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NEW ORLEANS LOUISIANA — A PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE

Story and photos by

Mention New Orleans and what images come to mind? Mississippi paddlewheelers? Mardi Gras? Jazz clubs? The French Quarter? Creole and Cajun cooking?

New Orleans jazz musicians play trumpet and banjo.
New Orleans jazz musicians play trumpet and banjo.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Sights, sounds and scents make New Orleans one of the most seductive cities in the world — and one of the most photogenic. To capture the essence of New Orleans with your camera, you must focus on the key components of these images: fun, food, music, water and architecture.

Downtown New Orleans

The best place to begin your photo tour is on the 31st floor of the World Trade Center. Go in the morning, when the city is bathed in light. You can access the observation deck by taking the outside glass elevator from the lobby.

Use a wide-angle lens for overall views of the city and the Mississippi, then switch to a telephoto for close-ups of the river traffic, the downtown skyscrapers and the colorful facades of the French Quarter.

Unique photos of the city can be taken, for free, from the Algiers (Canal Street) ferry that regularly crosses the river. The river is about a half-mile wide here, so use paddle wheelers, freighters and tugboats to add foreground interest and fill in the broad expanse of water. High shutter speeds prevent blurred pictures caused by the boat's vibrations.

Mississippi River cruises

Garden District home
Garden District home
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The city is best illuminated in the morning, but in the evening, when it's silhouetted against a glowing sunset, set up your camera and tripod on the opposite riverbank. Meter off the sky, then stop the lens down an additional half stop to saturate the background colors.

There are Mississippi riverboats available for moonlight cruises, jazz breakfast cruises and bayou cruises, but our favorite boat for a photographic cruise is the John James Audubon. The riverboat route takes you past the colorful wharves along the port, one of the busiest in the world. During the seven-mile cruise, the captain describes the waterfront activities.

The John James Audubon riverboat stops at the Audubon Zoo, a well-landscaped park with enough photographic material to keep you busy for hours. There are 1,500 animals here, including rare white tigers in the Asian Domain and alligators and opossums in the Louisiana Swamp. Most are in large open pits, so a telephoto lens, preferably zoom, will help you decide which composition is most appealing for photos.

Garden District

Board the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar, the oldest continuously-running street railway in existence, for a memorable ride, through the Garden District, back to the city. The Garden District offers endless photographic possibilities: huge oaks and magnolias screening magnificent mansions, Greek Revival homes with tall white pillars and ornate cornices, stately Victorian buildings surrounded by azaleas, and even a fence that's a cast iron fantasy of cornstalks!

Horse with bonnet in Jackson Square
Horse with bonnet in Jackson Square
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

But the only way to get good pictures of the antebellum homes is on foot. Get off the streetcar at Louisiana Avenue and walk down one block to Prytania and along Prytania to First Street, and then follow it back up to St. Charles.

What to see in the French Quarter

While the Garden District was home for the American aristocracy after Napoleon sold Louisiana to the U.S. in 1803, the French Quarter housed the Europeans. The Quarter was the original city laid out by the French in 1718 and eventually ruled by the Spanish for 38 years.

A stroll through this 13-square-block area is like stepping back in time. Historic facades are embellished with lacy wrought iron balconies, literally overflowing with greenery.

Horses, decorated with bonnets, flowers and ribbons, pull vintage carriages through the streets below. Capture the Old World charm with a wide-angle lens, then move in close for visually-exciting details — the flickering gas lamps, the flower-filled courtyards and the antique hitching posts, shaped like horses' heads.

Title your pictures with street signs and ceramic wall plaques. Add life and a touch of humor with close-ups of the horses.

French Market Po Boy, Original Old Absinthe Bar and Calle de Bienville signs in French Quarter.
French Market Po Boy, Original Old Absinthe Bar and Calle de Bienville signs in French Quarter.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The best time to visit is during the April French Quarter Festival when the streets are alive with people enjoying local food specialities and free music performances.

Historic homes

Several of the historic homes are museums, authentically furnished to provide you with a glimpse of the way New Orleanians lived in the past. Most don't allow photography inside.

However, the Hermann-Grima House, a restored 1831 mansion, has a unique gadget that fascinates photographers. It's a square metal box with a handle on the back and a lens on the front. A door on the side allows a candle to be inserted.

An etched glass strip can be pushed through a slot between the lens and the box so that the image can be projected on a wall or paper in front. Ironically, this primitive slide projector was a toy, used by children for looking at pictures of their favorite stories!

Street artist paints woman's portrait.
Street artist paints woman's portrait.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Jackson Square

The heart of the French Quarter, Jackson Square, is a magnet for tourists and locals and an inexhaustible source of people pictures: street entertainers, mimes, magicians and musicians. Overall views of the square are best taken from the Moon Walk, on the Mississippi levee.

A wide-angle lens encompasses the entire scene: the triple spires of St. Louis Cathedral, the equestrian statue of General Andrew Jackson and the colorful horse-drawn carriages. Include the fountain, in the foreground, to add depth and shoot both horizontals and verticals for variety.

Use a telephoto for close-ups of the sidewalk artists and their work as well as for humorous shots of the pigeons cavorting on General Jackson and his horse!

Beignets and hot chocolate at Café du Monde
Beignets and hot chocolate at Café du Monde
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

French Market

Centuries-old arches and colonnades, at the end of the Moon Walk, house the shops and restaurants of the French Market. Store windows filled with Mardi Gras masks, handicrafts and antiques make interesting photographs, but may require a polarizing filter to reduce glare.

