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
As 2017 prepares to make its exit deep in December, the photography opportunities around central Texas take a bit of a hiatus. On these cold rainy days, I’m left to take inventory of the year, clean up some files, and reflect on where I’ve been. This past year has been a good one, photographically speaking, and I’ve seen some beautiful places and made new friends along the way. Of course, there are always more locations I’d like to shoot, but for now I’ll focus on where I’ve been and appreciate those moments. So in no particular order, here are my favorite images of the past year.
Probably the most unique location I visited, thanks to my new friends – Barry and Todd – were some slot canyons hidden deep in Pal Duro Canyon State Park. A long hike without a hint of a trail, up a canyon rim and across a vast, featureless mesa, down into a box canyon, and into a sliver of a crack in the rock lead us to Upper Central Utah Slot Canyon, one of the most amazing slot canyons in Texas
This canyon is remote and pristine, and thankfully not many folks know its location. Along the hike, Todd and Barry shared a few locations closer to the road that were defaced with graffiti, carvings, and other shameful acts from people with no regard to the landscape or its history.
This past spring offered the promise of a good wildflower season, but a lack of rain for 60 straight days ended those hopes. Still, there were a few locations where our favorite Texas wildflower, the bluebonnet, made an appearance. The photograph below was taken one evening in a location that had not yet been discovered by photo enthusiasts. (How did I know this? – The bluebonnets had not yet been trampled by folks plopping down their kids in the middle of the wildflowers). I liked this little scene because a single red firewheel (a red wildflower) stood alone in a sea of blue on a perfect evening.
In early January, I received a call from Westcave Preserve. I live only about 5 miles from this relatively unknown sanctuary, and they said we would be experiencing a deep freeze and wanted to know if I’d be willing to shoot the icicles hanging from the grotto the next morning. Usually this area is off limits unless you are on a guided tour, but I was allowed to visit this area and shoot and rare winter Texas scene.
One of my favorite adventures this year was a trip out to Big Bend to photograph Mariscal Canyon. I wrote a blog about this trip a while back. Feel free to read my Mariscal Canyon trek. This drive and hike weekend provided a chance to visit one of the most remote and beautiful places in Texas – Big Bend National Park’s Mariscal Canyon.
We encountered aoudad sheep, javilinas, tarantulas, and endured 95 degree heat (in November!) to reach this canyon rim. The view was worth it.
One of my new toys I bought this year was an underwater case for my camera (a Canon 5DSr). This contraption isn’t easy to work with, and getting a decent shot underwater is a matter of trial and error. Still, with persistence, a good image can be had. Here, after laying still on a rock as I held my camera partially submerged beneath the surface, a few fish wandered in to the scene and I let it roll… Fifty or so shots later, I had a few I could work with. This photograph showing sunrise as well as the clear water of the Pedernales River was the end result.
Back in June, we made a quick trip out to the Davis Mountains. I’d never been to this part of Texas, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. The weather cooperated, offering nice skies and sunrise and sunset. This image was taken at sunrise from one of the highest point in Davis Mountains State Park and looks down at the CCC as it traverses these ancient mountains.
This past spring, I started a new website for Colorado images. While photographer in the Rockies this summer, a friend of mine and I hiked 15 miles to reach Lone Eagle Peak. This location isolated and beautiful, and I was pleased we made it out and back in one piece! So I’ll include this last image as one of my favorites, even though it is not from Texas.
Thanks for looking and reading. I hope 2018 will be even more productive than 2017. For now, have a good end of the year, safe travels during the holidays, and a smooth start to the near year!
Via con Dios, my friends.
I remember sitting underneath the kitchen counter talking on a phone attached to the wall with a cord. This was a long time ago – before wireless, before emails, before internet. My kids have no idea what I’m talking about.
Nowadays, I run a photography business through the internet. It is a love-hate relationship. I see the good the internet can bring – research, communication, planning, etc. I also see the damage it can do with time-consuming distractions, psychological damage of social media, and stunting the people/communication skills of our youth.
