Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 59 comments

Yesterday morning I heard on a local television station that 6.7 inches (17 cm) of rain had fallen overnight on a part of the Bull Creek watershed just a few miles from where I live in northwest Austin. That’s a lot of water, so I headed out to take pictures in several places, the last of which was a waterfall on a tributary of Bull Creek. Old Spicewood Springs Rd. passes within about 50 ft. (15 m) of it, but because of the dense vegetation and the declivity of the terrain the waterfall isn’t easily visible from the road, and I suspect many or maybe even most of the people who pass by have no idea it exists. (That was true of two City of Austin workers who were taking pictures from the road and whom I told about the falls.) Not only is the waterfall hard to see, but it’s hard to get to when the creek is flowing full and fast. Nevertheless, your intrepid correspondent pushed down the slope through the brush and then cautiously worked his way upstream alongside and just as often in the creek to photograph this great sight. And oh yeah, you’re finally getting some cottony water, thanks to a shutter speed of 1/4 sec.

Large Waterfall in Bull Creek Tributary 9996

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 20, 2014 at 5:27 AM

59 Responses

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  1. I love the water flowing down like in a dreamy state… Austin-Texas is full of nature’s wonders, I especially believe that because of the blooms I see from time to time in your blog. Nice shot… 🙂


    September 20, 2014 at 5:37 AM

    • Blooms we have aplenty in Austin, as you point out you’ve seen in these posts, but waterfalls are much less common here than in some other parts of the country, and for that reason I was thrilled to get the chance to see this one at full flow.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2014 at 7:03 AM

  2. What an absolutely beautiful capture. I could stare at that all day :).


    September 20, 2014 at 6:12 AM

    • I’d hiked to the base of that waterfall only twice before, I think, when the water was flowing less forcefully. Walking in the creek bed had been a lot easier then, but the sight of the falls this time more than made up for the difficulty of getting there.

      Staring at the picture all day is fine with me, Cindy, but I’d recommend not driving or using heavy equipment while you do.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2014 at 6:58 AM

  3. Much appreciated. Thank you. How often does the water fall, fall like this?


    September 20, 2014 at 6:54 AM

    • I have to say I much appreciated the photo opportunities this downpour gave me.

      Central Texas is notorious for sudden bursts of rain and the flash flooding they cause. It seems that happens at least once a year, bringing property damage and the deaths of one or several people who get trapped by the rapidly rising and strongly flowing water:


      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2014 at 7:16 AM

      • Knowing about the dangers of flash floods from a NZ perspective, I was quite surprised you were prepared to venture forth to take that photo. You must have been confident that the danger of flash floods had passed.


        September 20, 2014 at 8:49 AM

        • Right. I didn’t worry about flood danger because although there were still barricades blocking off that section of Old Spicewood Springs Rd., by then the creek flowing over the road had subsided to a depth of only a few inches. I’ve never seen one of our creeks at its full overflow height after a heavy rain, but I’ve seen the aftermath in the form of debris lodged in creekside trees. There’s also the unfortunate evidence in the form of death from the latest incident:


          Steve Schwartzman

          September 20, 2014 at 9:37 AM

          • That is sad. You realise, of course, that when I saw 6.7 as your blog post title my first thought was earthquakes.


            September 21, 2014 at 6:16 AM

            • I never thought about that. People’s associations are so important, aren’t they? I had thought of adding “inches,” but in the end I went for the context-less 6.7.

              Steve Schwartzman

              September 21, 2014 at 6:59 AM

  4. The shot is worth whatever you went through to get it. I admire your intrepidness.


    September 20, 2014 at 7:13 AM

    • At one difficult spot I was tempted to turn back, but I pushed myself and I’m glad I did.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2014 at 7:19 AM

  5. I really dislike fuzzed out fake-o looking water. I am so glad that I now have a word for it…cottony. I think it is a feat when I can get the water as it is, clearly with no fur. 🙂 I really like waterfalls and they are a challenge for me to get an image of them as I am seeing them. I think there is an artistic or photographic term for wanting an image to be as the eye sees it, though I cannot think of it now, if I do know it. I hope that the rain does the land good, though here that much just rather runs off.


