Back in the swamp - finally

"Sunrise through the Cypress" is just one of the amazing new prints created during my return trip to the beautiful South Louisiana swamps.

New prints come from return to the swamps

It's been a crazy year so far, with my work for Bassmaster keeping me on the road 13 weeks in the first five months of the year. So I haven't had a lot of time to spend in the South Louisiana swamps I love. In fact, I hadn't shot a swamp photo since New Year's Day.

That changed last week, when Maine photographer Rick Berk drove down to experience the swamps for the first time. We spent three long days banging around in swamps all over the region, and the result was beautiful new prints.

Day 1 — Lake Martin and Chicot Lake

"Lake Martin Sunrise" was the first photo taken on this return trip to the swamps.

The first day began with a 3:30 a.m. alarm, and we were soon on our way to beautiful Lake Martin just south of Lafayette, La. We launched my boat and eased around until we found a nice composition for the impending sunrise.

It was a cloudless morning, but we still had a nice glow as the sun broke the horizon.

We then spent some time moving around the lake capturing different photos during the nice morning light.

"Cypress in Duckweed" was the first print created during my trip to Chicot Lake.

By mid-morning we were headed to Chicot State Park, home to a swamp I had never photographed. Our first photos were taken right from the bank, when we found a stand of tupelo trees surrounded by duckweed.

We then spent the afternoon poking around the amazing swamp by boat before heading back to Lake Martin for sunset.

Day 2 — Lake Maurepas

"Mystic Maurepas" was an instant personal favorite swamp photo.

Day 2 was dedicated to capturing sunrise and sunset from one of my favorite locations: Lake Maurepas. In fact, it was Rick's request to go to my favorite swamp sunrise spot, so we headed out about 4:30 and arrived just as the sun was throwing its first light over the horizon.

Rick thought I was joking when I told him we'd be wading around, but it didn't take him long to get in the water and start picking his way through the shallows. I do think he was a bit nervous about alligators (which do live in these waters), but I assured him I'd never had any issues and he settled down and captured some great new work.

I began by shooting the obvious: A wide-angle shot showing all the cypress trees in my favorite little cove with backed by the sunrise. However, I noticed something that caught my eye as the colors really began spreading.

The sun was peaking through the trees, reflecting some of that brilliant golden light on the calm waters of the lake.

So I used a longer focal length to capture the sunrise through the cypress trees. The result was "Sunrise through the Cypress," which is shown at the top of this blog.

It was perfect, showing the red ball of the sun and those wonderful moss-draped cypress trees with the slick-calm waters of Lake Maurepas. So moody and powerful!

We broke for the mid-day, but were back on Lake Maurepas for the sunset.

After searching around for the perfect set of trees, Rick and I ended up just several hundred yards from my favorite sunrise location. We were quickly wading around and shooting what turned out to be a very colorful sunset.

The jewel of my afternoon was "Mystic Maurepas," which a character-filled cypress tree framing the setting sun just above the horizon. It became an instant personal favorite swamp photo.

Day 3 — The Atchafalaya Basin

"Grand View" was captured while waiting for sunset deep in the Atchafalaya Basin.

By the end of Day 2, we were both worn out from our travels. Rick had been on the road for more than two weeks, and I had just wrapped up my sixth straight week of travel.

So we decided to sleep in the next day, waking up at 5:30 a.m. to go shoot Oak Alley Plantation. We then took a break to work up some of our photos before heading to the Grand Dame of Louisiana swamps: the Atchafalaya Basin.

This sprawling swamp covers almost 1 million acres, and is my favorite place in the world. Its twisting bayous and cypress-studded lakes make the Atchafalaya Basin a true national treasure.

In fact, I would argue it should be a national park. It's just that amazing.

We launched that afternoon, and were soon zooming along Old River and Bayou Long. We made one quick stop to shoot some cypress trees that caught Rick's eye before heading straight to Grand Lake to prepare for sunset.

Grand Lake is pretty much the geographical center of the Atchafalaya Basin. It's a place where cell signals rarely reach. A sense of peace literally washes over me every time I break through the entrance and ease my boat into the lake.

Rick and I spent some time picking out where we wanted to be for sunset, and then I eased around so Rick could shoot a couple of old camps set up along the edges of the lake.

Soon we were back at our sunset location, and I put down the anchors for the wait.

While we waited, I shot "Grand View" (above) that really encapsulates the beauty of the flooded swamps of the Basin. The gorgeous evening light on the trunks of the cypress trees was amazing, and that old tree in the foreground was perfect.

Soon, however, we turned our attention to the sunset. The water was too deep for conventional tripods, so I set out a custom 12-foot tripod for Rick to use. After all, he was the guest of honor for this trip.

I was happy hand holding for the impending evening light show.

The clouds were perfect, although we worried they would blow away too quickly. We shouldn't have worried: The wispy clouds lighted up and provided a wonderful background to the tree we chose.

The result for me was "Grand Lake Sunset," seen below.

I chose a photo that taken a few minutes after the sun slid behind the cloud bank in the horizon because I like the way those clouds on the left side of the photo point to the tree that is the focal point.

A cool fact about this photo is that the tree on the left in the background is the subject of my print "Spirit of the Swamp," which is a fan favorite.

We made the run back to the boat launch as the light faded away, happy to know we had captured the essence of the Louisiana swamp in our three days of running around.

I still have some files to look through and process, but it was so rejuvenating to be back in my stomping grounds. I'm ready to head out again ....

"Grand Lake Sunset" was the perfect end of our three-day photoblast.