by Brent Bergherm
Downtown Walla Walla
Photographing downtown Walla Walla can be very rewarding. It can also be a very daunting task. Lighting can always be an issue. Traffic is always present during the day and evening. And the buildings, while awesome, are rather compact so getting a good view can seem impossible sometimes. While there’s tons of places and things to shoot, I’ve highlighted a few here to get you started. By all means, look around, explore and find your own treasures. I’m only suggesting these few locations are a great place to start. So, let’s get to it:
- Baker Boyer Bank. One of the oldest banks west of the Mississippi river, this bank is about as old as Walla Walla. They’ve been here since gold was found in the Idaho hills and the prospectors would winter in Walla Walla. And they’ve grown to one of the largest and most trusted banks in the region. Banner Bank is just around the corner and they also have a great building.
- Falkenberg’s Clock. The only examples I seemed to pick out here are for night time shots. Certainly it’s a great subject at night, but it looks great during the day too. Try using a long lens and isolating it from afar with some type of building in the background. Or go wide angle and take it all in.
- Odd Fellows Wall. Looking for a great story? Here you go. The Odd Fellows building was razed in 1993 but ArtWalla, a non-profit arts organization, arranged to relocate it here. But the “windows” were blank. They only moved the sandstone facade that was hand carved and originally built in 1902. But in 2010 the “Windows on the Past” project was completed and we now have this great installation of art to enjoy. Read more about it here.
- Historic Buildings. Walla Walla is filled with historic buildings and facades. Just wandering around town with your zoom lens will be a treat as there’s a new structure to explore around every corner in the historic core. Learn more about our great award-winning downtown at the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation website.
- Marcus Whitman Hotel. Built in 1927, this building embodies the story of downtown Walla Walla in one structure. It fell into disrepair over the years and in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s it was renovated and opened again as a luxury hotel in 2001. It also serves as a great landmark to navigate by as you can see it from almost anywhere in town. Learn more about it here.
- Grenier’s Radiator. It’s not really a town “fixture” per se, but it does look really cool with it’s 1950’s appeal. The cars out front always seem to be changing which just adds to the fun. You’ll find this business on Colville between Oak and Cherry Streets. Head generally north on 2nd from the Marcus Whitman Hotel, turn right on Cherry and left on Colville. It should take you about seven minutes to walk it from the hotel.
Tap the map to see where these spots and others are located.
My preference is not to go too wide with downtown shots. It’s all to easy to over distort the buildings. I recommend the 16-35 f/2.8, or Canon’s 16-35 f/4 that has IS. If you shoot a crop-sensor camera go for the Tokina 11-16. It’s such a nice and incredibly sharp lens. For a prime shooter, the 24mm by Canon or the 21mm or 25mm by Zeiss is sure to please. For the ultra compact experience, don’t forget the Fuji. Lightweight and top notch quality make this a great choice for the travel photographer.
Go for the 24-105 when shooting downtown. The 24-70 is sharper, but the extra flexibility of the 105 is nice to get some details. If you’re looking for the ultimate sharpness and clarity, go for a 50mm prime (non-zoom) lens. the Sigma 50mm Art or the Canon 50mm or even the manual focus Zeiss. All are insanely sharp and they’ll allow you to render the subject very well with a “just right” field of view.
For downtown, the 70-200 is my go-to lens for isolating details. You’ll just not really “need” the extra zoom if shooting downtown. Of course, if you’re mixing it up with various locations to shoot, then by all means go for the 70-300 or the 100-400. Each lens will serve you well downtown but the preference goes to the 70-200 for its f/2.8 opening. I just like that for downtown and for handheld shots when it’s needed. All these lenses are image stabilized so that helps keep the subjects sharp as well.
Many storefronts will have some subjects that want to be photographed with a macro lens. But I don’t find downtown shooting to be really a “macro” kind of thing. The 100 or 180 by Canon is great for dedicated macro shots, but you could also save a bunch of money by getting the extension tubes. Use the 70-200 as a macro with this setup and you’ll have saved a bunch of money and you’ll still come away with some great quality shots. I recommend a tripod.