Nature photographer C.C. Lockwood has spent a lifetime capturing the wild beauty of Louisiana’s bayous, swamps and wetlands. We experience daybreak in one of his favorite places, the Cypress Island Preserve at Lake Martin.
Lockwood launches his aluminum flatboat at Lake Martin at first light. There is a light fog hanging above the water. The dark shapes of tall cypress trees, their branches draped with moss, appear through the fog. Years of experience have taught Lockwood, “You can follow the Weather Channel all you want. But until you get out here and snap the shutter, you don’t know what you’re gonna get.” And he’s right. As the golden glow of the sun edges above the treetops, the light and color change. “I say there are good sunrises and great sunrises”, Lockwood says, “and most of them are great.”
becoming a nature photographer
Lockwood graduated from LSU with a degree in Finance in 1971. But instead of entering the world of business, he picked up a camera and immersed himself in the world of nature. As it turns out, he was living within 20 miles of some of Louisiana’s most beautiful landscapes. Over the following decades, Lockwood has published books on his photographic journeys. And now in book number 14, he explores areas protected by the Louisiana Nature Conservancy. He calls the book, “Louisiana Wild“.
To fill the pages of his latest book, Lockwood says he shot tens of thousands of images. He figures he saw a hundred sunrises and sunsets while spending 250 days in the field. “A lot of photographers will just come out and see a flower or a bird and snap a shot and leave, Lockwood explains. “But you really have to get to know them and stay out there to get that right moment and the right light.”
Years earlier, I signed up for a nature photography workshop with Lockwood. We spent an afternoon navigating the bayous near Lake Verret in the Atchafalaya Basin Swamp. Lockwood had one hand on the outboor motor while he cradled his digital camera with an 18-200mm zoom lens in is other hand. He tries to be ready for what he calls the lucky shots, “when you’re on the move and everything comes together.” Lockwood says he learned over the years to be ready to photograph something that he may never see again. “You gotta be a step ahead of nature because it’s not gonna wait for you,” Lockwood explains.
the magic is in the light
A nature photographer like C. C. Lockwood has a different way of seeing things than most of us. His eyes see the composition of a landscape, a spectacular sky, shadows, the subtle reflection of color or the intimate details of a small flower. “Over the years I’ve learned it’s the light,” explains Lockwood. “And it took me a while to figure out the best picture came when the light was right.” Lockwood says that usually means going early or staying late in the day, and then taking a nap at noon.
Nature photographer’s favorite – cypress & Moss
The larger cypress trees that we see along the bayous are all second growth trees. Their trunks are dwarfed by the giant cypress stumps that remain from the original virgin forest that was consumed by the lumber industry at the turn of the 20th century. “Cypress is my favorite part,” Lockwood says, “the true swampy part.” Some of the cypress tree limbs hang heavy with Spanish moss, which is making a comeback. Cajun swamp dwellers would collect the moss and use it for stuffing furniture. As that practice died off, the moss has returned.
As the sun begins to sink behind the treetops and the daylight turns a golden color, we head for a grove of large cypress trees growing in the shallow water at the edge of Lake Verret. This is the spot Lockwood has picked for us to photograph an Atchafalaya sunset. As we tie the boat’s line to cypress knees, Lockwood cautions, “You’ve got about two minutes to get your shot. The sun sets fast. You want to catch that last piece of the sun on the horizon.” Our cameras click.
one more Parting shot
The picture-taking continues long after the sun has dropped out of sight. The colors and the sounds change as the day comes to an end. We capture the beautiful afterflow.
Read more about C.C. Lockwood’s photography and books and view his online gallery.