Icefields Beauty - Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

It has been a few weeks since I have posted due to a non-photographic personal trip to Pennsylvania and Virginia, but I have now returned home. I thought I would kick off with a photo of one of my favorite places in the world, Banff National Park. 

When I shot this photo, I had no illusions that it would be a masterpiece (and it is not). I was with Jeff Clow back in 2014 driving down the Icefields Parkway and we pulled over to take a few shots. It was around noon and the light was pretty bad. In fact, I remember not wanting to stop, but Jeff wanted to. As we shot this scene, I commented that my shots were never going to see the light of day. His response was that there was a good photo here. I replied that it was wishful thinking. A few months after we got home, he posted his version of this composition and I thought to myself that he was right (make you feel better that I put this in writing, Jeff?). I edited this version shortly after and simply forgot about it. I came across this recently and realized that, although it is not a masterpiece, it still is pretty good, so here it is. One thing to note--if I were shooting film, I would have never even shot this scene, but since digital is "free", why not?

Palouse Glow - Palouse, Washington

There is no doubt that Steptoe Butte is the gem of the Palouse. Most of the photos that you might find on a Google search of the Palouse are most likely from there. Despite that, there are plenty of other spots throughout the Palouse that can compete. The problem is knowing where they are. The Palouse is so big (encompassing parts of southeastern Washington, western central Idaho and parts of northeast Oregon) that the only way to find them is to do extensive scouting. When scouting, you need to look for spots that have a decent elevation that give a decent view of undulating landscape. The prime time to shoot this landscape is during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset. When scouting during other times, factors like time of year and the sun’s path is a major consideration. Once you find what you think is a great spot, you must remember how to get back to it on a future trip. This can be a challenge since most of the Palouse has no cell access and you may not even know the name of the dirt road you are on.

One other consideration to consider is that what may look like a great spot when you scout, you may discover that it is not when you return back to it on a future trip. Some of the crops that had great views to it when you scouted may be not great when you revisit them. One factor is time of year. Spring (new planting) and late summer (harvest) can give totally different views. Even if you scout in the spring and revisit during a future spring, things can change dramatically. Late plantings due to weather or crop rotation can really throw a great spot to a bad spot.

The best way to avoid these is to plan a day or two to re-scout the locations and have enough backup spots in your inventory to replace the once that need replacement.

Dilapidated Barn - Endicott, Washington

Photographing the Palouse is both exhilarating and sad. This barn definitely brings some sadness with it. The land that it sits on is also home to an abandoned house and a windmill. The sadness comes in when you consider this was home to a family that farmed the land and, for some unknown reason, they disappeared. Walking in the house's backyard, we found some old toys, household appliance and a deflated basketball. On the hill is an old-time antenna that looks like it is from the fifties or sixties. What happened? Maybe some locals remember, but this place is pretty remote with no one living close to ask.

I first found this location by accident a couple of years ago. The barn was in much better shape back then. The hole you see above the door was maybe half the size that it is now. I am sure that in a few years, it will collapse when the support for it rots away. This too will be sad.

Undulating Road - Union, Washington

Some of the back roads of the Palouse often remind me of a kiddie roller coaster. The undulating landscape doesn't feature the large rises and fall-offs that you might see on an adult roller coaster (although there are some exceptions). It is cool, though, to ride these roads to experience the surrounding vistas, even though we may not know the road or where it will end. What is lost when taking photos like this one are the distant vista views that can be seen to either side of this road. Likewise, looking backwards reveals more of the undulating roads with its twists and turn. So much to see and so much to shoot. While photos often show the beauty we experienced in the Palouse, nothing beats the experience of standing there and seeing the 360° view with your own eyes.

Feeding Time - Oakesdale, Washington

There are plenty of barns in the Palouse that one could capture on digital film. I should know, as Jeff Clow and I scouted almost 100 of them last August. Of all of the ones I have shot, this one is one of my favorites. Why? For two reasons.

First, I love red barns. There is something about how the red stands out against the blue sky and green crops that make photos pop. Red is a very popular color for barns and came about by accident. According to the Farmers Almanac, hundreds of years ago farmers would seal their barns with linseed oil, which is an orange-colored oil derived from the seeds of the flax plant. To this oil, they would add a variety of things, most often milk and lime, but also ferrous oxide, or rust. Rust was plentiful on farms and because it killed fungi and mosses that might grow on barns,  it was very effective as a sealant. It turned the mixture red in color.

