A Rural Shock to the System

· Reading Time: 19 minutes

Friday, September 17, 2021

Don’t send out a rescue team.  I didn’t get so lost that I wasn’t able to find my way home.  I know that many of you have been wondering where I’ve been for the last three weeks.  The last blog entry that I did was my Behind the Camera on the first of the month which was 16 days ago.  If you just look at the title, you might have thought that I had gotten discouraged and just hung up the camera, but that really isn’t the case at all.  I’ve just been putting a lot of energy into the portrait side of things lately, and my regular treks have been taking a back seat to getting my studio in shape and getting my skills up to par for this new adventure.  I hate that I haven’t had the time for doing the photography that I love so much, but if I’m being honest here, the weather really hasn’t been all that great lately.  I had gotten very fortunate to have a wonderful day of clouds around Linville Gorge late last month, but that was about the last good day to go out with the camera.  That doesn’t mean that my camera has been sitting idle since that trek.  Actually, it has been worked very hard over the last few weeks as I have been getting a few portrait shoots under my belt.  I think it is safe to say that I am now pretty comfortable with hand holding the camera now, but I still much prefer the slow nature of the tripod.  I will probably get into more detail about the last few weeks in the upcoming Behind the Camera, but I haven’t quite decided if that is the topic that I will be discussing yet.

Anyway, I haven’t left the landscape side of my photography in favor of capturing people and I have been wanting to get back out to get some fresh images as Summer comes to a close.  Having finished up my last portrait shoot on Wednesday, I was looking to get out with the camera again before my next workshop which is scheduled for Saturday.  That gave me either Thursday or Friday and there were clouds expected on both days.  Thursday turned into more of a general overcast though and I just couldn’t get up enough interest to go out and drive around.  Toni and I ended up spending the day watching television which I quite enjoyed as my mind had been in high gear for the majority of the week over the portrait session.  Having spent a very restful day at home, I was a little more motivated to get out for some pictures on Friday morning.  There were more clouds expected in the morning with a thinning around noon which would give me a couple of hours at least to go hunting for scenes.  It wasn’t going to be much, but it was going to be enough to settle my creative energy that has been challenged over the past few weeks.

After I got up and did my morning bookkeeping, I looked at the weather.  The rain chances were dropping rapidly starting around 10am and it was looking like I would have a couple of hours of good light to work with.  I gathered my gear and loaded it in the truck for the first time since August and set out without a particular destination in mind.  As I got out on the road, I could see some slight definition in the clouds and I fully expected that to improve rather quickly.  With the sky looking interesting, I decided to head out to a barn that I had driven by a month or so ago which had caught my eye.  The conditions hadn’t been quite right for it then, but I was hopeful that they would work out now.  The barn was interesting, and the scene had a few different elements to it so I had some options on how to capture it.  Since I had seen it a while back, I had been running compositions in my mind so that when the weather was right, I would be ready for it.

The Barn and the Bridge“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 3-stop soft ND Grad

The barn was about five miles from home so it didn’t take long to get there.  When I did arrive, the scene was pretty much as I expected.  There wasn’t a lot of color to be seen while most of the landscape was still green, but it fit the mood I was after here.  The sky was gray with a slight texture to it which complimented the barn.  There was a metal bridge to the right that also shared that neutral hue.  I had been struggling with whether or not to include the bridge since it was partially obscured by a tree.  The tree was interesting as well which started to provide another interesting element to the composition.  Just to the right of the tree was another tree and then the house that was associated with the barn.  I knew that I wanted to avoid getting the house in the frame, and the second tree wasn’t a problem if I needed to include it.  My main goal for the composition was the two track driveway that brought your eyes to the barn and then off to the bridge.  It was the visual roadmap to the scene and I felt that it was quite important since the barn was not overly large in size.

