It was a freezing Thursday morning and I was awake early. I checked the clouds outside my back window and from what I could tell there were high clouds which meant a chance at a nice sunrise. So, I gathered up my gear and headed out to Balcones Canyonlands for some photos. As I was approaching the refuge on the highway, I could see the first hints of color on the horizon.
When I got the car parked, I grabbed my backpack and jogged down the trail to the overlook that I wanted to check out. I set up at a park bench beneath the tree in the center of the below image. I wasn’t very happy with what I was getting from this location and it occurred to me to hike back up the trail and use the path as a leading foreground into the sunrise. I saw the signpost pointing to the overlook and thought that it would add a literal leading element to the photo. So with freezing fingers, I set focus and took several exposures to merge later.
I am very happy with how this photo turned out and I don’t even mind the jet con-trails. I took this at about 6:58AM with the sunrise scheduled for 7:25AM and there is a lot of orange light hitting the bottoms of the high clouds. The footpath is conveniently placed leading eastward toward the hills and it all really works well. The grass this time of year is yellows and browns and it was quite difficult to make them look right in post processing because they picked up a magenta tint in the predawn light.
The clouds then all turned gray and I thought that the show might be over. But there might just be some clouds over the horizon temporarily blocking the sunlight and the sun might eventually clear them and again there would be colors in the sky. While waiting to see if this would happen, I grabbed my gear and hiked down to the creek crossing to see what sunrise would look like from that vantage point. To my good fortune, the colors returned just as I made it down to the creek and there was just enough standing water to get some reflections.
You can see the stone foot path to the left of the image leading to the trail that continues on the other side of the creek. I put the tripod down low to get these reflections and I also found that I like all of the texture in the rock so I enhanced that a bit in Lightroom.
The clouds and and light were rapidly changing and I wanted to incorporate the stepping stones in a picture, so I experimented with camera positions to maximize both the footpath and the reflections in the foreground. My fingers were quite numb during all of this which made it a bit difficult to work the dials and buttons on the camera, but I persisted.
With this image I worked quite a bit on the texture and micro-contrast of the stepping stones and I really like the character they bring to the photo. I desaturated the brownish color in the mid-ground grasses as I kind of found it distracting. I also enhanced the washboard texture in the clouds. Maybe I went a little overboard. Let me know in the comments. I would like for the hiking path across the water to show up more in the photo but it is lost in the poorly lit grasses.
The main color show began to die down, but to the south the clouds were still lit up, so I turned and grabbed a set of exposures for that as well. The stone path goes across the scene rather than in to it so the picture doesn’t really flow all that well, but the sky is nice and there is a bat house to look at. I perhaps should have tried to get lower to get some reflection in the water. This photo was taken at about 7:22AM with the sun almost at the horizon beyond the ridge to the left.
With numb fingers, I didn’t even try to pack up my gear until I made it back to the car, which is only a 10 minute walk from this location.
These photos were all merges of 5 – 7 images in Lightroom using HDR and then the DNG merge file was processed to give the final result. I shot the brackets in manual mode by setting aperture and focus and then manually adjusting the shutter speed between each shot. I used a remote to avoid shaking the camera with the shutter button as some of these exposures took several seconds in the low light.
There was a nice sunset the evening after these photos but I was not out shooting as I was busy. The early mornings however, are generally all mine as nobody else wants to be awake. It is just harder to predict a good sunrise in the dark than it is to predict a good sunset in the late afternoon. I got lucky on this morning. Thanks for reading.