The Painted Churches are one of Texas’ historical gems. While not widely known, twenty of these churches appear on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of these churches are available for the public to enjoy the amazing art of our ancestors; others are closed to the public. They are located from south Texas to north Texas to the panhandle, and a handful reside in central Texas.
Dubina, Czech for Oak Grove, was first settled in 1856 by Moravian immigrants from what is now the Czech Republic. These Czech-Moravians traveled for 14 weeks across the Atlantic, finally landing in Galvestion. After much hardship, they found their way to the fertile lands just south of La Grange. Working together, these tough people forged a community and erected their first church in 1900. A hurricane (1909) and then a fire (1912) destroyed their small church. A third church was designed by Leo Dielmann. The community raised over $5,500 to construct this new parish, and the building the building has served as the community center since then. The Saint Cyril and Methodius Church is colorful and ornate. The frescoes on the walls and ceiling have undergone several transformations, the final one coming in 1983 to restore the art to its original state.
The beauty of these churches is stunning, but the journey of the immigrants that established and built these structures tell an even more amazing story. In the 1840s, large groups of Germans and Czechs made their way to central Texas and established communities in what is now Fredericksburg, Schulenburg, Shiner, Dubina, La Grange, New Braunfels, and many other areas. The journey to this new land was arduous and long, often lasting three to four months. For several groups, the trek required 14 weeks of sailing across the Atlantic. The Germans and Czechs that survived the trip entered Texas through Galveston, the “Ellis Island of the West.” From there, groups would scatter. Some traveled onto Iowa and others stayed in Texas. A ferry would transport them up Buffalo Bayou, then they would set out in wagons. Some of these groups settled in central Texas in the 1850s – many in Fayette County – and built the famous Painted Churches of central Texas in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
In 1887, settlers exited the first train to roll through Fayette County, and not long after the town of Shiner was born. Czech and Germans of the new town met and, after purchasing two acres of land east of the traintracks, a new church was planned.
The church we see today is one of the famed and beautiful painted churches – St. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church. The first structure was completed May 31, 1891, but it did not last, as it was blown off its foundation by a tornado in 1892. Undeterred, the community did not abandon the building. Soon, the walls were straightened and the tower replaced.
As the town grew, more room became necessary for the parish to serve its people.
The structure standing today was designed by the architect, James Wahrenburger, in a beautiful Gothic style. The colorful stained glass shines with vibrant color, and rich, detailed frescoes bring the Garden of Gethsemane to life as it rises above the altar.
Today, and within a small radius near Schulenburg, some of the most beautiful parishes, not only in Texas but in the nation, show off their treasures and are open for the public to enjoy. In this area east of San Antonio, these small parishes resemble the Gothic architecture of the German and Czech homeland. The interiors are filled with magnificent works of art – frescoes on the ceilings, ornate columns, detailed statues of the saints and angels, and vibrant colors that fill the room with life.
Happy Travels, Texas, and I hope you can enjoy these churches someday regardless of your faith or persuasion.
Rob Images from Texas
I was asked yesterday (and on many occasions in the past) which lenses I use for my photography. Most questions are related to my landscapes which make up 99% of my work. When I travel, such as my recent trek to Iceland, I took three lenses:
I used the latter two lenses about 85% of the time in that trip. For wide-angle landscapes, the 11-24 is hard to beat. I absolutely love the way it captures and adds drama to skies.
The Fjarðará is a river that flows down from a mountain pass into the east Iceland town of Seydisfjördur. From this vantage point, views of the valley below and the distant fjord are beautiful on clear sunlit days.
This lens has a pretty wide sweet spot as long as I avoid the 11-12mm and 23-24mm range. At those ends of the lens, the edges become a bit blurry. (The same can be said for the 16-35L – I just avoid the extreme ranges.) Because I like everything in focus for my images, I’ve found that f/16 offers the best opportunity for sharp details in one image, especially when shooting a tight/close foreground of flowers or rocks. That said, I will still usually take the same image with different focal lengths and blend the two together to ensure the overall image comes out clear and sharp.
For the 16-35L, I do the same thing – take multiple images with different focal lengths and focus-stack the group. Even if I don’t use all the focal lengths, I at least have insurance that I have everything covered.
Another thing I consider with these lenses is the sort of starburst they produce. I do like to shoot at the moment the sun hits the horizon – either at sunrise or sunset. The way that light presents itself is influenced by the lens.
First, the 24-105 is out if you want a starburst. This lens will only produce a bright blur. It is a no-go for these critical moments of first light.
The other two lenses, the 16-35 and 11-24, both produce pleasing sun rays if timed correctly. (For these, I’ll bracket 7 exposures and blend them together to balance the light. More about this in a future blog).
After all the tourists have gone, Kirkjufellfoss flows clean and cold and the regal mountain stands silently in the cool west Iceland air. The long summer nights make these falls a wonderful place to spend some quiet time appreciating the beauty and history of this ancient land.
