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Chasing the light in the Great Cypress Bayou

I recently got back from two weeks in the Great Cypress Bayou of East Texas, a hauntingly beautiful bald cypress swamp clad in waving Spanish moss. I'm of the opinion that the very best photography occurs at the collision of composition and light, so I spent my time searching for bold shapes and patterns, peak autumn color, and the right light to bring it all together. As I explored the subtle nuances of the bayou, I was aided by products from three of our sponsors: Tamron's superb 35-150mm and 150-500mm lenses, Delkin Device's extremely fast and reliable Black CFExpress Type A 160GB media cards, and a polarizer from Breakthrough Filters that I used to optimize reflections.


Great Cypress Bayou

Backlighting always fascinates me, especially when photographing a translucent subject like Spanish moss. The backlighting makes it seem to glow from within, and at sunrise or sunset on a clear day, it imbues the subject with a golden light. For the photo above, I carefully positioned my boat to capture this golden backlighting in the early morning,


Great Cypress Bayou

Understanding and utilizing shapes is an important part of learning to master the art of composition. For the photo above, I framed the scene to focus the viewer's attention on the curve formed by the orange cypress needles, zooming out enough to also include the reflection of the shape. To learn more about composition, check out my critically-acclaimed ebook and video bundle Visual Flow and the Ultimate Photography Composition Course.


Great Cypress Bayou

Another way to make interesting compositions is to creatively use frames. For the photo above, I shot the beautiful fall color through a frame of nearby cypress trunks. This adds depth to the resulting composition, creating a visual tension between near and far that helps to hold the viewer's interest. I had to focus stack to ensure the appearance of sharpness throughout the entire image, a technique discussed in great detail in my Ultimate Landscape Photography Course, which is available to PRO Members. This photo was the only photo I took using a tripod on land; all other photos were taken handheld from my boat.


Great Cypress Bayou

For the photo above, I was exploring one of my favorite parts of the bayou, a relatively unknown backwater that is almost entire devoid of color. This isn't a black and white photo; rather, the natural pale color palette of this spot creates a ghostly, eerie look. With color pretty much taken out of the equation, I focused instead completely on looking for an interesting visual design.


Great Cypress Bayou

The photo above was also taken in the same colorless section of the bayou. But, when backlit by the setting sun, the Spanish moss glows with golden light, bringing color to an otherwise achromatic scene. A slight breeze stirred up gently ripples, adding a dose of watercolor impressionism to the resulting photo.


Great Cypress Bayou

I also enjoy doing aerial photography over the bayou, using my drone for photography. As always, I am hunting for interesting shapes. When I found this bare area of cypress bayou surrounding a patch of hardwoods that still had their summer greens, I maneuvered my DJI Mini 3 Pro into position to capture the scene.


Great Cypress Bayou

For this photo, I was attracted initially to the two colorful bushes at the base of a pair of cypress trees rising from the water. But then I also noticed the arch formed by the rust red cypress needles. I zoomed out to include the reflection, transforming the shape into a gaping maw.


Great Cypress Bayou

While exploring a quiet section of bayou on a cloudy day, as I rounded this bend in the stream, the light briefly broke out from the clouds, backlighting this graceful curving tree. I stopped my boat here, trying several different variations of composition, switching between vertical and horizontal, zooming in and out until I found the perfect framing. It's always a good idea to shoot many variations of a scene or subject you are photographing, especially if you like the results: you want to make sure you bring the scene to its fullest potential.


Great Cypress Bayou

This was my third trip to the bayou, and each time I go, I find something new and different. Each trip, I go deeper into the swamp, exploring the places that are overlooked by other photographers, and focusing on the more subtle side of my subject.


If you want to see more of my bayou portfolio, check out my free ebook monograph, Ghosts of the Bayou.


Ghosts of the Bayou ebook

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