135 Miles and Nothing

· Reading Time: 19 minutes

Friday, October 23, 2020

Coming off of my high from yesterday morning’s trek to the the Blue Ridge Parkway, I was primed to head out again today in search of more images.  The clouds were supposed to come in nicely in the afternoon and that was perfect for my schedule.  Shortly after lunch, it appeared as though those clouds were over the mountains and that meant that I was going to be able to head west in search of some pictures.  If you have been paying attention here lately, you will know that I have been spending a great deal of time doing landscapes which is kind of expected for this time of year, but I’m really wanting to get back into the rural/decay end of my photography once again.  The prime time for that is quickly approaching as the leaves are coming off of the trees and the vegetation is starting to die off.  That was my goal for this afternoon’s trek…I was going to go and get lost on the back roads to see what I could see.

Looking at the weather patterns, my best bet was going to be to head out to West Jefferson and then possibly Banner Elk as the most intense clouds were in that direction.  About 1:30 or so, I got in the truck and headed towards West Jefferson.  I’ll go ahead and make a very long story short here.  I drove around until just before sunset amassing 135 miles where I covered areas in Wilkes, Ashe, Avery, and Alleghany Counties, and even dipped into Trade, TN briefly.  I covered a lot of area and was under some amazing clouds the entire time.  The problem was, the clouds were grand landscape clouds and not quite what I was needing for my intended subjects.  It wasn’t like I was finding a lot of subjects though, so it didn’t really matter.  I kept finding a lot of potential areas, but when it came time to find compositions, I was at a loss.  When I found something that might have worked, the light was much too harsh, and in the wrong direction.  I made some mental notes for a return later on.  I eventually gave up looking for rural scenes to photograph and found my way to the Blue Ridge Parkway which I swore I was going to stay away from since it was technically a weekend day and the crowds are still out there.  I was lucky that I missed the crowds, but the landscape just wasn’t looking good at all even though there were some great clouds.

With my gas getting low, and time running out, I decided to call it a day and headed home.  When I stopped to get gas I was greeted by a nice little surprise.  I had yellow paint slung up into the left front wheel well and splattered down the left door and slider.  I was pretty sure where this happened, as there were trucks pulled off on the side of the road for some road work, but nothing indicating that the paint was fresh.  Fortunately it wasn’t bad and I had fresh wax on the truck which allowed me to pick the little blobs off.  After I got home I spent about an hour working on the fender well and slider to get the rest of the paint off.  It went easier than I thought, but I am very glad to have that taken care of nonetheless.  Nothing like spending an entire day out with nothing to show for it, AND coming back with damage on your vehicle.  I should have stayed home and mowed the yard!

After spending that much time out thinking about rural images and then having nothing to come home to process I kind of felt like listening to the entire Jack-in-the-box song and having the crank stopped before the puppet popped out.  I felt like having Happy Birthday sung to me and then having the cake yanked away before I could blow out the candles.  I felt like spending the day setting up an intricate pattern with dominos and starting them falling only to have somebody remove one which stops the whole series dead in its tracks.  You get the idea, and if you watch “The Big Bang Theory”, you get the references here.  To put it mildly I was really feeling like something was missing from my day not sitting here editing photos.  When I got done fixing the truck, I decided to go through some of my old negatives to see if there were any that I wanted to give a second go to with the new release of Lightroom that has added some neat features that the other one had lacked.

I ended up pulling in 10 images from 2013-2017.  They were all rural and rusty subjects which was what I had been after all day.  I started to look at these compositions in detail to see if I liked any of them enough to go back through the editing process again.  There were three of them that I liked and wanted to try some different approaches to them.  I reset everything to the RAW file and started to work on them.  I have added the three images as well as their original edits into this blog entry.  I won’t be getting into the actual process of the edits, but I wanted it to be apparent what I did different with them.  Did I improve them?  I’ll let you be the judge.  I do know that I am much more proficient with Lightroom than I had been when I first edited these images, and the program is much more powerful than it has been before.  Let’s jump right on in!

