A Day of Decay

· Reading Time: 24 minutes

Monday, March 25, 2019

Pull it Together“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

As you might remember, I had just come back from a morning on the Blue Ridge Parkway which was supposed to be a full day in the mountains.  Well, the weather didn’t hold out for me to do anything after the sunrise.  Fortunately, it was a really good sunrise and now that I’ve had a chance to consider the pictures that I created, I am very happy with them all.  However, I was all set to spend some serious time behind the camera and that got cut way too short.  That left me wanting more.  Well, as luck would have it, the weather was supposed to be cloudy with a chance of rain on Monday afternoon.  I wasn’t wanting to drive all the way back out to the mountains so I was looking for something that I could do much closer to home.  My original thought was to head to Old Salem and have Toni join me for a nice walk through the town looking for Spring color.  Toni had other plans, so I started to reconsider my options.

While I was going through my Facebook alerts I happened to see a name pop up I had seen a few times before.  I’m going to keep that name to myself for reasons that I will share later on.  Anyway, I recognized the name as being an owner of a property that I had been wanting to shoot for some time now.  That got my mind thinking about rusted cars and decay.  That pretty much cemented the deal, I was going to give it a try to contact this gentleman in order to gain access to the property.  I did my research and found that the business opened up at 9am which worked out well for me.  That would give me enough time to drop Sierra off at school and get a couple of prints in the mail that I had printed over the weekend.  This was going to work out fantastic…as long as I could get permission.

Before I went to bed, I decided to send a Facebook message knowing that it might not get to him since we were not “friends.”  I figured it couldn’t hurt, I mean, he had been liking several of the photographs that I have been posting recently.  It seemed like a safe bet that he would let me do a little photography on his property.  I also checked the weather one last time.  It looked like I was going to be good with mostly cloudy skies until about 2pm when the rain was supposed to get started.  That would give me plenty of time to do what I wanted to do, and even had a little extra built in.

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

I woke up later than I normally would for a work day which was nice.  I had a fairly relaxing morning as I got ready.  The weather was still holding according to the forecast.  However, as the sun came up, I was seeing only thin clouds in the sky.  This was better than bright sun, but I wanted more diffusion to make the images work like I wanted them to.  I kept my fingers crossed and the time to leave arrived.  I took Sierra to school and almost needed my sunglasses.  This was not a good sign at all.  I then made my way to the post office where I dropped the prints in the mail destined for a new client in Maine.  It was now time to get to the business at hand….making new images!

My destination wasn’t too far up the road and I actually arrived there a bit before 9.  Not wanting to ambush anyone who was just trying to come to work with my requests, I decided to drive a bit and see what I could see before stopping at my destination.  I was in familiar territory so it was kind of hard to get lost, but I did.  I took random turns here and there and found all sorts of really cool things that I would like to photograph.  The only problem was the sun was too bright to make it worth my while at this time.  I did find myself on a familiar road and actually drove past a restaurant I was familiar with which had an old International pickup truck out front as yard art.  Now, I had seen this truck many times before and had not really cared to photograph it because the name of the business was painted on the sides which just ruined the truck for me.  This time, however, I looked at it with different eyes.  I wondered what the front of the truck looked like.  Could I do an isolation on an emblem, how about the grill?  It was worth pulling over and checking it out.

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

I pulled into the parking lot and saw the front end of the truck which I had never really looked at before.  It was actually quite nice.  There was still chrome there, as well as the emblem.  Of course, the rust was really nice on the hood which was something I was expecting.  I got out of the 4Runner and grabbed the camera.  Knowing that I would be shooting isolations, I went ahead and grabbed the 24-70mm lens which was really good at getting details on cars.  I added the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to add a bit of pop and contrast to the patina.  I knew the basic composition that I was wanting so I got in close to the nose of the truck and dialed in the composition.  Hard Headed was one of the first images that I shot of the day and really surprised me with how well it all came together.  It showcased the rusty metal and the pitted chrome.  It was all anchored with the slightly worn emblem which is always a fun addition to an image.  I was well on my way after the first few releases of the shutter button.  Those are always the hardest when I’m starting a day of photography.  It seems after I get something on the memory card, the rest come so much easier.

