Sunday, March 14, 2021
Yes, I remembered to change the clocks this morning, and other than that I figured it was going to be a pretty standard day with one notable exception. I had not one, but two print deliveries to make to clients. The first one was a three panel panorama that measured out at a total of 30×60″ which was destined for an office in Taylorsville. That was scheduled to be delivered in North Wilkesboro at 1pm which was no problem at all as this wasn’t going to be a busy day at all. The second print delivery was out in Traphill to one of my regular clients. Not to toot my own horn here, but I had also packaged up yet another print which was going to be shipped out tomorrow morning destined for New York. For a relaxing day, I sure was busy, but I knew that there was always something out in Traphill to photograph and even if that didn’t work out, I had a lead on an Esso Station in Alexander County for another client. I still wasn’t sure how I wanted to capture that location, but since I was out I figured that I might as well head down there and check it out.
Well, the first delivery went off without a hitch and it was a really nice meeting that turned into the potential for some more work for me down the road. I always love it when I can earn repeat business from my clients like that. When we were all finished up I contacted my other client in Traphill and let her know I was on the way. When I got there we chatted about the sign that I had captured just a couple of days before. It would be an understatement to say that her family has some very deep roots in the area of Traphill and it seems that everything that I find to shoot out there is in some way connected to her family. With generations of her family in the area it would be expected that there would be some of the old homes that they have lived in. She had told me of a couple of them when I had last delivered prints to her a few months before. I had tried to find them since without success and I didn’t want to be a bother to her about where these houses were located so I just figured I would keep looking and eventually find them in my travels.
Well, we started talking about both locations and I let her know that I was having a hard time finding them which she had the perfect response for. We got in the vehicles and she took the lead as we went out to the first location which was just past the other one which I could now spot knowing the landmark. When she pulled off the road I recognized the house instantly. I had been wanting to capture an image of this house for some time, but it was just too deep into the property for me to risk it. I don’t know why I never made the connection that this was the house that I had been told about. Whatever the case, I was here now and had full access to get the pictures that I wanted. After a quick introduction to the property, I was left to my devices and I grabbed my gear.
One of the things that I liked best about the overall layout of the property was the large tree to the front of the house. It was huge in comparison and there was one branch that seemed to caress the roof. It followed the shape of the house quite nicely and that was part of what I wanted to capture. I went with my 24-70mm lens which was going to offer me the most flexibility and I started out kind of far from the house and worked my way in close. It was going to be a matter of the best focal length to make the composition work. I needed to watch for separation between the tree and the house while keeping the perspective distortion down from any wide angle shots. What I ended up settling on was a shot at 41mm which had the best balance of all of the qualities that I was after for this composition. While I was making exposures I had to pay attention to the sky in the background which was causing the house to go into shadows. To balance that out, I used a 2-stop ND Grad filter and added a polarizer to keep the glare off of the roof.
As I got close to the house I had to pay particular attention to the location of the door between the posts on the porch. I needed to keep the door completely separate from any distractions since the door is the welcoming part of the home. I try to never block doorways in my photographs. The branch that I loved so much became an interesting exercise in composition skills because for it to be separated from the roof, I needed to get so low that the distortion from the lens would cause the verticals to converge. It also caused the branch to go above the mountain in the background which added a distraction of a bright sky under the branch. If I went too high with the camera the branch would then cut the roof and leave a section of the tin above the branch. In the end, I decided to keep the branch right at the edge of the roof so as to not distract from the image or overcomplicate it.
This was a difficult composition to make and one that I might have given up on if it was just for me. Since I was shooting this with a client in mind though, I pushed through and really tried to make this work. The tree was just a little too complex for my tastes and too close to the home. However, the even lighting helped to keep the scene balanced even with the dense woodland in the right third of the image. What I loved about this view was the character of the house and the stone chimney which always introduces warm tones and great textures to an image. The sky had just the right amount of interest to it with the trees so as not to compete with them.
Speaking of the trees, I also tried these images in a vertical format to accentuate the trees. That worked well and the trees started to look much better in the vertical format, but that was the problem. The house started to get lost in the frame and become just a supporting element to the tree. Had the tree been a little less cluttered at the base, I could have gone that route easy enough, but it was the house that I was after and that forced the horizontal framing which minimized the tree in favor of the house. In the end, this was the image that I liked which told the story of the home the best. But I wasn’t done with this location since I had permission to explore a bit.
