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Posts tagged “Washington

Principles of Photographic Improvisation – Say Yes

I’m currently reading The Soul of the Camera, the Photographer’s Place in Picture-Making by David duChemin. This book is full of nuggets of photographic wisdom, and I can highly recommend it to any photographer who wants to improve their game. You will not find much in the way of technical details about how to shoot great images. Instead, duChemin discusses the photographer’s mind and it relationship to picture-making.

There are easily dozens of blog post topics I could cover based on this book, but for now I’ll discuss his four “rules” or “principles” of photographic improvisation; the first of which is to agree or to say “yes” and not “no.” That is, say yes to the scene in front of you even if it was not what you expected or intended. You could say this is to go with the flow (which duChemin also talks about earlier in the book). Say yes to photographing what the world gives you rather than turning your back on the scene and giving up because it isn’t what you wanted. Accept what’s there and make the most of it.

Not much of the moon could be seen behind Rainier earlier this month due to clouds

A couple weeks ago, I went over to Fox Island Bridge to take a photo of Mount Rainier with the full moon rising behind it right before sunset. This situation only happens on two days each year: the day before the full moon in both June and August. Last August I tried for the same shot with only limited success. I was disappointed from that shoot, and that probably set me up to ignore the principle of saying yes. The weather was not ideal, and the view of the moon was not very good. I snapped a few shots, including the shown here, and packed up and went home disappointed. I failed to look for what else nature might be offering up. It was a few days later that I read about duChemin’s first principle.

I should have known better even before reading the book. I had a similar idea earlier this year. Back in February, I wanted to photograph the full moon setting behind the Olympic Mountains at sunrise. On the appointed day, I got up early and drove across town to Brown’s Point in Northeast Tacoma. When I got there, the Olympics, let alone the moon, were obscured by clouds. I climbed back in the car and headed toward home, thinking that perhaps I still might get some decent sunrise shots from the Cliff House parking lot. Sure enough, Mount Rainier was visible and the rising sun painted it and the low hanging clouds, as shown on the featured shot above and the other images below. I didn’t get what I wanted, but I said yes to what was given, which wasn’t bad at all.


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

 


Rivers meet Sea

Now with a stay-at-home order effective for Washington State, I probably won’t be doing much photography away from home for a while. As I mentioned in my last post, Tanya, I and the dog took a hike last weekend. The hike was on the east side of the Olympic Peninsula, which has several rivers running off of the mountains and into Hood Canal. For those of you who don’t know Washington State geography, Hood Canal is a long thin extension of Puget Sound, essentially a fjord. Our trip home from the trailhead took us only the shore of Hood Canal for many miles, thus giving me the opportunity to stop and photograph were river meets sea with my drone.

I made two drone flights, one over the mouth of the Duckabush River and one over the mouth of the Hamma Hamma River (shot above is from the Hamma Hamma). I’m still learning how best to operate the drone and how to best shoot still photography and video with it (still using auto mode, which never do with my Canon 6D and almost never even do with my cellphone). But I think I got some interesting shots.

I was intrigued by the color changes in the water where distributary channels from the rivers had cut into the delta sediments (my geologist side is showing here, distributaries are the opposite of tributaries; they are streams that branch off and away from the main river channel; they typically form where a river discharges into a larger body of water). I mostly shot from an altitude of about 250 to 350 feet. In hindsight, I should have investigated shooting lower. For example, some oblong shapes I though were driftwood, when zooming in on my images, appear to be seals or sea lions.

I would also like to go back to these spots and shoot again later in the year. Most of the vegetation on the deltas had not yet greened up for spring. It will be interesting to compare shots taken in summer with these taken in mid-March. But that will obviously have to wait.

Hope you enjoy the images. Stay safe and healthy out there!

Small channels on the Duckabush delta

Small island on the Duckabush delta, note the seals congregating on the lower end

Curving distributary channel of the Duckabush, small white streaks on the upper mid-left are birds landing in the water

Colors on the Hamma Hamma delta

Channels of the Hamma Hamma

More from the Hamma Hamma delta


Murhut Falls

With a shelter-in-place order coming sooner rather than later, over the weekend, Tanya and I decided to get Benson out for his first hike before it was too late. Still a puppy, Benson sorely needs more and varied experiences, such as hiking. We decided a a short, easy hike to a Murhut Falls.

