A Little Rust in Stokes County

· Reading Time: 18 minutes

It is officially Fall here in NC according to the calendar.  The leave should be changing, there should be a certain brisk quality to the air.  I should be in the mountains photographing the leaves somewhere around 4000 feet.  The reality here is that we are still having ninety degree days, the trees are still green, and there is no telling when Summer will actually end.  This is really messing with my head as I was getting into the Fall mood in the closing days of September.  When it came to deciding where to travel for pictures, it should have been an automatic answer of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It was not going to be quite that easy to decide.

I really didn’t want to dedicate a full day to traveling to the mountains for more green.  The rainfall has been minimal, so waterfalls weren’t really an option either.  Fortunately, I have been getting back into my mode of shooting old cars and trucks.  That gave me a viable option.  I also had some new locations that I wanted to try out as well.  These are two places that I have seen before and filed away in my mind for when the conditions were right.  In both cases, I wanted overcast skies and a low sun.

Come Friday, I had not really had any time to think about what or where I was going to be shooting.  I had no idea what the weather was going to be, and just didn’t have the gumption to really go out at all.  I guess this is what happens when the week has some unexpected ups and downs along with considering a complete rework of my website.  Not to mention, I am starting to really put a lot of thought into where I could do a workshop for a small group of photographers.  My mind was pretty much fried.

Inspection Due

As I was getting ready for bed I checked the weather and it showed cloudy conditions to start the day, but partly cloudy fairly early in the morning.  It would likely be a good landscape day, but I just didn’t want to photograph any more green landscapes right now.  There weren’t going to be enough clouds to do what I was wanting to do with the old cars that I had found.  More than likely, I was going to be out of luck on Saturday and would just stay home.  I wasn’t arguing with that one bit actually.  I did have Toni wake me up before she left for work so that I could check the weather one more time.

A quarter of five in the morning happens all too quickly on a Saturday morning, but such is the life of a photographer.  She woke me up and I checked the weather.  It was looking pretty much the same as it was showing the previous night.  I rolled over and went back to sleep.  I figured today just wasn’t going to pan out at all.  About an hour or so later I woke up again and started to think about options to shoot.  I looked at the weather again and saw that the clouds were pretty thick outside, and that the partly cloudy conditions were going to be around 70% coverage.  I then had the idea to look at a new app that I installed a few days ago.  This is “Clear Sky” and shows the detail of where the clouds are, and what kind of coverage is expected.  This gave me a different perspective showing good cloud cover until early afternoon.

That told me that I was actually able to go to the two locations in Stokes County if I wanted to give it a try.  The main location I wanted to try was off of Hwy 8 and was an old garage with a busted Chevy sitting out front.  I have passed this location many times and wanted to get a composition, but the lighting had never been right with it.  I also knew that I wanted the overgrowth of late Summer rather than just an empty frame rail.  I was running out of time to shoot this car unless I wanted to wait until next Summer.  With the weather looking good, I decided to go on and give it a go.

I grabbed my gear and set off on the drive into Stokes.  The entire way there I was behind a dump truck that was going between 25-35mph despite the road being a 55mph limit in most places.  There were no passing zones where I could get around him so I just sat in place and took in the scenery.  A bit over an hour later, I arrived at the car.  I have no idea who owns the property, but I decided to take my chances with this one and pulled off on the side of the road.  I picked out my 24-70mm lens and added a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to it and mounted the camera on my tripod.  I worked compositions on both sides of the car and tried to include the sign on the shop wall that stated that this was an Official Inspection Station.  I found that rather funny when paired with the Chevy below.

The problem that I was having with this composition was that to open things up and let them breathe a bit, I needed to include the sky.  The sky was brighter than the shadows I was shooting in which caused exposure problems.  Instead of hoping that I could recover the shadows, I just went ahead and added a Galen Rowell 3-Stop ND Grad to control the exposure at the very top of the image.  This worked very well and allowed me to get the exposure that I wanted on the main subject while keeping the sky from blowing out.

After a while shooting with this lens, I decided to swap out to my 70-200mm and step away from the car to get a bit more compressed look to the image.  I found myself shooting basically the same compositions with this lens.  Without the perspective distortion, the car seemed to disappear into the background of the shop.  In the end, I didn’t like any of the ones that I shot with the long lens.  In fact, out of thirty some pictures, I ended up only liking one enough to keep it.  This was part of the reason it took so long to shoot this car.  I knew that getting a good composition was going to be difficult with the lay of the land.  I am quite happy with this image though, and it captured everything that I wanted it to.

I seemed to end this one rather abruptly.  When I decided that I was done I went back to the truck and broke down the camera rather quickly.  I was getting sweaty and hot which was just not cool at 10am in the Fall!  I got back on the road and decided that I would check out another location that I had scoped out a few weeks ago further into Stokes County.  I had pinned the location on my phone so I just let it direct me to the location.  I didn’t have a lot of hope for this location since I was expecting it to be gated like when I saw it last.  The car was sitting in front of a pretty bland commercial building, but it did have grass growing up underneath of it at least.  My plan was to shoot with the 70-200mm lens with possibly the 2X teleconverter attached.  That should isolate the car well enough from the road.

