Just wanted to let you know that I’ve just added a gallery of Pacific Northwest images to my portfolio. Check it out by clicking on this link!
Just wanted to let you know that I’ve just added a gallery of Pacific Northwest images to my portfolio. Check it out by clicking on this link!
Writing my annual Top 12 blog is always interesting. Yeah…interesting. It’s a good word. It covers everything from fun to frustrating…and that’s very appropriate. Trying to filter 12,000 images down to 12 is a challenge. Don’t get me wrong, it is fun to remember the trips I took to capture these shots…those are some wonderful memories. But just 12 images…wow…it’s really frustrating trying to narrow it down that much. On, the other hand, I guess it’s a good problem to have, it meant that 2015 resulted in a lot of work I was proud of. Well anyway, you didn’t click on this blog to hear me ramble…you want to see photos, so here we go…my best work of the year 2015 (in no particular order):I know I said the photos aren’t ranked, but this might be my favorite shot of the year. Heck, this might be my favorite shot ever. I have huge metal print of this image hanging right over my desk and every time I see it, I seem to stop and drink it in for a moment or two. Not only does it inspire me, but I always think of the improbable chain of events that resulted in me capturing this image. It’s a shot that I shouldn’t have gotten, but I did…and I’m grateful.
Just adorable. I came upon this cub and his sister playing on the edge of a field in the Smokies and they couldn’t have been more cute if they had tried. I spent a few hours photographing them while hand-holding the ‘beast’ (my 200-400 lens…which weighs as much as the cub’s mom)…but it was worth every aspirin I had to swallow!
George Jetson was here! Well, that’s the type of graffiti I was expecting to see on top of Clingman’s Dome when I was setting up this shot. I love how the spiral observation tower mimics the grace of the Milky Way.
My wife and I were diving on a wreck in the Caribbean when this big kahuna joined us and made my day. I’d never had much luck photographing sea turtles but that all changed on this trip! I’d be the first to admit that I still have volumes to learn about underwater photography, but even so, my family considers this shot to be one of their favorites!
My son and I had an epic hiking trip to the Pac NW last summer and came home with some lasting memories and killer waterfall photos…this shot of Ryan in front of Wachlella Falls is my pick from that litter….
On second thought, I kinda like this long exposure perspective of Ponytail Falls too…
When I get to visit a location on my “Photographic Bucket List” I rarely come back with a photo I would consider ‘world class.’ After all, when you only have a day or two, what chance do you have to really learn how to best capture the scene PLUS be blessed with weather that makes the image truly something special? This shot of ‘Thor’s Well’ was a welcome exception to that rule.
This Alaskan harbor seal appears due to the lobbying efforts of my wife. I would have put it in my top 25 but not top 12…she disagreed. Over the years I’ve learned to carefully listen when she speaks…
I have a love-hate thingy going with the Oregon/Washington coast. I love that the coast line has some of the most breathtaking incredible vistas anywhere but I hate that the weather is
often, usually, always crappy. Okay…not always, but it sure seems that way to me. So it takes some perseverance and luck to get a memorable image. On the other hand, since you have to go back to the same spot multiple times hoping for good weather, when it finally does clear up, you have scouted the spot to death and know how you want to shoot it!
Washington’s Palouse Falls is an incredible sight and I’ve long believed that it would be even more impressive at night with the Milky Way rising over it. Well, over the years I’ve tried many times to get that shot but the falls are in a deep, dark gorge and it is real challenge to light it up well. I tried long exposures…I tried light painting… Nothing I did looked ‘right.’ One frustrating and unproductive night when I was breaking down my equipment a guy walked up and asked if I minded if he tried some light painting. I chuckled to myself and told him to have at it since I’d thought I had already tried everything. He pulled out the most powerful flashlight I’d ever seen and proceeded to do a masterful job of illuminating the gorge. I snapped away and ended up with the shot I had always dreamed of. My thanks to Ariel Rodilla for showing me that I still have a lot more to learn about light painting!
Every photographer should have the chance to shoot the Palouse region of eastern Washington State at least once before they die. It truly is a land that time forgot (in a good way) and the 360° views of the sensuous, smooth, and seemingly liquid landscape from Steptoe Butte are stunning.
