A Rural Road Trip

· Reading Time: 14 minutes

Saturday, December 29, 2018

This is that odd time of year when it just seems like we are winding down and just waiting on the beginning of the new year.  It seems that most landscape photographer hang up their cameras during these winter months unless it snows or something special.  With everything going on lately, I really wouldn’t mind hanging up the camera for a bit and taking a break, but this is one of my favorite times of year to get out and work rural scenes.  There is just something about the bare trees and dormant grass that really makes these image come to life for me.  A nice side benefit is without the leaves on the trees it is much easier to spot potential subjects to work.  With that in mind, looking at the weather for the weekend, it was finally going to be a little cloudy which is my favorite time to do photography.  I could have probably gotten away with doing some waterfall photography, but the clouds were supposed to clear up kind of early in the day which would cut that short.  This, however, is just the right kind of conditions for a day of rural exploration.  I should have some nice and diffused light for much of the morning with some warm sunshine peaking through shortly after morning.  The question was, where would I like to shoot?

Patina Pasture
Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70 f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 2-Stop soft edge ND Grad

The answer to that question came from a friend of mine who sent me a message toward the end of the week asking if I had been down in Julian, NC on Old Julian Rd.  Well, I had been out that way a few times, but never really found all that much that excited me.  To be fair, for the most part the conditions on the days that I had been there were less than ideal.  Looking at the weather, it appeared that I was possibly going to have some really good conditions out that way on Saturday morning.  I decided that I would give it a try, that is unless I woke up and the weather was looking good for waterfall photography at South Mountains State Park.

I had Toni wake me up as she was leaving for work around 5am which would have given me plenty of time to get up and drive to the park.  She woke me up, and I quickly decided that the bed was just too comfortable to get up just yet.  I dozed for a bit, and then checked the weather around 5:30.  It had not really changed and there was going to be too much sun for shooting moving water.  I was going to be heading to Julian after the sun came up.  That was great since it meant I could doze a bit longer before starting my day.  The next 30 minutes were wonderful until the clock rang and I knew it was time to get rolling with my day.

Abandoned Hope
Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 2-Stop soft edge ND Grad, Converted in Lightroom

I took the scenic route to find Old Julian Rd in hopes of finding something that I wanted to photograph.  There was a lot of great potential, but nothing that would work with the sky that I had.  It was pretty much completely overcast with very low clouds.  I made it to Old Julian Rd and started to drive around on some of the side streets.  I did come across a single barn that was mixed in with some trees a the edge of a pasture.  It had a lot of character, and I liked the fence and gate that surrounded the property.  The sky was not great, but I decided to set up some shots to see what would happen.  I was there about 45 minutes or so and in that time I was working on compositions on the off change that the sky would do something great.

I set the camera up with my 24-70mm lens as it gave me plenty of flexibility to capture different compositions.  I almost put my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer on, but decided against it.  The clouds were too thick and the roof wasn’t really causing much glare.  The main issue that I was having to combat was the sky.  The best tool that I have for that is my Singh-Ray, Galen Rowell 2-Stop soft edge ND Grad which I put on with my Lee Filter Holder.  This allowed me to pull back the exposure of the sky little bit without looking overdone.  With the soft edge filter I stood a very good chance of being able to work the exposure back on the barn itself which would be in the dark part of the filter.  I really had nothing to lose since the sky was too blown out without some kind of filter.

After I got my compositions down the sky did start to get a little detail to it.  I was able to see some darkening in areas and some color starting to show up in others.  I went back to the positions I had worked out previously and started making exposures that I had full intentions on using.  There were two basic compositions that I had found that I liked.  The first was a wide shot that included the gate that initially caught my eye.  I had to be careful to exclude the power pole to the left of the field and needed to make sure that the gate was in a good position relative to the barn for a balanced composition.  I was really excited that there was a bit of blue and a hint of yellow showing up in the sky.  It fit with the mood that I was after, and I was even lucky enough to have the sun shining on the side of the barn.  The other composition that I had planned was a bit closer and was shot to the side of the field over the barbed wire fence.  The bare trees only obscured the barn a little thanks to the season, so I was able to shoot from this angle without too much problem.  The color in the sky wasn’t all that great from this angle, but there was a good bit of definition in the sky.  I was able to see it on the live view just barely which I’ve learned usually means that I can pull it out in Lightroom.

