Adapting to a Different Type of Landscape

· Reading Time: 24 minutes

Friday, April 1, 2020

Stand and Rise“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

You can tell by the opening image for this entry that this is not going to be my normal trek.  But when you think about it, what is normal these days?  There is a global pandemic going on which has brought about concepts like “social distancing,” “self-quarantining,” and just generally finding new ways to be in a world populated by people.  For the most part, we have been left to our own devices as to how we comply with the recommendations but time and time again, the government has had to step in and close places that have been drawing very large crowds such as state and federal parks.  These closures come after recommending that folks get out in nature and stay away from each other.  Of course, large groups would form, and the trails would be packed with people not following recommendations and thus spreading the virus around.  Systematically, places have been closed down to the public one by one in an attempt to get people to stay away from each other.  The bitter irony of this was a few mornings ago, well before sunrise we had a severe thunderstorm that passed by which was followed by a tornado warning for my area.  There were several tornadoes that actually touched down across the area.  While listening to the recommendations from the National Weather Service it hit me.  During this time of quarantining in place, they were recommending that we seek shelter in our home which we were already restricted to.  We were effectively being crate trained as a society.  I really needed to get out!

Looking at my options, they were growing slimmer day by day.  This time of year is typically reserved for working landscapes along the Blue Ridge Parkway and other parks around the state.  That was much more difficult now than ever before and while I had no interest in going to the Blue Ridge Parkway among all of the crowds, that was now not an option anyway.  The majority of the Parkway had been closed to vehicle traffic a day or so before for an indefinite period.  This actually forced me to cancel my Spring Landscape Workshop which was scheduled for the middle of May.  While I was at it, I also canceled my Summer Intro to Photography course as it wasn’t too far down the calendar either.  My options were getting more and more limited as to what I could actually do around my photography.

I had considered doing a rural road trip as that area of my photography had been sparked by my recent trek to Outlawed Restorations for my evening of light painting.  That could work as long as I found subjects to photograph that didn’t require getting permission from property owners.  My main problem with that was the weather was not really looking all that great for rural photography with mostly sunny skies.  While most normal people love a clear blue sky and call that a beautiful day, it is a terrible thing for a photographer in most cases.  Friday was the day that I wanted to head out for a bit in the morning and there wasn’t going to be a cloud in the sky.  The remainder of the weekend was going to have rain for the most part so I wasn’t really planning on going out then.

The question became what to photograph with a full sun.  This is always a good time for high contrast black and white photography where I seek out light and shadow.  That works great for isolations and doing architecture studies.  It was the latter that captured my attention the most.  It had been a while since I had done architecture and that excited me after seeing some examples of previous images while I was doing a presentation for the Chapel Hill Camera Club earlier in the week.  That was going to be what I was after.  I thought about where I wanted to go.  Downtown Winston Salem was the natural choice since it was close, but with it being a weekday I was worried about finding parking that was convenient and free.  With that thought I considered Greensboro since I had some ideas on getting some free parking.  When I shifted my attention to that city, I was remembering a portrait shoot that I had done out there back in the Fall where I was walking around Elm St and had seen some really nice views that I had considered coming back to photograph right around the Jefferson Pilot Building.  Thinking about how the city was positioned, I figured that my best bet to capture the scenes that had caught my eye was to go in the morning as the sun was rising.  This would light the building up on the side that I was wanting to capture.

A Standard Life“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

I got an early start to the day and was leaving the house around 6am.  I wasn’t interested in capturing the sunrise, and I wasn’t even interested in blue hour work.  I wanted to get there just as the light from the sun was starting to hit the buildings.  I needed to be in place by 7am and I was able to do just that.  It took me a little while to consider my compositional options on the building, but I decided to start out with a very dramatic diagonal arrangement with the lines from the building leading off to the upper right corner of the frame.  The sky was featureless blue which I didn’t really mind for a change.  I knew that I would be doing this as a monochrome image and that the sky would go black during the conversion process.  I wanted the attention on the building with the contrasts of the designs and windows being the visual interest.  I just needed the sky for a bit of scale and contrast with the overall bright tones.

