An Exercise in Frustration

· Reading Time: 15 minutes

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

I was walking around Old Salem in a slight mist and found that there were more orange barrels than orange trees which was odd for this time of year.  Normally, I would have a lot of color to choose from in the trees as this is one of the last places to change in the area.  It would seem that Old Salem was undergoing some updating and construction though which kind of killed the mood for me.  I was there, fighting for simple compositions and having to keep clear of the construction areas.  To make matters worse, the sky really wasn’t cooperating with me and it was causing me a great deal of difficulty.  Maybe I should just throw in the towel and go back home.  Nope, I didn’t want to do that.  I had been home all day watching it rain and rain.  I needed to get out and get back in my groove of landscape photography after a solid two days of working on a graduation photo session which pushed my creativity and forced me to really think outside of the box.  I needed to get my mind wrapped back around the photography that I truly enjoy doing.  I was going to stick it out until time to get Sierra from school!

So, how did this all get started?  Well, I had been looking at the weather and had seen that there were going to be clouds through the morning on Tuesday, but with those clouds came a lot of rain.  That rain was possibly going to change over to snow by the afternoon (that never happened).  I figured that with Toni at work and Sierra at school, I would have a great chance to go out and get some Fall colors close to home if the rain wasn’t too bad.  I just didn’t really know where I wanted to go.  I had thought about going to Salem Lake and doing some long exposures, but I was going to need a specific sky for that to work out.  I thought about going to Hanging Rock and working some of the waterfalls in preparation for my upcoming Winter Waterfall Workshop.  The rain overnight should help the waterfalls look pretty good.  I could always go on a rural road trip and look for scenes that I might want to capture.  In short, I had a lot of ideas, but nothing really concrete.  I was going to have to wait to see what the weather was going to do before I decided.

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

With morning came the rain that was forecasted.  Unfortunately, it was much heavier than I was expecting which was going to keep me inside.  Looking at the hourly, I was going to have a window of about two hours between when the rain chances dropped and when the sun would come out.  It wasn’t much, but it was something.  I was needing to get out and do some very slow photography after a day of working very fast with the camera to do a series of graduation photographs.  I had spent the following day processing the images and I was ready for some relaxation with the camera.  While I watched the rain fall through the office window, I was doing research on what might be my next camera system.  I was also considering what I might want to shoot should the rain let up.  I wanted to go out, but at the same time I was not very motivated for some reason.  That does seem to be a theme with me after a really big project.  I just don’t want to start something different right away, and it is always that first shot which is the hardest.  I knew I needed that first shot though, and I was looking at a cloudy day which I love working with.  I just needed the rain to stop.

When the rain actually did slow down to a drizzle, I knew I needed to be heading out because the window of shooting was only going to stay open for a little while before the sun came out and I needed to pick Sierra up from school.  The clouds weren’t good enough for Salem Lake, and I didn’t have the time needed to go to Hanging Rock and still get back in time for Sierra.  I could go out driving, but I really wanted something that I was familiar with and could work in the conditions.  Out of nowhere, I had the idea of Old Salem.  I hadn’t been there since the Spring and I remember usually having a great deal of luck there in the Fall.  There are a lot of colorful trees out there, and I already knew of some areas that I could get some decent compositions.  It made perfect sense, plus it was close by.  I grabbed my gear and made the 10 minute drive to the historic town.

The rain had all but stopped with just a very light mist in the air as I was walking from the parking area into the historic part of our city.  It wasn’t long before I noticed that one of the main roads was blocked and there was heavy equipment in the middle of the road.  There were orange barrels littered all over with caution tape in places.  I found a number of signs that gave notice that they were doing some updates and construction to the area.  This was not good at all.  The flow of the place had changed, and with that change went my ability to vibe with the area.  I wasn’t in tune with this Old Salem…the one under construction.  The noises and smells were all wrong.  There was too much activity, and it seemed that everything was much closer than I had remembered.  I was starting to have second thoughts about my choice, but decided to stick with it for a while to see what I could find.

