Morning Rain


Igor’s suggested edits:

David’s suggested edits:

Critique Style Requested: Standard

The photographer is looking for generalized feedback about the aesthetic and technical qualities of their image.


Even on photography trips that are overall a bust, I often find a moment of light that makes me want to do it all again. (The story is long; I’ll add it as a comment below so it doesn’t clutter the image post.)

Specific Feedback

This was a bit of a beast to photograph and stitch. I find images with both horizontally and vertically wide fields of view to be challenging to project without looking weird. I think this all came together (?), but would love your thoughts.

There’s a lot of color going on here, does it look okay to your eye? (I can post the jpgs the camera took with the raw files if anyone is interested.)

Any other thoughts or comments on comp, processing, etc. would be most welcome.

Technical Details

NIKKOR Z 14-30 f/4S at 14.0 mm
1/6 sec. at f/8.0 and ISO 64

Three images for the background and two stacks of five images each for the foreground. These were processed in Adobe Camera Raw, the stacks focus blended with Helicon Focus 8, then the final five images were stitched with PTAssembler, and finally the result was processed in Photoshop.


The last week in February and first week of March I had a big trip planned to Nevada, Arizona, and California. My grand scheme was to attend the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas for four days, drive south to Arizona to spend time with friends and family in the Phoenix area for four more days, and then to spend six days camping in the desert to chase wildflowers to photograph. The first part of the trip went exactly as planned.

On the drive to Arizona though, about half way I started to feel tired and achy. By the time I made it to Cottonwood (I took an indirect route to Phoenix to visit my grandfather’s grave), I was really feeling sick. I stopped by a pharmacy to buy a COVID test, and sure enough it lit up like a Christmas tree. I called my friends and family and told them I didn’t hate them enough to come stay with them, grabbed one of the few hotel rooms I could find at a casino in nearby Camp Verde, and enjoyed the unique pleasure of shivering through chills in a bed far from the comforts of home. I would have been more than happy to keep staying at that hotel, but they were sold out the next night. (It was Friday night, and in addition the Interstate just north of there was temporarily closed due to winter weather; there just weren’t hotel rooms to be had.)

I crawled into the car and headed towards Phoenix. I ended up at a flea-bite hotel for a second fun night; that second night with COVID was better than the first though.

Tired of cheap hotels and feeling brave enough to get a little farther from hospitals with ventilators, I hopped in the car and surrounded by a sea of spent tissue drove west to camp in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.

I wanted to photograph the Milky Way there, but it was overcast the first night (and honestly I had no energy to crawl out into the dark and cold…). By the next night the skies had cleared and I was definitely feeling better; I was able to get up and shoot the Milky Way. (Fortunately no one was camping close enough to hear me hack up a lung at that hour.)

From there I headed west again to Anza Borrego. I had never been there before, and even though it wasn’t spring yet I was hoping the flowers would be doing well. They weren’t bad, and the first evening I camped at June Wash. Sand Verbena was the dominant flower, and I hiked as much as my COVID-recovering body was able exploring possible compositions both for sunset and the next day’s sunrise.

Although the flowers weren’t bad, the weather was and the wind was ripping. Clouds cut off a sunset (which was probably a blessing; with the wind it would have been action photography), so I headed back to the protection of the car to lick my wounds

Although the wind was still blowing some the next morning, it was definitely better, and the sky looked like it might provide a sunrise. The composition I planned on photographing was oriented to the northwest, and I knew if it got color it would be later than the color to the east. I decided that while waiting for the color to move to my planned composition I would play with shooting to the east as the color developed there, and then quickly switch to the originally planned composition as the color moved across the sky. My choice of a foreground looking east was lackluster, so my heart really wasn’t in it despite there being some reasonable color the east. I kept my eye to the northwest and my original comp, but the color never really took off. Somewhat disappointed, I stood back up as the sun began to creep onto the landscape.

When I turned around, the photo above was what I saw.

In a panic I scrounged for a foreground. I was fortunately able to just adjust my planned northwest view to a west view. Maybe not the best, but I was happy to have anything to work with at that moment.

It was raining, and I had forgotten to bring a cloth to wipe the lens with. I’m sure it was a bit comical as I repeatedly had to squat over the camera and tug my shirt down to wipe the lens between photographs, but it mostly got the job done.

