New photography captures the vivid Milky Way over the sprawling Atchafalaya Basin swamps
I recently headed out to the Atchafalaya Basin swamps to shoot nighttime photography of the beautiful area. My plan was to work on a new light-painting project, but that changed when I reached Grand Lake in the center of this sprawling swamp and looked up to see the Milky Way stretching across the cloudless skies. I quickly switched to capturing Milky Way photos.
Capturing the scene required LED lights installed on my boat so I could run in the darkness, along with a customized tripod allowing me to work in very deep water. This tripod extends to 12 feet, and I needed every bit of that height in the glass-smooth waters of the lake, which measured about 10 feet deep.
My first stop was at a single tree set far into Grand Lake. The backdrop to the scene was the light pollution from Morgan City with the vivid Milky Way above. I positioned my tripod so the Milky Way pointed directly to the flooded cypress, which was positioned in the center of the frame. Placing the horizon in the lower third of the frame heightens the sense of vastness in the sky. Stars litter the darkness surrounding the Milky Way. A very long exposure smoothed the small ripples on the water to produce a smooth foreground.
The key to iconic astrophotography is to use a wide angle lens, which allows for very long exposures without showing the movement of the stars. I had to use two wide-angle lenses because heavy dew quickly settled on my equipment. Once my 14mm Rokinon was covered with beads of water, I had to change to a Tokina 16-28mm. Both were set at f/2.8 to gather as much light as possible.
I moved several more times to other stands of cypress trees to create other iconic swamp photos. It was crazy just how fas the Milky Way swiveled overhead as the night wore on. It began pointing directly south, but by the time I headed back to the landing it was pointing almost due west.
The biggest challenge in capturing these beautiful Milky Way photos came in the form of hordes of blood-thirsty mosquitoes that swarmed around my boat. Permethrin on my clothes didn’t even slow them up, so I had to apply a number of coats of mosquito repellent to keep the voracious bugs at bay. But it was worth the bites to experience such a beautiful evening in the swamps. I crawled into be at 3 a.m. satisfied I had captured what would certainly be beautiful images of the swamps I so love.
The Milky Way photos can be seen below, and prints of each beautiful photo can be purchased on my online fine-art photography gallery.