December 10, 2013

Weathered Shell

If you click the link above, you will be taken to the original blog entry that I did for this particular Trek.  That is why I love to do blogs when I get new images.  It allows me the opportunity to go back and revisit the experience any time that I want to.  This was a particularly interesting one as I was stalked by livestock in order to get several pictures of the Monte Carlos that were behind this property.  The image that I chose to look at again was one that I had always had mixed feelings about.  I love being able to capture the front of cars as I believe that is where their soul is best seen.  Obviously, this one is missing that element and has been stripped all the way back to the firewall.  That omission didn’t keep me from shooting the car though as I still felt like there was a story here.  I went wide with the camera and used the tire as a visual anchor for the foreground of the image.  It was balanced with the tree in the background as well as the main body of the car for a triangle composition which does work.  There were two primary colors in this image with the dead leaves on the ground, that matched the rust colors on the car.  The green of the trees matched up with the green paint on the car which balanced nicely with the browns.  However, it was a very static color combination with no real excitement added with the color.  Of course, my editing in Photoshop back in 2013 left a lot to be desired and I was still doing global edits with no local adjustments.  I jut bumped up the saturation, added a bit of contrast, and called it a day in most cases.  This image was overly warm and the colors were a bit hot throughout the scene.  It just isn’t to my current tastes anymore.  I’ve matured a lot when it comes to my color presentations with my images, and I thought that this one might benefit from a little different take.

Something’s Missing“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, B+W Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

When I got the image imported into Lightroom for the first time I started to look at how I wanted to process it this time.  If I left it in color, but with less saturation, it would be less garish, but it would also lack some visual appeal.  Having a car that is only 2/3 there requires a little finesse to bring the drama and to tell the story.  I considered what the colors did for the image and ultimately decided that they really didn’t do much for it at all.  The green car wasn’t exciting in the least, and the character got sucked away with that color in the setting that it was in. It was then that I decided to convert the image to Black and White which immediately gave this image a lot more impact than the color one ever had.

I played with the tonal relationships and then went into a lot of localized adjustments which really brought out the character of the car.  When you toggle between the two images your eyes focus more on the wheel and body of the car in monochrome while on the color image, your eyes hit the tire, the firewall, and the tree.  Those are not the three most important elements in this image and the color was causing the body of the car to blend in with the background too much.  Now the car stands proud and at the forefront of the image.  I was also able to really work with the overall lighting of the scene to keep the attention on the car rather than focusing on the leaves around it so much.  Again, the green car had a hard time competing with the reddish brown leaves which were all around it.  The more I compare the two images, the more I realize that the color sucked the car up and left your eyes unable to see the wonderful patina on the door.

When I originally processed this image I added it into the blog as an “also ran” because I liked the other ones much better.  I didn’t even really talk about it in the blog, but there it was featured.  I am pretty sure that I didn’t put this one in the gallery either.  Funny how times change.  Now, I see this image as having the most character out of the whole bunch because of what it is missing.  It immediately pulls you into the image as you start to ask questions about it which have no answers.  The more questions you ask, the more that pop up about this car.  I’m really kind of glad that I got the urge to go back to rework some of these old images as I am really liking this one in its current form.

 

January 4, 2014

“An English Smile”

Just under a month after I had shot the Monte Carol that I just spoke about, I came upon another little treasure chest of old cars in Stokes County.  You can read about the entire trek in the link above to get an idea about how things had actually gone.  It had been the GMC pickup that had prompted me to stop and investigate further, but the car that I really liked at this location was the little MG Midget that was parked just out of sight behind some trees.  I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for these little roadsters because they have always looked so fun to putter around in.  I now fully understand why I have been drawn to them since I have a Mazda Miata which is the modern day iteration of these British Roadsters.  Back in 2014, I just found this car to look perfect nestled down in the weeds dwarfed by the tall trees in the background.  I had welcomed the blue sky when I shot the image, but honestly, I would have much preferred to have had some cloud cover here, just enough to break up the blue, and soften the light just a smidge.

As with the previous image, I had edited this originally in Photoshop where I adjusted the color balance to give a warmer appearance, boosted the saturation, and added a bit of contrast.  You see the pattern that I had developed in post processing.  I had read that an image with warm tones was appealing, so I warmed up everything like a microwave when I processed the files.  That wasn’t always the smart move and I lost a lot of color contrast when I did that.  Honestly, that was my biggest issue with this image looking back on it.  I remember I was still printing out proofs of my images at this point and had to go back and do more editing to get it to print right as the paint and rust were registering as the same color.  That wasn’t the editing causing it though, that was my printing methods at the time which were not giving me accurate colors.  I have since figured that out, and no longer need to print proofs to check for color rendition.

