Photographing Palouse – behind the scenes.

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In our two previous blog entries we shared with you images and observations from our trip to the spectacular Palouse. Every photography trip we take requires a lot of preparation and planning and this time was no different. Many of you asked us about this particular trip so here are some additional tips and ideas that may help.

Gear: two cameras would be ideal. We worked with the Fuji X-T1 and Fuji X100S. While we are not heavy users of telephoto zooms, for the Palouse, this is a must. The Palouse is all about composition – eliminating elements from the frame and arranging the rest so it creates a beautiful whole. Most of the patterns, fields, trees etc., are on private property so using your feet (as we usually do) is out of the question. For this reason we brought the Fujinon XF 55-200 F3.5-4.8 OIS lens. In fact the majority of our photos on this trip were taken with this super-sharp lens.

Tripod: Let me introduce a little bit controversy. In low raking light, just before sunrise or just after sunset, a tripod is a must. However, later when you have sufficient light for fast shutter speeds, I would recommend shooting from the hand. It will give you freedom to experiment and be creative. Kasia does it, and so do I. Don’t forget that the XF 55-200 has an excellent image stabilization system built in – it works really well!

Protective filters are important, as the Palouse is an agricultural region with clouds of dust. You, your car, your camera equipment and your sandwiches will get dusty. Avoid changing lenses in the open! Of course, don’t forget about cleaning cloths.

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Clothing: There will be cool mornings and warm days so plan on layers. We highly recommend wearing long pants and sturdy shoes so you will have access to areas that may have rusty bolts on the floor or wire hidden in the grass.

Eating: The Palouse region is full of wonderful photographic opportunities but not a wonderful variety of restaurants (note I mentioned sandwiches above). There are family run cafés, taverns and corner grocery stores to choose from in the small towns but not much else. Plan on packing water and snacks to enjoy as you venture.

Connecting: Please note that cell service is limited once you leave Colfax. You may be able to connect at viewpoints throughout the day as you travel from one destination to another.

Speed limits: If you drive south from Spokane on 195 pay CLOSE ATTENTION to your speed. You will be ticketed for two clicks over the limit!

Stay at the Wheatland Hotel in Colfax.  It’s really the only good place apart from Pullman. It fills up quickly so it’s not too soon to make a reservation. Other than that, look in Pullman, a college town with a few hotels.

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Places to photograph: As we said in our last blog entry, unlike well-known parks such as Yosemite or Yellowstone which have their own mega-popular spots, the Palouse offers you the unknown. Every dirt road hides a visual gem for YOU to discover and this is what makes this place so special. It is perfect raw material for the photographer.

Wake up early: the first and last hours of the day offer stunning lighting conditions. And great lighting makes a huge difference in the Palouse. Early morning or late evening light gives hills and patterns an almost 3D look – it is completely gone at noon (unless you are lucky and you encounter some stormy conditions during the day).

One place that you might consider is the Steptoe Butte – visible for miles and often visited. Don’t follow other photographers blindly but explore the view in all directions.

The Palouse Falls may be attractive for many of you but it takes about an hour to get there. It is a popular but difficult spot to photograph and if my time is limited, I would prefer to spend it exploring small rural roads.

Most importantly, experiment and take your time. The Palouse is like a huge puzzle. It is up to you to solve it!

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Thank you so much Teri Lou and Charles for advice and many tips, which I shared ruthlessly in this blog entry.

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2014 © Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

4 thoughts on “Photographing Palouse – behind the scenes.

  1. Hello, we’re going to have a trip to Palouse by the end of this month. We would to check out Palouse falls and do the sunrise/sunset shooting here. Could you help to explain why this spot is difficult to photograph as you mentioned in your post? Is this difficult to hike to the viewpoint where you can setup your shooting, or it’s too big and you have to use the wide angle lens? Just curious to know so that we can have a better prep🙂

    Thanks so much,

    Trong

    • Trong,
      Access to the location is quite easy. Parking is very close; the walking distance is about a minute or two. However, it is a one and a half hour drive from the main Palouse area (take this into consideration while leaving for a sunrise).
      We got there before the sunrise and encountered blue skies – no ideal situation. If we had a sunrise with lots of clouds (and diffused light), images would be much, much better. In sum – if a forecast says – partly cloudy – I would suggest going there before a sunrise with hope of a stunning colour show. If a forecast says sunny and no clouds – probably better option would be to get there late afternoon.
      A wide-angle lens is a must!

      All the best,

      Olaf

  2. Thank you for these advises, always useful for a photo trip! (plus the great pictures, once more)

    Actually I am just coming back from 3 days in Nikko, a mountainous region 170km north of Tokyo. The photo spots are really interesting, mixing waterfalls, forests, moors, lakes and temples. I went there with my X100s and the two converters (plus a tripod and a couple of filters) and I agree very much with your post, based on this experience…

    First of all, as you explain in your post, zooming with your feet is not always an option. In fact, for me last weekend it seldom was an option…
    Secondly, having converters on the X100s is a blessing, as it avoids uncovering the sensor when changing focal length, which is extremely important when facing bad weather or slight drizzle coming from a waterfall.
    BUT! there is a but… following our discussion and your post about prime lenses versus zoom lenses, I must say this time I would have enjoyed a zoom lens very very much. Especially because of point one above.

    After this experience, the ideal setup is most probably the one you describe indeed (X100s plus 55-200mm on a X-T1), but I would also maybe add the 10-24mm to switch with the 55-200 depending on the needs. That would make a perfect and still quite light setup for any situation on a photo trip.
    For a tripod I would definitely recommend the Velbon Ultrek UT-53Q, that is a super compact travel tripod, but still sturdier, lighter and taller than the equivalent from famous brands! I can’t understand why it’s not better distributer outside of Japan…

    Anybody wanting to discover Nikko, please check the gallery here: http://www.an-chan.net/nikko/
    (and let me know if you have any question regarding the photo spots, if you plan to go there)
    Everything was taken with my X100s, which proves that it’s not only a street camera, but a pretty powerful landscape one too!

  3. Great idea for a post.

    The last two photographs are incredibly rich: colour, shadow, shapes and patterns. They are also beautifully made photographs. I bet they would make very attractive prints.

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