7 Best Places for Nature Photography in Louisiana

Louisiana landscape photography

Louisiana has taught me that every place has beauty, photo opportunities, and wild places to explore. This article is a culmination of some of the best places for nature photography I’ve found here, including one on the Texas-Louisiana border.

Louisiana nature photography
A palm tree framed by the sunset along the Gulf of Mexico coast in Grand Isle, Louisiana.

Louisiana, nicknamed the Pelican State because of its large population of brown pelicans, sits along the Gulf of Mexico between Texas and Mississippi.

Its landscape is most notable for the Gulf Coast beaches and swamps of the large river delta — 3 million acres of land — created by the confluence of the terminus of the 2,340-mile Mississippi River in southern Louisiana with the Gulf of Mexico.

When to go to Louisiana

The seasons of southern Louisiana are not as varied as other parts of the U.S., but changes do happen from month to month.

  • June, July, and August: Extremely hot with high humidity — often reaching near 100% — almost every day.
  • September, October, and November: Pleasant with warm temperatures, lower humidity, and by November, some of the Spanish moss and cypress trees turn into vibrant shades of red and orange.
  • December, January, and February: The brown and rainy season, even in a region that never truly sees winter.
  • March, April, and May: By March, flowers are starting to bloom, including the colorful azaleas; grass is turning green again, and the leaves on the centuries-old oak trees return to a more vibrant green. April and May see the return of blooming magnolias, nesting birds, and some of the most pleasant weather of the year.

The most productive seasons for photography in Louisiana are April, May, and November.

November sees an increase in photographers striving for some of the unique photos of the many cypress swamps as they turn into colorful autumn hues.

Spring offers a longer season of photo opportunities as the nesting birds return with their colorful palette of feathers. The cypress trees turn into verdant shades of green as Spanish moss drips from the branches.

Like November, warm water and cool nights can often create foggy conditions in the swamps each morning, adding to the ambiance of an area known for its voodoo and Cajun mysteries.

One visit will not check off all of the photo destinations, but this list guides nature photographers through a variety of the best and most accessible spots to start exploring the Pelican State for landscape and wildlife photography.

Read more: An Introduction to the Power of Colour Photography

1. Caddo Lake State Park and Caddo Lake

Located in the northwest corner of Louisiana near Shreveport and along the Louisiana-Texas border, this 26,810-acre lake and bayou preserve one of the largest flooded cypress forests in the U.S.

Although more often associated with the Lone Star State, a nearly equal part of Caddo Lake sits in Louisiana.

Surrounded by bald cypress trees, this shallow lake offers a wide variety of photo opportunities for bird photography. Early mornings can be especially serene and mystical as the warm water and humid air can frequently create foggy conditions.

wildlife in Louisiana
A great egret hunts for small fish in the shallow water of Caddo Lake, Louisiana.

Bring a long zoom lens in the range of 70-200mm, 80-400mm, or 100-400mm for this destination to make environmental portrait images of the swampy surroundings.

Placing a great egret or great blue heron hunting in the shallow water in one of the lower points of intersection in a compositional frame will make a great focal point in the wider swampy scene.

Spanish moss drips from all of the trees and plants growing on the surface of the lake, adding to the colorful aspects of this quintessential Louisiana landscape.

A long, fixed lens, such as a 500mm or 600mm, is great for the smaller songbirds that visit here in spring and summer, as well as close-up shots of the wading birds hunting.

Mornings are best at Caddo Lake to capture the moody feel of the humid air hovering in the cypress forest. Because all corners of the lake and bayou can be accessed, the direction of the sun at sunrise or sunset is only limited by positioning yourself at the right angle.

Backlit situations, where the scraggly shapes of the bald cypress trees silhouette against the morning light, in particular create wonderful compositions.

The best way to photograph the lake is to hire one of the many boat operators in the area, such as those in Karnack, Texas. They know the swamp and all of its corners and bays better than anyone.

Tell them you are focused on photography, as many of them have a fishing background and may not be experts on light or approaching birds.

Access is also available by shore at Caddo Lake State Park. Located in Karnack, Texas, this state park offers a couple of wonderful boardwalks into the swamp.

