Palouse is a region in South Eastern Washington, and North Central Idaho. Unless your a farmer or a photographer, you may have never heard of the Palouse. The region is almost entirely comprised of rolling fields of wheat and legumes. The farmers literally live off the land here. For photographers the Palouse is a playground, with it's rolling hills of young lush green wheat, vibrant yellow rapeseed, along with old barns, and lone trees. All of these things combined with the right light, create some truly amazing images.
Scott and I met up with our Aperture Academy workshop students at our hotel, in the small town of Colfax, WA.These students had heard of the Palouse and most had never visited the area. 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 5:05am, and we need to be in place and ready to shoot before the sun rises, therefore our departure was 4:00am. Our Sunrise destination, Steptoe Butte, is a 3,612-foot-tall 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.
The sun broke through the clouds just after sunrise and we were treated with some lovely color tones out on the horizon line. 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 a bit chilly and pretty 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, with adjacent railroad tracks. Not only was the barn with it's own singular tree cool, but the tracks made for additional interesting compositions.Just down the road we photographed an eclectic abandoned house. The house alone was very interesting, however the giant wind turbines in the background added even more interest, with a combination of old and new. On our way to get some close up views of the giant wind turbines, we stopped at to photograph a cute old barn. There was an inquisitive horse in the pasture. Then another emerged from the barn, then another. Suddenly we had 3 beautiful horses in our barn foreground. Then it was on to the 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. Scott set a few students up with some long exposures, in order to slightly blur the blades, which convey motion.
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. 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. The last stop before break was large an impressive barn. Across from the barn was a nice tall green field of young wheat. The sky was blue and beautiful, with just enough white puffy clouds. Scot and I had the students work on an extremely low point of view, coupled with a wide angle lens, yielded some fantastic results. What an action packed morning of shooting we had on this first morning. Time for a little afternoon break before heading out again.
Once everyone had a power nap and refueled with some lunch, it was time for more nostalgic shooting. We stopped at a couple of fun spots, from rolling hills to lone trees, Our sunset shoot was back up on Steptoe Butte. Scott and I had found a nice area of wildflowers and we encouraged the students to use a nice cluster of flowers, to enhance their landscape compositions. The set set fairly rapidly, once it reached the horizon line, and day 1 was in the books.
We 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.
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, it's a really nice brick structure that is highly photogenic, especially with an ultra wide angle. After spending some time exploring and photographing the unique location, including a very cool adjacent old railroad bridge. We hit the road and made our way over to Potlatch to shoot a very cool little barn. It's not super unique or grandiose, but most times it's the simple things that are the most appealing. The fact that this little barn is isolated in a field, with no background clutter or distractions, make this little gem one of our favorites. After our long morning of shooting, we took a short break for lunch or a power nap, before heading out to our sunset location, Palouse Falls.
Located about an hour and a half from Colfax Palouse Falls is an amazing sight. Seemingly out of nowhere, the Palouse River plunges 186 feet over the basalt cliff. Scott and I made sure everyone was aware of the sheer drop off, where we would be photographing. Some stayed back, and played the better safe then sorry approach, while other got closer to the edge and sat down to keep themselves safer. We worked on some long exposures with a solid neutral density filter. This created a beautiful swirling in the pool, just below the falls. It's not as obvious to the naked eye, just how much the water in the plunge pool is swirling around. Those long exposures really bring out the fantastic swirl pattern. After the last bit of daylight faded and everyone had some nice long exposure shots of the water, it was time to hit the road, back up to Colfax, and call it a day.
We let the students sleep in a little, on this final day of the workshop. No sunrise shoot today, we would hit the road, south. Stopping first at an old granary, just off the road. There were many different angles and points of view to capture, including some old hay bales which provided a nice compositional leading line. The front of the structure was in the perfect position to capture sunstars. As we made our way to the next location, we had to pull over for some quick shots of a beautiful sets of rolling hills. It was reminiscent of the Windows XP background. Including beautiful blue skis, with white puffy clouds.
The next barn we would be shooting is a historical site. It's best feature is the shape, it's a circular shaped barn. As we approached the railroad tracks where we would photograph the barn from, a couple of students caught site of a beautiful great horned owl in the adjacent tree. Some were able to grab some nice shots of the owl before it fled the scene. The next barn was another unique shape. This barn was on Eid road, so we refer ti it as Eid Barn. The red asymmetrical barn sits out in a field all by itself, which again creates a simple and uncluttered image. The clouds above were quite interesting, as was the distant field of rapeseed. speaking of rapeseed, as we left Eid barn to head to the next location, we stumbled on a lovely little field of tall and vibrant rapeseed, or canola. Everyone was giddy to see this gorgeous photographic opportunity present itself. It was such a beautiful scene we decided to set up our group shot here, and what a lovely group shot it turned out to be.
We had a quick yet awesome little red barn to stop at next. Backed by an open field of green farmland, and a big banner on the front of the barn that reads, Plaouse Country. It just seems the quintessential barn for the region, plus since it's in pristine condition we love photographing it. After the Palouse Country barn we made our way to the Dahmen Barn. A large barn that also doubles as an art gallery. Unfortunately the barn was not open on Monday, however we could photograph the barn with with surrounding fence. This was no ordinary fence, it's made entirely if old wheels. The wheels are old farm equipment and even old vehicles. The sizes and shapes are fabulous, as they create opportunities for inventive compositions and points of view. After the Dahmen barn we had a short break for lunch, before heading out one last time.
Our final shoot was once again at the best vantage point, Steptoe butte. Stopping along the way at a couple of cool spots. The first was a granary, with some amazing clouds directly behind it. Next was a lone tree, along with a windmill, and surrounding fields of photogenic young wheat. Then on up to Steptoe butte. We drove to the top, with it's 365 degree views, you really can't go wrong. The sunset in stunning fashion, painting the sky in tangerine shades of orange. What a beautiful day to cap off this 3-day Rolling American Palouse photography workshop
Until next time,
Ellie, Scott, 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.