Starved Rock State Park, Illinois: Illinois Canyon Autumn Starburst

This is another in a series of posts on Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois. The park is about 2 hours away from Chicago.

I took these image the first week in November of 2017. They are from Illinois Canyon, the longest and arguably the prettiest canon in the park.

There are numerous color variations and weathered details on the sandstone walls in Illinois canyon that are not present in other canyons. Also, the sandstone is not as carved up with fool’s initials as much as many other canyons.

The canyon floor can be muddy, especially in the Spring. I recommend waterproof boots, ankle high is generally sufficient.

There are several places one needs to cross water. Usually, you can find a spot that a waterproof hi-top shoe can navigate without getting wet.

Feature Image Details

Starburst Explanation

It is easy to produce a natural looking starburst without filters by positioning the sun on the edge of an object. The star is caused by light bending around the diaphragm blades of the lens.

In this case, I positioned the sun right on the edge of the cliff. One can use a tree branch, edge of a building or any other suitable object.

Some lenses produce better starbursts than other. The 11-24 mm lens is 9-blades as is the Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens. Both produce an exceptional star. Canon’s 14 MM lens only has 4 blades and produces a relatively poor star.

An even number of diaphragm blades provides that many rays. An odd number provides double.

I was not quite on the edge of the tree so the burst was not even on both sides. For another starburst example, please see Zion National Park – Autumn – Lower Emerald Pools Part 2 (After a Rainfall).

More Details

I was standing under a sandstone ledge, with my camera pointed very high but not straight up. It was about 30 minutes or so before sunset so the sun was low on the horizon and it lit the sandstone walls above (and behind me).

Notice how the tops of the trees bend outward to escape running into the top of the sandstone wall.

This is a composite image of four different exposures manually blended in photoshop. I have had better luck doing many of these types of composites myself rather than using HDR merge in Lightroom or Photoshop.

I typically strive to use two images. The fewer images one needs the less problematic things are, especially when there is anything in the image that may move. In this case, I am talking about trees blowing in the wind.

Here is a second image from the same location, shot with the camera level, but facing the opposite direction.

Note the hollowed out portion of the sandstone wall appears in both frames, each looking the opposite directions. The above image was taken at 11 MM. I am no more than a foot or two from that tree and the entire tree easily fits in the frame. The tree in the upper right of the second image is the foreground tree in the feature image.

This image was a single exposure. It should have been two, but for a different reason. The exposure range capture was quite fine, but the foreground leaves could be a tad sharper. One shot focused just in front of the tree and a second on the sandstone would have been better. The difference is not very noticeable, but I can see it zoomed in.


If you visit the area, I highly recommend staying at the park lodge. The loge fills up way in advance in Autumn and may be full other times as well. Many other hotels are nearby.


Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.

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Starved Rock State Park Articles

This ends my Illinois Canyon series, but I still have more Starved Rock images from this Autumn to share.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock

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