I stayed at this location for about 20 minutes and shot about 13 frames.  It wasn’t much, but considering I was only after compositions on the nose of the truck, I thought that was pretty good.  I was paying attention to the sky during this period and saw that the clouds were coming and going.  At times, they were blocking the sun nicely, and at other times, the sun was a bit too harsh.  I was still feeling pretty good about my main destination but I was concerned that the weather would do what it did yesterday all over again.  When I was satisfied that I had what I wanted from this International, I packed the camera up and started back to the property I had intended on shooting at.

It was about 30 minutes after opening when I pulled in.  I could see no signs of life, and no door that looked like a regular business door that was opened for the public.  Looking at the cars in the lot,  I didn’t think that anyone was here just yet.  The wind had come out of my sails a little bit.  Maybe they were running late, maybe they weren’t open on Mondays.  Who knew, but I was going to have to wait to get to talk to somebody.  I checked my phone and no response to the Facebook Message either.  I put the truck in drive and continued on my way.  I just didn’t know what my way was.

Shoebox“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted in Lightroom

I went back to my aimless driving through two different counties.  I found some more interesting subjects but just didn’t like the light that was on them.  I just jotted them down in my head for later on.  I did happen across a ’40’s Ford Sedan being used as yard art on one of the main roads which I had not seen before.  I did a couple of loops around it to see if there was any reason to try to shoot it.  The more I looked, the more I thought I might have something interesting sitting on the side of the road.  I eventually drove into the driveway and up to the house.  There were a few cars in the driveway so I was hopeful that somebody would be home.  I knocked on the door, and the canine door bell went off and sounded for a fair amount of time.  There was no answer at the door however.  I looked around for any signs of movement in the surrounding structures but didn’t see any evidence that anyone was there.

It was time to make a decision about what to do with the car I wanted to shoot.  It was right off of the road which made it very tempting to just shoot it from the roadside.  The problem with that…it was situated right next to the driveway.  For the shot that was wanting to get, I would be well into their property to get the composition.  I could go with a longer lens and shoot from a bit further off of their driveway, but I wouldn’t have the perspective I was wanting.  The devil said shoot it, the angle said I had better wait for a better opportunity.  I decided to wait.  Back on the road I went in search of something else to shoot.

After about 40 minutes or so, I decided to head back to the shop where I was wanting to shoot and see if anyone was there yet.  It was a little after 10 now and surely somebody would be there.  Well, when I arrived, there were no new cars in the parking lot and no signs that any of the doors were opened up.  I went and knocked on the doors just in case there was somebody in there.  I heard music, but nobody would come to the door.  There was a phone number on a sign out front, so I decided to call it and see if I could make contact with somebody at the shop before the day was gone.

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

The phone rang a few times before somebody picked up with a simple “hello.”  I confirmed that I had the right number and that I was talking with somebody from the shop.  Then I went into asking if anyone would be at the shop today.  He was actually out, and was planning on returning after 11.  That wasn’t too long from now.  I explained what I was wanting to do, and he responded with a question of “who was I taking the pictures for?”  I explained a little more about my intentions and why I like photographing rusted cars.  He seemed to be comfortable with that explanation and said that I could come back later in the morning and get a few pictures.  That was good news for me, and a major hurdle passed.  I just had to wait for a while longer.  I was hoping that the rain would hold off as the clouds were actually looking pretty good at this point.

I went back to my aimless driving around in search of other subjects.  I went back to the house with the Ford sitting out front and noticed no change in the cars that were present.  This is one that I will have to come back to in the future though.  It looked pretty good in the cloudy light.  I saw a yard full of trucks that I had shot before, and had a brief thought to stop and do some work with them.  I just remember that compositions were not the easiest to come by with how they were laid out in the yard.  I kept on driving, and hunting.  I wasn’t finding anything at all, and I firmly believe that was because I had my mind set on working the cars that were at the shop I was patiently waiting on.

