Saturday, April 17, 2021
It is now 12:09am on Sunday morning. I left around 10am yesterday on a trek that spanned three counties and lasted about seven and a half hours. Once I got home, Toni had dinner ready for me and then I started editing the images from the day. There were 97 total frames captured and I ended up with seven keepers out of the bunch. I’m saying all of this now because I want you to understand why I might doze off during the typing of this entry. There might be some really weird typos, or just missing words as well. Please bare with me, I’m a little sleepy, but I want to get this out as soon as possible so it will be available to read when normal folks are awake on Sunday morning.
With that out of the way, I wasn’t quite sure what this day was going to hold. The cloud forecast called for some high clouds starting the day out which would then transition to mid level clouds around 10am or so. Those are the clouds that I really like as they offer a great deal of flexibility for my photography. My plan was to wait to make sure that the texture was going to show up like I was wanting and then I was going to head out to Alexander County for a return visit. The motivation was simple and you might recall the reason from my last trek into Taylorsville. I had found a great little location with an old bus as well as several tractors sitting out behind of a house. After stopping two times during that trek and knocking on the door I hadn’t been able to make contact with anyone. I was hoping that with it being a weekend I would have better luck and that was my first target of the day.
When 10am happened, I was already looking outside at the sky. The clouds were starting to develop a little bit of texture which was promising and showed that the weather forecast was actually kind of accurate for a change. I grabbed my gear and started to head out towards Taylorsville. It wasn’t too far away and I found myself at the house pretty quickly. The same van and truck were in the driveway, but one of the tractors had been moved from the fence. That was a shame because that was one of the compositions that I had planned for this location. I got out of the truck and crossed my fingers as I approached the door.
I gave a quick knock and listened for noises inside. I heard nothing, but just in case I lingered there for a moment…………………………………………..
Oh, sorry about that, I dozed off while I was waiting for an answer. The door never did open and I was walking back to the truck as I had twice before. This is the way it goes sometimes. I find really good subjects but I can’t get in contact with anyone at the residence. I’ll probably try once more before starting to talk to neighbors to see if anyone actually lives there. At any rate, I now had no real good idea of where to go since that was my whole reason for coming down into Alexander County. I knew that I had barely scratched the surface of potential photography subjects so I continued to head further into town. I was actually heading towards the Esso Station that I had photographed recently and was going to use that as a springboard for places to go. I was in my element…driving around lost.
One of the areas that I found myself in had a house that looked promising. It was situated beside some really cool bare trees as well as a smaller tree that was cloaked in fresh Spring leaves. It wasn’t exactly a perfect scene, but there was some uniqueness to it. The house was obviously in a state of disrepair, but there was new roofing being installed it looked like. It fit my criteria for decay as well as rural photography so I decided to give it a shot or two to see if I could get the cobwebs blown out of my head. I was a good ways from the house there on the shoulder of the road. I didn’t feel comfortable going in any closer as the field was in full view of several houses. What I was wanting to capture could be done from the road so I wouldn’t attract any uncomfortable attention from the neighbors and wouldn’t have to explain myself or ask for permission. I just grabbed my long lens which was going to be just fine for this scene. I added my polarizer to take some of the glare out of the fabric on the roof.
The clouds were slightly textured above the house but I wasn’t really sure how they would turn out in a photograph. I looked at the histogram and realized that I had plenty of exposure latitude in the camera and there was no need to add any grad filters to try and recover detail in the sky. It should actually all work out pretty well as it was. The question was if there was enough definition in the sky to pull out some visual interest up there.
I played around with a few different compositions and worked to find the best balance between the trees and the house. I isolated the house and one of the trees, cropped out the left side of the house and concentrated on the trees to the right, and I even centered the house between a tree on either side. None of the compositions felt great to me unfortunately. It seemed that the best compositions had the house roughly centered in the frame which was just a little too relaxed for what I wanted here. Before I gave up the sky opened up just above the house and gave me a bit more visual interest on the left side of the trees which added to the balance as well as the visual tension of the image. This was the one that I went with. It is not one of my best, but I do love the trees on the right and the subtle sky above. It was a great way to get started with the day. That first image is always the hardest to get, and after that they seem to come easier. At least most of the time.
