Thoughts on Shooting Palouse

The Palouse region is named after the town of Palouse in southeast Washington. It is a corner of the world that I didn’t know existed until I ran across a few photographs of it. I’m so glad I did. It is beautiful, American-proud farmland. Rolling green hills, miles of vacant dirt roads, curious horses, old red barns, and wheat. The air is clean and the folks are friendly.

Shooting Palouse

One afternoon while waiting for sunset, we drove into the small town of Fairfield (population of 612) looking for a restroom. There were cars parked all over downtown along the street but no one was around. “Where the heck is everyone?” We turned down a side street adorned with red, white, and blue flags and saw that the building labeled “Community Center” was in full swing with a big BBQ pit outside brewing some delicious smelling grub. A small community that lives like a community, enjoying one another’s company, celebrating our independence and freedom; and I suspect that most, if not all of them know each other. Down-to-earth people. I love that about the Palouse region.

Sunset from Steptoe Butte

Sunset from Steptoe Butte

While the area is absolutely incredible to drive through and experience, photographing it is challenging. Most of the roads go through valleys so there are only a few places to get a good overlook unless you have access to private property. Steptoe Butte state park is the best location for this.

The area also requires a lot of exploration on dirt roads.  Actual dirt roads, not gravel or rock.  If it rains, forget about it. I suspect most four-wheel-drive vehicles would struggle. The plus side is that you’ll rarely come across another person out there. At least that’s a plus until you break down. There is virtually no cell service other than in the towns.

Abbie and I shooting sunrise at Steptoe Butte... at 4:50 am.

Abbie and I shooting sunrise at Steptoe Butte… at 4:50 am.

By far, the hardest part about this trip was the incredibly long days and short nights. It never “dawned” on me that we were going to be shooting at the summer solstice in the northern latitudes. Nor did I realize how much of a difference that can make. So sunrise was around 4:50am and sunset at 8:50pm. So we were going to bed around 11 and waking up at 4. This was really difficult as I treasure my eight hours. Usually we were napping back at the hotel by 9 when the sun was already high and bright in the sky. Thank you black-out curtains.

The rewards of getting up early to catch the golden hour, 2000 miles of driving, and having to stretch my compositional creativity a bit, the resulting photographs from this area are awesome and I can’t wait to release them in September at my home gallery show. I hope you can attend!

Sunset At Palouse

The Color of Sunlight

When trying to capture a colorful grand landscape, it is often important to wait until the light itself has color.  We judge daytime sunlight to be white.  But when the sun is on the horizon, that light becomes “warmer” because it has to travel through more atmosphere to reach us.  Sometimes, depending on the geography, the clouds, and the particles in the atmosphere (haze, dust, smoke, pollution, water vapor), the early and late day color can be very dramatic.

When my wife and I were photographing in California last October, we visited Mono Lake.  When we arrived, the light was bright and harsh:

Harsh Light during mid-afternoon.  White clouds, deep shadows, true color.

Harsh Light during mid-afternoon. White clouds, deep shadows, true color.

Occasionally, early and late light can be dramatic.

As the sun dipped behind White Mountain, the light coming from the sun was not reaching us directly, but instead reflecting off the clouds above which were turning a deep red, showing the current color of the light.  This red light, in turn, lit the landscape.

The red light from the sun is lighting the clouds directly, but not the land. We are in the shadow of the mountain.

The red light from the sun is lighting the clouds directly, but not the land. We are in the shadow of the mountain.

Just when I thought we’d seen the best of it, the sun dropped further below the horizon and the sky exploded in red.  It was so surreal, like being on a different planet.

The peak of color.

The peak of color.

This deep red lasted for about one minute before it faded into the blue of night.  I’ve never seen such a dramatic display of color.  It’s one evening I’ll never forget.