    September 20, 2014 at 7:29 AM

    • ps. thank you for not injuring yourself or others in this particular image quest


      September 20, 2014 at 7:30 AM

    • It’s understandable that many photographers use long exposures to turn water cottony, which many viewers find appealing. It’s not how we normally see water, and maybe that’s part of its appeal to most people. In the not-so-long-ago post at


      I discussed this a bit and gave links to some photos by bloggers I know (from their posts) who have used the technique well. I also mentioned that I’ve not generally gone for that approach. The subject came to mind when I reached the falls yesterday morning, so I figured after the trouble I’d gone through to get there, I’d take some of my pictures with a slow shutter speed just to try something different. I also took plenty of photographs that rendered the falling water closer to the way our eyes and brain normally perceive it.

      This easily leads into a discussion of artistic preference and raises the question of what’s real—assuming one wants what’s “real.” From the late 1800s through the early 1900s, many photographers worked in a style that came to be known as Pictorialism,


      whose name indicates that those photographers aimed to make their works look like paintings, which were felt to be superior to representations made by a machine (the camera). As the 20th century advanced, photographers like Ansel Adams reacted against that and felt that a photograph should look like a photograph, not a painting. That approach (Realism, which may be the word you were after) then became fashionable and Pictorialism largely faded away, but I’ve always felt a soft spot for Pictorialism—and soft is an apt word for that style—even if it was considered déclassé and old-fashioned (I feel the pull of history in other things as well). Besides, recording the world at f/64 on large negatives—and in black and white!—doesn’t match what our eyes and brain do either, so again there’s that question of what’s real.

      In any case, I always appreciate your way of seeing and stating things, like “water as it is, clearly with no fur.” And now you’ve reminded me of Meret Oppenheim’s furry cup, saucer, and spoon:


      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2014 at 8:18 AM

      • My brain fixates on Pictorialism in Ansel Adam’s book and for the life of me I cannot retain the Anti of it. The word Realism seems to be obvious though I think it has nuances that one must be careful with, probably relating to the “literal” definition of the word real vs. what is it stapled down to mean–by those is esteem enough to be followed. I just snorfled and snickered as I wrote that, gritting my teeth. I do understand a need for labels, for perception and for understanding. Other times what a thing means to me it does not mean for others and then we trip and become all tangled up! See! Even there, I might consider trip and tangled up as fun–interaction with others, but the words connote something to be avoided, something negative. PAH! hehehe Thanks for the referral to the furry cup, it appears it was made after a joke from Picasso that everything could be covered in fur–after his seeing her fur covered bracelets while they were out for tea. I think that I find it hilarious that a potentially negative comment on fur covered things, and a goofy joke is displayed at MOMA!


        September 20, 2014 at 8:58 AM

        • There are many things in modern-art museums that I find questionable, but the artists and art dealers just laugh at me while they rake in the money.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 20, 2014 at 9:52 AM

      • And, thank you! I appreciate the time you take for discourse when I do comment and share my view. I also like very much that when you perhaps, attempt to show me what you meant or how I might view things differently, that you do simply that, without requiring me to be wrong (or right). I like digesting information on my own and forming questions then for further exploration.


        September 20, 2014 at 9:02 AM

        • One problem I find with most “discussions” is that they aren’t discussions. Instead, one or more of the parties involved does everything to obstinately support a certain position, ignoring all counter-evidence or, in the worst cases, doing everything possible to keep the counter-evidence from being brought forward. It’s not that I don’t have opinions, some strongly and passionately held, but I feel there’s more to be gained by listening to what people have to say. An excellent book on the subject is Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, which I recommend.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 20, 2014 at 10:02 AM

          • I’ll second that recommendation of Haidt’s book. I purchased the book after you mentioned it to me, and I’m glad I did.


            September 22, 2014 at 6:49 AM

  6. Love capturing dreamy waterfall shots! This one is beautiful!


    September 20, 2014 at 8:18 AM

    • You’ve reminded me of the famous line by Calderón de la Barca: “… toda la vida es sueño, / y los sueños, sueños son,” “All of life is a dream, and dreams are [themselves] dreams.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2014 at 8:28 AM

  7. That is a huge amount of water. I saw some of the radar images. We are in Enid, OK. It was perfectly clear and dry here. I like the waterfall shot. Good work getting in the right spot.