Nearing the last light of evening, the sun peeks through the clouds just above the horizon, creating a sunburst over the Pedernales River at Pedernales Falls State Park. This area is one of my favorites in the hill country, and I love exploring the winding river’s path.
And that’s what’s in my bag when I travel. When I’m hiking, I’ll usually only bring one lens – either the 11-24 or 16-35 – just depends on where I’m going.
As always, please ask if you have any questions. You can contact me through my website (see below).
In the meantime, have fun, stay safe, and be kind.
Rob Images from Texas
Do you need a tripod? In my humble opinion, if your focus is truly on landscape photography and you want to produce clear, sharp prints, the answer is yes. I shoot with a tripod nearly 99% of the time – even in daylight. The only times I do not use a tripod are when I’m on a boat or know that particular image will not be going on my business site. Tripods add stability, and in my case, allow me to produce larger prints that are crisp with no vibration nor blur.
In low light – before sunrise or after sunset – tripods help with longer exposures. They also allow the camera produce nice, smooth water in waterfall or river images. Below is a longer exposure from a tripod taken along the Pedernales River.
I loved the pastel colors on this evening along the edge of the Pedernales River. The water was a bit higher than usual after Spring rains, and this long exposure attempted to capture the beauty of the evening.
I also take a lot of bracketed images (groups of 3, 5, or 7 images of the same scene with different exposure times.) Using a tripod, I’m later able to align these groups of images and tinker with the lighting – what is too dark or too light – to create a photograph more pleasing to the eye. The use of a tripod during bracketing is especially helpful during sunrise or sunset when one of my goals is obtaining a sunburst. Below is an image made up of 7 different images with different exposure times. I later merged these together in photoshop, creating a nice, balanced image. This scene would not have been possible without the use of both a tripod and bracketing.
High up on the eastern ridge of Palo Duro Canyon, an arch rests close against the cliff. I’ve heard locals call it the Alter of Palo Duro. I was fortunate to have a friend familiar with the area guide me up to this unmarked location for an opportunity to photograph this remarkable rock formation at sunset. The hike up wasn’t easy. Nearly half of hte trek was off the trail, up loose rock and unforgiving scree. The prickly pear and other plants that stick were more than willing to impede our progress, as well. Finally, at the top of the ridge,, and after a short walk to find the exact location, the arch and landscape spread out before us. As the sunlight neared the horizon, the inner portion of the arch seemed to glow orange. We were the only ones around, and the evening was memorable in that we saw what few visitors to this park witness.
So, in short, use a tripod if your goal is crisp landscape images. I have at least five tripods laying around and each has its purpose. One is lightweight and small – perfect for long hikes. Another is bigger, heavier, and sturdy. And another weights about 50 pounds and is used for astrophotography (I don’t haul it around much!).These tripods are some of many helpful tools that produce high quality photography.
Happy travels, Texas. Images from Texas
After 15 years in the photography business and supporting a wife and two girls with this gig, I think I have enough mileage to answer a question I’m often asked – How do I make my photography better? I’m also asked at least a few times each month if I offer guided trips or lessons, but I currently just don’t have time. My two young daughters keep that from happening! And fortunately, I sell enough through vendors and designers and private clients so that I don’t have to go to shows or run workshops just yet. Working with folks and helping them improve something they love to do will be fun when I have more time. Going to sell my work at art fairs – not so much.
So here are the things I look for – in no particular order…
Be Creative… Yes, there are certain locations that have been photographed a zillion times. And for good reason – the particular view is usually stunning. But remember to look around – high and low and at different angles, different foreground, etc. and see if you can put your own spin on it. So instead of being a copycat like a few photographers are, be creative and challenge yourself to see things differently. Sometimes you can’t find different vantage points, and that’s ok; However, sometimes you can. And the light will always be different from hour to hour, day to day and season to season.
Follow the Lines… Leading lines are integral in my photography. In the deserts of Big Bend and Palo Duro, I look for lines in the rock that lead to something important in the image. I nearly always try to have these lines start at a perfect corner. I also use roads, rivers, and lakes to create lines leading to a central point.Notice the path in Caprock Canyons S.P. below that leads to the main focus.
Clouds change from white to pink to darker hues over Caprock Canyons State Park on a cool October evening. This view comes from the beginning of the Upper South Prong Trail.
Look up… I believe skies are important. They compliment an image, and partly cloudy or sunrise/sunset skies nearly always take the photograph from a good to great shot, especially when you have reflections across still water. If you see my website, I rarely have an image that does not have clouds of some sort. In those images with no clouds, I’ll often have a moon or even the Milky Way (for nighttime photography).Below is one of the best skies and reflections I’ve ever seen – taken at sunrise along the Pedernales River.
Reflections of clouds beneath a magnificent sunrise highlight this image from the Texas Hill Country. The sun had a nice glow on the horizon, and the pool along the Pedernales River in front of my was clear and calm. Only the fish and me were awake on this perfect September morning. It was a nice way to start the day!
