I recently made a trip to The Palouse region of Eastern Washington. It was long overdue, especially after seeing the abundance of amazing imagery online coming from this area. I’m not quite sure what drew me there most, but being a landscape and nature photographer I have to say I wasn’t disappointed.
As you get closer to this area, you begin to see what all the fuss is about. In what I believe was the Western part of Idaho I was greeted by an astonishing site…bright yellow fields! I believe these are what is called canola, but I’m no plant expert. All I know is they were a sight to see.
Entering The Palouse
After a few more miles the fun begins. I can’t really describe what it looks like as you first enter The Palouse just South of Pullman, WA. In late Spring the fields are green as can be and stretch on for miles, flowing and rolling endlessly.
Being a landscape photographer, my initial response was almost like an adrenaline rush you get with other high-intensity activities. There was so much to see and so many different compositions to photograph. I was in for a treat for sure.
And it doesn’t stop there. You can drive for hours here and see endless rolling countryside of bright green wheat fields with and occasional yellow canola/mustard field thrown in for good measure. Add to that the miles of country dirt backroads to explore and you can easily get lost in this area.
Steptoe Butte State Park is probably the most well-known area within this region. Sitting 3600 feet tall among the rolling hills, it provides a superb elevated view of the surrounding countryside. This allows you to pick apart each and every scene for 360 degrees. It’s almost overwhelming to be honest.
Another key to photographing here is the light. I know, light is key anywhere, but I’ve never seen it so obviously displayed as in this area. A gorgeous scene that unfolded itself to you in the early morning hours looks almost unrecognizable in the late afternoon. The hard part of that…dragging your butt out of bed at four in the morning to shoot sunrise. At this time of year, it is rough. You’re not left disappointed though.
The dramatic side-light provided in the early and late hours of the day make these hills come alive with ever-changing shadows. The only thing I wish I had more of were the clouds. They decided to not show up during the short 3-day trip I had planned there. Maybe next time.
The Gear To Use
I did considerable research prior to this trip about what gear works best in the area. I typically tend to stick with the wide angle lenses when shooting landscape, and that works here as well. You just need that interesting foreground to make it come together. Sadly I didn’t see any of the wildflower blooms yet that I had hoped to use for just such a shot. So if you can find something interesting, stick that wide angle on and capture the whole enchilada of The Palouse in your shot.
Be prepared and don’t show up without a telephoto lens. I’d have to say that is an absolute must for this area. My gear choice was a Canon 7D with a Canon 1.4 telephoto extender attached to a Canon 70-200 f/4L IS lens. That gave me the equivalent of approximately a 157-448 focal range with the 1.6 crop factor of the camera and the 1.4 extension. This allowed me to zoom in on those intricate details and pick out the best scenes of the overall landscape. This is definitely something to keep in mind in my opinion.
Aside from that, make sure you have a sturdy tripod. I have been using the Gitzo 1541 tripod recently due to its compact size and light weight. It worked, but I wish I had something a bit more sturdy honestly. The wind on Steptoe Butte can be fierce. And when zoomed in at the ranges listed, any bit of vibration transmits to the lens and blurs out your images. At one point I resorted to opening up my jacket and trying to block the wind from the camera to help in this situation. Something to think about though.
A trip to The Palouse was definitely a trip that was worth it. This is especially true if you are a landscape photographer. If you haven’t been, go. Spring is a great time to see the vibrant green and yellow fields, but I have also heard great things about late Summer and into the Fall for the harvest times. I came away with some definite keeper images. This was certainly a successful and worthwhile trip in my book.