Loose in the Palouse: Panorama

Sometimes, in a photography workshop, you need to get an early start. Like, really early. Early enough to travel to and arrive at a pre-scouted viewpoint well before dawn, so you can catch the sunrise and morning light that comes with it.

In my case, this ended up meaning, “guess I’m not going to sleep at all tonight.”

The plan was to meet up in the hotel parking lot at 4:30 AM. Nearly the whole group rallied up for it – one doesn’t travel across the country and spend a bunch of money on a workshop to sleep through opportunities.

I’m not a morning person. Normally, at 4:30 AM I’m dead to the world, and if I remembered my dreams I’d probably be dreaming of another solid three hours of snoozing. But on this night, even at 3 AM my eyeballs were still all “boing” from the day before, and the old grey cells had yet to shut down. No point in trying to sleep just for a lousy hour.

Must have been that extra beer I had with dinner, on top of absorbing all the adventure and conversation so far.

So, at an ungodly hour, any light sleepers in neighboring rooms were probably wondering why someone was taking a shower in the middle of the night. And once they crept nearly back to sleep, wondering why some heavily laden clown would clomp down the hall well before the sun was even teasing the eastern horizon.

All for an outside chance for a nice sunrise.

If you recall the last post, the weather wasn’t the greatest the day before – overcast and rain were the themes that drew us to Palouse Falls instead of looking for nicely shaded hills. And while the forecast called for clearing, who knew when that might happen, and what the view would be from Steptoe Butte.

The View from Steptoe Butte

Fog. Not just in the little grey cells. Once we met in the parking lot, it was clear that it wasn’t clear, even in the pre-dawn darkness. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, and we all piled into the van with hopes of kicking butte.

The drive up in the darkness and fog, climbing the spiraling curves of Steptoe Butte wasn’t a sight to behold, unless you enjoy near blind turns with a steep drop on one side. Let’s just say I’m glad it wasn’t me behind the wheel. But once we neared our target we noticed, here and there, amongst enough fog to make a cloud bank jealous, an occasional break in the cloud cover of the slowly dawning day. Still, no sunrise drama.

To make the best of it, most of us tried shooting a time-lapse of the clouds. I had only limited success and didn’t figure out why until a few days later. Oh well, guess that’s the point of a workshop, to try stuff you wouldn’t typically do and learn from mistakes. I can’t blame the lack of sleep. It was just a quirk in my camera I didn’t know about.

A less than exciting sunrise. Being there is half the battle, but you can’t win ’em all. (How’s that for a bastardized cliche?)
Infrared Black and White
Cutting through the gloom with the telephoto

Eventually we punted, and headed back to the hotel for breakfast and the morning review session. After lunch, we hit the road again.

An old shed, shot through the window of the van as we cruised past.

Before they put on the workshop, our leaders did a scouting trip to the Palouse, cruising around and looking for potential goodness. While driving the farm country roads, they came across a tree they thought to be outstanding in its field.

As it had yet to clear up, we got the benefit of a dramatic sky. The tree would not have been near as cool with a bluebird sky backing it up.

At another point we stopped to shoot whatever, and a couple of us broke out our drones. I was one of them. Drones are new to me. I’m learning a new set of skills; both to fly the thing, and to create videos/stills with it that don’t look like complete crap. It’s a work in progress. I’ve created my first video from the drone and stills from the trip; I’ll include a link in the final post in this series to wrap it up.

Meanwhile, I also found something to point the macro lens at…

I wasn’t the only one flying in this neighborhood

… and something to point the telephoto at.

Steptoe Butte. Google maps tells me it was about 10 miles away and about 3600 feet high.

In the late afternoon, it was time to head back up to Steptoe. The weather had finally begun to clear, the wind had dropped to near nothing (rare for Steptoe), and the shadows and warm light were setting up beautifully. If there was a karmic payback for getting up at godawful in the morning and seeing little more than fog for our pains, we got it back with near perfect conditions in the evening.

