A Sunny Morning at Old Salem

· Reading Time: 18 minutes

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

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

OK, so today was a little….a lot unplanned.  I was actually supposed to be at work today, but wasn’t feeling all that well.  I have this crud that is going around and I am at that stage where I have little to no voice left.  That makes it a little difficult to conduct my actual job, so I needed to stay home today.  Looking at a sick day at home was not all that thrilling because just sitting and watching television is a little boring for an actual game plan when I’m here all alone.  When I woke up, I felt decent, and after I got the crusty stuff removed from my left eye, I looked somewhat human.  I figured I could spend the day at the computer going through some pictures because I was kind of feeling a monochrome theme.  I could do that without having to use my voice which was just the perfect idea for the day.  The only hangup was I didn’t have any new pictures to process, and I wasn’t really looking forward to digging old ones up to process.  I just needed a couple of new images to work with, that was it.

I obviously didn’t want to travel far, and just needed something that was easily done as black and white.  The weather was decent for this type of photography as the clouds were thin or nonexistent.  It was not a normal sky for what I like to photography normally so I was looking forward to the challenge that I was apparently setting for myself.  A place that I have gone several times over the years with pretty good success each time is Old Salem.  There is a lot to shoot there when it comes to detail shots, and with the contrasty sun out, I was sure I could make use of the conditions quite well.  After all, I just wanted a couple of pictures to work on through the day to keep me occupied.

White Rails“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L MK2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted in Lightroom

After  I dropped Sierra off at school, I made my way to Old Salem.  I actually got there just after 9am, which was quite a long time after golden hour.  I was set to break some photographic lighting rules today.  I had nothing to lose after all.  I was only looking for a couple of images that I could play with in Lightroom to work on some black and white conversion techniques.  I got parked in the visitor’s lot and grabbed my gear.  I set off on a slow walk because if I pushed the speed any, I would get tired very quick due to lack of oxygen being able to be taken in.  It was a nice leisurely walk where I knew that I was just looking for a couple of images.  It didn’t worry me that the light was not that great over most of the area.  When I got the gunsmith’s shop I decided to go around back which is something I had not done in the past.  I got back there, knowing that the morning sun was shining on that wall, and found a nice pile of firewood placed under a window.  Well, well, well…this could work out perfect for my first images of the day.

I grabbed the camera and loaded the 24-70mm lens with a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer which was set up on my tripod.  I started to work the angles to find the best way to capture the pile of wood and the window.  It was supposed to be shot for monochrome, but the warm wood was just too nice against the cooler gray of the siding.  In the end, I left this image colorful, but did dial back the saturation a good bit.  It was a compromise of sorts, but the color balance was just too good in this image to remove it all.

As I continued to work the scene, I knew that the white railings on the back of the shop would make for a great black and white image with lots of contrast showing.  Looking at the compositions available, I wasn’t really happy with any of them.  The best one incorporated the wood and the window that I had just shot, but it was too cluttered to shoot horizontal, and vertical showed too much sky which added nothing.  I then thought about shooting this as a 1×1 crop, so I dialed that mask into the camera and looked at the composition once again.  That did the trick for sure.  Everything just came together perfectly and I was able to capture the image that I had imagined with the stairs leading up to the main level with the wood providing a texture balance on the left side of the frame balancing out the window.  The conversion went well in Lightroom and really made the railings pop.

Ring and a Bottle“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I had a handful of images at this point and would probably be able to get a couple to play with out of that series, but since I was here….I decided to go for a little more of a walk to see what else I could get just to make sure I would have a couple of keepers when I was done processing the images.  Based on my normal cut, I was looking for 20 images, which should give me two really good images from the morning.  That won’t take long, and I was feeling ok since I wasn’t having to talk to do this.  I was actually letting the camera be my voice which was really cool!

As I walked, I came across one of the admin buildings for Salem College and saw some antique bottles in the windows.  The colors caught my eyes, and I really wanted to do something with these bottles.  I picked out the one that had the best contrast in the window since I was intending on converting it to black and white when I got home.  I framed up a couple of compositions and determined that my current lens was just not long enough to get the composition that I wanted.  I swapped out to my 70-200mm lens and kept the polarizer on the front.  This did the trick, and I was able to get the bottle alone, and also did a few with the shutter that was next to it.  I loved how this one turned out with the contrasting bricks below, the ring on the shutter with the cool tones on the wood.  The green really stood out and gave a nice color balance to the image.  Yes, the colors were popping in this one so I had a hard time justifying a conversion to monochrome.  It just didn’t make any sense to lose the color for this one.  I was very happy with how it turned out on its own.

Over a Barrel“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted in Lightroom

Looking at my shutter count, I had my 20 images at this point.  I was pretty well guaranteed the couple of images that I was after for the morning.  However, I just wasn’t ready to call it day.  I was actually having a really good time and it wasn’t too hot yet.  The lighting was decent if I scoped out the right compositions in the right locations.  I decided to keep it rolling and use today as an experimentation day more than anything else.  I had come out with the intention of just having something to do in the office at home, and I might as well give myself something to work on.  I moved on to the square at the middle of Old Salem and found that the students were out in force painting the railings.  They were occupied and I hoped they wouldn’t acknowledge me because I saw a storefront that I really wanted to capture.  There were three barrels sitting out under a window that were in the full morning sun.  I loved the textures in the wood and really felt like I had no choice but to capture this image.