Boats can also be rented here for your own journey into the lake on a quiet, slow-moving canoe. Saw Mill Pond provides some iconic swamp scenes at sunrise.

bird photography louisiana
A pair of wood ducks takes off shortly after sunrise in Caddo Lake State Park, Texas.

Great egret, great blue herons, double-crested cormorants, and other water-loving birds can be seen at Caddo Lake throughout the year. There may also be opportunities to photograph nutria, raccoons, and white-tailed deer on the land surrounding the lake.

During spring, migratory songbirds, such as prothonotary warblers, golden-crowned kinglets, western tanagers, painted buntings, and other colorful varieties arrive in large numbers as they travel north.

This is also the season when the landscape breaks out of its gray cloak and bursts into verdant shades of green.

Late spring into summer is also when the lily pads bloom on the surface of the lake.

Summer is hot and humid, and much of the wildlife will only be active in the early mornings or late afternoons.

This season, however, is the best for spotting the alligators that make this area home as they go through their mating season in mid to late spring and then raise young alligators in mid-summer.

Fall brings a short but colorful season for photography enthusiasts looking to capture the warm tones on the cypress trees. Early to mid-November is the best time to capture this vibrant season.

Winter still provides an abundance of wildlife photo opportunities. Although the cypress trees will become more monotone in shades of gray, large flocks of ducks, including redheads, wood ducks, and canvasbacks, arrive to spend the winter.

Winter can be surprisingly chilly in this northern stretch of Louisiana, but sunny days warm up quickly.

Read more: 7 Ways to Capture Character in Bird Photography

2. Lake Martin and Cypress Island Preserve

Like Caddo Lake, Lake Martin is a flooded cypress-tupelo swamp but on a more intimate scale. At only 765 acres, it is much more accessible via a trail and by flat-bottomed boats like kayaks, canoes, and skiffs.

It too has a wide variety of wading birds, ducks, songbirds, birds of prey, and alligators throughout the year and is accessible by a trail that circumnavigates the entire boundary of the lake or by boat.

In particular, bird species include black-bellied whistling ducks, pileated woodpeckers, roseate spoonbills, great egrets, great blue herons, northern cardinals, white ibis, and wood ducks are common species to see.

birds of Louisiana
A great egret slowly walks through the water at the edge of the cypress forest to hunt fish on a spring morning in Lake Martin, Louisiana.

Only two companies operate boat tours on Lake Martin — Champagnes Swamp Boat Tours and Louisiana Swamp Tours. Although they are very accommodating and know the lake very well, they too are more about fishing than photography so be clear about your goals.

Although any time of year provides excellent photo opportunities, fall through spring offers the best bird photo prospects, especially when mixed with the foggy morning scenes, the most pleasant weather, and the vibrant greens or autumn hues in the vegetation.

Starting in March, roseate spoonbills, snowy egrets, white ibis, and great egrets arrive in large numbers to nest in the rookery on the southern end of the lake. This area, referred to as Cypress Island Preserve, is closed to boat access from February through July for the nesting season.

Plan a boat tour for August, and you will be sure to see hundreds of birds still in the area as well as alligators basking in the warm summer sun. The levee trail and the kayak launch are closed for alligator nesting season June through September.

Because of these closures and the change of fall colors, October and November can be wonderful months to visit Lake Martin for the largest amount of access, but any time of year will be productive for photography.

Louisiana landscape photography
A colorful sunrise lights up the swamp of Lake Martin near Beaux Bridge, Louisiana.

For those looking for scenic photos, arrive here before sunrise.

Fog is common, and the heavy, humid air can create extremely saturated colors in the sky.

Frame some of the cypress trees — the boat launch on the east side and a short walk to a point off the trail on the west side each has single isolated trees — against the dramatic sky to create a stunning silhouette image.

Sunset also provides a wealth of photo opportunities, especially of bald cypress trees framed against colorful sunset skies, but the air will be void of the foggy conditions.

For boat rides, long zoom lenses rather than heavy prime lenses make more sense mounted on a monopod. For walking the trail, bring a wide-angle lens for landscape images and the lens with the longest reach that you are comfortable carrying on a 2.5-mile flat loop trail.

