One of my favorite locations to spend time practicing my craft in Austin proper is on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol. In morning or evening light, the “sunset Red” granite that makes up the historic building seems to change color and glow in the half-light of day, and the subtle tones the camera can capture bring to life an impressive and iconic Texas landmark.
Elijah Meyers designed the state capitol in Austin. After a nationwide contest, Meyers won in 1881 and received his reward – three million acres in the Texas Panhandle! This land later became the famous XIT Ranch. Meyers also served as the architect for the Colorado and Michigan Capitols.
The Capitol opened to the public on April 21, 1888, after 6 years of construction. The exterior was originally slated to be made of limestone, but limestone streaked, and a debate over the final rock delayed the start for nearly two years. Landowners in Marble Falls ended the arguments by donating the “Sunset Red” granite, and construction was again underway. Along this same timeframe, the state gave the contractor 1,000 convicts to quarry the granite. However, the use of convict labor was fought by the granite cutter’s union, and eventually experienced stonecutters from Scotland were brought in to finish the building.
The capitol sits on 22 acres of beautiful land. From 1991-1994, the outside of the Capitol was restored with repairs to the dome, walls, roof, and granite. The interior was returned to its original look of the early 1900s. The grounds of the Capitol were also updated, restructuring the Great Walk (on the south side leading from Congress to the front steps) and the Oval Walk (a path circling the building. Along this time, nearly 200 trees and native plants were brought in to restore the beauty of the location. Historical monuments also preside in various locations around the complex. Some of the most well-known include statues of the Texas Rangers, the Texas Cowboy, and Heroes of the Alamo.
That’s a brief overview of the Capitol, but to really feel the history, get out and explore. Rose gardens, flower gardens, monuments, trees, and other objects make great foreground elements for photographing the architecture, and the morning and evening light can be captivating. One of the drawbacks, though, is the building faces north/south, so it is hard to capture a brilliant sunrise or sunset – but not impossible. Persistence pays, along with a little luck with the weather.
I like to use a wide angle lens here – and for me that is the Canon 11-24L. But any good wide angle lens can capture the depth of the Capitol grounds. In the early morning and late light when the sky is generally still dark, I’ll often take several exposures to obtain the right light on the building walls. (The Capitol is lit by flood lights so this is necessary to avoid over exposed areas of the building and underexposed portions of trees and bushes.
You can also enjoy a telephoto lens for close-ups of the dome, the statues, or any other creative aspect that perks your interest. The bottom line is to get out and have fun!
If you have any questions, please contact me. I’m happy to help.