Since I had the long lens on, I actually stayed across the street, maybe eight feet from the painting students.  This allowed me to frame the composition perfectly.  I knew this was going to be a monochrome image since the wall was beige and would just warm the scene too much.  I was envisioning a nice high contrast wood against the visually smoother siding with the window giving that needed texture balance to the barrels.  I did the first image cropped in close to the right so that I eliminated the neighboring window completely.  That seemed to be a little bit of a forced crop on that side so I opened it up a little bit.  I didn’t want to include the other window, but by getting just the frame of the window to the right, I all of a sudden had a nice visual barrier in the upper right that helped to keep the eyes centered in the frame.  I liked this compositional choice much better than the one cut closer to the barrels.

Blue Wagon“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

This is the section of Old Salem that I really enjoy working with.  It is full of vibrant colors and each store has its own personality.  Something that I saw today that I had not seen before was a blue wagon with red wheels sitting under a pair of windows.  Unfortunately, there was a large chalk board to the right advertising the tours that I really wanted to avoid including.  I set the camera up across the street, much like I had done previously.  I flipped it vertically to concentrate on the wagon while including the windows.  The chalk board was really close to the right shutter and only left a small section able to be used.  Much like in the previous composition, I used just the edge of the wood as a visual barrier to the right hand side of the image, and left the shutter to the left more fully included, but still cropped a tad.  This gave a visual tension that I liked which balanced the fact that the visual weight of the wagon was going to the left.  The windows were now going to the right visually and that seemed to balance the image out nicely.

Of course, when I shot this composition the idea of black and white never even crossed my mind.  The colors were too vibrant here, and the balance of cool and warm tones was exquisite.  Taking the color out of this image would be like taking the life out of it.  I embraced the colors and worked on the image to enhance that color palette which drew my eyes there in the first place.  It actually needed very little in Lightroom as the sunlight was perfect on it in the field and the colors were already amazing.

Warm Light of Morning“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

As I continued my tour through Old Salem, I found one of my favorite buildings.  I just love the warm tones of the paint and then the contrasting black boards that set up a terrific pattern.  I normally shoot this from the front and capture the door with the Apothecary sign beside it.  Today, it was less about the building and more about the tree that was growing at the corner.  The fresh green leaves caught my eyes and I loved how the light was dancing on the side of the building.  I stopped right where I was and framed up a composition that showed off the cool blue sky above with the green tree and the warm siding.  Yeah, this one was definitely going to be another color image.  It would be a crime to remove the color from this one as well.  In fact, this one has turned into one of my favorites from the time at Old Salem.

Oh, about me getting just a couple of pictures to work with.  Yeah, that ship sailed a while back.  I was just having too much fun capturing images and I was getting more and more excited about what I was getting.  I knew that I was coming close to the end of the day because it was at this point I was ready to turn back and start my way back to the truck.  Well, I was at the end of the historic part of Old Salem, and I had another street I could go down which had even more to work with.  I didn’t know how much else I would be getting, but I doubted that I was done.

Welcome“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

The street that I was on had a lot of historic private residences which were designed to maintain the period theme of the town.  The decorations are usually quite nice at these residences and I was looking for any that seemed to be ready for a photo or two.  I was able to come across one that caught my eye.  There was just a touch of greenery at the door, there was a nice bench to the left of the door, and a diagonal beam to the right which gave just a little bit of needed drama to the scene.  I stuck with my practice of shooting across the street with the long lens since it seemed to work so well for these subjects.  I waited until the sun was masked by the clouds just enough and shot the image.  I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a color or black and white image when I shot it, but I knew that I loved the lines of it, and the plants were probably going to force my hand and keep it color.  I did think that another composition was justified here which would probably be monochrome since the contrast in the boards was just so good.

Spatial Patterns“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted in Lightroom

I wanted to take advantage of the geometric shapes more than anything else.  I knew I wanted a window with repeating squares.  I also wanted the bench with the long rectangles.  The bricks and the beams were also a great way of bringing in repeating shapes and lines as well.  The trick was going to be composing to where all of this made sense.  The window and the wall were east to work with, but the bench was a little more difficult.  I could have avoided it by shooting to the left of the window, but I really wanted that long rectangle shape to play with the bricks.  There was a potted plant to the right of the bench that I didn’t want to include and that made the crop very difficult.  In the end, I decided to frame the image in a way that cropped the bench on the right edge, just past the large vertical beam.  This gave the bench a scaled up proportion to the bricks and I thought that worked very well with the composition.  It gave a nice foreground element to the composition that balanced the window quite well.  When I got home and started to look at this one, a monochrome conversion was a natural choice for all the reasons that I wanted to shoot black and white.  The contrasts were great, and the design of the image took center stage.

