Thursday, July 4th, 2019
I really wasn’t planning on going out and doing any photography for the 4th. I was just going to hang out around the house, but that big weather question entered my mind late in the day on Wednesday and I started to look at the local forecast. There were actually clouds through much of the morning, and they were forecasted to be high clouds which make for really good sunrises. I started to think about where I could go early in the morning without dedicating too much of the day to travel. Plus, I really wasn’t in the landscape mood after having just focused so intently on it for the Landscape Workshop that I hosted over the previous weekend. Oddly enough, I have been yearning for more rural road trips here recently and that was what I was thinking I would like doing. Good sunrise potential and rural subject matter…two things that I don’t normally put together, but I was feeling crafty and I had an idea that just might work out for the conditions.
For some some time now, at least 18 months, I have been wanting to try shooting a barn that is not too far from the house at sunrise. I have shot it several times at varying points during the day and the last time I was there it was for a sunset which actually tuned out better than I had hoped with the sun lighting the barn and the alpenglow in the sky. This was a much easier task to shoot than the same image at sunrise since the sun would be rising roughly behind the barn depending on the time of year. Something else that I had to keep in the back of my mind was that the leaves in the trees were really important to mask the commercial lights that are sometimes visible beyond the barn. That mean that I was restricted to Summer to shoot this barn in anything but daylight conditions. Things were lining up for this to be a decent opportunity to give my idea a chance.
I got up well before sunrise and double checked the forecast. It was actually raining a bit when I woke up, but that was supposed to pass shortly and the lower clouds were going to clear, giving way to nothing but high clouds. My luck appeared to be holding so I got up and got ready to roll out the door bound for the area of Union Cross where this barn was located. I left about an hour before sunrise knowing that I would be at the barn in about 15 minutes or so. It was still quite dark when I arrived, but I could see that the layer of clouds in the sky was looking to be perfect. There was a break at the horizon which would let the sun shine through and hopefully light up the clouds. I was also greeted by tall tobacco plants which helped to mask the lights in the distance. It was looking pretty good so far, so I went ahead and grabbed my Lowepro Whistler out of the back of the truck and found a good angle on the side of the field. I have shot this barn many times and I know that the best compositions are had with the 24-70mm lens which I mounted. I started to take some exposures at 30 seconds in case the light never got any better. I used that 30 seconds to paint the field with my flashlight which gave a little depth to the foreground, but it wasn’t what I was really after.
As the sky got brighter, I could see that my exposure was going to be problematic. I had already considered this since the sun was coming up behind the barn, and the barn would be in the shadows. I went ahead and pulled out a 2-Stop Soft ND Grad filter which would put a little bite into the sky while not overly affecting the barn. Of course the brightest part of the sky would be where there was the least amount of filter correction. I could tell that my exposure latitude was better, but not quite there. If I darkened the sky any more, I would end up keeping the barn in the shadows which I didn’t want to do. The ND Grad evened out the scene well enough that I opted to keep it attached. To combat the remaining exposure latitude, I decided that I would take a series of 4 images all spaced a full stop apart to be blended in Lightroom during the processing stage.
The four images captured what I wanted them to, but it was very hard to tell what the final image was going to look like after I got all four of the images merged together. I just had to hope that it would work. It was my last chance for this composition since there was no way to get this as a single shot with the disparity of light and dark throughout the image. I also didn’t want to rely on pulling detail out of the shadows too much as that was going to make for a horribly noisy image. I was seeing come color in the sky though, and that made the extra work well worth my time
Hoping that the exposure was going to work out, I did a couple of HDR series shots with the same composition as the light changed in the sky. It eventually started to get very bright at the horizon and looked a little too intense to leave as a sliver. I decided to zoom in a bit and get a more personal composition on the barn that showcased the orange tones that were coming into play. I kept the same setup with the ND Grad attached and saw the same issues with exposure. I went ahead and continued with my four image series of shots to be blended later in Lightroom. This gave me incredible dynamic range and I was really hoping that I was going to be able to pull out the details on both sides of the histogram when I got it home to work on it. In all, I made a total of five images using this four shot bracket technique so my image count was adding up very quickly…even for a sunrise shoot. If they worked out, it would all be worth it though. If it didn’t work out, at least I tried an idea that I had and it really didn’t cost me much of anything at all, except time and gas.
Once the sun finished coming up, I could tell that the sky wasn’t going to hold any interest above the barn, so it was time to move on down the road. I could have gone on home at this point, but I was still wanting to find something else to shoot on the chance that the barn pictures didn’t work out at all. I was still in a rural mood, and since I was down in the area of Union Cross, I decided to head on into Davidson County where I had gone exploring a few weeks ago with no luck at all because of the weather. I had seen some potential subjects out there and knew that if I looked hard enough I would be able to find something that caught my eye.
