A Foggy Start to the Year

· Reading Time: 16 minutes

Sunday, January 3, 202X….1

I remember having a hard time in school learning to write the year 1980.  I remember having the hardest time learning to write 2000 after 19xx for so long.  I remember…..that I’m old.  Maybe that is why I enjoy old things when it comes to selecting my photography subjects.  I might have started out as a landscape photographer, but there is no doubt that I am equally at home shooting rural and decay scenes that focus on years gone by.  I just seem to relate better with these types of scenes than I do with the modern day landscape.  The funny thing is, most of what I like to shoot predates me by a good bit.  I have no direct memories of these places, but there is just something to be said for imagining life back then.  The more I think about it, the more I can picture the life around these places that I like to capture with my camera.

One of these places is the Dewey’s General Story in Mulberry.  I’ve passed this quaint little store many times now going out to Traphill.  You will probably remember that I have been going out that way regularly here lately and have been having some really fantastic luck the last few times there.  The small wooden store right along Yellow Banks Rd has interested me for months, and I have stopped here at least a half dozen times under different conditions.  I’ve gotten out and pondered compositions about half of those times and what I have determined is that the scene just never looked photo worthy.  Even under great clouds, or with a clear sky, it was just missing something.  My biggest problem with the scene had always been the power pole behind the store and the power lines that came to it.  They were a distraction and took up too much real estate in the image for me to justify cloning any of it out.  The transformer at the top of the pole stuck out like a sore thumb against the trees in the background, especially when they were wearing their summer leaves.  I had all but given up on this location as it just didn’t make a good photograph in my mind.

It wasn’t until Saturday morning that Toni and I woke to a heavy fog outside.  I love shooting in the fog, and started to consider where I might could go in order to take advantage of this weather gift that I had just received.  As I was thinking I was looking at the forecast to see where I would be able to possibly go.  Well, the fog advisory was only good for another 30 minutes or so which wasn’t going to be enough time to do much if anything.  The location that popped into my mind was that general store on the way to Traphill that I had been considering for a while.  I could imagine it with the background in the fog with everything softened and the sky just a tone of gray above the trees.  It could very possibly work and could help mask the power pole and the associated lines.  It would take me about 30 minutes to get out there though, and that would be the end of the fog.

Sleeping late won out for this day.  I missed my chance which wasn’t a terrible thing.  It had forced me to consider an option that I had not previously thought of.  It also started to get my mind thinking about some of my rural and decay scenes and how they would look in the fog.  I spent the better part of the day considering my options and adding some different locations into the mix for the next foggy day.  It was a productive day for me, even though I didn’t do anything specifically photography related for the day other than think.  It is that previsualization process that really helps to get me motivated for specific weather conditions.  Considering fog for more than just landscapes really got me excited.

As Saturday came to a close, I was looking at the weather since we were looking at rain overnight.  I knew that with the temperatures we were having there would be another chance for fog in the morning.  Sure enough, there was fog through the night and into the first hours of the morning according to my Clear Outside weather app.  I would have enough time to get out and shoot the general store, and possibly another scene or two…but only if I left early in the morning to make sure that I didn’t waste any of the fog once the light hit.

Toni and I turned in early and I double checked the forecast.  There was now a fog advisory in place until 10am now which would give me a ton of time to work things out.  This was going to be really good.  That is right up until the clock rang at 6am.  This is not terribly early considering the times that I will get up for sunrise, but it has been a while since I have needed to get up that early for a morning trek so it kind of caught me off guard.  I checked the weather, and the fog advisory was still in place, only it had been shortened to 8am.  It was still going to give me the time that I needed for the one subject, so it was worth getting up and heading out the door.

Pop Stop“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, No Filters

I was on the road at 6:45 and headed out to the general store considering my composition options as I drove.  I kind of wanted to take a wide angle approach to the scene to really pull the attention to the building and the textures of the wood, and that was what I was planning on doing.  When I got there, the sun was just starting to provide a decent amount of light across the landscape.  It was roughly 7:15 or so when I got there so just after sunrise.  I saw an immediate problem as I was finding a place out of the way to park the 4Runner.  There was light on right at the transformer above the store.  The whole idea here was to minimize the visual impact of that power pole and the street light completely negated that.  I was hoping that this was on a timer and was set to go off soon, so I went ahead and parked to get out and look at the scene.

