#901. Lyrical Harvest

By Nancee Rostad | Travel Photography

Sep 11

The Palouse region of southeastern Washington State is a true un-destination, as well as being a photographer’s dream. Reminiscent of a gentler time, it is a unique and solitary landscape where zephyr winds scatter clouds across the blue sky, causing shadows to dance and play amongst the hills. The vast rolling hills of wheat & legume fields take on a special magic during harvest when they are covered in abstract patterns and intersecting lines and shapes all in glorious shades of amber. The
landscape of the Palouse region was formed over tens of thousands of years from wind blown dust and silt called “loess” which settled out into the rolling hills you see today.

To show scale in this immense landscape, I occasionally include trucks and harvesting equipment which appear like tiny toys when seen from the top of the butte. One can only image how difficult it would be to try to drive a harvester or combine up and down these amazing hills. In the late 1880’s, harvesting was very labor intensive requiring an organized harvesting/threshing team of 120 men and 320 horses and mules! In the 1920’s the combine was invented; however, it required a crew of 40 horses and six men to operate on level ground, which doesn’t really exist here. Invention of a smaller version of the combine and harvester in the 1930’s solved the issue.

The sinuous patterns left behind by harvesters and combines are evocative of the rhythms and repetitions found in music of all genres, hence the “lyrical” in the series title. Classical, jazz, and blues come to mind whenever I am enjoying the view. When these images were taken, recent wild fires to the west had left the sky hazy, creating a lovely soft-box effect, which is preferable to the sometimes harsh light of August. Early mornings and evenings are ideal for photography when the low slanting light creates shadows and richly defines the shapes of the hills and valleys. Beautiful sunsets and sunrises can also add color to the Palouse landscape but, as you can see, I rarely add any sky to my images. It’s either all land or all sky for me.

In June the Palouse is covered in a thousand shades of green which is beautiful in its own way. I have photographed both; however, the golden patterns and lines created by the harvest are my favorite Palouse subjects.


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  • Sean says:

    Nancy: Simply and succinctly, this collection of images of yours is beautiful – individually and collectively.

  • Nancy, what can I say but brilliant text and the images are well superb. The Palouse is a destination that I’ve seen many images of but never in the colours of yours what a collection. Dallas

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read the post and make such encouraging comments, Dallas. You’re right, most photos of the Palouse are taken while the land is green. I find that there is so much more texture, pattern, and interest during harvest that I’ve never gone back to shoot in late Spring!

  • pascaljappy says:

    Nancee, thank you for this great first post. Those images are so powerful. Some look like waves, others like ancient symbols. Some feel like miniatures, some feel huge. Brilliant, thank you.

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thank you, Pascal for your support and encouragement! I’m always glad when other artists can deduce exactly what I was going for with my photography.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    “Less is more” – simplicity wins! Yet is it really “simple”? LOL – leaving that question for the rest of the group to answer.
    Nancee, I particularly liked the photo immediately after the paragraph starting “The sinuous patterns left behind by harvesters and combines . . . ” The inclusion of machinery in two places, coupled with the various lines, and the subtle balance between lighter and darker areas, created the kind of image that leaves me stuck to the floor, unable to move sideways to view the photos on either side of this image.

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thank you for your lovely comments! My images are often described as spare and reduced to the essence of the subject, which is exactly what your succinct “less is more” comment is saying. I’m always happy when my efforts are successful! The image you mentioned is a favorite of mine, I privately call it “The Bat”! Hope you’ve become unstuck from the floor.

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        I agree, Nancee – and Jean Pierre, “The Bat” is special!

        But the more abstract photos keep growing on me,
        especially #2, 12 & 14!
        The patterns and the non-patterns do enhance each other.

        They – as well as “The Bat” – would be great hanging on a wall – if they have space to surround them.

        • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

          Nancee hasn’t fallen into the trap that most photographers do, of trying to capture everything they see, in the image they are creating. Classic landscape shot will have some sky – maybe 2/3rds of the shot, maybe 1/3rd, maybe some other proportion – but it WILL be there.
          But if you were to see all these photos that Nancee has posted here, displayed on the walls of a gallery, I think the effect would be over powering.
          And not one of them contains a square inch of sky! They just contain exactly what Nancee wanted to capture.
          I may be quite wrong – but I seem to remember seeing something, somewhere, describing how Nancee doesn’t take thousands of photos. Doesn’t go on a shoot every day. Loves to plan her shoots. And because of the amount of time & effort put into planning, is able to execute her shoots with precision.
          And even if I’m wrong, and those remarks relate to someone else, they could equally apply to Nancee’s photos, here, anyway. 🙂

          • pascaljappy says:


            Knowing what you want to get out of a scene, even on an intuitive level, ensures the sort of consistency that Nancee has always shown in every post or challenge and is the hallmark of interesting artists. And I agree with Jean-Pierre. There is something powerful in those photographs and seeing them all on a wall would be very impressive. I’d love to, one day 🙂

          • Nancee Rostad says:

            You are too kind Jean-Pierre! The remarks attributed to me don’t really describe my shooting style at all. True enough, I don’t shoot everyday. I do travel to a place with the idea of shooting something, but try not to have any preconceived ideas about what that might be. Often I’ll find some “non-iconic” subject intriguing and will continue with it until I have a slew of images. I’ve driven workshop leaders insane in the past, especially the ones who like to point the participants to an iconic subject! In Iceland, the tour leader asked why I was taking close-up photos of a stone wall instead of joining the group as they were shooting an ocean scene. Quite simply, the wall was more interesting to me at that moment. What I want to achieve in my images is to distill a subject down to what I believe is its true essence; hence, I prefer “all land” or “all sky” nearly all the time.

            • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

              ROTFL – sounds like you have a bit of the devil in you, Nancee, and do your own thing, instead of “do as your told!” Snap! High fives!

  • Tim Naylor says:

    I am curious where you were located while taking the photographs to have that perspective, it appears that you are gazing down into an undulating ocean. The inclusion of the equipment adds a feeling of vastness to the images, and the one photograph with the truck moving left to right with the cloud of dust rising behind is emotive, in my mind it is a scalpel cutting open the land, with the dust flowing out from the incision. Thank you for your post.

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thank you for your very poetic comments, Tim! Most of the images were taken from the road that winds around Steptoe Butte, which gives a unique perspective on the surrounding landscape. It does give the effect of being airborne, for sure.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Tim, that photograph has exactly the same effect on me. The red truck seems tiny but creates a powerful impact in the whole scene. Impressive.

  • Dave says:

    Thank you for posting such beautiful and thoughtful images.

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    What a great place and time…!

    Nancy, I love them all, and your poetic text!
    And I believe you are right that they live more without a sky.

    Yes, the vehicles show the vastness of the landscape, but the photos without strike me as being more poetic, the occasional road also creates vast space but strangely enough doesn’t disturb the poetry, at least not to me.

    And you have framed the series so lovely, the first photo just pulls me far into the distance and the last one just glows!

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Kristian! I’m glad that you agree with my “all land” or “all sky” concept; to me it distills the essence of an image while increasing the impact.

  • Michael Fleischer says:

    Hi Nancee

    What a great collection of fine photos, lovely spacious landscapes, patterns & textures –
    it makes me want to go and experience it for myself!

    The colour palette is outstanding ;-).

    Some of them appear like long opening scenes in a movie, silent first and then
    accompanied by the sound of wind sweeping…

    They are all very good – No 1, 5, 8, 13 and the last one being my immediate favourites!

    I think they would look great in an exhibition, with ample breathing space
    between them!


    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thank you for your lovely comments, Michael! It’s interesting that you mentioned that they look like the long opening scenes in a movie – I’ve often wanted to video the wheat when the wind was tossing it and creating beautiful swirls and waves. So far, I haven’t achieved that. Unfortunately, still photos don’t often do justice to that kind of subtle motion. If you ever decide to experience the Palouse for yourself, just let me know and I’d be happy to tell you where to shoot, stay, and eat!

  • John Wilson says:

    Nancee – Superb collection of images.

    I’m from Vancouver and spent some time in the Palouse in May of this year when the land was all green. Stunningly beautiful country. I can see why they call it “The Tuscany of North America”. But, my landscape photography skills are trivial. I’ve seen many images of the area including from Kevin Raber, but these are by far my favourite. There’s so much more life and detail. I’d be much happier photographing this than the green stuff.

