A Much Needed Road Trip in the Country: Part 2

· Reading Time: 24 minutes

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Part 1:  The North Carolina Side

Part 2:  The Virginia Side

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

When we last spoke, I was just wrapping up being chased by a guy after shooting his car.  Well, it might not have been quite that dramatic, but he did follow me for quite a few miles before we actually met.  You can read more about that adventure in part 1 of this saga through two states.  The road that he had me stopped on turned into a 10 mile long gravel road that snaked alongside the river and passed by many different properties.  I am usually pretty lucky when I find roads like this as there are all sorts of old cars being hidden from plain view, and lots of barns scattered about the rural back road.  Well, I found neither of those things along this road.  I found a lot of families having lunch and playing on the shore of the lake.  I found a lot of tight sections of the road where there was always a “farm use only” truck coming in the opposite direction.  I would always get these puzzled looks from those drivers, but I’m used to that by now.  When I finally made it back to paved road, I discovered that I was in Virginia.  This was not much of a surprise since that was my ultimate goal.  What surprised me was that I found myself right back on Hwy 21 which was where I had turned off originally after being chased down.  OK, it was more of a  relaxed drive while he worked up the nerve to ask me what I was doing.

This is the main route between Sparta, NC, and Independence, VA.  I was right back on track and decided to stick it out on the main road for a while and see what I could see.  I had been on this route before last year and had stumbled on some really awesome subjects on the side roads.  For some reason, I wasn’t all that interested in going on side roads today and was finding lots to look at right off on the sides of the road as I worked my way North.  Right around the town of Independence, I passed a small local street right next to an old used car dealership at the corner and saw a rusty car sitting on the side of the road.  I quickly remembered seeing this the last time and trying to figure out how to shoot it to no avail.  I decided to give it another try since I was already well into the creative groove for the day.  I pulled into a neighboring parking lot and got out to look at my compositional options.

The car I was interested in was a Plymouth Belvedere which was situated very close to some other later model Chrysler cars which were less interesting.  There was a wrecked Chevy further back along with some scrap metal and a pile of wood.  There was not going to be an easy composition here no matter how I looked at it.  The sky was full of drama as the storm clouds were moving in, but to really seal the deal, I had good sunlight on the cars which made them really pop against the sky above.  It was the lighting and the sky that prompted me to grab the camera and give it a try.  The subjects were not all that fantastic, but they were workable.  I found that by getting down low I could actually avoid most of the clutter around the car which was a positive thing.

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

Looking at the environment, I knew that I couldn’t go overly wide with my lens, and if I went with a telephoto the scene would be too cluttered without a clear focal point.  That left my best option as my walk around choice for a lens.  I fitted my 24-70mm lens on the 5D Mk3, and added a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to fight the glare and to bring out the colors of the rust.  I then got into position down low and close to the car.  I set the shot up that I had previsualized and it worked almost as well as I had planned, but it just wasn’t quite right.  I needed to get up higher to really showcase the beautiful rusty hues on the metal.  Staying down low, I just got a bit of the fender and a lot of chrome with a bush at the corner.  I moved around and eventually started to find the angles that the car was wanting me to find.  I’m a firm believer that if you have an open mind that the subject will help you compose an image, you just have to listen and pay attention.  I finally found a composition that I liked where I was elevated slightly and used the Belvedere as the anchor and then the yellow Chrysler as a balancing element leaving the green Chrysler to blend into the background.  It wasn’t the best composition, but it worked and allowed me to showcase the car that I wanted to pick out of the crowd.

I worked some other compositions of the car, and even the group of cars with limited success.  Like I said, this was a difficult setting to capture a simple image.  In the end, I only really liked one of the overall pictures which was the opening image for this entry.  Since the patina was so great on this car and the emblems were in place, I felt that it was a great candidate for some isolations.  I picked the shaded side as the finish was more interesting on that side, and I didn’t have to worry about shadows as much.  I got down low and put the lens to work in its specialty…close up work.  While not a true macro lens, it does focus quite a bit closer than my other lenses which makes it fantastic for this type of work.  I went with a very simple composition on the name plate to start with.  There were all sorts of colors present, including my favorite mint green which I always find so beautiful when surrounded by rust.  There was just a little sheen remaining on the logo at the end of the script.  I had to be careful with my reflection, so I made sure I was out of the frame during the two second delay timer on the camera.  it worked out for both exposures that I shot.

