Wildflower Hike at Balcones Canyonlands

I decided to go out to Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in the Doeskin Ranch area on a nice evening to hike and check out the wildflowers. I figured that the trails in the high meadows would be very nice just before sunset. As usual there were few people there – only two other cars in the parking lot. I put on my bug repellent, grabbed my camera, a lens, and my tripod and headed out.

Another goal was to attempt to only shoot at 35mm focal length. Why? I wanted to try not shooting so wide, to get less in a photograph, and work on the perspective of this one focal length. Perhaps it would force me to get more creative and learn a thing or two. I don’t have a 35mm prime, so I used a 24-120mm f/4 zoom and tried to keep it at 35mm.

As I got to the Shin Oak trail on top of the ridge, I found that the wildflowers were in full bloom and flourishing thanks to all the spring rain we have had. I almost didn’t know where to point my camera. The below photos were shot from a particularly bountiful part of the trail at 35mm, of course. I did apply a 4×5 crop because it like this better than the 4×6 that I get out of the camera some times, but I did not crop in beyond doing that.

Wildflowers and Hiking Trails at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Wildflowers and Hiking Trails at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

There were a lot of butterflies, but they did not feel like posing for a photo. The prickly pear were not yet in bloom, but they were surrounded by other wildflowers. I have seen the prickly pear cactus beginning to bloom around town so I will have to come back up here and check again soon.

Wildflowers and Hiking Trails at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Wildflowers and Hiking Trails at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

I went down the Indian Grass trail a little because it looked so inviting with the trail hugged by the firewheels on either side.

Wildflowers and Hiking Trails at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Wildflowers and Hiking Trails at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

On the way back, I found a nice view through the trees at the evening sun. I waited while the clouds moved across the sun to get some light and then took multiple exposures to get an HDR merge with the trail and wildflowers through the trees. The light coming through the trees onto the flowers with the trail heading off into the distance was so beautiful that I had to try and capture it.

Wildflowers and Hiking Trails at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge HDR
Wildflowers and Hiking Trails at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge HDR

This was accidentally shot at 38mm as the zoom ring had moved without my noticing. This is eight exposures from 1/4000s to 1/60s, handheld. I locked focus, held as still as I could, and took photos and turned the shutter-speed dial with my thumb without moving the camera.

I tried merging this in PhotoMatix and LightRoom and spent a lot of time on the lighting adjustments trying to get this right. Getting detail in the sky, the little bit of sun flaring through the trees, and the warm light on the flowers framed by the darker trees was quite an editing challenge. With such a deep HDR merge, I did have a lot of data to work with. I hope you like my final result.

Shooting with only 35mm focal length was constraining, but it constrained me in a good way. It narrowed my thoughts about composition and forced me to think and problem solve without just twisting the zoom dial. It might be nice to have a 35mm prime and just walk around with that as primes are usually of higher quality and it would be lighter than the zoom. I may consider that in the future.

The hike was nice and peaceful, though I do unfortunately get good phone service out there. The wildflowers were better than I have ever seen them out there. It’s a nice hike if you are in the Austin area. And all of the photos were shot from the trail; I didn’t go trample any of the wildflowers. Thanks for reading.

Wildflowers and Hiking Trails at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Wildflowers and Hiking Trails at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

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