A Big End to the Year (Part 2)

· Reading Time: 21 minutes

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Welcome back for the second part of this rather eventful trek.  In case you missed the first part, just follow this link to see how the day started out.  When I was done photographing the Be Air I took another look around and determined that the sky was just no longer all that interesting and there was nothing else there that I wanted to capture. I loaded everything back up in the truck and headed down the road.  The next area that I wanted to check out was heading out to Traphill.  I had just been out that way earlier in the week and had seen a couple of Fords sitting out behind a convenience store that had caught my eye.  At the time, the sun was too strong to do anything with them, but with the heavy overcast sky the lighting was going to be right for them now.  I made my way out to that area while I kept my eyes out for anything else of interest.

I didn’t really find anything, but I did see an old salvage yard that I have passed a few times over the years that keeps making me look.  I have never seen anyone in the shop and have started to think that the owner actually lives in the house near the shop.  I debated stopping and seeing if I could get permission, but figured that I would need a lot longer here than I had left.  It was already afternoon by this point and I would probably need a full day to hunt compositions in that yard.  I put it back in my mind for another time and continued on to the store where I was hoping to get a chance to work on those old Fords.

When I got there, I did my normal stopping and pondering before I went to talk with the owner.  The lighting was good, but the scene was cluttered which I didn’t like.  The patina on the old truck was wonderful though and I really wanted to have a chance to photograph it.  The black sedan wasn’t quite as interesting, but I was sure that I could so something with it as well.  With my mind made up, I drove around the store to the house where I suspected the owner lived.  When I got close I could see that there was an old Opel in the driveway as well which was exciting for me.  I had never been able to photograph one of these cars before.  I was just hoping that this would be that time.

Utility and Comfort“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 3-stop soft ND Grad

I knocked on the door really thinking that nobody would be home.  Almost immediately a dog started to bark which was a good sign that there might be somebody there.  I waited a minute or so and eventually the door opened.  I went through my normal introductions and explained the reason for my knock.  I wasn’t quite sure how to read this guy at first so I just kept on talking in the hopes that he would let me photograph the cars.  I spoke to him about the Opel which was my favorite feature here by far and was quite similar to the Datsun Z body that I loved so much.  We had a nice conversation about his car which he had bought new in 1971.  This was a single owner car and that is pretty cool, and made me want to photograph it even more.  I think he could tell that I was just interested in designs of the car and their current state so he gave me his blessing to photograph what I wanted to.  This was going to be a lot of fun, and I was very excited about what I was about to get into.

I pulled my truck out of the way and parked it under a tree.  I grabbed my ever popular standard lens which works so well for this type of photography and slid on a polarizer.  I figured that this would be the winning combination for what I was getting ready to shoot.  I walked over the two Fords which I had only seen from a distance.  I took some time to study how they were situated and found them to be very close together and covered in vines and brush.  Finding a composition was going to be difficult so I just started with the most simple of options.  I got down low off the front quarter of the truck which allowed me to view the back end of the car as well as the open door.  I had a lot of white sky through the trees to deal with which caused my exposure to be slightly dark where I needed the detail.  There was only one way to deal with this problem, so I ran back to the truck and grabbed my book of filters.

I used the 3-stop soft edge ND Grad here to take a bite out of the sky.  It made the histogram look so much better and I knew that I would have a more even exposure with that filter in place.  I finished getting the composition set and locked the focus before making my first exposure.  It worked out well for what I had to work with so I just made a few tweaks here and there and made another couple of attempts before moving on to the next composition.

Rust and Brush“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

I really wanted to get the sedan all by itself, but with the way that the truck was positioned that was going to be very difficult.  I was able to position the camera in a way where the car blocked the truck, but with the brush along the front of the car covering that focal point, I was left to concentrate on the side which wasn’t all that interesting.  Additionally, I had a large expanse of sky which had very little texture to it in the upper left quadrant which just pulled the eyes out of the frame.  I tried a couple of variations on that composition before ultimately deciding that it wasn’t any good.  That left me with the option of shooting isolations on the front of the car to show it off by itself.

I found the best area of the front which was right at the passenger quarter and got the camera situated to capture the headlight and the parking light assembly.  It was going to be a vertical composition and I was going to use the flowing vines as a frame within a frame for this one.  Since the car was black, there wasn’t much in the way of color in this composition so I decided that I would probably make this a monochrome image to really pull the attention to the textures on the fender and chrome.  The vines would all go uniform around the darker car which I felt would make for a much stronger overall composition.

