Feeling Blue And Loving It: A Day Among The Texas Hill Country Wildflowers

Bluebonnets On Willow City Loop. Canon 1DsMkII | 24-70/2.8 @35mm | f22 | 1/50 | ISO200.

I just returned from my first Texas Hill Country wildflower outing and did I have a blast. The timing of my trip would have normally been perfect but given the rains and mild winter, the 2012 blooms were peaking earlier than usual. For my outing, there were still plenty of good flowers and thanks to a few email exchanges with two of my friends (Bill Caskey, Jeannie Lewis) that live in the Austin area, I had a pretty good idea where I should visit. I also read people’s wildflower sightings online so between that and my trusted advice, I decided to begin my adventure from the city of Fredericksburg. From there I would photograph along Hwy 16 toward Willow City Loop, then up to the city of Llano. At Llano, I would take Hwy 71 to Kingsland, Ranch Roads 307/1431 up toward Buchanan Lake, then Hwy 29 back to Llano. Finally, I would make my way back to Fredericksburg, then go East to Lyndon B. Johnson state park to photograph the historic cabins among the wildflowers.

All of this, I would try to do in a single day. Yes, only one day. Could I do it? I would need cloud cover to photograph in the middle of the day and fortunately, I had it for a short while. So why only one day? Quite simply, that’s all the time I had as Sunday was Easter and a day I wanted to spend with my family. It was either now or next year and one day  is better than nothing so in the spirit of Willie Nelson…I was “On The Road Again.”

Bluebonnet-lined Country Road Near Llano Airport (Thanks to Luke Etheredge, a local ranch owner I met, who pointed me toward this location). Canon 1DsMkII | 24-70/2.8 @ 70mm | f11 | 1/125 | ISO 200. Because the sky was bland and grey, I composed this with the intention of cropping into a panoramic view.

I had three primary photographic objectives on this trip: 1) Big open bluebonnet fields with large hills/trees in the background, 2) Intimate pictures showing the wildflowers amidst their surroundings (natural and man-made),  and 3) Macro shots of individual flowers. I also had three secondary objectives: A) Scout the countryside for future photographic adventures, B) Capitalize on any serendipitous discoveries, and C) Avoid getting bit by a rattlesnake. Now, some of you may be wondering why “C” is not a primary objective and it essentially is, but it was not a primary photographic objective…semantics. 🙂 I was wearing my snake boots so I did take some precautions and for the record, I did not see any snakes on this trip. So how did I do on all of these objectives? Well, below is only a small sample of what I photographed so you tell me.

To capture Objective 1, I was trying to layer the photograph from foreground to background, i.e. having interesting subjects from front to back, creating depth in the picture. I was able to do some of that but in many places, either the background was uninteresting or the foreground flowers were sparse.

How I wish this field would have been full of bluebonnets along the Willow City Loop | Canon 1DsMkII | 17-35/2.8 @ 35mm | f/22 | 1/15 | ISO 200 | Graduated ND Filter.

Bluebonnet Meadow Near Fredericksburg. Canon 1DsMkII | 24-70/2.8 @ 70mm | f22 | ISO200.

Bluebonnets & Mesquite Trees Along Willow City Loop. Canon 1DsMkII | 24-70/2.8 @ 35mm | f16 | ISO 200.

Bluebonnets Among Mesquite Brush Near Llano. Canon 1DMkII | 70-200/2.8 @ 70mm | f16 | ISO 200.

Objective 2:  I was not finding many massive fields but still, the flowers were very nice so I turned my attention to more intimate images of the flowers in their surroundings (around plants, other flowers, trees, and man-made structures).

Bluebonnets And Yucca, Llano. Canon 1DMkII | 70-200/2.8 @ 70mm | f13 | 1/60 | ISO 200.

Ranch Gate Among Bluebonnets, Hwy 71 near Llano. Canon 1DMkII | 70-200/2.8 @150mm | f8 | 1/200 | ISO 200.

Roadside Bluebonnets Along Willow City Loop. Canon 1DMkII | 70-200/2.8 @ 70mm | f14 | 1/60 | ISO200.