I’ll finish with the most popular photograph I’ve ever published. When I posted this one on my Facebook page, it seemed to really strike a chord with folks and it went viral. Oddly enough, this photo bothers me. When I look at it, all I seem to notice is that the front of this manatee’s nose is out of focus. Sometimes being a perfectionist means you get hung up on small details and I’m certainly guilty of that. It was an incredible moment though, when this manatee surfaced right in front of me while I was taking a shot of the sunrise. If only he had given me the time to make sure the shot was in focus…
It was an incredible year for me professionally and personally. I explored more of this incredible planet, met lots of wonderful folks, sold some prints, won a contest or two and got a few images published. Plus, even after all these years, I found that photography continued to challenge and inspire me. Even better, my wife and I got my first Grandchild (little London Grace)…which helps keep my photography obsession in perspective.
Life is Good.
Have you ever seen the excitement in a child’s face when she experiences something for the first time? Seeing that joy and hearing those squeals of delight are one of the things I most love most about children.
As we get older, we tend to get jaded and take much of life for granted. Those moments of childlike happiness become a rare thing. Which is one of the reasons that I adore photography….it continually challenges me to seek out new locations and experiences and helps keep the child alive in me.
For, example, earlier this year my son Ryan and I were planning a trip to Oregon. While talking with one of my friends in Portland, he mentioned that the Perseid meteor shower would be peaking when I was visiting. Now honestly, I had vaguely heard of the Perseid’s before, but neither Ryan or I had ever even seen a meteor, much less photographed one.
But a quick search on Google educated me: The annual Perseid meteor shower is probably the most popular one of the year. When the Earth crosses the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle in late August, debris from the comet cuts thru our atmosphere at 130,000 miles per hour sometimes resulting in dozens of meteors per hour.
Well that certainly sounded like something I wanted to see!
But where in Oregon would be best to photograph this spectacle? I wanted a spot with great views (of course) and little light pollution. After some research on the internet, I decided to split my time between two locations in northern Oregon’s Cascade Mountain range: Trillium Lake and Lost Lake.
Well, we got to Trillium Lake on Aug 10th right after sunset. And the sky was overcast. Couldn’t see a single star. Killed a couple hours eating dinner (and drinking great local beer) then went outside to check again. Clouds. Went to bed and got up two more times to check. Clouds. The sky did start to clear up just before sunrise so Ryan and I went down to Trillium and captured some shots, but by then it was too bright to see meteors. Just the same, it was a quiet, peaceful sunrise. Trillium Lake is an idyllic spot and it is easy to visualize how incredible photos can be taken here..
After a day exploring some incredible waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge (another post about this adventure later) we pulled into Lost Lake late in the afternoon and set up camp in our Yurt. What’s a yurt you ask? Well, when you make reservations at a popular campground only a month in advance during peak season, a yurt is likely to be the only thing left available. Like I said, photography helps me have new experiences…
I had pre-scouted the area on Google Earth and knew I wanted to photograph the meteors from the north-western shore (Lost Lake is shaped like a triangle, and the northwestern shore faces Mt. Hood). What I couldn’t see on my computer was that trees grow right up to the shore blocking your view of the sky, not exactly ideal for sky photography. But there was one strip of shore, maybe 100′ long that was perfect: overhead it had a clear stretch of sky and below in the shallows of the lake were wonderful boulders and fallen trees that made great foreground subjects.
Except for one little problem…a group of folks were already there enjoying a bonfire. So Ryan and I hiked up the shoreline vainly looking for a decent alternative location but we had no luck. We returned to a spot near the original location and made the best of it, but the light from their fire played havoc on my shots. Their party finally wrapped up by 11 pm and as their fire faded out, the views of the stars and meteors reflected on the calm lake became more visible.
But my heart had been set on taking shots of Mt. Hood with the Milky Way behind it. Unfortunately, by this late hour the rotation of the earth had moved the Milky Way so far to the west that I couldn’t fit it into the frame with Mt. Hood. Plus I had hauled my not-so-young body around for miles that day and I was exhausted, so headed back to camp with hopes of better luck the following night.
The next morning, we went back to watch the dawn. No wind, no clouds, (no bonfire!)…it was one of the most perfect scenes I could imagine.
After a few shots, we hit the road early to go hike more waterfalls but drove back to Lost Lake well before sunset to get ‘first dibs’ on our spot. As the clearing came into view we were happy to see that we were the only ones there, so we set up our equipment, set back and relaxed while we waited for the show to start.
It turned out Ryan and weren’t the only photographers that knew about “our” perfect spot. Over the next couple hours, four more shutterbugs (who had also previously scouted the area) set up next to us. They knew that the peak of the meteor shower was going to be that night (Aug 12) and had all traveled to Lost Lake to capture images of it.