Sorry for the slight detour on topic, we shall circle back around now.

English Grin“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

Since I liked the image as a whole already, it seemed like an easy one to look at for a second edit.  This would be the first time that Lightroom has touched this image and I was looking forward to it.  When I imported it I immediately took it back to the RAW file and started fresh with that.  From the RAW file, I could see the original colors as opposed to the ones that I ended up creating with the hue and saturation sliders in Photoshop.  I wanted to keep the natural paint tones here, but I wanted to introduce a good deal more color contrast than what I had had before.  This image took a lot of work the first time to get it processed because of the printing issue, but this time I was again taking a very long time to get it processed for a whole different reason.  It was the contrasts within the image that were giving me a fit.  I had shot this with the sun fairly high in the sky so the lighting was harsher than I like and that caused a lot of shadow contrasts to come into play.  The color balance was also very difficult to manage here as well.

I had overexposed the original image by about 2/3 of a stop to get the shadow detail, but I never really did adjust the highlights down as I didn’t know how to do that in Photoshop.  Now, I was able to do a lot of things with dodging and burning which gave me a much more even exposure, but as I tweaked the contrasts in the image, the saturation of the car and the sky kept going overboard.  I ended up having to pull a lot of saturation out of the image to keep it from looking garish like the original.  My goal here was to have an image that was easy on the eyes and didn’t make you feel like you had to squint because of the brighter values.

When you look at the two images, there are two basic differences between them which are apparent. First and foremost, the surrounding vegetation is much darker and smoother.  This makes the image more pleasing to look at I think.  Second, the color of the car is more magenta which was the actual color of the car even though the first edit has it more red than anything.  The magenta hue helps the rust stand out more on the hood which was my biggest problem when printing this image back in 2014.  Having the colors fine tuned as I did in this second edit makes the car stand out much better in the weeds and it just has a more convincing look to it now.  This is now an image that I am really excited about and have started looking forward to including it in my new Old Iron (Import) Gallery which I just created a few days ago for cars just like this.  I also have a slightly different connection to these cars now and they really make me smile to look at images of them.  It feels like I am celebrating the heritage of my little roadster and that is just cool!

 

August 26, 2017

The Empty Windows

This last image that I have done a second edit on is the one that surprised me the most.  I fully expected to see a difference when processing images in Lightroom compared to having done it in Photoshop.  I’ll be the first to admit that my skills in Photoshop are rudimentary at best, so it would stand to reason that editing an image in Lightroom would yield an improvement.  The funny thing is, there was not that kind of improvement in my opinion, even in the one that transitioned to black and white.  That was just a case of making the wrong call during the original edit and it should have been done as a monochrome then.  This image, which was shot in Laurel Springs, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway was one that I processed originally in Lightroom, about a year after I had decided that Lightroom was the best thing since sliced bread.  I really thought that I knew what I was doing and was very happy with most of the images that I finished.  This was one of three images that I shot of this abandoned house in what I can only say was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  The gate was actually opened that day for the first time in at least 15 years.  Since this day, I have yet to see the gate opened again.  Even though the lighting wasn’t the best I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to photograph this house (with the blessings of the property owner).

After I had posted the blog and had lived with the images for a while, I realized that they were rather dark and flat.  The colors were good as I had gotten over my need to oversaturate everything and warming the colors enough to start a fire.  There was just no punch to the images and they didn’t stay in the gallery long at all even though I really liked the compositions.  I went ahead and pulled all three of them into Lightroom for a second look.  Two of the images were single captures, while the last was an HDR blended image.  I looked at all three of the compositions and found that the one that I planned out the most with the HDR blend was the weakest composition and it just didn’t feel right any more.  The one that had the best response when I posted it on Facebook was still good, but seemed a little forced.  It was my least favorite of the three which was now speaking to me.  It was the foreground of flowering weeds that sold me on this one.  It was a much more balanced composition, but the foreground had gotten lost in the darkness.  I was pretty sure that I could address that now.