But I depend on the internet for my business. Without Google, I couldn’t support a family and I could not make decent money with my photography. So a few weeks ago when my hard drive on my IMac failed after only 2 years, it was not a good moment in our house. Finally, after 11 days of having my computer at the Apple-doctor (and much gnashing of teeth), it was returned in working condition. However, the damage was done. I’d lost all of 2016 and 2017’s financial records, as well as about two months of commissioned work and fun outings. While I regularly backup my files, I had failed to do so since our return from Colorado in August. On that fateful Saturday morning, I was finishing up a project. I’d saved my work on my IMac hard drive, but not backed it up. We headed out with the kids for a lunch break. When I returned, my computer had a blinking file with a question mark flashing across the screen. And so it was done.
Now I’m back up and running. I’ve got Time Machine saving everything in a timely manner. And I’ve learned my lesson.
But the experience again brought to the forefront my feelings about technology. I battle with my kids on a daily basis about too much screen time, and how research shows it can have a negative effect on the brain (We limit them to 30 minutes per day). At the same time, the internet and technology has made it possible for me to make a name for myself and craft a good family business.
We live in strange times.
Back up everything that is important, as well! That’s what I’ve learned here. I’ve even had a few photographer friends start doing this as well thanks to my experience.
In the meantime, here is one recent image taken at one of my favorite places in the Texas Hill Country:
I don’t know if anyone reads these blog entries, but I write them for Google search engine optimization (SEO) and as a way to share a little about my experiences. This past month, I haven’t had much time to shoot for myself, but a few days ago, I finally had a chance to visit one of my favorite places in the Texas Hill Country – Pedernales Falls State Park.
I live fairly close to this state park, and I feel I know parts of the river basin like my own back yard. I’ve photographed this stretch of limestone canyon too many times, but I still return here because it always seems to look a bit different based on water flow and lighting. And in this blog entry, I’d like to take you through my morning in a chronological order, sharing both actions and thoughts. Should you choose to read this, I apologize ahead of time for the flip-flopping back and forth between present and past tense. So here goes:
4:45am – I never used an alarm clock. I look over at the digital readout and contemplate whether I’m getting out of bed now or in three hours.
4:50am – I roll out from underneath warm covers, walk to the large windows in the bedroom, and look out at the clouds. If it is clear, I’m staying home. If it is cloudy, I’m back in the sack, too. I look up. The sky is a patchwork of white clouds. It has the potential to be a nice sunrise. So I crawl back in bed, knowing my eventual fate.
5:01am – Back out of bed – clothes on – and into the kitchen
5:17am – Out the door – Moonshine Mango Tea and a peanut butter cream protein bar in hand, along with a tripod, lens, several flashlights and an L bracket (for vertical oriented shots) in my backpack.
In the dark of the car, I turn on the radio and put on Coast to Coast AM (590AM), but the guest is Nancy Sinatra, and I don’t care. I’d rather hear some good conspiracy talk about bigfoot or UFOs. So I turn on a Nancy Griffith CD to keep me company.
5:51am – Arrive at the park headquarters for Pedernales Falls State Park. I stop and fill out the form using my parks pass. I can barely read the small print on my parks’ pass. I hold the card at arm’s length and this helps bring the small numbers barely into focus. They should give me a permanent pass since I’m here so much, but rarely when anyone is actually manning the shop. My visiting hours are before sunrise or at sunset. I know they need the form, along with my parks’ pass number, filled out because this helps keep track of visitors as well as helps with funding.
5:58am – Arrive the parking lot. Surprise! I’m the only car in the parking lot. Just the usual, I think. Out of the car, and the coolness of the air hits me. This is glorious – I’ll need long sleeves! First time this season. I put on my headlamp, my military grade flashlight in my pocket, turn on the GPS, and with my backpack strapped on, head down the path to the overlook. From the overlook, if it was daylight, I’d have a commanding view of the landscape and the falls as the river flows west to east. As it is, the moonlight illuminates the valley below in a soft light – enough light where I could probably make it down to the river without a flashlight.
6:10am – I start the trek upstream – going over boulders and across small sand bars. The river is low, so I’m not anywhere near the water. I know this place well, I think to myself. Up and down a few larger gulleys, with sand slipping into my shoes, and I’m close to one of my favorite spots.