I shot both of these images with the intention of possibly converting them into black and white images to keep with the mood of the morning.  When I started to look at the wide shot, I knew that this needed to be color, but I was going to be giving it a slightly different treatment than I usually do.  I resisted the urge to mimic the color saturation of the Velvia film, and I pulled the saturation down as well as muted the colors.  it aged the image slightly and gave it the mood that I was after.  This was not a bright and full of life image.  It was winter time, and an abandoned barn.  The dull finish suited it just fine.  The close up shot, however, needed the monochrome approach to really pull out the detail in the sky and reduce the impact of the trees in front of the barn a little more.  I put in some work on this conversion, but in the end, I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.  Like the other image, it fits the mood I was trying to convey with the two images, it just does it in a slightly different way.

International Moss
Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

With the sun rising in the sky and the clouds starting to wash out again, I loaded things back up in the truck and started back on my way trying to find something to photograph.  In some directions the sky was great, in others it was not so wonderful.  Of course, those great subjects I found to shoot were all under the blah sky that I was trying to avoid.  The light quality was great though and I was really looking for something that I could shoot to take full advantage of the nice warm light shining through.  I looked in Southeast Guilford County, visited Randolf County, and even stopped by Alamance County in search of something.  I was getting rather frustrated with my luck, especially considering I was in a rural heaven and surrounded by lots of great things…in bad light.

I was out in the area of Liberty and happened to see rust out of the corner of my eye.  I turned my head quickly and saw a ’50’s model pickup truck sitting in front of a nice new fence.  The warmth of the wood and rust glowed in the warm light that was shining through on that side of the road.  I finally found something that took advantage of the good light, and I actually had a decent sky above it.  The only problem was it was far enough into the property that I was going to need to ask permission to shoot the truck.  I pulled into the driveway, not knowing if anyone was home or not.  I got out of the truck and walked up to the front door.  I knocked and waited.  A cat came to greet me, and eventually two dogs.  I was starting to think that nobody was home when I saw the blinds move just enough to indicate that somebody was looking through them.  The a head poked around the side of the blinds and allowed me to introduce myself.  She had no problem with me shooting the truck and didn’t seem to need any further conversation which was fine with me.

Termite Control
Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I quickly got to work and built the camera with my 24-70mm lens and added the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer because this is the perfect subject for that filter.  I started to work the truck from different angles until I found the right spots to shoot it from.  While I was getting warmed up with this truck, a car came into the driveway.  I waved, assuming that this was probably the other owner of the property.  He got out of the car and I quickly explained that I had permission.  He told me he knew I was there from talking with his wife a few minutes ago.  We introduced ourselves and got to talking a bit about this and that.  As it turns out, he is a photographer as well, and has a love for the automobile much like myself.  I mentioned my upcoming Decay Photography Workshop and invited him to join in.  Hopefully, come April, our paths will cross again with some great rusty subjects to shoot.  He granted me free rein to explore not only the International Pickup I had been working on, but also ’52 that he had behind the shop in the back yard I had seen while working the pickup.  This morning was looking up already!