I only shot two variations of this composition because there really wasn’t that much to it.  I wasn’t sure if it would work or not since the vines had such a large part of the frame and there was no way to keep them from intersecting parts of the car that I wanted to showcase.  I could have cut them, but I really wanted to shoot this as I found it, plus I didn’t want to overstep and violate the trust that I had with the owner.  I was satisfied with what I was getting here, but still wanted to get a solo image of the truck which I felt would be easier.

A Mighty Ford“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 3-stop soft ND Grad

I picked up all my gear and walked to the other side of the pair of classics.  I had some of the same problems with the front of the truck here as well.  The vines weren’t as bad though, and I could make out much more of the front.  The biggest problem I had with this subject was the fact that there was a tree growing up right beside the passenger door.  This bisected the truck and separated the bed from the cab.  I really didn’t like how that was working, but I figured that as long as I could keep the back fender visually intact and not block the window the cab, the small section of the bed that would be obscured wouldn’t be that terribly missed.  I got in close and went with a wide focal length to emphasize the front of the truck and have it take up the vast majority of the frame.  The idea here was that if I could do that, the eyes wouldn’t even miss the bed of the truck as the focus would be on the cab only.  I found another tree to frame the left side of the image and used the snarl of branches to the upper right to add interest to the sky and tell more of the story of how this truck has been here for quite some time.

I ran into a similar problem as I did originally here when it came to the exposure.  The sky was just too bright and I needed to reduce that visual pull out of the image.  I slid the 3-stop soft ND Grad on once again and saw the histogram come back into line.  That was the last part of this composition and I was ready to start making exposures.  I made just a few of this concept with slight changes to the position of the camera before deciding that I had what I was going to want when I started editing the images later.

One thing that I did debate as I was making those slight adjustments was moving the deflated ball out from under the bumper.  I had the same argument against doing that which I did in regards to cutting the vines.  I didn’t want to disturb the scene.  That ball also helped to tell the story of the truck and how long it has been there.  I think that the deflated look goes well with this truck and the tones match that of the bumper which was a nice plus for me.  I think that this one actually is my favorite from this scene.  It doesn’t include the car, but the truck really stands out in this frame and still looks proud to me.

Custom Lines“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I wasn’t quite done with that sedan though.  After I got done shooting the overall on the truck, I turned my attention back to the car once again and looked for more isolations I could shoot.  This car was a bit different than the truck is that most of it was out in the open with the exception of the front of the car.  I had access to the rear of the car as well as the passenger side.  My first thought was to get a composition that highlighted the open door, but the more I tried to get something that worked for that purpose the less I liked the concept.  What my eyes were getting drawn to was the chrome trim on the side of the car paired with the vertical rust streaks.  The more looked for compositions, the more my attention stayed focused on that section.

I went ahead and dropped the camera down nice and low to get a straight on broadside shot of the car.  I started to play with compositions both vertical and horizontal.  I didn’t like either of them because they always included too much information.  My goal here was to get the nameplate, the arrow trim with the rust streaking down below it, and finally the rock guard on the lower edge.  Those were the areas that I wanted to capture, and I found that the best way to do that was with a square composition.  I set the ratio in the camera so that I could precisely frame the shot and get exactly what I was seeing.  That 1:1 ratio made the composition work and I was excited about it once again.  There was only need for two shots here with just slightly different camera elevations before I was sure that I had the shot that I was after.

I took some more time to look around the car and the truck to see if there was anything that I missed.  I wasn’t finding anything, but I was noticing that my eyes kept going to that Opel in the driveway.  That was the car that I wanted to photograph most of all here, but it was also in the worst position of any of the cars.  It was pulled up to the front of the house and there was a red Geo hatchback on the passenger side, and a GMC truck behind that.  There was really no way to get a good unobstructed view of the car, so I was probably going to have to do isolations on it rather than overall shots which I was fine with, but I really did want something to show the style of the car.