I found the angle that I wanted and chose my wide angle 16-35mm lens which I started to look at compositions through.  I wasn’t liking what I was seeing and wanted to go a little tighter so I swapped in my 24-70mm which is my normal go to lens for most things.  This seemed to work much better overall and I was able to fine tune a few different compositions that I liked of the building.  In order to help the sky go dark during the conversion, as well as adding a little contrast to the windows I added my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer and twisted it nearly to the maximum setting.  That gave the building a great deal of presence in the frame which suited me quite well.  I was well on my way to capturing the images that I had in mind when I came up with this idea.

My next concept was an isolation on the bust of Jefferson which appeared on the front of the building above the lower floors.  For this, I decided to go across the street to help with the perspective distortions and I swapped over to a 70-200mm lens to help zoom in on the areas that I liked.  I found the composition quite easily with a lot of symmetry built in.  I had to deal with some shadows in the background that I thought added just a little bit of visual tension to an otherwise flat image.  This image was going to be all about the details present on the crest.  There was a beautiful warm glow on the building which really drew me into the scene, but looking at it on the computer, it became much too monochromatic of an image.  The decision was obvious, I was going to need to remove the color and just focus on the detail contrasts to really bring this image to life.  Once I did that, I was quite satisfied with the photograph and actually liked it more than the original concept of the image I had started with.

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

I was on a roll at this point and was starting to look around for other subjects to work with.  On the side of the street where I was at, there was a row of American Flags posted on the West side of the building.  Normally this would be in full shade, but in this case, the morning sun was reflecting off of the building next to the Jefferson Pilot Building and adding this wonderful warm spotlight to the flags.  I felt the need to capture this moment so I moved the camera and tripod into position and framed up a vertical composition that really threw the attention on the flag that was mostly in the light and was the fullest.  I dialed down the aperture to f/2.8 to limit the depth of field and I started making exposures when the wind would die down.  It wasn’t blowing hard, but the breeze was moving the flags every so slightly.  I had to time it to where the flag was as full as possible and not folded up.  The light didn’t last long, but I was able to get a good image in a short amount of time.

I was feeling pretty good about how the morning was going and I already had around 30 images on the camera from less than a half of block worth of subject matter.  I was seeing the light moving around the city and decided that I wanted to get to some other areas to see if I could take advantage of it.  I started my journey North and was looking for angles and interesting features that I could focus on with my camera.  What I found was one of the buildings to the Northwest which had some very strong geometry which was being accentuated by the low sun.  I wasn’t going to be able to get in a good position to photograph this building from the street though.  The converging verticals would be too much for me to deal with from ground level.  I needed to get up in the air just a little bit.

A Matter of Perspective“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

I pulled one of my tricks from when I started shooting city scapes years ago.  I looked for a parking deck that I could get on top of.  Back then I was trying to get the skyline shots of the city without any real success because I was much too close to the city to do that from the parking decks.  I did find that they were very effective for getting isolations on the different buildings though, and that was what I was after today.  It just so happened that there was a parking deck with eight floors in a good relative location to the building that I was wanting to photograph.  I went the top and started to look at the skyline to see what options I had there to work with.  I had a great view of the one building that had caught my eye from below and there was another very modern building just to the right of it that also captured my eye.  The sunlight was perfect on the angular building so I decided to start my work with that one.

I knew that the best way of capturing this was going to be with the long lens so I fitted my 70-200mm lens once again and started to find the right angles in which to work with.  I wanted to control the intensity of the glass and reflections so I added the polarizer again and twisted it until I had the effect that I wanted with the contrasts of the building.  I concentrated on shots that included the sky and also just isolated the geometry of the building.  Thinking back to some previous images where I incorporated this concept I knew that they typically looked better as abstract geometrical designs on the back of the camera, but when I started looking at them larger on the computer, the ones with the sky included held more attention.  What I was seeing on the camera looked like the design isolation was the stronger choice here, but I didn’t let that fool me this time.  I spent a great deal of time working compositions that included the sky as well.  They didn’t look as good in the field, but I was gambling based on previous experience.

