the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Eastern Washington

Sun Lakes – Dry Falls State Park

Last week, as part of the gradual easing of its stay-at-home order, Washington State opened up the majority of state parks for day-use only. Knowing that I was going into photography withdrawal, Tanya suggested we head out on a photo day. Even though the parks were open, it was suggested people stay local. Well, local is a relative term, and being a Westerner, I don’t mind driving several miles – in this case 200 miles one way. Is that local? It was still in the State of Washington and we didn’t need to stay overnight – that’s local to me.

So last Saturday we packed up a picnic and the camera gear and headed off to Sun Lakes – Dry Falls State Park. Why there? One, it has the raw beauty of the channeled scablands. But perhaps more importantly, I thought there wouldn’t be as many people there as in closer state parks. The weather was sunny and warm, and there was bound to be more than a few people out enjoying the state parks on this first weekend since the pandemic started that they were open. And while there were a fair number of people at the park, the park’s parking lots was not crowded – unlike the several hiking trailheads we passed on the way over the mountains that were overflowing with cars. In fact, the parking for the trail we took in Sun Lakes State Park only had one other car (out of four parking spots – so with us, it was half full; is that crowded?).

Drone shot of Alkali Lake

Sun Lakes State Park is located in the Grand Coulee. The park itself contains at least four lakes, and there are a number of other lakes further down the coulee. That gave this trip the added bonus of having a place to stop before reaching the park for me to fly my drone (drones are not allowed in Washington State Parks without a permit) while Tanya took Benson, our 8-month old, 102-pound Newfoundland, on his first swim. We picked a spot along Alkali Lake, and while Tanya and Benson frolicked in the water, I checked out Alkali Lake and Lake Lenore from the air.

Then it was on to Sun Lakes. The state park has a developed camping (closed) and day-use area on Park Lake with nice green grass and large shade trees. Instead of stopping there, we took the road to Deep Lake, which is developed with a small picnic area with natural vegetation and a boat launch. There were about 10 cars there and several dozen people swimming or fishing in the lake. So instead of taking the lakeside trail, we decided to take the Caribou Trail with climbs the hillside above the lake (not sure why it is named the Caribou Trail, caribou are definitely not native to this desert terrain).

Though I’ve been to Sun Lakes perhaps a dozen times before, I had never been to Deep Lake or on the Caribou Trail, so this was new territory to me. I knew the trail climbed above up toward the top of the coulee, but I didn’t know if it had a view of Deep Lake from up there. It is a relatively short trail, and the official trail ends when reaching the top of the cliffs. No view from there. So we kept walking on a faint unofficial trail, and then, eventually, set off cross country to find a view. And sure enough, we found a view of Deep Lake far below. We sat on the rocks, pulled out our water bottles, and drank in both water and scenery.

After shooting for 15 or 20 minutes, we headed back down the car. We don’t quite have our car setup organized well with the new dog yet. Trying to fit the dog and all the camera gear in the car along with food and drink (which must be separated from the dog) is a challenge. I decided to pack the camera backpack in a different spot after the hike, to be loaded after the dog got in. Unfortunately, after loading the dog, I forgot about the bag and started to back out onto the road only to run over something. You guessed it, my camera backpack!

Luckily, my camera was not in the pack, and a quick check didn’t show anything broken. We drove back to Deep Lake for our picnic dinner. There were a few less people, and we got a picnic table isolated from others. While eating, I checked out the gear in more detail. All the lens seemed to be working okay. However, there are cracks on a portion of the barrel of the Tamron 150-600 mm zoom. Also, the split neutral-density filter is history. Hopefully the lens can be repaired (currently the Tamron repair shop, which is in New York, is closed due to the pandemic).

After dinner, we drove over to Dry Falls Lake, which, not surprisingly, is located at the base of Dry Falls. It was an hour or so before sunset and the light on the cliffs of Dry Falls was particularly nice. The featured shot above is a 4-shot panorama of Dry Falls and Dry Falls Lake.

If you plan on making the trip out to Sun Lakes – Dry Falls State Park, be forewarned that the road to Dry Falls Lake is extremely rough. We did okay in our SUV, and I do think most regular passenger cars would make it, but some cars without much ground clearance could have difficulties. The road to Deep Lake is paved.

We left before sunset so we could get home before 11 pm. All in all, even with the the misadventure with my camera backpack, it was a good day. As always, I welcome your comments.

The view of Deep Lake from near the end of the Caribou Trail.

Telephoto shot of some of the cliffs along Deep Lake.

This is the west end of Deep Lake. The picnic area is in the cottonwood trees next to the boat launch.

Some of the cliffs near Dry Falls Lake.

Wide-angle shot of Dry Falls and Dry Falls Lake

 


Undiscovered Palouse

Last month I made my 6th trip to the Palouse in the past 12 months. Over the five trips, I had photographed at over 100 spots in the region. I had visited perhaps another dozen or so that I’d been to and but didn’t photograph because the light was bad. And finally, there were another 10 spots I knew of but hadn’t scouted yet.

On my sixth trip, my goal was to make images at some of these spots that I knew of, but hadn’t done so previously. With that goal, I made the almost sacrilegious decision not to photograph from Steptoe Butte. In fact, even though it was the prime photograph season in the Palouse, I only saw five other photographers over the three days I was there (one group of four and another solo photographer).

I also decided to do some random driving around, looking for roads I hadn’t driven before, to see what I could find. One of the pleasures of the Palouse, if you have the time, is to just drive without a plan and see what you can find. Having literally spent 100s of hours in the Palouse, I wondered if I could still find anything new.

I wasn’t disappointed; and I came back with some decent images of places I hadn’t been to before. These may be familiar to others, but they were new to me. All the images featured in this post are of places I hadn’t previously known of. I did most of my “random” driving in the late morning or early afternoon before or after going to spots where I wanted golden hour (or near golden hour) light. (The driving wasn’t actually totally random; I picked areas where I knew I hadn’t been to before). Therefore, most of these images were taken in late morning or early to mid-afternoon.  Even so, I’m happy with what I captured.

Barn, windmill, horses – classic Palouse along Conrad Road. The featured photo above was also shot on Conrad Road.
I also found this grain elevator along Conrad Road.
On Steiger Road, I found a farm with a sizable old tractor collection
Another shot from the tractor collection
This big white barn is along Elberton Road. Actually I had driven by this barn once before (in winter) and didn’t stop. So I guess it wasn’t totally undiscovered.
Another old grain elevator, this one near Hangman Creek Road in Idaho
Panorama I shot along B Howard Road. Note the lone tree and windmill in the middle distance.
Close up of the windmill along B Howard Road
The lone pine tree along B Howard Road
A lone tree and tri-colored green fields along Pat O’Neil Road

Quick Shot – Palouse Moon

I recently returned from spending a few more days in the Palouse. June is prime season for photography in the Palouse, with green hills everywhere. My goal was to get a few shots I’ve missed in my trips last year. In that regard, I did not go to Steptoe Butte, but rather hit the few spots on my list that I missed last year and did some exploring on roads I had not previously driven.

For now, I wanted to offer up one quick shot from the trip. I shot this last Sunday evening just after sunset with the soon to be full moon rising over the hills. I’m not sure I like the sunset lit clouds on the edge of the image, but I can’t really complain being able to witness and capture such a scene. I’ll post some more from the trip in the next week or so.


Columbia National Wildlife Refuge

Basalt formation at Columbia National Wildlife RefugeA couple weeks ago, Tanya and I visited the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Washington. While obviously it is a good place for bird photography (in season at least), it is also a good place for landscape photography. The refuge is full of small lakes and wetlands set among basalt cliffs. Add in blue skies and interesting clouds, and the area is ripe with landscape photo opportunities.

The best time to visit for photography is the golden hours. However, if you are driving over from Tacoma (like I have the two times I’ve visited), it’s difficult to be there at sunrise or sunset. But even mid-day offers some possibilities if you can control the contrast or find a composition where the contrast doesn’t ruin the image (such as the photo above; well at least I don’t think it does).

On our recent visit, I was hoping to catch some of the spring wildflowers, but we were a little early. If you are thinking of visiting, I bet the flowers are in full bloom right now.

