Do you love fall photography and traveling from one iconic location to another in pursuit of great leaf color? If you answered yes, you are in great company and like most of us, are saddened when fall is over. Don’t despair, just when it seems like all the great fall color is over, there is still hope for fellow fall color addicts. A visit to a Southeastern United States cypress lake may be just what the doctor ordered. Why, because wonderful photographic opportunities abound when cypress trees begin to turn various stages of color.
Two of my favorite cypress lakes are located in Georgia, with each offering different photographic experiences.
The first is Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Lakeland, Georgia. Don’t feel alone if you are asking where the heck Lakeland, Georgia is. It is located about 30 minutes northeast of Valdosta, Georgia on Highway 221. The refuge contains a variety of habitat types including 1,000 acres of marsh, 1,644 acres of cypress swamp, 900 acres of open water, and 15 acres of uplands. Facilities at Banks Lake consist of a small gift shop, restrooms, boat ramp, short walking trail, and a boardwalk. Kayaks and canoes can be rented at the refuge however there are no power boat rentals on site.
The cypress trees on this lake are tall and very photogenic. Land based photographic opportunities, however, are limited to the small boardwalk and one portion of the shoreline. If you are serious about acquiring a variety of different scenes from this cypress lake, some type of watercraft is required. Below are a couple photographs taken from the shore.
GEORGE SMITH STATE PARK
The second cypress lake is located in Twin Cities, George at the George Smith State Park east of Statesboro, Georgia on Highway 80. The cypress trees at George Smith State Park are shorter than those from Bank’s Lake but no less photographic and have produced images that have won three of my national photography awards. Unlike Banks Lake, George Smith offers quite a number of vantage points for photographing the trees from the shoreline although, again I highly recommend renting a watercraft to capture the best vantage points.
Taken from the shore
Taken from the shore
Taken in a boat. This image has received awards in two national contests.
Taken from the dock in mid morning. The image is tightly composed due to a boring sky.
I feel compelled to point out that capturing great cypress tree images may be very challenging. To help readers prepare for cypress tree photography I have included two less than stellar images that illustrate some of the issues you are likely to encounter. Yikes, posting these is not easy since photographers never want to show bad images.
One of the biggest obstacles to producing great cypress tree photography is being on location on the right day with little wind, limited contrast ranges and pretty blue skies with clouds. I don’t want much do I? Why are these factors so important? First cypress tree needles are very prone to movement and blurring with the slightest wind conditions. Secondly, cypress trees in a lake on a very bright sunny day with cloudless skies are prone to create bright blown out hotspots in the lake itself. I can compose to eliminate the sky, but can’t eliminate the hot spots in the lake itself. Lastly, to capture majestic views of a lake filled with beautiful fall colored cypress trees, I really want to include the sky in my image. Having a large vertical or horizontal portion of an image with bright monotoned skies can ruin even the best composed image so interesting skies are important. Of course this is subjective, but it sure is what I am looking for when photography grand scenic images of cypress trees.
Use a longer lens and compose tightly to eliminate blown out highlights portions of a scene, however, depth of field can be compromised with a longer lens.
Do not include grey or uninteresting skies in composition.
Manually focus if the scene is very contrasty or dark.
Be sure to also photograph a half hour before sunrise and after sunset.
Photograph with a fast shutter speed to reduce needle blur- this will normally require a higher ISO setting.
WHEN TO VISIT
The best times to photograph these cypress lakes are usually from November 5th through the 15th with peak color being around the 11th of November. Of course with nature, it is always wise to check the local conditions prior to any trip.