Read more: How to Improve Your Lake Photography

3. Rip’s Rookery at Rip Van Winkle Gardens

About 45 minutes from Lake Martin to the south is Rip’s Rookery at Rip Van Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island.

This private mansion and extensive gardens were the hunting lodge and grounds of 19th-century actor Joseph Jefferson.

For wildlife photographers, the bird sanctuaries and rookeries at the property, built by the owner in 1982 to recycle water and to create a safe habitat from predators for the birds, offer the opportunity to photograph more than 250 species of birds and have close encounters with alligators.

Snakes and turtles hide in the vegetation too.

alligator photography louisiana
An American alligator rests on the banks of one of the ponds at Rip’s Rookery at Jefferson Island.

The most popular bird species at Rip’s Rookery is the vibrant pink roseate spoonbill, which nests here from March through mid-summer, but cattle egrets, snowy egrets, great egrets, little blue herons, tri-colored herons, and anhinga also raise baby birds at the rookery.

There are two ponds at Jefferson Island, a large one with a massive island full of bald cypress and swamp maple trees and a smaller pond with a more intimate island of green foliage.

The large rookery, which is located closest to the entrance road to the west, is best photographed at sunrise. The smaller rookery is a short walk past this larger pond to the west and offers better photos at sunset.

As you walk along the grass, be mindful of looking for alligators and snakes.

The closest town to Rip’s Rookery at Jefferson Island is Lafayette, where hotels and restaurants provide plenty of accommodations for an overnight stay.

Louisiana birdlife
A cattle egret displays its breeding plumage on the island of Rip’s Rookery at Jefferson Island.

While at Rip’s Rookery, which is free to visit, be sure to bring your cell phone to record the cacophony of bird calls emanating from the trees.

A long lens, such as a 500mm or 150-600mm lens, is necessary to capture images of the birds.

Many of the birds will fly close to the banks of the ponds, returning with sticks for nesting material early in the nesting season and later with food to feed the offspring, so watch their flight patterns to anticipate the direction they are flying.

Backgrounds can be messy when the birds are sitting in the trees or flying past the rookery, so look for shots where the verdant green leaves have some separation from the birds.

Read more: What’s the Best Lens for Wildlife Photography in 2023?

4. Audubon and Lafreniere Parks in New Orleans

Heading east after visiting the Lafayette area on U.S. Interstate 10 takes visitors to New Orleans.

Within this historic city, referred to as the Crescent City for the bend in the Mississippi River that snakes around and through the city, are two fabulous parks bursting with hundreds of species of birds.

What more could a bird photographer ask for than to capture images of the South’s abundant bird life at the park named for John James Audubon, the famous naturalist and artist, who lived in New Orleans in the early 19th century?

Audubon Park is in New Orleans proper in the historic Uptown neighborhood along the Mississippi River.

wildlife photography Louisiana
Gray squirrels are common mammals at both urban parks.

The approximately 350 acres of the park border the Mississippi River to the southwest and St. Charles Avenue to the northeast, making the park accessible by the city’s famous streetcars.

The lagoon on the eastern side of the park is where photographers will want to spend their time.

In spring and early summer, a wide variety of bird species, including great egrets, snowy egrets, cattle egrets, little blue herons, tri-colored herons, black-crowned night herons, and yellow-crowned night herons, nest on Ochsner Island, more commonly referred to as Bird Island for obvious reasons.

In winter, this lagoon turns into a mecca for ducks that spend the colder months in this park. Species like wood duck, mallard, American coot, blue-winged teal, gadwall, and northern shoveler are not uncommon to spot.

The noise, however, of the hundreds of black-bellied whistling ducks is unmistakable even from the nearby parking lot.

Beyond the lagoon, the approximately 150 live oaks — some more than 250 years old— entice smaller birds.

Northern cardinals, hooded warblers, blue jays, golden-crowned kinglets, white-eyed vireo, yellow-rumped warblers, red-bellied woodpeckers, and many other songbird, woodpecker, and neotropical species flutter around the leaves.

A lucky few might even spot a fox or two taking advantage of the large buffet of birds.

Bird photography Louisiana
A portrait of a white ibis at Lafreniere Park in Metairie, Louisiana.