The refuge is traversed by gravel roads, some of which are closed during parts of the year to protect wildlife. There are also several short trails. During my visit last month, I took the 4-mile round trip Chukar and Blythe Lakes hike. The hike traverses the shoreline of Blythe Lake before climbing to a viewpoint above Chukar Lake. If you do take a hike or wander around in the brush taking photos, be sure to do a tick check when returning to the car.

Reeds along the shore of Blythe Lake, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

Reeds along the shore of Blythe Lake

Clouds and basalt cliffs, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

Clouds and basalt cliffs near Blythe Lake

Wetlands along the trail to Chukar Lake, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

Wetlands along the trail to Chukar Lake,

Hawk, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

Can’t have a post about a wildlife refuge without showing some wildlife. There were quite a few raptors about. Also saw several great egrets and lots of Canada geese. We talked to someone who had seen sandhill cranes, be we did not see any.

Rocks, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

I liked the shape and color of these rocks near Chukar Lake.

Soda Lake, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

Black and white conversion shot of Soda Lake.

Drumheller Channels, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

These are part of the Drumheller Channels, which is a National Natural Landmark, are a classic portion of the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington. They were formed by glacial outburst floods (and are very cool for me as a geologist). The Columbia National Wildlife Refuge is set within the Drumheller Channels.


Four Seasons on the Palouse

Over the past 15 months, I’ve made 6 trips to the Palouse: two in winter (one without snow), two in June, one in August, and one in October. There are no locations that I photographed on every trip, and only a couple I photographed in each season. I thought it would be fun to do a seasonal comparison for one spot. I visited the former Heidenreich Dairy Barn in all four seasons. This former dairy barn (now a wedding/event venue) is one of the iconic images in the Palouse, visited by hundreds or more photographers every year. It is close to Colfax and best photographed early in the morning. That makes it a prime spot to photograph at sunrise without having to drive too far from your motel room. And when the sun rises at 5 a.m. in late spring and early summer, getting a few extra minutes of sleep really matters.

What makes it such a great shot, besides being an amazing barn, is the adjoining silo and the old orange truck that is always parked in front of the barn. The barn was built in 1910 and was refurbished in 2009. It is a Washington State Heritage Barn, and in 2011, it won the Heritage Barn Rehabilitation award from the Washington State Department of Archeology and Preservation. You can learn more about the rehabilitation of the barn at https://wadahp.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/2011-shpo-award-winners/heidenreich.

Here are four images of the barn, taken in the four seasons from the same approximate viewpoint.

This was shot on June 20, 2018, still technically spring. Spring brings wonderfully green fields of wheat and other crops to the Palouse. May and June are definitely the favorite time for photographers to visit the region. Most workshops in the Palouse run in these two months. And if you visit this barn at sunrise in June, there will be a good chance you will not be the only photographer there.

By August, the wheat (and most the other crops) will have turned golden. Before harvest (which starts in August), the fields have the soft texture visible here. I shot this image on August 8, 2018. Unfortunately, when I was there, though not cloudy, the sky was very smokey due to forest fires elsewhere in the state. The filtered sunlight was nice, but the sky was rather bland. August is probably the second most favorite time for photographers in the region. However, I fear smokey skies in late summer will become more common, which may make the season less popular.

Autumn seems to be the forgotten season in the Palouse. The fields have been harvested and many have been plowed under. Luckily when I visited the Heidenreich barn on October 20, 2018, the fields behind the barn still had golden stubble (instead of plowed dirt). The field in front of the truck had not been plowed yet, but the stubble had been mowed for straw and the ground not very appealing photographically (thus I minimized it in this shot). Overall though, other than the pumpkins by the truck,and the lack of leaves on the small trees in front of the barn, and a bit of color on the trees in back, it scene isn’t too dissimilar than the scene in August.

I’ve wanted to photograph in the Palouse when it was snowy for some time now. When I visited in December 2017, there was no snow. So this winter, I kept an eye on the weather forecasts, but this has been a warm winter in the Pacific Northwest, at least until February. When lasting snow did reach the Palouse, I jumped at the opportunity to get over there and had quite the adventure getting home (see my previous post). As it turns out, the region got much more snow since I took this image on February 8th and is still snow-covered.

There is truly no bad time to photograph in the Palouse, each season brings it own rewards and challenges. As you can see, you can visit the same spot multiple times throughout the year and come away with wonderfully different shots.


A Winter Story

I’ve photographed in the Palouse in spring, summer and fall, but to finish up my soon-to-be release Palouse photography guide, I needed to photograph there in the winter. To be honest, I have shot in the Palouse in winter before, but not when there was snow. So all winter long, I’ve been waiting for snow to coat the Palouse hills (and for some free time for me to make the journey). When I did go last week, I found the Palouse is incredibly beautiful when covered by snow.

This is the lone tree along JW Baylor Road east of Steptoe Butee

Winter in the Washington State has been very mild (that is up until about eight days ago), and snow has been rare in eastern Washington. Finally, several weeks ago, the weather forecasts were looking favorable, so I made plans to do a quick trip over. My plan was to drive over the evening of Thursday, February 8th, shoot on Friday and Saturday, then after a quick visit to my Step-mom in Spokane, drive back to Tacoma on Sunday. It was a good plan, except it didn’t account for the largest snow storm to hit the state in decades. The photography part of the trip went great (though I didn’t get to as many spots as I would have liked), but the driving home on Sunday part was not so good.

The snow coverage in the Palouse was uneven. Down near Uniontown, there was less snow (and in some places, almost none – though earlier this week, I’m sure this changed), while up near Tekoa, the snow cover was much thicker. My journeys on Friday were hampered at times by falling snow, which greatly cut visibility and made scenes look foggy. Saturday provided much better light, but brought its own special challenges – high winds and drifting snow.

Many of the back roads in the Palouse are “all-weather” gravel roads. I found many of these barely passable because of the drifting snow. In my mid-sized, all-wheel drive SUV, I plowed through many snow drifts as long as they weren’t too tall – it was fun. While this allowed me to get to some good shots, it later came back to haunt me. By mid-afternoon Saturday, the light was wonderful, but the wind had really picked up, and even the paved highways were being drifted over.

Throughout Friday and Saturday morning, I had visited spots I thought might look good with snow (as well as a couple new spots). My plan by mid-afternoon on Saturday was to go shoot the Lone Pine grain elevator then try to get up on Steptoe Butte. Lone Pine road was heavily drifted, but we made it in. The vantage point I wanted was a short distance from Lone Pine Road, on Chase Road (another all-season road). Tanya and I turned onto Chase Road and almost immediately stopped because the snow was so thick. But then, a tractor plowing the road crested the hill. It went by us and back up the hill. I figured we could now make it, with the road being plowed. I was wrong. We got about 100 meters or less up the road and got stuck. We were stuck for at least half an hour, even with the farmer, Donovan Chase, helping us out. He finally was able to get us out of there, and I didn’t even get the shot I was looking for (the 30+ mph wind was blowing snow straight at us from the direction of the grain elevator – the shot was not possible).

After freeing us from the snow, he asked us to check in at C&D’s Bar & Grill (which he is an owner) to let them know we made it out okay since the conditions on Lone Pine Road were sketchy. We made it out to Tekoa and stopped at C&D’s to have a drink. We decided it was probably best stop the photography for the day and head to Spokane (we probably couldn’t have gotten very far up Steptoe anyway). However, not a mile outside of town on the highway to Spokane, the road was restricted to one lane by snow drifts and that lane was blocked by a tow truck pulling a car out of a drift. Right then, a Department of Transportation truck appeared and told us the highway was closed. We eventually did make it to Spokane by heading east out of Tekoa into Idaho first before heading north. The normally 50-minute drive to Spokane took about 1.5 hours. On the drive, our car was running rough and making unusual noises.

A view of Steptoe Butte with the Palouse River in the foreground. By the way, I cheated on this shot. Steptoe and the foreground with sunlit at different times, so I composited two shots together here.

But we made it to Spokane and checked into our hotel. After dinner with my Step-mom, we decided our SUV should probably go to the auto shop before we drove back across the state to Tacoma. You know how many auto shops are open in Spokane on Sundays in winter? Maybe two. We still hoped to drive to Tacoma Sunday, so I got the car to the Firestone shop when it opened at 8 a.m. Sunday morning. However, with the storm, their power had been out all day Saturday, and they were very backed up. They’d get to my SUV when they could.

