Topic: Wheat (16 posts) Page 1 of 4

Post Wheat Trip 2023

I've been back from the Palouse wheat-growing region of eastern Washington for a little over a week and thought I'd post what I learned from the trip and share a few pictures I made while there.

Logistics: This was my first time flying since Covid,  so I was apprehensive. I needn't have been. Everything seemed normal. I was based at the Best Western in Colfax, a little over an hour south of Spokane. Late August is just after the second harvest so most fields were cut and a rich yellow. This meant for a limited pallet but nevertheless a magnificent one.

8 days of getting up early, driving twisting two lanes and farmer's gravel roads, pulling over, getting out, pointing a camera at a field, getting back in the car, driving on, sometimes a few feet and sometimes for miles. And then all over again, endlessly, working through until late morning, back to my motel home, downloading files, taking a look at what I just shot, biding my time, then back out again for late light starting around 3 pm.

The fields turning more orange when hit by the setting sun. Simply exquisite and mesmerizing day after day. 

I did one flight on the fifth day, with "Caleb" as my pilot, a flight instructor who couldn't have been more than 25. A first was the clouds above us and the wispy spotty clouds below us too.

I use a Kenyon Gyro Stabilizer clamped to the tripod socket of my camera. It has spinning disks inside turning at high rpm. I turn off all the stabilization in my camera and lens as the Kenyon takes over. It is heavy and cumbersome but very effective as small planes shake a lot.

(image courtesy of Kenyon Labs)

It is very heavy as well, so I ship it ahead and ship it home again. It's built like a tank and has a large battery tethered to it.  

By the 7th day, I've had it, feeling burnt out and exhausted. Tired of the same thing every day, working in a place very limited in terms of what it offers, besides wheat fields. But pleased at some seriously good work "in the can".

Now, back home, coming down off the high of a good trip with a single focus of making these wheat pictures, I am working on the first edit and starting to make prints. A long, slow process taking several months, eking out the best of what I shot.

Over the past 25 years that I've been shooting in the Palouse, the area has been discovered by all sorts of photographers. There are now photo workshops, groups of photographers being ferried around in vans to "choice spots", led by characters who know the area "better than anyone else". Well, I beg to differ. It's tempting to get defensive, feeling the Palouse is my backyard.  Ah well, here's one more, then it's back to work editing wheat.

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Topics: Wheat

Permalink | Posted September 12, 2023

Wheat Two 2019

This is the second in a series of posts about some new pictures I made in Washington in June.

They are here.

By Day 3 I was in a groove. Get up and go shoot. Simple enough. I made good work over the next couple of days.

I was there to make pictures of the rolling wheat fields and that's exactly what I was getting at the end of each day.

The type of rental car is important as I spend all day in it, schlepping equipment in and out of it in an endless succession of setups and tear downs, day in and day out. This time it was a Kia Soul, a little box of a car that was perfect: great visibility, fun to drive and no fear about getting stuck or centered on back farm roads:

By Day 4 I was feeling as though I had begun to accomplish what I was there for.

I wasn't finished or completed by any means but I could afford to try some different approaches and stretch the principles a little. Hence this; the "Wheat Suite" as I call it, the effort to distill the work by photographing one area extensively

In this sub group there are 14 pictures, all made from the same vantage point. 

We play such a "selectivity" game as landscape photographers. What we choose to include in the frame verses what we exclude makes all the difference. Using a couple of longer lenses I varied how much was in and how much was out, longer for more        distance with more compression of the visual space. For much of my career I never used longer focal length lenses. Most view camera work doesn't use anything very long. It wasn't until I started working digitally in about 2006 that they came into play.  I was working on the Cabela's project (here) and I needed more reach to get at the taxidermy displays.

This one was a long reach across the store's showroom floor, compressing the mannequins into the same space as the taxidermy mountain in the background. This picture is one of the reasons I find photography so rewarding. 

By Day 4 I also started working with other subjects in the Palouse. This is rare as I usually stay mostly on topic. But some things just hit me and the acute islolation

of something like this corrugated barn, with the light modeling it so perfectly just stood out.  

Next up? We will continue with this series looking at the remaining days I had left to photograph and I will include some of the aerials I made on Day 5.