About those Clouds… I normally shoot towards the sun before sunrise. After the sun has appeared over the horizon, and if I I’m not done shooting for the morning, I’ll shoot away from the sun (with the sun at my back). Unless I’m going for some retro, artistic look (which is not my style), I avoid shooting in the direction of the sun from post-sunrise to mid-day. Otherwise, the clouds will be overexposed and washed out, and the foreground will lose its crispness and color. This goes back to my original cloud-point… The sky needs to be worthy of the image.I think the sunset enhanced this photograph of a hay bale and took it to the next level.
Under an amazing Texas sky, bales of hay are ready for the winter harvest. It was a bit windy on this evening, but the colors left me no choice but to wander out in this grassy field and capture the fleeting sunset.
Don’t Look too Far… I need an alluring foreground to anchor the shot. To me, the foreground is like a bee to a flower. If I’m a bee, the flower needs to draw me closer and lead me into the scene much like a leading line. This attention-grabber could be a wildflower, cactus, river, road, interesting rocks, or anything else in the “front” of the image. And it needs to be in focus, but I’m thinking the focus part is a given.The flowers in the foreground here are striking (to me) and immediately capture my attention.
A red patch of Indian paintbrush highlights this wildflower photograph taken near New Berlin, Texas. The sunrise was amazing on this morning, painting the sky in red and orange strokes. On the ground, a thin layer of frost covered the delicate petals of red, yellow, and purple as pre-dawn temperatures dropped into the low 30s. It was cold out there, but the landscape was covered with soft colors all the way to the tree line.
This wildflower photograph was taken on private land with permission from the owner.
Divide into Thirds… I imagine you’ve heard of the “rule of thirds” if you are exploring photography. When you look at magazines or advertisements, notice how many images – even everyday stuff like cars, houses, shoes, and so on appear in a “thirds” format. You may notice a trend. Most fancy cameras allow for the screen to show a grid divided into 9 squares (3 rows, 3 columns) to help your composition. For whatever reason, the rule of thirds appeals to us humans as more pleasing to the eye. Maybe a psychologist can explain the whys of that, but it works! Can you see the way the cactus and sunset appear in different thirds of the image below?
A sunburst signals the last light of day over a field of Indian blankets (also known as firewheels). A prickly pear cactus shows off its blooms and adds a nice contast to the reds and oranges. This simple scene was found along a rural road in the Hill Country.
Don’t forget to Turn Around… This may go with the “Be Creative Portion” of this blog, but there have been several times I’ve turned around when shooting, especially on a trail, only to notice a better composition behind me rather than in front of me. You just never know. Take a lot of photographs… By taking a lot of photos (I prefer in RAW format), you’ll accomplish two things: 1) You’ll have more to work with. Sometimes I’ll take a certain photograph as an afterthought. Only after looking at it later I’ll realize I like it better than many others. 2) You’ll practice more and figure out what you like and what you don’t like after studying your files back at home.
That’s it for now. I could write volumes about this subject and what I’ve learned over the years. Maybe I will someday! In the meantime, get out there and take some photographs!
Safe Travels, Friends, and be kind to others.
~ Rob Images from Texas
I’ve been asked many times about the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park – what to expect, how long it is, how hard it is, and even what lenses to use. In my opinion, this hike offers one of the best bangs for the buck in terms of effort vs reward.
Difficulty? The hike itself is only about 5 miles round-trip. If visitors plan to hike in Big Bend and not just stroll some of the flat areas, they would need to be in reasonable shape. For the Lost Mine Trail, it is a gradual 2.5 mile uphill walk with switchbacks here and there, but nothing too strenuous. At the top it flattens out a bit and goes another .25 miles, so make sure to keep going until the trail stops.
One of my favorite places in Big Bend National Park is the top of the Lost Mine Trail. The views of Casa Grande and Juniper Canyon are second to none, and will continue to draw me back time and time again. This panorama was taken on a quiet and amazing Spring evening and tries to show the scope of this beautiful landscape.
This panorama is available in larger and custom sizes.
I took a friend up with me a few years ago, and he admitted he wasn’t quite ready. He suffered from heat exhaustion and had to take frequent water breaks, but he made it. I think it inspired him to come back in better shape on his next visit! So the difficulty of the trail is a relative term and depends on the conditioning of the individual.
Lenses? I love my wide angle lenses – my 16-35 and my 11-24, both Canon L lenses. I think the wide angle gives a sense of perspective and shows the grand landscapes of this remote national park. I also like the way these lenses, especially at 13-15mm, shows off the sky and clouds.
Juniper Canyon stretches out to the south, seen here from the top of the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park. This is one of my favorite shorter hikes (~ 5 miles round trip) and offers one of the best views in the park.
When? I prefer to shoot from the Lost Mine Trail at sunset. The sun sets over Casa Grande Peak across the valley from where I’m standing, and if the clouds are floating by, the colors can be pretty amazing. People are often up there at sunset but quickly disperse, leaving me alone with the impending sunset colors.
