San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

The clouds started to light up, and I knew where this tree was, I knew where this field was, because I’d been out there before. It was still sprinkling when I set up and took about five minutes of shots from there.”

— Dripping Springs resident ROB GREEBON, who was overtaken by a fierce thunderstorm during a roadtrip with his wife. As the rain let up near Llano, he took “Wildflowers at the End of the Storm” the grand prize winner in the 2015 Hill Country Alliance photo contest.


Every year, the Austin-based Hill Country Alliance announces winners of its annual photo competition and every year the photos do not disappoint, especially when they depict natural wonders close to home.

Recent prize-winners include images of a standup paddleboarder on the San Marcos River; two young boys flinging themselves into the deep waters of Jacob’s Well near Woodcreek; a foggy sunrise on Cypress Creek near Wimberley; and a lush canyon as seen from beneath the limestone grotto at Westcave Preserve near Dripping Springs.

“Beyond the

beauty and


photography, we

hope people will

be inspired to

hold on to the

precious qualities

of this region for


generations to


While the photos can be breathtaking, the press releases that accompanying them are often frustrating.

On the one hand, they include insightful reflections from each photographer on the nature of their craft or on the intersection of their craft and nature. On the other hand, the photos are so reliably good, the writers of the accompanying press release are forced to reach for a dizzying array of adjectives in an effort to defy the old adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” We get “dazzling” photos, “bewitching” photos and a surprising number of “ethereal” photos given the ephemeral qualities of etherealism.

And yet I can usually do no better when I set about writing an introduction for a gallery like this one. It takes extraordinary skill as a writer to illuminate the work of an extraordinary photographer. I just end up clicking listlessly through instead.

The Hill Country Alliance photo contest and its popular photo wall calendar attempt to bridge an even deeper disconnect, the one between the abstract (and often cynically hijacked) goal of environmental conservation and the very real consequences of failing too often to achieve that goal. The photos show us what we have to lose.

“Beyond the beauty and creative photography, we hope people will be inspired to hold on to the precious qualities of this region for future generations to enjoy,” executive director Christy Muse said. “Our familiar swimming holes and favorite vistas need protection, which is why we hope this calendar reaches as many people as possible to create an active citizenry and a conservation mindset.”

The 2015 grand prize winner is Hays County resident Rob Greebon who shot “Wildflowers at the End of the Storm” near Llano in a field of Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes beneath a brilliant sky painted in similar colors.

A Dripping Springs Middle School guidance counselor, Greebon maintains a side business selling stock photos and fine art prints, often of rural landscapes and waterways but also skylines and other manmade landmarks in Austin, Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth. He won the Hill Country Alliance’s grand prize in 2012 for a moonlit shot of Pedernales Falls State Park.

“I’ve always been amazed looking up in the night sky. I grew up in the country without much light pollution so from an early age I enjoyed stargazing – this is just an extension of my childhood dreaming,” Greebon said of his 2012 grand prize winner.

Another nighttime photo in Greebon’s portfolio — one of a lantern-lit tent with the “ethereal” Milky Way galaxy overhead — served as an indelible endorsement of Dripping Spring’s successful application to become Texas’ first International Dark Sky Community in 2000. As a result of this designation, and the lighting ordinances that make it meaningful, a kid not yet born in Dripping Springs may be able to see constellations from his backyard decades from now, long after every last star has been wiped from the heavens in San Marcos and elsewhere.

You can’t value something like that in terms of dollars — or words.

1st place, Todd Winters

At that time, we get a lot of fog and mist on the river. It’s my favorite time of the year here, and the colors of the bald cypress trees are extraordinary. … You just don’t know what you’re going to see on any given day.”

— Kerville resident TODD WINTERS who happened upon an egret framed by a bald cypress tree along the Guadalupe River one morning in late November. The resulting photograph, “Autumn River Dawn,” won first prize in HCA’s 2015 nature photo contest.

2nd Place, Jim Olive

I made a couple of trips there, and he introduced me to … the owners of property exactly where I needed to be. I ended up sleeping in my car on the riverbank to see what the light would be like the next morning When I woke up, that’s when I had to go into the middle of the river to take the photograph.”

— JIM OLIVE, who logged more than 2,000 miles last year traveling between his home in Houston and a shallow but spirited stretch of the Llano River, surrounded mostly by private property. To win access, Olive made regular visits to Long’s Fish & Dig fish camp near Kingsland and befriended owner Malcolm Long, who knew the right people. His persistence yielded “Cool Passion,” the second prize winner in HCA’s 2015 nature photo contest.

Sunset Cruise

Part of their mission is a fierce preservation and protection of their land, so I wanted to reflect that in the pieces I did. … I had set up my tripod overlooking the lake from this cliff on the land. I took a lot of shots, waiting for the sun to set, and then along came the boat around the bend, and I was just going, click, click, click.”

— Austin resident MICHELLE MICHEL, who shot third-place “Sunset Cruise” as part of a landscape photography course at Austin Community College. She received permission from St. Stephen’s Episcopal School to hike during the pre-dusk “golden hour” on its 370-acre campus overlooking Lake Austin where she found her award winner.

The San Marcos Mercury’s BEHOLD blog showcases the work of Texas artists and photographers. For information, send us a note.


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