Knowing that I was going to have to frame things tightly, I went back to the truck and swapped out my lens for the long 70-200mm one.  I would have to work further away, but I would have much better control of what was in the frame.  I knew that one of the areas that I wanted to photograph was going to be the back of the car.  There was something so unique about how the rear of the car looked.  This one was so interesting with the age and patina on it along with the alternately cracked tail lights.  I started putting my attention on the rear of the car and I found a composition that focused on the name plate and the inboard tail lights.

Opel Noel“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I liked the composition fairly well, but it seemed just too static with the symmetry that I had introduced with the composition.  I needed to do something different here so I looked at composing the image offset which didn’t feel right either.  However, when I moved to the quarter view  right in front of his truck, I found an isolation that I really liked.  It broke up that symmetry that I didn’t like, gave me both orange and red elements to balance out the green, and I had some wonderful patina here as well.

As I was getting the image set, I had to pay particular attention to how the polarizer was applied so that I was able to still see the lines of the car and the dents in the quarter.  I wanted to remove most of the glare, but not all of it.  I needed to keep some for contrast.  I was well on my way to making images of this car and I was thrilled.  They weren’t the images that would have wanted, but I was starting to capture the spirit of the car and tell its story which was just as important to me.

Opel Eyes“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I built on my excitement from the back end of the car and moved over to the front quarter of the car.  I was standing just by the living room window of the house to get the car in the frame.  My concept for this composition was to include the headlights and the nose openings behind the bumper.  This is another one of those uniquely Opel looks which I wanted to capture.  The problems that I ran into was the picnic bench on the other side of the car as well as the Geo which was parked just slightly behind the Opel.  I wasn’t able to get the elevation that I needed to make the background go away so I considered switching sides to get the same concept with a different background.  That thought ended quickly when I realized that there were about a dozen cats laying in just about the spot that I would need to stand.  The picture wasn’t worth disturbing them in their home so I decided to commit to the composition that I had started to work on from the driver’s side.

I had it roughly figured out, and had reduced the depth of field to blur the background enough to take some of the emphasis off of it.  My thought was also to darken it in post processing to further bring the attention to the car itself.  I finally worked out a composition that I could live with and started to make exposures.  After about the second one I caught movement under the fender and looked closer.  There was a cat sitting on the wheel that I hadn’t seen when I started this process.  I looked back in my image review and sure enough, he was there the whole time.  My instinct was to try and convince the cat to move, but I quickly decided against that.  Instead, I opted to get the cat’s attention right before I released the shutter with the hopes that I would get him to look at me with those bright eyes.

My plan actually worked and I was able to get three images with the cat looking at me from on top of the wheel.  I honestly wasn’t sure if I could make this work or not as an image, but I was thrilled that I had been able to use the cat for some of the images.  I was able to go back later on and shoot the same composition without the cat in it, but when I got home the cat ones won out.  In fact, even though the eyes are a little soft, you can still make out the details in the corneas of them.  Have I mentioned that I love the resolution of the new camera?  Not only was I able to get the cat to really pop out in the shadows, those eyes are staring right at you.  In an image that started out being about the eyes of the car, the focus of the shot for me is now the eyes of the cat.  This was a completely unexpected element and one that I really love.

Hip to be Square“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

When I realized that I was starting to attract a lot of attention from the cats, I decided to move from my location to behind the car once again.  I wasn’t sure that I had gotten everything that I wanted to get from back there and I wanted to give it another go.  When I got things moved, I started to look for other compositions which I really wasn’t finding any.  I was really wanting an overall shot of the car, but that just wasn’t working out for me at all.  However, looking straight down the back of the car the scene was simplified enough that I thought I might be able to make something work.  I decided that I could use the house as a backdrop for the image and the garage door and front door would keep things plain enough to not compete with the car.  I got the camera positioned at just about the same height at the car and started to find my composition.  I tried vertical and horizontal compositions and neither seemed to work for me.  It was the same story that I had run into before, no matter which way I turned, I was including too much in the frame that didn’t add to the story.  As with those other times, I decided to set the crop to a 1:1 ratio in camera.

When I started to frame up the square crop it all just came together beautifully.  I had the background that I wanted and just to keep things interesting and slightly off center, the lines of brick brought in just the right amount of visual tension to the scene.  By opening up the lens, I was able to reduce the depth of field to make sure that it was the car that kept your attention which was my goal.  It might not have been the overall shot that I was after, but it was sure one that captured the lines and curves of one of my favorite aspects of this car.  The fact that the red brick balances out so nicely with the green car was an unexpected bonus for me with this one.  This was probably the most simple image of the day to shoot, but it was also the one that I think is my favorite from this location.  I’m still kind of partial to the fin photograph from the Chevy that was captured a few hours earlier in the day.