    Jim in IA

    September 20, 2014 at 9:13 AM

    • Yes, it was a lot of rain for a short period, and that’s what can make the consequences so dangerous.

      It occurs to me that Enid spelled backwards gives the word dine, so I hope you dine well in Enid, in Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain. And radar spelled backwards is still radar.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2014 at 9:46 AM

  8. Your excursion was worth it, and something a little different from you. Well done. Wonderful that the area had so much RAIN. We all need to send some to California.


    September 20, 2014 at 10:44 AM

    • Thanks, Sally. The closest I’d come to cotton in these pages was snake-cotton, but this was flowing-water-induced cotton.

      We did need the rain, and only now have we caught back up to be on a pace with our yearly average. There’s always a surplus somewhere and a dearth somewhere else, so high-capacity pipelines might be one way to redress the balance.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2014 at 11:48 AM

  9. Always good to know an intrepid correspondent – I fully appreciate the lengths you go to on our behalves Steve, and that shot is perfect 😀


    September 20, 2014 at 10:58 AM

    • Better to be intrepid rather than trepid, Jude, right? The correspondent part comes more easily for me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2014 at 12:38 PM

  10. A salute to your patience and perseverance, Steve. This was certainly well worth your effort. I also share your views about what too many strongly-opinionated folks offer in the way of “discussion.” Each of us has a certain point of view for our vision, and it should be as valid as any other without giving the impression that we’re trying to convert anyone else to our way of seeing things. And, btw, a lovely shot.


    September 20, 2014 at 2:37 PM

    • I was happy with myself for persevering, Gary, although in some ventures prudence ought to win out over a desire to go ahead. Where the boundary between the two lies in a given situation can be hard to determine.

      Jonathan Haidt posits six criteria that combine to make a morality. Notice the indefinite article in “a morality.” Any given morality, as Haidt sees things, is largely determined by the proportions in which those six criteria are combined. A certain morality may value one criterion far more than all the other criteria, while a different morality may value all six approximately equally. When two people from different moral systems discuss a topic, of course they’ll come to different conclusions. As a result, probably the most important thing that opposing parties can do is ask each other whether they know or can figure out what assumptions they’re starting with.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2014 at 3:59 PM

  11. Lovely flow of water. Such a dreamy quality about it. 😀

    Raewyn's Photos

    September 20, 2014 at 4:05 PM

    • A quarter-second exposure will give flowing water plenty of dreaminess, Raewyn. It was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up, and so I didn’t.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2014 at 4:33 PM

  12. Nice stuff, Steve. We have had so little rain recently that most streams are barely a trickle. I imagine the brooks are too. 😉

    I like that you are trying some slower exposures with water. Re: your discussion above with Elisa, truly all art is a matter of taste. Very little of photography is real. And there is where the art comes in. How an individual interprets a scene and captures it in an image, whatever the medium, is a very personal expression. Ansel Adams’ pictures were not very real as he described in his book “The Negative”. The majority of humans do not see in Black and White, but it is way that individuals can express themselves through their choices regarding the rendering of tones. He was a master of tones, especially in the darkroom. The same is true with water. Our choice gives us a hint as to how we should portray water’s movement. Generally I prefer soft silky water for its contrast of texture with the surfaces around it, but it isn’t for everyone and I do also try to freeze the motion at times as well.

    Steve Gingold

    September 20, 2014 at 6:42 PM

    • “We have had so little rain recently that most streams are barely a trickle.” That’s something I could have said many times in Austin over the past few years (and especially in 2011), but you can see there’s been a recent change for the better (i.e. wetter) here.