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

Feeling pretty good about the isolations, I moved up to the fender of the car where there was a lone V8 emblem.  This one was a bit interesting because the “V” had a checkered design inside of it.  That was interesting enough, but the rust around it, covered in lichen was doubly interesting.  When I was contemplating a composition as there has to be more to the image than just an emblem, I found that there were two prominent rust spots to the right, offset with that wonderful mint green paint.  That gave me a total of three major focal points in the image which would provide a great visual balance to the image.  I went ahead and framed it up and shot the image.  There was only need for a single exposure here because I knew I had it right when I saw it in the LCD upon playback.

I spent a little bit of time looking around for any other compositions that might be available and decided that I was done with this car.  I’ve been noticing this a lot lately.  When I am done with a subject, I am done.  There is a switch that will flip it seems.  There was no more want to capture anything else with this car, I had all that I wanted.  I started to wrap things up and get ready to walk back over to the truck when a car came by and pulled in beside the location where I was at.  It would seem that I have found another property owner.  Oh well, if he makes me leave, I have everything that I wanted from here, so I wasn’t stressing it at all.

The door opened up and there was an elderly gentleman in the car who simply said “hello.”  I responded and asked if these were his cars (I already knew the answer).  He let me know that they were and he asked if I was a surveyor.  I guess my rig does look like surveying gear in a way.  I let him know that I was a photographer and had found some interest in the Belvedere.  He considered that for a moment and said that I was welcome to get as many pictures as I wanted.  That was really nice of him and I really appreciated it.  I took one more look around to see if there was anything that I had missed, but couldn’t find anything else that really interested me here.  I got back on track and packed up my gear and headed back North on Hwy 21.  I still wasn’t sure of my destination, but I was having a great time finding it.

I spent some more time looking on the sides of the road through Independence and found a really nice truck parked between two businesses.  I could pick out a composition or two that I might like to try, but I couldn’t help but notice the signs giving notice…”No Trespassing”.  Not that I would risk a trespass, but my luck with finding property owners today made it a no brainer to steer clear of this property.  I did contemplate using my long lens to get an image from the parking lot.  I decided to avoid that as the only composition that was available would look like just a snap shot which I am really trying to avoid these days.  I wanted something up close to it with a wide angle lens.  I’ll save it for another day when there are folks working at the business I can ask permission of.  The truck has been there for a while apparently so I wasn’t too worried about it leaving any time soon.

As I continued up the road, I saw a pair of barns off to the left that caught my eye.  There wasn’t anything overly special about them except that they were barns set up on the side of a hill.  That was enough to grab my attention.  I got turned around to check them out a little closer.  There was a small driveway that went over a bridge with a sign that said…you guessed it…”No Trespassing”.  Well, the difference here was that I could get what I wanted from the entrance to the driveway.  Plus, I didn’t really trust the wooden bridge to hold either the truck, or me.  It would have all been for nothing as there was a gate at the end of the bridge anyway.  I just needed to figure out how to capture these barns.

And Time Stood Still“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer and Galen Rowell 3-stop hard edge ND Grad

My first thought since the barns were a good deal off the road was to get my long telephoto to really pick them out.  However, when I thought about that, I realized that there would be no sky which was a little interesting with some puffy white clouds.  It would just be a barn in a field of green which was a little boring.  I needed to have some of the sky in the frame if for no other reason than to give a firm foundation for the image.  I’ve found that when I don’t include sky, the image seems a little static which just wouldn’t work for this barn.  It needed a little something extra.  I looked at the scene and there wasn’t much to work with that would allow me to include the sky without it being a layered image with a bunch of horizontal components and very little contrast to it.  What I decided would be a decent starting point was to use my 24-70mm lens which gave me some reach, but also would allow me to open up the composition for a bit of breathing room.  I added to that my trusty Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to pull some of the glare off of the roof and make the sky pop just a little with the white clouds.