While I was talking with my client about the house, I remember asking if that was a microwave on the front porch. I could tell that question caught her off guard and she said that I could move it if I wanted to. Nope, I love to shoot things as I find them and that microwave helped to tell the story of the house. It was these little aspects that really caught my attention more than the whole house did. It wasn’t the microwave that I decided to focus on though. However, just to the side of that microwave was a pile of bottles that caught my eye. They had been there for quite some time and were showing their age. The complete random nature of how they were laying captivated me. I would never try to stage something like this because it would look just too orderly. It was how I found them that was just perfect. The green tones with the splashes of red just called out for me and I made it my mission to capture something really good here.
I wish that I could say that I just pointed the camera and got the shot as it really looks to be that simple. Nope, no way could it be that kind of simple unfortunately. This took me about eight tries to get the composition right as well as the focus. I wanted to get the angles right as well as having enough separation between the bottles to make sense. It was a fine balancing act and I had a bottle just outside of the frame to the lower left which I had to avoid as well as the edge of the siding to the right. There were so many confines to work in here and with being in this close I had to worry about depth of field. It took me a minute to find that sweet spot for the focus to land in order to get everything in focus through the image without stopping the lens down too much.
When I got it figured out I knew I had something special with it. When I got done with the editing process on it, I loved it even more. This is one of those images that I have always had in my mind, but had never found the right opportunity to capture before. I’ll talk more about that in the next Behind the Camera, but my inspiration comes from different sources and this was one that I had imagined after seeing some other photographs and wanting to capture a similar scene…this particular scene as a matter of fact. The patina of the old glass, the faded paint, and the condition of the wood made for a perfect image and the one lone lug nut gave me my much needed splash of rust to seal it with my signature.
At this point I was feeling pretty good about the day and was getting energized about photography. It had started out as “working” because I wasn’t feeling particularly creative when I started the day. I really didn’t need to be since I was just making deliveries on previous bouts of creativity. However, seeing one of my long term visions come to fruition jumpstarted my creative juices and got me really thinking about the scene that was in front of me. Knowing that my success here would be based on isolations I started to walk around the house in an attempt to find other little elements to capture. Of course, I loved the stone chimney and the way it fit against one of the windows that happened to have perfectly broken blinds.
That was my next image and I knew that I wanted this to be a study in textures concentrating on the shapes of the blinds matching that of the siding while the stones gave that bit of balance to the image. There wasn’t much need in making this a color image because it would have been mostly white with a substantial third of the image filled with warmer tones with nothing really to balance it out. By going monochrome, I reduced this down to lines and textures since the light was even on the scene. It was destined to be a vertical shot because of how the elements all spaced out in the frame. There was no reason to fight that aspect of the composition so I just embraced that format.
The window was of particular interest because I had heard the story of how this window and one other had been broken. I can confirm that it was all the cousin’s fault (I will always take my client’s side in these matters). Anyway, I did love how the blinds were going in different directions which helped to draw attention to the bits of siding that were hanging, or missing. There was a certain poetry to this scene that I just couldn’t get past. It is not overly different from others that I have done in similar circumstances, but I do like how this one came together and thought that it was an important part of the story of the home.
After I made a few exposures there, I started to look for other areas of the house that I could photograph. It was an interesting design and I tried to get some shots of the back side as well as the back door, but nothing really worked out there. I did check out the upstairs window that had housed a shirt hanging from the time that the house was last occupied. I was expecting to see the remaining shreds based on the stories that I had heard about this house, but it was gone. I had been looking forward to potentially capturing something with that shirt telling the tale of lost time here, but that was not to be.
I did one last look around the property and couldn’t find anything else to capture so I figured it was time to pack it in. I looked at the time time and the sky. I had time for one more location and the sky was going to work for either of my ideas. I had set out earlier today to try and get out to Alexander County and that was where I wanted to go, but it was getting late and I was much closer to the second location here in Traphill. Banking on the fact that the Esso Station was going to be a better scene in the early morning hours, I gambled on going to the other home just down the road from where I was.