Your comments always welcome: Neal's Email

Topics: Wheat,West,Color,Digital,New Work

Permalink | Posted August 27, 2019

Wheat 2019

It must be the career teacher in me but I am going to try to use some new work made in June to address some issues concerning making landscape photographs. This may take a few posts. 

I've just put the the new photographs on the site in the gallery page:

Wheat 2019

Perhaps I can prevail upon you to take a look before we move ahead?

47 final photographs made as prints, edited from a total of 1224 frames shot. Even with that extreme edit, 47 is far too many to present in a portfolio. But this is how it works, over-the-top quantity to arrive at a portfolio of high quality. I am in the very final stages of printing the project, looking over earlier prints that no longer fit or files that need reprinting. Eventually I will get  down to 20 or so. It's a struggle. These days, I usually end up with an A portfolio and a B portfolio. Think primary and secondary. This  gives the option of showing more work if requested.

It was a ten day shooting trip. Up before dawn, head out, drive, shoot, drive, shoot; a practically endless succession of pictures over a week and a half. If close to the motel I'd head back midday to rest, work on files, eat, then head out again around three until the sun set. Day after day. This routine broken by a rainy day, or a flight for an hour or two. I drove out to Palouse Falls one afternoon for a change. Man cannot live by photographing wheat fields everyday or too much of a good thing makes you crazy. 

Day 1 included flying into Spokane and driving south to Pullman where I was staying. I don't assume good work from the first day but this one was an exception:

If new to the blog you wouldn't know that I have been photographing the wheat fields in the Palouse in the state of Washington for 25 years. Like returning home to see an old friend. That lets me hit the ground running.

In this case the landscape of the Palouse is like a canvas and the resulting photographs are different interpretations of what is there, using different light and times of day,  the tools I have to work with in this minimal and sublime place to make my pictures. 

Day 2 was long, early to late

but very rewarding. This being mid June the fields were fairly mature and some were being harvested as the Palouse allows two growing cycles each season.

The wheat field pictures I make serve as a continuum, my longest running series, reflecting changes in aesthetic and in proclivity and serving as a barometer on how photography itself has changed. The first five years I photographed wheat was with an 8 x 10 view camera in the 90's, making black and white prints in my darkroom.  

The prints are on 25 x 17-inch paper and are both easy and very difficult to make. Easy to get something good, hard to get something great. 

In Wheat 2 we'll look at more work and even go into a couple of subsets that veer off from the larger project. 

Google Image search the "Palouse" and you will be confronted with a bewildering display of rolling fields in glorious colors, replete with barns, grain elevators, hay bales, combines during harvest, even pictures of photo workshop participants, for this is a most popular place to photograph.

This last one, from 2000, on 8 x 10 Fuji transparency film, scanned at high resolution on the Scitex Eversmart Pro, and printed on the Epson 9900 inkjet printer at 56 inches across.

Topics: Wheat

Permalink | Posted August 25, 2019

Wheat Again

If you've been reading the blog for a while you know that my photographs of the wheat fields in the area of eastern Washington called the Palouse have been central to my oeuvre for over twenty years.  I packed up and was on a plane to Spokane at dawn on Saturday.

After the opening of the American West show in Allston last Thursday I was done. Shows are work and this one was in many ways more work than most. One person shows put it all in one place: you. 

As I write this on Tuesday afternoon (7/2), I realize that being here, amid this incredible beauty, clean air, and blue skies, my mood and my disposition were severely affected by the photographs of fire damage at Paradise, CA included in the American West Show.

It is all too easy to see doom and gloom in our world these days. Being here in the Palouse, the extensive agricultural region in the southeast of Washingon, is like stepping off, getting free of the crisis that our daily lives are these days. In all the years I've been coming here little has changed. The land that time forgot.

So, what of the pictures? What am I here to do? Is it more of the same or something different?  The answer is a little of both. The last time was in late fall of 2016.They  are here. Rougher, coarser, the time of year predisposed the pictures completely. Here in early July they are not far from the first cycle of crops being ready to harvest. It is lush, very green and the wheat is at about mid thigh. 