The panic continued as I tried to get it all captured before everything melted away, I first photographed the rainbow. The field of view was so wide that even at 14mm it was tight on the sides and I couldn’t get both the rainbow and much verbena in the same photograph. In addition to the centered image of the rainbow, I took an image to the left, and another to the right, hoping to blend them in later for a wider view. I then tipped the camera down to shoot the foreground to get more verbena. Knowing the foreground would be wider than the background when the final image was assembled, I shot the foreground in two instead of three, one to the left and one to the right. I used Focus Shift shooting to take images of the verbena that I could stack to hopefully get it all in focus. The wind was getting nasty again, but fortunately there were a couple breaks I was able to take advantage of.

Walking back to the car later, I worried about wind movement, water spots, focus issues, etc., etc. I wondered if I actually had usable images to stack and stitch. Fortunately it all worked out. (Which was good, because from there the weather got much worse for the rest of my stay in Anza Borrego. In addition, after Anza Borrego I planned to shoot for two days in the Mojave National Preserve. When I got there, they had closed it due to the weather. Ah, the best laid plans…)

Wow, John! I don’t know what I love more, your image or the story behind it! I don’t think this is too much color at all. The double rainbow is amazing and the foregroud flowers are gorgeous. Your efforts in getting multiple images to then laboriously put them all together in post was well worth it and quite the labor of love. Your stacks and stitches and blends really give me a sense of being there, it’s almost 3 dimensional. I’m sorry you got sick and that the weather wasn’t cooperative,. But I wonder that if it had been, you would not have gotten this or a story to tell! I hope you’re all better now…

Hi John,
what a beautiful image. The colors are great and I love all the details in the foreground. The double rainbow is wonderful. I would certainly have become frantic too if I had seen it. But you managed to get a fantastic shot.

Kudos for not canceling the tour. I hope you have recovered completely.

Wow, John, what a story. I can’t imagine suffering from COVID while on the road. Thankfully, I haven’t had it yet. Great story.

Also great image. I always try to remember to look behind me when photographing landscapes. You succeeded quite well.

When I first saw your image, I was struck by how narrow the rainbow was, how much more round than I remember seeing most rainbows. You saw and captured something very unique I believe. I think the colors of the rainbow look great. I might suggest just a touch of added warmth in the extreme foreground…really minor. And I noticed the stick on the right side, center that could be easily cloned out. I bet this would make a great large print for your office.

Also, thanks for the technical details. A fascinating read.

Holee Cow! This is a fantastic image, so well planned (short time frames garner extra points), executed and processed! The verbena in the most gorgeous lead-in, and then the sky explodes! I don’t see how you could have found a more perfect composition.

And what a horror story behind it. I hope you’re recovered! You’ve given me a wake-up call for an upcoming trip to the eastern Sierra in June. I’ve had all the vaccinations and neither of us has gotten Covid, but we’re getting a little less cautious. It could be horrible to get it in the middle of a solo trip in areas without a lot of medical resources. And I think I’ve nailed down the last motel rooms in a hundred miles – none of them close to civilization. (Going to get a camper in my next life.) I’m adding a few medical items to my list.

I have to say that if description was ever considered by the moderators this would be the photo of the week. I don’ t think I’ve ever read a better one. It just goes to show you how much the prose adds to the appreciation of an image. Perhaps that should be a criteria the moderators should use.

One think that strikes me about this image is that it’s about the rainbow but the flowers dominate. Even a small crop from the bottom eliminates the stronger larger flowers and help bring attention to the upper half.

I tried different things here. Made the suggested crop. Raised the blacks and shadows. Saturated the blues a bit to make the rainbow stand out more. I couldn’t figure out how the make the rainbow stand out tonally so I used color. See if you like any of these three suggestions.

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Terrific story, John. Better than the book I’m currently reading. :joy:
What a beautiful scene you were able to capture. This certainly makes up for the suffering you went through on this trip. Sorry you were not able to get to see your family but in retrospect, sometimes that’s not a bad thing!
The colors looks terrific to me. Very natural. You have a really nice carpet of flowers in the foreground which are terrifically sharp, leading into a midground with a variety of cacti and desert bush, and then the beautiful, lit up hills and rainbow in the background. This image alone would have made that trip a success if it were me even with everything you had to go through. Too bad you couldn’t get into the Mojave Nature Preserve. It’s probably the best year they’ve had in decades. So much rain this year.
This is getting super nit picky but there are a couple of very minor distractions but only when viewed large. There is a tiny stick in the LLC that could be dodged or better yet, cloned out and there are two old flower bloom stalks on the right edge of the frame half way up. One is to the left of the rainbow and the other is just to the right almost touching the right frame edge. I might also burn the foliage of the plants getting hit by the morning light. Some of them stand out quite a bit. I took this into LR for a quick spin and this is what I came up with. Oh, and I burned down the right bottom edge to make it similar to the left bottom edge and added a little bit of dodging to the center foreground flowers to lead the eye just a little.


