The Palouse region of Washington State is famous for its verdant spring hills and red barns. Steptoe Butte is a must-visit destination for many travel and nature photographers. I have shot in the Palouse several times, and blogged about it several years ago (see here and here). But one of the highlights of the region I missed until earlier this week – Palouse Falls.
Palouse Falls perhaps gets a bit less traffic than Steptoe Butte and the rest of the Palouse because it is a bit out-of-the-way, more of an outlier to the Palouse region than being in it. It is an hour and 45 minute drive from the falls to Steptoe Butte, and just a bit less to the town of Colfax, where many photographers stay during their trips to the region. If you are staying in Colfax, do you really want to get up at 3:30 a.m. to drive to Palouse Falls for sunrise when you could sleep an hour later and still get sunrise shots at Steptoe Butte?
But Palouse Falls is worth a visit. Perhaps the best way to visit, at least for prime photography times, is to camp there. Palouse Falls State Park has 11 tent camping spots (no trailer hookups; trailers and RVs are sometimes allowed to park overnight in the parking lot during non-peak periods) that are within 100 meters of prime viewpoints for photography.
The Palouse River falls about 185 feet over the edge of a canyon of basalt. Unlike the verdant hills of the Palouse further east of the falls, the falls are in desert. But there is plenty of green in the canyon below the falls, making a wonderful contrast with the black basalt and brown hills (or in spring, brown and green hills). The canyon below the falls is scenic on its own accord and would be worth a visit even without the falls. The canyon curves to the south just downstream from the falls. The campground is perched on the western canyon rim, and it is easy to walk to viewpoints that either look eastward directly toward the falls, or southward down the canyon. These southerly looking viewpoints are north of the parking lot and provide the best view – encompassing the falls and the downstream canyon. Be warned though, they are right on the edge of vertical drop of at least 250 feet straight down to the canyon floor, beyond the fence on the canyon rim near the campground and parking lot, and are not for those who are faint of heart or afraid of heights. To get the falls and downstream canyon both in single composition will require a wide-angle lens of about 18 mm or less on a camera with a full-frame sensor. My 17-40mm zoom worked well, but if you want more sky in the frame, you may want an even wider angle (or stitch together more than one shot).
The falls face west-southwest and receive direct sunlight in late morning through most of the afternoon during the spring (reportedly in summer they may be in partial shadow into the early afternoon). In the evening, the shadow of the canyon wall climbs up the falls, and before sunset, they are completely in shade. Similarly, the falls are completed shaded at sunrise. And, once the sun is up, it shines through and lights up the mist created by the falling water, making early morning shots of the falls more difficult.
However, if the clouds to the south light up during either sunset or sunrise, excellent photo opportunities await. You may want to use a split-neutral density filter to help control the contrast between the sky and the dark canyon below. Similarly, you may consider using HDR.
The falls are also a great location for Milky Way nightscape shots like I’ve discuss recently, and in fact that was the prime reason for my recent visit. In spring, the best viewpoint is again north of the parking lot, on the canyon rim (just be extra careful in the dark, it’s a long fall down). The falls will be completely dark, so light painting is recommended. When I was there, for the image above, I worked with a photo partner. One of us tripped the shutters on the cameras while the other used a spotlight to light paint the falls and canyon from the fenced viewpoint area near the parking lot.
It is possible to hike to the top of or bottom of the falls, though the trails are not maintained by the park. These unofficial trails are steep, so if you do take them, be extra careful. The one in from the south steeply drops off the canyon rim and circles midway along the canyon wall to the the top of the falls. At one point, almost directly below the main viewpoint by the parking lot, it is possible to get down to the river in the bottom of the canyon by dropping down a steep scree slope. The trail from the north, drops into the upper canyon from the railroad tracks that run west of the park. This is reportedly the easier way in, though you must hop a fence along the tracks to reach the trail and the descent is still steep. You should also be careful along the tracks because it is an active rail line. If you do take the northern route into the canyon, you will pass by a nice stretch of white water above the falls. There is certainly no need to take these trails into the canyon to get good photographs, the views from the top are spectacular (and indeed, during my recent trip, we did not hike into the canyon). Reportedly the trail continues several miles up canyon to Upper Palouse Falls, a fall of less than 20 feet, and during the spring, when the flow in the river is greatest and the area has plenty of blooming wildflowers, this may be a good day hike option.
Marmots are active around the main falls viewpoints, and with a bit of patience, you can get rather close to take portraits of these groundhog relatives. The park is also home to many types of birds. When there recently, I saw several varieties I had not seen before.
Overall, Palouse Falls is a great place for photography. It is worth a quick stop on your way to or from the Palouse; or better yet, spend the night there to experience the falls at sunrise and sunset. You won’t be disappointed.
Every year I seek to capture a few snowy scenes for possible calendar use. At Robinson Noble, where I have my day job, we produce a calendar every year for clients, and I supply all the images. There seems to be some unwritten law that requires the December and January images to have snow in them (sorry that my northern hemisphere bias is showing here!). The problem is that I’m not that much of a winter person, so I don’t get out much in the cold season. Plus, the easiest place for me to get snow images is Mount Rainier National Park, which is only 70 miles from my home. However, the calendar needs variety, so the January and December images can’t be taken in Mount Rainier National Park every year. Now add in that this winter has been very warm in the Pacific Northwest and there is not much snow.
