Mount Bonnell is one of Austin’s most popular local and tourist destinations. It provides great views of the Colorado River below, and there is even a spot that offers a commanding view of the Austin skyline. This prominent cliff alongside the water is often mentioned as Austin’s highest point at 780 feet, but that honor goes to the Jollyville Plateau at around 1,100 feet above sea level). Still, the views are nice and the sunsets can be spectacular. Tourists have been visiting this landmark since the 1850s, and in 2015 Mount Bonnell was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
As for photographing this area, Mount Bonnell offers only a few compositions. I prefer shooting in the evening at sunset. You can often have nice clouds as the sun sinks below the hills opposite the river. At sunrise, you’ll have the sun behind you and can use it to light up the trees across the river, but you’ll also run into harsher light and deep shadows. If you like creating panoramas, this is a nice place to show the length of the river, and the 360 Bridge can even be included in these shots, as its steel structure can be seen in the distance.
If you want to take a shot at the Austin skyline, walk south along the trail past the pavilion. If you keep going, you’ll find a stone picnic table. From this point, you can set up your tripod on top of the table to gain an unobstructed view of downtown. You’ll want to shoot with a telephoto lens – usually 150mm-200mm at least, and you’ll want it to be a crisp day for optimal clarity. I also like to take several images here to create a pano of the skyline. I’ve found that a little after sunset is best because you’ll have the city lights beginning to shine. On some nights, you’ll even find the UT Tower lit up after a Texas Longhorn victory.
Mount Bonnell is a fun place to visit, but can get quite crowded on weekends. Still, it is worth a trip every so often. Enjoy the view!
I’ve seen Hamilton Pool listed in a publication as one of the top locations to see in the United States. While I don’t know if I’d put it in my top ten national sites, it is close to home and does offer an afternoon of fun.
Just 23 miles west of Austin, Texas, this natural pool in the Texas Hill Country was created after the collapse of an underground river. In the aftermath, a beautiful emerald green pool was formed complete with a nice waterfall. The entire complex covers about 232 acres. The stroll from the parking lot to the pool is an easy one-fourth of a mile walk.
I have a friend who grew up in the area that remembers walking to the top of the falls and spending many evenings along the river before it was a preserve. She tells some great tales of youthful exuberance and fun – those glory days we all remember fondly from our youth. But these days the folks that manage the site charge $15 per car to enter the park, and the lines to enter can be quite lengthy on summer days.
Prior to our modern day version of Hamilton Pool, Indian tribes – the Tonkawa and Lipan Apaches – called this area home. Morgan Hamilton, brother of Andrew Hamilton, owned the land in the 1860s, and later sold it to the Reimer family (also known for Reimer’s Ranch just a mile down the road). While the Reimers bought the land for ranching purposes, they soon changed their minds and opened it to the public as a recreational area. As Hamilton Pool became more popular, the amount of folks visiting the area took its toll on the fragile environment. An aggressive restoration plan and limiting access has nearly returned Hamilton Pool to its original state.
As a photographic area, this sanctuary offers some unique compositions as well as challenges. When photographing from the back of the grotto, the difference in light is considerable, and you’ll need to shoot several bracketed images in order to create a balance of what you actually see. Otherwise, either the foreground and rock will be underexposed or the outside will be overexposed. To encompass the entire scene, you’ll also need to shoot with a super-wide-angle lens or take several images and stitch them together. I like to do both. The image below is a stitch and composite of 14 individual photographs.
After this perspective, you can start working different angles, including the stairway on one side of the falls, the waterfall itself, and other views of the emerald grotto. If you like filters, you could shoot with a high density filter to create a ribbon like effect with the waterfall. You could also capture a starburst as the sun moves across the cliff in the morning. I much prefer wide angle lenses for this location – anywhere from 11mm-35mm. In November, the trees change to their Autumn shades, and these colors can really add to the images. Unfortunately, Hamilton Pool management restricts public access from 9am-530pm, which really doesn’t allow shooting during the best times of day.
All in all, it is a great place to explore. Go in the morning or on a day where swimming is not permitted if you are solely interested in photography. Otherwise, you’ll find crowds. This location is only 10 minutes from my house, and I’d visit more if they didn’t charge so much for each visit.