The popular Café du Monde and its patrons, relaxing at outdoor tables, are also obvious targets for your camera, but don't forget to take close-ups of the steaming café au lait and beignets (square doughnuts, liberally dusted with powdered sugar) for which the café is famous!

New Orleans is renowned for its cuisine and no photo story is complete without pictures of its food and restaurants. Long, open-sided sheds at the end of the French Market are filled with colorful local produce — tomatoes, okra, peppers, pecans and long strands of braided garlic.

New Orleans restaurants

Steamed lobster with orange sauce
Steamed lobster with orange sauce
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Throughout the year, there are several food festivals held in the New Orleans area. They're great fun and provide countless opportunities for photographs of people cooking and eating local specialties from crawfish to pralines. The food itself makes photographs good enough to eat!

Alternately, spend a morning at the New Orleans School of Cooking where you'll learn the basics of Creole and Cajun cooking. Use a flash for appetizing shots of the gumbo bubbling in the cast iron pot and the steaming plates of jambalaya. (If you can shoot them before the hungry class digs in!)

There are more restaurants per capita in New Orleans than in any other U.S. city. Their signs and menus, when posted on blackboards outside, make good photographs. Inside, you'll need a flash or high ISO setting to shoot the piece de resistance as it's set before you.

Cook stirs pot of boiling crawfish.
Cook stirs pot of boiling crawfish.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Weekend jazz brunches are popular and those held in courtyards, decorated with balloons and umbrellas, are especially photogenic.

New Orleans Superdome

While it seems that the French Quarter is New Orleans, it would be a mistake to omit the rest of the city. We've already mentioned the Garden District and the Audubon Zoo in the Uptown area.

To these, we must add the Central Business District. For dramatic photographs of the modern architecture here, use a wide-angle lens to shoot straight up the white sides of Louisiana's highest building, the 51-story Shell Square. The staggered red Panamerican Life Building, next door, provides contrast in both color and geometric design.

But you'll need at least a 17 mm. or a fisheye to photograph the most unusual building in the city, the Superdome. This flying saucer-shaped structure has a circumference of nearly half a mile and a height of 27 stories!

Another architectural curiosity unique to New Orleans is the "skyscraper" burial vault. Since most of the city is below sea level and graves fill with water before coffins can be lowered, multi-story, above-ground tombs were built to house several generations of the same family.

(The bones of the previous burial are pushed back to make room for the new occupants!) Some of the vaults have roofs with eaves and others have tiny fences. Arranged along narrow paths, it's easy to see why they're called Cities of the Dead.

Although the St. Louis Cemeteries are not far from the French Quarter, we were advised to photograph the Metairie Cemetery, which is not only safer, but much better maintained. It's accessible in a half-hour on the Canal Street Cemetery streetcar. Go on a sunny day, since the tombs look drab and shapeless against gray skies.

Longue Vue House and Gardens with water fountain in Metairie, Louisiana.
Longue Vue House and Gardens with water fountain in Metairie, Louisiana.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Metairie has another worthwhile attraction for photographers — Longue Vue, a 46-room mansion set in eight-acres of landscaped gardens. You need a high ISO setting to photograph the beautifully furnished rooms inside, since flash is not allowed.

Outside, leisurely stroll through the gardens to find the best angles for photographing the estate. Try framing the Greek Revival entrance with an alley of oak trees. Or, fill the foreground with geraniums, fountains and a red brick pathway that draws your eye towards the mansion.

For a change of pace, take a day trip to the bayous to photograph the local flora and fauna. Choose a tour that brings no more than six people at a time into the small, meandering waterways where the 600-passenger bayou cruise ships can't go.

A regular lens is fine for framing the streams with canopies of cypress trees, dripping with tufts of Spanish moss, but a telephoto lens is essential for photographing wildlife. To date, we haven't found a lens suitable for capturing the elusive swamp monster!

After sunset, bring your camera back to the French Quarter. Bourbon Street is closed to traffic, so pedestrians can wander up and down, drinks in hand, as if at some gigantic outdoor party. Dixieland pours into the streets from clubs and bars. Use their open doors and windows to frame photos of the performers inside.

There's enough light for hand-held shots with a telephoto lens and high ISO setting. But a tripod is needed for shooting the neon and illuminated signs for popular night spots such as Pat O'Brien's and Old Absinthe House.

Jazz music

For authentic jazz, played by the old-timers who invented it, go to Preservation Hall. It's a no-frills place, but no one complains since the admission is cheap and the music is the best in the city.

While most nightclubs don't allow flash photographs, no one objected to us taking pictures here. Stand against the wall on the side so you can include both the audience and the musicians in the same photograph.

Ceramic Mardi Gras masks in French Quarter store window
Ceramic Mardi Gras masks in French Quarter store window
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Mardi Gras

Next to jazz, New Orleans is most famous for Mardi Gras. This flamboyant kaleidoscope of balls, parades and masquerades flaunts the exotic, the erotic and the uninhibited spirit enveloping the city. Use a fill-in flash to add glitter to the sequins and sparkles and a cross-star filter for impressive special effects.

There's no denying it. New Orleans has variety, vitality and charm. The photos that you take will reflect the city's European heritage, its southern flavor and its love of good food, good music and good times.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau: www.neworleanscvb.com