The last light falls across Big Bend National Park and Casa Grande. Seen here from the top of the Lost Mine Trail, an easy 5-mile out and back trek, the skies were beautiful shades of orange and blue, and Juniper Canyon far below was already slipping into darkness.
This alone-time is something I relish. Walking back in the dark can be a little creepy, so I always bring a few good flashlights just in case one doesn’t work.I also make some noise on the trail so I don’t surprise a foraging black bear or mountain lion.
I’ve found sunrises, while I’ll have the top of the trail to myself, are generally flat. Again, that is my opinion and I like shooting into the sun before it rises. Pointing my camera in that direction usually leads to some nice colors in the sky.
I hope this helps a little. Lost Mine is well worth the walk up, and by lingering longer than most, the reward could be one of the most amazing sunsets you’ll experience.
Happy Travels, Texas, and be kind!
~ Rob Images from Texas
I was asked recently to write a bio of myself for a client who wanted to display that information next to the prints they purchased for an office. I’m more or less an introvert, and talking about topics such as “me” bring on some unease. But I thought I’d try here on a blog – about this Images from Texas photographer (me).
I imagine if you are reading this, you appreciate the work I do and how I see the world – and at the least, we share an common interest in outdoor adventures! So let’s get started – and I’ll try to make this brief.
While I grew up and went to college in Texas, a long time ago I was an avid fly-fisher, even taking folks on guided trips in Colorado. One Christmas just after college graduation, my parents gave me a musical keyboard. Not having any musical talent whatsoever, I returned it and bought my first camera, a 2mp digital wonder (did I mention this was a long time ago?). And thus, I fell in love with photography. My fly-fishing adventures evolved into fishing a little, then spending most of my time taking photos of the mountains, streams, forests, and whatever else was at the end of long hikes in the Rocky Mountains. I can still remember telling my young bride so many years ago, “I think we can make some money with this photography thing.”
Now, many years later, this is my job – traveling, scouting, shooting, and providing clients with the best images available in Texas and Colorado. I’ve had some great experiences along the way – meet some nice folks, received a few honors, had five books published by various companies, and look forward to more memorable times. And I juggle all my trips with keeping two pre-teen girls and a wife happy. Sometimes, my family even gets to tag along with me. This summer, we spent two weeks in Iceland so I could shoot there, then flew from Reykjavik, Iceland’s capitol, to Denver so I could photograph the wildflowers in the mountains. We were gone for about 8 weeks – all in much colder climates – and that makes it tough sometimes to adjust to the heat and humidity of a Texas August. Am I complaining? Heck no.
We don’t watch the news much, but when I do, and in my travels, I see a lot of anger and division in our world – especially here in my home state of Texas (I’m a 4th generation Texas raising 5th generation Texas girls). I don’t remember this conflict being an issue 10 years ago, but it seems to have rooted itself into society now. However, this is not a political post. I’d just like people to be kind to each other. And I cannot fathom why some folks can’t do that. I worry about the future for my daughters.
So I work with my photography. I try to find the beauty in our land and the other locations I’m fortunate enough to visit and shoot. The escape into nature keeps me sane and balanced. My favorite time outdoors is the peaceful moments I find at sunrise.
From a precariouis ledge to the west of the iconic Capitol Peak, this panorama shows off the colors of sunrise in Palo Duro Canyon. Even a small boquet of broom weed, the golden flowers in the foreground, add a splash of yellow to the orange and red landscape. The scramble up the scree-filled slope to this location was not fun nor easy – and I probably won’t do it again. But the view was incredible.
Most folks are still asleep and no one has worked up their anger for the day. Ya, I’d rather sleep some, but if I’m able to pull myself out of bed well before first light, I’m usually happier for it!
Some of my favorite sunrise locations include Pedernales Falls (close to my house), Palo Duro Canyon (a long way, but amazing), Big Bend (see Palo Duro) and down on the South Padre beaches. I’ll usually scout locations the day before. That initial survey saves a lot of frustration when I’m trying to find a specific spot in the dark the next morning.
I’m often asked about what equipment and camera I use. I shoot with a Canon 5DSr, but I don’t think the camera matters as much as the perspective and skill held by the photographer. Sure, higher end cameras allow me to produce larger prints for clients. But a lot more goes into it. I have five tripods, none of which I’m completely happy with. But together, they provide adequate stability. My favorite lenses are the 11-24L and my 16-35L. That may change when I eventually make the inevitable change to a mirrorless camera. I’m just waiting for a high megapixel mirrorless Canon to arrive. We’ll see.
And I think that’s about it for now. I need to work on more RAW images, change the laundry and go move dirt on the back 40!
Safe travels, Texas, and be kind out there.
~ Rob Images from Texas
When I’m out searching for the best fall colors in Texas, I often have time to contemplate life while driving and exploring. One of my favorite writers is Robert Frost, and when I hike in the among the changing leaves of Autumn I am sometimes reminded of his poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay. In the Hill Country where I reside, green leaves and long summer days are passed, and the memories of hot afternoons and warm evening walks with my girls are quickly fading.