I started to work the compositions and found that I was struggling a bit to make it work.  One of the things that I was finding was that the sky was too bright on top of the ridge to allow me to really get a good exposure on the barn.  It was at this moment I was really happy with the layered composition that I was forced to have to work with.  It was a great opportunity to use an ND Grad filter to bring the sky back down.  I added my Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 3-stop hard edge ND Grad which sat right atop the ridge and allowed me to increase the exposure on the landscape.  Now the exposure was looking right in the histogram and I could get back to fine tuning the composition.

It was a pretty boring composition, but it seemed to be the only thing that I had working at the time.  I chose to really focus on the larger barn and left the smaller one in the background on the left side of the image.  I composed the image with the tip of the ridge to the right happening right at the edge of the frame.  That gives a sense of wonder about what is to the right which I thought this image needed.  A white cloud was nice enough to provide a bookend diagonal on the left side of the image.  There was just a little bit of interest in the sky in the middle to keep it visually stimulating.  I was shooting this and thinking that it would end up being a monochrome image since I was looking at such a limited color palette with all the green in the image.  If you can’t tell, I am getting tired of Summer when everything is all green all the time.  I miss the differences in color across the landscape.

Second Thoughts“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer and Galen Rowell 3-stop hard edge ND Grad

As I finished up with those compositions I started to consider other options that might bring a bit more interest into the image.  Remember that ramp leading to the gate?  Well I thought that I could use that as a leading line into the image and the gate could be a midground point of interest to help show the elevation of the property.  I got the camera down low to the ground and framed an image that captured the short ramp while I shot over the weeds that were growing up at the edge.  Some of the really tall ones I pulled over and secured to the leg of the Manfrotto tripod.  I don’t like to disturb the scenes that I photograph, but occasionally I need a plant out of the way.  using the tripod to keep a weed or plant from poking into the view of the lens is a nice little trick to use.  I had started on the left side of the ramp, but didn’t really like the flow of the composition from there so I moved over to the right side.  This worked out much better to my eyes.  The clouds were even starting to roll in which helped give a bit more interest to the image.  The tones of the clouds helped to balance out the tones of the ramp as well which was an added bonus to the image.

The problem that I was still facing was the see of green that I was faced with before me.  I liked the scene, and the composition was decent.  I just knew that the color would be disappointing at best.  I really felt that I would be doing any keepers from this set as monochrome because it wasn’t relying on color at all, just textures and composition.  I probably worked this scene for about 30 minutes before I was pretty sure that I had everything that I needed from it.  I still wasn’t convinced that I had good images though, but I was hopeful.

When I got home and started to process them, my fears came to reality.  The green was just too much for the image.  I tried both successful compositions as monochrome and they fell flat on their face.  There just wasn’t enough tonal contrast to work with.  They just had no life to them at all.  It wasn’t what I was imagining when I saw the image.  The mood wasn’t right, and the presentation was boring at best.  I about ditched both images in favor of a b couple of barns that I had shot next, but decided to try something that I had learned recently while working with the architecture images.  I went into the color profiles and went to digging to find something that better suited this image.

Now, for those of you that don’t know, there is a place in Lightroom that looks like a grid in the upper right of the develop module that you can open and it will provide color profiles.  I have been used to using this for the basic profiles like Landscape, Vivid, Standard, Neutral, and Monochrome.  I had never really dug deeper into them until I was working on the Taubman images from Roanoke, VA.  As I was working with those, I let myself have a bit of fun with the colors and found all sorts of really nifty color profiles stored in Lightroom.  They are categorized as black and white profiles, modern profiles, artistic profiles, and even vintage profiles.  I started to apply each of the profiles to the image until I saw something that would work.  As it turned out, one of the Artistic Profiles did the trick.  It actually changed how the greens were handled by the computer.  There was a good deal of yellow and orange added to the green and that gave the sea of green some tonal range that was much needed.  More importantly, this didn’t look like digital trickery which wasn’t the look I was after.  It made it look like a Fall image, which made my heart happy.  The difference in the field where the barn sat compared to the trees behind it made my eyes happy.  This profile worked great for both of the images and really saved them from the trash bin.

