Downtown Austin and Lady Bird Lake

If you’ve been to the Austin area, you know the skyline is a mess with all the new construction. But there are some nice views to be found. The cranes at various points in the downtown area have pushed me to look for a few more unique angles, and that has been fun and challenging. The past few weekends I’ve spent sunrises exploring the nooks and crannies of the Zilker Park Hike and Bike trail along Lady Bird Lake. I’m really intrigued by the angles and leading lines of a few of the bridges. One of the best views in my opinion is from beneath the Pedestrian Bridge seen here:

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Lady Bird Lake, Austin Texas, Summer Day : Prints Available

Lady Bird Lake is the place to be on a summer day in August in Austin, Texas. For those who enjoy the water, you can find plenty of opportunities to soak up the sun and cool off at the same time. Here, near the Pedestrian Bridge that spans the waters of this slow moving portion of the Colorado River (known as Town Lake to long-time locals), kayakers, canoers, and paddle-boarders enjoy a summer afternoon.

I love the curves along with the folks out enjoying the best Austin has to offer.

Another piece of interesting architecture comes from beneath Lamar Bridge. While this image is taken during the afternoon hours, at times when the sun streams down the corridor of Lady Bird Lake just after sunrise during the cooler months, the arches glow in a soft morning orange light.

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Lady Bird Lake Summer from Lamar Bridge : Prints Available

Kayakers enjoy the shade of Lamar Bridge on Lady Bird Lake. Nearby, the Austin skyline rises into the hot summer air, offering great views for those who get out to paddle around.

Another place from which I photographed the high rises was beneath the First Street Bridge. I’m not sure how I feel about this view yet. On one hand, I like the leading lines and the angles that appear from both the bridge structure and the reflection. I’m still trying to figure out if it works for me.

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Austin Skyline from First St Bridge : Prints Available

Early on a late August morning, the downtown Austin, Texas, comes to life. This picture that overlooks Lady Bird Lake was taken from beneath the 1st Street Bridge.

In any case, exploring different perspectives is always fun, and trying to find something that hasn’t been done before is usually a challenge.

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Austin Scullers on Lady Bird Lake 1 : Prints Available

Before sunrise on a warm August morning, scullers glide across the smooth water of Lady Bird Lake (also know as Town Lake to long-time locals). In the distance, the high rises of the downtown Austin skyline rise into the morning air.

Thanks for reading, and happy travels!

~ Rob

The Perseid Meteor Shower over Texas

The second week in August each year is one of the weeks I usually am wanting for more sleep. I love the Perseid Meteor shower and look forward to the challenge of trying to capture this unique annual event. The Perseids of 2015 presented a great opportunity – relatively clear skies and a new moon – meaning no light pollution from the moon so the meteors would show up even brighter. My goal was to bring this amazing event to my audience, and here is the back story to my nighttime adventure…

I ventured out two times this past week to photograph the Perseids – once to Pedernales Falls State Park in the Texas Hill Country and once to the iconic 360 Bridge outside of Austin, Texas. For this short blog, I’ll focus on the Pedernales location. I know Pedernales Falls like the back of my hand. I live close by and am over there for sunrise or sunset several times each month. Still, I wanted to scout out a perfect location that had an interesting foreground and offered a chance to include much of the night sky, as well. Last weekend, I spent sunrise and sunset at the state park with a camera and my gps. The Perseids radiate from the northeast section of the sky – generally from the middle of the Milky Way. After several miles of walking around, I found what I wanted – a portion of a small canyon into which the river flowed that faced northeast. I also took several test images with different lenses to see what look I wanted. After scrutinizing the test images, I decided to go with my super-wide angle – the 11-24L to give me more of the rugged landscape and more of the night sky.

On Thursday morning, I awoke about 1:00am, dragged myself out of bed, drove to the park, and walked to the river and upstream about 20 minutes to my chosen location. The camera was ready to go by 2:00am. I would like to note here a few observations. First, I’ve never seen anyone in the parking lot when I go out before sunrise, but there were 6 or 7 cars there, so it was nice to see other folks out enjoying the light show. To the two college girls trying to find their way down to the river without a flashlight in the complete dark…. hope you made it! I was happy to help guide you if you hadn’t had to go back to your car for your contraband! But I wasn’t waiting for around. Second, I saw more animals here this night than I’ve ever seen at one time before. They included a wild hog, a racoon, an opossum, a jackrabbit, an armadillo that I almost tripped over on the trail, a fox, several deer, and what I think was a porcupine (are there porcupines out there? sure looked like one). I might have even seen a chupacabra, but can’t be 100% sure. It was dark!

