Golden Hour Hike

Thursday evening it was hot and humid and I needed a hike. So, I went to one of my favorite places again. I got to the parking lot and as usual it was empty, so it would just be me and a few million bugs in the refuge. As soon as I got out of my air conditioned car, anything with a lens fogged up from the high humidity.

By the time I got down to the stream crossing, the lenses had warmed up enough that the fogging had dissipated. I have photographed this crossing with the stepping stones multiple times and I usually can’t resist another shot. With this one I worked on getting a sun star through the tree.

Stepping Stones at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Stepping Stones at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

Because the above image was so contrasted and everything but the sky was very dark, I brought all the shadows up in LightRoom and I think that it made a nice photo.

Up the ridge I went and started down the Indiangrass trail. There are a lot of prickly pear cacti on this trail and I was hoping that they were in bloom. I didn’t see a single bloom. This year I have not seen much blooming from the prickly pear where as last year there were beautiful blooms everywhere I looked. I don’t know the story on this.

Walking down the trail I passed a sign post and thought nothing of it. I then turned around for some reason and saw it bathed in the golden evening sunlight. The micro-shadows from the side-lighting really brought out the texture in the wood and I set about trying to capture the scene. The below photo is from close up with a 20mm focal length as I wanted to exaggerate the sign against the tall golden grasses in the background.

Sign Post at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Sign Post at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

My compositional idea was to have the sign leading you to the trail in the background and I think that it works. I tried very hard not to shoot into the sun, but that is not always easy when shooting wide.

Every time I go hiking here I think to myself that I have been here dozens of times and there isn’t really anything else to shoot, but I am usually pleasantly surprised to find something that I haven’t considered before. I am happy with this photo.

Then there is this old bald hill that I have tried to photograph several times before and found it difficult to portray in any real scale. I found that it was quite green thanks to all of the rain this spring and it really caught the warm evening sun well. So here is a look though the trees at the hill, shot at 120mm. There is a small white sign on a hiking trail that you can see for some scale.

Hill at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Hill at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

Unfortunately, the sky in the background was a dull humid haze. Really, I seldom find it this hot and humid around here; it felt like I was down near the coast. I prefer hot and dry to hot and humid any day.

Continuing down the trail, I ran into some early summer wildflowers in the tall grass. I knelt down and took a photo of these flowers in the sun. There was enough separation between the front flowers and the back to give this photo some nice depth with the background blur.

Wildflowers at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Wildflowers at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

To get the background blur (or bokeh), I got down close and shot at 120mm and widest aperture at about the minimum focus distance from the lens. This gives the narrowest depth of focus. There are even some foreground blades of grass that are so blurred out that you don’t really notice them at first. The narrow focus depth helps to hide a distracting background and allow the subject to stand out.

It was quite breezy and there is some motion blur in the flowers at 1/60s shutter speed. I was so caught up in composition and where to focus that I didn’t consider getting a faster shot by bumping up the ISO. You wont really notice unless you go diving down to the pixel level anyway.

I then came across this interesting pink flower (a Texas Thistle, I think) against a background of flowers bathed in golden hour light. I must have taken a dozen photos of this flower trying to get the background like I wanted it. The background flowers are blurred out to fuzzy golden circles providing a nice background for the pink flower. The flower itself is backlit by the setting sun which gives it fringes of gold.

Wildflowers at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge.
Wildflowers at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge.

It’s so nice to be able to get a photo of something that looks like the way I saw it. I thought about over-saturating the pink in this photo, but I think that this edit is more realistic. I am very pleased with the photo of what I think is a Texas Thistle; it says ‘central Texas in summer’ to me.

The clouds looked promising so I stuck around for sunset at a nice place up on the ridge. More on that in the next blog.

Thanks for reading and please leave a comment below. And if you’re interested, be sure to check out my collection of photos of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife at this link.

14 thoughts on “Golden Hour Hike

  1. Beautiful. I love your photos. Yesterday while I was walking my dogs I was thinking about how I’d love to learn how to take decent pictures. By the way, the purple horsemint flowers–pull some off and rub them in your hands. They smell very strong, but nice. I read in a TX Parks and Wildlife article last week that the Native Texans used them to season food.

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      1. Yeah, I wondered if you could crop it a bit closer to the sign but then you lose a lot of the context of the picture. One of the golden rules of photography should be “The sky could always be more interesting” 🙂

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    1. One of my problems was that I wanted the side of the sign that was sunlit, showing all of the texture, and I wanted it to point somewhere for the eye to follow in the picture. Because of the location of the sign and the trail behind it, I had the bright part of the sky in the left of the picture. It was also very humid and hazy on the horizon such that the sky kind of washed out. I will try this again on another evening. I go hiking here quite often as it is very peaceful and not many people go there.

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  2. I’ve never been to Balcones, and it looks like a great place. I especially like the photo of the sign, and the last photo of the thistle is nice, too. As for those foggy lenses, I figured out a trick a week or two ago that you may already know, but I felt like a genius. I was out very early, with no wind and high humidity, and even though I’d remembered to keep the AC in the car down to a dull roar, I had heavy condensation on my lens. I got back in the car, started it, and turned on the heater. I held the lens in the warm (not hot) air for just a few seconds, and that was enough. The condensation was gone, and never came back.

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