Going on Faith“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

The morning was getting away from me as it was about to lunch time.  I had been out for around three hours at this point and had only shot 13 frames thus far.  A funny thing happens to a photographer when this is going on.  I thought it was just me, but I actually watched a video of a photographer recently who said that they experience it too.  I was feeling panic…the stress of being out and not getting any images.  It is an odd thing, but it happens regularly when I’ve been out for any appreciable length of time with nothing, or very little show for it.  I am far too familiar with this sensation and I know that it will usually result in “forced images” which are worse than having nothing at all for the day.  I had to take steps to calm myself down, knowing that in a very short time I would be at the shop taking the pictures that I had been envisioning for the last 12 hours or so.

The time finally came when I figured that somebody would be at the shop.  I headed that way and passed by looking to see if there was any sign of life.  Sure enough, there was a new vehicle in the parking lot and one of the bay doors was open.  I got turned around and parked off to the side.  I went in cautiously and found the owner of the business at the desk.  I introduced myself and we started talking a bit about the importance of these old cars, and how they are an integral part of history.  It was actually a very nice conversation and as it turns out, we have similar views on these rusted relics.

By the end of the conversation we were talking about me posting the pictures on Facebook to the pages where he frequents.  This was how I had found him in the first place after all.  He said that he didn’t want to show a connection with the cars online because he didn’t want folks to know what was there.  I totally understood that and that is why I am being very vague about where the shop is, or who the owner is.  I can’t blame him wanting to keep this private, and I can’t say I would do anything different if I were in his shoes.  I will always respect the property owner’s wishes about how much information I will divulge online.  That being said, I was here finally and had been given permission to shoot my heart out among the rust.  I made my typical offer to provide a print or two for his generosity in letting me do my thing with his treasures.

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

I was finally ready to get started.  The fact that the sun was out and it was right at noon didn’t even bother me.  I knew I could work with the light that I had for these subjects.  I was just happy to finally be able to work this property.  I started out with my walk around lens, the 24-70mm, to which I added a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer.  This is the combination that I use for the vast majority of my old iron shots.  It has a nice wide angle view when I want that perspective distortion, and can get in close enough on the tight end for isolations.  It is just a totally flexible lens that is good for working in tight places.  This was a very tight place with cars parked next to cars, next to cars, in front of, and behind other cars.  I started to work my way up and down the isles just having the best time.  The collection here is just amazing when you think about it.  Granted, the cars have been picked over, but so many of them still show their spirit.

It took me a little time to get rolling which I expected would be the case.  This type of location is a little difficult to work as the compositions are rarely the photographer’s choice.  More often than not it is the location of the cars that determine how an image is shot.  I try to isolate individual cars as best I can, but that is not always possible.  When that fails, I try to find cars that are of the same era to photograph together because lets face it…nothing ruins a shot of a classic Chevrolet like a 1988 Honda Accord.  That is part of the fun of shooting in this situation though.  There are always hurdles and obstacles to get over in order to get the image.

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

Things that I was looking for out here was interesting patina for one.  I liked the colors to pop, and I wanted there to be interesting patterns on the vehicles as well.  I wanted to see chrome bits as those always add a bit of flash to an image.  Of course, interesting headlights are always a crowd pleaser for me.  I wanted interesting vehicles that had a story to tell, and I also looked for emblems and abstracts that I could shoot. These are things that I plan on talking about during my coming Spring Decay Workshop which will be in a couple of weeks now.  There is a lot more to this type of photography than just finding a rusty car and snapping a picture of it.  The goal is to engage the viewer and prompt them to think about the car, relive memories they have made in similar cars, and to actually examine the personality of the vehicle you are photographing.