This hike is only 1.6 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 250 feet. Being in the Olympic National Forest, it is open for dogs as well (unlike in most national parks). The weather was great, and we were not the only ones with the idea to get outside while possible. We saw many families with small kids, as well as many other dogs on the trail. Luckily, the trail is fairly wide, and it was easy to step off to the side to maintain social distancing in this time of the Covid-19. In fact, out on the trail, you would have been hard press to know there was a pandemic going on (not so earlier in the morning when we went grocery shopping for Tanya’s mom so she could stay sheltered at home – the mood in the store was very somber, with bare shelves in several places, and several shoppers wearing masks and gloves).

The waterfall itself is very photogenic, with two drops falling a total of 153 feet. The falls face north, such that even though we were there at mid-day, the entire falls and surrounding forest were in the shade, perfect for waterfall photography. If you make this hike, you will definitely want to take a wide-angle lens. From the viewpoint, you need at least a 24mm lens to get the whole falls in. With a bit of scrambling, you can also get to the bottom of the falls, where again a wide-angle lens is needed.

So how did Benson do on his first hike? It seems he totally forgot what heel meant. He’s pretty good at it when walking around the neighborhood, but on the trail, he was choking himself most of the time trying to be the one to lead his “pack.” I do hope we can get him trained to heel better soon, at 6 months old he weighs in at almost 95 pounds! He’s getting difficult to hold back when he decides that heeling doesn’t mean anything!

The featured shot above is a two-shot vertical panorama from the viewpoint at the end of the trail. The shots below were taken near the base of the falls (except for the three of us at the bench at the viewpoint).


Photography in the Land of Covid-19

As you may know, the Seattle area is a hot spot for Covid-19 in the United States, though it is spreading fast elsewhere as well. Two days ago, our State’s Governor announced a moratorium on gatherings of more than 250 people the three counties forming the Seattle metropolitan area. Major League Baseball is postponing the start of the season – it’s just as well, the Mariners had already announced they were moving the home opener (which I attend every year) out of town. I got a call from the theater about a cancelled show Tanya and I have tickets to later this month.

On Tuesday, Tanya and I went up to Seattle to visit our daughter, Janelle, and her partner, Matt. We ate at a restaurant we have been to several times before. It has always been packed, and reservations are usually necessary, even on Tuesday nights. We walked in at 7 pm and besides two people at  the bar, we were the only customers in the place. That’s one of the “nice” things about this virus outbreak, it’s easy to find a table at a restaurant, at least until the restaurant’s close due to lack of business. Another bonus was the lack of traffic on the freeway.

In addition to the moratorium on crowds, the health department recommends keeping a separation of at least 4 to 6 feet from other people. Public life around here is pretty much at a standstill.

What is one to do? How about going out and shooting some photography? Luckily, photography is one activity that is easy to do while keeping that separation from other people. Besides, if you like to shoot the type of photography I do, crowds are a pain and something to avoid. So if Covid-19 has got you down, take your camera out and do some photography!

That’s exactly what I did a few days ago when I headed over to Dune Park.The official name for the park is Dune Peninsula at Point Defiance Park. I guess we could call it DPPDP, but it is easier to call it Dune Park.

It is the newest park in Tacoma, opening last July. As its official name suggests, the park is located on a small peninsula. The peninsula is not a natural feature, but instead consists of a pile of slag from the old Asarco smelter that formerly existed near the park location. Apparently, they dumped the slag in Puget Sound to create a boat basin for the Tacoma Yacht Club, which also occupies a portion of the peninsula – the park on the outside of the peninsula facing Puget Sound and the yacht club on the inside, facing the boat basin. The park is a remediated portion of the Asarco superfund site. By the way, the park is named after Frank Herbert’s novel Dune; pretty cool in my opinion. Herbert was a Tacoma native. The shoreline trail through the park is named the Frank Herbert Trail.

I’ve made several trips to Dune Park over the past several months to shoot the view of Mount Rainer.The view of Rainier from the park is magnificent, perhaps the best in the City of Tacoma. With a telephoto lens, the Mountain towers over the city and Commencement Bay. But it also looks great with a wider view incorporating the curving shoreline. The view is good for sunset year round and for sunrise portions of the year – at least when the Mountain is out. The blue hour can also provide excellent images.

My trip to the park Monday evening was my third trip trying to capture a decent sunset. The alpenglow on the mountain has been good two of the three times I’ve gone, but I’ve yet to get some good sunset clouds. Monday there was a little cloud cap on the top of the mountain, but it was so small it is almost not visible in the images. Still better than nothing and no need to get within 6 feet of anyone else! The featured shot above is from Monday, as is the wider-angle shot below. The final shot is from December, in the blue hour after sunset.

