Monday, January 6, 2020
I have been pretty active so far this year with several treks under my belt already. I’m kind of really starting to enjoy the freedom that I have to go out and photograph pretty much whatever suits me whenever I want to give it a try. When Monday came around, Sierra was going back to school for the first time since before Christmas, Toni was at work, and that left me with some time to myself. I went and visited my Grandfather for a few hours in the morning, but knew that I would have some time later in the day that was free. The weather forecast was for completely sunny skies throughout the day so normally I wouldn’t be all that interested in doing any photography, but there was a part of me that needed to get out again with the camera if for no other reason than some therapy. I knew that my subject matter would be very limited with the bright sun and clear skies, but I wanted to push myself to shoot in a situation that I wouldn’t normally even consider. I wanted to do this for no other reason than self growth, and if I managed to get an image or two, so much the better.
After leaving my Grandfather’s place, I started looking for subjects to shoot. It was around noon, so the sun was right up at the top of the sky and there was not a cloud to be had anywhere. I think that this is universally regarded as the most terrible time for photography, but I was looking for something specific that would work with the lighting. My idea was to find isolations that had geometry in them that benefited from the harsh lighting to where the shadows became the subject. In hindsight, I should have gone downtown to search that out, but I really didn’t want to deal with the crowds and the parking of downtown at lunch time on a week day. That meant that I was going to have to hunt just a little harder by driving around in different areas that I don’t typically go.
Out of just pure habit, I ended up in the rural areas more often than not because that is just where my default driving leads me these days. I was watching the light to see what would work with it. Landscapes were out, even though I saw a few isolated trees that would have been good studies, but the harsh light would just throw them into deep shadow which I didn’t want to happen. The same harsh lighting killed my ability to shoot any rural settings as I would lose the detail in the subject. The blank sky was also not flattering to an overall scene. I could shoot some rusted cars, but the shadows would be just too deep and not what I was wanting at all. I was struggling with what to shoot, and to be honest, I knew that I would be. That was part of why I wanted to give this a try. I kept looking for my geometrical isolations though and had hopes that I would find something somewhere that had interesting shapes.
Well, after about an hour or so of looking, I was starting to doubt my optimism. I didn’t want to get desperate and just settle for something so I was fine just calling it a day and going home. I did figure that I would spend a little bit of time scouting in an area that I don’t really get into that much, but was pretty familiar with while I was riding my bike years ago. There were some good areas that I knew but never really figured out how I wanted to photograph them. I could give these areas another look on the way home to see if anything jumped out at me for a future shoot. That would at least make the time out worth my while and I wouldn’t go home empty handed…in a way.
It was shortly after that that I came across an old store that I have passed and contemplated many times over the years. It fit my decay theory quite well and had always caught my eye. The problem with the building was there was no real depth to it. It was flat on the front, and nothing really around it to tell the story. It was interesting to see though and it captured my imagination a little different this time. Since I had been out today looking for details instead of full compositions, my mind was better able to process this scene. It is like I say in my workshops, look at the scene and decide what you like and what you don’t. Then you fill the frame with what you like. There were many little details here that I liked. It was the expanse of flat wall that I didn’t like. I was wanting geometrical shapes today, and I could see lots of lines, angles, and curves here. That would fit into my goals for the day, and with the lack of color, black and white would be perfect. The front of the building was in the shade which would give me good light for the details which was another plus. It was worth a shot, so I pulled off the road and grabbed my gear.
I approached the scene just like I explain in my workshops by looking at the entire scene and dissecting it into what I liked and what I didn’t There were two areas on the front of the building that held my interest. The section with the window partially framed in red with the electrical box hanging off to the side and the far end of the building that was settling into the ground causing some very interesting angles with the window and siding. The rest was interesting, but not so much for a photographic subject. I went ahead and mounted my 24-70mm lens which I knew would be perfect for this subject since I didn’t want to add any perspective distortion to it, but wanted to maintain what little depth I could find. Since I was in the shadows and I was actually wanting the reflection in the glass to help show off the broken portions of it, I decided to leave the polarizer off and shoot this subject without any filters. It would also help since I was going to be shooting with the lens fully in the sun and any filters would have added to the chance of getting lens flare in the images.
I wasn’t really looking for anything wonderful here and in fact, I was just screwing around more than anything to see what I could come up with at this interesting building. I started to pick out my compositions and set the camera up. I started on that far end because that appeared to be the most simple composition. I tried horizontal, vertical, and square compositions here to see what would work the best. Finding visual balance was the hardest part of this process though because the compositions lent themselves to having things divided equally right down the middle which normally makes for a boring image. I ended up using part of the concrete to relate the two sides and add just enough visual tension to the compositions to keep them interesting and visually balanced.