On one of my November treks for Autumn color a few weeks ago, I drove to the Utopia and Vanderpool areas and spent a few days at Lost Maples State Natural Area. I remember visiting this little state park many years ago and enjoyed the solitude, but in more recent years, the rest of Texas has discovered what a gem this place is, as well. These days, I only visit during the week, and even then the trails are filled with leaf-peepers. This influx of folks strolling the paths can be pretty frustrating for a photographer, I assure you.
I arrived in the morning after a short drive from Garner State Park – after a lousy night of sleep in the back of my 4Runner. I had waited around that morning at Garner for low clouds and fog to clear, but I finally gave up and made the hour drive to Lost Maples. There, I had hopes the sun would burn off the clouds and blue skies would again appear. Normally, I prefer to shoot at sunrise or sunset, but for the reds and oranges of maples and cypress, my personal preference these days is for blue skies dotted with nice white clouds. I find the contrast between red and orange and blue and white to be like Nature’s gold in Autumn. And I know the brilliant colors won’t last long, and in some years don’t appear at all.
If you’ve ever hiked at Lost Maples, you probably know it isn’t that big. The main loop takes you north from the big parking lot, through the short Maple Trail, then up along the East-West Trail, then back down a steep rocky path, by the ponds area, then back to the parking lot (sort of). The loop is about 5 miles long and offers some pretty decent views from up high. However, ironically, the overlook listed on the trail map has probably the poorest view of anywhere on the rim of that walk. Don’t waste your time on the 1/3 mile trek to the scenic overlook (labeled #3 on the state park map). And as you head west on the trail, you reach another overlook on the map. It, too, is pretty poor. However, if you continue west and are willing to cut over to the edge of the cliff – maybe a 50-100 foot walk, you’ll continue to see better and better vistas.
From high up on the edge of the East Trail in Lost Maples, this view shows the the colorful trees lining the lower portion of the trail as it winds its way back to the Sabinal River.
OK… back to my morning. I arrived under overcast, spitting gray skies. As I started north on the Maple Trail, usually the highlight of the fall trip, I discovered I was sharing the path with a group of perhaps 25 middle school students on a field trip. I have to admit, I grew frustrated waiting for views to open up without kids hanging from branches or climbing on rocks. But I tried to choose a different response and reminded myself they had as much right to enjoy this area as I did. So I talked myself from a “Get off my lawn” old man attitude to an “everybody have fun” perspective. I even chatted up some of the kids, heard how they found a tarantula, and how they were excited to find Monkey Rock. Eventually, I pulled ahead of them when the steeper portion of the hike slowed them down, and thought to myself “this old father of two girls still has it!” HeHe.
Along the trail, I met several nice folks – a couple from Houston; a family from Kerrville, and a couple from just up the road from me in Austin. As I arrived at the previously mentioned overlooks, the clouds final began to break up, showing patches of beautiful blue sky. So I lingered here for a while, enjoyed a caffeine-laden Cliff protein bar and some lime Gatorade, and waited for a better sky. It finally arrive.
From high up on a trail, this view looks down at a small pond surrounding by the changing leaves of Autumn. This area in Lost Maples State Natural Area is one of my favorites to photograph, and the fall of 2020 was one of the best in many years.
Down the steep rocky path and back to the ponds area, I took in the views and appreciated the smaller crowds.
One of my favorite places to photograph the Autumn colors at Lost Maples State Natural Area is this little pond with a backdrop of red and orange maples reflecting in the water. This image was taken on a cool mid-November afternoon.
Along the flat east trail I watched a mother taking pictures of her little girl playing in the leaves. Before arriving back in the parking lot, I paused in several areas to photograph the red maple trees.
The red leaves of Lost Maples State Park Autumn show turn the path into a carpet of crunchy color. This path is along the East-West Trail and, each fall, it winds through groves of glorious maples trees with leaves of red and orange.
Eventually, I arrived back at the car, but realized I needed to walk a portion of the loop again and photograph the maples and red oak under better sky conditions. It is rare when a landscape photographer gets a redo! So on I went, revisiting the same areas I’d walked a few hours earlier.
A small bridge along a path in Lost Maples is surrounded by Autumn colors on a cool November afternoon.
Walking back to the car for a second time, I reminisced on Robert Frost’s poem. It seemed appropriate on this late afternoon. The words he wrote go much deeper than just a fading of reds and golds into winter. I suppose like these rolling hill country views and the changing of the seasons, there are layers of life waiting to be experienced, then contemplated on some future walk in the woods.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
August is one of my two least favorite months – right up there with February. But now the hottest month is in rear-view mirror. With the arrival of September, I feel like we can finally start dreaming about cooler weather and Autumn colors.
Despite the ominous cloud hanging over us that is 2020, the summer was still good and productive. I spent much of June and July photographing the mountains, streams, and wildflowers of Colorado. I enjoyed the 30 degree mornings and afternoons in the mid-70s, for sure. Arriving back in Texas in August, as always, was a rough transition. But I also know I’m fortunate to do what I do. And if you want to see my summer work, please feel free to jump over to my other gallery at Images from Colorado.