The park is less than 2 miles from my house, so I’ll keep trying for the great sunset. In the meantime, enjoy these shots, wash your hands frequently, and stay healthy!

 


Drone 101

It’s been way too long since I posted. The winter has been busy with editing my 2019 photos as well as lots of other chores. But with some nice weather this President’s Day holiday, I was able to get out for the first flight of my new drone (other than just playing around in the yard). The drone is a Mavic Mini, which Tanya gave me for Christmas. It has a 12 megapixel camera, that only shoots jpg, but it seems to do a decent job based on the photos I took today.

I didn’t head very far for this flight. I went to Mason Gulch, about 5 blocks or so from my house. Mason Gulch is a steep ravine cut into the hillside populated with lots of deciduous trees, which are still barren of leaves. It’s a little bit of wilderness here in Tacoma.

So here are a few sample shots. What do you think?


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.


Dosewallips, a Photography Guide

I finally had a chance to go out and do some photography recently. Together with my good friend and talented photographer, Mark Cole, I spent a Saturday hiking and shooting along the Dosewallips River in Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park. The weather was nearly perfect for photography in a forest – bright overcast without too many sun breaks.

The trail along the Dosewallips River is actually an old road. The road was built to the Dosewallips Campground and Ranger Station in Olympic National Park, but a washout 5.5 miles from the campground permanently closed the road to vehicles. More recently a new washout closed another mile of road, so now the hike to the campground is about 6.5 miles one way. For most of the route along the road, the trail is wide, smooth, and gentle, making it ideal for looking round for images while walking.

The first mile to the older washout is almost completely flat and straight, running by large evergreens and moss-covered maple trees. You can hear the river nearby, but it is not visible. The first view of the river is at the washout. Here  hikers can scamper along the river edge to get back to the road if the water is low enough (as it was last weekend) or you can take the  short up and down trail around the washout. Through the next section of trail, the river is nearer, and shots of the incredibly blue (and white) water can be captured in places through the trees.

At about 2.6 miles from the trailhead, another old road heads cuts off toward the river. A short distance down this road is a concrete bridge across the river, where you can capture a view of the river up the valley. I remember driving into this bridge and photographing there a number of years ago before the washouts when the road was still open to cars. It had to be prior to 2005, because I was still using a film camera at the time.

Trail in the Elkhorn Campground

After photographing from the bridge, we walked back to the main trail/road. A short distance further brought us to the old US Forest Service Elkhorn  Campground. We walked in and around the old campground loop, shooting various forest scenes. The forest is more open in the old campgrounds (both Elkhorn and the Dosewallips campgrounds), providing better opportunities for forest photography than elsewhere where the forest is more dense. The campground makes a good place for lunch, as there are abundant picnic tables about.

Past the Elkhorn campground the road winds its way uphill and away from the river. Eventually, the road enters an area burned by the 2009 Constance Fire. Here there are views of the forested ridges beyond the Dosewallips canyon among blacken trees. At about 4.9 miles from the trailhead, the road crosses into Olympic National Park, marked  by an open orange gate. From the Elkhorn campground to the park boundary, being away from the river, we found few subject to photograph save wildflowers.

A short distance past the park entrance, a bridge crosses the roaring and tumbling Constance Creek. Unfortunately, downed logs from the fire have chocked the creek making it less appealing photographically. Just past the creek is the very steep side trail to climbs up to Constance Lake. We left that for another day and continued up the road.

Soon we re-entered unburnt forest and could hear the roar of Dosewallips Falls. I was looking forward to seeing Dosewallips Falls. Before our hike, I checked it out on the Northwest Waterfall Survey, but there was very little information and no photographs, which is unusual for large waterfall near a road (or in this case, former road). The falls didn’t disappoint. The river drops over a steep cascade of car (and bigger) sized boulders, with a total drop of more than 100 feet. There was one viewpoint through the trees as you approach the falls (where you can capture about 2/3s of the drop), before the trail/road climbs the canyon wall along the side of the falls, leading to great views of the cascade at the top.

After wandering away from the river again, the trail/road finally reaches the Dosewallips Campground at about 6.5 miles from the trailhead. The campground is a broad, flat, grassy area under spreading moss-covered maple trees and occasional cedar and other evergreens. The riverbank is adjacent to the campground, and the rushing waters of the Dosewallips take on a wonderful cerulean tint under the overhanging trees. When photographing the river, be sure to use a polarizer to remove glare and make the blue colored water pop.

The ranger station is in a state of disrepair, with the roof and wooden deck damaged by a falling tree. A sign on the door states that “everything of value has been stolen already” and warns people not to break in because the building is mice infested and intruders risk getting hantavirus. In addition to the ranger station, I found some of the old, moss-covered and broken picnic tables in the campground made interesting photogrpahic subjects.