It didn’t take but a few minutes to get to the driveway and turn in. I followed the directions that my client had given me and went up the driveway. I found her house with no problem and started to look for the older home that she had told me about. I couldn’t for the life of me remember if she had said it was on the left or the right, or how far down the driveway it was. I just kept on going and never found anything. I tell you, at this point I was really questioning my ability to find these places on my own without a keeper because I had apparently lost an entire house. I got turned around and started back out figuring that I was just missing something and would have to get in contact with her at a later time to figure out where I went wrong. As I was seeing if I had signal to message her I was looking at a barn behind her house and wondering if that could work as a picture. As I was studying that, I saw the corner of another house behind the one I had been staring at. Could it be? Yep, there was the missing house! I had misunderstood how it was placed in relation to her house. It was tucked in behind and I could now see a stone chimney which I love to photograph. The house looked awesome from the driveway so I pulled in and got out to take a closer look.
When I got in close to it my excitement started to diminish a little bit. That is not to say that I didn’t like the house, quite the contrary. I liked this one better than the previous one, but this one had much more evidence of current in habiting that kind of messed with the story I wanted to convey. There were large ham radio antennas whipping in the air and large NASCAR banners on the exterior walls. It looked like the most awesome man cave known to man, but the decoration didn’t fit the idea that I had for this house. I’ll be quite honest here and say that my gut was to get back in the truck and say that I wasn’t able to find a good shot of the house. However, I had to remind myself that this was for a client and they already knew what the house looked like and what the story was. Had they not loved it like it was, I wouldn’t be here and I couldn’t call myself a photographer if I couldn’t make an image work here.
I went back to the truck and before I grabbed my gear I put on my professional photographer pants and cinched up the belt. Now I had the motivation to find compositions that celebrated this house and woudl work for my style of photography. It was going to be hard, but I have always risen to the challenge with my photography and this wasn’t going to be an exception. My first concept was to minimize the house so that it was just the house which was the subject and not the different items on the porch. The best way to do that was with a wide angle lens from far away incorporating a foreground element. As luck would have it, there was a bird bath in the front yard which was perfectly placed as a visual anchor.
I fitted my 16-35mm lens along with a polarizer and a 3-stop ND Grad to hold the sky back which was rather bright in comparison to the house. I got in close and framed up on the bird bath as I had thought about. The composition was working but to keep the roof separated from the sky I needed to have the camera elevated a bit higher than I would have liked. The overall result was a bit more separation between the house and the bird bath than I would have liked. The overall picture worked though and I worked on getting the focus right. Just in case I had issues, I shot a series of image for a focus stack at f/8, but I also shot a few single images at f/14 at slightly different focus points in hopes that one of them would give me sharpness from front to back. As luck would have it, at this wide angle, I had just enough depth of field at f/14 focusing about a third of the way into the scene to render it all in focus.
While I was checking the focus in the image review I had the image zoomed in and happened to see a crop of the top of the frame where it was just the house. From this angle it really didn’t look too bad up close. After I was sure that I had all that I needed from the lower end of the yard, I moved in closer to get a horizontal capture of just the house in case it looked as good as the zoomed in section had looked in the image review. I framed up the shot paying more attention to the angles and separation of elements since the house took up a great deal more of the frame. My main concerns were the front door as you know and the plaque on the side of the house that dedicated it to the family. Speaking of that plaque, had the lettering been a bit more visible, I would have done a shot that used it as a main feature. Sadly, the script was almost worn away and wasn’t visible enough to work as an image. I knew that the family would know what it was so it was important not to block it with the chimney. The rest of the elements came together and I had enough separation between the roof and the sky with the trees so that the house didn’t blend into the sky. My main concern there was the antennas that reached into the sky. They were quite tall and stretched out of frame.
When I had gotten this image into Lightroom and was processing it Toni made mention of those two antennas right away and was surprised that I had chosen to capture this image because of them. She knows me all too well I’m afraid and she was right that I would have normally passed up on this shot for that very reason. However, it was part of the story that I was being asked to capture and that made it important to the image. That didn’t mean that I couldn’t make some minor adjustments as a compromise though. After I was done with the processing, I brought it into Photoshop where I removed the top sections of the antennas which kept them from cutting the frame and being quite the distraction they could have been. I still don’t care for them, but they are tolerable now and I know that they have a place in the image to help tell the story of the house.
