A letter from Palouse

Claude Ro­bidoux em­barked on an eight-hour drive from his home in Canada to pho­to­graph this spec­tac­u­lar US re­gion

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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 [1].

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

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