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In the Thick, Tom Wilson, GNPA

Making Autumn Last At Banks Lake NWR

There’s still time to photograph unique fall landscapes at this south Georgia gem.
Tom Wilson explains what you need to know.

By Tom Wilson

The fall always seems to slip away too quickly; one week the leaves are at the peak of their fall splendor, and the next week the limbs are bare as the more somber moods of winter take over.

But in Georgia, I’ve found a way to extend autumn in a way that December 1 becomes just as colorful as November 1. I gas up my vehicle, pack my gear in the back and head south to Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Lanier County in south Georgia.

In late November and even into early December, the Cypress trees that grow in profusion in and around the lake turn a shade of rust that can best be described as other-worldly. My favorite time of day to photograph there is early in the morning, due to the direction of the light and the possibility of fog drifting over the water. There are other places in south Georgia with beautiful fall Cypress foliage, including the Okefenokee, but I really like Banks Lake because of how convenient it is to get to, and the fact that you can find some great views of the lake without having to get into a boat. That being said, if you want to move around by boat, you can rent one from the concessionaire located in the parking area.


Milky Way Over Banks Lake


Most of my photographs have been taken from the wooden deck located next to the parking area. This is a good vantage point, but be aware of vibrations caused by other people walking on the deck. It’s not usually a high-traffic area, but when others are moving about, you should avoid opening your shutter until the vibrations have stopped.

I usually choose my full-frame Nikon bodies for photographs at Banks Lake. Typically I’ll pack focal lengths from 16mm to 120mm, but I’ve used lenses as long as 500mm to reach across the lake. In my experience, the best dates to go are from November 20 to December 3, but as with all things in nature, that can vary from year to year.


Banks Lake on a Foggy Morning


Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge is located at 307 GA Hwy 122 near Lakeland, and is administered by the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Folkston. There is a concession opened daily at the location on Hwy 122 that offers snacks, drinks and tackle for sale, as well as canoe and kayak rentals. Check the Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge website for contact information and more details.

For landscape photographers, it’s a special place…especially right now.


Editor’s Note: To read Charlotte Gibbs’ article this month about shooting winter landscapes, click here.


Tom Wilson is a nature photographer working primarily in Georgia and the Southeast. He serves on the board of GNPA, is past chair of the Conservation Committee and current chair of the Communication Committee.