I had now shot two compositions of the entire house and that was two more than I thought I would get when I first saw it. I was feeling pretty much done here, but something was calling for me. There were two places that had caught my attention while I was going around the house initially. The first was the iron pot on the front stairs and the second was the back porch with some wash basins hanging on the wall by a highway sign. I started at the front porch and worked around the front steps for about 15 minutes trying to find the right angle which isolated just what I wanted to capture. It seemed that every composition that I chose needed more breathing room which then started to incorporate more elements than I wanted to include. I never even fired off a frame on this scene because I couldn’t find anything that I remotely liked about it as a photograph. I was feeling a little defeated after that, but still went around to the back and looked at the scene there which had caught my attention. I didn’t know how I was going to capture it though, but I couldn’t do any worse than I had on the front porch.
I started to look critically at the scene asking what I liked about it and what I didn’t like. I narrowed it down to a section between two doors which included a myriad of objects which strangely went together quite well I thought. It was going to be a vertical composition with the doors framing the shot. There wasn’t a lot of color in the scene so I shot it as a black and white image. I did about five variations of the scene in the hopes that one of them would work out on the big screen at home. I will say that before I started making exposures I did something that I will very rarely do. I removed an object from the scene. Yes….look upon me in shame as I didn’t shoot it like I found it.
I had a good reason though. The scene was all about a certain age of the elements and a bright green bottle of Scrubbing Bubbles just stuck out like a sore thumb sitting next to the gas can. Not only was it a more recent product, the green didn’t go with the scene at all and would have been a distraction even in monochrome. It was nothing to just reach in and pull the bottle out of the shot (it was replaced right afterwards). Now that I had the scene figured out and the exposures made I was satisfied with this location as well.
Looking at the time, there just wasn’t any time to go out to the Esso Station which was probably an hour away from here. I was tired and getting hungry so it was time to head home. After dinner I go the images imported into Lightroom and started to weed out the good images from the 45 frames that I had shot. I’m actually talking with another client of mine who I guess for lack of a better term I’m mentoring after she attended one of my Intro classes last month. Anyway she is a perfectionist, much like me and I’m trying to get her to understand that a very good day behind the camera will yield only 10% that are worth keeping. This goes against her inner voice that somehow 110% of the images that she shoots should be keepers. I’m still working on that new math, and apparently I’m just not carrying the one cause I can’t figure out keeping more than you take. Seriously though, this is a fact in photography and I delete 90% or more of the images that I shoot and they are never seen again because they are just not good enough. I’m not saying that they are bad, just that they are not my best effort based on the other 10% or so. Out of the 45 images that I captured, I trashed 39 of them and kept six which is a great percentage for the day in my opinion. I’ve been keeping about 5% of the images over the last few treks so this was a very high hit rate. I only share this fact to help other photographers who feel bad that not all of their images turn out good. It is not a negative thing at all to say that you don’t like an image that you shot. In fact, it shows a very good and necessary trait as a photographer to be able to pick out your best work and leave the rest on the cutting room floor.
Oh, and that last image that I shot that I felt was going to be black and white. Well, I was wrong about that one. It had to be in color and there was no way around it. When I pulled it up on the computer and looked at it, I could no longer see it as a monochrome image. The different warm tones at the bottom of the frame just balanced so well with the red paint brush in the upper left. It had to be in color, and the color had to be very specific to this image. I went through several color profiles until I found the one that I wanted to use for it which was slightly desaturated and had an aged look to it with washed out blacks. It was just perfect for the scene and it yielded my favorite image of the day barely edging out the bottles from the other house.
I’m not quite sure why my favorite images were the isolations on the houses, but those were the ones that really jumped out at me from this trek. I liked the house pictures in general, but they were not the strongest images that I have shot recently just because of some of the elements that were out of my control. It was these intimate shots into the personalities of the homes that told the story the clearest for me and these are the images that I liked the best. On the other hand, my client was thrilled with them all which was my goal here and really the main concern for the two locations. I managed to make them happy while staying true to my own style and artistic visions which is a great day as a photographer.
As with all of my images, if one of these jumps out as a favorite for you, I would love to help get you matched up with your very own print. You can email me at [email protected] to discuss your options and make an order, or you can just order directly from the gallery store here. Either way, I look forward to exceeding your expectations.
Until next time….