Wing and a Prayer

When I got there, I was actually surprised to see the gate open and a truck by the corner of the building.  I didn’t drive fully into the property though thinking that there was a good possibility that the gate might need to shut while I was shooting if I could get permission.  I parked and started walking up to the shop.  I saw no movement or signs of life.  I knocked on doors to no avail.  I looked around and figured since the gate was open, and there were no fences I might be able to stick around and shoot really quickly.

I grabbed my camera and mounted the 70-200mm lens as I didn’t want to get too close to the car.  I had also seen a couple of other old cars that looked promising as well which I could do easily with the long lens.  Of course, I added the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer since I was dealing with glass and metal.  I got everything set up and turned the camera on as I heard a lawn mower coming down the road.  By this stage in my tenure as a photographer I knew a lawn mower driving on the road toward where I was could only mean one thing.  The pavement needed to be mowed.  (Pausing for laughter).  It meant that the property owner was on the way to talk to me.  This could mean that either I was going to be leaving shortly, or I was about to have better access to things.

As the mower turned into the driveway I knew I had pegged the situation.  I made sure that the tripod was stable and I walked over to meet him.  I wasn’t sure how this was going to go, but I introduced myself and explained why I was there.  He ultimately gave me permission to shoot the cars out in the open area of the lot which included the Chevy that I had seen earlier as well as the shell of a Nash, and a Chevy Nova just on the side of the building.  This was great news, and I was very thankful for the opportunity.  It did come with one caveat though.  It appeared that he was mowing the yard while I shot the cars.  I get it, I really do.  I would want to watch a stranger doing anything around my property as well.  We managed to stay out of each other’s way for the duration of the time that I was out there.

Roll the Dice

Now that I had permission to be on the property, I was set to do more than just a quick overall shot before moving on.  I had the long lens on, and did a couple of shots that I had previsualized when I had originally found this car.  They weren’t all that great, so I moved on to doing some more intimate shots of the sections of the car that particularly interested me.  One of the sections that really caught my eye was the broken quarter window on the driver’s side.  I loved how the glass was shattered and it paired so nicely with the patina on the side of the car.  As an added bonus, there was a skull and crossbones decal on the door under the handle that really set the tone for what this car is…or was.

Deluxe Decay

While I was shooting my intimate shots, I moved to the front of the car for my trademark headlight/grill shot.  Typically I would do this with my normal lens, but since I was usually zooming to nearly 70mm I decided to just keep the long lens attached.  It worked just fine this way, and I managed to get a nice composition from the corner of the car.  The chrome really stood out against the black paint and the rusty undercoat.  The lines all seemed to work together to form an abstract design that flowed.  Oddly enough, there was what appeared to be chrome paint on the bumper corner from an earlier repair possibly.

I was pretty sure that I was done with this car for now.  I needed my 24-70mm lens to try some other compositions, but before I switched that lens in, I wanted to work on the Nash that was parked on the side of the property.  This was just a shell and a hood, but the blue color along with the rust tones were just perfect against the trees in the background.  I knew I was going to need the long lens for this since it was parked very close to a more modern minivan and I was going to need to cut in close to avoid that.  The trees were also taking up a very small section behind before dropping off to show power lines and a house across the street.

Nash in the Grass

I found this a very hard vehicle to form a composition with.  The hood was angled off to the driver’s side which pretty much dictated that I shoot from that side.  This was fine since there was a long bungee cord holding the hood to the A pillar on the passenger side.  It distracted from the composition way too much for me to want to shoot that side just for that reason alone.  The lack of a front end of the car made the hood the anchor for the car, but there were no wheels visible through the grass to balance out the front end.  I couldn’t really do a full on quarter view since there was very little body.  Essentially, I was taking a picture of a hood and a windshield frame.  The colors were good, and the grass was tall so I went for it.

Gnashing Beak

The sky was not looking great, but for the shot that I felt was really the key view, I was going to need to include the sky.  Looking up, I didn’t see much definition at all in the clouds.  This was not going to be good at all to have a blank void at the top of the image.  I flipped on the live view and started to reduce the exposure to see what effect it had on the sky.  I was seeing it go from white to gray, but I could still see no detail in the clouds.  That told me that it would be worthless to add an ND Grad to the lens as it would just turn the white sky gray.  If this was going to work, I was going to have to hope that I could pull the detail out in post processing later on.

As you can see, I did capture some detail in the sky here.  I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to accomplish this.  I just added a grad filter in Lightroom where I reduced the sky exposure slightly, and then worked the “Dehaze” slider ever so slightly to get a hint of definition in the sky.  It worked very well, and I ended up with a sky that was worth being in a photograph.  The blues in the clouds as well as in the body of the car balanced very nicely with the greens and reds  which made up the rest of the composition.  When I was done with this, I thought about trying something with my 24-70mm lens, but opted out of it as there was too much potential clutter in the background if I went any wider than what I was already shooting at.


