Using Filters To Overcome The Challenges Of The Palouse

Rewards And Challenges of the Palouse

Every year I anxiously await the arrival of spring and its colors. And there is no better place to visit in spring then in the Palouse. The Palouse region can be found in southeastern Washington and also parts of North Central Idaho. It is the richest wheat growing area in the United States for many reasons. It also grows peas, barley, wheat, hay, lentils, and canola. But perhaps the Palouse is better known for its endless rolling hills of vivid green, rustic rural barns, spring wildflowers, and pastoral vistas that visually amaze the senses. To a photographer this is a dream of sensual landscapes and visual designs where the opportunities to shoot are everywhere. The pastorals are unique to the eye in color, pattern, and designs. And every photographer sees different designs and concepts. Spring is the best time to visit for the lush vivid greens; this is just after the seeds have been planted but before the harvest season. In the following weeks, after seedling, nature will spring from the ground its very own designs like an artist painting. As photogenic as the Palouse is, it can present many challenges when it comes to capturing what the scene looked like at the time of shooting. This is why I never make a trip to the Palouse without all my filters. Opportunities present themselves but exposures can be very tricky when trying to handle the light on the Palouse. This is because the weather conditions in the Palouse are always changing and trying to capture the light is challenging, as it is always moving. Within minutes weather can turn as weather systems move in. Not only do you have to be ready to move with the light, you need to also be able to handle the different exposures that change depending on where you are. Some of the following scenarios are very common and often a variety of filters are called for depending on the situation.

Although I do not shoot much during the day usually, in the Palouse I am always out in the field. I look for conditions of storms and high winds mixed with the sun. These dark clouds present high contrast scenes that call for Graduated Neutral Density Filters to capture detail in the sky. Often the sun is filtered through the clouds illuminating the foreground, and at the same time the darker clouds foreshadow what is to come. It is important in my images to show the mood that these clouds convey. I will spot meter the scene to accurately capture detail in both the foreground and background. I will often have to change quickly the number of stops on my Graduated ND filter to balance the scene and change in light.

Another situation that often occurs in the Palouse are fantastic sunrise/sunsets with spring wildflowers in the foreground. I need to capture the color in the foreground wildflowers and at the same time balance the colorful skies. To achieve this I need a Warming Polarizer to reproduce the stunning color in the wildflowers as well as balance the warmth of the skies with the foreground. I combine this with a Graduated Neutral Density Filter to expose for the foreground and retain detail in the sky as well as keep the saturated skies that balance with the foreground wildflowers.

The most exciting time in the Palouse is when the storms arrive and the wind creates a complete different scene. I try to scout ahead of time for potential scenes that will lend themselves to stormy weather conditions. This weather can make dramatic images with fast moving clouds taking on a life of its own. This is where I like to be creative by using a combination of the Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter and the Mor-Slo ND filter. I will look to combine an element in the scene that is static with an element that is intentionally blurred. The two elements together inject movement into the scene. This can only be achieved by combining the two filters for a long exposure where the static subject is juxtaposed against the blur of the subject.

This combination of filters can also be achieved in situations that are not weather related. An example of this can be the blurred movement of a waterfall against the backdrop of a canyon. The stacking of filters blocks out enough light that subjects in the scene begin to take on new shapes and forms otherwise not seen without a longer exposure.

The most important filter I need to capture the beauty of the Palouse is the Singh-Ray LB Color Combo. This is the filter I use most, as it helps me recreate the stunning colors of the scene I saw with my eyes. I will often return many times within months to capture the few weeks of vibrant greens that seem to last for a short while. Once this occurs I only get one opportunity to capture the color. To get the most of the greens, I will find a composition I like beforehand and wait to capture the scene after the ground has become wet from the rain. The rain helps saturate and add an ethereal quality to the greens. The LB Color Combo allows me to capture the saturation of the fields without a loss of detail and balance this with the deep blue skies. Detail is so important when trying to capture saturation in high contrast scenes. The ambient light from the mix of clouds and sun can really enhance the greens of the pastorals and it is important to have the right filter to capture that moment.


Overall, a visit to the Palouse can be very rewarding yet challenging at times. Having the use of Singh-Ray filters at my disposal to handle the variety of difficult situations has helped re-establish the things I love most about the Palouse.

I hope you enjoyed this blog and if you have any questions do not hesitate to ask me. If you have never been to the Palouse this is one place you have to visit, especially in the Spring.
If you are looking to get here but not sure where to go join us on our workshop here in May where we will take you to some of the best locations in the Palouse and prime time.
For more information please check out our website at http://www.nwphototours.com

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~ by kevinmcneal on March 14, 2010.

10 Responses to “Using Filters To Overcome The Challenges Of The Palouse”

  1. Fantastic post Kevin, your pictures are great and a fabulous addition to demonstrating technical knowledge expressed a great love of nature.
    Thank you very much.

  2. Great colors.

  3. Your photos are stunning. Love the colors and detail. I want to photograph like you “when I grow up”.

  4. A great post. Love the Palouse and will be there in a few weeks. Can’t wait.

  5. I’m with Michael, above. Except I don’t want to grow up!

  6. Thanks everyone for the comments.

  7. This is a great post, Kevin. Last year I picked up some Cokin filters to see if the nature/landscape bug would stick, and this year it’s time to upgrade, though I can’t decide where to start!

  8. WoW Kevin!!! You took this ol’lady’s heart back to a place she saw quite a long while ago. The Palouse left it’s finger print on my heart too… …
    I was there just before harvest time, it was GOLD all around, then something amazing happened.. a brease, and I saw “amber waves of grain” writen of in ‘America the Bautful’ I stoped my car and just soaked in that moment. The Palouse is just WoW and you have capured its beauty. THANKS (Try Harvest time too?)

  9. Great article Kevin.. really appreciate ur efforts in writing. I am planning my first trip to Palouse this spring.. ur tips would be handy for sure. Kevin, may I ask what would be the ideal time to travel to Palouse, I will be coming from California and I am open pretty much the whole April, may, june. except for a couple of weekends.

  10. Seeing your pictures made me want to visit there. So beautiful! Thank you for sharing!

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