Austin Skyline at Sunrise

Maybe I am addicted to taking skyline pictures recently. It is not as easy as one would think to get these pictures to turn out the way you want them, so I keep going back and trying different things under different conditions. What I have been trying to catch are good clouds at sunrise, but I haven’t yet gotten the high clouds that I need for this picture. It was cloudy Saturday morning, but the clouds hung too low to catch much pre-dawn sun.

I tried shooting from a different location this time. There is a hill in a park called Doug Sahm Hill Park and this makes a natural overlook for downtown. My new strategy is to pick a spot and work that scene instead of hiking all around hoping to catch a good picture. I stayed in this location for perhaps an hour. Below is one of my first shots at predawn twilight. You can see that there are a lot of low hanging clouds but the high sky is empty. I cropped out a lot of the foreground grass as it was not all that attractive.

Austin downtown skyline at pre-dawn twilight
Nikon D750 + 16-35mm f/4; 16mm, f/4, 2s, ISO100

This is about half an hour before sunrise and you can see that there is already a lot of light on the horizon. I may need to shoot this again post-sunset to get a nice deep blue in the sky. The blue in the sky and the ambers of the city contrast well together.

I liked the way the clouds were moving and I attempted some long exposure pictures with the ND filter, but I just kind of got a smooth gray across the sky and I wasn’t happy with that so I didn’t post them here.

I have an app called Photopills on my phone and using the augmented reality feature, it told me that the sun would rise between some buildings. So, if the clouds would cooperate, I decided to try to get a bit of sunburst on the edge of a building. I stopped the aperture down to f/20 in an attempt to intensify the flaring effect. One issue may have been that the sun light was traveling through a lot of low hanging mist and clouds across the horizon that reduced its sharpness. Just a theory.

Downtown Austin Texas at sunrise
Nikon D750 + 16-35mm f/4; 35mm, f/20. 1/40s, ISO125

For a comparison, I took the same shot with my iPhone. I was interested in how the iPhone camera software would deal with the contrast and the bright sunbeam. I processed the DSLR shot in Lightroom and allowed the phone software to process and produce a JPG for me. So below you can see the iPhone 8S plus photo vs. the Nikon D750 DSLR with 16-35mm f/4 lens above.

Downtown Austin Texas at sunrise taken with IPhone
iPhone 8S Plus; Auto

I don’t get the sunburst on the iPhone photo as there is a fixed aperture, I believe. The iPhone software does a pretty heroic job of pulling up the light on the buildings, which is quite challenging in this lighting. It did kind of blow out the sky around the rising sun. The photo from the DSLR has been cropped a bit as it was a bit wider focal length that the iPhone 8 photo.

On top of this hill there is a big compass rose with Texas in the middle. I went back behind this and put on my 14mm lens to try to capture this in the foreground with Austin in the background. I did have to wait around for a wedding photographer and a couple to move along. And I didn’t notice until later that my camera bag is in the shot to the left on the park bench. The sun is just going behind a building. We are almost at the summer solstice, maybe there is some sort of Stonehenge effect that happens from here.

Doug Sahm Hill Park Austin Texas at Sunrise
Nikon D750 + Rokinon 14mm f/2.4; 14mm, f/20, 1/50s, ISO125

The sun was moving back behind a building and some clouds, so I was able to get some sky. I did create an elliptical filter in Lightroom to bring up the exposure on the Texas compass rose in the foreground and another to keep the sky down in the background. I dropped the blue luminance a bit to get a deeper sky. You can also see the distortion of the 14mm lens when the horizon is not centered in the frame. But, over all this is one of my favorites from the shoot.

As the sun moved up in the sky, I wandered around a bit and found some cattail weeds at the edge of a pond. My composition idea was to get these cattails in focus in the foreground with downtown in the background.

Cattails in a pond near Austin Texas
Nikon D750 + 16-35mm f/2.8; 35mm, f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO125

I spent most of my time fighting the sun. I needed the sun to light the plants, but it was blowing out my sky. Anyway, not sure about this one. It was an attempt.

Thanks for reading about more Austin photography. I am hoping to get out on the hiking trails soon to get back to some landscapes. Please leave a comment below.

4 thoughts on “Austin Skyline at Sunrise

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