After coming out of Lexington and somewhere around Thomasville I happened to pass by an old barn with a white sedan next to it. I only saw it for a brief moment and lost sight of it. I got turned around and saw it again and decided that it would make for a pretty nice shot. The sedan was a ’60’s Chrysler and the barn had an American Flag pallet next to the main door as well as some rooster and chicken carvings. There was a lot of goodness going on with this barn, but there was a really bit negative that I saw. The sun was again to the rear of the barn which was causing the sky to be very bright, and the barn to be well within the shadows. It was just too cool to pass up on though and I figured that I could try a few things to make this image work out. I started out with my 24-70mm lens, but that was just too wide of an angle to really capture what I was needing to while staying at the road. I would have loved to have gone in closer, but it was well within the property of a house and it was just too early to be knocking on doors. I switched over to my 70-200mm lens and found the sweet spot for a composition that minimized the sky. Once I had the composition, I needed to figure out what filters I was going to need.
I knew that I wanted to control the glare on the roof and give a little detail to the Chrysler off to the side. For those jobs, I opted for the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer which I mounted to my Lee Foundation Kit with the 105mm adapter on the end. That was looking pretty good, but I still had issues with the sky blowing out above the trees. I decided to go with a Singh-Ray, Galen Rowell 3-Stop soft edge ND Grad to bring the sky down. I went with the soft edge because I didn’t want to see a line in the trees where the filter was positioned. I also just needed a little bit of bite in the sky and I hoped that the transition area of the filter would provide that to me. It didn’t. I added one more filter to the mix, a 2-Stop soft edge ND Grad which I staggered a little bit in the holder to give a really gradual transition in the trees. I had a total of 5-stops of ND Grad filters on the lens, but I was probably only getting 2-3 stops worth of effect at the top of the image. Whatever it was, it was actually working. I had a nice curve on the histogram and nothing appeared to be blown out. I worked a few compositions with this setup before deciding to call it quits before I got in too close to the barn and found myself too far within the property line.
It wasn’t until I got home that I started really looking at this image. Maybe it was the fact that I processed it after the stellar sunrise images I’ve already show you, but the colors looked really bland in the image. The only real color was the green grass and the red on the pallet flag. The Chrysler was white, the barn was gray, and the sky was off white. There just wasn’t a lot of color to look at. I did love the textures and the transitions between tones so I decided to make a conversion to monochrome to see if that would bring in a little pop. Sure enough, that did the trick! The barn now took center stage with the wonderful wood textures. The car stood out more with the brighter white tones that balanced well with the sky that I was able to bring a bit more detail into. I hated to lose the colors of the flag, especially on Independence Day, but this was a much stronger image without color, and that always has to dictate the final presentation of my photographs.
By this point, I was feeling pretty good about the day. I wasn’t sure what kind of keepers I had, but I had some barn shots that I was pretty sure would turn out decent. I wasn’t finished with the day though. There were still clouds in the sky, even though they were starting to thin out prematurely. I kept plugging along and looking for my next subject. By this time, I was firmly in Trinity and exploring all of the back roads I could find. It was seeming like everything that I found had some serious compositional flaws which started to get me down. Barn after barn had clutter that didn’t help to tell the story, or the lighting was wrong, or something else shot down the idea of photographing them. I was starting to wonder if I should have gone back out to Stokes County where I had found all sorts of new things to shoot a couple of weeks ago. It was a bit too late to go for that option, so I just kept on plugging along.
Then it happened…
I saw rust over my left shoulder. I grabbed a quick look as I drove by and saw a row of old rusted treasures. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than anything that I had see up to this point. I got turned around and as I was coming up to the driveway, I caught a glimpse of movement in the back yard. I pulled down to where the cars were and got out of the truck. I was met by a very nice lady who was happy to let me take some photographs of the cars that were lining the property. With her blessing, I parked the truck and grabbed my gear. This was a line of old Studebakers which are quite fun to photograph. There was one in particular that really caught my eye. It was a teal President Sedan with all of the brightwork still attached to the front end. This color teal has always been my favorite color when paired with rust since it has such a fantastic color balance.
I set the Manfrotto tripod up at the corner and built the camera with my 24-70mm lens and my often used Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to combat glare on the surface. I started trying to get a decent full body shot of the car, but it was just too close to a large International truck and there was a light pole right at the A Pillar on the driver’s side. These were two things that I didn’t want to have to deal with in post production. I didn’t want to let the car go without a picture though. I moved in a bit closer and worked on some isolation shots. What I loved best about the car was the “President” emblem on the fender and the way the chrome trim looked at the headlight. The rust was really nice around this section as well. It is these aspects that determine the compositions I go with when it comes to isolations on old cars. That is one of the many topics that I discuss when I do my Decay Workshops (Spaces available for September).
I was able to start getting some shots of the fender and headlight area which also took advantage of the soft sunlight that was hitting the car, only on the front end. I was feeling pretty good about these compositions because there was texture galore and I loved the colors that I was seeing. I was pretty sure that I was going to get a keeper out of one of these slightly different compositions that I was shooting. The light did keep changing and eventually, the corner I was shooting went into shadows. That was my cue to move to another subject that I had been eyeing since my arrival.