Just 10 miles from Audubon Park is a similar urban park in Metairie, one of the unincorporated suburbs in the New Orleans metropolitan area.

A smaller natural area than Audubon Park at only 155 acres, the natural green space includes an expansive lake that attracts just as many birds as the larger nearby park.

Each winter, hundreds of birds flock to this area to take refuge from colder temperatures. White ibis hang out here by the hundreds, attracted by the safe habitat free of predators like alligators.

In addition to the ibis, anhinga, cormorants, black-bellied whistling ducks, great egrets, roseate spoonbills, black swans, laughing gulls, American white pelicans, and ring-necked ducks wander around the grassy areas, float along the water, or enjoy the bird sanctuary.

Nutria, a large non-native rodent, are also frequently spotted in the sanctuary along with urban wildlife like grey squirrels and raccoons.

duck photography louisiana
A black-bellied whistling duck runs across the surface of the lake during takeoff at Audubon Park.

At both parks, birds are extremely tolerant of people. Although long prime lenses can certainly generate unique close-up shots and create more bokeh with the depth of field, stunning images can also be created with a 100-400mm, 80-400mm, 70-200mm, or similar ranges.

Top tip: Because low-angle images capture the essence of eye contact, wear waders for lying or sitting on the ground.

Sunrise or sunset works well at either park since trails, lakes, and ponds can be accessed from many perspectives, but both parks are extremely popular locations, attracting a wide array of people recreating in the afternoons.

Read more: Backlighting in Wildlife Photography: Creative Use of Light

5. Grand Isle

About two hours south of New Orleans sits the only accessible and the last inhabited barrier island in Louisiana.

As an exposed island, Grand Isle is susceptible to violent hurricanes, like Hurricane Ida that barreled directly toward it in August 2022.

This position, however, directly north of the Yucatan Peninsula across the Gulf of Mexico, makes it one of the first places for migrating birds to stop on land during spring migration.

Add a strong wind or storm to the mix, and a fallout of unprecedented proportions can bring an unbelievable number of bird species into this small and isolated region.

Although there may only be a few services between Houma, the closest town to the north, and Grand Isle, photographers will want to continuously stop along the way to capture photos of osprey and kingfishers hunting in the marshes, brown pelicans soaring low to the water’s surface in the bays, and reddish egrets and black-necked stilts foraging for food in the shallow ponds.

Once arriving in Grand Isle, the beach provides a whole different array of bird species. Flocks of black skimmers line the beach, flushing up into black swarms at any disturbance. Sanderlings scurry about the beach, and Royal terns and laughing gulls seek out small fish in the turbulent water.

Venturing closer into the neighborhoods, where mulberry trees produce sweet fruit during the spring migration, neotropical migrants, like hooded warblers, western tanagers, painted buntings, and prothonotary warblers, gorge on the tasty food.

Grand Isle is one of the few places in Louisiana where such an abundance of bird species — wading birds, shorebirds, songbirds, birds of prey, neotropical birds — can keep you busy photographing week after week.

bird photography Louisiana
A flock of black skimmers faces the wind and sun on the beach of Grand Isle, Louisiana.

When Grand Isle took a direct hit from Hurricane Ida in 2022, the small town fought to come back. It has been a slow process, including rebuilding habitats for birds.

The mulberry trees did not fare well in the storm, and it will take time to allow those food sources to be bountiful again, but birds have started to return.

Because of its south-facing view of the Gulf of Mexico, sunrise and sunset provide wonderful light in Grand Isle.

A pier at Grand Isle State Park offers a strong foreground subject set against a colorful sunrise sky while the bays and marshes filled with birds searching for food are good places to explore at sunset.

Bring the wide-angle lens for those landscape photos of the beach while your longest lenses will be best for photographing the birds from the roads.

Much of this island is private land, except for the beaches, the state park, and the Lafitte Woods Nature Preserve, so photography has to be done from the roads.

During the spring migration in April, many of the homeowners open their yards to birders for a glimpse at some of the visiting birds.

Read more: 7 Top Tips for Coastal Wildlife Photography

6. Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

Nestled along the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain is this vast refuge of more than 18,000 acres of freshwater and brackish marsh mixed with cypress-tupelo forest, pine savannah, and bayous.