I was around 90 frames at this point and it was after 3pm so with that in mind I decided to call it a day.  I had been very fortunate in two different locations and had gotten images that was pretty excited about.  I was counting them off in my head and was thinking that I probably had six to eight images that I would end up keeping from these.  That makes for a very good day for sure!  I really can’t believe that I ended up with thirteen images from the day from these two locations.  This would have been an excellent end to 2020 for me, and ironic that my favorite images were of the rears of two different cars.  No better way to say “the end” I suppose.

But wait…..there’s more!

Decay Hunter“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

It was getting late in the day and the light was fading as the clouds were getting thicker, but there was still one more thing that I had wanted to try and today seemed like a good day to give it a go.  You might recall that back in the summer I went out and did a quick photo shoot of my Mazda just for some experience in doing modern day vehicles.  I ended up shooting it against the backdrop of an old abandoned commercial building.  That shoot was followed up with a more dedicated venture with two different locations to really try and show off the personality of the car.  Those both went so well and I was feeling pretty good about my abilities to photograph vehicles that still ran and had paint on them that I had been thinking about getting an image or two of the 4Runner.  Now the Toyota isn’t nearly as flashy as the Mazda and that makes it a bit harder to photograph, but if I am going to offer car photography as a service then I need to be flexible.

The idea started to come to me when I was constantly passing by this old commercial building close to the house.  I had wanted to photograph it several times, but there were just no good compositions available for it.  The building was just too bland by itself and I wasn’t liking anything about the compositions that I was coming up with.  however, I had thought about using it for a location for some car photography and knew that a cloudy day would be perfect for it, and having the sun fading fast was even better.  With the decay of the pavement in front of the building I wasn’t really thinking that it would be a good fit for the Mazda, but it seemed to fit the 4Runner a bit better.  I mean, this is the vehicle that I search out decay subjects with so this is its element.  I had the time, I had the light, I was driving the truck, and I could think of no better time to try this out.

I passed by home and kept on going in order to get to this location.  Once I got there, I worked on getting the truck positioned in the way that I had previsualized it several times before.  Once I did that I started to look at how the composition was coming together and what lens I would need.  I was either going to be standing right at the truck, or I would have to go across the street.  I figured that for that kind of flexibility I would just go with my 24-70mm lens.  I started out close to the truck and tried some compositions like that but didn’t like them.  I then went across the street and started to make some different compositions using a 16:9 crop.  These were looking much better, and I even had another motorist stopping at the intersection saying that it looked good.  That had to be a sign right?

I ran across the street and turned on the lights for added effect and continued to shoot the truck.  When I was done I picked it all up and went back to the truck.  Now that the lights were on, I thought that I might get a little more success out of the close in shot so I tried that again.  It worked much better with the lights on and that was the one that I ended up keeping.  It is about time that I captured this truck in its rural environment.  It will also add to my portfolio of automotive photography for when I start to really put it out there that I am doing this as a service.


That brings us to the end of a very eventful day.  I hope that you enjoyed the journey as well as the images.  If you enjoyed the old rusty cars as much as I did and want to learn to photograph them yourself, consider joining me in April for my Spring Decay Workshop in East Bend, NC.  We will cover many of the concepts that I have used here to capture these images as well as find them to begin with.  If you just like the photographs, then consider ordering a print for your walls.  These are definitely a different type of fine art from what you will find in most homes or offices and will be a conversation piece for sure.

We are closing in on the last few hours of 2020, and I am betting that most of you are ready to say goodbye to this year.  I’m excited about 2021, and I can’t wait to see what new images I’ll be coming up with and I’m even more excited that my workshop schedule seems to be back on track once again.  I have three workshops scheduled so far for the year and I have participants signed up each of them already.  Don’t worry though, there is still room in them all for you if you are wanting to join in.  Right now I have an Introduction to the Art of Photography online class in February going into March, the Decay Workshop, and a Spring Landscape Workshop on the Blue Ridge Parkway in May.  I hope to see you at one of these.

Until next year….

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