About 3 hours later, I got a call from Firestone. They had the car up on the lift and the mechanic saw something he had never seen before. Apparently, the total undercarriage of my SUV was coated with over 1 foot of ice. They said they’d need to thaw the car before determining what was wrong. Needless to say, we did not drive to Tacoma that day. Around 5 p.m. Firestone called back and said they had finally melted enough of the ice to check the car out. They thought their might be a problem with the transmission and suggested I take it to a transmission shop in the morning.

So Monday morning, I picked the car up at Firestone and drove it to the transmission shop. It took them a couple of hours to determine nothing was wrong with the transmission. Though they did call me into the shop and under the lift to show me ice still packed into the nooks and crannies under my car and asked where I had been driving. They thawed more ice and sent me on my way. We hit Interstate 90 toward Seattle at around 10:30 a.m.

However, the car was not totally fine. I had a dead headlight (obtained while plowing through snow banks on Saturday morning) and the wiper fluid was frozen. Driving on the interstate freeway in winter without wiper fluid does not work very well. So, we stopped in Ritzville (about an hour west of Spokane) to get the headlight replaced and the wiper fluid unfrozen. It took about 2 hours – they had to thaw a block of ice in the wiper fluid reservoir, the wiper fluid lines, and the wiper fluid motor. But finally we were back on the road.

All went fine until we were about half way up and over the Cascade Mountains on Snoqualmie Pass. It was around 5:30 p.m., was snowing heavily, and very dark with almost no visibility (I was glad I got the headlight fixed). Not surprisingly, the State Patrol closed the road. Unfortunately for us, they closed it about 10 cars in front of us. If we had left Spokane 5 minutes earlier, we could have got over the pass. Instead, we found a hotel room for the night in Cle Elum.

Tuesday morning, we packed up and learned that the pass was still closed and Interstate 90 was closed both ways. We decided to try for White Pass (good thing, Snoqulamie Pass didn’t open until a day later). He had to first take back road east to Ellensburgh because the freeway was closed. But once at Ellensburg, we got back on the freeway and drove east and south to Yakima. There we got on the US Highway 12 to White Pass. The pass was open, but conditions were not good. However, we finally made it over the Cascades. Unfortunately, the highway to Tacoma from Highway 12 was closed due to snow and downed trees, and we had to take the long way around. We finally got home around 5:30 p.m. – a full two days later than we had planned. It had snowed about 13 inches at our house and we needed to shovel the berm created by the snowplow in front of our house to park.

So, was all this worth it for some winter shots of the Palouse? You be the judge and let me know what you think of these shots.

This is the old Skeen School near Kamiak Butte. It’s amazing how it is still standing.

An old abandoned house near Farmington, Washington.

A red barn along Borgen Road in Idaho, east of Uniontown.

Two barns along Banner Road north of Pullman during a snowy period on Friday morning.

These horses didn’t seem to mind the blowing snow on Saturday morning.

Snow at Dave’s Old Truck yard in Sprague

Palouse Falls on Friday afternoon. The water was a dirty brown color, as was much of the ice. Black and white to the rescue!

 


Autumn in the Palouse

May and June are probably the most popular months for photography in the Palouse. But in preparing my up coming Palouse guide (to be published by Snapp Guides sometime next year), I thought I should visit the area in all seasons. The area is not known for fall colors, but there are a fair number of cottonwood, aspen and other trees to provide color in the area. So Tanya and I headed over to the Palouse in mid-October to see what we could find.

I only had a day and a half to explore and look for fall color. Not really enough time to cover the area, but from my previous explorations, I had a good idea where to look. I found that some of the cottonwoods were in prime color, but others had already lost most their leaves. Most the aspens were looking good, though some had lost a lot of leaves, and many smaller shrubs and scrubby trees had color as well.

Of course, most of the area is covered by agricultural fields and barren of trees. Many of the beautiful golden fields I found in August had been plowed under, and some already replanted with next year’s crop. A few fields were just starting to sprout green wheat seedlings, but overall the main color scheme was brown and dusty yellow.

I made a visit to Steptoe Butte for sunset, it was good as always. However, because of the active plowing of many fields, there was a lot of dust in the area. I’d suggest the view from Steptoe would probably be clearer in the morning on most October days.

Overall, I was happy with what I came home with, and would have liked to spend a few more days there. However, I think the photo opportunities don’t quite rank up there with what is available in May, June, and August. That said, if you want to get something truly unique from the Palouse, October is a great time to go.

The featured photo above is a 3-shot panorama of a scene along State Route 272 east of Colfax. More photos are below. Leave a comment and let me know what you think of autumn in the Palouse.

This cottonwood along Tennessee Flat Road had already lost most of its leaves.

While this cottonwood at a barn along Shawnee Road was in its prime colors.

Here’s the covered bridge near Manning Road, the aspens have lost most their leaves, but the cottonwoods looked good.

The maple trees at the Cordelia Lutheran Church were looking pretty good.

The cottonwoods near this barn on Faught Road were looking colorful as well.

The scrubby trees on the slopes of Steptoe Butte were quite colorful.

I’ll leave you with this tree on Steptoe Butte bathed in the warm glow shortly after sunset.


Smoke Correction – Reducing Smoke Induced Haze

Though clear now, the skies of Washington State, and indeed most of the Pacific Northwest, have been very smokey almost the entire month of August. The smoke is from wildfires, both in the United States and Canada. I fear, with climate changes, this may be our new “normal” for August, as smokey skies have been prevalent in August the past several years.

As long as the smoke is not too thick, smokey skies can have some advantages to landscape and travel photography. Though I tend not to, some people like the sunsets provided by smokey conditions. I do, however, appreciate that smokey conditions can soften light and can extend golden hour conditions by changing the color of sunlight. On the other hand, they can also dim sunlight so that the light during the actual golden hours is weak.

In my opinion, the disadvantages outweigh any advantages gained. I am fond on blue skies and wide vistas. Smoke can suck the blue out of the sky and obscure views with haze. I also like to use telephoto lenses to pull in distance subjects. Obviously, this does not work so well if there is a lot of smoke.

On my trip to the Palouse last month, the skies were quite smokey. Not smokey enough to totally ruin the trip, but I certainly did not have ideal conditions. The Palouse is known for its blue skies with great clouds. On my last trip, the sky, though clear, was more of a dusky gray. It was also cloud free on except for one day. So much for the wide sky shots I often favor, such as this one I posted on instagram. I found myself following several techniques to minimize the effects of the smoke.

1. Limiting distance in my compositions – instead of including distant hills and vistas in my compositions, I selected relatively close subjects, or chose compositions where the distant background was less important. For example, on my August visit to the Palouse, I did shoot one evening from Steptoe Butte. However, with the smokey haze, I chose one of the lower viewpoint instead of going to the top, and I mostly shot compositions with subjects relatively close to the butte rather than subjects thousands of meters away.

Instead of photographing distant hills from Steptoe Butte, most my images were of nearby hills such as these. This image also has the sky eliminated and uses the Dehaze correction described below.

In this example, I chose to photograph this barn near to the road (and also eliminate any sky).

2. Eliminating or limiting the amount of sky in my compositions – with the sky not the blue color one expects, in many cases, I tried to either totally eliminate the sky from my composition or at least limit the amount of sky in the shot.

In this scene from Latah County in Idaho, I purposely minimized the amount of sky in the composition. It also uses the Dehaze and selective color corrections described below.

Here, concentrated on details of these old trucks in Sprague, Washington, eliminating any sky from the composition.

3. Processing using the Dehaze slider in Lightroom – I often use the dehaze slider in lightroom, and not just to remove haze; I like the microconstrast it adds to images. However, smokey conditions are what the dehaze slider was made for. While processing images from the August Palouse trip in Lightroom, I found myself adding more dehaze than I normally would.

Another sample of an image where I used the dehaze slider more than normal. This image also uses the sky color correction described below.

4. Adding blue back into the sky in Lightroom – I typically do not do selective color corrections in Lightroom. Typically I’ll set the color balance for the entire photo and let well enough alone (saving selective color adjustments for Photoshop if I want to do them at all). But with new masking tools for the gradient and brush tools, I found it relatively easy to add some blue back into the sky in Lightroom. Typically, I’d make a fairly tight gradient (or perhaps the brush too) and apply it to the area of the photo containing the sky. Then, using the range mask tool in color mode, I select a wide portion of the sky. This usually masks most of the non-sky areas, but to be sure, I’ll check the Show Selected Mask Overlay checkbox (which uses a red tone to indicate where the gradient is effective). Depending on the image, I may or may not need to do some cleanup of the mask with the eraser brush). To correct the sky, I’ll move the temperature slider toward blue, typically move the exposure slider down about 1/2 to 1/2 a stop, and move the clarity slider down as well. Depending on the image, I may also increase the dehaze slightly. Sounds complicated, but it is fairly easy with a bit of practice. This technique does a nice job on restoring sky color (see the examples below).

