Some Shots From My Washington/Palouse Photography Trip

Hey everyone. I just got back from co-teaching a workshop with Bill Fortney (and his gang at His Light Workshops), and I thought I’d share some photos today. We had a great workshop as usual. Everyone was really into shooting and learning how to post-process. I always feel very fortunate after trips like this for several reasons. Not only did I get to experience some beautiful scenery over the last week, but I got to meet great people along the way. People that I know I’ll keep in touch with for many years to come. And of course I’m always happy that my body gets to experience just what it’s like to get 4-hours of sleep a night and wake up at 3:30am nearly every morning (insert sarcastic tone) ;-)

Starting Out In The Palouse Region Of Washington.
We went to several areas in Washington (including Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Park), but I figured I’d dedicate a post to the Palouse area specifically.

The Palouse region in Washington is a fertile wheat growing area (and other crops) that’s mostly made up of rolling hills. It almost looks like a sea of green waves, and it’s a very different landscape from just about any place else in the country. It’s become a pretty popular spot for photographers to photograph the colorful hills as the sun hits them from various directions causing lighting patterns with exaggerated contours and shadows, that are different just about every time you look at it. While it does have some official state parks (if you go, make sure you get a park pass too!), you could simply drive around the area and pull off to the side of the road, and make some amazing photos.

Here’s a few from one of the most popular spots called Steptoe Butte. It’s a large hill in the middle of all of this and gives you a 360 degree view of the entire area around you.

(make sure you click to see them larger)

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What About Clouds?
I love clouds. To me, clouds are such an essential part of landscape photography. But I seem to have a curse attached to me when I’m in the Palouse area, and clouds stay away :) Both on my previous trip and this past trip. For the first two days we didn’t see one cloud in the sky (okay, maybe one small one). But on our last morning, me and my buddy Jim got up to shoot because partly cloudy skies were forecasted. They pre-dawn sky was actually brilliant! Unfortunately, we chose a bad location by going back to Steptoe. You’re so far away (and up so high) that when you try to include the sky in your photos, the fields of green look all washed out because they’re so far away. Plus, because of where the clouds were, it meant we’d be shooting directly into the sun. A great formula for flat washed out photos. In retrospect, I’d have looked for something lower and closer so that we could include the hills and sky with neither looking all washed out.

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Lessons Learned From Last Time I Was There
It always seems to be windy as hell up on top of Steptoe. I had been there a few years ago and had very few sharp photos from the trip. Plus, I learned that Steptoe is a LONG lens location. It doesn’t lend itself to wide angle lenses since most of the great shots show off the hills and patterns that are far away. I learned my lesson. This time I came prepared with a sturdy tripod (my Really Right Stuff TVC-33) and a big freakin’ lens (I borrowed the 200-400mm). I did try using a 28-300 at one point but that lens doesn’t have a tripod mount on it so it hangs pretty far off balance on the tripod, and the wind wreaked havoc on it.

Getting Out Around the Palouse
The best part about photographing around the Palouse area is that the entire area is a photo opportunity. In the right light, you could literally pull off to the side of the road from just about anywhere and get great photos. One of the things we looked for was getting up high. See, if you get down too low then you can’t see any of the rolling hills and how the light and shadows play off the contours. At the same time, you didn’t want to get up too high because then it was a scene just like Steptoe (above) and you’re far away. So, something in between was pretty nice to get a different perspective. Plus, you could put some of your wider lenses on and work a few different compositions than what you would normally get on top of the higher hills. There were even some nice backlit wildflowers just off the side of the road that were nice to shoot, as the sun got a little brighter.

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Photographing Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls is another popular spot out there. It’s about a 90 minute drive from Colfax (where most people base themselves in the Palouse) and a great place to visit. There’s a viewing platform as soon as you pull into the parking lot that a lot of people stop at. But it just shows the falls and barely anything else. But if you hike up the left side, it’s about a 10 minute walk to a better spot for photos because you can see the entire canyon that the falls empty into. There’s no railing there like there is at the visitors parking lot though. So there’s basically nothing keeping you from plunging hundreds of feet down on to the rocks below.

(click to see it larger)
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Here’s a quick iPhone video I took showing what it looks like. At one point (as I pan to the right) you can see people in the top right corner at the “official” overlook spot near the parking lot and fence.

What About the Barns?
The Palouse area is full of old barns, both currently in use and ones that have been abandoned. With limited time, we didn’t get to many barns so I don’t have many photos of them. I did get a couple of barn photos that I really like from my last trip there, so I’ve added it below just so you can get an idea of what kinds of barns you see around just about every turn.

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A Great Trip Overall
Overall it was an awesome trip. For the most part we had good sunny weather when we needed it and cloudy skies for waterfall locations when we needed. Of course, there were a couple of times when the skies didn’t cooperate and we found ourselves shooting a beautiful waterfall in harsh sunny light, but luckily we were able to get back to that location and shoot it under better conditions.

I’ve got another post ready with some more photos from the rest of the trip, but I wanted to dedicate a post to each area we went to (Palouse, Mt. Rainier, Olympic N.P.), since I think they were all so different. And of course a huge thanks to everyone who was at the workshop. I’m really fortunate to have gotten to spend a week with some great people that I hope I’ll get to see again.

Thanks for stopping by. Have a good one!

  • Dennis Zito

    Wow, Matt! Awesome place and awesome photos!!! Thanks for giving us the update and info on the shots. Those are always helpful for me. How often do you & Bill have these photo workshops? I really need to get out with you guys and pick your brains! :-)

    Thanks again for the photos and info!

    Dennis

  • Michael Matthews

    Magnificent photos, Matt. I was going to congratulate you on finding such a great nontraditional Palouse view — when I read further to find you consider the pre-sunrise shot a failure. Must be my monitor. Gotta upgrade.

  • http://www.domestiphobia.net/ Katie @ Domestiphobia

    Stunning! What kind of lens did you use on the butte photos? I read your post on the 16-35mm and am wondering if that was it…? Absolutely gorgeous, either way. :)

    • http://www.domestiphobia.net/ Katie @ Domestiphobia

      Oops, never mind – read a little closer and found my answer! Should’ve known it was a tele but hard to tell without scale for reference!

  • Nicholas Hill

    Lovely work Matt, I was there at the start of June and have to say it is just magical. Used a 100-400 and just wanted more.. I love how much you can simplify and use the lines and textures. The red barn is a clever composition. Palouse falls is very similar to the shots from the Landmanalugar region of Iceland.

  • Richard Guiss

    Stunning work! As a novice, i’d like to know if you did a lot of editing to create the photos, or these are the originals? I am using Lightroom 4.2 and strive to create such quality but have a ways to go.

    • http://www.mattk.com/ Matt Kloskowski

      Hey Richard – every photo sees Lightroom for post work. White balance, graduated filter, sharpening, cloning and healing to remove distractions. So, yes, I post process everything. But honestly the hardest part is getting to a great location and getting that location in great light. The rest (post processing) is just icing on the cake :-)

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