The making of 'Alone on Lake Palourde'

Alone on Lake Palourde

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My extensive travels have kept me out of the swamps this year — and even when I wrapped up the 2022 road trips I was stuck in the office prepping for my fourth-quarter print sales.

And it didn't help[ that the weather has been really weird: either uninteresting blue bird skies or hard overcast.

Sunday night I looked at the forecast for the following morning, and it was another unpromising prediction. Thick, low clouds were supposed to be blanketing the entire South Louisiana region.

However, I decided I was going anyway. You see, I've been wanting to make a trip to Lake Palourde near the coastal town of Morgan City. I had never been to this cypress tree-studded lake, for some reason. So I decided to remedy that oversight.

Forecast be damned.

I slept horribly, and almost rolled over when the 4:15 a.m. alarm sounded. But I quickly decided I had made excuses long enough, so 15 minutes later I was sipping coffee as I pulled out of the driveway.

An hour before sunrise I arrived at the boat launch — to discovered one of my plugs had gone missing. Man, I was so mad! Fortunately, a kind fisherman had a spare, so I was soon launching the boat as the first hint of light trickled over the swamps.

As I made the short run to the northwest side of the lake, I realized the forecast was spot on. Clouds looked to be skimming the tops of the trees — and they were thick.

Mentally shrugging that off, I turned out of the canal into Persimmon Pass and the first thing I saw was a lone cypress tree way out from the main flooded swamp.


I anchored my boat securely and set up my 12-foot tripod, securing my trusty Benro VX30 ballhead before pushing the tripod into the bottom. I then clipped my camera onto the ballhead and composed the scene.

The vision

The camera was just above the water's surface, which I really liked. That low angle would bring in a lot of the water, which was almost completely calm, with a great reflection of the cypress tree. So that was perfect.

My vision was for a print that would show the expanse of the lake and, hopefully some color as the sun breached the horizon. So I didn't zoom way in on the tree, opting instead to place the tree about halfway through the frame and to the left side to create plenty of negative space.

As I set up, right on cue, some breaks in the clouds above the lake blew over. And, yes, there was some color!

Benro Master Glass filters allow me to really dial in my exposures, so I adjusted the polarizer and slid in a .9 soft grad neutral density filter, adjusting it so the brightest part of the sky was toned down but the tree didn't get any darker.

Next, I really wanted the water to be absolutely mirror smooth. It already was fairly slick, but there were a few ripples. So I added a 1.2 solid ND filter to the stack to lengthen my exposure to 6 seconds — which would ensure the water was absolutely smooth.

I didn't have to worry about movement in the tree because there was no wind.

Then I waited for the light to increase and the color to push through the clouds. The clouds began closing up again, but the color was almost surreal. A crazy yellow danced through the thinner areas of clouds, with the hazy horizon turning a soft purplish.

That color didn't last long, but when I pulled up my tripod I knew I had a winning photo!