Swamp sunrise, sunset made my day!

Sunrise Over Lake Palourde

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Amazing beauty From Lake Palourde to Atchafalaya Basin

I usually spend as much time in the South Louisiana swamps as possible when my travel season ends in the early fall — but last year I was just whipped out. I did make one foray to Lake Palourde to shoot sunrise and some of the golden cypress trees, and it was exhilarating.

Other than that, however, I honestly was uninspired. It didn't help that we had a long stretch of time during which low clouds blotted out the sun. So I hung around the house, caught up with My Trusty Assistant (otherwise known as my wife, Yvette), did office work and rested.

In January I ventured out a couple of times to shoot sunrise and sunset on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. But I still wasn't ready to launch the boat and get back at it, especially since the trees by that time were bare.

Photographing three back-to-back fishing tournaments in February through early March, however, allowed me the opportunities to create some lovely new prints in Florida and Georgia.

And I could feel the juices of inspiration begin to flow again.

Seeing cypress trees greening up when I drove home and crossed back into Louisiana cinched the deal.

So last week I hooked up the boat and pulled out the driveway at 4:30 a.m. to make the drive to Lake Palourde. I was meeting Houma photographer John Corso, whom I knew through Facebook, for sunrise — and I couldn't wait.

Color was beginning to creep into the clouds above the trees as we ran across the northern end of Lake Palourde, just north of the little oil town of Morgan City. My goal was to create a print that encapsulated the wonders of this lake, which is bounded by flooded cypress trees.

A group of trees caught my eye, so I eased into the edge of the tree line and found a wonderful composition that would lead the eye through the frame.

These were the outside trees, which meant the water depth was far to great to use my standard Benro Mach 3 carbon fiber tripod. Instead, I was forced to use the modified surveyor's tripod. I screwed on the Benro VX30 ballhead, and extended the shaft to about 9 feet or so before sticking the contraption into the bottom muck.

I figuratively held my breath: Thick clouds had moved in, obscuring the sky during the pre-sunrise period that normally provides the most color. The only real color was right along the tops of the line of trees in the distance.

Just as the sun topped the trees, however, golden and rose color seeped into the clouds above — and reflected off the waters of the lake.

It was fantastic!

The final print, titled "Sunrise Over Lake Palourde" (above), is a wonderful illustration of why I drag myself out of bed for sunrise.

The wind was pretty stiff, so I opted not to use a Benro Master Glass solid neutral density filter to smooth out the water. Well, that's not true: I actually did shoot some with my 3-stop ND filter, thinking I would composite the smooth water in with the faster shutter speed of another frame (to freeze the blowing moss and tree limbs), but while processing I liked the effect of the rippled water.

It was the perfect way to start the day.

We shot a few more shots after the color faded, but the thick clouds made for fairly dreary scenery.

We were soon back at the launch and moving on.

I had been looking at the west side of the sprawling Atchafalaya Basin on Google Maps for some time. The satellite view shows real possibilities out of Myette Point and Cheranton. Lakes on that side of the swamp were dotted with cypress trees.

The question was how those trees set up and was the water shallow enough to work with a tripod.

The east and central parts of the Basin are my normal stomping grounds because they are much closer to my home. The two-hour drive around to the west side was always a stumbling block. 

John and I drove to Charenton Beach Boat Launch, and we were soon running through the first lake to the scattered trees. This area is deep (by South Louisiana standards). We never found any trees in less than 6 feet of water. I could still use my 12-foot tripod, but working with buddies in this area would be out (unless they handheld their cameras for everything).

We made the short run to Myette Point to find more wonderful setups — but water depths that were equal to the Charenton stretch of swamp.

On our way back to the launch, I saw a little cut off the bayou and decided to investigate. It was there I found a pair of trees that really piqued my interest. One was tall, with the other short and split. It really looked like it would offer wonderful sunrise and sunset options.

I made a mental note and headed back to the trailer. As far as I was concerned, I was done for the day.

John headed back to Houma, while I decided to catch up with a buddy who lives in New Ibera.

As Pat Bonin and I caught up, however, I couldn't stop thinking about that set of trees between Myette Point and Charenton. When I walked out to hop in the truck to drive home, the clouds made the decision for me: They were perfect for a colorful sunset!

So I called MTA to let her know I'd be home late, and drove right back to Charenton to launch the boat.

I was dropping my 12-foot tripod, extended to about 10 feet, into the water as the sun neared the tops of the far tree line. I shot a few images because there were some really nice high clouds above the swamp.

And then I waited for the sun to set and the light show to really begin.

And then those nice clouds just dissipated. They were there one minute, and then began to disappear right before my eyes. Of course!

I still held out hope, however, because the sky was covered by a thin layer of barely visible wispy clouds. If they held out until the sun set, the skies above me would explode into a beautiful glow.

That's exactly what happened. Right about official sunset, those clouds burst into color that spread over the entire scene.

Swarms of mosquitoes found me (I could literally hear their buzzing all around me), but even as those insects began feasting I was smiling. I KNEW I was capturing a truly epic photo.

That said, I packed up my gear as quickly as possible after the colors faded. I mean, the mosquitoes were just awful.

All of that was forgotten when I worked up the print that became "Charenton Sunset" (below). 

I love book-ending my day with such amazing beauty!

Charenton Sunset

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