This is the Genesee Valley Lutheran Church in Idaho. Here I’ve used the technique described to reduce the smokey haze from the sky. The same image without the correction is shown below

Without the selective sky color correction.

 


Two Summer Seasons of the Palouse

My recent posts of the Palouse featured images captured in June when the landscape is green. However, mid to late summer in the Palouse looks totally different. June is green; August is golden. Most photographers prefer the green season – on a Tuesday night back in June, my photographer buddy Don and I shared the top of Steptoe Butte with at least 50 other photographers. Last week I returned to Steptoe Butte, and I had the only tripod in sight. Is one season better than the other? In my opinion, at least photographically, they are both great. You can visit the same locations and get two totally different images.

There are non-photographic differences. The weather is hotter in August than June. The average high temperature in June is 84 degrees F in Colfax and 72 degrees in Pullman. In August, those average highs jump to 91 and 83 degrees. Plus, the air quality is typically better in June. In recent years, late summer has brought many wildfires to the Pacific Northwest, which cause smoky conditions in the Palouse. This August was no exception, and the distant views were limited. On the other hand, a photographer wandering around in the tall grass in June is likely to find ticks looking for a meal; while in August, the ticks are mostly gone (though they can return in the fall). Plus it is much easier to find a motel room in August than in June (unless you come on the weekend of a WSU football game (which can sometimes start in late August).

Though the some of the comparison images below were shot from slightly different vantage points and/or different times of day, you can see the difference between the green and golden seasons. Green or golden, which is better? You be the judge.

Barn on Shawnee Road in August

Barn on Shawnee Road in June

Old house on Whitman Road in August

Old house on Whitman Road in June

Lone tree along Tennessee Flat Road in August

Lone tree along Tennessee Flat Road in June – BTW, Steptoe Butte is in the background in both shots

Barn along Hoffman Road in August

Barn along Hoffman Road in June

View from Skyline Drive in June

View from Skyline Drive in June

Old building in Wilcox in August

Old building in Wilcox in June,


Non-golden Gold

One thing I like about the Palouse is there are still plenty of good shots to be made outside the golden hours. Granted, when photographing in the region, I still aim to shoot in around sunrise and sunset, but I keep shooting well into the day. I captured all the images presented here more than four hours after sunrise and more than four hours before sunset – in other words, in the middle of the day. And maybe some of them might be better if shot during the golden hours, but I think some are pretty good anyway. Perhaps some might even be photographic gold?

It’s great to be able to capture a few good shots outside the golden hours, because in mid-June in the Palouse, the sun rises very early (a little before 5 a.m.) and sets quite late (just before 9 p.m.). This makes for a very long day. My normal schedule for shooting in the Palouse is to: get up early and catch sunrise, then drive around shooting and scouting until about 11 a.m.; eat lunch; return to my motel and plan the afternoon/evening shoot; take a nap; head out again shooting/scouting starting about 3:30 or 4 p.m.; shoot sunset; drive back to the motel, plan the morning shoot, and go to bed.

There are a couple of reasons why the Palouse can offer photographic gold during the non-golden hours. First, is the tendency for the skies to have white puffy clouds in the afternoon (and sometimes in the morning). The shadows cast by the clouds can give definition to the landscape, breaking up the flat light of mid-day. Secondly, there are plenty of subjects available that work well at almost anytime of day.

Now, I wouldn’t recommend making a trip to the Palouse and ignoring the golden hours, but if you decide you don’t want to get up at o-dark-thirty some morning, know there are still some decent photography waiting for you out there. As always, your comments on my musings and/or images is most welcome. Enjoy these shots of mid-day Palouse.


Steptoeless – A Photographic Guide to Non-Steptoe Butte Palouse Viewpoints

Without a doubt, Steptoe Butte is the most popular photography destination in the Palouse. And deservedly do. Rising more that 1,000 feet above the surrounding landscape, there is no better place to capture an iconic shot of the rolling hills of the Palouse. If you only have time to go one place in the Palouse, this is it.

However, if you would rather not share the view with dozens (or more) of other photographers, or if you are just looking for someplace else to go, there are several other places I know of that can give you similar shots to those captured at Steptoe Butte.

Kamiak Butte

Most blog posts that recommend where to shoot in the Palouse, as well as Greg Vaughn’s excellent Photographing Washington, Kamiak Butte is mentioned as a good place to get similar views to Steptoe Butte. Though a bit lower in elevation than Steptoe Butte, its peak is more than 1,000 feet above the surrounding lands. There are several differences, however. Kamiak Butte is elongated, running northeast to southwest, so it doesn’t give the all directional views that Steptoe does. Also, most of its northern half is forested (Steptoe is treeless), so views to the north and northwest visible except in a few spots. Perhaps the largest difference is access. Kamiak Butte is a Whitman County park. The park access road is gated, and the gate locked from dusk to 7 a.m. If you want to drive up there for sunrise photos in the summer – forget it. Plus, unlike Steptoe, you need to hike to the viewpoints on Kamiak. The main loop trail up to the viewpoints is 3.5 miles, but you can get to the first viewpoints in about half a mile (with an elevation gain of about 320 feet).

Having to access the viewpoints by trail makes it difficult for sunset shots as well. Unless you are a trail runner, it might be difficult to shoot at sunset, hike back to your car, and get out the gate before it is locked for the night. (And yes, the sign specifically states you can get locked in.)

On the plus side, there will be fewer people there and the wildflower display at Kamiak is wonderful – in my experience, much better than at Steptoe. There is also no fee to visit Kamiak, while Steptoe Butte is a state park and requires a $10/day fee (or an annual state parks pass – the Discovery Pass).  Also, you can camp at Kamiak, while there is no camping at Steptoe.

I didn’t want to take my chances with the gate, so I my recent trips, I shot from Kamiak in the mid-afternoon and went elsewhere for sunset. The gate to Kamiak Butte County Park is in Kamiak Butte Park Road (image that!) at GPS coordinates 46.880353, -117.149009.

Marvin Wells Road

I found one source (Photograph America Newsletter #54) that suggested Marvin Wells Road as a good viewpoint. On this road, you can get to an elevation of about 2,975 feet, about 700 feet of the top of Kamiak Butte. The road approaches the butte from the west and skims along the bottom of the treeline (with the trees above the road on the butte). The view is not so vast as you get from the top, being only toward the west through north, nor will you be 1,000 feet above the surrounding landscape, but you do not need to worry about being locked out at sunrise or locked in after sunset.

Also, the elevation difference may not be as big a deal breaker as you might think. There is some debate about where is the best place to shoot on Steptoe, and many photographers prefer not going completely to the top, photographing instead from pullouts between some 400 to 600 feet lower than the summit. Marvin Wells Road puts you just underneath that same elevation range.

If you like your sunset between just you and your tripod, I can guarantee you, you won’t find any other photographers at the viewpoints along Marvin Wells Road (unless, of course, my blog post goes viral – ha ha!). Plus, there will be little to no traffic. The road leads to a single farm on the side of Kamiak Butte. I shot there several times during my recent visits and didn’t see any other photographers and only a single car passed me.

The best approach to the Marvin Wells viewpoints is from the west (the road does loop around to Fugate Road, just a mile east of the entrance to Kamiak Butte County Park; however, Marvin Wells Road off of Fugate is a very sketchy “summer” road [dirt roads open only in the summer] that I chose not to test with my SUV). Both South Palouse River Road (from the west) and Fugate Road (from the east) merge directly onto Marvin Wells Road below the butte. The viewpoint at GPS coordinates 46.862410, -117.182667 is to the west and northwest. By driving a little further on the road you can also see more to the northeast.