It just goes to show you that occasionally, it is good to have an open mind about image editing.  This was not about fixing the images, it was about realizing my vision of the scene for the final rendering.  I’ve spoken about my thoughts on post processing before, and I think that this still falls well within the scope of what I usually accept in my images.  I haven’t moved elements, and I haven’t changed the message of the image.  I have just added a little contrasting color tones to complete the look of the composition that I shot.  Is it true to the scene, not entirely, but it is true to the spirit of the scene.  It is also very much what my mind saw through my eyes when I first saw the barns on the side of the road.

I’ve gone off on a tangent, and I apologize about that.  Let’s get back on track with some more images from my road trip through Virginia.  It was about lunch o’clock at this point and the sun was getting kind of high up in the sky.  Fortunately, the clouds were still working with me and the light was still pretty good.  I continued on my mission to find more rural scenes with high hopes of at least one more location before calling it a day.  I knew that I still had to catch up from my late evening trek to downtown the day before, and I already had about 160 new images on the memory cards.  It really has been either feast or famine with my photography here of late.  After weeks of lousy skies, I was now having great conditions and was like a kid in a candy store.

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

It actually didn’t take that much more driving down the road before I came across the scene that I had been looking for.  I’m a sucker for a red barn, and here I was looking at two of them on the side of the road.  The sky was awesome above them and I just knew that I needed to photograph them.  I saw a place on the side of the road near a driveway that I could pull off which I did.  I grabbed the camera from the back and went ahead and put it on the tripod.  I was using my 24-70mm lens still and the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer which is my normal combination for so much of what I shoot.  I left the hatch open and darted across the street to get in position to shoot the larger of the two barns.  I found the right composition and started to fire off shots.  This was going well, and I was already excited about how the images were going to turn out.  I finally had the color contrasts that I had been looking for so desperately in the last scene that I had shot.  The clouds were moving around and shortly after I started working the big barn, they started to fade away.  However, they were moving over the smaller of the barns which meant that was where I needed to be focusing.

There was just one problem though.  To get into position to work that barn, I was going to need to go a bit further from the truck than I was comfortable with since it was opened up.  I made sure that the tripod was stable and rushed back across the road to close up the truck. I also grabbed the bag just in case I needed any equipment.  I then ran back across the road (remembering the game Frogger from my childhood) to my camera which was still standing straight up.  You laugh, but I was actually shooting on a pretty steep bank on the side of the road which gave me reason for concern.  I grabbed the camera and started working my way down the road to the best place to shoot the smaller barn.

I was able to access the perfect point that got a nice 3/4 view of the barn and I started to look for compositions.  The obvious one was to use the two trees as bookends of the barn since they were so conveniently placed there.  That would put the barn in too much of a static position in the frame though, and reduce the size of the sky that I could include in the composition.  I saw that there was a steep hill going off to the left side which I thought I could use.  The trick with using these slopes is that you need to watch the height of them as they exit the frame.  I was careful to crop the hill at a similar height as the trees.  This allowed it to continue off of the frame and create wonder in the viewer.  The dark cloud that was just over that point kept the eyes from leaving the frame though.  The rest of the composition really came together after that choice.  I really liked that the clouds above the barn helped to provide a framework for the sky and everything just flowed so well.  There was a lot to like about this barn, and I was immediately happy with how it came out.

Imperious Barn“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

With the clouds returning over the larger barn, my focus again shifted back to that one.  I had to move back into position which took a moment since I had actually been shooting it from the back side to get the silo for a bit.  I did get back into position and found an awesome composition with the barn taking center stage in the image surrounded by clouds.  It was a powerful composition and one that demanded attention.  In a strange turn of events though, I put this one aside during my culling process in favor on a wider angle shot since the red was a little too immediate in the composition for me.  It seemed to overpower the rest of the elements.  I then took another look at it the following morning and decided that I liked it as a monochrome image.  After looking for color contrasts for so long to avoid having to consider monochrome, I ended up creating a monochrome image when I had the color that I was looking for.  When I was expecting black and white, I just changed the color representation with a different profile.  Art is a funny thing sometimes!