Here is the original if you want to compare side by side.

Hope you are feeling better John. You have a masterful image to go along with a terrific although painful story. You will never forget this trip.

First off I hope you are feeling better, John. Kudos for sticking it out even with all those roadblocks stuck in your way. I know Covid is no fun as I was not able to escape it’s clutches either. The first day was rough and each day got progressively better. I am glad we had our shots and boosters or it could have been much worse.

This is certainly one sweet image and the colors look perfect to me. The light is flat out gorgeous as is the rainbow and those purple flowers make for a wonderful FG. My only suggestion was the already mentioned cloning out the stick along the right edge. Beautifully done!

Thank you @Vanessa_Hill , @Jens_Ober, @David_Bostock, @Diane_Miller, @Igor_Doncov, @David_Haynes, and @Ed_Lowe! I really appreciate the thoughts and suggestions. Thanks for your good wishes on the COVID too. After a couple tough days, I rapidly improved and was back to normal by the time I returned home. It was an energy/motivation zapper for the trip, but I’m very thankful my turn on the bull was a gentle one.

I believe the narrow rainbow was a little due to the sun being so low, a little due to using a wide angle lens, and a lot due to the limitations of projecting a curved scene on a flat surface as happens when stitching very wide fields of view. To illustrate, I’ll post the jpg the camera took of the central top picture and the left bottom picture. Note how the rainbow is flat in the central top, and actually bending inward in the left bottom. Someone better at physics than me could probably verify/clarify.

I debated about those yucca stalks sticking above the horizon on the right. Normally I would have cloned them out, but after @Tim_Parkin’s recent guest critique and reading the requirements for submitting to the Natural Landscape Photography Awards I thought I give it a whirl to leave them. Maybe time to rethink that. :slight_smile:

Thanks for the edits Igor and David; I’ll add those to the original post for comparison.

Here’s those jpgs the camera took to show the difference in the rainbow between the two images:

One funny thing is look how saturated and red the camera chose to make those flowers in the lower shot. I moved away from that, because I was pretty sure I’d have been dinged if I went that far.

Amazing about the rainbow in the last one. It’s just optics – super wide angle lenses just have that much perspective distortion if they are pointed a bit down or up from level. It’s wonderful how well the stitching fixed it.

Color is also arbitrary with digital. (It was for film, too, but it was more predictable, built into the film.) When you open in a raw converter there are different color profiles to choose from and they can be quite different. And none are accurate to the scene. Even shooting a gray card has variables, especially in lighting like this with a mix of warm, early sun and shade. So it’s completely fair game to adjust as needed, often masked to different areas of an image. And not just to adjust colors, but to adjust darks differently than lights. Another way of saying it – we think of WB as balancing the RGB components of the light tones, but the 3 channels at the dark end may not be balanced the same way as the whites. You can do “dark balance” by squeaking in (to the right) the ends of the curves for the 3 channels in a Curves until they match (if you want neutral darks).

I absolutely love the larger flowers at the base of your original version! Don’t crop them! They have such a gorgeous wide-angle look, scooping my eye into the scene, and show none of the awful IQ that some wide angle lenses can have at the corners. This could pass for being shot with a tilt-shift large-format body.

The yucca stalk are so small they shouldn’t hurt the image in a competition. It should do very well! Go for it!!

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I think I like your original the best, John. Well done.

I actually don’t like my crop suggestion and prefer the flowers at the bottom as in the original.


YIKES! What a story! And as others have expressed, certainly hope you’re feeling better! I don’t know which is more impressive… the peruit of the image, or the result! Both are amazing! Kudos for having the wherewithall to grab the images that could later be combined. The result is just fantastic.

Can’t say I can offer any suggestions. The edits look good, but I think I like your original the best.

You were well rewarded for your efforts.


@Igor_Doncov and @David_Haynes , regardless I will be playing with those ideas!

Thanks @Lon_Overacker !

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