A letter from Palouse
Claude Robidoux embarked on an eight-hour drive from his home in Canada to photograph this spectacular US region
A few years ago I heard of the Palouse through a photographer I had met in a gallery. I had no idea what or where it was, so when I got home I researched it on the internet, and after looking online at images of the region other photographers had taken, and knew I had to go there.
The Palouse is roughly an eight-hour drive from my town, and being a father of two young daughters and working on the railroads away from home I can’t free myself very often, but last August I finally took the plunge and made the trip.
The Palouse is located in south-east Washington State and parts of Idaho, and what makes it so attractive to photographers is the Steptoe Butte State Park. Driving through the park’s rolling hills I was already in awe of the landscape, and my excitement intensified when I started up the big hill that is Steptoe Butte itself. There’s a road that circles the butte all the way to the top, with a few places to pull over along the way, and a large parking lot right at the top. From here I was rewarded with spectacular views of the surrounding hills as far as the eyes could see. Dotted around the landscape are a few farms, houses, trees and roads, and farm machinery on the move.
I had read that the ‘golden hour’ was the best time to photograph the hills on a sunny day, and having driven all day I
The lower the sun, the longer the shadows on the landscape, which creates an eye-catching three-dimensional effect
arrived a couple hours before sunset, so my timing was perfect. After pausing to take in the view and work out where the sun was going to go down, I set up my tripod and started composing images in the viewfinder so that I’d be ready when the moment was right. The lower the sun, the longer the shadows on the landscape, which creates an eye-catching three-dimensional effect.
The only lens I used was my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8, which is wonderfully versatile: at the short end it was perfect for wide compositions that included the sky, while if I zoomed in I could isolate parts of the landscape and focus more on leading lines, shapes and shadows.
The Palouse changes throughout the seasons, and in August they harvest the wheat, which gives much of the landscape a light brownish colour. At first I was a bit disappointed, because in many of the images I’d seen, the hills were mostly green, but the opportunity to photograph the harvest made for some interesting shots.
I took as many shots as I could before the sun finally disappeared, trying different compositions. And as I always do after sunset, when everybody packs their gear and leaves, I stay to observe the changing colours in the sky. The sky became a deep blue and the clouds turned pink, and these colours complemented the brownish hills below.
Time to explore
That night I found a hotel in Colfax, a town located less than 30 minutes drive from Steptoe Butte. The next morning I was up at 4am to make sure I would be on time to capture images at sunrise. On account of the harvest it was very hazy and dusty, which isn’t usually a good thing in landscape photography, but here it allowed me to shoot directly into the sun without capturing any flare as it rose over the rolling hills, looking like a giant yellow ball .
Steptoe Butte isn’t the only great location in the Palouse, and after trying different compositions for about an hour after sunrise, it was time to explore the countless gravel roads in search of barns, lone trees, and anything else the farmland had to offer. The Palouse has become so popular with photographers that the Chamber of Commerce in Pullman, the area’s largest town, has produced a ‘Photography Hot Spots of the Palouse’ map, which shows you where to find old barns, red barns, lone trees, abandoned houses, windmills and good viewpoints. I didn’t have time to visit all the little towns, but I did stop at Palouse town, where I photographed some colourful cafes and stores.
I enjoyed my trip so much that I’m planning another one in the spring. According to the locals it’s the best time to visit in order to capture the hills when they’re green, while others are yellow from the canola, a sort of rapeseed. The weather in spring is less predictable, and it rains more often – but that will just make for more dramatic and interesting images! w
01 HaRVES T SUN Nikon D610, Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8,
1/15 sec, f/8, ISO100
Sta rk lines fo r miles
Nikon D610, Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8, 1/25 sec, f/8, ISO200
02 Not of th is wo rld? Nikon D610, Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8,
1/20 sec, f/8, ISO100
03 Windmill s in th e distan ce Nikon D610, Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8,
1/60 sec, f/10, ISO100