The second reason, I love this barn are the horses. Of the four times I have been there, the horses have always been out, although in different locations throughout the barnyard. My first time, they were in perfect position, standing by the side of the barn, making the horses the predominant subject. The time I shot this, they were toward the back of the yard, feeding on their own personal pile of hay, making the barn more of the predominant subject.

Highlights - Steptoe Butte State Park, Washington

There must be thousands of compositions that can be made from Steptoe Butte. Since this was the third time shooting there, I decided that I would focus (pun intended) in on small sections of the beautiful farmland. Shooting with a 150-600mm lens, it enabled me to really zoom tight. The golden hours of sunrise and sunset are a great time to get the interplay of shadows and light. I think my favorite time to capture the farmland is when the very tops of the mounds are highlighted and the little "valleys" between the mounds are in shadow. I know this is a personal choice of mine and may not be everyone's choice, but, trust me, any time during the golden hour is magical.

Tree's Shadow - Steptoe Butte Foothills, Washington

Many of the photos that you will find on a Google search of the Palouse will be taken from the top of Steptoe Butte, the highest location in the area. From there, you can see for miles and you typically use a long lens to zoom into the portions of this undulating landscape. Don't think that there aren't other places to get some beautiful landscapes. There are. When Jeff Clow and I scouted the Palouse last year, we looked for different places to shoot from that were different from shooting from the top of Steptoe but are just as compelling. On our last day of scouting, we stumbled upon this location that turned the tables on Steptoe. Although it was a dreary afternoon and the light was terrible, we both thought that shooting Steptoe from its foothills at sunrise would work well. Hopefully, this photo proves that it did. Not only was the light great, it had some cool elements to use in the photo. I particularly liked the tree and its shadow that sort of pointed to the top of the butte.

Palouse Backroads - Garfield, Washington

Want to explore the Palouse? Be prepared to travel the backroads to find the hidden gems. Most of the backroads are not marked well and are mostly narrow dirt roads. Given the lack of cell phone access, you are likely to get lost on these roads for a while. I know because  I got lost on my first trip there. That is okay because you can often find a hidden gem when you are lost. The problem is trying to find it later. The best way to track locations and get to them without getting lost is to use an app that downloads data (maps, pins, etc.) onto your phone and does not rely on mobile access to get directions. I am pleased to say that on Jeff Clow's Palouse Photo Tour that we did not get lost once, although I fully expected to a few times. In any case, whether you join a tour or explore on your own, you will likely be on a road like this one with a unique view.

Smiley Barn Family - Oakesdale, Washington

Sometimes my imagination runs wild when I think about writing a post. The first time I saw these barns, I immediately thought to myself that they looked like smiley faces. The windows near the top were the eyes with square noses and open mouths. As I sat down to write this, that was going to be the sole topic. Then my imagination kicked in. Taking them as a group, I started to think that maybe it was a barn family. To the right is the papa barn, big and stout. To the left is the mama barn, dressed in red with a Sunday hat. Finally we have the baby barn, still a youngster that is not yet old enough to have grown a mouth. 

Okay, I have taken some liberties with this post. The Palouse has tons of barns that are all different from one another. Some are old and weather beaten. Others are new with shiny new paint of differing colors. Some are falling down (we lost three barns since our last August's scouting tour) and all that remains are skeleton remains. They make very cool subjects to photograph.

Steptoe Beauty - Steptoe Butte State Park, Washington

Being in the Palouse last week just reminded me of what a special place it is to visit and photograph. It is likely that if you are not a photographer, you probably have never heard of it. Other than the beauty of the landscape, there are not a lot of other attractions there to attract other tourists. The Palouse has been described as a culinary wasteland, with most towns not having restaurants or convenience stores. Cell phone service is nonexistent in many parts of the Palouse. Gas stations are few and far between. The area is primarily farmland with some of the richest soil in the US. The people who live there are extremely hard working, supporting the farming industry. 

From a photography standpoint, the rolling landscapes, especially during the golden hours at sunrise and sunset, are some of most desirable subjects. I have heard the Palouse described as the equivalent of Italy's Tuscany region. When you stand on Steptoe Butte and look down on the undulating landscape, you easily understand that comparison. All shades of green and brown can be seen for miles and miles. It's beauty is unique.

