Hiking with my Camera in Balcones Canyonlands NWR

It’s Spring and I wanted to return to the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge for a hike to see if there was a wildflower show and perhaps take in a sunset. I have written about this place before. I always bring my camera when hiking, so I can practice composing and taking photos of anything interesting I find.

The hiking trails at Doeskin Ranch basically climb a good sized ridge and then go back into the hills behind the ridge. Past the grassy area there is a kind of rounded off hill that the trail meanders around. I think it looks kind of oddly shaped. The picture below shows the hill in the distance. I have not climbed this hill as hikers are asked to stay on the trail to avoid disturbing wildlife.

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge hiking trails at Doeskin Ranch

I did find a lot of wildflowers growing around the trails. In the below picture I focused on an indian paintbrush (I believe) with a smaller yellow flower out-of-focus in the background. I had a lot of trouble getting these flowers to photograph well in the tall grass and had to search around for a composition that had sunlight, wasn’t obscured by grass, and had a good background. I shot this crouching down at 95mm focal length and f/4. I got as close as I could to the flower in order to blur the background.

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge Indian paintbrush wildflower

I also came across this gnarly piece of tree with a bunch of wildflowers growing around it. I thought that it might make a good composition with the trail leading off into the distance. I was keeping the sun at my back and had to struggle to keep my shadow out of the picture as it was getting pretty late in the afternoon. Not sure this is a successful photo as the wildflowers didn’t really pop that much, but they’re there if you look for them.

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

I then came across a dead tree with wildflowers at the base and I thought that this would be a good shot with my 14 mm lens. I wanted to get low so that the grasses, flowers, and trunk at the bottom of the tree appear a bit large, being close to the lens, and the top of the tree would sort of fall away from the camera. Also, I usually don’t shoot portrait orientation. I am pleased with the way this photo came out. The long grasses and wildflowers I think turned out wonderfully, pulling the viewer into the picture. But I really couldn’t rotate to isolate the entire tree from the background without shooting into the setting sun.

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge lonely tree

In the above image the focus is set on the tree trunk so the flowers in the bottom of the image are not quite in focus as they are very close to the lens. I also underexposed this photo a bit to avoid clipping the bright horizon. I applied the new Lightroom landscape preset to this after I installed the Lightroom update and I like the affect. The landscape preset warms up the landscape a bit.

Below is my shot from the other side of the tree. The tree is isolated against the blue sky, but it just doesn’t have the impact that the first image has with the long golden grasses sweeping you into the picture. But you do get the low afternoon sun warming up the branches nicely.

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge lonely tree on the hiking trail

On the trail to the path back down the ridge, there is a bench and area from which you can get a prime view of the western horizon. I stopped here and waited a while to see if it looked like a promising sunset. Then, as the sun began to set, it went behind some thick clouds that gathered on the horizon. I knew the sunset would probably be unremarkable, so I grabbed a couple of bracketed sequences to play around with in Lightroom and Photomatix Pro and headed back to the parking lot along the trail you can see in the photo below.

Sunset at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge at doeskin ranch

With the bracketing feature, I just set the camera to take 5 successive exposures at normal exposure, -1, -2, +1, and +2 stops. I then imported these images into Photomatix Pro and produced an HDR merge. I mainly wanted the trail and some of the greenery to show up well in the photo. I may come back to this spot and try to get a nice sunset some time.

There is a full gallery below that you can flip through. Thanks for reading and leave a comment below if you like.



9 thoughts on “Hiking with my Camera in Balcones Canyonlands NWR

  1. Yep, I like the same one best.
    It can be frustrating when you know there’s a ‘perfect’ composition for a photo but it just isn’t there in reality. If those trees sitting on the horizon line weren’t there behind the subject tree it would better I think but… well, they are there and there doesn’t appear to be any amount of manoeuvring to make them not be there!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I liked that one too, and strangely enough, I didn’t even notice the trees in the background until they were pointed out. Since my photography is amateurish, these compositions of yours amaze me.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] I posted the following photo to Flickr on April 7. It received 444 views and 13 favorites (Flickr’s version of likes). I like this photo quite a bit, but I was kind of surprised that it received much attention on Flickr as it is just a tree and some wildflowers taken with a wide angle lens. I took this while hiking at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. […]


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