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Rolling hills, rustic barns, trucks and tractors, these are just a few things found in the Southeast area of Washington, known as the Palouse region, a region that simply radiates Americana. The term Palouse comes from the name a major village of the Palouse Indians, and is also how the Appaloosa horse acquired its name.
Scott and I met up with our Aperture Academy workshop students at our hotel, in the small town of Colfax, WA. We had a nice little group of students, just raring to go. Some even brought homemade cookies to the orientation meeting, a sweet and generous gesture…thanks again Valerie and Katy. Scott and I were very excited about sharing our experience in photography and in the Palouse region, with our enthusiastic group. We sent them off for a restful night sleep, as our meet up time in the morning was quite early.
The sunrise was 5:03am, and we need to be in place and ready to shoot before the sun rises, therefore our departure was 4:15am. Our morning destination, Steptoe Butte, is a 150-acre, 3,612-foot-tall thimble shaped quartzite butte that looms over the rolling farmland. Just over half way up to the top of the butte we found a nice lone tree, surrounded by wildflowers. Just before the sun broke through the horizon line, we were treated with some pastel cloud colors. Scoot and I assisted with correct aperture settings based on the students chosen composition. We also gave some suggestions on changing up point of view and the use of graduated neutral density filters. Once the sun rose, another photographic opportunity presents itself. As the soft morning light shines on the rolling fields below, the light and shadows are simply breathtaking. The landscape resembles flowing green fabric. Scott and I moved up to the top of Steptoe Butte and had the students use their longer lenses, for some details and compression of the landscape. It was a little chilly and slightly windy at the top, so after everyone captured lot's of amazing images, we headed back to Colfax for some hot coffee and a quick breakfast. It was only 8:30 am, and the students had already captured a lot of great shots. Weather conditions were simply perfect, so right after breakfast we headed back into the countryside. We had so many amazing locations in store for this first day of photography fun and learning. First stop after break was an old barn, situated in the middle of a green field, then it was on to some close up views of the giant wind turbines. From Steptoe Butte the windmills look tiny off in the distance. Up close they are impressive in stature, as they weave through the green folds of the landscape.
Moving down the country roads, it felt as though we had stepped back in time. These roads were used by wagon trains, in the last century. It seems as though there are just as many gravel and dirt roads, as there are paved. Weaving through the quilt like landscape, we stopped at many barns, and a lovely little lone tree or two, even stopping to photograph a mare and her foal. One of the highlights of the day would be the old Texaco station. Some really nice folks have built a traditional old gas station on their property, and even set it up with old cars, gas pumps, and miscellaneous nostalgic gas station items. We were lucky enough to meet the homeowners and get a private tour of some masterfully restored old trucks. In a time when most get angry with new comers and tourists, it was an amazing experience to feel so comfortable and welcome in this iconic slice of Americana. Auggie the dog was very friendly and made us feel at home as well. The last few stops before break included some vibrant yellow fields of canola. White puffy clouds and a rich blue sky, contrasted nicely with the gently rolling hues of yellows and greens. The day literally flew by, so we paused for a quick break before headed out to our sunset location of Palouse Falls. The falls lies on the Palouse River, about 4 miles upstream of the confluence with the Snake River. Just over an hour from Colfax, the falls is literally out in the middle of nowhere. The water plunges 198 feet into a narrow valley, forged by glaciers. Scott and I are sure that everyone is safe and stable at this location, because we are all standing on the edge of a drop-off, to witness and photograph this wondrous feature. We get everyone set up with a nice vantage point and assist with composition ideas. As the sun sets, the sky has a very soft pastel color. As the color fades, we encourage the students to recompose to eliminate the sky and focus in on the falls and crashing water below. With a long enough exposure the pool below displays a lovely circular pattern. As the last of the day's light fades, we make our way back into Colfax, for a well-deserved nights sleep.
Day 2 started with more fantastic weather and some of the most picturesque barns around the region. First barn on tap was one I like to call Skele-barn, due to it's deterioration level, which is almost skeleton like. There are many creative angles and points of view, as Scott and I pointed out. Creative angles, coupled with depth of field can create some interesting and unique images. A very short drive away is another highly photogenic barn. This particular barn is not only gorgeous in it's own right, but also the added bonus is a very cool old truck. Hard to tell the model of the truck, since we do not intrude on the private property, thinking it's an International. At Any rate it's the perfect accompaniment to the classic red barn. This location seemed like the perfect spot for our group shot, so I set up my tripod, and we had some fun, acting goofy for the camera. Scott and I had more barns to show the students, as well as an old ghost town. The town of Elberton has an abandon church, which is home to a majestic barn owl. It was a treat to see him fly out, and back in through the chimney. We worked with the students on creating some story telling images of the area. The spot turned out to be a favorite among the students. On to more barn and more owls. Actually it's more like an old house then a barn, nonetheless a very cool great horned owl was calling it home. Valerie spots him, and is not sure if he's fake or real. I say… oh he is very real, let's quietly photograph him. We were able to grab a few shots in the window, before he took off.
Near the old house is an old John Deere tractor. Very cool in it's own right, but Chris started the tractor portrait session. We took turns posing by and on the tractor, for some really fun impromptu portraits. Hitting the road, we found more very cool old barns, and even some nice tractors in the fields. Before heading back into Colfax we stopped for what we hoped would be a quick bite to eat. The sandwich shop I chose had only one college girl working. Although the sandwiches were delicious, it took a little longer then I had anticipated. This gave us enough time to check out of our hotel, and spend an hour on post processing tips, before heading out to yet more cool barns. The most popular shade of barn is red, have you ever wondered why? We did, so I goggled it… what did we ever do before Google? Centuries ago, European farmers sealed the wood on their barns with oil. The linseed oil was derived from flaxseed oil, which is tawny colored. Farmers added ferrous oxide, otherwise known as rust, to the oil mixture. Rust was plentiful on farms and is a poison to many fungi, including mold and moss, which were known to grown on barns. These fungi would trap moisture in the wood, increasing decay. Most of our favorite barns to photograph where coincidently red. Although our last barns shoot was the Dahmen barn, which is white. The Dahmen barn is surrounded by a fence made entirely of old wagon and other types of wheels, and spokes. Inside the barn is a place for local artists and fine craftspeople to show and sell their work. After spending some time exploring and photographing the unique location, it was time to head back to Steptoe Butte for our final shoot. Scott and I had located a nice section of wildflowers on the hillside, for use as a perfect foreground element. As well pulled up to the location, there was an excited frenzy, as the sun punched through the clouds with a beautiful display of rich orange rays. We made sure everyone was properly set up with the right settings and a composition that complimented their own style. It was the perfect way to end the action packed and photographically rich workshop.
Until next time,
Scott, Ellie, and the rest of the Aperture Academy team
P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.