Actually, this is one of the things that Ryan and I like most about photography…meeting and getting to know other photographers. Most of them love to talk about their hobby and share their knowledge and swap stories. One of the guys, Dan Duerden, was a High School teacher from British Columbia who was spending his 3 month summer holiday on a photographic journey through the PAC NW. Dan is an incredibly talented photographer and you can see more of his work on his Instagram page: https://instagram.com/dduerds/ . Ryan had recently started posting his own photos on Instagram (https://instagram.com/ryanstamer/) and the two of them had an animated conversation about that topic…it was all way over my head.
There was a retired guy obsessed with photography (not that I’m throwing stones!). Along with him was his long suffering wife who described herself as his “Sherpa” because she got to lug around all of his gear. When Ryan heard that, he playfully elbowed me in the ribs…. because he is my designated tripod-carrier on our hikes.
Anyway, we spent the next few hours taking our photos and quietly talking on the edge of the shore. We watched the sky…and listened to the “Ewwws!” and “Ahhhs!” from the campers on the other side of the lake as meteors streaked across the heavens.
I had two camera set up to automatically take continuous photos. This ensured that I would capture nearly every meteor that flew over our heads. It also gave me the chance to try my hand at making a time-lapse video. The resulting ‘film’ condenses about 600 photographs down to less than 100 seconds, take a look:
In addition to the meteors, you can also see a number of aircraft and satellites in this video, but basically, anything that you see for less than a half of a second is likely to have been a meteor…and there were a bunch! This is my first ‘real’ time-lapse and I’m still learning…but it was a lot of fun and I’m pretty happy with the result.
There weren’t a lot of meteors early in the evening, but they appeared with increasing frequency as the hours went by. Just the same, of the 700+ frames I took over two days, there was only a single image that captured two at the same time:
Note how the meteors are multi-hued, plus they tend to be wider toward the center. I learned that these attributes help you distinguish them from satellites or aircraft.
Here is one last shot I’d like to share. Basically, I took most of the decent sized meteors I photographed on Aug 12 and placed them on a single image. I had to reorient some of them to take into account the rotation of the earth (since we saw the meteors over a 3 hour span of time). It certainly makes for an interesting image:
By 1 am Ryan and I were yawning and since we planned to be hiking again in a few hours we thought it might be nice to get a bit of sleep first. We said goodnight to our new friends and headed for our sleeping bags.
Over the next week or so, Ryan I spent time at a number of amazing places in the PAC NW, but our time at Lost Lake has become one of our favorite memories from the trip. It kind of reminded us of one of those old-time fishing camps nestled way back in the woods. The area is truly beautiful, peaceful and seems to do wonders for your soul.
Plus, I got to have some NEW experiences. Yeah, maybe I didn’t exactly squeal like a child, but it made me feel young just the same.
PS: If you go to Lost Lake, here is a map showing the spot we “found”:
Photographing the Perseid Meteor Shower at Lost Lake Oregon
Until recently, I had never had the chance to visit Oregon, but this year I’ve been there twice…and it has made quite an impression on me:
It is a beautiful state.
It is a diverse state.
But it is an also odd state, where the government thinks adults are intelligent enough to use marijuana responsibility but they don’t trust you to pump your own gas (seriously, they have a state law that requires gas stations to have an attendant to pump your fuel)….but then again, I live in Florida and perhaps I shouldn’t be calling other states odd.
As a photographer, Oregon’s big attraction is waterfalls. They have tons of them. And the ones they have are among the most photogenic in the country…if not the world. Take a look at any Top Ten list of Beautiful Waterfalls and you will likely find at least a couple that are in Oregon.
Most folks like waterfalls, and others, like my son Ryan, absolutely love them. So when Ryan and I planned our trip across the Pac NW earlier this year, he made sure that we included more than a few waterfalls. The first we explored turned out to be one of our favorites of the trip: Toketee Falls.
Tokatee Falls is located in Central Oregon and isn’t as well known as the more publicized waterfalls in the Columbia River Valley. But we had seen some photos on-line that got our attention and since it was only about 30 miles from Crater Lake National Park (where our trip had started) we decided to take a morning and check it out.
The name, Tokatee, is a native Chinook word meaning “pretty” or “graceful”…and it certainly is well named. It is a beautiful, classical waterfall that drops 120 feet in two stages thru a wall carved from ancient columnar basalt.