I started out at the Gunsmith’s shop and went around to the back of it where I saw a nice colorful tree.  I could make out a composition here with the tree and the old shop, but the sky wasn’t going to be doing me any favors.  There was very little in the way of detail in the clouds, but there was just enough to give me hope that I could pull the detail out of them when I got home.  Looking at the scene, I decided that my standard lens would be the best choice as it would give me a very moderate wide angle which should work for the elements that I wanted to include.  Since it had been raining I wanted to remove the glare from the leaves on the ground which meant that I was going to need my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer.  With the camera built, I set about finding that perfect composition that included just the right amount of the tree balanced out with the shop.  It really didn’t take long to get the image framed and shot.  I only needed about five frames as I dialed in the composition to make sure I had what I wanted when I got it home.

I wasn’t feeling great about the image at the time because of all the distracting sounds and sights I was not prepared for.  I packed up the camera and set off on my way to find something else to try.  As I walked down the main strip by the college, there was more caution tape and barrels.  I was really having a hard time getting in sync with the area and that was going to work against me with the photographs that I was going to try and get.  I figured that I would go out to the cemetery for a little bit of quiet and hopefully some good images.  It was on the other side of the town so it took me a few minutes to walk over there.  When I got there, the trees were not as colorful as I had hoped and there was just nothing that grabbed my attention.  I turned around and decided I would try another area that I had shot before with success.  When I turned, I saw a steeple that caught my eye against the hazy and muted clouds.  The geometry of it was really nice, and I thought that I could get a good isolation of it.  I set my bag down and grabbed the camera with my telephoto lens attached to start putting a composition together.

Salem Steeple“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, No Filters

I got the composition set up and decided that I didn’t need any filters at all because the colors were coming through nicely in the overcast conditions.  The shot was very simple as a portrait shot using one of the window units as a complementing element to the steeple with the convergence of the two roof sections adding to the visual drama.  There was just a hint of texture to the sky, just enough to add that bit of visual interest to the scene.  I was shooting this with the intention of making it a monochrome image which would allow me to pull even more detail out of the sky.  However, when I got it into Lightroom I didn’t really like how it was looking in black and white.  There was just not enough contrast and tonal variation for me.  I initially trashed the image but came back to it later on and tried it as a color image.  It seemed to really work well as a color image so I committed to that processing and worked on it for a while until I was happy with it.  It isn’t the image that I had in mind, but I think that it does have merit and I’m glad I went back to it.

I was feeling a little better about the day at this point, but was still unsure of whether or not I had any images in the camera that were worth keeping.  This might just be one of those days when I shoot a handful of images that never see the light of day.  I have had a few of those over the years and they are tough learning experiences for me.  I was just not understanding why I was having such a hard time behind the camera.  I had clouds with a little bit of texture.  The lighting was good.  The season was right with a fair amount of color remaining.  Even with all of that, I was struggling.  Maybe it was the construction.  Maybe I needed to try something else.  Maybe I was just cold and unmotivated.  Whatever it was, Old Salem just wasn’t working out for me.  I worked my way back to the car looking for inspiration as I walked.  I found nothing else that excited me, so I just continued on to the car thinking about what I could shoot.

I noticed that the sky was starting to clear to the West.  The forecast had been right about how the clearing would happen.  It was going to happen quick based on the demarcation line in the clouds.  I thought about it briefly and realized that the sun would be uncovered soon, but the clouds would still be really thick to the East.  That was the recipe for magic light, and I knew just the place that would benefit from that.

About ten years ago, I had shot an old barn off of Hwy 158 during the sunset.  There was a nice tree in the field between the road and the barn which looked good in the composition.  I have always liked the design of the image that I shot, but my editing skills were lousy back then as I was just getting used to Photoshop.  It turned out fair, but I have always wanted to try it again.  I could have just done a fresh edit on the image that I shot, but since it was done with a Canon 40D, the file was a bit smaller than I wanted to invest time in.  I would much rather start from the beginning with a fresh image.  This was going to be my time.  It didn’t take me long to get out there, and I found the scene just as I was imagining it. I pulled the car off the road and grabbed my gear.

Sunshine on the Field“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, No Filters

The last time I had shot this image I had done so with a cropped frame camera and a telephoto lens.  I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to need my telephoto lens this time with a full frame camera, but that was what I started out with.  As it turned out, I found a good field of view with that lens, and with the conditions present I saw no need for any filters.  I just mounted the camera to the Acratech Ballhead and started to find my composition.  It was a balancing act to get the tree and the barn to compliment each other.  There was a lot of distance between the two and the tree was much bigger.  In fact, the tree was a great deal larger than it was 10 years ago.  I fiddled and fiddled with the composition until I found a location that worked for me.  I also found that I could include the whole tree, or just a section of it to change the visual weight of the barn in the image.