The refuge has a mix of trails and boardwalks in its wooded habitat where roosting snowy egrets and feeding great blue herons enjoy the protection of the trees from the open waters.

The water-based portions of this refuge are best explored by boat, with kayaks and canoes being an excellent option for the shallow water that is susceptible to big swings in the tide (boats can be rented at nearby businesses in Mandeville and Lacombe).

American alligators can be spotted in any of the waters — along the lakeshore or in the marshes of the forests — or basking on logs and muddy banks in the warm sunshine.

Louisiana nature photography spots
The boardwalk through the pine savannah and brackish marsh at sunrise at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana.

A productive area for bird photography is Lake Road. This one-mile dirt road that sits only inches above the water during high tide has a public boat launch, perfect for launching kayaks or canoes to explore the nearby marshes.

At the end of the road, old pilings attract brown pelicans, royal terns, and laughing gulls to wait out passing storms. Brown and white pelicans along with great egrets, great blue herons, and kingfishers hunt in the shallow marshes on either side of the road.

Occasional river otters and nutria also make appearances along this stretch of habitat.

One of the rarest birds in the U.S. — the red-cockaded woodpecker — calls the Boy Scout Road area of the refuge home. The only woodpecker to make cavities in living pine trees, this tiny bird is believed to have only about 6,000 family units remaining in the U.S.

Like many of the places in southern Louisiana, sunrise and sunset produce mind-blowing color in Big Branch as well. Vibrant clouds can fill the sky above Lake Pontchartrain as seen from Lake Road or heavy humidity hanging in the air saturates colors behind silhouetted pine trees.

Read more: 8 Ways to Improve Your Forest Photography

7. Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve

Established for the history and cultural resources of people in the Mississippi River Delta region, this unit of the National Park System includes six separate sites near New Orleans.

For wildlife photography, explore the Barataria Preserve site south of New Orleans where forest, swamps, and marsh make up a typical southern Louisiana swamp scene and are home to more than 300 species of birds.

Louisiana wildlife photography
An alligator slowly moves through the water, reflecting all of the verdant green of the surrounding forest at Barataria Preserve in Jean Lafitte National Historic Park.

Walk along the boardwalk through the thick green forest. Keep ears open for sounds of barred owls calling from the trees dripping in Spanish moss. Watch the water on either side of the trail for the slightest movement, often signifying the presence of an alligator floating through the duck-weed-filled water.

The preserve covers about 26,000 acres of hardwood forest, swamp, bayous, and marsh, which can also be explored by canoe or kayak. Floating through the swamp gives a different perspective to the thick, green canopy.

Difficult to photograph because of the “messy” and busy surroundings, look for cypress trunks that stand out from the forest and use the trees to frame a wading bird.

nature photography Louisiana

A brown pelican, the namesake bird of the Pelican State of Louisiana, shakes off water on a rainy morning near Lake Pontchartrain.

In conclusion

Swamp boots and a good hair tie are necessary to visit this muddy, wet and humid destination that will decimate any stylish hairdo, but it is this same warm, thick habitat that makes it so appealing to birds.

The state’s position along the Gulf of Mexico makes it a popular stopover for migrating birds in spring and fall.

A sprawling coastline of marshes and wetlands provides millions of acres of brackish habitat for wading birds. Thick swamps offer the protective cover small songbirds seek.

An abundance of water in the form of ponds, lakes, streams and bayous gives tens of thousands of ducks a safe refuge. 

Most people visit the southern region of Louisiana for one of three things: jazz and Cajun music, fishing or Mardi Gras. Discover all of the other beauties and vibrancy the Pelican State offers too.

With more than 470 species of birds recorded in this vast state made up of bayous, swamps, coast and forest, photo opportunities are sure to be around every bend in the bayou. 

Visit Dawn's website

Dawn Wilson is professional and award-winning nature photographer and writer specializing in telling stories about wildlife and landscapes of the Rocky Mountains and Alaska. Her work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications, including Outdoor Photographer and Nature's Best Photography, and she hosts photo tours for brown bears, polar bears, and more. She lives in Estes Park, Colorado.

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