Since the scope of the view was so vast, and the slices of perspective offered by the telephoto were relatively small, I opted to mostly shoot panorama style; many shots, stitched together after the fact into one big, wide landscape smile.

This may be a good time to click on individual photos for a larger, more detailed view, WordPress shrinks even regular shots too much. Even on the clickthrough, WordPress sometimes sticks its own wrapper around a still somewhat shrinked picture, but sometimes the pic goes straight to a full browser image. If the first option occurs you can right click the pic and open it in a new tab. Or you could cut to the chase and use right click from the get go.

Don Quixote would be seriously overmatched here; many windmills, each maybe 300 feet high.

So we stood along one flank of Steptoe, only part way up to get a closer view of the hills but still high enough for perspective, and hung out for two or three hours watching the sun and clouds paint shadow pictures across the hills and dells.

And as time crept along and the sun moseyed over the horizon, the shadows faded and the warm yellows and oranges shifted to blue.

Eventually the landscape, presumably not susceptible to insomnia, called it a night and slept well until sunrise. Later, following its example, so did I.

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43 thoughts on “Loose in the Palouse: Panorama

    1. That was one of the joys of spending a few hours up on Steptoe that night – the shadows and spotlights were always changing. I suspect a long time lapse would have been interesting.

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      1. I love shooting things like sharks in black and white. Sometimes it helps express the danger of the situation or the power of the creature. I’ve also seen a lot of fantastic cave/cavern images in black and white.

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  1. Lots of things to capture my imagination, Dave: The dramatic tree, always a favorite subject for my camera, the old barn another. And what’s not to love about those green, undulating swales. The windmills reflecting the light were also spectacular. Good job! -Curt

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    1. I was surprised to be as functional as I was that day, guess I must have been running on adrenaline. A little like being jet-lagged in a big way. That day was kind of the payoff day for the trip. It was the main reason I went. The other days were gravy.

      Even though I ended up having to lug around a second camera bag for the I/R and telephoto gear, it was well worth it. For this I/R I really pushed the contrast, but I think shooting through the clouds was the secret ingredient.

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    1. The shed shot was one of those, proper preparation provides positive performance sort of things. I’d snagged a window seat on the van, and had my camera preset at a proper shutter speed and focus. I figured sooner or later something interesting would come up. So when we drove towards the shed all I had to do was line it up and time the shot as we went by.

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  2. I groan and grumble whenever I need to get up early to catch a sunrise, and I am a morning person! It’s always worth it in the end, though. I will forever be thankful I dragged my ass out of med super early one morning to catch a Badlands sunrise. I always figured there’d be other opportunities, but now? Not so much.

    I love your panorama shots! One of these days, I’ll figure out how to stitch photos together.

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    1. Probably the easiest way to do a panorama is to break out the cell phone. I’d guess most of them have a setting for it.

      Think you said you have Photoshop, I’m sure it can do stitching. My regular editor (not Photoshop) can do it on some scenes, but it’s not always reliable. In a pinch, there’s a free software program called Hugin that works pretty well, although it’s not the easiest to use.

      I used to do better with early back in my working days, but now there’s nothing stopping us from staying up later and getting up later…

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    1. I like the I/R shot too, and am a little surprised how popular it turned out to be. Overcast, flat light isn’t generally the greatest for I/R shots. Guess the processing was the trick, I used every contrast technique I could think of.

      But the subject matter didn’t hurt…

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  3. What a special place and you’ve done a great job giving a sense of it, Dave. Your IR shot is captivating with the fog and your shots from Steptoe are beautiful panos. And the lone tree with the stormy clouds works so well. πŸ™‚

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    1. As you specialize in those grand landscapes, I’m not surprised you like this set. The lighting that evening was lovely. I would not have objected to slightly less cloud/shadow, but maybe more spotlighting was a good thing. I’ll happily take it, in any case.