As it turned out, I was right on the money with my tactics here.  When I got the images into Lightroom, I found that the ones that included the sky had just a bit more visual interest and the sense of scale actually helped the image quite a bit.  The color rendition had some nice warm tones, but the sky became much too heavy of a negative space.  By converting it to black and white, I was able to adjust the tonal relationships much better and found an image that I really liked as a high contrast black and white image.  The shapes really looked great with the lighting and reflections.  Out of the roughly ten frames that I shot of this building, there was just one that really hit the mark that I had set for the scene.  I was quite happy with how it turned out.  I was also ready to see what I could do with the very monochromatic building to the right which was a very modern looking design.

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

I moved the camera to a position directly across from the building to eliminate as much perspective distortion as I could.  I knew that I was going to be going for a very symmetrical design here and was going to be concentrating on the open deck feature right in the crevice of the side.  The light was hitting it just right and I was seeing an excellent black and white image taking place here.  I left the camera set up like it had been and started finding the exact crop that I needed to make to get the overall feel that I wanted.  Depth was a very important part of this image and the lighting was helping with that quite substantially.  I started off with framing very tight, but that lost a lot of the depth from the angles.  I opened up the frame and started to include the flat sides which gave a visual anchor for the deck portion to jump out and the crevice to recede back into the frame.  I worked on how much visual weight needed to be assigned to each element of this until I found the perfect ratio of surfaces to work out for overall look that I was after.  It was primarily vertical and horizontal elements, but there were two windows that added just a slight touch of diagonal which helped give this building a face and attitude.  The only thing that I could think of here was Battlestar Galactica and the Cylons.

Another part of the scene that I was captivated by was the color temperature of the building.  I still had the camera set to sunny white balance which brought in the blues that the metallic surface was reflecting from the sky.  I hadn’t been overly worried about it because I was figuring that this would be a black and white image in the end.  However, I was really digging the industrial feel of the blues in the scene.  When I sent Toni a quick picture of the LCD he liked the idea but said that it needed to be warmer.  My response was that I was liking the blue, but it really wouldn’t matter when I was done with the edit.  However, I did switch the white balance over to shade which warmed the scene a great deal.  It actually did look very good on the LCD and the tones worked well, but it became a picture of a building and lost the soul of the scene that I was really excited about.

When I got home and imported the images into Lightroom, I looked at the difference between color temperatures and while they both were really good images in their own rights and would both convert to black and white very nicely, it was that industrial metal look in the cooler color tones that really spoke to me.  It was sci-fy without needing a single bit of editing.  Of course, I wasn’t going to let the image go without processing it since it was a RAW capture so I did a basic edit to the image and cleaned up a few issues like fire alarms and some surface imperfections.  I made sure that the tones of the image were just what I wanted and that was that.  It took me about five minutes to fully edit this image and in the end, it is my favorite from the day!

Down the Spiral“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

While I was on top of the deck I was looking for other subjects that might make good photographs and I happened to start looking at the exit to the deck.  This is one of the unique attributes to this particular deck as it has a spiral exit.  I have looked at this before in an attempt to photograph it, but I didn’t have the compositional background then that I do now and wasn’t able to figure out how to capture it.  This time, I knew that an isolation of the spiral was the only way to do it.  I still had the long lens on, and that was just what I was needing for this.  The biggest problem was camera position and how it related to the composition in general.  I could get a very simple composition without much fuss, but it wasn’t quite what I was wanting.  I tried vertical and horizontal framings and seemed to like the vertical ones the best.  That was the only way that I could give some visual tension to the image by working on the outer part of the spiral and using the center section as the anchor to the left.  The issue was I didn’t have a good framing for the outside of the image and the eyes tended to exit the frame too quickly.  I could see an alternative to that though, but it would mean including the left half of the spiral which gave me the opportunity to use one of the vertical supports as a visual frame on the left side.