I easily could have spent all day photographing in the campground, but after about an hour, we decided to head on back as it was already late afternoon. The trip deserved more time, and perhaps I’ll go back someday to backpack in to the old campgrounds for a weekend.

Hike details: round trip length, 13 miles; elevation gain, 1,200 feet; parking at end of road requires a Northwest Forest Pass

Dosewallips River at the old washout, 1 mile from trailhead

Mossy river rocks a short distance upstream from the washout

Top of Dosewallips Falls

Boulder at the top of the falls

Scene in the Dosewallips Campground

The abandoned and damaged ranger station

Mark photographing the river

Rock in the river at the campground

Close up on the base of a cedar tree

Dosewallips River adjacent to the campground

Maple trees by the river


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!

 


Last Light

December has been a busy month for me with personal obligations and the holidays. I haven’t been able to do much photography, and if I want to do a blog post this month, today is it. So, I’ll leave 2018 with a shot I took early in the year which I’ve titled “Last Light Tacoma“. I posted a similar shot earlier this year, but this one I’ve worked on quite a bit, and it earns a spot of one of my favorites of the year.

Unfortunately, the place I shot this image is no longer accessible. I took this shot from the outside stairwell on the southeast corner of the Tacoma Convention Center. The stairwell was removed last spring during the still on-going construction of a building next door to the convention center, and it is unclear whether it will be replaced. This illustrates one of my personal rules for photography (which I admit I don’t always follow and often regret it), that is: when you see a shot, take it, because you don’t know if you will ever be able to return and get the shot again.

Photographically, 2018 was a good year for me, and I hope 2019 will be even better. Personally, other than my Dad dying, it was pretty good as well. I hope 2019 brings you happiness, love, and good light. If you find yourself in the Seattle/Tacoma area in 2019, be sure to stop and say hi.


November Weekend on the Olympic Coast

Every year I supply photographs for the promotional calendar at my day job (Robinson Noble). I try to come up with photos that match the month. November is a tough month. What kind of scene says “November”? Not only that, over the years, November is a slow photography month for me. It is usually cold and wet, not my favorite conditions for going out on a photo shoot. But, my stock of November shots (at least those worthy of being on a calendar) is getting very low. So several weeks ago, I decided I need to do a photo weekend. I decided to go to the Olympic coast, and so I reserved a 3-bedroom cottage on the beach at Pacific Beach (I needed 3 bedrooms because Tanya’s mom is staying with us for a few weeks and Tanya wanted to also invite her brother and his wife – they also brought their dog, and we brought Nahla).

I was all set for cold, rainy weather – there aren’t rain forests on the western side of the Olympic Peninsula for no reason. Yet, as our luck would have it, it was beautifully sunny all weekend. That doesn’t happen in November along the Washington coast very often. Of course, being a nature photographer, I have to complain about the weather – it’s never perfect, right? The sun made photography in the rain forest difficult because of high contrast, and the lack of clouds didn’t help the sunsets. But I think I did okay anyway, you be the judge. Are any of these photos suitable for a November slot on a calendar?

This is the Lake Quinault Lodge. This was taken in early morning, and though the whole scene was in shade, the sky was quite bright; therefore I controlled that by using HDR on this shot. The featured shot above is of Falls Creek, located just east of the lodge.

Bunch Creek Waterfall, Olympic National Park. By shooting early in the morning, this waterfall was in the shade, so no contrast problems.

Nice layers of color with this stand of trees across the Quinault River – shot in the morning before the sun had reached river level.

Here’s the Quinault River in Olympic National Park (right before the bridge, which you can see under the small patch of fog), just as the sun was starting to reach down to river level. This photo took some extra processing in Lightroom to control the contrast. The sky was very bright and the shadows dark, but with a few tweaks, it came out well I think.

The sun had yet to reach the Bunch Fields, letting me photograph this Olympic National Park scene in complete shadow.

While the shots above were taken in early morning, this was taken in mid-day – no way to keep direct sunlight out. HDR to the rescue! This is along the Maple Grove Nature Trail in Olympic National Park.

Of course, the Olympic coast features beaches as well as rain forests. Here is sunset at the appropriately named Joe Creek in Pacific Beach State Park

And back in Olympic National Park, here is Ruby Beach right before sunset.

I had fun photographing the sun shining through the waves at Ruby Beach.

Without good clouds in the sky to light up the sunset, I tried for this view of the setting sun through a small arch to give some character to the shot.