One of the concepts that I had been working on in my head was a tight shot of the barn so that it was a prominent element in the scene.  The problem with that was the composition would pretty much just been the barn and the trees behind it.  There wasn’t enough interest in that idea and the post card shot just wasn’t going to work here.  I pondered my options for a bit and looked at all of the elements that I didn’t mind including in the scene.  If I were to include them all, there would be a much better balance to the scene and I could incorporate the atmosphere that the clouds provided which was just perfect for the scene.  I went ahead and parked the truck and grabbed my camera.  I started off with my 70-200mm lens thinking that I was going to need the reach due to the distance I was from the scene.  I started to fit all of the elements into the frame and realized that I was having to crowd everything in at 70mm, so I swapped out my lens for my standard 24-70mm which would allow me a little more working space for the scene.

It took me a minute or two to get the right angle so that I could include that second tree which overlapped the closest tree to the bridge.  I had originally tried to crop it out, leaving only the single tree, but that left a very unbalanced image that I wasn’t happy with so I widened the composition to include that tree, but cropped out the corner of the house.  I then worked my way from left to right until I had the driveway positioned the way that I wanted it so that it didn’t exit right at a corner.  Now I had the bottom and the right side of the frame figured out which left me with the left side and the top.  I just twisted the ring of the lens until I saw a balanced composition with the driveway, barn, bridge, tree, and sky.  When I arrived at my composition I knew I had it.

The exposure latitude was a bit extreme due to the clouds above so I opted for a grad filter to control the exposure in the upper portion.  I went with a 3-stop soft ND Grad which was pulled down to just at the tree level.  With hopes of pulling a bit of exposure out of the tin roof, I added my polarizer as well.  It didn’t make a huge amount of difference to the scene, but it did cut the glare just enough to bring out the detail in the roof.  At this point I had the scene all figured out and it was time to wait for the clouds to move through until I had a texture pattern in the sky which would work for me.  It took a total of 10 exposures to get enough images that I was confident that I had at least one that would work.

Not too bad, I had driven five miles and spent about 15 minutes at the scene to get my first image in the bag.  It actually felt pretty good considering I didn’t have a clear understanding of the how the day was going to go.  I was feeling pretty confident at this point and I was ready to find more images.  I got everything loaded back up and started back out on the road.  The next scene that came to mind was an old house that was off of hwy 16 which I had been intrigued by for the past year as I have driven by it time and time again.  There were some serious issues with this house from a photographic standpoint though which kept me from trying anything with it up until now.

Box of Memories“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 2-stop hard ND Grad

The house is situated in a curve on a busy two lane road with no shoulder to speak of, only a guardrail.  The embankment is steep on the other side of the guardrail and that is the only place to photograph this house from.  To make matters worse, there is no place to pull off of the road here.  About a month ago, I had been out here and was scoping this house out with hopes of finding a composition and a place to park.  I figured out the composition, but more importantly, I found a place to park down a side road.  It was a wide gravel driveway just out of sight of the intersection.  I figured I could walk the five minutes to get to the house in order to keep my truck out of the travel lanes.  That left me with the last obstacle to deal with and that was the stupid power pole and associated power lines which ran through the scene completely.  I was feeling pretty good about being able to remove it in Photoshop as I have been getting better with that tool lately.  All that was left was to actually get in gear and shoot the house rather than just thinking about it.

With the clouds looking really good at this point, I decided that this might just be a good time to check out the composition idea and to get a shot.  I drove another 10 miles in the opposite direction to get to this location and pulled off in that wide driveway.  I grabbed my bag and tripod because I just didn’t know what I was going to need and wanted to have it all with me.  The walk was quick and I crossed the road and jumped the guardrail.  The embankment was steep, but I had worked on worse so I wasn’t complaining about it.  At least I was safe from traffic here.  I worked my way along the shoulder until I found the right angle to get the house.  I chose to include the tree which was standing next to it, which I am hoping to capture this Fall when it changes colors.  Of course, I wanted to include that sky as well so I opted for that same standard lens that I had used earlier.  I fiddled around with the composition for a bit until I found the right mix of elements and balance to the scene.  As I started to check the exposure, I could see the same problems developing here that had bothered me at my first scene.  I adapted in the same way as I had before with a grad filter, only this time used a 2-stop hard edge filter along with my polarizer.