I started making exposures, but the light wasn’t great which kind of dampened my spirits once again.  it seemed that everywhere I went today, I was having a hard time coming up with images that I liked.  I kept plugging on with a change here and a change there to the compositions.  Then it happened….the clouds started to clear overhead allowing the sun to shine through.  When it first happened, it surprised me as I was looking at the histogram to set the exposure and all of a sudden it shifted violently to the right indicating that I was overexposed.  I adjust the shutter quickly to adapt to the new light and started making exposures.  I shifted the focus point to make sure that I had a nice sharp image through and through.  I worked a couple of different variations on the composition while the sun changed its intensity.  I probably cranked off 20 frames while the sun was lighting the tree and field.  I was pretty sure that I had an image or two that would work by the time I was finished with this scene.  The clouds had been incredible, and the warm sunlight had done just what I needed it to do.  I was finally happy about one of my images from the day, and it was about time!

I got back in the car and started off to find something else to shoot in the last hour before I needed to pick up Sierra.  I was finally getting in the groove and I wasn’t done shooting just yet.  However, I was having a very hard time finding something to put in front of the camera.  The clouds were all clearing off quickly now and the sun was shining very bright.  I was still looking though, and I had time to get one more image if I could find it.

Just as I was about to give up, I passed by an intersection I had been through so many times over the years.  There was something different about it this time though.  Right beside a small house was an old Chevy truck.  Hmmm, that was new.  It was also just my kind of vehicle with the patina.  I pulled off into a parking lot and grabbed my camera.  As I was crossing the road I could see that there were Christmas lights draped all over the truck.  This was obviously a seasonal decoration that they had rolled out to the house.  I almost turned back to the car, but figured that those Christmas lights could possibly be telling a story.  About the time I had made peace with the lights, I saw the jack-o-lantern on the front porch.  Oh my, this was a seasonal faux pas if I ever did see one.  However, I just saw the story get much more interesting.   I had to shoot this redneck holiday mixer because…well…it is the norm in my neck of the woods.

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

Since I was having to shoot from the road, I went ahead and mounted my telephoto lens once again and added a polarizer since the sun was causing a good bit of glare on the roof and the truck.  I kept the tripod low since I was on a little bit of a ridge and was shooting under a tree.  The composition was pretty straightforward with the truck and the house.  The exposure was not very easy with the truck sitting against the side of the house that was being hit directly by the sun.  The siding was very bright and there was no way to control that brightness with any filters.  I just had to pay very close attention to the histogram, knowing that I would be pulling a lot of the exposure back as well as boosting the shadows a fair amount.  It was not an idea situation, but I loved the story that I was seeing here especially with the primarily green trees.  There are just more questions than answers here which is a recipe for a great image in my book.

I didn’t spend much time on this one for a couple of reasons.  First, I needed to get back on the road to pick up Sierra and second, there wasn’t much in the way of alternative compositions to be had with this scene.  I was pretty satisfied that I had all I was going to need from here.  I had shot a total of 51 frames in the last three hours or so.  There were four scenes represented in those 51 frames, and I was hoping to get one image from each one of the scenes, but I figured that was going to be a bit optimistic.

In fact, when I started to process the images, I immediately disliked everything from Old Salem.  I wasn’t all that happy with the barn and tree either.  Figuring that I had just shot a bunch of trash, I started to play around with the barn image and started to really like how it was coming out.  After about a half hour or so, I was feeling better about that image and started to rework the ones from Old Salem.  It took me a while to get back in the groove of editing these images I suppose after going through 38 graduation pictures.  About three hours after I had started the editing process, I had four images that I was happy with from the day.  It was much better than I had expected during the day with all of the creative issues that I had. It was a very difficult and frustrating day, but in the end I made it work out.

Thanks for joining me on my little afternoon adventure.  If any of these images speak to you, I would love to match you up with a print of your very own.  Just let me know.

Until next time…
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