The first composition that I ended up liking from this side started out life as a horizontal image. I had it framed with with the boarded window to the left. It provided some nice visual tension, but there were too many elements on the right and that was the part of the picture that garnered the most attention. I tried several different tweaks to the ratio of the crop, but in the end, making it a square crop worked the best. I don’t want anyone thinking that I just take wide angle shots and crop when I get home to get the image that I want. That isn’t the case at all. When I cropped this one, I kept the height of it in tact, and just cropped the excess off the left side of the image. When I crop, I will only do it on one axis because I don’t want to throw away pixels, but I do accept that not every scene works with a 3×2 crop which is the native crop of my camera.
By eliminating the left portion and that one lone boarded up window I still had the part that was the most visually interesting to me. While I had a vertical frame bisecting the image which I was trying to avoid with the horizontal composition, it was minimized by the use of the broken concrete below with the weeds growing out of the cracks. The horizontal boards up top also helped to link the two halves of the image which is so important when you have something that bisects a composition. What really makes this interesting is the use of the square crop which really accentuates the sinking of the building. If you look at the lines that should be plum, they are diagonal and you can see the clues in the window that the building is settling in the ground rather dramatically. That is the story here with this image and what really excited me about it. I chose to stay with a color presentation because the red, green, and yellow tones really worked here to direct your eyes around the scene and provided just a little more color balance in this composition. I had been planning on doing this as a black and white shot though originally.
As I said, I worked several different compositions on this corner of the building, and one of them was from slightly further back with a longer focal length and a vertical orientation. I also set this one up as a black and white image and I wanted to make use of the contrasts between the stained wood and the aged white paint. Even the broken concrete had contrasts with the staining that I could really pull out in post. I tweaked my position for this so that I could frame the image off of the side corner of the building and the start of the vertical boards to the left. I still had that prominent vertical frame in the middle which wanted to bisect the image. I dealt with it as I had in the previous capture by including the horizontal boards above the window which blended the two halves. I also used more of the concrete below that added a slight S-curve leading your eyes into the scene right in the middle which kind of overpowered the vertical wooden frame. I did a good bit of dodging and burning here to help direct the eyes to the points of interest that I wanted to showcase. The story is very similar to the previous image and I really debated on which one I wanted to keep as I don’t like having the same story in two different images. However, there were some fundamental differences in how the story was told, and they each had completely different feelings to them. The color version was more about the condition, and the monochrome was more about the textures involved. I figured that they would appeal to two different audiences so I decided to keep them both in my collection.
The textures in this one were nothing short of amazing to me though. The natural wood boards have such a great pattern, the peeling paint adds another level of texture, The lines from the old siding brings horizontal and vertical components to the scene and the diagonals from the settling add to the visual drama. The concrete is another texture to look at with its own contrast in tone with the shapes of the cracks. Then you have the vines which add another element to look at. It was the perfect piece for a black and white study, and I think that this one is my favorite from they shoot, even though I struggled between this and the color composition for being included.
After shooting around 10 images on the corner, I was pretty sure that I had every variation I could come up with so it was time to move to my other area of interest. This was going to be a bit harder to compose because the visual balance was not nearly as convenient with the widow situated so close to the bay door to the right. What I liked about this scene was the electrical box which was hanging off of the side and banged up. The window next to it provided the visual reference for level, and brought in a nice bright element. I liked the two stones below everything as well as the corner of the concrete. I started off by including the bay door, but the visual weight of that door was just too much and it over powered the parts of the scene that I liked the most. When I switched over to a vertical composition, I framed it tightly on the window to the right side, but that kept me from including the box that I wanted. If I went horizontal, I would have to cut the window in the frame which I didn’t want to do. I had no choice but to include just a little bit of the bay door to the right. The question became how much of the door should I include. I wanted it to frame the window, but nothing more, and I didn’t want it to pull the eyes out of the picture.
I included just enough of it so that the window was still offset in the frame on the right third, and I had the electrical box in a similar plane on the left third. the stones and concrete below acted as the frame and counter elements for the objects that I was focusing on. I darkened the bay door just a tad to keep the eyes in the frame, and did quite a bit of dodging and burning to the image to make sure that the eyes went where I wanted them to go. One of the best parts about this image is the red trim around a portion of the window. It was way too much for me to even consider doing this as a color image, but it worked perfectly to add some visual tension the image since it was cradling the window on the left side. That helped to pull the eyes into the image which helped to counter the bay door to the right and kept things very balanced in the composition. The dark staining of the wood under the electric box helped to bring your eyes up to that crooked box which was perfect.
I didn’t do as many images of this part of the building because there were much fewer compositions that would work here. In the end, I had 17 frames shot from this one building. I was hoping for two keepers out of them, but would have been happy with a single one in all honesty. It was after all the worse time of day in the worst conditions to be photographing anything…but here I was, making images.
I hope that you enjoyed this trek and the pictures that resulted. As always, if one speaks to you, I would love to assist you in getting your very own print. Also, for those who have subscribed to my blog, I really appreciate it. You are getting the first notifications of new images and stories. I encourage everyone to sign up. It is free, and you will only get emails automatically when I publish a blog post.
Until next time….