Sunday, August 1, 2021
This entry is really more like a part two from yesterday’s adventure into Alexander County. If you have been reading the blogs as I’ve gone along, you will remember that I had a terrible sky when I was in the area and had to get creative with a couple of compositions that I was working with. One of them worked out where I photographed an old sign in a minimalist setting. I had tried the same type of approach to another scene that was in the same area which included an old building that used to be A&M Feed Services right by the tracks in Taylorsville. That time it didn’t work out nearly as well because the sky was just too much negative space….actually, it was just empty space which is totally different and not nearly as beneficial for the image. After I did a rough edit on it, I ended up trashing the picture because it just wasn’t going to work and I wasn’t going to be happy with it at all. I was OK with that since I had four other photos from the day which turned out well enough.
I just couldn’t help but wonder what a more interesting sky would do for the scene that I had to trash. There was an aspect of the composition that I just loved and that was the sign that was used as a foreground that simply said “City Limit.” I had positioned the sign to the left of the old building and used a slightly wide angle to exaggerate the size of the sign as compared to the background. It was humorous and to add to that was the repair done to the sign where it had broken at some point. The whole scene just fit together so well and it brought back memories of one of my favorite Anthony Smith songs simply titled “Metropolis.” In this song, one of the lines goes something like this….”there’s a city limit sign laying in the ditch, that I need to fix, back in metropolis.” There was just no way that I could see this scene and not think of that song.
There was a lot going for it, but there was also a good bit going against the scene. First of all, there was a huge difference in distances between the building and the sign. I knew from experience that focusing about a third into the scene would yield decent results at f/16, but neither subject was sufficiently sharp that way. I had done a focus stack yesterday which was going to provide a much better overall image and that countered the issue that I was having with the focus distances. The other bad problem was the fact that there were three large trash containers, two of which were bright blue leaning up against the railing right in front. These were a pretty big distraction and something that I didn’t like. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to clone them out or not as I hadn’t really gone that far in the edit on the image that I had shot yesterday. It was the one sticking point for going back out and trying the scene again. I would hate to put that much effort into going back out only to have a picture that I didn’t really like anyway.
I was still curious as to how this image would actually turn out if shot under the right conditions so I started to look ahead at the weather for Sunday. The clouds were going to be multi-layered in the morning just after sunrise and that was going to be about what I was wanting. I set the clock early enough so that I could evaluate the weather again before needing to head out. As it turned out, when I woke up at 5:15, there was a huge storm cell floating over the area that I was wanting to photograph and there was a strong chance of rain through most of the early morning. I just rolled back over and went back to sleep. When I woke up again, the sun was coming out and the sky was rather boring. I decided to shelve the idea of going back out to Taylorsville and I was happy with that since I didn’t want to deal with those trash cans anyway. I just sat back and went about reading my book while Toni studied for her Biology test. I did keep an eye on the weather though and found that there was going to be a short period between noon and 1pm when the clouds would be back in several layers. It was just enough of a window for me to be able to take advantage of if I left a little before noon which I did.
It was a quick trip to Taylorsville that started out as a relatively sunny ride, but as I got closer to town the clouds were building and looking really good to me. When I pulled into the parking lot where I had been yesterday and parked the sky was looking just about perfect. There were some bright spots above the building, but the darker clouds were still working their way overhead so I had gotten there just in time. I grabbed my 24-70mm lens which I knew was going to get the job done and I added a polarizer to take some of the glare off of the metallic surfaces. I went over to the sidewalk where I knew the best spot was and set the tripod up. I had already worked out the composition so there was no problem at all getting this set up quickly. I was making exposures in a couple of minutes and saw that there was too much contrast in the sky as I had been afraid of. I didn’t add an ND Grad here which would have fixed the sky because I knew that the darker clouds were minutes away from being overhead. I also didn’t want to affect the sign which I needed to remain bright in the frame.
I had been making my exposures at f/16 focused about a third of the way into the scene for the most depth of field just in case one of these turned out to be the best image. When the clouds did their thing and I saw the exposure clipping go away I knew that this was my moment to get the focus stacked shot. I opened the lens up to f/11 and focused on the sign to start with. I then changed my focus to the building and made a second exposure which would then be blended in Photoshop later on. When I was done with this series, I went back to single exposures with the middle point focusing until the sky did some really cool stuff. When I saw that happening, I changed my approach and went for an HDR blend so that I could get all the tones in the image easily. I only did one of those groups of shots and then I was back to single exposures for a few more frames. When I had decided that the sky wasn’t going to get any better and I was actually starting to get drizzled on it was time to call it a day. I went back to the truck and started to break down the camera.
As I was doing so, I was approached by a gentleman that came from a house across the street. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this, but I give him my attention. He simply asked if there was any value to a 35mm camera? I confirmed that he was speaking of film cameras and then said that there was still plenty of value left in them and that they were competent image making tools. After a bit more discussion, I found out that the root of his question was that he was having a hard time getting a sharp image when shooting with a telephoto lens. I started to talk about shutter speed and film speed, but before you know it, I had packed all my stuff up and was following him over to his house to take a look at his camera. I spent about 15 minutes doing a bit from my Intro to Photography course explaining why he was having a harder time getting sharp images with the telephoto rather than the 50mm prime lens that he also used. It was a lot of fun to share a little of what I know with somebody who was interested. However, I was needing to get back home so that I could get a panorama priced for a client so I bid him farewell and I was back on the road home.
When I got home I started to look at the images that I had captured from the last moving backwards. The first three that I looked at had a great sky, but there were water drops on the lens which affected the textures of the building. I had to ditch those. That brought me to the HDR group which I went ahead and built. It turned out pretty good, but the sign was a bit soft in my opinion, but the building was tack sharp which was good. I finally got to the focus stack series that I did and compared the sign in that one and the HDR. There was no question that the sign looked better in the focus stacked group and I had plenty of detail to work with through the dynamic range. I ended up going with the focus stacked images and I did my edit on the one with the building in focus. Once I had that done to my liking, I copied all of the adjustments that were made and pasted them to the one where the sign was in focus. Those two matching images were then brought over to Photoshop where the actual blending was done to get the final image where everything was tack sharp. While I was in Photoshop, I went ahead and dealt with the trash cans which went much easier than I expected. When I was all done, I just had to adjust the crop a little for the way the image was aligned and I was all done.
This version is much better than what I had shot yesterday because of the clouds. I wouldn’t have even considered going out here though had I not seen the sign and come up with the humorous composition which stuck in my mind even though the image itself fell flat in delivery. It just goes to show you that often times, it takes some altering of ingredients to make a concept of an image work out. The ingredient that I was lacking was an interesting sky, but the rest of the scene was there. It was just as simple as returning at another time in order to have it all come together.
I hope that you enjoyed this sequel to yesterday’s trek. I’m happy that I went and it really didn’t take too long at all to get it all done. I started just over five hours ago and I’ve just got maybe another half hour to go before I’m completely done with this trek. Not too bad at all.
Until next time….