Oddly enough, the thing that might have been the most memorable, wasn’t the waterfall. Even before we got out of our car in the parking lot, this grabbed my attention:
This is a 12′ wide redwood aqueduct that diverts a good portion of a major river (the North Umpqua) to a hydroelectric plant. What is really amazing is that it was built in 1949 and is still in use! It runs right alongside the trailhead parking lot and as you get out of your car you will immediately notice the leaks. Since it holds a massive amount of water under high pressure those leaks become jets of water, some shooting over 15’…much to the delight of every child (and childlike adult). Makes for a nice way to cool off on a hot day! Check out my amateurish 15 second You Tube video if you want to see more: https://youtu.be/kyc0MStQtpw
The half mile hike to the falls was easy…there is a bit of elevation change (200 steps) but it was shaded and the woods were beautiful. At the end of the trail there is a new observation deck that has a killer view Toketee.
This is the same image you will see in 99% of the images on Google. And with good reason…it is impressive. Nearly all tourists and photographer snap a few shots here, then turn around and go back. Which is exactly what I planned to do. Except, when I finished my shots…Ryan was gone. After a few confused minutes of looking around, I finally noticed him…all the way down at the base of the falls. Since I knew his mother would never let me rest peacefully if I returned without him, I strapped the tripod to my back and started looking for the way down. Mistake. There is no way down. At least not an official one and the only “path” was what locals call “a scramble.” What I would call it is not printable. Let’s just say it is little more than a slippery, controlled fall down a steep muddy slope. After a couple minutes that voice in the back of my head started whispering: “This is stupid…You are going to get hurt…You are smarter than this!!!” But I’m really not that smart…plus my fear of my wife is a heck of lot louder than that silly little voice. So off I went.
I managed to get down without injury…and without loosing control of my bladder (which was kind of a close thing a couple times).
From the base of the falls, after my jackhammering heart slowed down, I raised my head and took in the view.
It was humbling. Over the ages the waterfall has carved a deep gouge in the solid rock wall. And below it blasted out a huge bowl in the basalt. Standing at the bottom of this ‘bowl’ you are surrounded by tall columns of the volcanic rock that reflects and amplifies the sound of smashing water. To say it is loud misses the point… more like you can feel your ribcage reverberating within your chest. Truly visceral!
See that fully grown tree on the right? Now you are starting to get an idea of how massive the columns of basalt are that make up the wall of this gorge!
Ryan and I spent nearly an hour soaking in the view. Not another soul made their way down to the base of the falls (clearly they had better sense than we did.) Although we saw a lot more waterfalls over the next week, Tokatee was one of the most memorable. It has a wonderful balance of size, power and pure aesthetic beauty. I hope you get to visit and photograph this treasure in the future.
Just for the record. Although I used humor when I wrote about getting to the base of the falls, I want to clearly state that I do NOT recommend that you try to do so. The ‘trail’ is not safe in its current condition. I have no doubt that someone will be seriously injured (or worse) trying to reach the falls. I wish that the powers-that-be would invest the funds necessary to make an ‘official’ trail to the base, but that hasn’t happened yet. Listen to that little voice in your head: No photograph is worth serious injury.
1) When to visit? Spring is the best. Snowmelt makes for impressive volumes of water and everything is green. However, most the shots in this blog were taken in June and as you can see, the water volume was still adequate and the vegetation vibrant.
2) Be there in the morning so you can photograph the falls while in the shade. The falls face west and as the day progresses, you will get direct sunlight on the face of the falls which makes photography more difficult.
3) If you are shooting from the observation platform with a full frame camera, you will need about a 60mm lens to get a nice full image shot of the falls (about 40mm on a cropped APS-C sensor camera). If you decide to shoot from the base (assuming you ignore my warning) you will need a 27-40mm for most shots (15-20mm on crop sensor). There is a lot of spray at the base, bring some microfiber cloths to dry your lens between shots.
4) You will need your tripod. Since you will want to photograph while the falls are in the shade, you will need a tripod for longer exposure times, especially if you want the waterfall to have that ‘silky’ look. My first shot in this blog, for example, was a 4 second exposure. Most of the other shots were HDRs.
5) Don’t forget your polarizer. It will help reduce glare and make the colors ‘pop.’
6) How to get there? At milepost 58.6 on Highway 138 east of Roseburg Oregon, turn north on Road 34. Stay left at the Y and cross the bridge. A well-marked trailhead is 200 feet on the left.
7) If you do go to the base of the falls, take a rope and a first aid kit. Don’t go alone. Leave an address for your next of kin on the dash of the car.
This is a beautiful location…enjoy!
Tokatee Falls Photography: Guide, Tips and a Warning
I know, I know…15 hours is a ridiculously short amount of time for a visit to a National Park…especially one as expansive as Rainier. Ideally you want to be able to immerse yourself over a number of days to really get a ‘feel’ for the landscape plus you need more than a handful of hours to even see more than a smattering of the most popular photo locations.