With that first image in the bag, I packed up my gear and got back in the truck destined for the unknown. I started to turn down side streets and dead end streets. One of them I found was the continuation of one of the main roads, but it showed to be a dead end after the intersection. There wasn’t much down this road and I decided that I was going to get turned around to find something better. I saw the parking lot of a commercial building just around the bend that would make a great place to turn around. As I turned into the lot my eyes locked on a Chrysler that was sitting there nosed up to the building. It was a ’60’s model car and had a very interesting patina to it. The paint looked to have been yellow at some point and the rust was starting to shine through. The chrome was there and in decent condition, but the location was less that ideal. I pondered it for a moment and decided to get out of the truck and look at the angles available to me.
As I was walking around, I really saw nothing that excited me about the location and I was about to pass on this one. It was that bird hood ornament that caught my attention. I had shot one of these before a few years ago and had gone down low to get it which worked out very well. I had been wishing that I had angled the camera so that the windshield wasn’t included though and I figured that this was my chance to give that composition a second try. I turned off the truck and grabbed my camera with a 24-70mm lens along with the polarizer.
I got the camera mounted to my tripod and worked on finding the right angle to get just the bird over the leading edge of the hood without the windshield or roofline coming into the frame. It wasn’t as difficult as I expected and I managed to get the wing tips just barely touching the hood which I thought was a nice touch. The composition seemed to come together almost by itself as there really wasn’t much I could do to tweak anything. I did try different crops like a 1:1 and a 16:9 which both looked good. I actually thought that the square crop was going to be the way to go, but I decided to go with a 4:5 crop in the final to accentuate the wings a bit more.
Just in case that the first composition didn’t work out I went with another variation on the theme and shot from a bit higher. My next composition was still directly in front of the car for a symmetrical framing of the ornament, but I didn’t really like that all that much. I stepped off to the side to concentrate more on the rusty section just to the left of the bird. This worked out better and I played around with the composition here for a bit to find what I liked the best. I also played around with the depth of field here as well. I could have gotten it all in focus, but I decided that a limited depth of field would be a bit more effective for this one. Like a portrait, I wanted the attention on the face and eyes of the bird. The rest of the image I allowed to go soft.
When I was satisfied with that series of images, I started to look for other isolations that I could shoot on this car. The chrome was mostly there which was great for doing isolations, but the color of the car was almost too uniform and I didn’t find anything else that I was interested in shooting. However, I was still looking at the overall car for a shot. It wasn’t going to be an easy task to get an overall image of this car, but I was starting to see a way to get it done. The only direction that it would work was from the passenger side. As it happens, I had parked the truck on the driver’s side of the car slightly to the rear. In my defense, I wasn’t really planning on doing an overall image of the car and there was other objects that I didn’t want included beyond my truck. I could have moved it, but I would have been in the same situation with the other elements so I decided to deal with the scene as it was presented to me.
I got down really low so that the car blocked my truck and then started to work my way right and left to camouflage the other elements that I didn’t want in the final image. It was a bunch of compromises for a single image, but in the end I had an image that I could deal with. I think I shot about a half dozen variations with different focal lengths and positioning. This was the best of the bunch, but I almost didn’t run it through the editing process because it looked a little bland to me. Before I tossed the image though, I started to play around with it a little bit in Lightroom. My favorite aspect of the image was the contrast between the color of the car and the color of the clouds above. That was the part that I chose to concentrate on through the process. I wanted that orangey yellow to really pop under the moody sky. That was my main focus of the image and where I wanted the final image to concentrate on. I have to say that I am pretty happy with it, but wish I could have rotated to the left a little bit more so that the hood ornament would have been in the dip of the trees. Unfortunately, had I done that I would have exposed a power pole which would have come out of the roof of the car. I could have cloned that out I suppose, but I was already dreading the power lines that I was going to have to deal with so I opted for a simpler approach to the composition. I think that it is a successful image that concentrates on those two primary colors that I wanted.
I had actually spent about 30 minutes here which wasn’t too bad considering I had some serious doubts about how I was going to shoot this car. I had worked several different concepts with this car and figured that I would have two images from it which was very satisfactory for me. It was time to get back on the road and find something else to work with. I still had some creative energy left in my eyes and I was ready to find a subject that I was really excited about.