Small Clearing - Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, Oregon

As you read this post, I am on a plane heading west for another trip. This time I am headed to the Palouse to co-host a photo tour with Jeff Clow and won't be posting much next week. The Palouse is not particularly conducive to cell phones, and with very long days, any time in the hotel will probably be non-productive.

For today's post, I will take you back to my trip to Oregon last month. The Oregon Coast is renowned for great scenery. There are plenty of photos that show these great expanses of coastline, beaches and sea stacks and those who have never visited there think the whole coast is like that. There are actually large stretches where water is not seen but rather sand dunes. Other stretches are along the water, but the trees are so overgrown that very little can be seen of the beach and coastline without some serious hiking. The best you can hope for is to find small clearings like this one that gives you peeks of the Oregon Coast's beauty. It takes a lot of work and scouting but, when you find one, it is worth the work.

Red Rocks - Sedona, Arizona

You expect to see great colors when you visit the American Southwest. Most of the areas have great sandstone rock formations that have an orange color to them. There is one portion of the southwest that is well known for its red colors, namely Sedona. How do I know that? Just look at the names. Sedona is located in Red Rock County. Within the city limits lies Red Rock State Park. Numerous businesses have Red Rock in their name. I don't know how many roads have that in their name, but I know a few do. 

One evening, I wanted to get some photos of one of the more famous rock formations, Cathedral Rock. Shooting there when the sun is setting is the best time to capture the red glow. Looking on the map, I found the best location to shoot it -- that's right, just off of Red Rock Loop Road. As you can see, I was able to capture the glow, although it would have been better with some clouds. I was mentioning that lack of clouds later to a local and she looked at me like I had two heads. I remember her reply verbatim, “You do know it’s in the desert, don't you? We don’t get clouds too often”. I think I heard Homer Simpson's "Doh" in the background.

Cruising By - Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

Want to put your feet up and see some of the most beautiful coastline that Alaska has to offer? My answer would be to hop on a cruise ship that sails into Glacier Bay. On my quest to visit as many National Parks that I can, I made sure that I hit two of them on my last Alaskan Cruise (Denali and Glacier Bay) that couldn't be more different than each other. Picking a favorite is impossible because of that fact, so I will write about Glacier Bay in this post.

We entered into the bay through the Icy Straits very early in the morning, The park is pretty big, measuring almost 3.3 million acres. To put that in perspective, it's namesake to the south, Glacier National Park in Montana, is only a third of its size. You would expect that given its size and name there would be quite a few glaciers in the park and there are -- 29 of them. Over half of them are tidewater glaciers (glaciers that extend into the ocean) and, of those, nine of them actually terminate in the bay itself. 

I shot this image just after we entered the waters of the National Park. I was sitting on our balcony with my feet up on the small table, wine glass readily available and camera in my lap. Probably the easiest I have ever worked for an image.

La Sal Backdrop - Arches National Park, Utah

I really love the American Southwest and always look for a reason to go back. I have been to the target-rich Moab area almost ten times with its amazing National Parks (Arches and Canyonlands); State Parks (Dead Horse and Goblin Valley); the famed River Road (paralleling the mighty Colorado River); and, of course, the majestic La Sal Mountains. There is something for everyone. My favorite among all of these gems is Arches National Park. All of the amazing sandstone rock formations, along with its unique sandstone arches, are a sight to see. This spot where I took this photo says it all. To my back is Balanced Rock and looking forward are some of my favorite arches. The only one visible is Turret Arch in the middle. To the left although hidden, are the North Window, South Window and Double Arch. I particularly love this spot, because the La Sal Mountains pose as an incredible backdrop to the desert foreground and the sandstone formations. Having a nice blue sky and the faint clouds doesn't hurt the scene either.

 

Face Rock - Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Bandon, Oregon

You might have heard of Face Rock, I know that I did. Before I saw it, I wondered if it really does look like a face? I hope that this photo answers that question as a yes, even though it is more of a silhouette because of the setting sun. I can tell you, when viewing it with my eyes that capture so much more dynamic range than a two dimensional sensor, it absolutely does. I had hoped to capture this rock formation the next morning with early morning light, but the ever present rain and overcast skies prevented a proper photo. I will be headed back in September on a family vacation, so I hope to get that early morning shot.

