Sunday, November 8, 2020
I am still in the process of learning my way around the area where we live and I had the opportunity to ride around a week or so ago with my friend and neighbor as he showed me some of the interesting areas of Wilkes County. With the tour came some insights into what I was looking at which really was the fun part. I had already created some photographs based on that tour with the last trek that I went on late last week. There was another location that I was really wanting to capture, but hadn’t really figured out how I wanted to photograph it exactly. I had seen the building before in my own travels, but now I had a little back story about this odd little two story cubed building. It was an old gas station with an ice house on the top floor. There were chutes that the ice would slide down from that top floor. The gas pumps down at the bottom were the old gravity fed units where you would pump the fuel into the clear globe and then let it drain into your car. Of course, having that back story of the building gave me a lot more context to the design and it captured my imagination.
I just was having a very hard time figuring out just how I wanted to capture this building. It was not in a location where I could really isolate it from the surrounding scenery so I was going to have to embrace the background of North Wilkesboro. There were also power lines stretching all around the building which I might try to clone out. The lighting was going to be the most critical part here though as it was just a plain brick building that looked kind of average in average light. It was not the wooden structure that I love to photograph which easily shows its age. Oh no, this was brick and was still in pretty good shape so it was hard to necessarily sell this as a decay subject. To make this interesting and to tell a story, I was going to have to have compelling light on it.
As I was looking at the weather, it appeared that the forecast was calling for a very rainy week ahead and it was starting sometime in the evening on Monday. I was running out of good days to get out with the camera so I was particularly interested in the morning forecast for Sunday which was showing some nice low level clouds which would hang around until about 10am or so. These clouds were not going to be good for sunrise color, but they were going to be really good for texture and interest in the sky. I knew that in order to minimize the background of the downtown, I was going to need to get in close to the building and shoot it with a wide angle lens and capture a lot of the sky above. I was thinking that the sky I was needing was happening during the morning.
With that hope in mind, I decided to get up around 5:30 to beat the sun. I got up and headed out to North Wilkesboro once again, much like I did Friday morning. The sky wasn’t nearly as pretty as it was a couple of days ago because the clouds were so low. I was seeing lots of very interesting clouds though and I was anxious to see if I could make an image of the old ice house. When I got there the light was just starting to build across the landscape which was just perfect for me. I wanted to have a little bit of light on the building, but was planning on watching it throughout sunrise to see what happened with the clouds and the light. I pulled off in the parking lot well out of the way since I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to shoot this building and I didn’t want my truck in the frame.
I took a quick look around and decided that looking to the Northwest was going to be my best bet for an image. By shooting from this direction, I was getting a background that was a bit further away, although there was much more to the background in this direction. I was going to be getting the power lines and the power pole which I didn’t care for. The tradeoff was very much worth it though. From this angle I was able to get a bit of landscaping to the rear of the building that housed a basin as well as an antenna that just reminded me of a 13″ B&W television with bad reception. That antenna was going to be a very important part of this composition because it helped to set the time of this scene. This angle was also going to work well with my intended wide angle composition as there was plenty of interest in the pavement of the parking lot right in front of where I was going to be setting up. I had my basic composition in mind at this point and it was time to pull out the camera.
I fitted my 16-35mm lens on the body and mounted it to my tripod and plugged in the remote release as I am trying to get back in the habit of using that with this new camera. From here I worked my way around until I had the separation that I wanted between elements like the fence in the background, the basin, the traffic lights, and a few of the trees in the background. I made sure that the elevation of the camera worked for the antenna and the roof of the building. To really pull the perspective into view, I made sure that the antenna was a bit higher than the roof for balance. I was now ready to start making exposures so I got the camera turned on and set the exposure to where I was happy. It was still mostly dark so I actually underexposed the image slightly to convey the existing lighting. There was no need for any filters here as there was plenty of contrast in the sky and the lighting was very even with the rising sun over my shoulder to the right.