Moving along… I aligned my star-tracker to the north star, set up the camera, took a few base images of the milky way, then set everything to run on auto-pilot for the next several hours. For those interested in the technical aspects… the base Milky Way images were shot at f/5.6 ISO 800 for about 3 1/2 minutes. The meteors were shot on f/4, ISO 4000, on a continuous 30 second interval – all using the new Canon 5DS-R. The foreground was shot later in the morning as the sun’s light was just beginning to light up the landscape. I believe that image was a 30 second image at ~ f/16.

After I set up the automatic timer, I laid back on the rock and watched the fireworks, which were quite amazing. Also, my 5-hour energy drink was my friend this night!

Upon returning home, I reviewed the 180+ images, pulling out the ones that contained meteors, then aligned and stacked them in photoshop. After I was happy with that look, I aligned and merged the meteors into the base Milky Way image, then merged that with the foreground, creating what you see below. A lot more went into the final photograph – color balance, some noise reduction, etc., but this was basically my work flow.

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Perseids over the Texas Hill Country : Prints Available

Starting at about 2:00am, I let the camera roll, taking 3 hours of time-lapse images of the Perseid meteor shower over Pedernales Falls in the Texas Hill Country. This final photograph is a compilation of the brightest meteors from this amazing scene. The sky photographs were taken using an astro-tracker, then stacked together using photoshop. The foreground was taken just as first light was beginning to show across the landscape – again a long exposure – and blended into the final scene.

I think when you are alone in the middle of the night under the Milky Way images, you can’t help but question our place in the Universe. We are so small and it is unimaginably big. I won’t soon forget the beauty I experienced that night – time to reflect and time to look ahead, but mostly time to just be in the moment and enjoy God’s creation not seen by many.

And that was my night.

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Happy Travels!

~ Rob

From the Fridge to the Frying Pan – Welcome back to Texas!

I’ve spent the past 6 weeks exploring and photographing the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. While I love Texas, I also enjoy the cooler temperatures and sweeping mountain vistas the high country offers. From the San Juans to the Maroon Bells to Denver, I head up there each summer in hopes of climbing a few 14,000 foot peaks and photographing the amazing landscapes, including Colorado wildflowers, along the way.

Colorado wildflowers fill a meadow near Vail, Colorado.
A patch of pink paintbrush fills the meadow on a hike to Booth Lake near Vail, Colorado. These Rocky Mountain wildflowers are beautiful in late July and bring color to a majestic landscape.
From one 14,000 foot peak (Humbolt) to another two peaks (Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak), the views of the Colorado landscape are remarkble.
From the 14,064 summit of Humbolt Peak, this panorama shows the majestic Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak, both 14ers, across a beautiful valley of green. The clouds were streaming over the rocky peaks and created a landscape not seen by too many folks.

For most of the summer, we stay at about 9,000 feet in altitude. Most days, the temperatures barely reach 70, but many times we enjoy mid-60s with afternoon rain a common occurrence. But work calls, and I had to return to the Hill Country this past week. Immediately upon my return, I only had time to throw the luggage in the living room before heading to downtown to photograph the Austin skyline. I had a client that wanted a current image – cranes and all – of the downtown area to contrast that photograph with one taken in 2008. When I left the mountains, it was 41 degrees. When I arrived down on Town Lake (aka Lady Bird Lake for the new arrivals), the temperatures were over 100. Good grief! Still, it is nice to be home. And the boardwalk that skirts the waters of the Texas version of the Colorado River does offer nice views of the highrises. I even saw a few bats. Here is a panorama of the skyline taken from the boardwalk that evening.

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Austin Skyline Pano from the Boardwalk 1 : Prints Available

This Austin, Texas, panorama was taken on a very warm July evening from the Boardwalk that runs along Lady Bird Lake. Several images were stitched together to make up this composite of the downtown skyline as well as the path that bikers and joggers enjoy.

Next up for me, weather permitting, is the Perseid Meteor Shower in a few weeks. The moon phase will be perfect (new moon at peak) and forecasts say we could see up to 100 meteors per hour. That would be amazing.

Stay tuned!

~ Rob
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