Tarnished Royalty“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted in Lightroom

I think that collections like this really give you an opportunity to learn about the character of these old cars.  As you photograph them, you start to understand them.  I start thinking about their stories and what they have been through.  I always have this recording that runs backwards in my head of the life of the car that I’m shooting.  It starts with what I am looking at and gradually, I remove the element of time and I can see the history of the car going back to when it was rolling off of the assembly line.  Some of these cars have been around 80 years or so like this Royal I found.  That is a lot of history, and while the car was beautiful when it was brand new, it is displaying a different kind of beauty at this stage of life.  I think that we can all appreciate the lines and shapes that make up these old cars.  The fact that each model year came with a new body essentially makes these much more individual than today’s cars.  My 4Runner has had the same body style since 2015, and the platform has been the same for nearly 10 years now.  That would have been a crime back in the ’30’s, ’40’s, or ’50’s.  I like the individual touches that were put into the different model years back then.  That quality carries through to this day and I’m very proud to be able to photograph these cars.

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

How vehicles age has always been something that has interested me.  While I was in High School, I was always working on keeping my car clean and waxed.  In college, I became a detailer with dealerships where I specialized in preserving the finish on cars, and restoring aged paint.  For the majority of my life I have dedicated so much energy to preventing aging from happening to my vehicles and ones belonging to other people.  I guess that is why the concept of the derelict vehicle really interests me.  I love seeing what time will do to a vehicle and coming to the realization that there is nothing at all that we can do to prevent this permanently.  All vehicles will eventually get to this stage, it is just a matter of time.  Of course, when they are neglected, it happens at a much faster rate than one which is taken care of.  It is all just part of the life cycle of our machines.  As such, it should be celebrated I think.

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

As I mentioned before, something that I am constantly on the lookout for when I’m shooting my old iron is interesting patina and paint schemes.  This particular Dodge pickup really caught my eye because of the interesting paint scheme that was on it.  I really can’t tell what happened to it, but it looks like a bunch of rattle cans were used to paint it years ago with no concern for what color was being used.  Add to that the rusty layer that has been revealed over time.  It is just too interesting and really stands out among the crowd.  It is safe to say that this truck has a really interesting story behind it, and it is up to the viewer to really decide what that story is.  That is the best part of this type of photography…trying to figure out the story behind the picture.  Sometimes I actually know the story and still have fun filling in the blanks with my own imagination

Automotive History“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, and Galen Rowell 3-Stop Hard Edge ND Grad

One thing that I was having difficulties with was the sky.  I did have my clouds finally so the lighting was good.  The problem was, the clouds had no texture for the longest time.  That meant that I had to avoid the sky in my compositions which sometimes negatively affected what I was trying to shoot.  By the end of my day, at nearly 2pm, the clouds started to cooperate.  I was seeing texture in the sky finally and I was able to make several compositions that included that sky.  that allowed me to get down low to the ground for some interesting perspective shots.  Toni told me once I needed to get down low more often as she likes that perspective with the car pictures.  I’ve done it that way before, but not too often.  My knees are not that good and getting down that low tends to hurt my joins a little bit.  However, there are times when that is the right thing to do.  Take for instance this image above.  There were rows of cars behind these three which would be all to easy to include in a composition.  However, I didn’t want to have any distractions if I could avoid it.  With the clouds cooperating, i was able to go low and include the sky.  This eliminated the cars behind as well as the buildings that made up the shops on the property.  It was the right thing to do here.

By this point, I had switched over to my 16-35mm lens for some different perspectives which worked well for this image.  I still had that trusty Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer on the front of the lens, but for this one I needed the help of one other filter.  I needed that Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 3-Stop ND Grad to really bring the exposure in line.  I tried it without the filter, but the cars were in too deep a shadow in order to keep the sky under control.  I knew that would introduce too much noise in the final image, so the only way to proceed was to go with the ND Grad which worked like a champ.  I could tell on the histogram that the exposure was dead on, and I would have very little to work through when I started processing the final image.

Cracked and Broken“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 2-Stop Soft Edge ND Grad

When I was working on this colorful truck the owner came out to see how I was doing.  He informed me that this was one of his favorites on the property.  I can see why too.  This truck has loads of personality starting with the color of it.  The teal roof adds a layer to the story which is fascinating.  The fact that the front end is grounded as it is gives a pretty vivid indication that this truck is very tired.  The final part of the story comes in with the headlight buckets both being bugged out, but still attached.  The cracked windshield also goes right along with the theme of this old girl.  As with the previous picture, I was able to incorporate the sky with this composition with the help of a 2-Stop ND Grad from Singh-Ray.  It helped to hold the exposure back in the sky so that I could property expose the truck.  This one is one of my favorites from the day.  I just really like how this truck looks sitting there in the field.

