Photography 101: Weekend Two (Play with Light) – Balcones Hike

Over the weekend, it was suggested that we go out and practice our photography and include them in a post to share with the community.  Since it was a nice day on Sunday for a hike, I thought it might be a good opportunity to practice my photography with my iPhone 5 camera, and see if I learned anything yet.  So we went to the Cactus Rocks Trail at Warbler Vista in the Balcones Canyonlands just west of Lago Vista where we live.

This national wildlife refuge protects several endangered songbirds  which only nest there – the golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo  It’s a nice 1.75 mile hike which took just over an hour, and I took about 69 shots.  However, I selected just a few to highlight here with some comments about the photos or what I was trying to accomplish.

There were several different things I wanted to experiment with. I tried to utilize a grid for composition with the rule of thirds. I was trying to be aware of light and shadows and how that might affect my shots.  Also, I used both vertical and horizontal versions of the same shot.  And I wanted to capture interesting things that I encountered.

Sun & Shadow

Toward the end of the hike, the sun was getting lower in the sky and started to shine through the trees and cast interesting light and shadow so I tried to capture that. First, I noticed the sun peeking through the trees so I thought that might make an interesting shot.  I managed to get the sun, but it didn’t turn out that special.

Then I saw some interesting light being scattered through the trees and that seemed like it could be a good shot.  What I didn’t realize was that it also captured my shadow taking the picture in the shot, but  that actually made it a bit more interesting.

Light on Trail & Cairn

As we walked along the trail, I kept looking for things that might be good photos and I took these photos. This shows the light across the trail through the trees, which did not turn out quite like it looked when I took it but perhaps my settings were not right for that situation.

I noticed cairn markers, or man-made stacks of rocks, along the trail that I think the Boy Scouts might have made when they helped clear the trail.  These offer markers to signal hikers that they are actually following the right path, and these appear periodically along the trail as guides.

Large Cactus & Cactus Rock

There are lots of cacti in this area so they are all over the place.  I thought I should try capturing a few of them as we walked. This shows a fairly large cactus growth on the trail, and there were lots more like it. It seemed like it might photograph well, but the light wasn’t quite right.

This one was interesting because the cactus was actually growing right out of the rock.  There were several like this.  I guess that’s why they called it “Cactus Rocks Trail”.

Lake + Road + Sun

I thought this might be an interesting shot of Lake Travis and the winding hilly road along the north shore with the sun starting to go lower in the sky. First, I tried to take a vertical shot to see how that looked. This seemed to make the lake appear too distant but instead emphasized all the trees in the foreground (which aren’t as interesting).

I think this horizontal shot looks better because you get a better sense of the area that focuses on both the lake and road. Also, I liked how the camera captured the light flare from the sun in the phot.

Lake closeup

I thought it might be worthwhile to try a zoom shot of the lake.  So first I tried this one as a vertical photo, which again seems to put the lake more in the distance.


For this horizontal one, I think it looks better because it focuses on the lake more. It’s more than 40 feet below normal because of the extreme drought this area has been under for over 5 years.  So it looks more like the winding Colorago River that formed Lake Travis (and six other lake) when their dams were established for the Highland Lakes chain.


Road from trail & deck

It was interesting to see the road below from the trail.  This first shot was taken from a ridge along the trail that overlooks the road from the hillside.


This second photo was take higher up from a Sunset Deck platform which has a nice view of the lake and surrounding area including the road below.  I like this one better because it emphasizes how the road winds among the trees in the area.

Overall, it was a nice hike with wonderful weather, and I had a chance to practice photography some more.  Obviously, there’s still more I need to learn and work on, but it’s a start and I enjoyed it. However, in general, I became more aware of my surroundings, observing what might make a good photo to capture, and had fun doing it.

5 thoughts on “Photography 101: Weekend Two (Play with Light) – Balcones Hike

  1. I’m just learning, too, but I enjoyed seeing the natural beauty along the trail and hearing about your experimentation. Probably I liked the cairn closeup, the cactus in the trail, and the two road photos best — but what do I know?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I took many photos, but probably very few were actually that good. It’s tricky trying to review what I actually took, and how they turned out. Also, I did not do anything to the photos, and if I knew more then I might have been able to use some photo editor or something to enhance them. Also, as others have mentioned, probably knowing more about things like exposure, etc would help too. Anyway, that’s why we’re taking the course. We’ll probably all be taking awesome photos by the end of November.


      • I know how to crop photos (using Windows Live Photo Gallery) and make minor color adjustments (to black and white, for instance), but that’s about it. The Rules of Thirds concept was new to me, and I know nothing about exposure, aperture, etc. But, as you say, that’s why we signed up for the course 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • I can crop too, but I’m still confused about what dimensions I should use for various reasons. And I haven’t tried much adjustments with editors, effects, etc. Also, I always thought you were supposed to focus the subject in the middle of a shot, but now I find that’s not really correct for a good photo. Well, I guess I’m making progress.

          Liked by 1 person

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