6:22am – I realize I’ve gone too far upstream. Everything always looks a bit different in the dark. I double back and head towards the water. As I approach the river, I can hear the rush of small cascades. I also realize the river is lower than usual, so I won’t have to wade across the stream to reach the rock from which I want to shoot.
6:30am – There is a dim glow on the eastern horizon. I want to shoot with a moonlit landscape, so I know I’d better hurry. Jump across a few small washes, walk along a sandbar, then some Class 3 rock climbing/scrambling takes place as I go up and over a limestone wall. I’m pretty good at this, I think, and drop onto a large layered rock where I can look both west and east and see the river in both directions.
6:36am -The sky in the east is a beautiful dark orange shade and its beginning to glow, but I’m shooting west at one of my favorite bends in the river. Using the L-Bracket, I quickly take a few long exposure test shots using an 11-24mm L lens. I get the lighting right, then proceed to take 6 vertical images that I’ll stitch into a large and wide panorama to show the beautiful curve in the river. I shoot this scene several more times, each with a different focal length, to ensure I don’t have any regrets in post processing.
6:59am -Then I turn and shoot to the east to capture the perfectly calm water and high clouds that are beginning to show orange and blue color. I’m always amazed at the beauty of this place – and the sky – and how fleeting these colors are.
7:03am – I return to shooting towards the west. The clouds this direction are pink and blue and have a nice reflection in the water. I can also see large fish swimming about ten feet beneath me (I’m on a rock overhang with my tripod feet at the very edge of the ledge.)
7:13am – I finish here and know that this is the official moment of sunrise. But I also know I have time to shoot the actual sunrise because it’ll be at least 20 more minutes before the sun rises over the cliffs. So with more scrambling, I’m up, over, and back down large rocks to a different location and shoot again towards the west.
7:21am – While I’m setting up, I can hear the howls of coyotes in the distance. First, one lone coyote cries out, but is soon joined by the yips of several more. It is a distinct call in the country that I’m very familiar with. The sounds remind me of growing up in the country, as well as time spent more recently at my parents’ ranch on cool autumn nights.
7:42am – I find myself on the top of a very large boulder – probably about 10-12 feet off the ground and I scramble up the side of this large limestone rock. On top, the surface runs off at an angle, so I adjust the legs of my tripod to steady the camera. I’m set up, focusing on rocks, an oak tree, and the river behind it. In the distance, the sun will soon rise over the cliff. I want to capture the moment the first light descends into the valley. I know with the lens I have, that first light will create a beautiful starburst for the final image. So I wait – and I wait and wait. Sunrise always seems to take longer when you are waiting for it. Finally, the moment arrives. Got the shot. Time to climb down and follow the light. So I’m back in shadows – a little closer to the cliff – and wait for the sun to again reach over the cliff and light the area I’m at.
8:19am – After three moves and capturing three different perspectives of sunrise, my time here is finished. Walking back – across sandy areas, over rock formations, and finally up to the parking lot. I see a mother and baby wild pig. I wonder what a baby wild pig is called. A wild piglet? Just don’t want to get between mother and piglet. What’s great is I didn’t see any people at all until my walk back to the car – and I appreciate the solitude.
8:42am – Back at the car. I think about how cool it was then I reminisce about my summer shooting for my Colorado Gallery. But now is home time. Time to play with my little girls.
It was a nice morning – rejuvenating for the soul and for my mental health. I always feel closer to God out here, too – certainly closer than inside the 4 walls of a church while a preacher talks at me. And I know I’ve been blessed with this 4 hour escape. It was a peaceful time, beautiful sunrise, and a moment I’ll take with me.
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.
Before I start in on bluebonnet season, I’m pleased to make a few announcements. First, for the third year in a row I have several photographs featured in Texas Highways magazine. Next, over the winter I have been working on launching a new website – Images from Colorado. While it is far from complete, it is up and running. I’ll be working at adding a lot of images over the next six months. The descriptions and keywording each image just takes a long time. And that process will slow down as wildflower season gets into full swing.