As the sun came up I would shift position here and there to adapt to the lighting that was in place as well as the clouds overhead. I shot a bunch of images over about 45 minutes or so. I just wanted to make sure that I had the best light for this scene and I wasn’t sure exactly when that would happen. As it turned out, the best light was early on before the sun actually broke the horizon. The low clouds were catching some of the color, although I wouldn’t consider it classic sunrise colors by any stretch. That color was being reflected down to the ground level and giving the whole scene a beautiful magenta cast which I found to be quite magical when mixed in with the earth tones of the building. The red roof just glowed in this light and I knew that I had something special with this. I had shot nearly 40 frames of this building before I decided it was time to pack it in, but I was certain that I had one image that was going to be a keeper.
After getting done with the ice house, I was still wanting to capture something else. I knew that I only had a single photograph from the location since I had only shot one composition and had already decided that I was only going to keep the best one out of the batch. I wanted a second image for the morning so I continued to retrace the steps that we had gone in on the tour which took me out towards Alexander County down Hwy 18. I had spotted an old house sitting on the side of the highway as we were coming back into town and I thought that there might be a possibility for a photo there if the sun wasn’t too harsh. It took me a little bit to find and it was further South than I had thought which gave the sun ample time to climb higher in the sky. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make an image here or not.
When I finally found it, I pulled off on the side of the road and grabbed my camera really quick because the light was just about gone. I decided for the sake of flexibility I would use my 24-70mm lens which would give me the ability to go moderately wide, or I could go telephoto if needed. What I loved about this scene was the old house which was in shambles by any definition. It certainly fit my “decay” criteria, but that was not all there was to this scene. There were three trees that seemed to frame this house that I wanted to include in the image as well. That might be easier said than done though because there was a power pole just to the left of the shorter tree to the left. Unlike the icehouse where the power lines actually fit the scene and I decided to keep them, this was going to be something just at the edge of the frame which didn’t make me happy at all. If it was included I was going to have to clone it out. The fact that there were branches crossing over it was going to make that very difficult to do convincingly. My best bet was to frame the image with the power pole out of the frame.
I worked my way into the scene shooting from telephoto to eventually 24mm to see what I liked the best. I started out with no filters at all as the scene was evenly lit for the most part. I was getting this great warm glow on the face of the house and even the trees from the low sun to the East. Within just a few minutes though, the sun had come up high enough to cause the sky to blow out in the upper right corner. In order to expose correctly for that sky, I was having to underexpose the house too much which was causing the shadowed portion of it to go too deep into the dark and lose the details that I wanted to keep. I ran back to the truck and grabbed my filter holder as well as my Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 3-stop ND Grad filter which I slid in. I had used a soft edge filter so that it would gradually transition to the darkening effect right where it was needed the most. This helped the exposure quite a bit and I was on a roll now.
I kept moving in and eventually started to lose detail in the sky because the sun was washing everything out. To combat that, I ran back to the truck and grabbed my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer which I screwed on and used to give a little of the contrast back to the sky. I had the right combination of filters, but I was having a very hard time keeping that power pole out of the composition as I moved in closer and got a wider focal length. I was going to use the perspective distortion on the house to my advantage and correct that in Lightroom to straighten out the cabin which would force the “T” of the pole out of the frame well enough. It was a good plan and I really thought that I was going to have my keeper from this later set of images.
Well, that wasn’t the case at all. The lighting had gotten too harsh, and had lost the warm look by this point. The image that I ended up keeping and processing was one of the middle images that I shot with just the grad filter. I had just enough interest in the sky and the warm sunlight was just right on the face of the house. The side in total shadow still had plenty of detail to it and you could easily see the fact that the roof was partially missing. An added benefit was that there was no perspective distortion here to correct for and the edit went very smoothly for this one. With the sun climbing so quickly, I didn’t stay here long at all, maybe 15 minutes. During that time I got about a dozen images which wasn’t too bad at all.