I still had one more car to work with.  It was a pale yellow Nova sitting on the side of the shop.  I was not happy to see that it was a four door version though.  I would have much rather shot a two door, but I couldn’t argue with the patina on it, so I got to work.  I started out focusing on the front of the car against the side of the building.  I thought by cropping out the back half of the car I might be able to disguise the sedan body.  That image lacked any kind of emotion though and ultimately didn’t make the cut.  I worked around more and more and found that my standard quarter shot worked the best for this car using the trees as a background instead of the building.  It wasn’t a two door model, but with a 16:9 crop, I gave it a little bit of a sleeker feel leaving the primary focus on the front end of the car.  I really liked that there was a headlight missing which really finalized the story of the car.

Weather Worn

I looked around the Nova to see if there were any isolations that I could do.  Nothing really stood out to me though.  The few areas that I would have typically worked were missing key parts that made the composition in my opinion.  I decided that this one view was all the old Nova needed and moved back to the original Chevy out front.  I was ready to try some different things with this car now.  I swapped the lenses for my 24-70mm while keeping the Polarizer attached.  I got in close to the car for a little perspective distortion and started working the composition.  I wanted to minimize the building behind the car so I elevated the camera to about seven feet.  This gave an interesting view of the car and really concentrated on the patina on the hood.  More importantly though, the building was minimized.  I was able to compose the shot in such a way that I was including the stairs to the door on the right side of the image for a bit of balance in the image.  I cropped it as an 8×10 to keep it simple and add a little visual punch to the image.

Hot Rod Deluxe

I liked how this composition was looking in the camera, but felt that it might not work as well at full size later on.  I really wanted to get down low to show the stance of the car.  The problem there was I was going to have to include the building as well as the sky which was still rather bleak looking.  As with the Nash, I decided to give it a try and see what I could bring out in post.  I dropped the camera down low to the ground and started to frame up a composition.  What I found was I was able to get the angle where the two sections met.  This was good as it helped give depth where a straight building would not have worked.  It helped to lead the eyes to the car which was great.  I also had a minimum of sky to work with which was a plus as well.  The angle was such that there was no way I would be able to get an ND Grad to work, that was unfortunate.  However, as with the Nash, I felt that I would be able to get some detail out of the sky in post.  It was worth a try anyway.

When I got home, I found success here as well.  I did the same techniques as I did with the Nash to bring out the little bit of detail in the clouds.  It wasn’t much, but it was effective in setting the mood, and providing just enough visual interest to make it worth including in the frame.  What was really a gamble of a shot turned into my favorite of the day.  Funny how that works out isn’t it?  I really do like this piece for the angles that are in it, the lines, the patina, and the shape of the building fully holding the car in the frame.  It was similar to what I had previsualized, but so much better in every way.

Style and Decay

Now that I had my workhorse (for automotive photography at least) lens back on, I set to work picking out more details on the body.  The rust was wonderful, and this car still had a good bit of its chrome still in tact.  I started to look for abstract compositions that excited me.  The sides gave me all sorts of views that worked well I thought.  I looked for textures, and transitions between the paint and the rust.  Occasionally, I was able to get the rust stained paint that glistened under the diffused light above.

Fractured Finish

The rear fenders really held my attention with their lines.  The chrome trim at the tops of the fenders was great on both sides of the car.  In an attempt to capture the awesome shattered glass once more, I worked out this composition that had lots of rust staining, abstract lines, textures, and just all around great patina.  I’m usually not a fan of shooting black cars in this condition, but I have to say that this one is among my top choices with patina.  The contrast is just so perfect and the paint still has a good bit of gloss that really draws the attention to the rust.  I’m so glad that I had the ability to get up close and personal with this car.

Where to Go?

Before I packed up the camera, I set up a shot that captured the steering wheel which still had the Bowtie emblem on the horn.  The dash was pretty much in tact, and I was able to compose a shot that included the side mirror and hood ornament as well.  The chrome of the door frame made a great leading line and frame for the cockpit as well.  It is a little bit of a different image for me, but I’m starting to like doing them when the opportunity presents itself.  This is also a great example of what a polarizer can do for you.  The glass is in tact for the most part here, and had a glare on it from the clouds.  By adjusting the polarizer to this point, I was able to eliminate the glare and be able to shoot into the car with no issues.

At this point, the property owner was finishing up mowing and was going around to the side of the building.  I was pretty sure that I had gotten everything that I could from this location.  I started to pack up and went around to let him know I was leaving.  We chatted briefly and he told me about another location with some older cars and said that he would try to get in touch with the owner of that property.  It sounds really promising, and I really hope that it works out at some point in the near future.

By this time, I wasn’t sure how many images that I was going to have as keepers, but I knew that I had shot a total of 72 frames, evenly split between the two locations.  The first location I had been mulling over for a year or more and felt that I had a lot of good stuff from there.  This second location was my alternate subject that I really didn’t have much enthusiasm for.  It turned out to be my favorite location of the day with lots of variations on compositions, not to mention three different cars to shoot.  It really is funny how the success of a shoot doesn’t necessarily relate to how much thought or planning had gone into it.  I love that about photography, and it goes to show that to be successful in this game, you have to adapt to what is there at the time.  Planning will only get you so far, reading the scene will get you the rest of the way.