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  4. Ha! 4:30 and is the day half over. Well, exaggerating a little but I am usually up at @3 so 4:30 would be sleeping in. I guess for someone who paid a fair fee that first shot might be a disappointment but as a guy who lives in a fog and loves it I like tha shot and would consider it somewhat worthwhile for the trip. And that dramatically skyed tree is outstanding in its field.
    And you can’t go wrong with all those wonderfully colored rolling hills. I’ve not gone the drone route yet but am looking forward to seeing your video.

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    1. I bet you go to bed quite a bit earlier than I do if you’re up at 3 AM. I admit to emphasizing the cloud’s drama in post-processing, but they’re real – no sky replacement. It was nice having clouds with character; often around here when we have clouds they’re flat grey. The rolling hills, colors, and shadows were the thing that drew me to the Palouse and this workshop. I’m glad the lighting gods cooperated…

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      1. It depends…is 8:00 early? That’s just the way my body clock has been for a few decades. It’s weird in the summer when it is still light out.
        I have not yet used sky replacement although I have tested it to see if it is any good. Maybe, maybe not. I’d prefer to use what nature has offered and am surprised that there are pros out there who do use it. Of course that apparently is small potatoes now that folks are using AI to make images.

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  5. Good to know there are other night owls out there… I’m with you: far easier to stay up for a sunrise rather then try to fall asleep at what many consider a ‘normal’ hour. This reminded me so much of the one and only photo workshop I went to in Big Sur (2013?)… finally the early morning outing to shoot Calla Lilies did me in. I hadn’t slept a wink and they certainly didn’t seem worth the effort…
    Somehow it didn’t surprise me to see recent developments in that very same location: https://bigsurkate.blog/2023/02/19/people-or-calla-lillies-which-are-there-more-of/

    I’m glad you had enough fortitude to stick with it… if I must choose favorites, I liked the telephoto (below the infrared) showing the contours and the trees winding down the hillside, also that tree shot is fantastic…. and the panorama style was perfect to show those rolling hills -very reminiscent of the rolling waves I get to see quite often.

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    1. Sometimes ya just gotta run on adrenaline. Normally, for me, that only happens when I’ve changed a bunch of time zones and am jet lagged, but this workshop also broke up the usual routine.

      The tree shot is moody to start with, and I used a few processing tricks to make it even more so. And yes, panos were really the best way to show the big picture. Maybe I should have attempted a double row pano – don’t think I’ve tried that yet,

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  6. Wow! Absolutely stunning landscapes. I’ve been so lazy, I haven’t been blogging and we’ve gone a way to a few places. When we were in Tofino our friend/guide was showing us camera techniques she was working on in quarantine and I said, “You have to meet this blogger I know, Dave, he’s been experimenting too and his photos are great.”

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    1. How the heck did you end up in Tofino? It’s kinda the edge of nowhere. I haven’t quite been there, but have been in the area. You probably went through Port Alberni to get there; on a few occasions I’ve caught a boat at Port Alberni and motored up the fjord to a dive resort about halfway between the Port and the mouth of Barkley Sound. We dive in the sound east of Ucluelet, usually near one of the islands.

      Of course, I didn’t blog about my trip there last year either…

      You first. If you write a post, I will too πŸ˜‰

      PS: I have written about one of my trips there back in 2016.

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      1. Tofino was our 3x resheduled 2020 trip. We hire our guide/friend and rented a cottage. There was a resident eagle across the water. You guys live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world! We’ve been making our way around the island over the years with our friend. She even jokes, “Don’t learn to drive or I’ll be out of a job.” We’ve been to Port Renfew which was written about, Campbell River to see grizzlies! Took a shuttle bus and went on tours to mainland BC from there. Our very first Vancouver Island trip, we took day trips with her to Mystic Beach, China Beach, and Sombreo. Your region is Shangri-la for me.

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