As we turn the page and head into April, bluebonnets should be nearing peak. However, thus far this wildflower season has been less than stellar. This past week I drove over 500 miles through the hill country looking for a few colorful fields. Many of the roadsides were nice, especially on Highway 29 between Mason and Llano. The spaces between the road and fence lines were full of bluebonnets sprinkled with red Indian paintbrush. Still, the fields were relatively barren of colors.
All my driving yielded little except a few nice sunrises taken along 29 and some morning photographs from the famous “bluebonnet house” in Marble Falls. The pasture in front of this 100 year-old stone house had the most bluebonnets in over five years. Because I live pretty close to this location, I waited for a really good sunset. Despite some of the photographs that have been posted on popular hill country Facebook pages, I can assure you there have not been any spectacular sunrises in Marble Falls since the bluebonnets have bloomed. For some, photoshop is a best friend, and non-disclosure is obvious. But that is a topic for another blog! And even more crazy… one afternoon when I drove by this old house surrounded by bluebonnets, a family had evidently crawled over or through the barbed-wire fence in order to take their family photo – this despite the “No Trespassing” signs posted prominently about every 15 feet Anton the fence! Anyway, on a few nights there were some high soft clouds that made for pleasing pastel colors of pink and blue.
With little clouds to speak of, I decided to use what God had provided. I stayed late and shot the night sky over the bluebonnet house,p. To make the stars really shine in a photograph, I useda star tracker to take long exposures of the stars without any trailing. While the Milky Way doesn’t appear in the north, the stars at night are big and bright and still magnificent.
Thanks to a new friend, I received a tip about some healthy bluebonnets not far from Marble Falls. Immediately, I headed out before this location became public knowledge and before the bluebonnets were trampled by family-portrait folks. The winds were calm, clouds easy and soft, and for an hour we enjoyed our time photographing what so far is a rare scene this year. In one particular spot, a single firewheel (also known as an Indian blanket) rose above the bluebonnets. I photographed this little red wildflower from all directions before settling on one particularly nice angle. I don’t think I could have planned it any better.
That night, I lingered in the bluebonnets and decided to shoot into the early morning hours and capture the Milky Way as it crawled across this beautiful field. The sky was taken with a star tracker and the results can make for a large print! In one of the Milky Way photographs I even had the good fortune of capturing a meteor. I did not recognize this until working on these the next day.
Near this same location in Marble Falls there is a small herd of longhorns. In one of the fields where they graze, patches of bluebonnets are scattered across the pasture. More than several times I drove by this location but the longhorns were never in good position. Finally this past Saturday just before a major storm, I found them sitting among the blooms (and any Texan knows that if cattle are laying down, that means rain is on the way!) With this nice surprise I was at last able to photograph a few of these regal and rugged creatures within the bluebonnets.
When shooting these or any fields of Texas wildflowers, I usually take several images of the same scene with variying depths of field. Back home, I’ll align and merge these images into one photograph in order to achieve maximum sharpness throughout the image. Most of the bluebonnet photographs from this year consist of at least four separate images blended together. The panoramas are made of eight or more photos stacked and merged. This process is tedious but allows me to provide my clients with the highest quality. And being obsessed with details myself, this is the only way I’d do it!
With the recent rains these last few days, I’m hopeful the wet weather will stimulate a future bloom. The hill country still has reds and golds to offer, and perhaps even a few bluebonnet surprises. Time will tell.
Thanks for reading!
Via con dios.
Images from Texas
It seems we are again experiencing a disappointing bluebonnet season. What looked like a promising beginning to a wildflower spring has again been thwarted by lack of rain and higher than normal temperatures. I’ve driven across the hill country the last few week, and I’ve received location report from other trusted photographers, and the outlook is grim.
However, there are some stellar displays of bluebonnets and paintbrush along the roadsides, especially on 29 between Llano and Mason, and on 16 north of Llano.
On my first visit to this particular bend in the road along Highway 29 between Mason and Llano, this is the sunset I found. The bluebonnets in the Texas Hill Country were not great in 2017, but roadside displays of these wildflowers and indian paintbrush were quite colorful on this little stretch of highway.
