Photographing the Washington Palouse

White tower  Dunes 2 Dunes 1  Farm truck Truck  Palouse falls 3 Palouse falls 1  Palouse falls 2

Here’s the situation.  It is 3:00 am and the motel was buzzing with photographers packing camera bags and tripods in vehicles. Even in my tired fog caused by the long, eight-hour drive the day before, and a late evening talking with photographer Andrew Wozniaka till midnight.  I identified at least three other groups from the one I was with heading off for the Steptoe Butte overlook to wait for sunrise to photograph the patterns on the picturesque dunes of the Palouse.

Located south of Spokane, Washington, the Palouse (pe-looss) region of northwestern United States encompasses parts of southeastern Washington, north central Idaho and extends south into northeastern Oregon.  The peculiar and picturesque dunes, which characterize the Palouse prairie formed during the ice age by soil blown in from the glacial outwash plains to the west and south, the Palouse hills are now mostly actively farmed random humps and hollows.

I had joined four others for an Aaron Reed photography workshop, “The Palouse – Exposure Northwest”.  One could just visit the Palouse and wander around without an organized group, but having a leader that knows the area extremely well, if nothing else, will save time wandering from site to site.

Our excursion began early in the morning with a drive to Steptoe butte. Other photographers that had traveled there from all over North America joined us and some even came there from other parts of the world, although I am sure I was the only Canadian on that morning.

There were toe-to-toe tripods waiting for the sun to work its way across the manicured rolling dunes of the Palouse. As the sun rose a colourful landscape was illuminated, shutters were released, and the excitement began. It took me a while to really look into the landscape and isolate patterns. I am used to photographing landscapes that include mountains, trees, lakes and rivers from my part of the world, and it took me a while to watch and see just the patterns of the undulating landscape.

The interesting light only lasted for about an hour, then the patterns caused by the sun’s low horizontal light were gone and it was time to look for other subjects. Reed had picked out other places to go and until late in the afternoon we spent our time photographing deserted buildings and derelict cars and trucks.

While we stopped I saw a tractor plowing the miles of fields. I liked the dust clouds surrounding it so I ran out in the field and made several exposures. When the farmer finally drove to our location he stopped (covering us all with a thick coat of dust in the process) and got out to say hello.  We had been photographing a particularly distinctive old clapboard building and I asked him how old it was. His comment was, “Well, the house I live in was built in 1901 and my aunt lived in this house long before that”.

Our final destination of the first day was Palouse Falls State Park and the spectacular Palouse falls with its 186 feet (57 meter) drop.  The scenic and impressive falls can’t be seen until you are nearly on top of it. The broad, broken plateau of black basalt that stretches out to the horizon falls away and there they are: the thundering waters of Palouse Falls pounding down into a circular bowl carved out of the cinder-black rock.

We wandered along the precarious edge making pictures till the sun dropped below the horizon around 9PM. Actually the best time to make images of the falls was just as the sun went down because the contrast between the bottom and the top was pretty drastic.

The itinerary of sun up to sun down photography was repeated on the second day. I will say the long days were tiring, but I’d do it again. Well, after a good long rest.

Spending time getting tips on landscape photography from a photographer of Aaron Reed’s caliber was great as was the camaraderie of the others I met on those two days.  And the opportunity to photograph the Palouse was an exceptional experience.

I always appreciate any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at

31 responses to “Photographing the Washington Palouse

  1. Wow! it makes me want to go on a road trip! I really like what you do with your horizons. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us!


  2. Thank you very much for including the workshop experience with your followers here on the blog. I really appreciate it, and the feedback. It looks like you created some great images along the way as well. I particularly like the images of the trucks as well. Thanks again and it was a pleasure to meet you and to have you along with us. Have a great week!


    • I’m really pleased you liked my blog Aaron. I really enjoyed my time with you, your wife and the other participants. Now I know I need do get some ND filters and ND grads. Oh, and I suppose a wider angle lens. Thanks for commenting and for a great time.


    • Glad ya liked my images. The Palouse is an exciting place if one likes to photograph landscapes. I am already planning another trip.
      I am pleased you found me. Now I will spend time browsing your blog site.


    • I really liked the trip and the chance to photograph such a beautiful and interesting landscape. I do want to go back – its a really long drive – next spring. I really appreciate your taking the time to comment..and am happy you liked my images of the Palouse.


  3. John, the orange truck is probably my favorite picture of yours – at least of the ones that I’ve seen. I have this picture on my phone, and I will often view it while I’m shooting to check my exposure value for proper luminance.
    Those colors are outstanding, and that the picture is so bright and still so interesting goes against something in me.
    I love it.


    • Ha….I am glad you like that image and so flattered you took the time to tell me. The group leader stopped and we all got out to view the barn and that old truck. My group mates all got out their filters and tripods – However, I just lay down in the grass and started shooting. (24-70 on my Nikon D2Xs) Everything was on my side for that shot I think..cuz it worked out better than it should have for my insolence with the more serious members.. I will admit pushing the saturation and vibrance sliders a bit.
      Thanks again my friend.


      • You did??? 😉 ha ha.

        This is a serious shot, John, and I would have imagined that you were moving very slowly and deliberately for this one.
        Funny to hear what actually happened.
        And a D2Xs, huh? Did you find that in the glove box of this truck? 😀


      • Thats my main camera for most of my work… I just got a D800e. The D800e is because of the Palouse trip! I couldn’t get wide enough pictures and complained to my wife…who got hold of a friend at Nikon and said “John needs a full frame camera, find him one”. He called and said “I have sent you a D800e, if you don’t like it send it back. If you do send money” so…well you know the rest of the story. But I still use my D2xs for weddings. The D800e is excellent for portraits.
        We will be going to the Washington coast on the last weekend of October (I got snowtires so I can get thru the pass) and I will only be pushing the shutter on the D800e.


      • Incredible. I would’ve never imagined that you were getting these results from such a camera.
        Congratulations on the D800e. That is a heck of a jump. And you are one who will make good use of it.
        Good luck with your drive. I’m looking forward to the results.


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