I cannot escape that I  am making better files each time I come here. The first ten years or so  I was working in 8 x 10, 1993 to 2003, first only in black and white then in color. Now, of course, it is all digital but the evolution of those files is from smaller to larger, to lenses of longer reach and of higher quality. Easy to take for granted but the rendition obtained by pointing my camera at a field and clicking the shutter is now so high as to be comparable to the sheets of 8 x 10 film I used earlier.

Wheat 1997 8 x 10

The precedent for the work I do here is most likely Franco Fontana, working mostly in the 1960's. Let me clear, I care little for the barns, fences, horses,  combines harvesting this year's crops. Abstraction and design, light and form are my game, simple enough. Not so much what it is as what it becomes as a photograph.

Later this week I will make aerial photographs, much as I have in other years. The 2016 ones are here.

 This is what canola looks like.

Stay tuned. More Wheat coming.

Topics: Wheat

Permalink | Posted July 2, 2019

Shrink Wrapped 2

This is the second post about photographing shrink wrapped boats in the winter.

Shrink Wrapped 1 was here

Okay, I get it. You may not care about some pictures of plastic wrapped boats taken in a boatyard. I certainly wouldn't. In fact, I didn't until this winter. Why would you? Because, honestly, you might learn something, not in a "from the master to the student" kind of way but from a veteran to the inquisitive practitioner or the curious observer hungry for  information. What if the pictures transcended their most mundane circumstance? Perhaps you can learn something from my sharing some of my experience. I know I've learned things from this project and I also have been led down some false paths too, or fallen into a few traps. This always happens, of course, and it is exhausting but ultimately rewarding to retrace your steps and have a go at it again.

Frustrated after that first shoot in Gloucester, having gone home and made prints I felt I might have something but needed more input, needed to know more about what was out there. I headed to Newport, RI a real kingdom of boats, marinas and boatyards. OMG what an overload! Boats everywhere of every kind. Powerboats, sailboats, racing boats, tugboats, ferries, all kinds. All plucked out of the water and all wrapped in plastic sheeting. Intense. At one point I was able climb up a fire escape to the second floor of a storage building and look out at shrink wrapped boats from above

only to find that this was not the paradise of wrapped boats I thought it would be. I found that what I thought was an opportunity to catch them without real conflict, wasn't so great. For the most part they became just boats stacked up and covered in plastic, not what I wanted at all. Be careful what you wish for. 

But I did  find some color

and some truly twisted plastic

as though the crew working that day started at 3:30 pm on a Friday afternoon and no longer cared, thinking of beers, maybe a hot date and the weekend.

I moved on and a few days later found semi transparency in another boatyard, where they used a different plastic that was somewhat transparent,  this one in Boston where the boats stay in the water over the winter. What an amazing world.

This is where, in retrospect, the project started to get some teeth, as these files positively glowed. And here, just to show you what this marina looked like:

So,  where have I ended up? Photographing more wrapped boats, of course. Having too many pictures is always a problem, but it's better than having too few. I am still struggling with the editing, a digital photographer's heavy weight as it's easy to make so many pictures. But I now know what I am doing, the logistics of lens choices, for instance, the approach angles and need for blue skies or cloudy days. Much of the work in a project like this is pragmatic: how can you put yourself in front of the right place in the right light, logistical concerns of placement, angle, what else is needed as you continue, etc. This reminds me of years of wheat field work; driving driving driving, stopping, setting up, making one picture, tearing down and then driving driving driving again. Day after day.

For me, purity is very important in this project.

This one above now sits framed in my studio at 55 inches across, for instance. Why so big? Because I have to actually make a big print to know how it will work. And this one does work as it plays with scale so well. This one below is much newer, made in the past couple of weeks but pulls at me as it is very different and obvious but not something I would have paid attention to unless I had the experience of making several hundred other pictures before it. But look how pure it is, just this large form of a wrapped powerboat sitting there on land over the winter. So normal and yet very beautiful, one of those photographs that speak to the essence of things. 

Am I done? No, not yet. But the clock is ticking as warming weather will begin to see these unwrapped, set free. So, I am headed up the coast for a few days in search for more shrink wrapped boats. Can't wait.

Once again, thank you for reading my blog. It is pleasure to share my thoughts with you. You know you can always send comments: Neal's email

Topics: Dunes,Wheat,Color,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted March 8, 2017