Soft Light on Palouse Hills

Soft Light on Palouse Hills

Location, Location, Location!

I planned a trip to Washington State to the Palouse region in hopes of capturing a photo or two of the magical Palouse hills that I had seen in articles. This photo was taken at Steptoe Butte State Park, on a windy afternoon.  I was so pleased this photo turned out so well as the wind was gusting, and I had zoomed out to 300mm on my lens.

What’s the inspiration behind the shot?

I had seen some amazing shots of rolling green hills, and I had to know where to capture such a photo.  My research pointed to the Palouse region so on my next opportunity to visit Washington state, I extended the visit to  include a long weekend in the Palouse area. This particular photo was inspired by the late afternoon sun casting the shadows and the amazing golden light enhanced by the dust from the farmers fields.

Techno-talk: Making it happen

It was late in the afternoon at the end of May. We arrived at Steptoe Butte State Park and drove to the top. Working our way down and around the park, we stopped to shoot to the north and to the south side across the fields as the sun dropped in the sky. The sky was hazy with the dust from the farmers fields. What could have been seen as an impairment to the photo actually turned out to be an asset. The dust combined with the deepening shadows created a mystical haze that gave a surreal look to the scene.

The setup

I captured the scene with a Nikon D800 with a 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. I also used a tripod. Since the wind was gusting, I also used the car to help block the wind and set up very close to it.

Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: Nikkor 28-300mm/f4.5-5.6
Aperture: f/22
ISO: 100
Shutter Speed: 0.4 sec
Focal Length: 300mm

Finishing touches

I use Lightroom to organize my photos and do a majority of the post processing. For this photo, the post processing was minimal. It was limited to removing sensor dust spots, adding a filter on the hills at the top of the photo to decrease the level of haze, and a bit of sharpening to a couple of the buildings.

A final thought

I believe that capturing a good photo starts with planning and research. It’s about being at the right place at the right time, but even then, it doesn’t always work out (e.g., the weather may not cooperate).

What sticks out in my mind is a workshop where the leader said, “it takes 20 times”. What he meant was that a photographer may have to visit the same location up to 20 times in order to capture a “great” shot. A shot where there is something magical that sets the photo apart from being “good” to being “great”.

From a practical perspective, I start by envisioning the photo I want to take. I then do a lot of research and planning. I research the area via books and online. I look at photos from the area to get additional ideas. I also research the angle of the sun (LightTrac), and the time of sunset/sunrise for my visit. Then if possible, I scout out the exact location where I want to shoot. Mostly, I make sure I am at the right place at the right time, and then I hope something magical happens to make the shot great.

For this shot, I was lucky, it happened on the first visit.


  • ViewBug – Finalist Sweeping Landscapes Photo Contest! [Dec 2016]
  • ViewBug –  Finalist Monthly Pro Vol 25 Photo Contest [Nov 2016]
  • ViewBug – Member Selection Award [Dec 2016]
  • Smithsonian – Photo of the Day, January 14, 2016
  • National Geographic – Selected for the National Geographic’s Daily Dozen. Won most votes. [December 19, 2014]
  • National Geographic – Published [December 30, 2014]