Plus, the main reason I’ve long dreamed of visiting Rainier was to photograph the annual wildflower bloom…but that wouldn’t happen for another month or two.
But, I was going to be in the area and had only 15 hours open on my schedule so I was just going to have suck it up and experience the photographic equivalent of ‘speed dating’. Even if I didn’t get any great photos, at least I’d be able to scout out the park and be better prepared next time.
I had reservations at the Paradise Inn, which is one of those old, timber framed lodges you find at many of the National Parks. What it lacks in modern conveniences is more than made up by its location: it is located high up on the mountain near the Paradise meadows which are famous for their wildflower displays. So at 4pm I pulled up to the Inn, checked-in, grabbed my gear and hit the Skyline Trail. And guess what? The wildflowers were blooming! Turns out that a poor snow pack that winter had resulted in an early melt…and early flowers!
That was the good news, the bad news is that the mountain was covered by fog and the trail was packed with what seemed like hundreds of people (I guess the early wildflower bloom was not a secret). Could barely see ten feet and photography was not an option. So I decided to drive to halfway around the park to check out another location I had seen on the internet: Tipsoo Lake.
Unlike the packed trails in Paradise, there were only a few other people at Tipsoo. Even better there wasn’t any fog and it was also awash with flowers. A nice sunset developed, but Rainier stubbornly remained hidden.
I set up behind the lake waiting for the sunset and passed the time talking with another photographer about the chances of Rainier making an appearance before sunset. Didn’t happen. About fifteen minutes after sunset (of course) the clouds around Rainier dissipated and we finally got a glimpse of the mountain but by then the sunset’s vibrant color was long gone. Just the same, there was a nice lavender alpenglow. Not a dramatic sunset scene but nice in its own subtle, moody way.
Sunset was a bit after 9pm and I had hoped to be back to my room by 10:30 but I managed to take a wrong turn on the way back to the Inn which added another hour to my drive. Yes I had a GPS…but I found it didn’t help much when you have the sound on ‘mute.’
Needless to say, by the time I got back to the Inn the sky had darkened well enough for the Milky Way to be visible, so I decided go out on the trail next to the hotel and try some night shots. Yeah, it was a bit spooky walking alone on the trail…but it was peaceful. And since the sky was clear, I become incredibly aware of the Mountain. I mean, Rainier is right in your face when you’re on the Skyline trail. Huge, imposing and impossible to ignore.
After the moon set and Rainier faded into the darkness, I turned my attention to the south and enjoyed some time photographing the Milky Way. Over the next couple house I tried a few different compositions before the realization hit me that I had to wake up in 3 hours to catch the sunrise.
As hiked back, I turned the final bend in the trail and the Paradise Inn came into sight.
I made it back to my room, fell into bed and I swear I had been laying down for not more than a few minutes when my alarm started wailing. I managed to drive down to Reflection Lake which fortunately was less than 10 minutes from the hotel.
The lake was very foggy…I couldn’t even see the mountain but I had scouted the location on the way to Tipsoo the previous day so at least I knew where I wanted to set up. I enjoyed the peace and quiet for about 30 minutes until some other photographers started to show up (Reflection Lake is a very well known sunrise spot). Gradually the fog lifted, Rainier became visible and the shutters started clicking .
I drove back to the Inn and hit the Skyline Trail one last time hoping to catch the wildflowers in the soft morning light.
The day before, people had been queued up at the viewpoint to see Myrtle Falls but at 7am I had the place to myself.
There were numerous signs asking you to stay on the trail in order to protect the delicate flowers, but I have to admit that I was sorely tempted to walk into the fields to take advantage of some potentially amazing views. But, being an old Scoutmaster, I did the right thing and stuck to the trail so the folks who hiked the trail after me would see the same unmarked and pristine fields.
All too soon I had to be on my way… but I will return. Next time, hopefully I’ll be able to schedule a full week and get the chance to hike and explore more of this magnificent Mountain.
’till next time!
PS: I’m heading off tomorrow with my son for a ten day trip to Crater Lake, Columbia Gorge and Glacier National Park. We will be doing some serious hiking (with my camera of course), and I’m sure I’ll be pretty worn out and sore when I return (just try to keep up with a 20 year old on a mountain trail)! I’m looking forward to sharing those photos and stories. Talk to you soon!
15 Hours at Mt. Rainier: A Photographic Sprint
The Palouse is a remote farming area in southeastern Washington state and western Idaho. The endless softly rolling hills are home to vast wheat fields, scattered small towns and friendly folks. It’s the type of place that evokes memories of the “Norman Rockwell” America we imagine it was long ago.
