One of the most interesting and unique landscapes in the world lies in the south, on the border of Texas and Louisiana. It’s there that you can find an intertwined waterway of bayous, rivers, swampland, and open water. Now, not many equate the south with ‘unique landscapes’ or ‘fall color’, but the swampland of east Texas proves that wrong.
We’re not talking about ordinary swampland. We’re talking about cypress swamps. And east Texas hosts one of the largest cypress tree swamplands in the world. If you’ve never seen a cypress tree, they’re very unique. They look similar to a cedar tree, but they’re actually a coniferous deciduous tree – one of the few. Hence, their leaves have a life cycle and like other deciduous trees, they display beautiful color in fall.
Cypress trees are also unique in their capability to grow in moisture-laden areas, like swampland. It’s common to see these trees growing in the middle of lake basins, as well as in rivers and closer to shore.
Visit in November, and you’ll find the trees lit up with hues of red and orange. Better yet, the temperatures often hit lows between 30-40 degrees in November, and on those mornings, the bayou is transformed into a mythical-looking swampland with fog and steam everywhere.
It’s a special place, undoubtedly, with the perfect recipe for stunning photos. I’ve never been anywhere quite like it. Here at Backcountry Journeys, we just ran out inaugural workshop to the swamps. It was great and we will be back for many more.
The entire trip is an experience in itself – and we cover a ton of ground in the bayous, side channels, and various lakes around the border of TX/LA.
We start the trip in Shreveport, Louisiana. Shreveport is pretty close to a lot of prime areas of swamp. It allows us to get a little bit of that cajun/creole feeling at the start and end of the trip but also allows us to access a regional airport.
Now, the bayous and swampland can definitely be photographed from shore at certain locations. But, hands down, the best way to experience and photograph the swamp is via boat. The boat gives us a huge advantage of being able to cover a lot of ground, which equates to seeing a lot but also being able to choose where the best spots might be given the conditions (fog, light, clouds, etc.).
We employ a large pontoon boat for this trip and work with a local operator who’s been guiding in the swamp for ages. The pontoon is excellent – comfortable, has plenty of space, and can get us everywhere we need.
The structure of the trip was similar each day. We left Shreveport the first morning and went out for a boat tour at sunrise. We stayed in Texas the rest of the trip, but each morning we’d go out for about 3 hours at sunrise, and then we’d go back out for about 2 hours at sunset. We also mixed in some post-processing during the middle of the day.
Now, we got extremely LUCKY on this trip. I mentioned earlier how fog/steam develops with the right combination of temperatures (air and lake). The best possible conditions you can ask for in the swamp are fog and fall color – we got both every day.
We hit it just right with the weather. The trip started right as a cold front passed through and morning lows were in the mid-30’s to low-40’s. Water temperatures were still in the high 50’s. So, every morning we went out, we got the iconic fog. One morning we even had so much fog that it blocked out the sun, but we got some really awesome, mysterious-feeling shots on that morning.
The cypress color progressed each day as well. By the end of the trip, the cypress trees were right around peak or close to. We saw a nice progression from greenish-yellow to orange/red by the end of the trip. The area is interesting because it’s almost impossible to time peak color. We visited a lot of places that were at their peak, but we also saw areas that were just starting to change and were still very green.
Again, a huge benefit of having a boat is being able to cover water. Each morning, we made sure we hit the best possible spots with the best color and the best chance of fog.
The mornings we had were just so special, insane conditions. I don’t think we could have asked for more.
The sunsets were great too. The type of light is definitely a bit different in the evening, and you almost never see fog/steam in the evening. I find the sunset light does a good job of lighting up the cypress leaves, and it gives them this awesome glowing hue. It was a nice contrast to the light in the morning. We got great sunset shots. We also visited areas that complement the sunset light the best.
We ventured into some main lake areas where the water is more open and it’s easier to isolate trees. We’d end each evening shooting into the sun, with cypress trees in front of the boat, and we’d watch the sun creep and creep lower until it finally crested the horizon and disappeared.
I find these swamps to be so productive for photography. The unique conditions, color, just everything really aids in creating great photographs. Fog is common in fall and it simplifies the landscape while being a great element itself. All the cypress trees are enshrouded in Spanish moss, an ethereal-looking moss that hangs down the limbs of the tree – a great subject in itself. You can photograph the swamp from 24-600mm. There is so much to shoot. Amazing place.
Overall, it was a fantastic inaugural trip. We literally captured thousands of images, experienced some of the best conditions possible, and just had a great time together. I highly recommend looking into our future Southern Swamps departure, I can’t overstate how unique the area is or how productive a trip to the swamps in fall can be.
Matt Meisenheimer is a photographer based in Wisconsin. His artistry revolves around finding unique compositions and exploring locations that few have seen. He strives to capture those brief moments of dramatic light and weather, which make our grand landscapes so special. Matt loves the process of photography – from planning trips and scouting locations, taking the shot in-field, to post-processing the final image.
Matt is an active adventurer and wildlife enthusiast as well. He graduated with a degree in wildlife ecology and worked in Denali National Park and Mount Rainier National Park as a biologist. He also spent 6 months working in the deserts of Namibia before finding his path in photography. Matt’s passion for the wilderness has taken him to many beautiful places around the world.
As a former university teaching assistant, Matt is passionate about instruction. It is his goal to give his students the technical and creative knowledge they need to achieve their own photographic vision. He truly enjoys working with photographers on a personal level and helping them reach their goals.
You can see Matt’s work and portfolio on his webpage at www.meisphotography.com