I got in close and looked at what the wide angle perspective would do for me.  It was a dramatic angle looking at my cell phone camera, but for it to work, I would lose the trees in the background which would cause the sky to go flat and boring over most of the image.  I would also still have the power lines and the pole to deal with.  The wide angle approach would not work at all here and I remembered why I had such a hard time with this scene on the day with the great clouds.  I just really hate power lines and poles.  My next thought was to go across the street and take a longer shot which would compress the scene a bit and allow the trees to be an important part of the scene.  The extra distance would also add to the density of the fog which was starting to thin out a bit.  According to my phone camera, this idea could work as long as the street light went off.  It could possibly work with it on as I was able to put the light on the opposite side of the pole to mask most of its luminance.

I went back to the truck and grabbed the tripod and the camera.  Based on what the composition was on the phone I knew that my 24-70mm lens would be the one to choose.  Since there was a heavy mist falling I didn’t want to bother with any filters as I would have to keep an umbrella over the lens in order to keep the filters dry.  There really wasn’t much need for filters here anyway so that was no big loss at all.  I unscrewed the adaptor ring for the Lee 100 holder and screwed on the lens hood which I just keep in the back of the truck for just these moments.  I took the whole rig across the street and found the composition I was after.

The first composition cropped out the majority of the white garage behind the store and was a tight shot of the wooden section of the building as well as the island where the pumps used to be.  I shot several images here as the sun came up.  I kept waiting for the light to go out, but it refused.  After about 15 minutes or so I started to look at the composition on the back of the camera and felt that it looked too cramped with the cropping of the garage.  I decided to open the shot up a little bit more and bring the island in a bit closer to the building so I moved to my left about twelve feet or so.  I also dropped the camera a bit to try and reduce the overlapping lines of the antenna on the chimney where it crossed over the power lines.  I wasn’t able to provide absolute separation here, but I managed to organize it a bit more simply than it had been before.

The rain was picking up at this point and I had to keep checking my lens for water drops.  The lens hood was doing its job and I was in good shape.  The 5DS R was starting to drip with the rain though and I was really glad that this camera was weather sealed like my trusty 5D Mk3.  I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about it until time to put it in the bag when I would need to dry it all off.  I just kept standing there grabbing an occasional shot as the light changed hoping that the street light would turn off.  I remember looking at my watch and deciding that I would wait until 8am which was still about 20 minutes away.  So, there I was happy with the composition, standing on the side of Yellow Banks Rd, in the rain, with cars driving past me showering me with spray.  Yeah, I’m a dedicated fool when it comes to my photography.

My patience paid off though.  At 8:00 on the nose, the light turned off and the scene was perfect.  I grabbed three different exposures to make sure that I had the right fog conditions in the background as it was changing gradually over time.  Once I was satisfied that I had the image that I was after, I grabbed my gear and went back to the truck to get it all put back in the bag.  While I was drying the camera off I was considering how I wanted to process this image.  I had originally thought it would be a great black and white image, but the more I thought about it, the warm tones of the wood would look really good against the cooler tones of the fog in the background as well as the sky.  I knew that I didn’t want a lot of color here, but if I was really careful with the saturation levels I might be able to get away with a very muted color image that would tell the story of the morning with lots of atmosphere.

Just Framework“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, No Filters, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

The rain was coming down pretty good, but there was still fog to be had and I was still wanting to get more images for the day.  I went through my list of possible subjects as I was driving down some side roads in the area just in case something jumped out at me.  Nothing did, but I did remember an old house along Hwy 18 near Alexander County which I had photographed nearly two months before.   This had been on my makeshift list for a foggy morning shoot because I wanted softer light on it than I had before.  The first time I had shot it was at sunrise and the sun was shining directly on it in a very dramatic fashion.  I loved the dramatic light, but that is not really my style when it comes to photographing these rural subjects.  I really enjoy the soft light and lots of shadow details from clouds and fog.  I knew that there were several trees surrounding the house that would really come to life in the fog so that became my next stop on my foggy morning road trip.

It took me a little while to get there as I was pretty much traveling from the North edge of the County down to the Southern edge.  Fortunately the fog seemed to be hanging out longer that I had anticipated, so when I got to the house there was a still a good deal of fog in the background.  I’ll be honest here that I had mixed feelings about the fog.  On one hand, it was obscuring the Brushy Mountains behind the scene which I really loved to give depth.  On the other hand, the bare trees now stood out much better against the foggy sky.  It was two different types of scenes and I lost the sense of place in the fog, but I gained a bit of drama that I had been missing when seeing the mountains in the background.

The lighting was great on the scene though and that was enough for me to get out and put the camera to work.  I parked in the same place as I did before since I already knew the composition that I would be shooting.  I grabbed the 24-70mm lens which I knew would be my best option for this subject and got the tripod set up in place.  I had a little more flexibility with the angles with this light as I had much more detail on the broad side of the house which had been in the shadows last time.  I used the three trees to really frame up the image along the sides and the top.  Looking at the viewfinder I was pretty sure that I would be doing this as a black and white image because there really wasn’t all that much color in the scene.  My focus was on the shapes of the trees and the textures on the siding of the house.  The gray sky in the background just made for a natural monochrome look for me.