Back in Texas, the heat seems to have relented just a bit. We had rain yesterday at my place in Dripping for the first time since I’ve been home (about a month) and this morning I awakened to a 75 degree humid morning. The good news is that the temperature is supposed to remain in the 80s, which is a nice reprieve from the 100 degree days.
Heading into fall, I’ve already planned trips to Palo Duro Canyon to meet up with the Caprock Canyoneer, and after that I hope to make a short and first-time trek to Caprock Canyon.
Palo Duro Canyon is one of the gems of the Texas State Parks system. From the parking lot to the summit of Capitol Peak, the hike is only about .7 miles, but the last quarter mile is an 350’ uphill scramble over loose and crumbling rock. But the views are unforgettable. With layers of the canyon walls showing off their morning glow of orange, the landscape changes its tones and hues over the 30 minutes before and after sunrise. While the temperatures on this November morning were in the high 20s and the hike up in the dark was a bit sketchy, I was glad I made the journey.
This panorama is available in larger and custom sizes.
I just finished shooting a photography book for San Antonio along with a friend of mine. Glad that is done!
From the calm waters of Woodlawn Lake west of downtown San Antonio, this is the skyline at sunrise. Taken with a telelphot lens, this image is made up of several photographs stitched together to show the iconic buildings such as the Tower of the Americas, Bank of America, and the historical Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower.
Next, I’ll have to head out to Big Bend National Park (if the park is open) and finish up shooting for a book and publisher.
The Ross Maxwell Scenic Road in Big Bend National Park is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States. It winds around, curves, climbs and dips for 30 miles along the western slopes of the Chisos Mountains. Along the way, several interested locations can be enjoyed, including Santa Elena Canyon, Sam Neil Ranch, the Burro Mesa Pour-off, Tuff Canyon, and the Sotol Vista overlook.
In between those trips, I plan on following the fall colors of the Hill Country and maybe sneaking in a trip to the coast. Of course, all this depends on how the virus progresses and what my own kids are doing in school. With so many moving parts, it is hard to make any firm plans. As an example, I was supposed to travel to Iceland to shoot there this summer, but that trip was cancelled when the airlines cancelled our flight and Americans were not allowed into the country without quarantining for 14 days. That trip has been rescheduled for next summer, and a week in Ireland has been added for good measure.
That’s it for my rambling now. I’m ready to get back out to nature and find those beautiful places that are just waiting to be photographed. Until then, I hope everyone stays safe and enjoys the cooler weather!
~ Rob Images from Texas on Instagram Images from Texas on Facebook
Sometimes I have these grand visions for how things should work – whether it is my own kids’ birthday parties, a Disney family vacation, or a nighttime landscape with the comet NEOWISE hanging over the canyons of Palo Duro.
On one occasion, a colorful birthday cake for my then 7-year-old daughter ended up face down on the floor of a local pizza joint. When we flipped it over, the mix of colors would have made Monet blush. Five little girls looked on in horror while the one I loved cried. But it was a birthday party they won’t forget! On another occasion, our family was at Disney World when my five-year-old had a meltdown on a boat and actually laid down in the middle of the aisle. Folks coming on board had to step over her. My wife just put her head down to hide. It was later on that we realized my youngest daughter had a phobia about being on the water and on a boat. But we cemented those issues!
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I spent most of the summer photographing the Rocky Mountains and even a few days on the more arid western slope near Grand Junction. The time in the mountains allows me to escape the summer heat of Texas and the raging Covid pandemic in the south while enjoying the beauty of cooler mountain climates at elevations above 9,000 feet.
And this leads me back to my vision for the comet. I’d planned on leaving Colorado for my trek back to Texas and stop over at one of my favorite places, Palo Duro Canyon. I wanted to see the Comet NEOWISE in the dark skies of the panhandle and photograph this rare event from somewhere in the red rocks of this state park. I’d already photographed NEOWISE from Berthoud Pass, Colorado, in the early morning hours, and now wanted to see it from my home state.
That was as far as my vision would take me. Shortly before I departed on the 16 hour drive back home to the Texas Hill Country, I found out Palo Duro Canyon was not allowing visitors in the park after 10pm. It was July 22, and NEOWISE was only visible in the evening and best seen around 10pm. Ironically, about the same time as my planned departure from Colorado, I had a client contact me wanting an image of NEOWISE over the canyon. Bummer.
So I got creative.
First, on the evening of July 23, I stopped in west Texas and shot the night sky using my star tracker. This instrument allows the camera to track the stars and photograph the night sky using a long exposure. Using this device results in stunning, sharp pinpoints of light for the stars and little noise in longer exposures. The comet was clearly visible, hanging just beneath the Big Dipper. Setting in the western sky, the crescent moon added a surprise element in this photograph taken on July 23.
