Palouse Panoramas


This last spring I visited the Palouse region of Washington State three different times. And while I love the Palouse I have shot there many times before and I am always looking for new view points and perspectives and I was not disappointed. I also came away with a higher percentage of panoramas this time around and thought that was interesting, so I made a podcast episode about it and turned that into a YouTube video as well. Both of which can be played at the bottom of this page.

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Early May

My first journey this year was in early May. The wheat is quite small and really just beginning to grow. This means the soil is dominating the color palette with its many nuances of brown, chocolate, bronze and beige hues, depending mostly on moisture content and whether or not it?s been recently tilled or planted. There?s many other crops in the Palouse such as peas and canola. These fields are very sparse this time of year.

However, this doesn?t mean the photos created are any worse than in June when you have all the vibrant greens the Palouse is known for. On the contrary, you?re bound to find something unique and different, you just have to look a little harder.

Different Locations

I also wanted some new viewpoints so I went around with my friend, Jay, who used to live just outside of Garfield, right in the heart of the Palouse. He lived there for at least 15 years and his family also has many deep roots in farming thousands of acres in the area. He probably knows the Palouse better than anyone so he took me to a few places I?d not been before and I was sure glad to have him as a guide.

Expect lots of rain between April and June. The fields certainly need it but the real issue are those dirt roads. I love the sense of exploring the small farm roads, doing what I can to ensure I don?t accidentally wander onto someone?s private property. And the Palouse is filled with them. When it rains though they can get quite slick right quick. Even in Jay?s all-wheel-drive Subaru we were slipping and sliding all over the place. The gravel roads are no problem, it?s when you run out of gravel that you really start to get into potential trouble. It?s about like driving on ice only your car gets very dirty in the process. Many of these roads I?m going to show you on the map are not for passenger cars in the spring rains. I also went later in mid-June and had the same thing happen, only this time I was in my Buick. I never got stuck, but I also never went more than a tenth of a mile down the muddy road either.

The Images

Jay took me to an area just south of Garfield and north of Palouse (the town). Specifically, the area of Ladow Butte. There?s a small cluster of pine trees atop the butte and a series of farm roads that encircle it. Some of those roads are gravel and well traveled, some are dirt and sloppy when it rains. The views are spectacular from the southern part of the butte as seen here in these two images. 

These come from Kriebel road as shown on this map.

Why I like these images

A part of me likes these images simply because they are unique views (in that they aren?t from Steptoe Butte). There?s certainly nothing wrong with the views from Steptoe. And if you?ve not been to the Palouse before you really should go there. If you have time, you can also squeeze in these areas too 🙂

Also, this spot is relatively easy to get to. What really speaks to me are the shadows, texture and the shapes that form the landscape. And the second image, the one with the sky cropped out, gives a sense of foreverness. The Palouse does seem to go on and on, and I love how this image conveys that idea. By eliminating the sky I somewhat compressed the view and have confined your eye. But then there?s a sense of expanse communicated with the panoramic view.

I converted these images to B&W mostly because of the various hues that caused a bit of visual confusion. I also very much liked the idea of the forms and texture and when I eliminate the color I find my eye latches on to these things even more strongly and the image is transformed into a commentary about the shapes, textures and patterns that the region is known for. Color is also what it?s known for and if I were to show you a picture of the soil-laden Palouse you?d probably discount it a bit simply because it?s not what you expected. When I remove the color I remove your expectations of all that bright green that we?re used to seeing.

That?s not to say a color image would be bad that shows off the soil. But for these images, the B&W just worked better in my opinion.


I only had one day with my friend Jay in May. June was all by myself. As a professor, I was really looking forward to June 14. Graduation day. With COVID doing its thing we didn?t actually have a normal graduation, but this day was a transition for me as we officially ended the regular duties and summer began. Also, I had originally planned for my Shoot-n-Print workshop to happen starting today, but again, COVID. So that?s now pushed to September and I?ve changed the venue too. Read more about it here.

We also closed on the sale of our home for the last 11.5 years on June 12. So I was foot loose and fancy free! The wife said I could still keep my plans to go shoot so I did, not ?that? free I suppose 🙂

And it was great. A wonderful time to decompress and make some images.

June 14

These first two images come from June 14 and they?re from the same area as the previous two created in May. But just a bit further down the road to the west. I?ll not put a map here since they are literally in the same area.

The first image is B&W more for the reasons of emphasizing texture and shape again. The colors were rather monochromatic with the wheat doing it?s green thing and Kamiak Butte with its pine trees. The sky is a nice generic blue with puffy clouds. The B&W treatment forces the eye to pay attention to the contrasts of textures and that?s what I think makes this image successful. Color would not really get in the way on this image, but again, it?s more of a visual push into the realm of texture and shape.

The second image is the exact opposite approach. Without color this one would simply be a shoulder shrug. There?s less texture evident in this one but the shapes are striking and made even more striking with this lighting. This is an HDR panorama put together in Lightroom only. In the next few days/weeks I plan to revisit this one in Photoshop and show a comparison of before and after Photoshop. I think I?ll get a bit better control over the color transitions in the sky and better shadow control as well on those hills. I also don?t care for the small pool of water in the foreground area so that may also get wiped clean via the clone stamp tool.

