itself. We paddled a long way and through this nasty invasive weed called giant salvinia. It’s horrible. Julie said it was like trying to paddle through a rug. Thick and goopy it catches and hangs on your paddle blades and makes for a really nasty slog. That didn’t bode well for the sunset.

Lord of the tribe

That is the only image worth a damn. I worked a couple of others, trying every processing trick I know. Only to prove that processing will not turn a bad photo into a good one. So I’ll have to be satisfied with what I managed. It’s still a part of the story.

So we paddled back, almost got lost, and then went for some terrific Mexican food at a little restaurant run by a couple. Some of the best fajitas I’ve had. We had to BYOB, but we shared with our hosts and he grabbed his guitar and sang us a song. Part of doing workshops in remote locations is to enjoy and experience the local culture and this little slice was just perfect. A great ending to a fabulous day on the water.


5 thoughts on “2020 Fall Cypress Tour – Days 4 & 5

Add yours

  1. Absolutely amazing to see these pictures. I’ve driven past cypress swamps but have never been inside one. My favourite is the one with the blue heron, but every one is a treasure.

  2. Wow! are spectacular! Love them all. I missed your earlier photos from this trip, so will have to go back and look at them. I got to walk thru a cypress swamp in SC on a long boardwalk a few years ago. Such a fascinating environment!

      1. Well, none of us know what the photographer saw and wanted to capture, so we’re just happy with the results you shared.

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