I got everything dialed in and started making exposures with subtle changes to the camera position to make sure that I had the right angles when I got it back to the computer at home.  I didn’t spend long here because I really had very limited options on how to shoot it.  The lighting wasn’t changing much at all, and with only one basic angle to work on, I was done making images in only a few minutes.  I wasn’t sure how this was going to turn out, but I was glad that I had at least figured out how to shoot it.  I was thinking that if it did work out as a composition, it would be a really good scene when the tree changed colors to give some more visual balance to the roof which had those same Fall hues in it.  For the time being, I was pretty happy with what I had though and I was ready to continue on to find something else down the road.

Weathered Red“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

From that house, I decided to continue up North into Jefferson to see what I could find out that way along hwy 16.  It had been almost a year since I had made this trek and the last time I went there was snow on the ground in places so I was interested to see what late Summer had to offer photographically.  I just followed the highway and occasionally broke off on a side street if I saw something of interest.  Surprisingly though, I wasn’t really finding anything that jumped out at me.  I was really hoping that my day wasn’t going to be just two scenes, but if that was the outcome, at least I got out and found two scenes that I wanted to photograph.  I just wasn’t quite ready to call it a day just yet.

As I was making my way North, I could see what looked like a red barn off on the left side of the road.  It was big and I was immediately interested in finding a composition with it.  It appeared to be just off on a side street so I got ready to turn.  When I got there, it wasn’t really a side street at all, it was the entrance to a school.  I weighed my options carefully and felt that it was far enough away from the school that it was probably not technically a part of the school.  I just didn’t want to freak out anyone as I parked and got out my camera that could look like who knows what.  I pulled off on the side of the road and grabbed the camera with the standard lens on it which would allow me the most flexibility on how to capture the scene.  The exposure was pretty uniform across the scene so I didn’t bother with any grads this time.  I just grabbed my trusty polarizer and started to find compositions.

This was an interesting scene because there was a smaller barn just up the hill to the right of the main barn which I was kind of wanting to include in the composition.  The problem was, it pulled too much visual weight to the right and forced me to place the largest part of the main barn in the center of the composition.  I just couldn’t get the balance to feel right with that second barn in the composition so I chose to crop it out and place the main barn in the lower right third of the frame.  That worked out much better and it allowed me to include a dead tree on the left hand side to kind of establish a frame on the left side.  The hill behind the barn brought your eyes up to the sky which also played a huge part in this composition.  All that was left to do was figure out how close I wanted to be to the barn in order to get the perspective right.

I started right at the road because I didn’t want to get too far into the property without asking.  As I was shooting, I wanted to have the barn a little more dominant in the scene, so I got in closer and closer shifting towards a wider focal length as I went.  The deeper in I got, I realized that I could get the barn to break the horizon with the roof which I thought would do wonders for the composition.  I was just barely able to make that happen and I thought that I had the winning image with that, but as I studied the composition, it just didn’t feel right to have the barn breaking the horizon like that.  I ended up using one of the ones that was a bit further away.  It had a more pleasing scale to it, and didn’t have the rather abrupt perspective distortion which was brought on by the 24mm focal length.  Sometimes, simple is just the way to go.

Not wanting to press my luck, I packed up my gear and got back out on the road.  At this point, I was satisfied that I had shot three scenes and should have at least three images to process when I got back home.  The sky was just looking too good though.  I couldn’t stop yet, so I continued North and did my side road excursions here and there.  I wasn’t really finding much else that I wanted to shoot, but I was enjoying the scenery just the same.  It was nice to get out into an area that I hadn’t been before and I was now fully into new territory.

Working the Crops“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I made a few turns here and there and happened to see a farmer’s field off to the right of the road with a blue tractor sitting on the ridge.  It wasn’t a rusty tractor, and it wasn’t even an abandoned tractor.  It was actually one that was obviously still in use, but it just looked so perfect up there by the field under that amazing sky.  I knew I had to give it a try so I pulled off the road into the gravel driveway to the field.  I grabbed my camera with the standard lens along with a polarizer which was going to be all that I needed for this scene.  It was a simple scene and there was no reason to complicate it.