Never Mind
Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted in Lightroom

I was only able to see the top surfaces of the one in the back yard, but now that I had permission to shoot it, I went back to check it out.  What I found was basically the cab of a truck off of the frame sitting in the leaves.  It was an interesting shade of purple, and you could see that it was in the process of being chopped and channeled.  There was a certain cool factor to this partial truck and I wanted to explore it a bit more with the camera.  I really wasn’t sure how I wanted to capture this since it was basically a pile of parts with a fender fallen over to the side.  I got down low and decided on a horizontal capture that included the fallen fender as well as the step side bed that was on the other side.  When I started to look at the image in Lightroom, I realized that the bed was too much of a distraction and I didn’t really like the image.  After a few more edits on other pictures, I came back to this one and decided to try it as a monochrome image.  That seemed to do the trick and I was able to highlight the truck itself while minimizing the fender and the bed.  In fact, they now help to frame the truck shell.  A quick 16:9 crop on the image and it was complete.

To Be Open
Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

While I was down on the ground, I started to see how the trees were looking since they were rather bare and very tall.  I thought that they would be a really good addition to the composition and allow the image a lot of room to breathe.  I flipped the camera on its side and framed a wide shot of the truck looking up into the trees.  The perspective was dramatic, and the ’52 made for the best visual anchor for the image.  Because of the way the trees were presented here, the bedside and the fallen fender were no longer issues for the composition.  In fact with the vertical orientation, they really worked out very well to frame the image.  The whole thing just looks like the truck is opening up and letting the spirit go.

I tried some other compositions and even tried getting something from inside of the cab but nothing else seemed to work as well as what I had already.  I looked for some isolations that I could do with the rust, but there really wasn’t much I found of interest for an isolation.  I decided to go back up to the front yard and try a couple different things with the truck up there.  I was having a really good time here and found that both of these subjects really caught my attention and were looking really good so far in the camera.

Ex Terminator
Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted in Lightroom

When I got back up to the truck in the front yard, I started to look for something different to do with it.  I really liked the door art so I wanted to get an isolation of that, but I couldn’t really find a composition that I liked so I kept fiddling with it and eventually found that I was shooting the entire truck again.  I found an angle that I really liked that showcased the door and shot a few frames.  It wasn’t until I got home and started to look at the image a bit closer that I found I wasn’t all that happy with it.  It was just another overall shot of the truck which I didn’t really want with this much of the fence in it.  I bypassed it for a while and eventually came back to it with the idea to do a black and white conversion on it.  I started the process of converting it and immediately started to really like how it looked.  I have gotten to a point in my life where I really like massaging the tones in a black and white image and dodging and burning.  There is just something about seeing a black and white image come together that I am really starting to appreciate.  All of a sudden the patina on the old truck took on a whole new look.  It was amazing and I was able to get the door art to really show up in the final image which was true to my original idea of the shot.

All Trucks Go to Heaven
Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

Just before I decided to put the camera away I noticed that the trees did something very similar up here that they were doing in the back yard.  I decided to get down low and shoot wide and vertical to really emphasize the trees.  This did the trick and had the same effect as the shot in the back yard had. To me, this really pulled the eyes up into the sky.  Looking at this old workhorse, I could see the spirit going up into the sky just like the shot in the backyard.  I figured that a play on the movie title would fit this image.  I really do like how the trees converge and the perspective of the wide angle lens.  The blue sky does a great job at balancing out the warm tones in the foreground as well.

This turned into my last subject for the day.  I searched out some other areas, but didn’t find anything.  Well, that is not exactly the case.  I did find a location that had an old Corvette and a Datsun Z just inside of McCleansville.  I did stop and knock on the door, but nobody was home, or at least nobody came to the door.  I stood around by my truck for a bit hoping that somebody would come out to see what I was up to.  Nothing ever happened, and I eventually had to leave.  But, I will be back to this location again.  I will be trying to research the owners because I have been wanting to shoot an old Z for a long time, and would still like to buy another one some day.  Who knows….

At the end of the day, I had 71 frames shot, and of those, I liked eight of them enough to keep.  It was a really great day out in the country and I’m really happy that I decided to head out in that direction, even though it was seeming that I was getting nowhere early on.  Rural tours are always a hit and miss affair when exploring new areas.  Sometimes it all falls into place, and other times you drive for hours and never see anything.  This was a day right in the middle, and I’m A-OK with that!