Big Easy photo blast!

Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Gas Lamp

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New Orleans Road trip ended with great photos

It's been years since I've ventured to the New Orleans French Quarter, even though it is just an hour from my house. So I didn't hesitate when a couple of my buddies from Houston asked if I would tag along when they spent a couple of nights in the Big Easy.

James Eastham, Tim Stanley and I checked into our hotel right on Bourbon Street, dumped our suitcases in our rooms and took a walk around the French Quarter as the day came to a close. We didn't really expect to get much that evening, as the streets were filled with tourists and partiers; this walkabout was pretty much a scouting trip for an early morning shoot.

Still, I did get one photo I've been wanting. Antique hitching posts shaped like horse heads can be found throughout the French Quarter, and I framed up a shot that I think captures these cool features with the old brick of a 200-year-old building in the background.

French Quarter Horse Head 

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But the magic really started the next morning, when we stepped onto Bourbon Street at 4 a.m. Honestly, even I was surprised at how many revelers were still walking the streets and hopping bars. I mean, these folks just didn't want to give up.

We really wanted a photo showing the Bourbon Street's neon lights, but there were just so many people in the streets and the night's trash clogged the gutters.

So we walked toward the residential end of the street to one of the oldest bars in the United States. Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, reputedly owned by the pirate Jean Lafitte, was closed and the crowds were light. So we were able to set up and capture this wonderful building that dates to the early 1700s.

My favorite shot was the wooden sign for the bar lighted by a nearby gas lamp, which also illuminated some of the old brick, wood and stucco on the building. It's just a nice, moody print that captures the feeling of those old, dark streets.

Lafitte's Blacksmith shop Gas Lamp

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And then it was on to one of the most iconic scenes in the Deep South: Jackson Square backed by St. Louis Cathedral. The park and church really serve as the anchor to the surrounding French Quarter, and artists and street performers vie for positions around this area.

We arrived about 4:30 a.m., so crowds weren't an issue. We stood across Decatur Street on a raised area and carefully composed our photos to show off the beauty of Jackson Square.

I created a print years ago of the scene, and it's a good one. However, Thick clouds overhead were tinted red by the lights of the city, so it's a really stylized view.

For my new print, I wanted to really show what Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral look like without that color bouncing off the clouds. So I ensured I removed any color cast in the final image to produce a much more realistic look, which can be seen below. I love the cool color temperature of this version!

Jackson Square Night Lights

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We also walked around the park to capture the view of St. Louis Cathedral's facade with skyscrapers of New Orleans' downtown business district in the background. 

The photo below really highlights the dichotomy of the city, which mixes modern business life with the laissez faire, historic streets of the old French Quarter.

Towers of St. Louis Cathedral

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We then headed to Cafe du Monde for the obligatory breakfast of chicory coffee and beignets, those wonderful powdered sugar-covered French Quarter treats. While we ate and chatted, a brass band began setting up right outside the wrought iron fence that marks Cafe du Monde's seating area.

The Andrews Brass Band, members of which have played with the renowned Rebirth Brass Band, soon was belting out New Orleans jazz, working for tips dropped into a bucket.

We eagerly tipped the band, and then started shooting photos. They were so obliging, and the talent of the band members was astounding.

Below are three of my favorite images from this part of our trip.

Belting It

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A Touch of Jazz

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French Quarter Trombonist

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We headed back to the hotel to take a quick break, and then hopped a streetcar to the Garden District area. One of the shots I really wanted to nail down was a wrought iron fence decorated with Mardi Gras beads.

The problem was that I didn't know exactly where to look. So we stepped off the streetcar and began meandering around the Irish Channel side of St. Charles Avenue. It took a lot of walking blocks, but soon we found the perfect fence that was covered in these colorful stringed beads.

I wanted to really highlight the colors and texture of the beads, so I chose a very shallow depth of field to create the photo below. In fact, there is one strand of beads that's in focus, with the rest of the necklaces out of focus. I think it really draws the eye into this beautiful, abstract scene!

Ode to Mardi Gras

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It was such a fun 36 hours or so in the city, and it has really made me scratch my head as to why I haven't been there in so long. It's definitely a place I need to spend more time in exploring!