But I couldn’t get into Palo Duro Canyon State Park. So I did the next best thing. I’ve visited this area many times in the past, and I had a RAW file image that showed the canyon facing northwest, that was exactly what I was planning on shooting. With full disclosure to the client, I used this as the base image and the star-tracked night sky to show the comet. An hour of Photoshop magic later, this was my creation straight from the canvas of God…
From the night of July 23, 2020, this is a composite image of the Comet NEOWISE over the beautiful red rocks of Palo Duro Canyon. The foreground was taken from the summit of Capitol Peak after the sun had faded. The comet fanned out beneath the Big Dipper. Just a little after sunset, and the crescent moon fell behind the western horizon.
I know some photographers are purists, and I am most of the time, as well. But I have no issues with dabbling in the creative universe when a client asks. After all, I have two young mouths to feed and a wife to keep happy. I don’t want to be a starving artist. So far so good.
My grand vision of this particular scene didn’t play out exactly how I’d intended, but the end result was pretty similar to what I had in mind. No one cried nor threw a fit, and no birthday cakes were overturned. While a few obstacles presented themselves, I’m still pretty happy with the final image in all of its creative glory. The purists may throw stones, but I’m not hungry here
Stay safe, Friends.
~ Rob Images from Texas
Bluebonnet season is just a month away. The rosettes on our land are not as plentiful as in other years, but we’ll still have a decent showing of blue by late March. While reading up on this year’s wildflower predictions, I’ve found that rainfall was hit and miss in the fall, which means some locations have potential while others will be barren. So on this cold, rainy February morning, I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect on some of my favorite bluebonnet images from the last ten or so years. These are not necessarily my bestsellers, but the photographs below are special to me for one reason or another.
Just Over the Mountain
Between Round Mountain and Johnson City, some of the smaller roads north of these towns can produce some nice blooms every few years. On an April evening in 2016 as I drove up and down Althaus-Davis Road, I found some nice blooms along old fence lines, but nothing that really jumped out. I was hoping that, like life, when you see things from a different perspective, the situation will appear more positive, so I turned around several times, scanning the roadsides and the rolling hills. Unfortunately, the change in perspective didn’t result in a glory field of blue.
I had passed a rancher feeding his cattle just off the dirt road a few times, and finally just slowed down to say hi. He asked what I was doing and I explained I was l searching for bluebonnets. He introduced himself and said he was the ranch manager for this land. Continuing, he told me that just over the hill (heading overland and away from the road), the bluebonnets were full, and that I was welcome to explore. Just watch out for rattlesnakes! We chatted a bit more, but as the sun was close to setting, I didn’t linger long. I thanked him profusely, grabbed my tripod and backpack, and set out for the hills. After about a 10-minute walk through scrub and cacti, I topped the first hill and found a palette of bluebonnets rolling down the hill. The sky was showing pastel shades of orange and blue, and I scrambled to find the optimal composition to remember this beautiful scene.
Bluebonnets adorn the gentle slopes of the Texas Hill Country in this sunset image taken in early April. Thanks for a local rancher and land manager, I was allowed to visit a few areas of private land that were covered in these favorite wildflowers. The sunset helped the landscape come alive, as well.
At one point, I squatted down and inadvertently sat on a prickly pear cactus. I can’t write here was I said, but I can tell you the drive home was painful, and I often tried to prop up my buttocks so as not to put any weight on it when driving. To finish off the evening when I returned home, I had my wife perform the unenviable task of plucking out tiny needles and thorns from my backside. She didn’t get them all, and the twitches of pain from being poked lasted for a week. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Big Bend Bluebonnets: A Once-in-a-lifetime-bloom
In late February and early March, 2019, the slopes of the Chisos Mountains along East and West River Roads came alive with seas of bluebonnets. I have a few friends that spend much of the year in Terlingua, and, just as the park rangers said, they’d never seen a bloom like this. I was fortunate enough to spend a week in the Big Bend on two separate occasions last spring, and it is challenging to pick just one favorite from those trips. The rugged landscape of rock and cacti and yucca stood in such sharp contrast to the unique species of the taller, tougher Big Bend Bluebonnet, and petals of blue had filled in all the empty spaces. And so I’m going to offer two images here. One shows bluebonnets at sunrise looking east towards Cerro Castellan, one of the iconic features of the western slope. The other shows a sunrise, bluebonnets, an ocotillo, and Cerro Castellan as the moon slides in the western horizon.
I knew the sky was going to light up when the. high clouds became visible well before sunrise. I also knew the bluebonnets were full and healthy after scouting locations the previous day. The winds were calm and the landscape of Big Bend National Park came alive with color about 15 minutes before sunrise. Bluebonnets – the best bloom in memory – filled the slopes and washes with color and the beauty of this remote area came alive on a very cold February morning. in the distance, the iconic Cerro Castellan rises over 3000’ into the orange sky.
