A Rockport based photographer’s photo of the Milky Way perched way up in the sky above the Cypress trees and Spanish moss at Caddo Lake has garnered almost 200,000 views on social media.
“I try to never self guide when I travel for photography,” Rockport Photographer John Martell said. “Caddo Lake is a great example. If I set out in the dark, in the early morning or late evening, to get a sunrise or sunset shot, it would be easy to waste time trying to find the best place to go for all the elements I’m looking for in my shot.”
So Martell, who has visited Caddo Lake a few times before his most recent visit earlier this month, reconnected with Caddo Outback Tours guide John Win.
“John has a good reputation among photographers and he knows where to go for the best light at certain times, or whatever setting you’re looking for,” Martell said. “We really depend on these photography guides.”
Martell specializes in photos of the Milky Way Galaxy, as well as sunrise or sunset photos so he and John mostly went out shooting during the early morning hours, late evening or midnight hours.
Martell was seeking to capture a photograph of the Milky Way high in the night sky above the haunting Spanish moss covered Cypress trees of Caddo Lake. The only problem Martell said, was being on a boat in the middle of a body of water, didn’t provide the sturdiest base needed for the shot.
“To get a photo of the sky at night with the stars, you have to leave the shutter open longer, about 20 seconds, and allow for longer exposure, and you have to keep the camera rock steady,” Martell said. “Any movement during that longer exposure, you’d just see blurs instead of stars.”
To counteract the problem, Martell and Win put their heads together and grabbed a piece of galvanized pipe, stuck it down into the couple feet deep of mud that sits at the bottom of the shallow areas of Caddo Lake, and put one leg of the camera’s tripod down inside the galvanized pipe, then attached the camera atop. Martell and Win named their invention the “pipe-pod.”
“We had a steady base now with the ‘pipe-pod’ and could allow for the longer exposure and it worked,” Martell said.
The resulting photo is reported to be the first of the Milky Way above Caddo Lake.
“I searched on the Internet to find a photo with that title and couldn’t find a single entry,” Martell said. “This could be the first photos of the Milky Way taken above Caddo Lake, from the research I’ve done.”
Some of Martell’s other photos at Caddo Lake show sunrises with the sun’s rays peeking through the Spanish moss of the Cypress trees, while others are sunset photos that show the the leaves of the Cypress trees lit up from below with shadows all around.
“We call that ‘light painting’ when we use lights to make the definition of trees and other objects stand out when taking night time photos, other wise you would just see the trees in silhouette,” Martell said. “It’s amazing to think some of those Cypress trees have been there more than 3,000 years.”
Martell hadn’t planned the trip to Caddo Lake this summer, but much like the rest of the world in 2020, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic affected his travel photography plans this year.
“A friend and I were supposed to take a trip to a volcano in Guatemala that you can safely view from a distance erupting every 45 minutes to an hour during this time of year and I wanted to get some photos of the Milky Way above an erupting volcano,” Martell said. “Then we had planned to go to Glacier National Park, but due to COVID-19, and I’m 74 years old, I didn’t want to be on a plane, sitting close to people I don’t know so I looked for places I could drive to by myself.”
Caddo Lake ended up being the perfect back up destination for Martell.
“Caddo Lake is spectacular,” Martell said. “The water, the sky the reflections of the Cypress trees and Spanish Moss in the water, it’s just spectacular. The Milky Way is also beautiful and so is a sunrise or a sunset but it’s not just them that I want to photograph. I want to photograph the Milky Way or a sunrise or sunset somewhere that you can get a sense of place. I want people to see the photograph and get the feeling that, “I’d like to see the sunrise there. I’ve got to see the Milky Way or a sunset in that place.”
Martell has more than 22,000 followers on his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/JohnMartellPhotography and posts one photo a day, each day, for more than the past five years.
His Milky Way photo above Caddo Lake has been shared more than 1,600 times, has almost 5,000 reactions, more than 500 comments and has been viewed more than 177,000 times as of Wednesday.
Martell, who moved to Rockport from Boston 15 years ago, has a namesake gallery in downtown Rockport that has survived Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Martell said the gallery before COVID-19 was open each weekday and Saturday but now has reduced hours, just Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and the extra time off has allowed him to drive to more locations and take more photographs.
“I do plan to still go to Guatemala, hopefully next year, but right now, I have so much more time for my photography,” Martell said. “A friend told me about this barn out in the country and so last week I went there and took some photos of the Milky Way above this barn that is painted on one side.”
Martell has also recently photographed the Milky Way above a cotton field and even managed to get a photo of the Space Station, all of which can be seen on his Facebook page.
Martell, an award winning photographer, offers his photos for sell on canvas, cards, metal plates and other objects, through his Facebook page, his art gallery located at 302 South Austin Street and his website at https://www.johnmartellphotography.com/
Next up, Martell plans to drive near to Big Bend National Park, one of the darkest places in the United States, and take photos of the Milky Way. He also said he might return to Caddo Lake.
“Caddo Lake is this unbelievable natural gem and one of my reasons for going to these places and doing what I do is because not everyone can get in a car and drive to Caddo Lake, or they can’t get in a plane and fly to Guatemala, or ride a horse and so by taking these photos, I’m able to expose people to the beautiful parts of the earth that they can’t or don’t go to,” Martell said. “I’m also encouraging people to check out places like Caddo Lake, Rockport or Big Bend.”
To view Martell’s Caddo Lake photos, visit his Facebook page and scroll the the entry on Aug. 12 labeled, “Success.”