Nature’s destructive power was on full display this weekend at Starved Rock State Park when I ventured onto its grounds in hopes of capturing some of the natural beauty regularly on display at the park.

storm damage at starved rock state park

After a massive storm swept through the tiny town of Utica – home to Starved Rock State Park – on June 30, more than 200 trees remained ‘downed’ with massive limbs in the canopy of the trails throughout the parks many trails. In fact, even after nearly a month since the storm, only two quite short and small trails were open leading to a huge concentration of people uncomfortably crammed onto the (at times) narrow trails which, rather than looping into another trail, came to an abrupt end requiring everyone that had ventured onto the trial to turn around and double back through the ever growing congestion.

So, rather than fighting to get a decent shot with, quite literally, hundreds of people walking in and out of frame, my friend and fellow shooter Chris and I decided to wait until very early the following morning before anyone had the chance to get to the only real ‘trail’ open at the park.

This image – captures but a fraction of the sheer carnage caused by the storm. With massive trees uprooted and laid strewn across the area, one can easily see why so many of the trails were closed. This image was captured looking back at the river valley that leads to visitor center. With nearly a full month since the storm, even the only real trail that was open was still littered with the fallen trees, left to decompose within the dried riverbed.

This image was captured with a Nikon D800 (Read Ken Rockwell’s review here) and its whopping 36 megapixel camera. I will say – having now used this camera for the first time – that my previous statements about megapixels being ‘meaningless’ was not entirely accurate. I mean the detail visible in this image at 100% crop is simply mind-blowing! While you won’t see it here, as I’ve resized the image to be a better fit for the web, at 100% crop one can see the leaves with precision in the distant center of frame – where the Tokina lens shines.

One thing that I did notice almost immediately was the softness of the corners when using the Tokina 11-16mm on this FX – full frame camera. This image was captured at 14mm – about the widest point at which the image covers the sensor and doesn’t create any vignetting. In the corners (and particularly noticeable in the lower right / left on the leaves) one can clearly see a soft focus and even what appears to be a motion blur. This isn’t something that was caused by movement – the camera was on a tripod and while it was a 9 frame HDR Image (I used 9 frames due to the fact that I was shooting into the sun) there was no wind and the leaves were not blowing at all – in fact it was an incredibly balmy summer morning with no breeze to speak of – notice the rays of sunlight pouring through the trees in the upper right-hand corner.

While it wasn’t a perfect situation there is no doubt in my mind that I’ll be back to starved rock once the trails reopen and certainly in the winter. It was a beautiful park and, if you arrive early enough and avoid the onslaught of the masses, it’s a place of rather remarkable natural beauty less than 80 miles from the City of Chicago.