I started to make exposures and was very impressed with the fact that I still didn’t need any filters to get a good exposure here.  This was a huge change for me after the last time I shot here when I needed a 3-stop ND Grad to control the sky.  This was falling into place so nice and I could see that I was getting tons of details in the foreground and the trees which was exactly what I was after.  I fine tuned the composition several times before deciding that I had what I wanted with that composition.  I wasn’t done yet though.

I wanted to simplify the composition even more than I had been and wanted to try a square crop on the scene.  That was easy enough to do by setting the camera up to shoot 1:1 which allowed me to see the composition on the live view.  I really liked it and made several exposures in this format.  I was thinking that these were going to be my favorites from here and would likely be the composition that I chose to edit and present to the world.

While I was making exposures here the sun was starting to get a little bright in the sky and I was seeing that I was having a little bit of issues with the sky being overexposed.  Not wanting to lose the detail in the house, I opted for a filter and ran back to the truck to get a 2-stop soft edge ND Grad.  I didn’t need much at all in the way of darkening the sky, but this little bit did the trick.  I made a few more exposures and then started to reconsider my composition.  I really did like the square format, but I felt that the scene was wanting to stretch up a little more than I had with the square crop.  I shifted the camera back to the 3:2 ratio that is native to the sensor and then flipped the camera for a vertical orientation to see how I could make this work.

Comforting Home“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 2-stop soft ND Grad

I kept the left, right, and bottom edges to the composition the same as the square format had been.  I really liked that part, so there was no reason to change anything up there.  It was that tall tree that I wanted to explore a bit more which was where the vertical orientation came in.  I got the framing fine tuned knowing that I would be cropping this down to a 5:7 ratio in post and looked at the exposure.  The 2-stop grad was still doing the trick and the exposure hadn’t changed any at all.  I fired off a few frames and decided that I had what I wanted from here.  I was most excited about that square crop image and was looking forward to getting back home to give it another look and an edit.

With two scenes down, I wasn’t really ready to call it a day just yet, but the fog was lifting and the light was getting stronger.  I had one more place that I wanted to stop by to give a try.  It was close to the house and a location that I had shot not too long ago without any success.  The problems that I had with the barn scene was that it was just too cluttered with brush.  My thought was if the fog was still settled in that valley I might be able to concentrate more on the shapes and with the softer lighting I would be able to pull more detail out of the barns.  Well, when I got there, I found no fog at all around the barns.  The light was better than when I was there last, but the sky was just too plain to work without the fog softening the trees in the background.  I didn’t even get out of the truck to give it a second look, but I know that this will very likely work on the next foggy morning that I go out.

When I got home, Toni met me and eventually she took a look at the new images from the morning.  I had about a dozen that I was considering for editing.  Three of them were from the old house and I had one of each of the compositions set aside to look at for an edit.  As she looked through them, the one that she had liked was the vertical image that I had ended up with.  She didn’t care for the square cropped image that I was most excited about.  She also liked the horizontal one, but not that square one.  I’ll show her, that square one is the one that I want to edit, and that will be the one that ends up here in the blog.

I’ll wait while you look back through the images.

You didn’t find that square crop did you?

Well, that is because the one that I was most excited about in the field wasn’t the best of the bunch when I really started to look at them.  As I started the editing process there was a lack of balance in the square crop that the vertical one had.  Also, the slight blue tint to the sky balanced with the warmer tones of the siding of the house so well that I wanted a bit more of that in the frame.  The tree also got lost as  there wasn’t enough of the structure to really sell it as an element.  It was just a jumbled mess in the top third of the frame.  Well, this is why I shoot different compositions in the field even when I think that I have what I want.  I shot three compositions and my favorite in the field didn’t have a chance against the other two that I thought were just not quite as good.

Now, we won’t tell Toni that she was right…can I count on you?  I’m betting that she doesn’t read this whole blog entry anyway so as long as you don’t tell her, I think my secret is safe.  I would hate for her to think that she was right again with my images.

Regardless of who was right about the better images, I had a great morning in the fog.  It was a terrific start to the new year even it it was only a few hours.  I hope that you enjoyed the trek as much as I did and that the photographs speak to you on some level.  I’m really excited about these and I’m pretty sure that they are all in the running for three of my most significant images of 2021.  OK, so they are my only images of 2021 so far.  I’ll just have to try and create better through the year.

Until next time…

Nuts!  Toni read it all the way to the end.   She knows she was right now.   I may never hear the end of it.

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