Don’t Bug Me“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer
Punch Buddies“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

Something that I found really interesting about this property is that there were a number of VW Bugs scattered around.  While I am not necessarily a fan of the car, there is just no denying the iconic status that the car has achieved over the years.  I do enjoy photographing them when the opportunity arrives because I have my own memories tied up in these cars.  A friend of mine had one in High School and we worked together on it several weekends as he was trying to restore it.  I will say that we did an excellent job at tearing the car apart.  We had the interior out of it, we removed the engine (without a lift), and separated the body from the pan.  We had a lot of fun with that car and I learned a lot about how cars went together.  I don’t think that he ever got it back together though.  Regardless, every time I photograph one of these Bugs, I am taken right back to that point in my life and I always smile a little bit.  I don’t think anyone can look at one of these cars and not smile a little bit.

Four Eyes“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted in Lightroom

As you have seen here in the blog, I have shot a number of black and white shots.  I have found over the years that a well executed monochrome image will simplify an overly complex scene if the conditions are right.  With the congestion of this property, I was looking for every trick I could find to simplify my images.  In a few cases, getting rid of the color seemed to do the trick quite well.  Here is an example of one of those times. The cars on either side of this Chevy were a distraction with the colors that they had.  Add to that, I was trying to pull out a bit more detail in the sky than what I was seeing.  By shedding the color I was able to reduce the distraction of the bright colored vehicles, increase the presence of the main subject, and add density to the sky.  It all worked quite well to produce an image that captured just what I was wanting to show.  Of course the star here is the grill flanked by the two pairs of headlights.  We all know how I feel about the headlights in these old cars.

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

Sometimes the way to simplify the image is to find something that is covered by the surroundings, such as this roadster.  The bright green stood out well, but it was surrounded by all sorts of really big cars (in comparison).  I got down low and took advantage of the weeds that were covering the car.  By cropping in tight with the 24-70mm lens I was able to eliminate the distraction of the surrounding cars even though you can still see parts of them around the edge of the frame.  With the careful composition, and utilizing the bright green I was able to blend the other cars into the tall weeds and thus into the background.  There are always lots of little tricks that you can do with these types of shots.

Flight From New York“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

Another option when you are working in a cluttered environment is to pick out isolations like this hood ornament.  I typically shoot these from the top either straight on, or from 45 degree angle.  For this Chrysler ornament, I decided to try something completely different and I shot it from below.  I positioned the camera so that the head would be roughly centered in the windshield area, and the wings would be just above the hood line.  This would allow the top windshield molding to provide an upper frame for the image.  The crackled paint and rust underneath would give a great foreground interest to anchor the bird in flight.  I have really developed a love for hood ornaments on these old cars.  Like the cars themselves, the hood ornaments would change with each year so they are rather unique in the grand scheme of things.  I was really wishing that there would have been more hood ornaments on the property, but this was the only one that I really saw that I wanted to shoot.  But if there could have only been one, I’m glad it was this one as I had a lot of fun with it.

Got Too Old“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk 2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

About the time I was thinking that I had probably used up my creative energy I started feeling rain drops on my head.  Since I had been going for a bit over two hours, I decided I didn’t need any more encouragement to call it a day.  I picked up my gear and went back to the truck where I packed it all back in the bag.  It had been a good day, but I was tired and ready to call it quits.  I had done two pretty major treks in two days and that had finally zapped my creative energy.  I was spent as they say.  I’ve had a lot of fun over the past two days, and am looking forward to the time when I can dedicate this much time to my photography on a regular basis.  I’ll save that news for a bit longer though.  At the end of the day, I had a total of 103 images, 90 of which came from my primary location.  I was feeling pretty good about being able to get 10 or so images out of the bunch.  Imagine my surprise when I found a total of 19 images that I deemed as keepers.  Man….it was a great day!!!