It is time for my annual Palouse trip. This year I’ll be in the Palouse for two weeks, running two back–to–back workshops with four participants each. For those of you that don’t know, the Palouse is an area of southeast Washington State that is comprised of rolling hills, small towns, and has some of the richest farmland in the country. The specialty crop here is wheat.
I discovered the Palouse in 2005 and have been photographing here almost every year. There are two times to visit this area: the early summer (now) and the middle of August for the harvest. The rolling hills are beautiful this time of year with wheat as far as you can see. These hills are green with paths of brown from freshly plowed dirt. The big, puffy cumulus clouds that adorn the sky move and cast shadows on the hills and regularly make them a dynamic part of the landscape as the shadows move.
There are also many farms, abandoned houses, old trucks, and surprises around every turn. There are no preset vistas or overlooks. From experience, I know of a few great locations, and everything else is exploration. This is a dynamic landscape.
Unlike previous years, I have opted to run small group workshops with only four participants each. This is a direction I’ll be headed with workshops at Luminous-Landscape. Smaller workshop sizes aimed to focus on delivering more instruction and guidance. The Palouse workshop includes being picked up at the airport and having your own room at our base hotel, all meals, and transportation to all locations. Other workshops usually charge a fee and all other expenses, as well as transportation, is your responsibility. This makes for long caravans of cars. Parking can be hard along narrow country roads.
Our group works from the back of a large SUV and we can move quickly and visit many more locations. Plus, we are together and talk a lot about photography. No political discussions allowed. We can move to more areas, shoot together, and pack up quicker to chase the light.
While I’ll have more to say on this in another article, there are too many photographers in the Palouse now. Too many workshops. When we began workshops here in 2005 we never ran into other groups. Now everyone is running workshops here, and many have fallen from grace with the locals. Favorite spots that were once a must-see for visiting photographers now have “No Photos – Keep Out“ signs posted. These locations are places I have visited many times. I know the owners and have always given my images as well as a fee for their kindness in letting us visit. It seems there were a few bad photographers that have ruined it for all of us. I will compile that story and share it another time. Unfortunately, this seems to be the case wherever I have visited lately. From Iceland to Norway to the National Parks there are just too many workshops and photographers, and some of them are not being run responsibly. Also, some photographers have seemed to lose what most of us consider common sense. I was told of one story that happened a week or so ago, where the sheriff had to come and get a workshop out of a farmer‘s field. This group stopped, brought a model, lights and all, into his field without permission and with no regard for the farmer’s crop. What kind of responsible workshop leader does this?
The farmers in the Palouse are some of the friendliest people anywhere. I know a good number of them. They will openly share what they are doing, their challenges, and gladly show you around. If you are lucky at harvest time they will even give you a ride in a harvester. One of the problems is that the chamber of commerce has been advertising the Palouse around the world. There are now buses full of foreign tourists that flock here. If any of you have run into this, you can imagine what problems that must cause. One bus tried to get up Steptoe Butte and found it couldn’t maneuver the narrow road and had to back all the way down. If you have been to Steptoe, you can imagine the mess that caused.
Let’s change the subject and talk about the gear I’m using on this trip. Last year I shot the Palouse workshop with the Fuji XT system. This year I have opted for the Sony A9 and A7rII with a 24-70mm G-Master, 70-200mm G-Master, as well as the 16-35mm FE lens. I have a few other lenses for special purposes like the 90mm Macro, 14mm Rokinon and the 150-600mm Tamron with LEA3 Adapter. I also have my Mavic Pro for some aerial images at a few locations.
All fits into my very old ThinkTank Airport Security rolling bag. This works because, for the most part, we are shooting out of the car. The Mavic has its own case with everything needed in it.
Our workshop begins on a Tuesday for both of this year‘s back–to–back workshops. I pick the four attendees up at the Spokane airport around noon. We do a quick introduction and lunch and then we head out. I begin our workshop at a great place full of rusty old trucks. From there we start to wind our way through the western part of the Palouse until we arrive at our hotel around 8 p.m. We’ll shoot the hills and fields as the sun goes down, creating interesting and photogenic shadows.
After checking in, we head to a group dinner and several great eating establishments in Pullman, WA. Meals are included with the workshop, and we do eat well. Then it is off to bed because we will be on the road by 4 a.m. the next morning.
I have a couple of sunrise locations I use. We usually do two sunrises for each trip and three sunsets. After a sunrise, we will shoot for several hours before heading to breakfast and back to the hotel for a few hours of rest. We will be heading out in the early afternoon and be out until sunset.
I regularly break our trips out into segments of the region, as you can see from some of our GPS tracks below.
We will visit one of the largest farms in the Palouse, and we will drive deep into the fields and reach a high point to look out at a magnificent 360° vista. We’ll watch the sunset from here.
Our days are spent visiting small towns, shooting small farms, abandoned houses, and a lot more.
We spend one day, usually Thursday, in a meeting room going over what we have shot so far. We discuss post processing, third party apps, Photoshop, composition, cropping, and just about everything related to the photography that we are doing. Then it is back out for a late afternoon of shooting and sunset before another great dinner.
Before we have finished our four–and-a–half days together, we will have shot thousands of images. We will be tired, but we will be happy.
In 2018 I plan to offer workshops here for the summer and harvest. These will be announced soon.
We have completed our first trip now, and it was a fantastic group. We start all over again tomorrow with a new group and a forecast for excellent weather.
Gear used by our attendees include Fuji X Pro2, XT1, Fuji GFX50, Hasselblad 100, Phase One IQ180, Sony a9, Leica SL, and a Nikon. Canon didn’t make this trip.
A Few More Images
Our GPS Tracks