Well, that next subject took a while to materialize. I found myself driving all over the place and eventually transitioned into Caldwell County. Yeah, I was going all over in my explorations. I still wasn’t finding anything to put in front of the camera, but it wasn’t for lack of potential. There was lots of great subjects that I saw, but there were no compositions to be had. Nothing was looking ready for a photograph no matter how good the subject was. I kept driving with high hopes of finding that really special scene eventually. As I worked around the area I came upon a barn off on the side of the road next to a tree that caught my eye. It wasn’t a wood sided barn which was a shame and kind of turned me off initially. However, when I got turned around to give it a second look I decided that it had a classic shape and the tree that was just blooming helped to really complete the story. There wasn’t enough shoulder to pull off on, and I didn’t want to block the driveway so I went down to the intersection where there was a bit wider shoulder to pull over onto.
I grabbed my bag and tripod because I had no idea what I was going to need to photograph this barn. I was more or less working in auto pilot at this point. My gut was saying this wasn’t going to work and the barn wasn’t interesting enough. I was also not going to be able to get close enough to get any details with the barn. I had all of these negative thoughts going through my head which really started to bum me out. The short walk back to the barn gave me plenty of time to talk myself out of the photograph, but I still went through with it and got into position where I had originally thought about setting up. It was going to be shooting over the fence and through the field looking at the back side of the barn. I didn’t like it, not at all. I didn’t even pull the camera out. I had talked myself out of the picture. It was just too boring and there was no visual interest to the scene. I started the walk back to the truck.
As I passed the driveway I looked down the gravel stretch and saw the potential for a leading line to add depth to the image. It could work here and I could almost see the front of the barn from here. I pulled out the 24-70mm lens and added a polarizer. I started to frame up some shots and worked out some different compositions. Sadly, I didn’t care for any of them as the angle on the barn was too close to flat on the side which gave no visual drama to the scene. The driveway gave the depth I wanted, but there was no prize at the end of that line. I was about to pack things up, but realized that nobody was coming to bother me. The house across the street looked empty and there were no signs saying that I couldn’t be here. It appeared as though the barn was no longer really used and there were not gates in place along the driveway. I weighed my options and determined that if I stayed on the driveway I would be fine and respectful of the property so I started walking down the driveway. When I got to the end of it the fence ended and a great view opened up of the barn.
I started to frame up compositions and found out that my current lens wasn’t going to work here at all. I swapped out for my 16-35mm lens which I was very happy I had with me. I don’t normally use that lens for this type of photography, but for the distance I was working with and the composition I was after it was the right choice. I started to figure out how I wanted to incorporate the corner of the fence as a foreground interest. The height of the fence was important for the balance of the composition and I wanted to make sure that the visual weight wasn’t too off from what the barn was calling for. I tried some compositions without the fence as well, but in the end it was the fence that I thought pulled the scene together the best.
I had been here for about 30 minutes at this point and hadn’t been bothered. Not wanting to press my luck, I packed up my gear and started walking back to the truck. I was feeling pretty good about the day at this point and was ready to head back to the house. I had shot three different scenes and that was pretty good for an afternoon out in the country. I got things loaded back in the back of the 4Runner and hopped in the driver’s seat. Not knowing where I was, I keyed in my destination in the GPS to take me home. There were a couple of different routes I could choose from. The fastest one was back the way I had just come from, and there was one that a bit longer that took me a way that I had not been before. Of course, that was the way that I decided to go.
I kept my eyes peeled for any other subjects that needed to be photographed along the way which was the reason for the long way home. I wasn’t really finding anything at all. Eventually I found myself on 18 from Lenoir which I was familiar with. I knew how to get home from here and I knew that I was going to be going by the Kerr Scott Dam off of 268 and that got my mind working. I had been out there before, but hadn’t shot it that day. The sky was looking really good today and I thought that I might be able to do something with it this time. I continued North thinking about what I was going to do with the scene as I remembered it. As I was thinking about it, I found myself going through Boomer where I had been back in January and I was passing the same building that I had photographed back then. There was a huge difference this time when I looked at it. The tree that I had been so enthralled with back then was resplendent in Spring colors. The colors were great by themselves, but when paired with the blue sky above it really made for a nice scene. I got turned around and pulled back into the driveway for the building.
