Photographing the Palouse

By Chip Phillips

The Palouse region of Washington State is one of my favorite locations to photograph.  It is close to home, only about 50 miles from where I live here in Spokane.   I have developed a special connection with this area over the past few years, watching it change from season to season.  One of my favorite times for photography there is during spring.  The fields turn from brown to vibrant green, and wildflowers blanket the hillsides.  If you are traveling out to the area, a stop by Palouse Falls State Park (see above image) is a must.  In spring, the falls are full of life and there are many trails to explore.  While there, be sure to venture off to the left, up river and above the falls to explore Upper Palouse Falls a ways down the trail.  From Upper Palouse Falls, follow the river back, and for the more adventurous, scramble down into the canyon below the falls.

My favorite location for shooting wildflowers in the Palouse is Steptoe Butte, just outside of Oaksdale, Washington.  The hillsides are covered with various types of wildflowers beginning usually in Mid-May, however this year might be earlier.  Take a drive up to the very top of the Butte for amazing 360 degree panoramic views of the entire Palouse and surrounding area.  Balsam Root is usually first to appear, then shortly  after, beautiful lush patches of Lupine arrive.  Be sure to bring a wide-angle lens to capture images of the wildflowers at sunset.  Conditions are often windy, so certain techniques are sometimes needed to overcome this.  A couple of techniques that I use involve capturing multiple exposures at various different ISO’s, apertures, and focal points,  then blending those together for maximum depth of field front to back.   I’ll go into this process in more detail in a future post.  Another technique is just simply using a higher ISO and normal camera settings, such as f14-f16 and focusing about 1/3 of the way into the scene.  Graduated Neutral Density filters can be used as well to compensate for the brighter sky.  Modern day DSLR’s have pretty impressive ISO performance and great images can be made at higher ISO’s.

Steptoe Butte is also a great place to be during the many passing spring storms.  Keep a close eye on the weather.  It is pretty common for hail storms to pass through daily, and I’ve seen lots of thunder and lightning storms as well.  Bring your telephoto lens and tele-extender if you have one.  Optimal focal lengths for compressing the hills and isolating dramatic scenes such as the one above, are anywhere between 70 and 300mm.   Be sure to have a polarizing filter, especially for your telephoto lens.  Conditions can sometimes be hazy, and a circular polarizer will help cut through the haze and punch up the colors in your images.

A visit to the Palouse is an excellent way to spend a weekend this spring.  For anyone interested in a private tour, I offer workshops and am always happy to answer questions as well.  Chip

~ by photocascadia on March 3, 2010.

5 Responses to “Photographing the Palouse”

  1. I love the wild flower shot.

  2. what a site=beautiful,beautiful, and more!! fortunate to have found you!

  3. Ohh please share this technique…

    “A couple of techniques that I use involve capturing multiple exposures at various different ISO’s, apertures, and focal points, then blending those together for maximum depth of field front to back.”

    Also is there a web site for when the flowers are in bloom for Washington?

    Is there a web site or book for where the best barns are located?

    • I’ll try and share the technique in a future blog post. It’s a bit hard to explain, and easier to show, but I’ll give it a shot.
      I’m always glad to share info on the conditions out here, and I’m not sure about a barn book for you. Cheers! Chip

  4. Chip, these are beautiful shots. I’m looking for similar on a trip I plan to make this early spring, probably around Late May/first week of June. Is that the best time to be there? Would a good day (morning and late afternoon) cover the high photo spots or would I need longer stay? Also Might you share any hidden gems to consider in both this area near Steptoe as well as others in Idaho? What about Montanta? Planning to hit Beartooth Pass if at all possible.

    Also, Like Guy stated, I’d love your technique input on the wildflower shot to get the exposure perfect both foreground and the sun. I assume multiple exposure? Is that sunrise?

    Would appreciate any advise you could offer.
    Kindest regards,

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