A few weekends ago, I was invited to participate in the Enchanted Rock Star Festival where I gave a talk and showed images about photographing the night sky. I don’t make too many public appearances, and I prefer no crowds and being out in nature to a crowded room. Still, I appreciate the folks at Enchanted Rock thinking enough of my work to invite me to share my craft.
I’ve already written a blog about how I go about shooting at night, the setup I use, and the self-taught methods I use. I also admit I still get a little creeped out at night, too. Whether shooting in Big Bend National Park or the Texas Hill Country, dark is still dark, and things always seem different without sunlight. All that said, I still shoot 98% of my work in the light – with most of that coming at sunrise or sunset (or in those general hours).
Also, a few weeks ago I attempted to photograph the eclipse here in Texas. I did not want the standard shots – those just showing the sun and moon. I wanted a foreground, as well. I’m still working on the images and haven’t come to terms yet whether I like the almost-finished product. We’ll see. But I did gain some experience and will be more prepared for the total eclipse we’ll see in April, 2024!
After shooting in Colorado for 6 weeks this past summer, returning to Texas in August isn’t much fun. I get used to the 70 degree afternoons of the Rocky Mountains. On my last day there, I was shooting at 530am at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, adding images to my Colorado website, and the temperature was in the 40s. I left from there and headed back through New Mexico and down through the Texas panhandle. By the time I passed through Childress, it was 108 degrees. Just yuk!
In the month I’ve been back, I’ve only been out a few times to shoot – Pennybacker Bridge and the Oasis Restaurant in Austin – and all of those except the eclipse outing were paid jobs.
Sunset at The Oasis in Austin, Texas, is a ritual for many locals, as well as a popular place for tourists to visit and eat. The restaurant offers decent Tex-Mex food but stunning sunsets of Lake Travis and the distant Hill Country. This panorama of The Oasis at Sunset was taken on a late July evening.
This panorama from the Oasis in Austin, Texas, is available in larger and custom sizes.
Now, with the temperatures cooling off, I hope to start exploring more. This fall I have trips planned for Big Bend, Lost Maples, and several unique areas around the Texas Hill Country.
As we approach February, I’m already looking forward to March. As those around me know, my least favorite month is February. It is usually cold, gloomy, windy, and lacking in any color. These past few weeks I’ve gone out to shoot around Lady Bird Lake, but the lack of green on many of the trees leave the images feeling drab and lifeless. Here is an aerial view of downtown shot with my drone. While the Austin skyline looks nice, notice the lack of green along the banks.
And I haven’t much bothered with shooting out in the Hill Country, though that time is coming soon with the advent of spring in just about 6 weeks or so.
With all my disgruntledness (is this a word?) about this time of year, one location that does produce for a few weeks at this time of year is Zilker Park’s Lou Neff Point. While the trees lining this portion of the Colorado River are without leaves, at sunrise the sun shows itself straight down the river. This can lead to spectacular sunrises over the water and the Austin skyline. On very cold and calm mornings, you might be lucky and find a mist rising up from the warmer water. This image comes from one of those mornings:
I shot from this same location for over an hour one morning. The change in lighting was dramatic – from 45 minutes before sunrise when Austin glowed beneath the fading darkness to a few minutes after sunrise when light streamed through the mist.
Other than that, I’m just biding time until spring begins to show up again. With trips planned to photograph bluebonnets in Big Bend in March, and all sorts of wildflowers across central throughout the Spring, I should probably just enjoy the down time for a while!
In other news, I’m pleased to say one of my Texas wildflower images will be in a new Austin hotel opening in the fall of 2016. This field of flowers will be 116 feet long and accentuated with textured glass. I look forward to seeing the final product.
I hope everyone fares well in the dog days of February. We should have a very colorful spring as long as El Nino doesn’t turn off the water faucet. If so, I’ll be posting wildflower updates on my facebook page as well as on here, so feel free to follow along.
I’m often asked to make recommendations for which images I think would work with this or that, and I’m never sure quite how to respond. It seems some photographs really inspire folks while others leave them feeling ho-hum. My favorites are often not others’ favorites, and vice versa. You just never know.
So to start out the New Year, I thought I’d share my personal favorites of 2015.
In no particular order, here are some of my most memorable images from our great Lone Star State.