I remember just how difficult this capture was to make.  It was nearly noon and the sun was really harsh, but there were clouds moving in over the home which gave a nice bit of drama to the sky.  It was the uncovered sun that was causing so much issue on the landscape though.  I had shadows that had to be dealt with, and there was no differentiation to the lighting on the landscape.  My only recourse was to underexpose the image slightly to get things as even as I could in the bright lighting of mid day.  That gave me the added benefit of capturing more detail in the sky which was really nice.  During the editing phase, I had kept the underexposure which I ended up regretting because it was just so dull and lifeless.

Three Empty Windows“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

It was now time to give this image a second go.  I wanted to bring more attention to the foreground first and foremost so I started off with a crop of the image.  It had been shot in the native 3:2 ratio, but for this one, a 16:10 crop worked even better by eliminating some of the empty space at the bottom of the frame.  The purple flowers were now riding exactly on the lower third line, and the tallest were very close to the right third line.  The house was now at the intersection of the upper left thirds so the composition was very well balanced here. I went through a lot of local adjustments including dodging and burning to bring the attention where I wanted it as well as brightening up several key areas of the image.  The sky was handled differently than I had done it before and I made a lot of use of the new Color Grading module on this one to give it a more appropriate look.

The more that I did to this image, the more that I wanted to do to it.  There was not a section of this image that didn’t get the benefits from several localized adjustments.  I kept track of what I was doing from the RAW negative and could tell that I was keeping it very authentic to the original scene, but it was so much better than the RAW image.  When I finally pulled up the original edit to post here and was able to compare the end results side by side I was amazed.  This was the edit where the biggest difference came into play and the biggest improvement made.  I still can’t say why that is since both edits were done with the same program.  I know that I have gotten better at Lightroom over the years, but this is a completely different level of image processing and I am honestly shocked at how well this new edit has come out.

I think that the colors are the best feature here as I have warmed the scene a bit more than the original one.  I believe I had left the white balance on daylight since it was actually in the sun when I captured the image.  In hindsight though, that was much too cool for this image.  By warming it, I was able to get a more neutral tone to the white paint, and the flowers started to pop just with that change.  When I did the color grading, I did a lot of minute adjustments to the color temperature and hues along with the brightness of each part of the spectrum.  I did a lot of work with curves to get the contrast just right, and then worked with the color calibration and hue, saturation, and luminance sliders to get the individual colors to show more accurately.

This scene now has the drama that I was trying to capture, but the edit let me down.  The presentation of the image now fits the composition and this is easily the best of the three images that I shot of this old house.  I am quite excited about this one as I have been wanting to get back to this house to do a different set of images with it.  Since it looks like I won’t be able to do that again, it was nice to be able to revisit this old image with new eyes.

 

I hope that you have enjoyed this little trip down memory lane.  Let me know if you like the new edits, or if you prefer the original ones.  They all captured different feelings and stories depending on how the edits ended up.  It really is a lot of fun to pull RAW files out of the archives and breathe new life into them.  If you are a photographer, I would highly recommend that you keep your original files safely stored away.  It is great insurance as well as great supporting evidence for a copyright lawsuit.  Probably the most useful feature of keeping these images is to be able to go back again and again and do different edits on your images.  Your skills are always improving, and the software is also changing rapidly.  You might even start using a completely different type of software as was the case in the first two images.  I was never any good with Photoshop, but that was all I had to work with for those images.  Now that I have Lightroom, I have so many more options available to me as far as how to edit images.  Even with the third image which was edited in Lightroom, there have been significant changes to the program that have made it even more powerful as you can see.

I’m hoping to get out tomorrow for a little while depending on the rain that is supposed to be here in the afternoon.  Regardless, I will be out at Stone Mountain on Monday doing a 1-on-1 session with a photographer.  The way that this one is set up, I will likely get some images which will end up here for sure.  Speaking of which, if you are wanting to work on certain aspects of your own photography, consider these individual instruction sessions.  I can tailor the lesson plan to your needs, and I am there just for you, so you don’t have to feel like you are holding up the group with any questions.  In most cases, I can cover the material in about two hours which is cheaper than a full fledged workshop and you will get a lot more individual attention.  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.  I am also working out some Lightroom Instruction which can be done via Skype, or in person.  In these sessions I can cover many different aspects of this powerful image editor and show you how to make your own images pop.

Thanks for joining me!  Until next time…

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