Downtown Austin at Sunset

It was a clear sky Sunday afternoon and I had an idea about shooting photos of downtown with the buildings lit up at blue hour against a gradient sky. There was a certain point of view from a platform along the hike and bike trail boardwalk that I planned to shoot from and hopefully get downtown and some reflections in the water against a northwestern sky. Ah plans, aren’t they great.

I found a place to park and made a rather long hike to my vantage point and mostly had it to myself. I started working on framing my shot. The downtown skyline has changed quite a bit in the last couple of years so I was also responding to a new scene. Below is my first photo about 25 minutes before sunset. The building are really picking up the warm light from the setting sun.

This photo was shot with an ND filter so I could get a long enough exposure to hopefully smooth out the water and get some reflections. There was also a very narrow window of time in which the sun wasn’t glaring brightly off one of the buildings and mostly ruining my picture. I also had to clip off the reflection of the tall building in the lower right because there is an ugly oil boom in the water there.

First, the large buildings on the right of the scene are much closer than the building in the distance and they really dominate the picture and throw it off balance. The rest of downtown barely makes a statement in the photo. But, the only lens I have an ND filter for is a 14-24mm lens and that is much too wide to zoom into the buildings in the distance. Fortunately, the resolution of my camera allows me to crop way down and still get a good image for the web. So, below is a digital zoom with the same image. There is some rising hot air in the city and it does cause some blurring from a distance.

So, I eagerly awaited blue hour. I chatted with occasional people who came to the viewpoint to admire the city with their dogs. Eventually the sun set and the light in the sky began to balance with the lights from the buildings, which was what I was waiting for. I think that the best city shots are taken during those magic few moments when the sky is neither too bright nor too dark and that was what I was going for. Below is my best photo, also a crop.

The problem was that the southwestern sky was so bright that it was still reflecting off of all the downtown glass and it was mostly overwhelming the city lights. So, you get a very contrasted photo and a few city lights. There was also a lot of plants, wood, ducks, etc. floating in the water and I didn’t want to spend an hour removing it all.

I did wait around in hopes that the overwhelming reflections in the glass would tone down a bit, but the sky behind the buildings began getting too dark. At this point the scene is very contrasted and difficult to photograph as you either blow out the city lights or underexpose everything else. In the image below, many of the city lights are completely over exposed and there wasn’t anything to be done in post processing. Look particularly at the bright pointy building slightly right of center; it isn’t anywhere near that bright to the eye but cameras don’t have the range of the human eye (yet). It is still an OK image, but not exactly what I had in mind.

I could have taken multiple exposures and done a blend or an HDR merge, but I didn’t think I was getting good enough photos to merit all this work, so I packed up my stuff and hiked back to my car. I may have stopped in at a Torchy’s Tacos downtown for a couple of chicken fajita tacos and a beer before I made it to my car.

I think I will have to find a different vantage point and try this again. I do have an idea for where, but it won’t have the reflections in the water. A good city skyline photo is not easy to create. Thanks for reading.

34 thoughts on “Downtown Austin at Sunset

  1. Seems like it’s no easy task to make a camera exactly mimic what the eye sees. And maybe it’s impossible. But I think that can be a good thing, sometimes. I like some of the unintended effects a camera can produce. Like that pointy building. I don’t know what it looks like to the naked eye, but I like the looks of the bright top floors, that the camera gave it. In fact, all the photos look great, to me. Sometimes I wonder if you kick yourself a little more than necessary.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The building is not so bright to the human observer, but to capture that with the camera, a lot of the other stuff would be really dark.

      Thanks. Just trying get as good as I can so I can justify how much I have spent on camera stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jason what a beautiful shot. I want to make it to Austin and do a trip around Texas over the next few years. My wife and I are doing the road trip and house sitting bit around the Southeast US now. What a fascinating region. Austin looks amazing.


    Liked by 1 person

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