    Favourites? Tough choice; I’d happily hang any of these on my wall. If I had to choose – #5, the truck with the dust trail, and the last image – those curves are downright sensuous.

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thank you for your very flattering comments, John! Most images of the Palouse are pretty traditional landscapes and generally done during the green time of year. I think that harvest presents more opportunities to be creative due to all the textures and patterns in the fields. Don’t sell yourself short, give harvest a try next time! Thanks for taking the time to check out my post.

  • David A. Mack says:

    I live nearby and have never photographed this area. I really liked your last 2 images. Thank you for sharing this perspective. I definitely need to make room in my schedule to visit.

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      You definitely need to schedule a visit, David! Thank you for taking time to look at my post.

  • philberphoto says:

    Fabulous work, Nancee! Some of yours images evoke vast, even limitless expanses, others are like some giant hand crumpled the land as easily as we crumple a sheet of paper. My favorite is n°5. The dust trail behind the truck triggers so many memories. From the Dust Bowl and desperation in the Thirties, to Hitchkock movies, to Seven…. Kudos, kudos, kudos!

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thank you, Philippe! Your comment about the “giant hand” reminds me of how I once described the landscape as looking as if a giant rumpled patchwork quilt had been spread over the hills. It is a very evocative place, with a small population yet the landscape is full of the signs of their labor. Perfect for quiet contemplation as you watch hawks circle overhead and deer tiptoe through the fields….ahhhh….I need to go back soon!

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Just back home, see your post… gorgeous, Nancee.
    Ages ago, I was struck by Michael Reichmann’s photos of Palouse, they stayed in my mind forever. Well, now yours took that place 🙂
    Especially the last one, I would put it anytime on my walls… it looks… liquid!!
    Each time I see your photos, I feel like what Kerouac said to Frank: “you’ve got an eye”!

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      That’s very high praise indeed, Pascal! I too have been a big fan of Michael’s photos, especially his abstract landscapes and his images of Africa. You may have a chance to put one of my images on your wall when Pascal J. gets the DS print galleries set up!
      Thank you so much for your very encouraging words!

  • Leonard says:

    Hello Nancee,

    I’m arriving a little late to this party, but I wanted to enter my appreciation for your lovely and inspiring photographs. I very much like the light – subtle and translucent – and the hidden complexity within the architectural simplicity of the frame.

    The solitary truck and its dust trail reminded me of so many shots in Mad Max: Fury Road where a sliver of mechanized man invades the desolation.

    I appreciated your comment about the stone wall opposite the ocean and how that grabbed your attention. One doesn’t want to repeat a shot that everyone else has already taken, does one!

    Since I live in California, I might want to have a go up there – next fall, perhaps. In anticipation, I wonder what focal lengths you favor?

    Delicious images.

    Many thanks.

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      It’s never too late to join the party on DS, Leonard! First I’d like to thank you for your very kind comments which are always appreciated. I totally lucked out on the ambient light during my short visit. As I mentioned, it was due to a smoky atmosphere from wild fires to the west. I love your comment about Mad Max – it really hits the mark, with the exception of an ongoing apocalypse! And, yes, you’re right about not wanting to take the shot everyone else has – I can think of nothing worse.
      I hope you get the chance to photograph the Palouse – it’s really quite extraordinary. I’d be happy to give you some ideas for shooting locations, if you’d like.
      For me, the lens I use the most in the Palouse is a Canon 70-200mm – a long lens comes in very handy for compressing the landscape somewhat. A wider angle lens is useful for including sky in your images, of course. If you’re lucky, there can be occasional stormy skies, as well as beautiful sunrises & sunsets.

      • Thanks, Nancee.
        Recommended shooting locations and where to stay for a few days during the harvest time would be so much appreciated.

        • Nancee Rostad says:

          Hi Leonard – if you send me your street address, I’ll pop a great brochure/map all about shooting locations in the Palouse into the mail. I’ll circle or highlight the locations I tend to frequent. Plan on spending at least 3 nights, more if possible. I always stay in Colfax at the Best Western, which is quite nice. Harvest starts in early August and lasts throughout the month…usually. Be sure and check the student move-in dates for Washington State University in Pullman because it can affect hotel availability and prices in the entire area. In case you’ll be flying, Colfax is a 4.5 hour drive from Seattle or about 1+ hour drive from Spokane.

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