(A Blast from the Past) Tips, Techniques, and Trips from Palouse Photographer John Clement

At around this time 24 years ago, our local radio stations were putting together the tenth annual Summer Survival Guide, our summertime compendium of regional attractions, recreational opportunities, local folks’ recipes, a daily calendar of events, and other resources. For this particular year’s edition, I’d invited the talented Tri-Cities-based photographer, John Clement, whose work I greatly admire, to pen an article for aspiring photographers. John not only wrote an article for the Guide but also contributed one of his photographs to grace its cover, the first of several contributions he would make over the next few years.

In 1994, we were shooting film for prints or slides (remember those?) John’s recommendation for conservative photographers was to pack at least 5 rolls of 24- to 36-exposure film for a day’s shooting and “15 to 20 rolls per day and a trash can for editing for liberals.” Today’s digital cameras enable us to shoot hundreds of images in an hour’s time, without regard for the cost of film and developing; as a result, many photographers tend to be a little trigger-happy when it comes to our photography. It’s so easy to do; the price of such intemperate shooting is the time it takes to cull through all those images at home.

Though references to film photography are outdated for most, the tips, techniques, and itineraries John shared are as valuable today as they were back then. Please enjoy this blast from the past, with thanks to John Clement for sharing his insights, passion, and talent.

Photographing the Palouse

by John Clement

(Author’s Note: Divine intervention plays a major role in many of the dramatic images that I’ve been able to capture on film. Some may be viewed in a new book called Palouse Country – A Land and Its People by Richard Scheuerman, with photos by John Clement.)

My first experience of photographing this place called Paradise, or the Palouse, began in 1984. It took only a few hours and several rolls of film to convince me that I would spend hundreds of hours, hundreds of rolls of film, and drive thousands of miles across this gentle rolling Palouse Country. It is sheer joy zooming down the back roads, a contrail of dust rolling off the back end of my Ford van, in hot pursuit of just the right light.

Plan Ahead:  I spend many hours scouting locations and making notations on my maps, so that when the weather looks like it’s going to get dramatic in a specific area, I know where I’m going and what is there in the way of buildings, lay of the land, etc.

Lighting:  Be aware of the lighting all around you, don’t focus on just one area or direction. Many of the best shots are done with low sun angle. I usually position my camera so that the sun is 45 to 90 degrees to either the right or left side of my camera.

Another helpful hint when photographing small subjects such as wheat, flowers, and such that are translucent – remember that the color will be much richer when the sun is at some angle behind that flower or green wheat. I do very little shooting with the sun at my back, unless it happens to be a sunset or rainbow. Also remember to keep your compositions simple!! and to use the idea or rule of thirds (see diagram) which states that the point of interest in your picture should be located on or very near to one of the four imaginary points in your viewfinder.

Rimlight on the Palouse ridges is a beautiful sight! The sun will be almost directly in front of you, so watch in your viewfinder for lens flare and try to shield it out with your hand or a small piece of cardboard.

Not Too High: When photographing from one of the many area buttes, such as Steptoe, Kamiak, or Paradise Butte, remember the higher you get on the butte the flatter the terrain will appear. To get that wonderful layered look, go just high enough to stack ridges upon ridges.

❝On this route you will find many wonderful vistas, old barns, lush stream valleys, and wildlife habitat.❞

Where to Shoot: One of my favorite routes to drive is Pullman to Moscow via the old Moscow road, then north on [U.S. Hwy.] 95 to Viola. A few miles past Viola, take a left on [Idaho State Hwy.] 66 toward Palouse. From Palouse, take [SR] highway 272 west to Brown Road, turn right toward Elberton; head west from Elberton to Dry Creek Road, turn right, then when you hit Ragon Road, turn left and head west to Hume Road, which will take you to Steptoe Butte State Park entrance. Now that you’ve completed your first leg of your trip, use your map to return to your starting point, Pullman. On this route you will find many wonderful vistas, old barns, lush stream valleys, and wildlife habitat. And, if you’re willing to be an early bird, you will have the greatest chance of taking many wonderful photos for your album.

  1. Comfortable motel with TV that has the Weather Channel. Why? To plot weather and cloud movements across the region, helping you determine the best possible time to capture that heavenly light!

  2. Make sure you have an area map, one that shows all of the short-cuts to places like Penewawa, Elberton, and Garfield. They are easy to find in the Washington Atlas and Gazetteer by DeLorme.

  3. Believe all warning signs on back roads, such as “Primitive Road – No Warning Signs” or “Passable Only When Dry.” Believe them! I’ve been traveling them for 10 years now. There’s nothing more or less thrilling than spending an afternoon in a dip full of Palouse sucking mud.

  4. Equipment: Tripod, if you have one; Lenses: wide angle, normal, and telephotos are what I use; Polarizing filter (use 90 degrees to the sun) darkens the sky and helps clouds look more dramatic; Film – yes, more than one roll! – 5 rolls of 24-36 exposures per day for conservatives, 15-20 rolls per day and a trash can for editing for liberals! My personal film choices are Kodachrome 64 slide film and Vericolor print film (ASA 160).

  5. When to Shoot: My preference is one half-hour before dawn (yawn!) and up to one hour after sunrise (unless there is a lot of cloud and weather activity around). Same time frame at the end of the day. Good Shooting!

Visit the John Clement Gallery


Follow-up from Rod: Having traveled (in a little different order) the route above, I heartily endorse John’s recommendations. It’s a wonderful immersion into some of the best vistas, landscapes, and iconic subjects the Palouse has to offer, and I’ll add that you’re bound to run into at least a few pleasant surprises along the way. Bring a notebook with you to jot down ideas for future photographic opportunities.

The excellent Washington Atlas and Gazetteer is available at Dissmore’s IGA in Pullman.

Stop by the Pullman Chamber of Commerce for helpful photo maps and brochures. For deeper insight and appreciation, as well as practical information to enhance your photographic explorations, you might also pick up a copy of Martha Mullins’ Reflections on the Road: A Journey Through Whitman County Past and Present, also available at the Pullman Chamber office.

Another great resource is the detailed map of Whitman County, provided on Google Maps, to help you navigate our scenic backroads.

I’ll be posting additional photo excursions and itineraries, including more trip tips from John Clement. If you want to receive an email when these updates are published, just use the “Follow” button at the top of the right-hand column.

*** Do Not Trespass on Private Lands! Please be respectful of private property, including old barns, “abandoned” homesteads and other buildings, and planted fields. ***

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