The Vieux Carre, or French Quarter, may be the first place many people think of in New Orleans, and for a photographer it is full of possibilities. But the Crescent City has many other areas that are great for a photographic excursion. The beautiful, stately homes in the Garden District or heartbreaking visual remnants of the Hurricane Katrina tragedy in the Lower 9th Ward can call to us in different but equally interesting ways.
The Barataria Preserve, part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park on the outskirts of New Orleans, offers a trail for you to take along the Bayou Coquille out to one of the larger canals. Swamps are lush, exotic places—great for photography. Sometimes it can be difficult to take photographs in a way that doesn't look like just a jumble of random foliage.
A high vantage point (in this case a walking bridge over the canal) may provide an overview shot that tells the story well (Example 1), but you can capture many great images of the little details you see during your trek. Zooming in on small flowers or other details puts the viewer's focus where you want it. If there is too much depth of field, the background may be distracting to your small subjects.
In the spring-time, when the thistles are starting to bloom, you can set up a tripod to photograph them. Keep the background soft to minimize the visibility of the white blooms behind the thistle. At f/16 (Example 2) they are too obvious. By opening the aperture four stops to f/4 (Example 3) you can blur the blooms and all other background elements enough to focus all attention on the spiky thistle bud and leaves.
At this time of year you may get to see some young gators, 18 to 24 inches long. At an overlook point you might see several of the critters, but try to isolate just one in your frame. Take your time between photographs. You will improve your images if you don't quickly try to take in everything you see all at once.
Use a good tripod and spread the legs wide to get closer to the ground, shooting between the railings instead of just peering over the top rail and getting a more routine shot (Example 4). This angle will put you closer to the level of your subject (Example 5).
Professional photographers often use a polarizing filter to remove the glare from the water's surface. In this instance, the polarizing filter (Example 7) also removed the sheen from the alligator's skin, and allowed for a much richer green in the surrounding foliage.
To add variety in your photographs, rotate your camera vertically. Placing the gator at the bottom of the frame makes a nice environmental portrait (Example 8).
To get really great images of wildlife, be patient. You might have to wait until an animal moves, or you might have to alter your position, to make the best possible photograph. For example, this fellow climbed onto a log just above the water surface (Example 9). The first shot had some distracting out-of-focus grass in the bottom left foreground, so moving around provided a better angle (Example 10). About 30 minutes later the gator had moved up higher on the log and was completely out of the water, creating the best picture opportunity (Example 11).
So, the next time somebody tells you to "take a hike," don't take offense. Grab your camera bag and thank them for the suggestion.