How to Photograph the Palouse: Bring Creative Ideas, An Open Mind About Gear & A Good Eye

 

A multiple exposure, with the camera set to take 10 shots at a consistent interval, then blend them into one image. The turbines actually have three blades; a single shot would freeze them, losing their rhythmic energy, and a long exposure would have blurred them. I was looking for something different.
All Photos © Deborah Sandidge

Earlier this year I co-led a photo tour in the Palouse region of Washington state. I’d never been there before, but reputation alone indicated an awesome photographic destination offering vistas of rolling hills and farmland, plus all the textures, colors, and plays of light and shadow you could wish for.

Basic research (Google Earth, Google Photos) gave me an idea of what I’d be seeing and experiencing, and from that I knew what gear to bring.

Vast, beautiful, open country is wide-angle territory, so that’s the 14-24mm and the 16-35mm. To isolate some subjects, some elements in the landscape to make them more intimate, I’d take the 200-500mm tele zoom. To create some special circumstances, the 16mm fisheye. And I never leave home without the 24-70mm, no matter where I’m going. Add two DSLR bodies, plus my infrared camera; a big, sturdy tripod; all my filters; and the world’s coolest light-painting flashlight in case I get a chance to do some of that.

I loved the way the wind was pushing the clouds and how the grasses were moving. An exposure of 52 seconds with a Singh-Ray Mor-Slo 10-stop neutral density filter on the 24-70mm lens created a much more dynamic shot than if everything were frozen.

Over a thousand metal wheels surround Dahmen Barn in Uniontown, Washington. There are endless ways to photograph it, but the shadows in front of this section caught my eye, and I thought the fence would look best in the harsh midday light as an infrared shot.

I came back to the wheel fence at the blue hour, about 20 minutes past sunset, and light-painted the rust-colored wheels with the coolest flashlight on the planet: ProtoMachines’ LED2 Full Color Photography Light. I set the camera for 30-second exposures and painted in red, purple, blue, and green. Red had the most contrast and seemed the most interesting.

Okay, traveling out of the country and lugging gear constantly, I’m probably going to travel a bit lighter, but for a special place like the Palouse, where I’m going to have a car, it’s no holds barred. Besides, this isn’t a random selection of gear. I know what I need to get the look a place suggests, plus any creative looks I want to add. The tools shape the mood; they make the difference and create the visual impact I want in my photos.

No matter the destination, I keep a mental checklist of how to make things look different. Maybe I’ll use infrared, maybe multiple exposure, long exposure, or HDR—something, anything, to bring a personal touch to the image, to be able to say, “This is how I see it.”

Maybe I have a good idea of the result, or I might experiment with a variety of approaches. Sometimes there’s something I can do in postproduction. In the Palouse, for example, I took a photo of an old truck, but its color didn’t work for me—it was green, and it blended too much with the surroundings. So I made it red, and that told a better story.

Part of the Palouse photo tour was advance scouting for locations, and during those scouting trips I discovered that the Palouse wasn’t just photogenic, it was also a cultural, historical, and social destination. It was so easy to meet people, make friends, learn about the region—and get recommendations. I was shooting flowers when someone said, “Well, if you like these flowers, you’re going to love my sister’s fabulous garden.” We got invited, went there to photograph, and met a guy who said, “You’ve got to see my junkyard and all the old cars I’ve got.” That led to more photographs.

I included the granary in this Steptoe Butte image because it suggested the essence of the farming area, and it gives a viewer’s eye a place to rest. I love how the land dominates and frames, but what makes the picture is how the shadows are defined by the late afternoon light. Once you get past a certain time of day you lose all that.

I took several HDR sets from outside the back of the bus and blended them in different ways to see which felt best for the scene. This one was a five-exposure HDR.

I knew if I stopped down to f/16 it would create this beautiful starburst effect. I used the 16mm fisheye and set the camera on the ground with my jacket placed under it to get the angle.

Wherever I travel, the location—no matter how photogenic—is just the start. I stay open to all ideas and possibilities I find, or bring with me.

Deborah Sandidge’s website, deborahsandidge.com, features a variety of world photography images, cinemagraphs, photo tips, and a schedule of upcoming workshops, photo tours, and seminars.