I tried to get the camera in to position, but everything that I did caused the railing that I was shooting from to come into the frame in varying degrees as a blurred foreground.  I had to get the camera over the side of the railing to get this shot.  This is where things got freaky.  The heaviest combination that I have with my camera and lenses is the one that I was shooting with.  I was going to have to extend the tripod neck and transition it to a horizontal application to get the camera over the railing.  This, of course, puts the tripod way off center when it comes to weight balance unless the legs are splayed out.  I wasn’t able to do that though and still get the camera about a foot over the railing.  So, here I was with a heavy rig suspended by a friction clamp held on by a single screw.  It was tipping the tripod over, so I was having to brace the tripod to keep it from rocking over while using my other hand to get the camera in position to get the best composition I could.  All this time, knowing that the most expensive parts of my kit were suspended eight stories above the ground.  I was quite nervous about the whole thing and thus only got a single shot before letting good sense come back into my mind.  I pulled the rig off the ledge and then continued with other compositions.

Of course, it was that one very risky shot that really stood out to me and it captured the elements that I was after as far as visual balance, tension, and framing.  All that was left was figuring out how to present the image.  I had originally thought about doing this one in black and white so I went with that presentation to begin with in Lightroom.  It actually worked quite well and I was able to bring out more detail in the background buildings this way which I thought added a nice little element to the scene.  I was also able to really fine tune the contrasts of the scene to get the image that I was after.  In the end, I was quite happy with how it all turned out.

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

Of course, while my attention was on the exit, I started to look at other angles that could be worked with.  While standing at the top of the ramp I was seeing a very interesting sweeping line from the railing going off to the building that I had come up here to shoot originally. I knew that there was an image here, but wasn’t sure exactly what it was going to be.  I looked at the scene in different angles with different ideas behind the compositions.  I was realizing that the building wasn’t going to be of much interest with how I was going to have to shoot this one and I started to lose interest.  However, as I was pondering, I was seeing the reflections of the cityscape to my rear in the windows.  I grabbed my polarizer and looked through it while twisting.  The faint reflections started to take on a much heavier visual weight as I turned the polarizer. This was going to be my background interest for the image.  I just had to get the composition set.

To get the open composition that I was after, I swapped out my lens to my 24-70mm which allowed me to get rather wide without distorting the lines too much in the building that held the cityscape in the windows.  I worked on the perfect position to keep the visual weight of the exit ramp in proportion to the background.  The top of the frame was based on the sky in the reflections and I roughly disregarded the windows themselves.  In order to keep the top and bottom half from looking like two separate images, I concentrated on the rusty railing rather than the concrete ramp.  The color tones suited the background much better than the concrete and the hope was to have them both mesh together as an entire image.  It was a completely different type of image than I would normally create, but since I am still feeling my way through this genre of photography, I know there will be a good bit of experimentation along the way.  As far as experiments go, I think that this one was a success.

It was also the end of the road for compositions from the top of the parking deck.  I made one last walk around the top to see if I saw anything else of interest.  There wasn’t anything that caught my eye in the current light so I packed up the camera and headed back down to the bottom floor.  I was walking the streets of downtown Greensboro at this point just looking for something to photograph.  I saw several things that interested me, but nothing was working in the lighting that I was experiencing at this point. That is the problem with bright sunny days, the window for good light is very limited and I was pretty well past it at this point.  I started to look for shaded areas to see if there was anything there that I could work but wasn’t really seeing anything that caught my eye.  I kept getting closer back to where I was parked thinking that I was probably done for the day.  Not that it would have been a bad thing as I was looking at around 60 images at this point and I was pretty sure that I had a few that would be keepers from the day.