There was this old Studebaker truck that was missing the entire front core support, bumper, headlights, grille, etc. This is usually one that I would pass on since I just love working with headlights. However, there was something very interesting about this old truck. The upper radiator support and hood were being held up with an old gas can. This was character if I did see it. This was what I wanted to capture with the image. It was sitting next to another Studebaker truck which had the front end still attached. I used this one for comparison and balance to the image. There were other vehicles parked very close to both of these, so I had to crop in very tight to avoid visual conflicts in the frame. My main goal was to compose an image that really put the gas can in full view, so that was my visual anchor to the image. I got down low and went wide with the 24-70mm lens. The sun was still behind the clouds so the exposure wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but the trucks were still in the shade and the sky was going to be included in this shot. I was pretty sure I could recover the extremes of the histogram, but just to be sure I shot a series of four images separated by a full stop of light each. I just wanted to make sure that I could get the detail in the engine compartment without breaking a sweat. I’m really glad I took that route because there was a lot more spread to the tones than I had really given credit for. It took the four images to really get all of the detail that I wanted in the composition.
As I sit here and look at this image once again in the blog, I am still drawn to the gas can. This is just the coolest aspect of the entire image and it presented so well in the frame. There was just the hint of light on it from the sun which draws your eyes right to it. The rich rust tones came out so well despite being in the shadows, and the yellowing logo on the front adds a bit of history to this old can. Seeing the motor fully exposed behind the can is the secondary interest to this image, and it all just works together so well I think. The tires are sitting very close to the boundary of the image, but that is fine with me, they are there only to keep the viewer’s eyes in the frame, and they do that job very well. This is a quirky image, but I think that is why I like it so much.
I spent some time shooting some other compositions and other cars, but I kept coming back to getting images of the teal President. This was my favorite car of the bunch an I thought it was worth some time. With the clouds covering the sun and diffusing the light, I was finally able to to work the driver’s side of the car which had arguably better patina to it. I have always enjoyed shooting this side headlight on Tri-5 Chevy’s because the headlight lines up so nicely with the steering wheel. The basic design of this Studebaker was very similar and I knew I could get the same image and still get the “President” emblem that I thought looked incredible in the rust of the fender. I got down low to the ground and framed up the composition that I wanted. This was simple and straightforward since the sun was behind the clouds. This is why I love working on cloudy days. The direction you shoot doesn’t really matter all that much, and you can get all kinds of details that would normally be in the shadows.
I tried another composition on this car that I thought worked very well that was a bit lower, and showed the bull bumper and the side of the car. I was very happy with how it looked in the LCD. I had even remembered to run out of the way while the camera was exposing the image so that I wasn’t reflected in the bumper. What I hadn’t realized was not only did the shiny chrome of the bumper catch me off in the corner, but my 4Runner was also in the reflection as well as the house. It was too much to deal with in post, so the image was scrapped. I was fine with it as this one was just as good of an image and satisfied me with the wonderful patina here.
I fiddled around a bit more with these cars but started to get a little frustrated with how close they were. I was pretty sure that I had a couple of good shots in the bag, and that was good enough for me. It was time to move on anyway as I was sweating so much that my clothes were soaked through. The sun was getting higher in the sky as well which meant when the clouds broke away from it, the lighting was very harsh. I was already looking at 114 images (many were HDR series though) for my day and that was plenty to keep me occupied. I was looking for 4-6 images out those if I was lucky, and that would keep me busy for the rest of the day.
I did do a little more looking and made an unplanned stop on the way back home that was a lot of fun. When I got home in the early afternoon I started to go through the images and started collecting the HDR series to start with. They were all merged together and set aside for the second round of eliminations. As I was going through the rest of the images, I found that the exposure latitude was too much for most of what I had shot of the comparable subjects. That meant that my only chance for keepers from many of the images was the newly merged HDR files. I started working with the sunrise images and immediately started to see some really awesome stuff developing in the sky. The camera had picked up a depth of color that my eyes couldn’t even see. What I had been seeing as a blown out sky at the horizon was now a rich gold hue. The rest of the sky developed nice rich and vibrant colors that I enjoy so much. I’ll admit, the images here are more brilliant than the actual sunrise that I witnessed, but that is because much of the sky was being recorded well underexposed. The colors are accurate, but they have a much larger WOW factor in the images here.
I really do enjoy my rural and decay subjects and I’m so happy that I got a chance to shoot some of them today. I’m extremely happy with how all of my keepers turned out. In fact, this might be the first time that I recall looking at them all and thinking “yeah, that one is pretty much perfect.” Usually, by this point, I am seeing things that I don’t like about some of the images, and there have been times I have gone back and tweaked or reprocessed an image before finishing the blog as my eyes get recalibrated. This time was different. I still love each of these images and am very happy with them all. It is going to be a tough decision figuring out which ones get added to the gallery.