If you happen to be caught up in the hustle and bustle of Austin, TX treat yourself to some unique scenery at the picturesque and tranquil Hamilton Pool. The short 45 minute drive from downtown Austin, TX will be well worth your trouble. There are more than 230 acres of preserve available to explore. Be sure to pack a picnic lunch and end your trek at the Hamilton Pool which will rejuvenate you with the sound of its 50 foot waterfall crashing down to the green pool below.
My time at the pool
I had the opportunity to go to Austin, TX for a photography assignment. I knew I wanted to spend time at the pool but it wasn’t until the last day that I finally had the time. I was going to make the most of it though so I made sure to carve out a few hours at the Hamilton Pool. There was no swimming allowed on the day that I went because of the high amount of bacteria in the pool but that turned out to be a blessing. I did not have swimmers moving in and out of my shots. The pool itself was formed when the dome collapsed on an ancient underground river that had eroded the limestone away. The pool offers such a unique sight with the stalactites growing from the roof 50ft above your head and the expansive view of the pool and the sky once you are inside the grotto are both dramatic and beautiful. I took my time at the pool doing my photography. I moved very slowly around the path that takes you into the grotto of the Hamilton Pool. I stopped frequently to force myself to realize just how distinct this natural formation really was. All the while I was being serenaded by the different droplets of water seeping through the limestone above head and plunking into the pool. I was in my own little world. I highly recommend taking a trip to this pool to hit the reset button on life.
Recommended equipment and shot ideas
1. Tripod – This will help keep your camera level when doing a panoramic to stitch together. It will also help if you are attempting to do an HDR. Yes you can do both handheld but I find it easier in post when the shots are done using a tripod. I also did a lot of long exposure shots using a 10 stop ND filter to blur the water so a tripod is an absolute must for this.
2. ND Filter – I used a 10 stop filter hoping to get some good cloud movement and blur the water. The blurred water was just going to add to the tranquility of the whole scene. Another good use for a ND filter is if you are in a highly populated area the tourist will disappear on a 30 second exposure as long as they aren’t standing still in your shot.
I really had just one subject but there were so many angles to capture, so many techniques that I wanted to try that it felt like endless photo ops. Some of them worked, others did not. The first shots I did was of the beach looking into the grotto. I tried to do a technique that I thought would work better than it had. I wanted to combine a panoramic and an HDR into one gigantic image. I started by putting my camera on the tripod and making everything level. I shot an HDR bracket, rotated the camera, shot another bracket, rotated the camera and did a final bracket. In post production I wanted to process the HDR brackets separately and then stitch them together into a final panoramic. I am sure that this technique will work eventually, but I am still working the bugs out of it. My biggest problem is getting three different HDR images to blend nicely together into a single panoramic. I am still perfecting this technique and will share it with everyone once I get the kinks worked out. The next shot I found was just inside the grotto. It is actually the first shot in this post at the top of the page. I did need to shoot an HDR just because of the high contrast light coming from the top right in the clouds. As I worked my way around inside the grotto I did a few more shots using my ND filter to blur the water and capture the sky. The shots aren’t cropping in a pleasing way so I left those ones out of this post. The last shot that I wanted to share with you is the photo below of the waterfall. I actually stitched this from three images to create a vertical panoramic. I did this because I wanted to keep the image wide enough to include other information around the waterfall. I shot these images in landscape mode and just overlapped the images using my tripod while still utilizing the ND filter to smooth out the waterfall. I chose black and white to emphasize the waterfall and the water on the rock.
Know before you go
Hiking and swimming restrictions- Before you go call 512-264-2740 to see if the pools are open to hiking and swimming. Due to hazardous rain or high bacteria in the pool they will not allow visitors to swim in the pools or hike the land from time to time. I happened to go on a day that they were not allowing swimming which was fine with me because it offered an uninterrupted photo opp of the pools.
Fees – The cost to get in is $15 per car. $5 for any vehicle with a senior in them. No debit or credit is accepted so bring cash.
Pets – No pets. No exceptions. ( I imagine that does not mean service dogs)
Overcrowding – They have been known to turn people away during the warm summer months when swimming is allowed. They will close the park due to too many people so get there early.