Shoot This Stack - Bandon, Oregon

We photographers often get extreme tunnel vision when we are standing in front of amazing scenery. We get very focused and don't even realize that others are waiting to try to get some pics too. I am not complaining as I am guilty on occasion of the same thing. The best thing to do is just be patient and hope that they move on. This particular evening, I came to this scene and the beach was empty save these two photographers. They were having quite the discussion and the woman was repeatedly pointing to the sea stack as you can see in this photo. In my imagination, I can hear her say that its getting late and just shoot this stack. That wasn't to be. They stayed there for ten minutes and I finally realized it was time to take the photo and Photoshop them out later. When I started to edit this photo, I remembered my thoughts at the time and that they added a lot to the photo by providing scale to the sea stack, so I left them in.

Soldier Mountains - Route 20, Idaho

I came across this photo that I took back in 2013 on a cross country trip with my son. It was on the return from Oregon and we decided to hit as many National Parks or Monuments that we could fit in without taking us too far off our route. We left Portland and decided to head to Grand Teton National Park with an overnight stay in Boise in between. After checking into our hotel in Boise, I fired up the computer and found out that a short detour would take us through Craters of the Moon National Monument. Off we went the next morning. I had never been to this area before and it isn't very populated. As we turned and drove along Route 20, I saw these mountains that turned out to be the Soldier Mountains and I just had to stop and take a number of photos. I have no idea where along route 20 we were but, suffice to say, if I ever find myself on this road again, I will be looking for this spot again.

Dawn Glow - Steptoe Butte State Park, Colfax, Washington

Steptoe Butte is the place to shoot in the Palouse. While there are quite a number of great subjects to shoot there, the ones you remember most are from the butte. The butte rises 3,000 feet above some of the richest farmland in the world. The top of the butte gives a 360° view of the rolling mounds and undulations that are especially enhanced when the sun is low, either at sunrise or near sunset. Sunrise is my favorite time to shoot there, but there is a price to pay. You have to get up early in May and June (the prime time to visit) as sunrise is around 5am. Factor in the time to drive to the butte and get setup and you are probably setting the alarm for 3:30am. But it is worth it.

Spring finds the Palouse covered with all shades of green unlike the harvest when everything is gold (think "amber waves of grain"). The morning that I shot this photo, I was able to capture both colors. The sun bathed the landscape is a golden that lasted for about 15 minutes before the green began to overpower. Just another morning in the Palouse. I can't wait to visit there again later next week to experience it all over again while co-hosting a Jeff Clow photo tour.

Riding the Cogs - Mount Washington, New Hampshire

Mount Washington Cog Railway

Last summer, my son and I headed up to New Hampshire for a few days as a late Father's Day present. I haven't spent too much time in New Hampshire even though I live in New England. For some reason, I have gravitated to Maine and Vermont. One of the things on my New Hampshire bucket list was to drive to the top of Mount Washington, which we had done the previous day. We had great weather and we decided to take an alternative way to the top via the Mount Washington Cog Railway. 

Mount Washington is part of the Presidential Range, a subsection of the White Mountains. It is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States and the most prominent one east of the Mississippi River. It is notorious for its rapidly changing weather as well as wind speeds. The highest recorded wind speed on the mountaintop was 231 miles per hour back in the 1930's. Knowing this, when we bought the tickets for the railway after our drive, we figured that the next morning the weather might be quite different. As you can see, it was. Instead of a great sunny day, there was a heavy overcast as we neared the mountaintop. It still was a great experience. I took this photo on our descent from the top (the railway doesn't turn around, it just goes down backwards). As I looked at the tracks, I wondered about how hard it must have been to lay them back in the 1860's.

Howling Dog - Bandon, Oregon

A few weeks ago, I posted a photo of the sea stack known as the Wizard's Hat. Many of Bandon's sea stacks have unique names attached to them, such as Face Rock, Howling Dog, Elephant Rock and Table Rock to name a few. Other than Face Rock and Wizard's Hat, the one I wanted to capture was Howling Dog. I might still be looking for it wasn't for the hotel clerk who checked me in. She mentioned that Wizard's Hat and Howling Dog were actually the same stack. Sure enough, when I approached the stack from the south, I took this photo that clearly (at least to me) resembles a dog sitting on his hind quarters, ears hanging beside his head with its mouth raised high as if howling. I hope that you can see the resemblance, as looking at some of these rock formations is like looking at the clouds -- everybody sees something different. 

The clouds and light that evening were really great and I was lucky to get a big wave hitting what I believe is Elephant Rock in the background. For all of the bad weather we had on our trip, landscape photographers would trade it for one night like this.