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The Palouse: A little taste of Tuscany right here at home...

July 15, 2018

I just returned from a week long photography adventure to the Palouse agricultural region in Eastern Washington state.  Because I had never been here before, I decided to take a workshop so I could learn about the area from someone that knew the region well.  I chose to go on a John Barclay workshop, and all I can say is wow!  If you like to go on workshops, please do yourself a favor and consider a workshop with John, he is an amazing photographer and a wonderful workshop leader.  He has over 10 years of experience leading trips to the Palouse, so he doesn't just know the "spots," he knows the farmers and land owners.  He gets you to the right place in the right light and is there to help you capture whatever your vision might be.  Oh, and he brings along his guitar, so you just might be lucky enough to be serenaded during a rest stop!



The Palouse area is a major agricultural area that grows almost 1/4 of the world's supply of soft wheat.  When you consider that the region is only 3000 square miles, that is pretty incredible!  They are also a major grower of canola.  The rolling hills are the major topographical feature of the region, and I can honestly say I've never seen so many interesting intersecting hills in one place!




The Palouse is truly a photographer's paradise.  I laughed when I first arrived, saying  "all you have to do is point your camera and click and you have a wall hanger!"  I had no idea that this would prove to be the case time and time again as the week wore on!


My first image of the Palouse.  I found this spot while we were driving by and yelled "stop the car" when I saw the cool design on the ground and the gorgeous clouds.  I thought the circles were put there by the farmers as a way to decorate the fields for the photographers! Well, turns out, those are tracks made by GPS guided machines that operate in the fields, they leave the same tracks so as to disturb the least amount of crops. Found that out in the workshop, but I have to say, I like my explanation better!





If you decide to go explore this area, I've been told the two "good" times to go are early June when the crops are green and the canola is glowing gold, and the fall when you get shots of harvest.  One thing to be aware of, and I can't stress this enough--this is a working farm region.  The farmers here make their living off of growing crops, not having photographers take photos of their gorgeous land!  So show respect to the farmers, don't trample crops for a shot, don't wake up the dogs at the crack of dawn because you want to get the sun peaking over that big red barn, and say a polite thank you if you meet any of the residents.  They are delightful, down to earth folks!  And the last thing any of us want to do is make a bad name for fellow photographers!  Remember, when you have a choice, always chose to be nice.  


 The ever changing light and shadow play on the hills makes this a compositional kaleidoscope!


The tiny strip of canola lit by the sunlight seems to be a yellow brick road leading to the farmhouse.  And yes, the sky really is that gorgeous!

I waited with my camera at the ready on a tripod for just the right moment, when the parading light would highlight the red bar and surrounding hills.  I don't think this could be any more fun!!


Driving along any gravel road will present you with gifts along the way, around almost very bend.  A grassy hill with a lone barn and some clouds that defy description appears, you stop the car yet again and get out to take it all in.  Composition in these wide open scenes can be challenging.  You have to work the elements in the scene to try to convey the vastness, or the sense of loneliness.  When it all comes together, you smile, put the gear in the car and drive to the next gift.


 I couldn't stop thinking of Andrew Wyeth as I took photos of this old barn.  It is aging gracefully and carries a message of loneliness and isolation and steadfastness.


The Dahmen Barn is a fun stop during your time in the Palouse.  It's an old farm that is a photographers paradise!  It features old buildings, grain silos and a famous fence made of old rusty wagon wheels and plow parts!  So many compositions are possible, and time flies while you are playing with all the possibilities.  If you go, stop by the artisan's shop where you can pick up some beautiful local craft items.  



 Playing with the Lensbaby Velvet 56 always brings out my creative side!



It's not a photo adventure without a little macro fun!  The absolutely hugest dandelion ever was a real gift, even providing a little prism color against a dark blue sky!   And I couldn't resist playing with a poppy by giving it a creative blur with my Lensbaby.




The true gem of the Palouse is Steptoe Butte.  This big rounded hill is significantly taller than the surrounding hills, and it allows a 360 degree view of the rolling countryside, with the colored fields almost looking like a patchwork quilt of green and gold.  When the sky is clear and the sun is low in the sky, the light skips across the tops of the hills, painting a light and shadow show that a friend of mine refers to as "the magic carpet ride!"  And it truly was!!


 Leading line towards a solo tree, anyone??  Why yes, I think I will.  Thank you!!!



 Flat light this night was still beautiful, you take what you are given with a grateful heart!



But ahhh, when that sun gets low in the sky and lights up the hills from the side with a golden wash, well, it just doesn't get any better than that!  The golden light on the side of the grain elevator lasted only seconds.  It pays to be ready when the magic carpet ride starts!!


What are my takeaway thoughts from this trip?  


~Do your research and chose where to spend your workshop dollars carefully!  You can't do better than John Barclay Photography Workshops, especially to the Palouse!


~Stay vigilant when you are looking for special light.  Often times, the ethereal light that will really paint the scene to perfection is fleeting, lasting only seconds.  Put your camera on a tripod, nail the focus and composition, and then be patient while the clouds and sun get out their magic paint brushes and play.


~Be nice.  So many photographers have gone to this area and trampled crops or awoken farmers at the break of dawn to "get the shot" without any consideration of what their actions mean to others.  No photograph is worth hurting others.  Be nice.  


~Lastly, what I love most about photography is the chance to just be "out there," feeling the wind and watching the majesty of this planet play out right before your eyes.  It makes me feel small, grateful and most of all blessed to be able to see the world through a lens that never fails to make me smile.





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