I knew I was going to do something with this scene so I got out and opened the hatch. I went ahead and fitted my 16-35mm lens so that I could get in close and capture the tree in a prominent way. I didn’t fit any filters because I wasn’t exactly sure what the needs of the scene would be. I started looking at the compositions and playing with my positioning until I was happy with how things were coming together. There was a large chunk of blue sky between the clouds and since I was shooting a wide angle shot I didn’t feel that it would be a good idea to use a polarizer because of banding in the sky. Looking at the exposure in the histogram, there was no sense in adding a grad filter either. In fact, everything was looking very good for the shot right now so I went ahead and made the exposure. I tried a few other variations as the sky changed but it was one of the first ones that won out. The clouds were coming back in and the muted sky didn’t look as good with the pink tree as it did with the blue sky.
I didn’t stay here long at all before I was happy with what I had. I guess it helps knowing the compositions that are possible at a place. I had already spent some time considering the various compositions here so I didn’t have to waste too much time going through those motions. I just threw the gear back in the truck and I was off once again. I was getting close to 268 and that meant I was going to be at the dam before too much longer. I was actually getting excited about the possibilities that were ahead of me at this location. The last time I was here it was very overcast with a light fog. The scene really wasn’t all that great then, but there was a few aspects of it that I found very exciting and I wanted to capture those under this interesting sky.
I drove through the park and made it to the dam. I was looking off to the left as I was crossing over it and decided that this was going to be the way to shoot it. I had a lot of depth to the scene and the sky was looking really good overhead. I had to get to the other side in order to turn around. No sense in walking further than I had to so I was going to park on the other side of the dam. Once I did, I grabbed my gear and walked back to the section that I had seen which was the most presentable. I was a little disappointed to see two folks fishing down at the bottom of the hill that I was setting up on. Fortunately, they were going to be small enough I could clone them out. The other thing that I wasn’t happy with was the barrier that was set up from one side to the other. These red floating cans didn’t quite go with the composition and formed a visual barrier for me going into the scene. I was figuring that I would be cloning those out as well. That was, if I could. It was not going to be an easy job at all.
What I needed to figure out was which one of my ideas was going to be the best one for this composition. The breeze was up pretty good causing the water to have a good deal of high frequency textures on the surface which I didn’t really care for. One of my ideas was going to be a long exposure which would smooth the water out a good deal. I figured that would be the solution, but I started off framing up the composition with my 16-35mm lens. It was the best lens for the job and allowed me the ability to capture a very wide swath of the lake with the control tower included as a foreground element. Even though I was shooting into the sun, I added a polarizer to pull some of the glare out of the water. It was subtle, but did improve the image a great deal.
From there I looked at the exposure and found that the sky was a little bright, but not by much. A 2-stop soft edge ND grad was the answer there and it evened out the composition quite well. Now I had my baseline exposure and it was time to start working with the ND filter because I was going to need more than 3 seconds of exposure. I started with my 5-stop filter, but that only gave me about 30 seconds of exposure which wasn’t quite enough to get the effect I was after. I swapped that out with my 10-stop and found that I had 2:30 worth of exposure. I started to make images like that one after another as the sky changed.
I also fine tuned the composition as I went. After about an hour of standing there making images, the couple that were fishing at the bank packed up and left. That was great because I was getting things dialed in now and the sky was looking really good. I had shaved the exposure down to a minute an a half which seemed to be the best balance for keeping detail in the sky while smoothing the water out. I fired off a few more of those exposures before deciding that I had plenty to work with. I was getting hungry and tired, not to mention that staring at all of this water was giving my bladder ideas. I got things all packed up and made the quick walk back to the truck. The day was finished….at least the field part of it.
I do hope that you enjoyed this trek and the images. It is now 1:50am on Sunday morning and I’m still awake. Don’t forget that I have my Spring Decay Workshop coming next Saturday and there are still slots left. If rusted cars aren’t your thing, I also have a Spring Landscape Workshop coming up in May at Doughton Park and there are spots left for that one as well. I hope to see you at one of these as they are both very good workshops and I’ve always had positive feedback from both of them.
Until next time…