I like the warm and cool colors and the clouds, but I think more control over the exposure blend will create a more pleasing result than what Lightroom can do alone.

June 15

This day was mostly a wash. Literally. All these images are the same subject because this was the only good light I had all day. Sunrise was at about 4:45 a.m. and I?m back, once again, near Ladow Butte at the barn along Ladow Butte Road, just north of the intersection with Kriebel Road. It was so brilliant and amazing. Totally worth it. However, it started raining about ten minutes after these images were made and it didn?t let up all day. I did get a few other shots but the day turned into an exploratory drive more than anything else. That and a nap since I was up so early for sunrise. I covered a lot of ground and got some good ideas on where to go with some good weather. I just need to remember not to delete my images as they are all geotagged with the built-in GPS in my Canon 5Dmk4 DSLR camera.

I focused on silhouetting the barn and rendering those clouds as brilliantly as I remember them. The images I want to talk about first are the three that look the same but exhibit subtle differences. The first image was my initial edit. The second brought out a bit of shadow detail which also caused the clouds to lighten a bit which wasn?t intended but I decided to post it in my Latitude Photography Podcast facebook group anyway. By the way, if you listen to the show please consider joining the group. If you?ve not listened, please try it out here.

I asked the listeners which they preferred. By far they liked seeing some of the shadow detail. But I had many comments saying they liked the clouds from the other shot better. So that?s what the third shot is about. And I think they?re right. If I print this I believe I would want some detail in those shadow areas. How much detail remains to be seen, but I would want some that?s for sure. It?s too large of an area to have solid black in a large print.

The last image, the vertical panorama, has the barn left completely black. I think it?s acceptable here because it?s smaller and we don?t have the expectation of wanting to see detail in the shadow areas on this one. I love how the sky transitions from the brilliant clouds to the blue sky above and that?s certainly why I created this image. However, it originally had a faint contrail across the upper third of the image. I took it into Photoshop to remove it so the viewer can simply enjoy the image of the brilliant puffy clouds and not be interrupted by this visual impediment.

June 16

Today was much better on the rain side of things. A few slight drizzles, but nothing too bad. The water was still on the dirt roads meaning I could not safely drive on them in my Buick. I had grand plans to get up for sunrise again, then come nap for a couple hours and be out by 9 or so. But I forgot to turn on my alarm so I slept until about 6:30. I was on the road by 7:15 and drove about until just after noon. I found this brilliant nature walk just off the Palouse Albion Road. It?s called Rose Creek Nature Preserve. Here it is on a map

I don?t have any pictures to share from here on this post as this is all about panoramas, but it?s a great place for a short hike and some not so cliche shots of the Palouse.

This image of canola was found along the Palouse Albion Road at the junction of Banner Road. Here?s a map:

This was by far the largest field of canola I?ve ever seen. It went on for at least two miles along the northern edge of the road. I just couldn?t believe what I was seeing. It was a bit difficult to find a composition that I knew would work as it was information overload. I finally found a spot with a subtle roll of the hills and the clouds were perfect, so I isolated the yellow parts of the canola with the clouds and made a three-frame panorama. This image speaks to me because of the brilliant mood it creates. The bright color of the canola contrasts nicely with the clouds above. Both in textures, color and overall shapes that they form. The yellow is bright enough to convey a positive vibe and the clouds are dark enough to give the viewer pause, causing the image to be studied just a bit more before they move on.

June 22

For this last image I joined a regular contributor/guest to my podcast who was visiting friends in the Spokane area. She suggested we meet up and I suggested Palouse Falls State Park since I knew I?d be in the Palouse region the week prior. So we met there at about 4:00 p.m. and the day was quite hot and clear. Hardly a cloud in the sky. When I have a pure blue sky I  get a little disappointed since I know the light will be harsh and there?s just nothing interesting happening in the sky so what?s the use?

I attached my 70?300 lens and figured I?d zoom in for some details on the falls. I?d done this approach before where I freeze the water droplets, which makes a great pattern, and blur it a bit causing a different pattern and texture to emerge. However, when I got to the cliff?s edge and saw the rainbow made possible by the very bright light and I was happy to try something new.

My initial position was placing the rainbow a bit to the right of the falls and any composition (about 70mm) I was getting was just too distracting. I needed to zoom in (200mm to be exact). But I liked the energy that the falling water produced. I used a polarizer to help emphasize the rainbow just a bit and to help slow down my shutter speed since it also takes out about two stops of light. I figured I needed the water to have some blur to it to contrast the texture of the basalt rock wall behind it so this was a good solution. I captured three shots across the scene trying to keep everything level and straight across. To do this I use my built-in accelerometer and it?s view on the screen during live view mode on the camera. It helps to make sure I?m level, and then as far as going across the frame, I simply look at a feature in the image and compare it to its relative position to the overlays on screen. As I move it from frame to frame I try and keep those elements from rising or falling in the frame. I wasn?t perfect in this image but I was close enough and made the shot you see here.

We then walked up to the upper falls area and got out to the outcropping where the falls take their final tumble into the huge bowl where the pool is. I didn?t shoot anything there but I did get a few shots of the upper falls area. No panoramas, but still some pretty decent shots I?ll post or talk about later in the podcast. 

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