You’ve probably never heard of the Palouse…unless you are a wheat broker, a local resident or a landscape photographer.
Why landscape photographers? Well, those hills I mentioned are blessed by a soft, flowing, nearly sensuous beauty when viewed thru a camera. As a result, photographers from across the world flock there during the summer when the fields are covered by colorful waves of wheat. Images of this area captivated me for years and I finally had the chance in June to experience it for myself.
And here’s what I found:
What do you think? Unreal? Surreal? I’d never seen anything like it but for some odd reason when I first gazed upon the Palouse landscape, I was oddly reminded of a painting by Dali …
I thought Dali was Spanish but maybe he spent some time in western Washington before he started painting?
The Palouse seems to encourage random, strange thoughts like that…it just doesn’t seem real somehow. It is all just so pretty…so green and the people are just so incredibly nice. Boy, I thought the folks in my town were friendly …but the Palouse? Have you ever had one of those road-workers that holds the “Slow/Stop” signs actually walk up to your car and start talking to you? This happened to me twice in the Palouse. If this occurred in some other parts of the country, I’d be rolling up my windows and frantically looking for a way to get away…but here it didn’t seem odd or threatening. It quickly became clear that the locals just don’t seem to have the ‘shields’ that those of us from urban areas take for granted.
Okay…okay…enough with my ramblings about how the Palouse made me feel. What does it look like?
Well, first of all the landscape is best appreciated from the vantage point of height. Fortunately, there is a tall hill (butte) smack dab in the middle of the best part of the Palouse. It is called Steptoe Butte and as part of the Washington State Park system, it is open to the public. In the hours before dusk and after dawn, the low angle of the sun creates wonderful shadows around all those curvy hills.
Steptoe tops-out at 3612′ and you can park on the summit and see an absolutely unreal 360º vista. With a pair of binoculars you can see the occasional red barn, farm house or grain silo…but those are the exceptions. Nearly everything you can see in every direction is just soft, curving hills covered with rippling waves of grain.
Well, you will also notice the 58 turbines of the Palouse Wind Farm built in 2012. They are a good distance north of the butte so they don’t look huge but they are actually about 500′ tall and produce quite a bit of electricity.
Every direction you look reveals more details and different perspectives:
If you come down from the Butte, the perspectives from ground level are still captivating…just not jaw dropping.
So, if you ever want to travel back in time to a simpler, friendlier time while being surrounded in a landscape that only a crazy Catalonian surrealist artist could envision, make your way to the Palouse next summer. It will be a memorable experience.
May and June are usually peak for the yellow and green of the fields. A very different look can be seen in July and August when the wheat turns gold and brown. Harvesting usually begins in late August.
Colfax is the town closest to Steptoe. It is about 30 minutes south and you can choose from 4 or 5 hotel/motels.
Steptoe Butte As mentioned, Steptoe Butte is the primo place to be in the Palouse.
The best light is near sunrise and sunset. Be on Steptoe for both….the same features can look totally different at the opposite ends of the day. Plus, by visiting twice you will increase your chances of photographing during partly cloudy conditions when dappled sunlight accentuates the incredible shadows created by the low angled sunlight.
When you first get to Steptoe, pay your $10 at the unattended kiosk (or you can buy a full year pass online for $30), then drive to the summit. There is a large parking area just below the actual summit and many folks pull in here mistakenly thinking they are at the top. The actual summit is accessed by a narrow (a little wider than a single car), unmarked road on your left as you pull into the larger pullout. It looks like a service road used to get to the cell towers on the summit. Once you get to the top, scout out your potential shots by using your binoculars. Look for nice perspectives and find the farm houses, barns and silos that you will want to incorporate into your shots.
Don’t stay at the summit the whole time. There are a number of pullouts along the road that winds around the butte and they will give you significantly different perspectives. It only takes a few minutes to drive from one to the other and you will be surprised how different your shots look from the lower elevations.
The park is officially open from dawn to dusk but I’ve never had an issue being there earlier or later than the posted hours.
During the day, drive around: Get off the paved roads, slow down and just drive. There are some wonderful vignettes to be found. Be respectful of private property and be aware that some big farm equipment rolls down the gravel roads. Also be aware that most of the roads around here have sharp drop-offs right at their edge….you can’t just pull over everywhere. You may have to drive a bit further and hike back a short ways.
Dahmen Barn: Located in Uniontown (about an hour south of Steptoe) this is an antique barn that is now a co-op for local artists. Photographers adore the fence that surrounds the property which is made from hundreds of old metal tractor wheels, gears, etc. Here is a link with more info and directions.