Woody Grade Road

The viewpoint at Woody Grade Road is directly east of Steptoe Butte on the eastern edge of the Palouse region (in Idaho). It has an elevation of just over 3,030 feet, but the nearby surrounding lands are only about 500 feet lower. Still, you can get some good shots here. This spot, to my knowledge, is not mentioned any in other guides to the Palouse. I found it by searching Google maps.

There are two views here; one is a wide-open view to the west and north, and the other is a more restricted view to the south. The two viewpoints are about 500 feet apart.

You can access the Woody Grade viewpoints either from the south or from the west. Woody Grade Road west of the viewpoints is a summer road, which was in good shape when I drove it last month. South of the viewpoints, it is a good gravel road – so that is the preferred approach, especially if it has rained recently. Besides, it you approach from the south, you will go by a nice old school house (on Yellow Dog Road) that will surely tempt your camera lens.

The road from the school to the turn off to Woody Grade Road is Schneider Road. It continues east past Woody Grade Road, and it looks like there may be another viewpoint along it a bit more than a mile past the Woody Grade turn – though I didn’t go check it out on my recent visit. The viewpoints on Woody Grade Road are at about GPS coordinates 47.018650, -117.010974, and without a doubt, you will not be sharing this view with other photographers. The old school on Yellow Dog Road is at 46.99672, -117.033538.

Skyline Drive Road

With a name like Skyline Drive, is it surprising this road has good views (including the featured image at the top of this post). I found this viewpoint several years ago by just driving around the Palouse scouting for good photographic subjects. At the time, it was the middle of the day, and I made a note to go back in better light – which I did on my recent trip. In doing an internet search, I found that I wasn’t the first to discover this spot – I found several blogs mentioning it. However, I venture to say it is not widely known. In the two times I’ve been to this section of road, I’ve only seen one other person. On my recent trip, just before sunset, a hunter came walking up the hill from one of the fields below. Seeing my camera, he remarked on the view and warned me about ticks (if you do wander around in the grasses of the Palouse, checking for ticks is very good advice).

The northern and western end of Skyline Drive Road starts just north of Farmington, Washington, a right-hand turn off the Tekoa Farmington Road if driving north. The road winds up a hillside and then traverses through Mary McCroskey State Park in Idaho. Skyline Drive Road is nearly 20 miles long, and I have only explored the northwestern end.  As the road continues from there into Idaho, it enters a forest. However, in examining it using Google Earth, it appears there may be several other spots where it leaves the forest and provides views of the Palouse. On a future trip, I hope to explore the full length of the road looking for additional viewpoints.

The northwestern end of the road near Farmington offers wonderful views of the Palouse to the south, west, and northwest, with Steptoe Butte forming a distant bump on the horizon. This portion of the road is at elevation 3,000 to 3,200 feet while the nearby surrounding lands are at about 2,600 feet.

The road itself is dirt and may be unpassable during or after wet weather. I found the road to be generally in good shape. The Idaho state parks website suggests the road may be “too rough” for a family car, but I don’t believe this northwestern section is. Though there are many spots along the road to take great photos, general GPS coordinates for this northwestern section of road are 47.125139, -117.042153.

Other Viewpoints

There are many other viewpoints with more limited views in the Palouse region. Typically these occur where a road crests one of the rolling hills that is somewhat higher than its surrounding neighbors. I’ve found several that are worth mentioning, and I will do so in when my guide to the Palouse comes out next year. For now, I’ll just show you two examples from one such spot, the crest of Clear Creek Road (46.897361, -117.185005).

Meanwhile, I’m on the hunt for more viewpoints in the Palouse. If you happen to have a favorite one, particularly if I’ve missed it, please leave a comment or drop me an email.


Quick Shot – More Palouse

Last Sunday I returned from another trip to the Palouse. My photographer buddy Don Thompson accompanied me for four days, while Tanya kept me company for two more days. I have to admit I’m a bit tired of getting up for 4:55 am sunrises and staying up to 10:00 pm to catch the blue hour after sunset, but it was worth it to capture a few great shots. Above is a quick shot of one of my favorites from the trip. Don and I shot at this spot early in the trip, but I went back when there was better light (sorry Don) and am pleased I did. I’ll post a few more from the trip soon. Want to know where to take this shot? I’ll tell you in my upcoming Snapp Guides guide to the Palouse due out in 2019 (okay, if you want to know before then, just let me know).


Quick Shot – Palouse

I’ve been working on another Greek post, but been too busy to finish it. One reason I’ busy is that I spent several days on a trip to the Palouse earlier this week. I’m preparing a photography guide for the Palouse area for Snapp Guides (I recently finished a Snapp Guide for the Puget Sound region that should, hopefully, be available soon). So, rather than wait for me to finish my Greek post, I thought I’d offer you a quick shot from the Palouse. This unusual round barn is located near the town of Pullman, Washington. This spot (along with many others) will be provided in my Palouse guide, along with the best times to capture the image and other advice. I’ve just started on the Palouse guide, and it should be available sometime next year. You can see my previous posts about the Palouse here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (wow, that’s a lot of posts; I guess I really like the Palouse).


Photo Guide to the Bowl and Pitcher

While in Spokane for my Dad’s funeral, I had some free time, so I went out to Riverside State Park to do some photography. It was therapeutic spending some time in nature, walking around in the snow, and shooting the river. Riverside State Park is a large park with several different units. I spent most my time at the Bowl and Pitcher, which is perhaps the most scenic place in the park.

The Bowl and Pitcher are contains large basalt rock formations surrounding a turbulent Spokane River. Supposedly, several of the rock formations look like a bowl and a pitcher. However, I’ve been to the Bowl and Pitcher dozens of times in my life (having grown up in Spokane), and I’m still not sure which ones are the namesake rocks. None of them look like a bowl and pitcher to me. I looked on-line to find how the formations gained their name. The only reference I found was to a geology class project from Spokane Community College which claim there is a small “cave” under the rocks that the river churns through and around that looks like a bowl and that one of  the formations further downstream looks like a pitcher. With this explanation, I think I can “see” the pitcher, but I’m still stumped on the bowl.

Regardless, this is a great location to do some photography if you have some free time in Spokane. Perhaps the best view of the formations and river are from an elevated viewpoint on top of one of the formations on the east side of the river. You can access the viewpoint from a small parking area along the right side of the access road to the Bowl and Pitcher area just after you turn off the main road through the park. Alternatively, you can hike up to the viewpoint from the day-use parking area along the river (a Washington State Parks Discover Pass is required for either spot).

Other than this elevated viewpoint, you can get some good compositions by crossing the suspension foot bridge across the river at the day-use area and scrambling around the formations on the west side of the river. The featured photo above was shot on the west side of the river.

About a mile downstream from the Bowl and Pitcher is the Devil’s Toe Nail, a smaller rock formation in the river which is also worth stopping at. You can reach this area by hiking down the hillside on the east side of the river from a small parking area along the main road, or by hiking along a trail which follows the west bank of the river from the suspension bridge.

Photography  in winter at the Bowl and Pitcher can be difficult because of the extreme contrast between the snow and the nearly black basaltic rock formations. I didn’t try any HDR here, but it may be worth attempting. The dark rocks will present a similar challenge in the summer when lit with direct sunlight.

The flow in the Spokane River drastically changes throughout the year making radically different shots available in the winter and spring versus the summer and fall. The flow in the river when I was there this month for about 16,500 cubic feet per second (cfs). Peak flows in spring can exceed 40,000 cfs, while typical flows in August and September fall below 1,500 cfs.

This is the Devil’s Toe Nail, about a mile downstream from the Bowl and Pitcher.

Here is part of the view from the viewpoint. Could the rocks here hold the bowl?

View of the suspension bridge from the viewpoint

Another view from the west side of the river. The big formation in the center of the photo is capped by the viewpoint.

One more shot from the west side of the river.

Perhaps one of these is the pitcher?


A Bridge not too Far

Several years ago I saw a photograph of this bridge in the Palouse, but there was no location information with it. When I saw the image, I knew I wanted to photograph it as well. However, after several attempts to find it using internet searches, I could not find its location.

As you may or may not know, in my day job, I’m a groundwater geologist. I’m the president of a consulting firm called Robinson Noble. We work with a lot of different civil engineers who work with water systems. One such engineering firm we work with is based on Port Orchard, Washington – which for those of you not familiar with Washington State, is about 20 miles northwest of Tacoma. A year or so ago, one of the engineers with that firm, Todd, moved to the Palouse region and now telecommutes and serves his company in eastern Washington. A while back, I was talking with Todd about this bridge. I’m not sure how the topic came up, but he knows I do photography and was suggesting he knew some good locations in the Palouse. Anyway, I mentioned I was looking for this bridge, and Todd told me he owned it! He said I was welcome to drop by anytime to photograph it.