I now had two images in the bag at this point and I was feeling pretty good about the morning. I wasn’t quite ready to call it a day though and was still searching out something else to shoot. The light was not all that great and the clouds were clearing up as they were supposed to do. I did see some clouds in the distance to the North and started heading that way which brought me back through Wilkesboro. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to shoot but I stopped here and there to check on ideas that I have had before. Nothing was looking that great in this light so I just kept on going North chasing the clouds. I did recall seeing a barn on the side of Hwy 18 which I had stopped to shoot a few weeks back without success. This barn is situated on the side of the road down an embankment on the other side of a weed covered fence. There is a large power pole sitting at about the best angle to shoot from with supporting wires coming down even deeper into the composition. There were also two other buildings visible to the rear of the barn which were nearly impossible to compose around. I hadn’t even pulled the camera out last time because of all the negatives associated with this composition. Today was a bit different though. I was feeling confident in my ability to make a good image out of less than ideal circumstances and I was wanting to give this barn a try finally.
It wasn’t long before I found it and got turned around to pull off the road. Oh…and I remember another one of the negatives of this barn at this point. The side of the road was littered with small airline liquor bottles so I was really hoping that my tires would manage well for a second time on this shoulder. I didn’t even get out to look at the available compositions this time because I was certain I was going to make something work here this time. Plus, the sky was actually looking good overhead and the light was flattering to the scene. I grabbed my 24-70mm lens which would give me the reach that I needed and allow me to include a bit more of the sky and surrounding elements than my telephoto lens. Knowing that the sun was to my right side and I was shooting roughly Northwest, I screwed on my Color Combo Polarizer to add a bit of contrast to the sky and to saturate the tin roof a bit more. I mounted it all to the tripod and set off to get the camera aimed right through the gap between the support cables and the power pole.
I found the composition that I wanted and started to make exposures. The lighting was good, the clouds were good, and I really liked the basic composition with the exception of one very large detail. I was shooting nearly square on the side of the barn and it lacked the presence that I wanted. That was the compromise that I had to deal with for this scene to keep the background buildings out of the frame. My thought here was that it just wasn’t worth losing the visual drama of the composition just for the sake of cleaning up the background. I wanted that drama back and the only way to do that was to move to the left about 75 feet.
From here, I was definitely going to get the small house and the commercial building in the background. However, I now had the face of the barn fully visible which I liked. I found that the composition worked quite well from this angle as I was able to use a round tree to the left to frame the image, while a distant red tree was falling just at the lower left third intersection. It balanced with the rusty roof as well as the red tree that was now just behind the barn. I fine tuned the composition so that the barn and the house had separation as the brick commercial building in the middle of them wasn’t as visually distracting. I cropped the image just inside of the support cable which allowed me to include the double window of the house which gave it a sense of place and purpose without being too distracting.
It was this composition that I stuck with the longest as the clouds moved around. The exposure stayed very even throughout so there was no need for any additional filters and I just kept making exposures as the clouds would land in different places. The image that I ended up keeping was one that I shot towards the end of the session. I ended up doing a 16:10 crop of the scene which effectively eliminated just a tad of the support cable, but more importantly gave a bit more visual balance to the scene which I found very important. Considering how I had left this barn the last time, I was very proud of the image that I managed to capture of it this time. I don’t like it when compositions beat me and I will often return to figure out just how to make it work. That was just what I did here.
It was getting late in the morning and the clouds were fading fast which meant that the harsh sun was going to be causing harsh light. I had three images in the bag with 88 frames captured between the three compositions. I was satisfied with that and happy to head home confident that I had some decent images from the day.
I do hope that you enjoyed the trek as well as the images. These are part of what I am thinking is a different approach to a scene for me. I am finding myself committing more and more to a subject and working it much harder than I have previously. I’m committing to compositions more and waiting on the light to be right while really fine tuning the positioning of the elements. I’m no longer doing vastly different compositions with isolations mixed in. I am just really wanting to get the best image possible for the scene and I’m deciding that compositional theme early on in the shoot. If any of these images speak to you, please consider purchasing a print as the income from these print sales make it possible for me to create more and more of the images that you are enjoying. If you would like to learn more about how to make these images, consider joining me for a workshop, or individual instruction session. I love teaching how I do photography, and I really enjoy inspiring others in their own craft.
Until next time…