T.A. Leonard Barn: You will see a lot of quaint red barns in the Palouse, but how many round barns have you ever seen? This beautifully restored gem is 40 minutes south of Steptoe in Pullman right off of Old Moscow Road. It’s a private farm and not open for tours but you can photograph it from the road. This site will give you more info and directions.
Kamiak Butte: Actually a bit taller than Steptoe but you can’t drive to the summit. There is a hiking trail to the top (about 3.5 miles roundtrip). If you are visiting for more than a day and you have already got all the shots you want from Steptoe, then it is certainly worth a visit but if your time is limited, Steptoe is the place to be. Great place for a picnic lunch. Kamiak is about 29 miles (55 minutes) from Steptoe. Click this link for more info.
Palouse Falls: About an 90 mile drive west of Steptoe is the magnificent 197′ Palouse Falls. Perhaps best seen at sunset, you can also take wonderful Milky Way shots here. I’ll be writing a full article about this location later in the fall.
Other locations: A local photographer has put together a detailed map showing locations of barns, old cars and other photographic points of interest. She sells the map via the internet for $25. It is quite detailed and worth your money if you are going to visit. Here is a link. And no, I don’t get a commission! Short of hiring a full time local guide, this is the best resource I’ve found to help visiting photographers find potential locations
If your time is tight, you can cover the highlights in a day. That will give you a sunrise and sunset on Steptoe and the middle of the day to explore the countryside. Of course, the Palouse is a big area, so you would need to spend much longer to cover it thoroughly. If you do decide to take a few days, I’d suggest you hire one of the local photo guides or book a photo tour. Many of them have relationships with the farmers who will allow you to access to locations on private property that would otherwise be unavailable to you.
Lenses: When you think of landscapes, you naturally think of wide angle lenses and they will come in handy when you are driving around the farm roads. But on Steptoe, you need long lenses. As I reviewed my photos taken on the butte, I noticed that nearly all of them were taken somewhere between 300-500mm on a full frame camera (450mm to 750mm on an APS-C crop sensor camera).
Polarizer: You will often have some haze on Steptoe and a polarizer will help reduce that issue and make your colors ‘pop.’
Tripod: The Palouse can be a bit breezy. On Steptoe, the wind can really rip. I have a heavy duty tripod and head that had never, ever had a problem even with my monster 200-400 beast of a zoom lens. At least it never had a problem until I was on Steptoe. As I checked my shots in the LCD, I noticed that some of them were not quite as sharp as others…the wind was shaking my rig ever so slightly. I’d suggest you weigh down your tripod, take 2 or 3 shots of every scene and check every single shot fully zoomed in to ensure that your shots are sharp.
Dynamic Range: Full frame cameras, HDR, blending layers in Photoshop….many of us work hard to show the full dynamic range in our shots. Oddly enough, the Palouse is one of those venues where that might not be necessary..or even preferred. Those dark shadows contrasted by the brilliant crests of the hills seems to me to be a big part of the beauty of the Palouse. Do yourself a favor and try processing some shots where you can’t see every detail in the shadows…you might like the result.
Haze: I found that I had to use the clarity slider in Photoshop liberally to combat this issue.
Palouse Photography Tips: A Guide for Visitors
Sorry for my long absence but my 2 week trip to the Pac NW & Alaska resulted in over 10,000 photos…and when I got home those photos demanded that I drop everything and process them. So other than short breaks to eat and sleep, I’ve been a Photoshop slave for the past ten days. My wife says I’m a bit obsessive…but you can’t trust her judgment. After all, any woman that would marry me obviously is not a good judge of character and has a tenuous relationship with reality.
We had an incredible time. Exhausting, but wonderful and very, very productive!
I was able to capture some images that I am very proud of and I’m going to share some of them with you today. Later on, I will craft some in-depth blogs about specific events and locations and will include additional photos.
It is a calm, friendly place where even the road workers holding the ‘Slow signs’ walk up to your car and start chatting. Maybe this is the way America used to be, if so, we have truly lost something special. The hills are sensuous in their own odd way and the occasional red barn or grain silo makes for quaint interruptions in the flowing landscape.
Palouse Falls is a few hours to the east, in central Washington. It is truly in the middle of nowhere with absolutely nothing, I mean nothing, around it. Perhaps that just makes the falls that much more magnificent and dramatic. I had hoped to get a Milky Way shot here and I succeeded beyond my dreams:
Although I had planned this photo, luck played a big role. After standing on the edge of a cliff in the dark for two hours, I finally admitted to myself that although the Milky Way looked great, the moonlight was just too feeble to properly illuminate the falls. I was about to take down my tripod and call it a night when a guy stopped by and politely asked if he could do some light painting of the falls. His name was Ariel and he had the most powerful flashlight I had ever seen….he lit the falls up like it was daytime and I was able to get the shot I had envisioned! I’ll be visiting these falls again next month and I’ll do an in-depth blog with photo tips.