Downtown Decay“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, No Filters, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

I was actually back in view of my truck at this point and was ready to head home, but I saw an old building that has been unoccupied for some time that caught my eye.  There wasn’t anything overly impressive about it, but I did see lots of clues of decay so I decided to get a closer look.  There was some wonderful signs of neglect in this building which really captured my imagination.  I started to look for isolation compositions which would work to tell the story of the building.  The first thing that I saw was an old drain pipe that had a couple of angled couplings to it.  The weeds had grown up around a portion of it.  It was in the bright sun which really highlighted it, but what I was even more interested in was the background.  There was a window with bars in the middle of the deeply stained brick wall.  The bright sun was bouncing up from the ground and providing some great soft light on the ceiling detail which added another texture element to the scene.  There were lots of geometrical shapes to look at and it was all framed by this pipe that had a perfect diagonal line through the frame.  I pulled out my 24-70mm lens and mounted it to my camera.  I opted not to add any filters because there wasn’t anything in the scene that would have been affected by a polarizer, nor was there any motion that I wanted blurred.  It was going to be a very straightforward shot which I was able to create quickly.  I tried a couple of different compositions here, but I really liked the first one that I shot the best.

It was a quirky scene for me, but one that spoke to my heart.  I thought that it told part of the story of this building, but there was more story for it to tell.  In the same corner of the building there was a long breezeway that brought you to a closed door.  The decay was very evident here as was some of the thoughtful designs that went into the building of the structure.  The issue that I had with the scene was the balance of it all.  The door was actually close to the edge of the building and the roof only went to that edge.  There was a tree that had branches that encroached slightly into the space next to the door.  Looking at a composition I had a very hard time figuring this out.  For the door to be “properly” positioned, I was going to have to either include the tree to the right and the bright sky above which would have been an exposure nightmare, or I was going to have to eliminate much of the detail to the left that I loved about the building.  Neither option was a good option as I wanted to have the brickwork, the vines growing on the wall near the window, the mold on the ceiling, and the debris on the floor.  The door was the visual anchor with the company name on it.

Uncomfortable“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, No Filters, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

I fought with myself and the camera to figure this out.  What I ended up doing was getting inside the breezeway and going wide with my 24-70mm lens.  I was able to shoot past the encroaching branches on the right which would have been blurred while still keeping the brickwork on the left.  I didn’t have any sky to worry about either.  My only problem was the door was still too far over to the right of the frame.  The composition looked uncomfortable as they all had.  I wasn’t convinced that I would be using any of this group of images, but I had several to choose from in case I liked the compositions I had come up with.

It wasn’t until I got the images home and started to look at this on in particular that it struck me again the way it did in the field.  I liked what the composition was conveying in terms of the story.  I didn’t like where the door was though. It was uncomfortable to look at and there was just too much visual tension here.  On the other hand, it was the uncomfort that I felt looking at this that resonated with me the most.  The mold, vines, debris, and the rusty patina on the door itself were all very uncomfortable elements to look at when thinking about walking down that path.  The whole image was about being uncomfortable about being where you were, and continuing to the thought of where that door would lead.  The composition actually became part of the story with this one and it caused an emotional reaction that supported the visual elements.  At least that was how I saw this image now and it made sense to me.

Doing it as a black and white presentation allowed me much more flexibility with how to work all of the elements together.  It became all about tonal relationships and contrast through the image.  I used the light to direct the eyes through the scene and created a path for the eyes to follow.  This funnel became an image all about a single door that took up just a small fraction of the entire composition.  Will it be a successful image?  I have no idea.  Do I like it?  I do like it for how it makes me feel, but it is still an odd composition for me.  Do you like it?  I hope so.

I hope that you like a good many images from this trek.  I would have rather been out shooting landscapes, but honestly, I’m always happy after a day of shooting architectural subjects.  It is something new and something that stretches my skillset quite well.  I feel like I always become a better photographer after doing a session in a downtown setting.  It is refreshing for me to see different things with my eyes from time to time.  Don’t worry, I am not about to become a citified photographer.  No risk in that at all, but I do believe that there is beauty in everything that surrounds us…including man made buildings.

If any of these images speak to you, or for that matter if any image that you see here in the blogs jumps out at you, I would love to help match you up with a print of your choosing.  Just tell me the size and the title you are interested in through my gallery store, or by email at [email protected]  I can usually get prints out the next day and shipping is usually just a few days from that.  Then you will have your very own print to frame and hang on your wall to be enjoyed always.

Thanks for joining me on my little downtown walk through Greensboro.  Until next time….

EDIT:  There has been another new image added to the keepers from this trek. You can read about the new image here.
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