So with all this in mind, I took last Monday off work to go and find some snow. Tanya, Nahla and I drove east into the mountains. At Snoqualmie Pass, it was very dark with mixed rain and snow falling. We kept driving. Coming down from the pass, the weather improved, as it usually does, with sun and mixed clouds. While this area is typically snow-covered in January, it was not this year. We kept driving. We left the interstate and headed toward Blewett Pass and we finally found snow and sun together. We stopped at the top of Blewett Pass and got out the snowshoes. While snowy, the snow wasn’t deep, perhaps about a foot at the parking lot.
We hiked off the northern end of the lot, west along a forest service road. Most of the time we were in the forest, but the views did open up at a few spots. It was an easy snowshoe hike and a nice day to be out. I captured a few shots that might be worthy of being on the calendar next year (let me know if you agree). Mission accomplished.
One of my favorite places to shoot in Tacoma is the Museum of Glass. With its unique architecture, reflecting ponds, and setting on the Thea Foss Waterway next to the historic Albers Mills building, it provides plenty of fun compositions. Though it can be photographed any time of day, I especially like photographing there at night. I really like the varying metal textures of the hot-room cone and “wing” over the elevators on the upper plaza, and how they reflect light at night. I also quite like the contrast between the brick of Albers Mill and the metal of the Glass Museum’s hot-room cone. There is something magic about shooting there in the dark with long exposures; you are never quite sure what you will end up with in your shot. What the camera sees is always different from what the naked eye sees. With practice, I’ve learned to anticipate what my long-exposure images of the Glass Museum will look like, but I always get a couple of surprises as well.
Last Tuesday, about five of us from the Tacoma Mountaineers went down there to shoot. We stayed about two hours and had a good time playing around in the dark. There were very few other people round to potentially mess up compositions; but doing night photography, other people don’t matter too much. With long exposures, they can walk right through your composition and never be seen. It’s the magic of night.
There are quite a few light sources around the area, both from the museum itself and from neighboring properties, so the exposures don’t have to be too long. Most my exposures were one to three minutes using ISO 100 with f-stops of f/8 – f/16. What makes things interesting from a photographic perspective is that the lights have many different color temperatures. There is a general orange glow to the area from sodium-vapor lights that are common in the city, but there is also green, yellow, red, blue and even purple light in the area. There seems to be no “correct” white balance due to all these various light sources, so it is fun processing in Lightroom and playing with the white balance sliders to find pleasing sets of colors. Typically I like one color setting for the buildings, typically something warm, and a different one for the sky. On the photos shown here, I used the Lightroom paintbrush to tone down and darken the orange tone of the sky that results from the city street lights.
Enjoy these images of night at the Glass Museum, and as always, feel free to leave a comment.
Earlier this week Nahla, Tanya and I ventured out on Veteran’s Day in search of some the last fall colors of the season. Two weeks earlier, my friend and fellow photographer Bob Miller visited me in Tacoma. He asked for suggestions of photographic side roads he could visit on his drive home to Arizona. I suggested the Yakima Canyon Road, also known as State Route 821. Bob posted some great photos from the drive on Facebook.
I was particularly taken with one of his shots, taken from the suspension bridge over the Yakima River leading to the trail up Umtanum Creek. A year and a half ago, Tanya, Carson and I hiked this trail, and one of my favorite photos of Tanya (and Carson) was taken on this bridge. Because of Bob’s shot, I decided we should try the same road. Bob definitely had better color than we did, but it was worth the drive anyway. The day was cold and windy, but sunny. I came away with some good shots, and may post more of them later. But today, I want to feature the one I took from the bridge, just to show Bob what a difference two weeks makes. By the way, though it looks fairly warm in this photo, it was near freezing with the wind blowing about 20 mph. Brr!
While doing my series of posts about the Southwest, I did manage to get out one Saturday in October to hunt for autumn colors here in Washington State. As I’ve mentioned before, fall colors are not the best in the Evergreen State, but they can be found if you know where to look. Timing is also important, as they don’t last long and snow can come to the higher elevations unexpectedly anytime in October. That was the case two years ago when a few days after taking fall color shots at Mount Baker, a snowstorm hit and the area was snow-covered until spring.
This year, we headed over to Leavenworth, Washington a couple of weekends ago. I was accompanied by Tanya, her mother Maxine, and Nahla. Leavenworth was crowded, as it was the last day of their annual Octoberfest. It took us about 20 minutes to go the last 2 miles into town, and another 10 minutes to find a parking spot. But I was there for the color, not the beer and brats (though I did have beer and brats while there, how could I not?). After lunch, I left Tanya and Maxine in town and Nahla and I headed up Icicle Creek, just west of town, into the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The color wasn’t too bad. I stopped at four or five places and got a few good shots.
After Icicle Creek, I picked up the girls and we drove up Highway 2 along the Wenatchee River as it winds through Tumwater Canyon. The color, I thought, was much better here, and I wished I had more time. However, it was already late and the sun set early this time of year. I shot until it got dark, and was quite happy with the results.The shot above is one of my favorites from the trip, shot at the very end of the day. It was shot on a tripod at ISO 200 and f11 for 30 seconds with a circular polarizer (actually it is two merged shots, one with the polarizer set for the water and the other with it set for the foliage).
It’s probably too late now to catch much color there, but come next October, you may want to try Tumwater Canyon and Icicle Creek. Just remember, if you go during Octoberfest, you may need a little extra time to get through Leavenworth.