I finally had the chance last week. I accompanied Tanya to Walla Walla so she could interview for a vice president’s job at Walla Walla Community College (she was one of three finalists, but unfortunately didn’t get the position). While she was off interviewing, I drove up to the Palouse to meet with Todd. He gave me directions to his house (something like, turn at the second mailbox, drive through the farmer’s field, go over the bridge, and uphill past the barn), and indeed, the bridge in the directions was the bridge I was looking for.

I had a nice time visiting with Todd and his family, and they told me the story of the bridge. They bought their 200-acres of land along the Palouse River northwest of Colfax about a year ago. The land includes an old railroad grade which crosses the river. When the railroad was abandoned, a former owner of the property turned the bridge into part of his driveway. Todd also described an old train tunnel on his property, further down the grade.

Apparently the bridge is well known to at least a few photographers, as Todd and his wife told me of photography workshops that stop and take pictures of the bridge. There is a viewpoint on the county road across the river from their house, which is where I took the above photo.

But Todd said individual photographers, and sometimes even workshops, have come onto their land without permission to photograph at the bridge.  The Palouse is very popular with photographers, especially in late spring. Todd said he has talked with several of his neighbors and others from Colfax, and they report the number of photographers in the area seems to grow each year. Several of his neighbors are getting fed up with photographers blocking roadways and trespassing on private land. It’s these type of photographers that give all of us a bad name (but I digress).

Todd has given me standing permission to come by and photograph his bridge (and tunnel) anytime I want. He and his wife suggested other potential viewpoints and the best times of day. Next time I’m in the Palouse, it think I’ll take them up on their offer.


October Colors

It seems that every autumn, I comment on the lack of fall color in the Pacific Northwest and the need to know where to look for it (for example, see this post from last year, or this one from 2014). Last month I spent a long weekend in northeastern Washington looking for autumn colors, and I came away very impressed with how beautiful fall is there. Northeastern Washington does not get a lot of attention from nature photographers in the state. With Mount Rainier, the Olympics, the Pacific coast, the Columbia Gorge, and the Palouse, who has time for northeastern Washington? Well, if you want some great autumn scenery, make time. And as a bonus, you won’t have to fight for a spot for your tripod; in the 2 1/2 days I spent photographing there, I didn’t see anyone else with a camera.

Crystal Falls

I booked a room for a Friday night in Colville, Washington. Despite an early start from home, the drive (in the rain the whole way, except for at the top of Snoqualmie Pass, where it was snowing) took most the day. Though I only made a few stops on the way for photos, I got to the Colville region with less than an hour’s daylight left, which didn’t leave much time for scouting photo locations. So I headed to the one spot I knew I could get a good shot – Crystal Falls. This pretty little waterfall is 14 miles east of Colville on the Little Pend Oreille River. Though there wasn’t a lot of color at the waterfall, it made a pleasant stop before heading to town for the night.

The next day, I decided to explore the region between Colville and the Pend Oreille River, an area recommended by my photographer friend, Greg Vaughn, in his book Photographing Washington. I headed back east on Highway 20, continuing past Crystal Falls, to a series of small lakes along the upper reaches of the Little Pend Oreille River (the featured photo above is at one of these small lakes, Frater Lake). The previous day’s rain was gone, leaving a wonderful blue sky with scattered clouds and a dusting of snow on the ground in places. The forest around the lakes are thick with western larch, which made the forest a patchwork of bright yellow and dark green. Larch, one of the few deciduous conifers, turn bright yellow in fall and are fairly rare elsewhere in the state, but plentiful here. They are best photographed with back or side lighting.

A boat traveling the Pend Oreille River

Continuing past the lakes, the highway goes by Tiger Meadow, which has several aspen groves along its edges. I spent several hours there roaming the meadow, photographing the aspens and larch, and enjoying the crisp air and solitude (the image in my previous post is from Tiger Meadow). From there, I drove along the Pend Oreille River for a while where I found some colorful cottonwoods. Then I headed back to Colville via South Fork Mill Creek Road, with some beautiful aspen groves along it as well as larch on the hillsides.

I needed to get to the town of Republic where I planned on spending the night. This took me over Sherman Pass in the late afternoon. The larch are thick along Sherman Pass, and the late afternoon sun lit up the forests.

The following morning, I spent a short while photographing cottonwoods along the highway south of Republic (again recommended by Greg Vaughn), but the went off on my own without advice from Greg’s book. I headed west, then north, looking for the ghost town of Bodie, Washington. Along the way, I found more aspens and larch begging to be photographed. At Bodie, the aspens had already nearly lost all their leaves, but it was still fun to photograph the old buildings. From there, I decided to explore another ghost town, Molson, which is up near the Canadian border. The route took plenty of back roads, past some secluded scenery. Unlike Bodie, which is just falling apart with age, the Molson ghost town is actually an outdoors museum, with buildings and equipment moved to the current site and maintained by a historical society. There was plenty to explore there, and I could have easily spent more time doing so. However, I had promised my son, who lives in Yakima, I’d visit him and his girlfriend for dinner, so I put away the camera and headed south.

I’m happy with the shots I brought home with me, and the area is on my list as a place to visit again in the future when October colors come again to Washington.

Red barn near the Pend Oreille River with larch trees dotting the mountain side above

Aspens along South Fork Mill Creek Road

Larch on the mountains near Sherman Pass

Larch along Highway 20 near Sherman Pass

Cottonwood in the San Poil Valley south of Republic

Grove of bare aspens west of Republic

Log cabin in the ghost town, Bodie, Washington

Reflections in a beaver pond on Chesaw Road, Okanogan County

Old house along Chesaw Road, Okanogan County

Old tractor and wind mill at the Old Molson Ghost Town


New Lightroom CC and Range Masking

Adobe recently updated Lightroom, in the process creating a new version of the program. They renamed the old version Lightroom Classic CC, while the new version took the previous name of the old version: Lightroom CC. Confused yet?

If you have the photography CC subscription service (currently at $10/month), either version is available to download – but you can only have both if you fork out an extra $10 per month. The new Lightroom CC is the wave of the future. It’s main feature is that your Lightroom catalog and all your photos are saved to the Adobe cloud so that you can work on them in Lightroom from anywhere with a internet connection. Sounds like a great idea. The service comes with 1 TB of storage on the cloud. Unfortunately, I would need about 4 times as much space to upload all my photo files. And while I’m sure I could rent extra cloud space, I’m not sure I ready to give Adobe more money yet.

I have my own somewhat convoluted way of working in Lightroom on multiple computers. I export selected portions of my Lightroom catalog with smart previews to the 20GB of cloud storage that comes with the old Lightroom (and the Lightroom Classic), then work with that catalog when away from my main desktop computer. When finished, I import the catalog back into my main catalog. So, for now, I’m sticking with Lightroom Classic.

Plus, Lightroom Classic received a nice upgrade. Reportedly its speed performance has improved, but what I really like is the addition of range masking. Now, any mask made by the adjustment brush, gradient filter, or radial filter can be modified by color or luminance. Simply first create a rough mask using one of the three tools.  Then, at the bottom of the Mask dialog, there’s a new setting labeled “Range Mask” with the default setting of off. Change the setting to color, and you get an amount slider and a color picker tool. Only want your blue sky to be selected, use your mouse to select the color picker, move it to the blue sky and click – the other colors are deleted from the rough mask. You can shift and click to select multiple colors and click and drag to define a “box” of colors. It helps to have the Mask Overlay selected to see how your mask changes.

The luminance setting for the Range Mask works similarly, but with brightness instead of color. It does not including a picking tool, but has a “two-handled” slider for defining a brightness range and a smoothness slider. With your mask overlay on, it is easy to play around with these two sliders to see the effect.

The photo above, that I took in mid-October in northeastern Washington, provides an example of the usefulness of the new range masking. I actually first tried developing the image without the new range masking tools. And while the result was nice, it did have problems. Specifically there was some haloing around the aspen trees, I couldn’t get the brightness of the leaves and tree trunks to what I wanted, and the sky color was not totally natural. I probably could have corrected these issues with Photoshop, but thought I’d try the range masking tools in Lightroom to see if they could help.