Another nice location is in Marble Falls on 281 heading north out of town. The iconic old stone building has a field of bluebonnets in the front which makes for a great photograph. I was there one morning last week surrounded by many other folks out enjoying the display – and this was at sunrise! Later that morning as I drove by the number of people taking photos had grown by 3 or 4 times.
This week, the Hill Country is forecast to receive some much needed rain. If this comes to pass, there may be a boost in bluebonnet and other wildflower coverage in fields. We’ll wait and see what happens!
Last week, I traveled to one of my favorite locations – Big Bend National Park. I had gone in hopes of capturing bluebonnets with the Chisos Mountains in the distance. However, the only blooms to be found were along the road, and these were pretty sparse. Still, I worked with what I found:
Big Bend National Park has its own bluebonnet, and here the lupines rest silently in the glow of a March sunrise. In the distance, the Chisos Mountains rise in the cool morning air. The colors and cold air didn’t last long, though. Clouds quickly gave way to clear skies and the temperatures soared into the upper 80s… just a typical day in the Chihuahuan Desert.
Some of my go-to locations like drainages around Tuff Canyon and River Road East were barren of any blooms. I did enjoy a night hike under the full moon to the top of the Lost Mine Trail. I enjoy long exposures when the moonlight illuminates the foreground and brings to life an otherwise hidden valley.
Under the light of the full moon, Big Bend National Parks glows softly. In the distance is Juniper Canyon and the Chisos Mountains, and further is Mexico.
I had made the trek up to this point, a relatively easy 2.4 miles (one way) to photograph this location at sunset, then await the full moon as it rose in the east. The lighting was surreal and the hike back to the car was just a bit eerie and mystical.
In the lower elevations west of the Chisos, the prickly pear cacti were just beginning to bloom.
The last light of sunset lights up the rocky ledges high atop Cerro Castellan on the western slope of the Chisos Mountains. This view of Big Bend National Park shows one of the many Prickly Pear Cacti – this one blooming with beautiful floweres – on the desert floor. But don’t get too close – those prickly pear are well armed with long and sharp thorns!
While not technically considered a wildflower, these blooms can still be stunning.
If I find any wildflowers, I’ll be sure to add some information here. In the meantime, enjoy those colorful roadside displays of flowers – they are still very pretty!
Via Con Dios and safe travels!
About 25 minutes before sunrise, if high clouds linger across the sky and an unfettered path for sunlight appears in the east, colors of red, pink, orange and blue can fill the sky. And just after that is about a 10 to 15 minute period when the once vibrant sky’s colors fade and it appears almost washed out until the sun finally rises over the horizon. It is during this fleeting time of quiet that my mind is set free from my daily obligations that often clutter my thoughts.
Moments like this are special. In much of my adult life some of my fondest memories are times spent outdoors. Looking back at the days of my youth, I would spent all the daylight hours playing outside – searching for craw-dads, playing sports, and walking creekbeds. I never noticed how hot it got in Texas in the summer. After college in Austin, I worked a summer job in a Colorado mountain town, escaping every afternoon with my best friends to explore rivers and fly fish high, remote streams in search of cutthroat and rainbow trout. One of those friends is no longer around, though I do miss him. Another has remained and we still spend some time each summer hiking our own bucket list of Rocky peaks, though other duties – my work and family responsibilities in Texas – have cut down that free time considerably.
So in mornings like this when my photographic treks find me alone along these scenic rivers that wind through the Texas Hill Country – in between the early morning colors and the sunrise – the sounds of water bring back memories of my life’s time. The words and conversations of those bygone days – and those times with friends – have faded. But sometimes I can hear the laughter. With a soft gurgling the swirls of the river flow around and over the rocks, and in those sounds I can almost follow behind the laughter and slide into the past. And just as quickly the light, the colors, and the faint emotions slip past my sitting spot and flow with the waters downstream and disappear.
In those quickly passing moments that seem to last both a few seconds and an hour, I’m reminded of the precious moments we share. But the river brings me round again and soon the brilliant glow on the horizon gives way to a light so bright I can’t look at it directly. After seven clicks of my camera’s shutter and with sunlight spreading across the canyon floor, I know my time in this moment is done and it is time to return home. This beautiful morning I’ll remember, though, and I’ve still a long way to go.
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.