Posted by: kerryl29 | June 28, 2011

At a Moment’s Notice

I know of several photographers who simply remain at a location until the elements come together for something spectacular. They hit their chosen spot at a time (of year and day) that’s most likely to render the best conditions, of course, but if things don’t quite coalesce into what they were hoping for, they hang around…for days–weeks, if necessary–until they do.

While I admire their patience–and perseverance–realistically, few of us have the wherewithal to follow this prescription. As important as photography may be to us, we do have priorities that prevent us from remaining on site indefinitely.

St. Louis Canyon Waterfall, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

That said, while we may not be able to follow an approach of this sort to the extreme some take it, we certainly can consider pushing the envelope a tiny bit by being ready to jump when particularly favorable conditions appear close to home.

I touched upon this notion in an earlier blog entry, but a recent experience reminded me of how important it can be to remain open to the notion of striking while the iron is hot.  While hopping on a plane at a moment’s notice to fly out to the Mojave Desert because of a report of an exceptional late winter wildflower bloom is out of the question for me, comparable circumstances nearby may be a different story.

LaSalle Canyon Waterfall, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

It has been a very wet spring in northern Illinois–and throughout most of the Midwest region, for that matter–with record or near-record rainfall totals.  Last week, there was a series of heavy downpours, resulting in local rainfall amounts of as much as three to four inches in the span of an hour or two.  My friend Steve Hinkle e-mailed me on June 20 to tell me that he’d heard that north-central Illinois had received particularly copious amounts of rain.  This part of the state is the home of Starved Rock and Mathiessen State Parks, an area of bluffs, canyons and dells near the Illinois River.  It’s approximately 100 miles from my base in northeast Illinois and it’s an area I try to visit at least a couple of times a year, typically during the late April wildflower bloom and during fall color.  I’m not always able to make my annual visit quota, but I try.

French Canyon Waterfall black & white, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

I don’t ordinarily think of Starved Rock as a late spring/early summer photography destination, but after a heavy rain, the waterfalls in the park’s canyons are at their best.  Runoff from recent rain flows quickly through the park, which drains into the broad Illinois River, so to capture the waterfalls in their most splendorous condition, one must act relatively quickly.  I communicated with Steve on Monday afternoon and evening.  More rain was forecast for the Starved Rock area overnight followed by a day of mostly overcast skies.  The conditions, in other words, would be perfect for waterfall photography.  We hastily made plans to hit the road early on Tuesday morning since it would take about two hours to drive there, plus additional time to hike into the canyons after arrival.  I hadn’t planned on a photo excursion for Tuesday–or to awake at 4:30 AM, for that matter–and had to quickly juggle some other responsibilities on Monday.  I was able to succeed in shuffling things around, but the real point was being open to the possibility in the first place.  Who knows when the next time the conditions would come together like this would arise?

Tonti Canyon Waterfalls, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

We were treated to the best water flow through the Starved Rock canyons that either of us had ever seen.

So, my advice:  be open to pivoting and moving quickly when rare conditions in (relatively) easily accessible locales pop up.  Just because we can’t wait for–and jump on–the best photo conditions everywhere, doesn’t mean that the general concept can’t be applied in more limited terms.


  1. Beautiful waterfall photos! I always had thought of Illinois as farming country only. Who would have thought? Thanks for sharing this info.

    • Thanks very much for the comment and kind words.

      The perception of Illinois (and Indiana, for that matter) as merely farm or “fly over” country is a common one. Like most stereotypes, it has some basis in fact, but there are many, many intriguing landscape opportunities in this part of the world. It may require a bit of extra effort to find and exploit them, but it’s well-worth the effort, IMO.

  2. Amazing clicks.. Waterfall looks very different and magical..

    • Thanks very much!

  3. Thank you for your comment about my recent fog work. Your work is magnificent! Your “God beams” is one of many wows I was murmuring in my head.

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