It was a crazy night of severe storms, high winds, hail turning the fields white, followed by amazing sunset colors. Then rainbows showed while lightening could still be seen in the distance. The few images I snapped on a highway between Llano and Mason as the storm passed showed amazing mammatus clouds lingering over a field of colorful wildflowers. One photograph from this trek was selected by the Texas Hill Country Alliance as the Grand Prize Winner for their annual photography contest. The Wildflowers at the End of the Storm now appears on the cover of the 2016 calendar.
In March, I had the chance to spend some time in Big Bend National Park photographing the bluebonnets. The weather was unpredictable, but the flowers were colorful and plentiful. One morning while out shooting at sunrise, I was blessed with bluebonnets, wonderful light, and great background that included the Chisos Mountains. This bluebonnet image has also become one of my best sellers (and that always helps!).
Another of my favorite images came from the beginning of the year. I was photographing the downtown Austin skyline from the hike and bike trail that extends out onto Lady Bird Lake near Joe’s Crabshack. It was early in the morning, cold, and fog was rising off the water. The sun had just risen behind me in the east. Just before packing up, I noticed several birds in the area. I waited for the right moment and captured this images of an egret (I think) as it came in for a landing.
The Texas Hill Country is my home. And I shoot a lot out here, especially in the state parks. Pedernales Falls is only 25 minutes from my house, so I’m out at this wonderful area several times a month – mostly at sunrise. In May, the area, especially Wimberley, was devastated by heavy rains and flooding. Pedernales Falls State Park was closed for several days. After the gates finally opened, I was one of the first folks down there, and the photographs taken at sunrise were nearly unbelievable. The river ran as high as I’ve ever seen it. The scary part was you could see debris 15 feet higher than where I was shooting – up in the trees along the banks – indicating how high the water had actually risen. This images comes at sunrise as clouds began to break up over the Pedernales River.
In the photograph above, I’m often able to walk across this stretch of river to the opposite shore without my feet getting wet at all!
Of course, I have to include a bluebonnet image as one of my favorites. I’ve already put in one from Big Bend, but here is one from the Texas Hill Country. This wildflower photograph comes from the shores of the Colorado River and Lake Travis. With the lack of rains, much of this area is usually under water. However, this past spring it was dry and covered with bluebonnets. I ventured over here one evening and did not see another person the entire night. The irony is that nearby – at another park along this same stretch of river, the bluebonnets were completely overrun with people trampling them until there was very little left to enjoy.
There are so many other Texas images I really like from 2015, but for now these are some that stand out. I took a lot of Milky Way images, and I do love the night sky over a Texas landscape. And as we close the books on 2015, I look forward to what 2016 brings. With El Nino in full force right now, I expect we’ll have one of the better wildflower springs in the last 50 years. I’m already planning on a lot of driving in late March, and all of April and May to search for colorful Texas fields. I also have trips planned to Big Bend, Palo Duro, Dallas, Fort Worth, and many other fun locations.
In the meantime, feel free to follow my work on facebook.
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 was recently asked about some locations I most enjoy visiting in and around Austin. After mulling it over, one of my favorite places to shoot both in the morning and evening is the Pennybacker Bridge, known to the locals as the 360 Bridge. Opened to the public in 1982, the steel for the arched suspension bridge was forged in Japan, shipped to a port in Houston, then brought by truck to its final destination. The bridge is 1,150 feet long, and no portion of the structure touches the Colorado River that flows below.
Speaking from a photographer’s perspective, you can find unique perspectives from all four corners of the bridge. The most photographed angle comes from the cliff on the northeast side. This view looks directly at the bridge with the distant Austin, Texas, skyline on the horizon. I like sunrises from this location because you can often enjoy colorful skies, as well.
From the southeast corner, you have a view of the bridge and the Texas Hill Country that stretches upriver to the western ridge. Sunsets from this location can be stunning, and you’ll rarely see folks up on this side (which is a plus for me). From the northwest and southwest sides, you’ll find yourself below the bridge and down by the water. There is boat ramp in this location but if you are patient, you’ll have some still water. You can enjoy nice views looking up at the bridge and cliffs from this angle, and morning or evening clouds can be spectacular on any given evening. From the north west side, I like shooting back towards the bridge just after sunrise to include a starburst in the image.
Other nearby locations also provide more unique vantage points, but you’ll have to search a bit for those. The search is worth it, though, and I’ve found I never tire of visiting this location!
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:
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.
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.
In any case, exploring different perspectives is always fun, and trying to find something that hasn’t been done before is usually a challenge.
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.
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.
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.