How bad do you want it?

Though this is a blog about photography, “how bad do you want it” is a question that applies to just about anything and everything, but I digress…

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Austin, Texas under a clear starry night. This shot made it all worth it.

You may be thinking, Jason, what the hell are you talking about… well. “How bad do you want it” is a question I ask myself just about every Friday before my head hits the pillow. For those of you who don’t know, much like many many other landscape photographers, I have an “adult” job. Not adult like an adult film star or anything, but a full-time job that has nothing to do with photography.

After working over 40 hours a week, at times away from my lovely wife and all the comforts of home for several days, there is nothing more I would rather do than sleep in, relax and marathon Walter White as he Breaks Bad. So,  I have to ask myself, “how bad do you want it“? And for me, “it” is that one banger shot that makes you smile when it pops up on the back of the camera after hearing the shutter click. It could be vivid colors of the Milkey Way arching over Enchanted Rock or a beautiful smile beneath piercing eyes in dramatic black & white.

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The beautiful Austin, Texas skyline from the boardwalk along Lake LBJ.

Being a photographer in a digital world is, in many ways, so much easier than it was when I started shooting film. In an instant after freezing time, you can know if you captured your vision. The leaps in technology have, for sure, brought with it benefits that I can’t imagine living without. However… with all those wonderful leaps forward there is bound to be an equal and opposite reaction, according to some guy that goes by the name Issac.

Social media is without a doubt a huge part of what I do as a photographer, as it is with just about every business these days. It is still possible to do well without social media, but when you can reach 100K plus people with one banger image, well,  that’s a large audience and you would have to be a little crazy to pass that up. But,  with social media, there is a constant pressure to produce great content. That could be a single image, a video, tutorial, or a blog post like this one. And, contrary to what some people think, pumping out content and posts that will actually catch the attention of an audience is a large dedication of time not to mention a lot of work.

My office for the night

One Friday night, a few weeks ago, after a very busy week at my “real” job, I had to ask myself “how bad do you want it“? The weather forecast that night called for zero clouds, which can be great if you’re into shooting nightscapes like I am. It also called for temperatures in the upper 30’s. I know what you’re thinking, upper 30’s isn’t cold. Well if you live in Central Texas and are going to be standing lakeside on a breezy night, its cold.

For several weeks that I had been waiting for a clear night on a weekend so I could get what I hoped would be Star Trails above the Austin, Texas skyline. But that meant waking up at 3:30am, driving for over an hour, walking for about a mile with 38 pounds of camera equipment on my back, just to stand in 39° temperatures for several hours. Gotta want it pretty bad to go through all of that after the week I had.

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This is a combination of 24, 2-minute exposures. There are very faint star trails in the upper right corner showing the rotation of the earth.

So it was cold… really cold… But I think I mentioned that. My fingertips and toes were numb and the filters I was trying to use kept getting condensation on them, which really sucked because it ruined the shot I wanted so much. Originally I had a grand plan of making a video out of the trip with some great aerial B-role as the sun broke the horizon and illuminated downtown Austin. Though I did piece together the video below, there isn’t any epic drone. I couldn’t feel my fingers by the time the sun started to rise. Sometimes things just don’t go as planned. But, the video doesn’t do it justice and I loved every minute of it.

So, that brings us full circle. How bad do you want it? What are you willing to do to get the thing you want most? Next time you think you would rather sleep in or not get out and make it happen, ask yourself that.

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The Challenges​ of Hamilton Pool.

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Hamilton Pool. If you’ve never heard of it, it is entirely possible that you have seen it online and said to yourself “I wanna go there”. Over the past several years there have been many travel blogs, articles, and images that have gone viral online showing the beauty of this hidden gem tucked away in the Texas Hill Country.

This isn’t one of those blogs though. Hamilton Pool Preserve is one of the most challenging places I have ever photographed and wanted to pass along why that is and what to expect if you plan a trip to this spectacular location.

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First, a little bit about Hamilton Pool. Located in Dripping Springs, Texas just Southwest of Austin, the preserve’s pool and grotto were formed when the dome of an underground river collapsed over a thousand years ago. After a short hike down a rocky and steep path, you will find a creek accented with some of the most beautiful trees in the area. Following the creek upstream will bring you to the pool, and you will know when you’re getting close when you hear the relaxing sound of the 50-foot waterfall that feeds into the once hidden oasis. It is really a breathtaking spot to see.

 

So, let’s go over a few things you need to know if you’re planning a visit. One of the most important things you need to do is make a reservation… Yes, you heard right. Over the years, the number of people that visit the pool has become overwhelming for the park. To solve this, you are now required to make a reservation, which costs about $10.00. You will still need to pay the entrance fee at the park. The details can be found HERE on their webpage.

Just because you have a reservation doesn’t mean that there won’t be anyone else at the park while you are there. Personally, I like to go as soon as the park opens and during the week in hopes that I will get 30 minutes all alone before people start showing up.

Next, if you are hoping to take a dip in the beautiful water while you are there, check the site above first. Due to high bacteria in the water at times, the park will often restrict swimming.

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Now, here are a few things you need to know and consider from a photography standpoint. The reason I mentioned that Hamilton Pool is so difficult to photograph has nothing to do with the reservations or getting there. It would seem that being such an Epic looking location, it would be hard to take a bad picture, but it is just the opposite.