Indian Paintbrush Among Bluebonnets and Stonewall, Hwy 71 Near Llano. Canon 1DsMkII | 24-70/2.8 @ 70mm | f10 | ISO 200.

Bluebonnets & Prickly Pear Cactus Along Willow City Loop. Canon 1DMkII | 70-200/2.8 @ 135mm | f13 | 1/40 | ISO 200.

Wildflower Mixture Along Willow City Loop. The symphony of colors along the fence-line caught my attention. Canon 1DMkII | 70-200/2.8 @ 80mm | f13 | ISO 200.

Indian Paintbrush & Bluebonnets. Canon 1DsMkII | 24-70/2.8 @ 70mm | f9 | ISO 200.

At mid-day, I used the cloud cover to focus on macro images of the flowers (Objective 3), adding a little fill flash to bring out some of the colors.

Texas Bluebonnet. Canon 1DMkII | 180mm macro | f8 | ISO 200.

Indian Paint Blanket Near Llano. Canon 1DMkII | 180mm | f7.1 | ISO 200. The colors really were that saturated and I contemplated removing some saturation in Photoshop but I left as is.

I ended the day at LBJ State Park near Johnson City. I knew they had these historic buildings on the premises and a phone call prior to the drive assured me that the flowers were great. I’m not sure what that ranger called great but the flowers were way past their prime here and the grass was way too tall. Oh well, I made the most of it but I’ll be back next year.

Historic Cabin At LBJ State Park. What an image this would have made with a full field of bluebonnets in the foreground. Canon 1DsMkII | 17-35/2.8 @ 17mm | f18 | ISO 200.

Historic Cabins At LBJ State Park. Canon 1DsMkII | 17-35/2.8 @ 32mm | f11 | ISO 200.

So how about the secondary objectives? Well, the fact that I’m sharing this blog post is a testament that I avoided the snakes. Throughout the drive I took note of places I’d like to go back and visit. As for the serendipitous moments, there were several. The fragrance of the bluebonnets was amazing and something that you’ll just have to experience for yourself. I met a really nice ranch owner, and his son, and he pointed me toward a really good place for a great photo. I enjoyed the historic town-square building in Llano. While I was photographing that building, I could hear violin music, which is when I noticed that a “Fiddle Festival” was underway. Well what’s a guy to do? I popped in for about 30 minutes and enjoyed the festivities…and the A/C wasn’t bad either. Connecting with my country roots, I found a fantastic BBQ spot that served up a mean Peach Pie Ala Mode. What a day I was having! Oh I almost forgot, I saw two full-moons at mid-morning…but that’s another story. 😉

Town Square At Llano. Canon 1DsMkII | 17-35/2.8 @ 17mm | f16 | ISO 200.

If you’ve never been to the Texas Hill Country when the wildflowers are blooming, you owe yourself a drive. Until next time, keep shooting. –KEVIN

5 thoughts on “Feeling Blue And Loving It: A Day Among The Texas Hill Country Wildflowers

  1. I am glad you finally were able to make your trip! Maybe next year (God willing we have bluebonnets) you will make time for a visit! If you have more time, I can show you some very awesome places, that I came across even after we talked. Until next time!

  2. Great pictures Kevin! You must have had a whirlwind day with all that driving. Glad you enjoyed the Hill Country!

  3. Thanks Jeannie. It was a whirlwind but lots of fun. I should have worked some areas more but I wanted to see as many places as I could for future trips. Next year I want to shot around the Marble Falls/Austin area too so I’ll have to take you up on that offer. Maybe I’ll bring the family up too, you need to meet them. Have enjoyed your family pics in the bluebonnets on FB.

  4. Well done, my friend. I’m heading out tomorrow to see what I can find. It seems to be an average year. Some places are very good, while some “old reliables” are not. If the flowers are still good at the big field on the Llano side of Buchanan, I will post some.

    • Thanks Bill. I saw a guy’s post online that CoRd 414 north of Llano Airport was really good. His pics were nice so might be worth a try. I found a few nice spots on CoRd 412. I regret not going by Enchanted Rock. I’ve heard that is good too but with one day, I tried to see too much as it is. Was pleased though for a first outing.

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