Strapless“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted in Lightroom

I was winding down at this point and was getting a little tired.  Hey, I was sick after all.  I was pretty sure that I had my couple of images to play with for the rest of the day while Sierra was at school and Toni was at work.  But for some reason, I just wasn’t done with the day.  I walked a little further down the road and came upon a barrel (well, it was a trashcan, but who cares) next to a wooden fence.  Here was another example of some repeating lines in both the horizontal as well as vertical directions.  There were even some short diagonals thrown in on the sidewalk for good measure.  This was all in the shade, and the lighting was really even.  I had to make an effort to capture this one as well.

I set the camera up with the long lens still attached, and framed up a horizontal image to really pull the fence in.  There was a highlight to the far left that I didn’t like, and the barrel seemed to get lost in the composition.  I flipped the camera on its side and tried a new approach concentrating on the barrel.  By including just a small segment of the fence, the attention dropped right on the barrel.  By reducing the depth of field with an aperture of f/4 I was able to blur the background just enough to cement the main interest in this composition.  The funny hole in the center of the barrel became the focal point for the whole image and that means that the eyes float around the barrel for a while before going to the background, and then it is right back to that hole again.  It is a gritty image that tends to capture the mood that I was after with the high contrast black and white work I was doing today.

Salem’s Stonework“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

My initial thought at this point was to pack the camera up.  I was pretty much done with the tour of the town and only had the Single Brother’s House to cross before getting back to the truck.  There is a lot going on back there, but I really didn’t think that the light was going to work with me much considering it was all pretty much in the shadows at this point.  However, I left the camera built and proceeded on through.  There was work going on in the garden, and not much in the way of visual interest  along the back side of the building.  The lighting just wasn’t all that flattering at all by this point in the morning.  However, the rock wall near the garden caught my eye like never before.  Since I was here to photograph high contrast texture images, I was drawn to the stone wall.  I was especially interested in the stairs that went through the wall.  I got the camera down low and framed up a shot that included the steps as leading lines to the stonework.  I shot the exposure and thought to myself “nailed it!”  Of course, when I got home and looked at it on the computer monitor, I was less than excited about it.  It was a fine image, but there was something lacking.  The image had no soul to it.  What a let down!  However, I didn’t stop at the stairs while I was in the field and had found another composition that I liked and I worked with that for a while.

Just to the left of the steps was a part of the wall which had a section that was either broken, or had been built at a diagonal.  The diagonal section was just sitting there all by itself leading up to the main wall.  There was another section of lower wall right beside the steps that I thought would make a great foreground.  It didn’t…although I tried a shot with it.  What I found that worked even better was a closer shot of the diagonal section leading into the main wall.  This was going to be one of my favorite black and white images of the day.  It wasn’t…..That was kind of how my day was going.  My best laid plans were not turning out like I had thought, but most of the time were turning up better than imagined.  This was one of those moments.  When I got home and started to work the image, I liked it in black and white just fine, but it seemed to lack something that the warm tones of the color image brought to the composition.  I started the processing over once again and went with a color presentation this time.

This was working out rather nicely and gave a very English feel to the way the wall looked.  I had to be really careful with the colors because I didn’t want this image to be about vibrant colors at all.  I needed the hues, but didn’t want the pop of color.  I dialed down the green a lot in this image to really draw the ultimate attention to the stonework which was warmed ever so slightly.  The textures really jumped out which was my goal with the black and white presentation, but it almost seemed better here with the different tones of rocks making up the wall.  I did spend a lot of time working the colors in this one to really get the scene across that I saw at the time of capture.  In the end, I am really happy with how this one turned out, and it is one of my favorites of the day.

At this point, however, I was looking at the time, and knew it was getting late in the day at nearly 11am.  My plan had been to come to Old Salem for about an hour and capture enough pictures to give myself a handful of images to work with.  I had really good intentions in doing just that.  However, by the end of the day I had shot 57 frames, most of which were completely different compositions.  That should be good for five or six keepers which would keep me busy right up until the time I had to pick Sierra up.  I was in a time crunch that I had not planned on, but that is a great problem to have as a photographer because that means that you have a lot of images to work with.

As I culled that 57 images, I came down to a total of ten that I felt were good enough to call keepers.  There were an additional three that I processed, but found very little personality to.  These days I am all about being a harsh self critic so that I only show off what I consider to be my best work.  It was a great day, and I got so much more than I had planned on getting.  This was actually a full scale trek after waking up with really no intention of going out at all.  This is one of the rules of being a photographer though….get out there.  I did, and I was rewarded very well for my time.  The really amazing part is the lighting that I went out with.  Normally I would not have shot under skies this bright, but there are certain subjects that can be shot successfully in brighter light.  Old Salem is one of them, and having experienced it before, I knew that I could find something worth while to shoot even on a bright day.

My sick day might not have included a lot of rest, but at least I wasn’t talking most of the day which allowed my voice to recover from yesterday’s experience with work.  Now, I just have to recover a bit more to be ready for a presentation on Thursday evening.  I think I can do it.  I’ve taken my healthy dosage of photography to help.  I hope that you enjoy these images as much as I enjoyed shooting them.