Next we visited with my old friend Alan and his wife Linda in Portland. I was excited to see them again AND get the chance to hike to a bunch of the waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge…which is considered by some to have 5 of the top 10 most beautiful falls in the country.
Multnomah Falls is probably the most famous of those in the area and it is claimed to be the most photographed waterfall in the US. One glance and it is easy to see why. See if you can spot Anita on the bridge!
Next on our list was Mt. Rainier. Although the wildflowers weren’t due to be at their peak until August, I still wanted to visit and do some scouting. As it turned out, the lack of snow during the past winter resulted in the flowers blooming early and when we started hiking in the Paradise area, we were overwhelmed by the lushly flowering trails.
Less than 12 hours later we were off to Olympic National Park where we enjoyed the luxury of spending TWO consecutive nights in the same hotel (I spoil that wife of mine)! Olympic NP amazed me with its diversity…everything from rain forests to towering mountain ranges. I’m finding it difficult to choose my favorite shot from this magical place…and I reserve the right to change my mind in the future, but as of this afternoon, the sunset at Second Beach is the winner. I was able to catch the sunburst thru a sea arch and it made a memorable image:
Our next stop was Seattle. Although I’ll bet a lot of you thought I’d feature a shot of the Space Needle, I’m going to surprise you. This World War II Boeing B-17 overflew our ship as we left Seattle harbor. When I zoomed in on the image, I could see that it was named “Nine O Nine.” A quick check on Google and I saw that this old warbird had flown 140 missions in 1944-5 (including 18 trips to Berlin) without an abort or loss of a crewman. Turns out it was visiting Boeing field for an airshow. Okay, okay, I know you read this blog because of landscapes and wildlife photography…but jeeze, I’m still a kid at heart that wanted to be a fighter pilot!
Then it was off to Alaska to photograph some wildlife!
We went out on small boats and zodiacs repeatedly over the next week and I freaked out more than a folks by bringing along the ‘beast.’ That’s my nickname for the Nikon 200-400 zoom (see photo to the right)…it is huge, intimidating and heavy, but it does the job (even if my right elbow is sore as heck for a couple days afterwards).
Over the next week we travelled to Victoria, Ketchikan, Juneau, Misty Fiords, Skagway and Haines. I don’t think I could honestly tell you how many hikes and small boats we were on…the days were long and seemed to run together. But we saw certainly saw (and photographed) wildlife!
My dream for this part of the trip was to photograph Humpbacks “Bubble Net Feeding.” But it was not to be. The guides said the whales had been doing a lot of ‘bubble net feeding’ but they had just stopped a few days before. We went out on the water nearly every day over the next week but had no luck. As it turns out, they started again as soon as we left (check out this Youtube video taken the day AFTER left). Figures. Oh well, gives me a reason to go back!
But we certainly saw whales. I was able to capture some of my best whale-tale shots ever…even a few with some nice mountains in the background .
The Orcas were very active. Although I captured some nice close-ups, I think I like this shot the best….not because of the Orca…but because of the shocked faces of the people on the boat!
I am always amazed at the number of Bald Eagles you see in Alaska. I particularly liked this shot of this mated pair high in their perch:
But Alaska certainly has landscapes as well. I carefully composed this shot and then a whale surfaced and ruined the composition (I’m kidding!)
Alas, all good things come to an end, as did this trip. Wouldn’t you know it, the best sunset of the whole two weeks lit up the skies right after we got back into a harbor on our last night. Although I would have loved to had been able to get to typical ‘landscape location’, I was more than happy to settle for this image that included our cruise ship, the Celebrity Solstice.
Still Not a bad way to end our adventure…right?!
Anyway, I’ll add much more to my blog over the next few weeks about this trip. But, I’ve got to work fast because I’m heading back out west in less than a month to spend 10 days photographing and hiking with my son Ryan. We will spend a week in Oregon then head to Glacier National Park for a few days. It is going to be a busy summer for me…hope I have enough energy!
PS: I experimented with some time-lapse photography from the balcony of our cabin. I clearly have a LOT more to learn about making a video, but if you have 5 seconds to spare, check it out…
All rights reserved. Photos and text copyright Jeff Stamer and Firefall Photography 2008-2017