Below is a progression of how I developed the image in Lightroom Classic starting with the original image with default Lightroom settings.

Undeveloped image of Tiger Meadows, Colville National Forest

Here is the image in Lightroom following all “global” adjustments. The adjustments applied include setting white and black points, highlight and shadow adjustments, adding clarity and vibrance, lens corrections, a vertical transformation to straighten the tree trunks, and a small amount of dehaze and vignetting. I wanted to add more dehaze, but its effect on the sky was too harsh.

I want to darken the sky, so I’ve added a gradient filter. But obviously, there is a lot more than sky selected. Previously, I’d use the eraser brush to get the right selection – that was a lot of work.

Now with the range masking, instead set the range mask to color and used the color picker to pick blue and used the adjustment slider to give me the correct selection. I then darkened the sky by lowering the exposure and black point, with just a small amount of extra dehaze.

I wanted to give the rest of the image more dehaze, so I made another gradient filter covering almost the entire photograph.

To get rid of the blue sky from the selection, I again set the range mask to color and used the color picker to pick multiple colors except the blue. adjusting as needed with the amount slider. From the resulting selection, I increased the dehaze my desired amount (this amount of dehaze in the sky would cause unacceptable haloing around the trees and would make the sky color less realistic).

Next, it was time to work on the backlit leaves. To select theses, I used the adjustment brush and made a rough selection in the trees.

To get the correct adjustment, I set the range mask to color once again and used the color picker to pick yellow, using the amount slider to get the selection I want. Once I had it, I increased the exposure slightly and gave the shadows a boost.

Next, I wanted to brighten the trunks of the aspens. So again I made a rough selection with the adjustment brush.

To get the correct selection, I set the range mask to Luminance and used the range sliders to get the approximate range for the tree trunks. Once I had a good selection, I increased the exposure and the white point.

Once again, here is the final image with separate adjustments for the sky, the land, the backlit leaves, and the aspen tree trunks thanks to the new range masking tools.

 

 

 


Quick Shot – Upper Spokane Falls

Another quick shot for you. I spent most of last week in Spokane, but was not able to slip out and do much photography. However, one night I did get manage to escape and shoot some late evening shots in Riverfront Park. Though water levels were down a little bit from several weeks ago, the falls were still spectacular. This shot is of Upper Spokane Falls, taken from the Post Street Bridge. Enjoy!


Quick Shot – Columbia National Wildlife Refuge

Last weekend, I drove to Spokane to see my Dad. Rather than take the interstate the whole way, I drove a slightly longer, but more scenic route, that took me through the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge. I was hoping that spring had brought wildflowers to the refuge, but I was too early in the season (I think the wildflowers in eastern Washington are late this year – does anyone have a wildflower report for the area?). No flowers, but wonderful dynamic skies, as I hope this shot shows. I didn’t have much time for photography, it is a five-hour drive without stops after all, but did get a few “keepers.” Enjoy this quick shot of  the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Washington.


Rookie Mistakes

Gorge MoonsetI hope you are having a great summer (or winter for my friends down south). I’m not sure where the time has gone this summer. It seems like I’ve been busy, but have little to show for it. I know my time has not been taken up by photography. I sort my image in my Lightroom catalog by date, and the catalog for July only has two dates in it. Same with August – and those two were from consecutive days of a non-photography trip where the camera barely left the bag. The purpose of the trip earlier this month was a family reunion. Us Beckers gather every year the first weekend in August.

This year, the get-together was at my sister’s house in Lyle, Washington. For those of you that don’t know where Lyle is, it is a small town in the Columbia River Gorge, on the Washington side of the river, ten miles or so east of Hood River, Oregon. My sister actually lives north of town another 10 miles or so in a house with a fantastic view of Mount Adams. However, I didn’t take any shots of Mount Adams when I was there, the air was quite hazy.

Tanya and I stayed right in the town of Lyle in an Airbnb house with a view of the Columbia River. The only photograph I planned to take that weekend was the image above. I knew by checking the Photographer Ephemeris that the crescent moon would be setting directly down the gorge from Lyle. In fact, I didn’t have to travel far to get the shot. The image above was taken from the deck of our rental.

So why is this post called “Rookie Mistakes?” Because I made a mess of my photo shoot. For those of you that have been to the Columbia River Gorge, you probably know the wind blows there a lot, and the night I shot this image was no exception. So, one would think that I, being somewhat of a professional photographer, would take precautions against camera shake. Well, I thought I did. I used my sturdiest tripod, I bumped up the ISO to 800 and used wide apertures to make for shorter shutter speeds. I shot some 30 images. All of them had camera shake to a certain extent. The one above, the last image I shot that night, was the best of the lot. I used Photoshop’s shake reduction filter, and that helped, but I could have done more. I should have used a weight on the tripod. I should have left the stabilizer on my lens, which I normally turn off when shooting from a tripod, turned on. Bad mistakes. I’m lucky I had even one halfway decent shot.

Mistake number two – the moon (and the planet above it in this image, Jupiter, I think) moves fast. My shutter speeds were between 2.5 and 30 seconds. When shooting stars at night, a 30-second exposure is typically not long enough to have star trails show when using a very wide-angle lens. However, I was not using a very wide-angle lens; I was using a telephoto lens. In everything I shot with a shutter speed over 2.5 seconds, the moon was horribly blurred due to the earth’s rotation. The image above is actually a composite, the moon and Jupiter are a 2.5 second exposure, the rest is a 10 second exposure.

All I can say is that when I downloaded these images to my computer, I was very disappointed. I let the excitement of the photo shoot overwhelm good technique. That’s why it is important to get out and practice your craft as much as possible. Keep working on your technique until it becomes second nature. I guess I’m not there yet. Here I encountered two different, unrelated phenomenon that, had I been thinking properly, should have made me use a fast shutter speed. Neither did. I failed and am lucky to have anything to show. But, I learned a lesson and, hopefully, will not make these mistakes again.


One More Look at the Palouse

Morning in the PalouseI’m working on a couple of other things right now, but am not ready to post about them yet. So I thought I’d give you one more look at the Palouse. In my previous post, I talked about spots in the Palouse that are not on the available photographer’s maps of the area. This is not to say the maps don’t provide for some good subject matter. All the images featured in today’s post were shot at spots shown on the maps. The spring season is about done in the Palouse, but in a few months, these green fields will turn golden; and photographers will again flock to the Palouse for its late summer, golden season. I hope you have enjoyed this series of posts about the Palouse. Please let me know if you have any comments or questions.

Barn and silos viewed from Huggins Road (the road in the featured images above)

Barn and silos viewed from Huggins Road (the road in the featured images above)

Steptoe is not the only place you can shoot images like this, which was shot along Huggins Road

Steptoe Butte is not the only place you can shoot images like this, which was shot along Huggins Road

The class Empire Theater in the town of Tekoa

It’s not all farm and field shots in the Palouse. Here’s the class Empire Theater in the town of Tekoa

Red Barn along Green Hollow Road north of Colfax

Red barn along Green Hollow Road north of Colfax

Abandoned house west of Oakesdale on Trestle Creek Road

Abandoned house west of Oakesdale on Trestle Creek Road

Grass near barn on Faught Road

Grass near barn on Faught Road

Same barn as above from further up Faught Road

Same barn as above from further up Faught Road

Old barn on Scholtz Road

Old barn on Scholtz Road

Old buildings along Fanning Road

Old buildings along Fanning Road


Unmapped Palouse

Lone TreeSteptoe Butte is by far the most popular destination in the Palouse. When I was there on May 30th for sunset, there was at least one photo workshop/tour going on as well as eight or so other independent photographers at the spot I stopped. There were likely more further up the road. The Palouse is a world-class photography destination, and June is one of the two prime times to be there (the other being August), so even though it was not yet June (albeit by only two days), I was not surprised to see so many tripods. Luckily, if you go and find the place crawling with photographers, there is a lot of room.

But there is so much more to the Palouse than Steptoe Butte. The Palouse is a big area. According to Wikipedia, “the Palouse region was defined as the fertile hills and prairies north of the Snake River, which separated it from Walla Walla County, and north of the Clearwater River, which separated it from the Camas Prairie, extending north along the Washington and Idaho border, south of Spokane, centered on the Palouse River.” Many great shots can be made by driving around looking for scenic barns, patterns on the fields, old houses, etc. But when you only have a day or two to explore, it is helpful to have an idea of where to go.