The black and white representation of this image turned into a very dramatic piece with the size of the barn right there in the middle.  It was also the clouds that really came to life with the monochrome treatment.  There is just something truly impressive with the contrast control in monochrome when it comes to the clouds.  The absence of the red face of the barn allows the entire image to soak into the eyes which are invited to explore into the scene and all around the barn.  Color is powerful, and used incorrectly it can really hamper an image.  I really like what this image says, and I think that the barn was asking for this presentation when I captured this image.  I just didn’t know it at the time.

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

With the clouds really coming into the picture (quite literally), I decided that it was time to open up the frame a little bit and go with a wide angle shot.  I again looked for balance in the image which the rolling terrain assisted with.  The barn was the tallest thing in the image, but there was a nice rise to the right of the barn that I wanted to use for a balancing element.  Where to cut the side of the image was the next part of the equation.  I didn’t want to crop in close to leave the top of the hill a mystery, but I needed something to put the brakes on the eyes of the viewer as they were moving across the image.  I found two elements that fit that need.  The first was some brush at the top of the ridge that was a nice barrier for the eyes.  There was also a diagonal fence beam that gave a valuable anchor to that side of the frame.  It lead your eyes back to a fence line that also mimicked the yellow path to the front of the barn.  Both of these elements helped to bring your eyes back into the frame which was very important.  On the left side of the composition, I had another fence line that because of its position on the bottom left corner, it draws your eyes into the frame rather than out of it.  The distant horizon also has a slight decline which funnels your eyes back to the barn as well.  All of the lines point to the barn, and even a lot of the clouds are doing the same thing.  Even though the barn is much smaller in the image, everything is pointing directly to it which increases its importance in the frame, without overpowering it with red.

And you thought that photography was all about finding a subject and snapping a picture of it.  There really is a lot of craft to photography, and I hope that through these blog entries, some of that will become known.  Ideally, that should help in the appreciation of not only my photographs, but those of other photographers as well.  It is a wonderful medium in which you can express yourself and communicate your visions with others.

After finishing up with this barn, that switch clicked and I was done.  I was satisfied with what I had captured and was ready to find the next location.  I continued North on Hwy 21 until I got into the area of Mount Rogers.  I knew that I wasn’t going to find any other rural subjects in the park, and wasn’t really feeling like doing landscape work.  In fact, I was getting about ready to head home and see if there was anything along the way that I might want to photograph that I had missed.  I got turned around and started South.  I was tired at this point and was having a hard time considering any other images from things that I saw.  It was also starting to drizzle which put a damper on my want to get back out there again.  I think that at this point, my creative energy was pretty well tapped.  Since the previous night, I had shot a total of 257 images which I was now faced with going through when I got home.  that just made me even more tired.  I had been through a lot in the past 24 hours and my creativity was stretched pretty thin.  I needed to get home and start putting all the pieces together to see what I had created.

When I got home, I really had culture shock as the first images that I started to work through were cityscape shots from the previous night.  After being so in tune to the rural landscape, it really took me by surprise to see modern art on my computer screen.  However, I think that having the palette cleanser between shooting and editing had a very positive influence on the editing process.  I wasn’t emotionally tied up in the images having just shot them, and I was much more objective when culling them.  Not to mention that I was able to really work the editing portion since all I had left was the ideas that were in my mind before going downtown.  I didn’t have any of that reality clouding my creative vision.

I found that the same worked in the other direction as well.  By doing the editing of the downtown images before looking through the new images from my road trip, I had the same result.  There was a lot less emotion tied up in the images and they were just images based on concepts that I had come up with in the field.  It made the editing both easier and harder at the same time, but I really did enjoy the process.  I guess that was why I stuck with that after process until after 1am.  At that point, it was time to go to bed so I could start fresh the next morning with finalizing the the processing before getting them uploaded to the website.

I hope that you have enjoyed what has turned into a pretty significant weekend worth of photography.  I would like to say that I will have more soon, but I am going to have to recover from the last couple of days before I am ready to create again.  I also have no idea what that next adventure will entail.  At this point in my photography career, anything is possible.  Just stay tuned!

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