I have been wanting to go hiking at Inks Lake State Park in the late afternoon before sunset and scope out some places in a rocky area overlooking the lake for sunset pictures. It has been very cloudy lately, but Thursday afternoon’s forecast called for clearing skies so I headed out there after work. Inks Lake State Park is to the NorthWest of Austin and about 43 miles from my house and is not a bad drive.
When I got to the park, I parked at the trail head (see the map excerpt below) and hiked to the Lake Trail area (red X on the map below) to look for some composition ideas for sunset. The hike was a little over a half mile of trail and rocky terrain. I carried my backpack, which include a couple of water bottles, my camera, and two lenses, and my tripod slung over my shoulder. It was still pretty hot, but it wasn’t a bad hike. I have hiked a lot of the other trails, but some of those are not fun on a hot day.
When I arrived at the rocks where I wanted to shoot, I walked around a bit looking for interesting textures that would make a good foreground with the lake and sunset in the background. I took a few test shots with my iPhone to check some compositions and settled on a couple of ideas. I noticed this seam in the granite that leads to some yellow flowers and the setting sun, so I got down really low with my phone and took a (crooked) picture to see what it would look like.
I didn’t really like how little of the lake you could see from this low and the flowers don’t really read very well. I ended up raising my tripod a bit and used a wider focal length than the phone camera.
I then got to wait a half hour or so for the sun to approach the ridge in the distance. There were some high clouds in the sky, so I hoped for a nice display. While I waited, I took out my notebook and wrote down what I was trying to accomplish with these photos. I wanted a composition with an interesting and uncluttered foreground to go with the sunset/lake background. I was hoping the lines in the granite or the flowers would achieve this. I also looked at some cactus and other rocks, but they seemed too busy. And I wanted a lot of warm colors to contrast against the blue afternoon sky and lake.
I also sat and listed to a mockingbird, some people talking and fishing in the distance, the wind blowing. It was very calm after being at work all day.
As the sun began to reach horizon, I set up and started taking series of photos based on what I had planned. Below are the yellow flowers. I decided to get close the these and put the sun in a corner of the image shining on the flowers with the golden light on the granite.
I think that the light really works well in this picture. I am concerned that the mid-ground is a bit cluttered looking.
Below is one of the HDR merges I did of the seam in the granite with the sun on the edge of the ridgeline in the distance.
The seam is there, pointing toward the setting sun, but I am not sure that it reads that well with the visually noise rocks all around. But the flowers are there, not catching as much sunlight as I had hoped.
These photos are very contrasted with the sun on the horizon and I struggled a bit with how bright to make the foreground. These where HDR merges so I had lots of ability to alter the brightness setting to make them look almost cartoonish. It also depends on what monitor you are using to view these images. I settled on what I thought was warm and peaceful, which was the mood of this place.
I waited a bit after sunset for the clouds to light up orange – the second sunset landscape photographers are always looking for. This didn’t seem to be happening so I let my impatience get the best of me and I packed up and started heading back. But as I came around the trees to a low rocky place by the lake, I saw the clouds lit up orange. I set up my tripod as quickly as I could and grabbed my camera to take some pictures. By then, much of the color was leaving, but I got a nice photo.
This was a single exposure with the tree line silhouetted against the blue and orange sky. I think that this shot really worked well.
What is second-sunset, anyway? On an evening with high clouds and no low clouds interfering with the sunlight, if you wait 10 – 15 minutes after sunset you may see the high clouds begin to light up in brilliant oranges, reds, and magentas against a deep blue sky. When I saw the scene above, the grayish looking clouds were brilliant orange and in the time it took me to set up and take the picture they had begun to fade to gray. You don’t get much time to capture a second-sunset and it requires patience. I think I did a pretty good job with this when I was in Gruene, Texas.
I then hiked back to my car in the near dark without any trouble and headed home. Next time I will remember to bring my head lamp.
Incidentally, I snapped this picture with my iPhone and when I looked at it later it said HDR. So, this is the built-in HDR processing of the iPhone photo app. Not too bad.
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