Rainy Day

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Red Rocks in the Rain. Red rocks protrude from a meadow on a rainy day in South Valley County Park, Littleton, Colorado.

A week ago it was raining heavily on my day off and I decided to finally go photograph some amazing red rock formations in South Valley County Park. I drive right past the edge of this park several times a week because it is close to work, but it is still at the far end of a 30-minute commute from home. Since I don’t take my camera gear to work, going here always seems like doing an extra commute on your day off. So I kept putting it off.

Bobcat Print in the Mud.

Well, the heavy rain finally coaxed me into going because I was sure it would look amazing under those conditions. I wasn’t wrong. There are a number of trails through the park, but the key thing on that rainy day is that there is a road that runs through the park with plenty of places to stop and take pictures. Despite that, I parked in the main lot next to the only other car with a masochist owner and proceeded to hike up a muddy road/trail in my tennis shoes for a while to get a better vantage point. While I did have an umbrella, rain jacket, and my usual hat, I didn’t bring my rain pants or bother to put on my hiking boots (despite them being in the truck). Needless to say, my laziness resulted in me being soaked from the waist down. To add to my chagrin, I obviously missed a bobcat that had recently used the same road. I would have happily rolled in the mud if it meant there would be a bobcat in the foreground of the scene above.

Eventually I retreated back through the mud to my truck and drove to a stop alongside the road. I didn’t even get out of my truck this time—I just rolled down the window. In the end, I took a three-shot panorama so I would be able to crop out some of the foreground and the entirety of the bright white sky:

Red Rock Rainyrama. A cluster of trees appear huddled together in the rain in South Valley County Park, Littleton, Colorado.

Being as wet as I was, I decided that I would head home, but in the end I couldn’t resist a brief stop at Chatfield Lake. I started with a quick shot from the entrance road where the view of my beloved flooded trees is relatively unobstructed (although I did have to clone out a few picnic tables):

Lakescape in the Rain. The view of the submerged trees at Chatfield State Park is muted by heavy rain, Littleton, Colorado.

The big difference between these pictures of the lake and those I posted a few weeks ago is that these are recent so the trees have leaves. I boosted the contrast a bit because I think it looks better that way, but tried to have enough restraint to not lose the soft effect that the rain brings. I also like the way that the distant shore is present, but subdued.

Heading down to my usual haunts by the shore, I took this next image where I really like the rough surface of the water (thanks to the heavy rain) and the way the center tree stands out from the others (thanks to the shallow depth of field that comes with 400mm at f/5.6). I also like the fine curved, almost heart-shaped, branches against the light background that draws your eye to the middle of the frame:

Shielded. Despite the heavy rain, the trunk of a tree standing in Chatfield Lake still looks dry under its heavy canopy, Littleton, Colorado.

There is a bit of a story to the next image. Basically, I got complacent and made a rookie mistake. I took a series of four images: one at 1/60 sec, two at 1/2 sec, and one at 2 sec. Although I did have the camera on a tripod, I didn’t use the self-timer and obviously generated some camera movement that the image stabilization couldn’t deal with at 200mm and 1/2 sec or longer. So, those longer three exposures all have some double-image ghosting which does not look good. If I had taken more exposures, I imagine that a few would have been sharp at 1/2 sec, but stabilizing a 2 second exposure at 200mm is not a reasonable request to make of a camera. Despite having the camera on a tripod, I left the image stabilization on for these very long exposures and didn’t use the self-timer. In the end, I liked the crisp leaves (and trunks) of the short exposure and the water from the longest exposure, so I blended them in Affinity Photo. One consequence of the image stabilization (which really shouldn’t have even been on had I done this right) is that consecutive images can be misaligned. My two chosen frames were indeed misaligned, which I realized as I struggled to blend them near the tree trunks. Once I realized the issue it wasn’t too hard to fix, but all of this was a lot more trouble than it had to be. This is the result, which I quite like even though it was a bit of a salvage job:

Water Dance. Trees reflect off the water during heavy rain in Chatfield State Park, Littleton, Colorado.

It’s always humbling when you end up with a really nice image even though you screwed up. Live and learn.

The big compositional challenge with this type of image is the arrangement of the trees and I love the way these turned out in this case. The focus that draws the eye is the large diagonal branch in the center that makes a big X with the tree behind it; it stands out all the more because, not being vertical, its reflection is absent in the long exposure. Since we are used to reflections reflecting, it really stands out. The other trees are also nicely spaced, with many of them appearing in close pairs with narrow gaps between them.

I brought a fair inventory of lenses with me, but in the end I stuck to the 100-400mm for the entire outing. I had an umbrella, so changing lenses wouldn’t have been that bad but it still seemed like a—well, let’s call it a pain in the rain and leave it at that. But the other advantage is that the 100-400mm has a deep hood which helps keep the rain off of the front element. I don’t usually bring the hoods for the 14-24mm or the 24-120mm because they are pretty bulky for what they offer (I’d rather bring another lens than a hood!) but they are not really deep enough for heavy rain anyway. If I hadn’t been so wet already, I probably would have tried something wider from under the umbrella and come up with something interesting, but as it was didn’t bother.

Before I left, however, I decided to try a couple of intentional camera movement (ICM) shots. Since it was a long-exposure kind of day anyway, it was easy to do. The 100-400mm has a tripod foot with a rotating collar, so I decided to try a few where I tripped the shutter, waited briefly, and then rotated the camera on its axis. As is typical with ICM, most images aren’t anything special, but this one generated a nice effect:

Pinwheel. Rotational intentional camera motion adds some circles to trees and their reflections in Chatfield State Park, Littleton, Colorado.

I’ll have to try that trick again.

So, I realize that this is the third post that includes Chatfield Lake in four weeks, so I will try to give it a rest. But autumn will descend on Colorado in a couple weeks and I will be out taking pictures as much as I can while the color lasts. Chatfield Lake will certainly get some attention, so no promises.

Technical notes. Other than the image of the bobcat track, which was taken with my iPhone, the photographs in this post were taken with a Nikon Z8 and the Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S. All were processed from RAW in Adobe Lightroom Classic. The penultimate image, Water Dance, was blended in Affinity Photo.

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