The “grotto” of the pool is pretty much a cavern, which does let light in but is still very dark. Due to the park hours, the earliest you can get there and latest you can stay, the sun will be out, and even on cloudy days like in these images, there is a huge difference in the range between the shadows and the highlights. For those of you that don’t know, this is the Dynamic Range.

So, a normal person’s eye can see about 20 “stops” of light. Consider this to be like a volume slider, 1 being the darkness of the cave and 20 being the brightness of the sky. The image processing sensor on a high-end camera can only capture a range of about 15 stops of light though. So, roughly 25% of the scene you think you are getting is lost. Dynamic range

This means that what you are seeing with your naked eye when you look at the awe-inspiring dome of Hamilton Pool has a lot more detail and range than your camera can capture. So, there are a few options…you can pick between losing the detail in the shadows and properly exposing for the bright reflections of the sky in the water, you can keep the detail and texture of the huge fallen chunks of rock but blow out and lose all the detail in the sky… or, you can find another way of dealing with it and capturing both.

My choice for the location was to “bracket” the images and then merge them in Photoshop allowing both the beautiful highlights and the rich detailed shadows to show in the final image. Bracketing is when you take 2 or more images of the same scene but at different exposure levels. Normally I will shoot three, one properly exposed image, one underexposed, and one overexposed. This is also known as an HDR (High Dynamic Range) image on most mobile phones.

 

Once the images have been processed and merged together in Photoshop, you will get the HDR image that will hopefully have the full dynamic range of what your eyes saw.  Below is what I walked away with.

Rainy Hamilton Pool -105-HDR-Edit-EditThere are a few things to keep in mind when bracketing for an HRD image. Your camera may already have this feature that will automatically combine the images into one. I do have that option but prefer to take the images separately and merge them myself. This gives me more control over the final image. It is more work but I think the finished product is better.

You may have heard me say how important I think a tripod is when shooting landscape photography. Well, it is even more so in this situation. You will most likely be dealing with at least one longer exposure where camera shake can really become a problem but keep in mind that all three images have to line up if you want sharp focus in the final image.

In the end, Hamilton Pool is a very challenging place to photograph. On one trip I walked away with ZERO images that I liked. All that being said, and after all the work, I would highly recommend planning a trip. Even if you don’t take a camera, it is an incredible place that gives you the feeling of stepping through a portal straight into Middle Earth. Below is a “behind the scenes” video of my last trip.

Austin Texas through my lens…

Living in New Braunfels Texas and working in Austin has a few drawbacks. What started as an hour commute and gradually creeped into 3 and a half to 4 hours in my car every day. Gotta say that part sucks.

The Long Center for the Preforming Arts-3The Long Center for the Preforming Arts

It’s not all bad though. If you look past all the traffic of one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, there are some incredible sights to see. From cityscapes and urban grit to parks and nature, Austin has it all. One of my favorite spots in Austin is the Penneybacker Bridge, or the 360 bridge to the locals. Located on the Colorado River and Loop 360 in West Austin, this little cliff offers some amazing views.

360 Bridge Austin TX-3Overlooking the Pennybacker Bridge in Austin Texas

It would be a great setting for bridal or portrait photography, but I recently went for some long exposure shots of the bridge. Below is a 20 second exposure at f/22 using a Lee ND graduated filter.

Pennybacker Bridge in Austin Texas

There is a 2 tier cliff area that you can early walk up to from a parking area just off of Loop 360. It is a big hangout for Austinites looking to catch a nice sunset while they partake in some of the devils parsley, Keep Austin Weird…

Another place I really enjoyed going for a few pictures during lunch was the Texas Capital Building. Very easy to get to and free to get it, finding parking isn’t always easy or free though.

The Texas State Capital Building

Being high noon under clear sky, I decided to shoot in black and white. The building itself really is amazing and all the architectural detail really brought out some contrast from the harsh shadows. To see one of my favorite parts of the capital you have to go inside. The day I went had some pretty high tempters and with all the walking, well I got a little overheated. Just when you go in through the main entrance, past the park rangers and scanners, there is a large picture f Davie Crockett just to you right. If you need to cool off, stand just in front of it. There is a vent that blows some much needed cold air.

Austin Texas-38Texas State Capital Building Rotunda

Above is a shot of the rotunda just inside the Texas Capital Building. I took it from the 3rd floor balcony to get the angle I wanted. If you look to the upper right part of the rotunda you can see the white spiral staircase leading up. There are tours that will take you up through the staircase. I didn’t have time that day but would like to go back to see whats up there. The rotunda is pretty impressive from the ground floor as well. There are a few shots below showing what you would see looking up just as you walk in.

 Texas State Capital Building Rotunda

Just southwest of Austin, in Driftwood, there is a wonderful little swimming hole called Hamilton pool. Locate just just off of 3238 is the Hamilton Pool Reserve. Bring some comfortable shoes though, theres a little hike with some elevation to deal with. But when you get to the pool, its all worth it.

Hamilton Pool Reserve

At the time I only has a 28mm and it really doesn’t do it justice. I really need to go back with a wider angle to get what I wanted. Below are a few other shots I got while there. I would recommend going early if you are going to be taking pictures. This is a popular spot for cooling off during the summer and can draw in the crowds. There are also some great walking trails along Hamilton Creek and the Predernales River.

Hamilton Pool Reserve

As I mentioned, it’s not all bad working in Austin. Great people, food and entertainment all centered around wonderful scenery. There is so much more to see that what I have posted here. The key is getting out to experience it for yourself and see it through your own lens.