One option is to join a guided tour or workshop. There are many to choose from, though many also fill up fast. My photographer friend Jack Graham offers Palouse workshops every year, for example. Or you can even go with a custom, personalized workshop, like that offered by Greg Vaughn.

But, if you are more of a do-it-yourselfer, another option is to use a photographer’s map of the Palouse. There are two such maps available that I know of. The first one was created by Teri Lou Dantzler and is available for $25  (who also offers workshops). The other, is free and available from the Pullman Chamber of Commerce. Why consider the $25 map when a free one is available? Because, according to Teri Lou, the Pullman Chamber of Commerce stole her map. I have purchased a map from Teri Lou and also have the one from the Pullman Chamber, and I have to tell you, I think she has a good point. The listed spots are almost identical. Both maps show locations of red barns, other barns, lone trees, viewpoints, abandoned houses, granaries or silos, abandoned farm equipment, and windmills. I will say, Teri Lou’s map does a better job with the roads. There are three types of roads in the Palouse: paved, gravel, and dirt, and if it rains, you better forget about driving on the dirt roads.  Teri Lou’s map does, for the most part, a good job differentiating between the three road types while it is less clear on the Pullman Chamber map.

While these maps are helpful, there are a few problems with them. First, some of the mapped barns, other buildings, or trees are no longer there. Others are falling down. Second, the icons used to show photo locations are too large for the scale of the maps (this might be my geologist background raising its head here, but I did find this very distracting). Third, both maps only covers part of the Palouse. They both only go as far north as Rosalia, and neither goes into Idaho. And fourth, they missed a lot. All of the shots in today’s post are from places not on the maps! While the maps are helpful, they are certainly not the ultimate guide. I used them as more suggestions, but exploring on your own may be the best way to get unique shots.

The point I’d like to leave you with is that no guide or photographer’s map about the Palouse is complete. It is a large area, and there are many wonderful photographic opportunities there. One easily could spend a week or more exploring. I’ve made three trips there in the past several years and still have much to see. As I mentioned, all of the images in this post were not on the photographer’s map or (to my knowledge) in any Palouse guide that I have seen. For example, the featured image above of the lone tree was taken northeast of Colton – a barren area on the two maps. If you have the time, do some exploring of the back roads in the Palouse. You never know what you might find.

I found this abandoned house and truck on the Washington - Idaho state line east of Colton.

I found this abandoned house and truck on the Washington – Idaho state line east of Colton.

I found this old barn in the same general region, northeast of Colton.

I found this old barn in the same general region, northeast of Colton.

These red barns are near the small town of Johnson, Washington.

These red barns are near the small town of Johnson, Washington.

This lone tree is on Bradshaw Road north of the area shown on the two photographer's maps.

This lone tree is on Bradshaw Road north of the area shown on the two photographer’s maps.

This old red barn is east of Oakesdale. Though this general portion of the Palouse is well covered by the maps, somehow they missed this one.

This old red barn is east of Oakesdale. Though this general part of the Palouse is well covered by the maps, somehow they missed this one.

Colfax is near the center of the Palouse and makes a great place to stay and base your explorations. There are many mapped features near Colfax, but this old grain tower southwest of town is not one of them. The light wasn't too good when I found it, but now I know where it is, I can come back in the late afternoon or evening sometime.

Colfax is near the center of the Palouse and makes a great place to stay and base your explorations. There are many mapped features near Colfax, but this old grain tower southwest of town is not one of them. The light wasn’t too good when I found it, but now I know where it is, I can come back in the late afternoon or evening sometime.

You never know what you might find in your explorations, like this bus in a field about half way between Tekao and Farmington.

You never know what you might find in your explorations, like this bus in a field about half way between Tekao and Farmington.

Here's another shot without good light, but I bet it looks great at sunrise. This viewpoint is is Idaho, northeast of Farmington. Steptoe Butte is in the distance.

Here’s another shot without good light, but I bet it looks great at sunrise or sunset. This viewpoint is is Idaho, northeast of Farmington. Steptoe Butte is in the distance.

I found this tractor and flowers south of Farmington.

I found this tractor and flowers south of Farmington.

And don't forget to explore some of the small towns. This is a scene in Tekoa, Washington.

And don’t forget to explore some of the small towns. This is a scene in Tekoa, Washington.

 

 


Quick Shots – Steptoe Butte

Steptoe SunsetEarlier this week, Tanya and I spent two nights in the Palouse. I’ve posted about the Palouse before (see this post from last summer about the Palouse in its “brown phase”, and these two posts from three years ago – one about the Palouse in general, including Steptoe, and one concentrating on the church at Freeze, Idaho), so for now, I’ll just post a few images I took from Steptoe Butte. More from the trip later. Meanwhile, enjoy these images taken from Steptoe Butte last Monday evening.

Trucking

Passing hay truck on farm road below Steptoe Butte

 

Typical hills as seen from Steptoe

Typical hills as seen from Steptoe near sunset

Wildflowers on Steptoe Butte

Wildflowers on Steptoe Butte

Fields and Tree

Fields and hills west of Steptoe Butte

Farmhouse and barn below Steptoe Butte

Farmhouse and barn below Steptoe Butte

More typical hills and fields

More typical hills and fields


Palouse – Late Summer Edition

Lone TreeI’ve blogged about the Palouse before. That earlier blog featured shots in springtime. However, late summer is also a great time to visit the Palouse. The greens of spring give way to golden fields in August. After the wheat harvest, the fields have great textures left by the combines. The weather is usually good, blue skies and puffy white clouds.

I say usually, because that is not always the case. Tanya and I visited the Palouse last weekend. Luckily we left early Friday and had a grand afternoon finding barns and vistas.We drove to the town of St. John, then took back roads this way and that. We eventually ended up in the town of Oakesdale, with it beautiful old flour mill. Then more backroads, looking for the perfect vista for sunset (which, unfortunately, we did not find). The day started partly cloudy, but as it progress, the clouds got thicker and thicker. This did lead to some beautiful dark skies near sunset, but did not bode well for the next day.

We spent the night in Spokane, and on Saturday drove back down into the Palouse with my Dad and stepmom. The morning started of with a little rain, and it just got worse throughout the day. We had lunch in the town of Palouse, and I took a few street photos there. We also drove down Becker Road, where my Dad grew up, and he told us stories of what it was like 70 years ago.  I didn’t get many photos on Saturday, but it was fun hearing some of my Dad’s memories of the area.

The Palouse deserves several days’ worth of exploration, whether in spring or in late summer, and the short trip last weekend just whetted my photographic appetite for more. With luck, I will get back there soon.

Birds and barn, somewhere west of the town of Steptoe

Birds and barn, somewhere west of the town of Steptoe

Palouse River, north of the small "town" of Diamond

Palouse River, north of the small “town” of Diamond

Small cemetery along the Endicott - St. John Road

Small cemetery along the Endicott – St. John Road

We found this nice red barn west of St. John on Highway 23

We found this nice red barn west of St. John on Highway 23

Old Richfield gas station with historic flour mill in the background in Oakesdale

Old Richfield gas station with historic flour mill in the background in Oakesdale

Birght Field, Dark Sky

The dark eastern sky made for some dramatic scenes.

Shot from the same spot as the above image - a typical dirt road in the Palouse, shot on Friday and likely impassable on Saturday during the rain

Shot from the same spot as the above image – a typical dirt road in the Palouse, shot on Friday and likely impassable on Saturday during the rain.

However, even in the rain you can captures some good barn images - I shot this one on Saturday during some of the worst rain

However, even in the rain you can capture some good barn images – I shot this one on Saturday during some of the worst rain

Outside wall of an antique store in the town of Palouse

Outside wall of an antique store in the town of Palouse

Red barn door, just south of Oakesdale

Red barn door, just south of Oakesdale

Here's my Dad, Ernie Becker. Dad braved the rain while I took this shot. We were on the shoulder of Bald Butte, along Becker Road, north of the town of Colton.

Here’s my Dad, Ernie Becker. Dad braved the rain while I took this shot. We were on the shoulder of Bald Butte, along Becker Road, north of the town of Colton, less than a mile from where he lived as a boy and teenager.