Challenge of One Road

The main part of this blog post was written last September after my trip to the Palouse at the end of August. It took me a while to come back to it to finish it. The idea of challenging myself is still very important to me and the post remains very much relevant.

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Blue sky above with a streak of white clouds passing by, yellow rolling hills covered with a patchwork blanket of fields below and I’m standing a top of a butte floating between those two. Such a familiar landscape. So many times I’ve visited the Palouse, browsed its network of dirt roads raising dust clouds behind me in the air, captured its beauty in many images. And yet I visit it again and again. Its rolling hills are comforting, meditative and relaxing.

All my visits up till last would start at Steptoe Butte. It was my way to greet the Palouse, taking it all in in one sweeping 360 degree view. It was an easily most noticeable landmark in the Palouse, a popular destination for photographers, a place where images are easy to come by. The biggest challenge is to make something new.

Lately I had noticed my photos from the Palouse had become repetitive. I had my favorite spot for sunrise photography. I had my favorite spot for sunset photography. I kept visiting them every time I went to the Palouse. No risks taken. Guaranteed sunrise or sunset image. Just the way I had done many times. To do something new I had to do something different. I had to allow myself to fail. I needed to give myself an opportunity to see sunrise and sunset in different places. That might mean that I would leave without a killer shot but I can instead leave with a sense of exploration and wonder.

That is what I had on my mind during my last visit to the Palouse.

The first morning of the trip I got up early, before the first light of the day to come had started filling the starry sky. It was dark and chilly. Rather than rushing to a familiar sunrise spot in the morning – one of those I had taken pictures at during previous visits. I got into the car, drove out of the town and then turned onto some random dirt road letting the sunrise catch me somewhere unexpected, somewhere where I had not seen sunrise before.

I managed to get a few pictures during sunrise in different places. First one was a barn with a gradient of cold and warm colors of pre-dawn light in the sky. Then the light of the sun that rose just above the horizon barely skimming the tops of the hills with a lonely windmill, with a Steptoe Butte in the background.

After the early morning exploration I got back to the hotel to have a breakfast. During the breakfast another thought came to my mind: Do I have to wander about at random places? What if I explore the same place deeper? What if I challenge myself to find new images in the same place?

So I’ve decided to visit the same route I picked in the morning… Fast forward two days ahead, I drove that route six times during the trip. Each time I found new images, noticed things that had eluded my attention before. It was fascinating to observe how my attention was getting sharper. I would not notice those things without that focused exercise.

Besides seeing new things in already familiar places I had an opportunity to see the same places in different light: see them in the morning, at noon and in the evening; see how they changed. And as I was going to the same place over and over I was giving an opportunity for something special to happen. One time I got to see a man fly-fishing in a shallow creek, another time a tractor was working the field rising a column of dust in the sky. All of it by driving the same route over and over.

The take away from this story is that it does not matter how far or how close we travel, it does not matter if we visit an old place or a new, what matters for a creativity is a state of mind. Setting some specific goals for self-improvement, setting up challenges often helps to do something truly new and rediscover yourself.

Experiencing a Place

Lately I started doing something different on my photographic road trips. Staying somewhere for a while. Somewhere quiet with only sounds of nature around.

I don’t mean like backpacking or camping which I like to do a lot. But sometime whether is not very enjoyable for those activities. Rain or snow makes backpacking rather a serious ordeal.

Instead I just drive into remote enough location, open the back of my SUV and sit in the back, looking outside, enjoying sounds of nature, reading a book or typing this blog.

Right now I’m in Steptoe Butte park in the Palouse. It is snowing lightly with sun breaking thru the snow. It is a beautiful winter day. I’m sitting in the back of the car and typing this blog.

I’ve tried to get to the top of the Steptoe Butte… unsuccessfully. The road is not maintainable in winter with lots of snow on it. The temperature is just right for packed slick snow under the tires. Even with all wheel drive I was sliding down instead of driving up.

So, I backed down to the small parking at the bottom of the butte and decided to just enjoy this beautiful winter day.

As I sit and quiet down I start noticing signs of coming spring. The sun is warm and pleasant. Birds are chirping outside. Somewhere under the white cover small streams of melted snow can be heard running briskly and happily.

I’ll probably take a few pictures later but for now I’m just enjoying the place.

Point of View

There are many infinite number of ways to see the same thing. There are many infinite number of angles to look at the same things.

One of the popular photographic spots to visit in the Palouse is a fence completely made out of rusty remains of wheels. There are all kind of wheels in it dating to who knows how old.

A few years ago I went to photograph the fence too. (Hey, after a few years I’ve finally got around to write about it). I’ve started with the classic shot of fence going into the distance.

Then I’ve started looking at all kind of shapes in the fence. It was fascinating. Hay here are only spikes left from the wheel. It looks like the Sun to me. So, I’ve looked at it from very low angle, because the Sun should be in the sky.

The I’ve started looking at what can be seen thru the fence. Here is only rim left from the wheel (it might even matched the spikes above). It frames very nicely the nice white building behind the fence.

The point is: look at any scene and find as many images as possible in it.

Last Ray

I had quite an interesting dialog with my seven year old son about this photo.

Adrian: Dad how did you get to capture the last ray of the Sun on the flowers.

Me: It is not a sun ray. I used flashlight to highlight the flowers as if the Sun was lighting them up.

Adrian: Cheater. It is not a real landscape. Nobody is going to buy it. People like real landscapes.

Beauty is in Details

I’m still experimenting with this technique of multiple exposures over long period of time combined in one image and I like  results better and better. I think I’m onto something. Look at this image. Pretty trivial and  obvious composition. The first thing to note is that clouds look like they are painted.

Then I looked closely at different elements in the image and liked this technique even more. Here is a fragment of a field on the right:

And here is the tree enlarged:

Both elements look like painted. The road is the only element that remains looking as a photograph. This combination of photographic look and painting look creates quite an interesting effect. I’m eager to start printing this to see how it looks in full detail print.

Snow in the Palouse: Steptoe Butte

The whole area has frozen. My car was the only one on the roads making a new track in fresh snow. After driving around at the bottom of a fog ocean I drove to the top of Steptoe butte. As I were reaching the top I emerged from fog. The whole landscape opened up to my view: it was an  endless sea of clouds with peaks of mountains like islands seen on horizon.

I was overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. Snow sparkling in the sun. Roads disappearing in the fog. Pristine white fields in small openings of white fog.

It was just too much beauty around my senses were exhausted. I was taking photos seemingly random, on instinct. I need it a rest.

Back from the top I dove my submarine back into the ocean of fog. Bitter cold but happy.

Snow in the Palouse: White Out

The next morning I woke up early to photograph sunrise. I had a place and scene in mind. Except as always the Nature has its own plans. Everything was still covered in thick fog. it make everything feel more enclosed putting white wall around. Everything was white, fresh and clean: snow on the ground and fog in the air.

There was no hint of sunrise. The fog was too deep for that. So I started to photograph snow in the Palouse in fog. As I was going thru the day my image became more and more abstract and the theme has become clearer: white out.

The whole area looked frozen and deserted. My car was the only one on the roads making a new track in fresh snow.

White out – the land is white and the sky is white. There is only thin line where land meets the sky. And nothing disturbs the quiet stillness of it all.

Where land meets the sky

Where land meets the sky

Where land meets the sky