The Mississippi River is one of the longest and most famous rivers in the world, and it drains almost half of the United States. It’s a hive of activity, with a multitude of freight cargoes being ferried upon and down the river on a daily basis. From Baton Rouge to the Gulf of Mexico, the river provides access to a number of deep draft ocean going vessels, which can be quite the sight transiting the dangerous waters, particularly in southern Louisiana.

Leake Avenue, 2008

The Port of New Orleans is home to much of this traffic, and that makes for some interesting photographic opportunities given the famous landmarks around the city. However, that’s not all that makes the shipping traffic interesting. The river is wide and treacherous. At over 100 feet deep in some places, with dangerous currents and tight bends, the Mississippi can easily justify the payroll of its many pilots; providing safe transits along the river for the many foreign flagged vessels.

The Creole Queen Steamer

The blend of dangerous hydrodynamic conditions, tugs fighting against the current, and the mix of large and small vessels makes for great images. From a photography perspective, one of the best ways to capture such scenes is with a long lens, looking straight down the barrel at the the stern or bow of these vessels. Such long lens shots really accentuate the wave conditions that these vessels have to contend with. One example is this shot of a large grain carrier being followed by the much smaller Creole Queen stern wheeler (above): the waterway seems busy and dangerous in such shots; which isn’t actually too far from the truth.

From the Natchez steamer

One of the best ways to capture these large vessels is to get onto the waterway itself. There are various short cruisers, such as the Natchez or the Creole Queen, which will navigate close to some of the very large crude carriers or the large grain carriers anchored in the channel awaiting Port entry. Getting down to the waterline on these cruisers provides a great opportunity to shoot these vessels as they navigate or ride the choppy wave conditions that are often observed on the river.

Port of New Orleans anchorage

Another way to capture the influence of this majestic river on large vessel is to shoot them making the turn at Algiers, where the high currents will compel the pilot to “drift” into the corner, pushing out the stern as it navigates the very tight and very deep bend. This is particularly obvious with the large cruise ships which will noticeably list to the port as they make their way south to the Gulf of Mexico

Carnival Triumph
Created By
Ray Devlin



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