With the sun rising in the east, the three-quarters moon began to fade in the west. Under a tranquil west Texxas sky, bluebonnets of Big Bend awaited the warming light on this mesa on the western slope of the Chisos Mountains. In the distance, the well known Cerro Castellan rises over 3,000 feet above the Chihuahuan Desert, making for a grand landmark in this beautiful and remote area of Texas.
I love my time in the Big Bend, and look forward to returning there again and again.
A Most Amazing Evening
My dad used to accompany me on some of my wildflower hunts. These days, he’s older, can’t hear well at all, and doesn’t get around much anymore. Still, on April 3, 2012, he was with me for one of the most beautiful Texas Hill Country scenes I’ve ever photographed. We’d left my home in Dripping Springs while storms unleashed rain across the area. Driving up 71 towards Llano, the clouds started to break, and eventually we made our way out of the rain, through Llano, and on towards San Saba. I had a friend who’d tipped me off about some nice bluebonnet patches on some off-the-beaten-path dirt roads. After 30 minutes of searching, we came across this field.
Evenings on the edge of the Texas Hill Country don’t get much better than this. I had driven 2 hours in search of bluebonnets and finally arrived on a little country road near San Saba. The setting sun turned the sky into a palette of color, and the only company I had were the cows in a distant field. In my trips to photograph Texas wildflowers, this was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve had the pleasure to experience.
The storms had passed, leaving the winds completely and absolutely motionless. The clouds caught the last rays of evening and put on a colorful display of orange and blue, and the strong and unforgettable scent of bluebonnets floated in the still air. For nearly two hours we hung around this one location, never seeing another car, and the only sounds were the distant mooing of cattle. And to show the utter calm of the atmosphere, my last image from this evening – taken well after sunset – was a 20 second exposure of bluebonnets, with the result being a tack-sharp photograph. I’ve never experienced anything like that night. I’m glad my dad was with me. This was a good memory.
The Wooden Fence
Between Llano and Burnett, an old wooden fence stands unnoticed for most of the year. In the Spring of 2010, bluebonnets surrounded this fence and created a sort of mini-landscape perfect for photography. My oldest daughter was nearly two years old, and, along with my wife, had come along with me to search for bluebonnets. We ended up spending most of our time at this little location – my wife and daughter waiting patiently while I worked my craft and photographed the bluebonnet-laden fence from all angles.
One of my favorite places for close-ups of bluebonnets is an old fence row near Llano, Texas. If you passed by it in wildflower season, you might not even notice because it hides a bit behind a hill. One side is private property, so you have to be respectful of that land, too. In a rainy spring, the bluebonnets start along side of the road and spill into the distant field. In this particular season, the area was a sea of blue, perfect for intimate shots of the flowers and fence.
I even took few photographs with my daughter, though we were careful to avoid stepping on any bluebonnets. Unfortunately, thanks to social media and moreso to folks who are careless with where they step (or just don’t care), word spread about this little fence. In the last 5+ years, the bluebonnets do not last long as folks trample them for their own selfies and family photos. The last time I saw this area look really good was 2012. On one particular evening early in the wildflower season, I was able to shoot several nice shots of bluebonnets with the old wooden posts. I returned just two days later to find more than 50% of the bluebonnets mashed to the ground. I’ve tried to return to this location a few times in the last five years, but it has never been the same.
One of the roads I drive quite often has an old windmill off to the side. You’d barely notice it, and I’d never thought about stopping to photograph it. But one afternoon as I drove home from the San Antonio area, I notice a large patch of bluebonnets in front of the structure. I thought about stopping, but then decided against it, as the scene just wasn’t worth it. Back at home, I couldn’t shake the idea that maybe I shouldn’t have dismissed this little scene so easily. Finally, curiosity got the best of me and I rose early one morning and drove back to the windmill, arriving well before sunrise. The clouds were thick and the sky gray. Why did I roll out of bed for this? I decided to wait and, as good fortune would have it, the skies began to break up and the morning light filtered through the gray, creating an amazing and unusual sky for a few brief moments.
When I set off from my house to photograph this windmill with a foreground of bluebonnets, the sky was overcast and fog made visibility quite limited. I arrived with the sky pretty dark but still had 15 minutes until sunrise. I had just about given up hope when I noticed a little break in some low drifting clouds. Five minutes passed, and suddenly the sky begain to light up in oranges and pinks, and I was escatic with my good fortune. I only had time to capture a few images from that morning. This is my favorite.
And this is what a little patience can offer. I can’t count how many times I’ve just about given up on nice colors at sunrise or sunset, only to start packing up to find the sky lighting up. (And I should note I’ve packed up many times but had no regrets, either). But not this time. It was beautiful. And if you drove down this road today, you’d barely recognize this location. I’ve never seen bluebonnets there again.
Thanks for perusing this blog. If you’d like to see more, please feel free to visit my online bluebonnet gallery.
For now, we’ll wait and see what the season holds. I fear the warmer temperatures will stimulate the growth of tall grasses before the bluebonnets appear. But hope springs eternal, and we’ll know shortly how the Wildflower season of 2020 looks.