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.