      And now you’ve also seen that I finally did some experimenting with softly rendered water (Elisa called it furry), which you prefer, and which definitely produces the contrast of textures you mentioned. I suppose I’ve avoided that approach primarily because other people have already done it well (you included), and I generally avoid being a copycat. I know, just about everything has been done by somebody already, so we’re almost always going to repeat what others have done. Still, one reason I was fond of 3-D infrared in the 1970s was that no one else was using that combined medium.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2014 at 10:18 PM

  13. When we get precipitation like that, Joanna and I look at each other and recite, in unison, That’s-a-lat-a-watta! A vestige of our New England past. Nice shot. D

    Pairodox Farm

    September 20, 2014 at 6:43 PM

    • It sure was a lot of water, and although it did some damage, almost everyone was thrilled to see it rescue us from our drought.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2014 at 10:20 PM

  14. We too had some bucket dumps. Love the cottony description. Fitting. I played with exposure on rapids in Glacier NP this summer and I concur. 1/4 shutter is perfect. But don’t forget your tripod (like I did) or you’re relegated to framing the shot on the bridge rail and delaying the shutter. Strap around my neck tho!


    September 20, 2014 at 7:48 PM

    • PS – you might like my hummingbird banding post today. We have all the fun here!


      September 20, 2014 at 7:49 PM

    • For many of these cottony pictures I leaned my elbows on a rock and made a tripod out of my arms. I also set the camera to high-speed multiple-image mode so I could hold the shutter button down and not move my finger between exposures. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked well enough.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2014 at 10:25 PM

  15. beautiful.


    September 20, 2014 at 9:55 PM

  16. When I heard the rainfall reports from Austin, I was sure you’d be out and about somewhere, looking for falling or fast-flowing water. You certainly found it — and recorded it beautifully.

    I’ve been trying to pinpoint what it is that I find less appealing about cottony-water photos. For one thing, they all look the same to me. This could be my insensitive eye, but it’s impossible for me to look at one of these photos and see anything but the water: which always looks the same. The other thing is, there’s a reason the name “Bridal Veil Falls” is popular, and so frequently used. But the water not only looks like a veil, it functions as a veil, too — hiding so much detail that otherwise would be visible. That’s how I see it today, anyway.

    I also see you’re lucky enough to be traveling, and in the Southwest, too. Happy and safe trails to you!


    September 22, 2014 at 7:02 AM

    • Greeting from Albuquerque, and thanks for your travel wishes. The rain followed us on and off from a couple of hours out of Austin all the way to Lubbock, and again today for much of the journey from there to Albuquerque, where there’s been intermittent light rain. As a result, I haven’t taken a single picture in two days, but the trip is still young.

      I’ve almost always shied away from cottony water, preferring to render flowing water in a sparkly way that’s closer to what our eyes see and that preserves the details that are there. (I like your observation about the veil.) In this case a good opportunity came my way, so I went ahead to see what I could do with it—you might say to prove that I could do something with that cottony technique.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 22, 2014 at 10:14 PM

  17. Intrepid is definitely the word. And we lucky folk get the benefit without any danger of getting wet!

    Susan Scheid

    September 22, 2014 at 9:38 AM

    • I’m glad you appreciate the intrepidity, Susan. I was concerned about getting wet (in spite of hip-high boots), but more so about slipping and getting hurt on any of the many rocks in and alongside the creek.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 22, 2014 at 10:17 PM

  18. Wow, for a minute there I thought I was reading a Steve Gingold post! I am definitely suffering from waterfall envy here… Love the cottony water 🙂


    October 5, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    • Ah, waterfall envy. That’s been the condition of many people in Texas during the drought we’ve had over the last few years.

      Yes, this picture is very much in the Steve Gingold tradition. The opportunity came my way, so I thought I’d supplement my usual approach with some cottony experiments along the lines he generally follows.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 5, 2014 at 11:35 AM

  19. […] this looks familiar, it’s because I showed a view of this waterfall after a similarly heavy deluge 13 months ago. That time I gave you the cottony water that comes […]

  20. Both of your photographs of Bull Creek are lovely, but I prefer the softer look of the water in this first photo. Though it’s a softer image than your most recent shot it seems to me to have more energy. (JMHO 🙂 )

    I always enjoy hearing that my friends in Texas have gotten some rain. Then I panic when I hear that it all came at once and worry about flooding. Glad there wasn’t any flooding in the residential sectors.


    November 2, 2015 at 12:19 PM

  21. Beautiful!


    November 1, 2018 at 2:05 PM

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