San Gabriel Park

Rocky beginning results in beauties great and small

The sun’s summer rays beat down on her as she sat on the boulder, gazing across the San Gabriel River and contemplating her self-imposed goal. Holly Moore, an avid photographer, had chosen the river as her theme for this Photographic Society of America (PSA) course, so she had no one to blame but herself. What had she been thinking?

Holly had taken several PSA courses and loved the challenges they presented, but this course posed the most difficult set of tasks yet. To pass, she had to create a collection of 12 to 15 photos that best encapsulated her chosen theme, get her instructor’s approval on each photo, and showcase the photos in an exhibit. Also, the river project would involve capturing a number of sweeping landscapes rather than the close-up, more abstract photos that Holly typically favored. Landscapes were way out of her comfort zone, as was the August heat in Texas!

On her first visit to the river, Holly finally got herself up off that hot rock and began taking pictures, but “I got nothing. I was very hesitant at first because of fear of failure.” Her instructor told her to “become one with the river,” and all she could think was “Okay, I just want to go home, cool off, and have a sandwich.”

It took four or five visits to the river and repeated reminders to “look down, look up, look behind you” before Holly gradually “started seeing.” In fact, the very first photo that became part of her collection was not a landscape but a close-up. As she looked around, she noticed a little bit of water trying to push its way around a rock and through some cream-colored mud. The result was a beautiful textural blend of mudflow and rock—and an excellent photo opportunity. “It was right by my feet, waiting for me all the time. When I got home and saw the photo, I was so excited!” She titled the photo Against the Flow.

Another abstract close-up in the collection is one Holly calls Pizza because the compositional angle Holly chose for the image and the rough surface of the rocks combine to create a shot that resembles sliced pizza.

But Holly still needed those landscape shots. She says, “My eyes see detail rather than the overall picture because I’m always searching for that unique hidden subject to photograph. So for me to get the overall feeling of the river, I had to open my mind.” And though there were a few rocky moments, with her instructor’s encouragement and direction, she captured the scenic beauty and expanded her technical skills as well.

Blue Hole Cliffs

She used Helicon Focus software that allowed her to overlay multiple images of the same landscape taken with different focal points. The resulting photos showed every detail in focus, from foreground to background.

She also learned about high dynamic range imaging, (HDR), which allows photographers to produce a greater range of luminosity. For instance, one of Holly’s photos includes shaded, dark green trees and sunlit river rocks. The sharp lighting contrast posed a problem. If she set her exposure to read the colors in the bright rocks, the trees looked black, and vice-versa. Using an HDR program, Holly took multiple shots of the image, setting different exposures, and then meshed those photos to create one image in which all of the colors are visible.

Holly had four to six months to complete her project, working along the river all the way from Camp Tejas to San Gabriel Park. “Another thing I learned,” she says, “is that you have to have patience, because you have to wait for the picture. You have to wait for the weather. You have to wait for people to come into your view.”

Against the Flow

Only one person appears in the collection of photographs, resulting in a shot that catches viewers by surprise when they come across it as they peruse the exhibit. The lone man sits by the river in a pink camp chair, reading a book as he dips his feet into the water. Holly’s instructor told her, “This is an exhibit, and all the pictures are going to be in the same place. The last thing you want people to do is just walk by. You want to keep their attention.” A second unexpected photo appears in the collection as well. Its subject looks like a rock, but look closely—it’s alive!

At the end of the project, Holly chose and framed 15 approved photos and exhibited the collection at Sun City this past February. After that, she displayed the photos at St. David’s Georgetown Hospital and then at the Williamson County Museum to enhance the museum’s presentation on water conservation. Holly says, “I’m thrilled it came together and that people are actually enjoying the exhibit.” As to the PSA course—she passed! And she learned to love working against the flow—challenging herself to chart new courses on her journey as a photographer.

For more information and to view some of Holly’s work, visit

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