How I Made These Dreamy Austin Skyline Photos

By Matt Mikulla - April 3, 2015

Austin Skyline from the Boardwalk at Ladybird Lake
Austin Skyline from the Lady Bird Lake Boardwalk – Check print availability

I couldn’t work in the studio today. I was feeling itchy and adventurous.

So I packed up my camera backpack, threw my bike in my truck and headed down to The Boardwalk Trail at Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake), outside of Downtown Austin.

It’s relatively new and I hadn’t been on the trail yet. Also, I knew somewhere along the trail would provide me with an interesting view of the Downtown Austin skyline.

Austin Skyline Reflected in Lady Bird Lake
Austin Skyline Reflected Across Lady Bird Lake – Check print availability

If you are familiar with my work you know that I focus heavily on composition and rarely include people in my images. However, this day is Good Friday and a holiday for many. There were tons of people walking along the boardwalk.

So I choose a technique that would give me an amazing image while eliminating all people walking on the boardwalk.

This technique is called daytime long exposure. Basically I keep my shutter open for a long period of time so anything that moves, like people, are either blurry or non-existent.

It requires a lot of thought and time to set up.

It also requires a special Neutral Density filter that I put on my lens that blocks out a significant amount of light to allow me to keep the shutter open for a long period of time.

Imagine looking through sunglasses that are pitch black. This is what I’m doing to my camera.

So I set up my camera on a tripod for composition first. Making sure everything was in focus.

Then I took a light meter reading for a correct exposure as I would normally.

After that I calculated and adjusted all my camera exposure settings to compensate for the dark neutral density filter and place it on the front of the lens.

For this image I adjusted my camera’s shutter speed to be open for 8 minutes, or 480 seconds using a special wired shutter release device that plugs into my camera and controls it. This was a very long time for a camera to be taking a picture during the day.

Finally I pressed the shutter release button and waited… and waited… and waited for 8 minutes.

The result was all people on the boardwalk were invisible, the lake turned glassy smooth and the clouds blurred into a creamy dream.

Speaking of clouds. They are very important for this daylight long exposure technique. The ratio of sky to clouds can make or break the final image using this technique. As well as the vector and movement of clouds.

I love this technique. Photography is light and understanding how to use light and manipulate it.

Daytime long exposures take the light available from the sun and hack it beyond what any camera can do.

All by placing a dark filter over the lens and making calculated strategic decisions to create a beautiful image.

I will eventually make a black and white version that will be added to my series of Austin black and whites.

Either way. I really dig this color version. Hope you do too.

You May also Like…

You may also like these Austin photos created using the same technique.

Mueller Airport Control Tower (Color Photo), Austin TX
Mueller Airport Control Tower – Check print availability
Mueller Water Tower Austin TX Color Photograph
Mueller Water Tower – Check print availability

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