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.


Cascade Pass

Road access to North Cascades National Park is extremely limited. The North Cascades Highway doesn’t actually travel through the park; rather it travels through the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. The road south from Canada to Hozomeen also only enters Ross Lake National Recreation Area; besides it is currently closed. There is a road from Stehekin that extends a couple of miles into the park, but of course, Stehekin has no road access itself. That leaves the Cascade River Road, which ends at the Cascade Pass trailhead. In my opinion, the view from the end of the road is amazing; the view from Cascade Pass is better (in their description of the trail to Cascade Pass, the Washington Trails Association says “perhaps no other trail in the state delivers as much reward for the effort”). But if you want to go this season, you better hurry. The Park Service announced yesterday the road will close five miles from the trailhead starting tomorrow for a minimum of two weeks. Following that, there is no telling when it might close due to snow.

I had the opportunity to hike to Cascade Pass last week when in the area for work. My business done at noon, I drove up the Cascade River Road and into the park. The trail is 3.6 miles one way and climbs about 1,700 feet. It starts out of the parking lot with 31 switchbacks, climbing through forest with occasional “peek-a-boo” views of the surrounding mountains. But with less than a mile to go, past the last switchback, the trail levels out and comes out of the trees for impressive views of glaciers, fields, mountains, and valleys. Wildlife sightings are common – a fellow hiker reported a bear near the trailhead, though I did not see it.

For continued views, the trail extends from the pass up Sahale Arm.  For the atheltic hiker, the trail east down out of the pass continues about 30 miles, all the way to the aforementioned town of Stehekin.  And for the truly adventurous, the Ptarmigan Traverse (a high backcountry route) climbs over the mountains south of the pass (some of my photo buddies have done this route and brought back amazing pictures). For me, at least on this day, I chose to travel up the Sahale Arm trail mile or so before turning around to get back to the car before sunset.

The fall colors were amazing, even if slightly past their peak on my hike, as I think you can attest by the accompanying photos. The featured shot above is a 3-shot vertical panorama looking back at Cascade Pass from the Sahale Arm trail. Captions explain the other photos (below).

This is the view looking eastward down from Cascade Pass. The valley eventually reaches Lake Chelan, 30 miles away.

Fading afternoon light on one of the peaks above Cascade Pass.

A view from the pass down to the end of the Cascade River Road.

 


A Visit to the Amazon Spheres

Last January, a new Seattle landmark opened – the Amazon spheres. Located in downtown Seattle on the Amazon campus, the spheres are three spherical conservatories created to give Amazon employees a bit of nature in which to work and relax. The spheres contain over 40,000 plants from cloud forests throughout the world. The spheres are three to four stories tall and formed by more than 2,600 panes of glass.

Last week, Tanya and I had the opportunity to visit the inside of the spheres as part of Amazon’s Take Your Parents to Work Day – our daughter Janelle works for Amazon. At the time, I only had my smart phone with me and all the images shown here from inside the spheres were captured with my phone. As it turned out, the following day, Tanya and I visited downtown Seattle again. This time I took my regular camera, and while Tanya did some shopping, I visited the spheres for some outside shots.

The spheres are a popular attraction, but if you want to visit the inside, you will need to do a little planning ahead. Visits are restricted to Amazon employees and their guests on Mondays through Fridays. The spheres are only open to the general public on the first and third Saturdays every month from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Further, reservations are required. Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance at this website. Times available for the next opening on October 6th are already about half full; so if you want to visit, be sure to make your reservation well in advance.

The sphere website states that photography inside the domes is for personal use only and that flash and tripod use is prohibited. However, I asked one of the Amazon security personnel yesterday about tripods, and she said they are okay. I guess it pays to ask.


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).


Quick Shot – Supermoon

If you read my last post, you know I was not optimistic about shooting the supermoon. As it turned out, though not 100%, I felt well enough to go out. And the weather actually did cooperate, sort of anyway. As you can see, I did get a shot of the supermoon over Seattle. While I am pleased with this image, it is not exactly the one I wanted. From my vantage point in Manchester, on the west side of Puget Sound from Seattle, the moon rose right next to the Space Needle. That is the shot I had hoped for. But there were clouds on the horizon and the moon was not visible until about half an hour after moon rise. In fact, I captured this shot 31 minutes after the moon rose. And, I do have to admit, the clouds did present some nice color to the shot.

Anyway, I thought you might like to see what I came up with. After shooting the moon this evening, I’m now thinking of trying for a lunar eclipse shot in the morning. Is it moon madness?