I set the tripod up at the edge of the driveway and mounted the camera.  The exposure was perfectly even across the scene so I just started making images with slight changes to the camera positioning to make sure that I had the right balance to the scene.  Of particular importance was the comparative size of the tractor to the mountains in the background.  I wanted the tractor to be dominant in the scene, but I also didn’t want the mountains to get lost due to scaling.  I played with different foregrounds with this shot as well.  I ended up really liking the ones that included the crops along the lower right corner of the scene as it really told the story of the photograph.  I must have picked up the camera 30 or more times to tweak the composition before I was happy that I had enough images to choose from when I got home.  Just as I was about to get back in the truck, I turned around and went back to capturing another half doze images or so.  This scene was just too good to miss out on.

After my second go at the tractor, I was pretty sure that I had all that I needed from here.  I was also expecting a property owner to arrive any moment so I figured it was time to get moving on.  I loaded up everything and got back out on the road.  At this point, I was just driving and I had no idea where I was, or where I was headed.  As I was driving down one of the many rural roads I was on I could see a wooden barn off in the distance behind a large white house.  It was up on a hill and the sky above it was rather interesting.  It was possibly going to make a great subject for a photograph so I continued driving in that direction until I saw the road that turned off to the left which would hopefully take me to the barn.

Cooling Days“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

That turn did the trick as I passed the large white house and arrived at the barn all by itself behind a tree.  I pulled off on the side of the road and grabbed my camera with the 24-70mm lens on it once again along with that always favorite polarizer.  I then started to work out compositions of the barn.  I started with the obvious one from slightly downhill.  It captured the barn in the left of the frame and had the tree off to the right to balance the scene with the clouds taking up the majority of the upper left of the image.  This felt like a fine image, but I didn’t like how the fencing forced me to include so much of the ground which edged the tree much too high in the frame.  I chose to omit the tree completely and just focused on the barn with similar results.  There was too much grass in the foreground and I couldn’t do anything about it unless I cut the fence oddly in the composition.

I worked my way up the hill and shot the barn from the more elevated position and I tended to like that better, but I was getting too much roof and not enough of the wooden siding which I thought did the barn a disservice.  I was on my way back down the hill when I passed by the front of the barn.  It was this view that excited me, which was very odd.  Normally, I try not to capture something straight on as it lacks depth and would much prefer a quarter view shot.  However, the tree that was growing right on the shoulder of the road was framing the barn almost perfectly.  The dappled light on the tree trunk gave it dimension which provided a good deal of depth to the scene.  Not wanting to lose this light, I set up really quick using the standard lens when I really should have been using the wide angle one.  It gave me the field of view that I needed though, and that was good enough for me.  I was able to crank off two shots before the light changed and the tree went dark again.  It was the composition that I had the least amount of faith in at the time, but it turned into the one that really sang when I was culling my images.  It also turned into what I believe was the best shot of the day.

I had made a total of 83 exposures in about four hours of riding around in Wilkes and Ashe Counties.  It had been a terrific road trip and it was very nice to get back to this type of photography once again.  Don’t get me wrong, I am really enjoying the portrait side, as well as the learning curve that is coming with it.  I’m just far from ready to give up this kind of photography.  I feel like this Fall will be a very colorful one and I am looking forward to that.  The leaves are already starting to change and I saw more than one yellow tree in my travels.  You can also see a bunch of fallen yellow leaves in that last photograph, so I really think that we are going to see some vibrant colors very soon.

Thank you for joining me on this trek, and I hope that I haven’t kept you waiting too long for it to happen.  As I get up to speed on portraiture, I’ll be back to a more regular schedule of doing these treks, but for now I kind of have to focus my energies so that I can commit the information to memory.  Eventually, I hope that portraiture will be as automatic as the landscape photography has become.  I’m finding myself amazed at how easily I can work a scene now, even when it appears to be a difficult process.  I’ve started to take for granted all of the decisions that I am making automatically in landscape which I am still having to consciously figure out in portraiture.  I’ll get there though, and will hopefully be as fluid with one as I am with the other.

If there are any photographs that you would like to have from today’s trek, or any of my treks, I would love to match you up with your very own print.  It is more than just getting some wall art, print sales help me to continue my photography and produce more photographs.  It really does help me out, and I truly appreciate the support.  If you would like to discuss options, I am always here for you and I’m happy to help.

Until next time…

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