Back Roads and Decay Gold

· Reading Time: 26 minutes

Friday, December 27, 2019

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

With Christmas behind us, it is time to get back to work creating images.  This might be my last trek of the year as we are down to just the last few days.  I had a couple of things in mind for this trek and had just been waiting on a day with decent cloud cover in the sky.  As I was winding down on Thursday evening and checking the weather I saw that there was going to be a high percentage of high clouds over the area to the West and to the South of me.  That was going to be perfect for me to go back out to East Bend where I had spotted some really nice old cars in a yard and then head down towards Mocksville where I had seen an old 40’s sedan sitting out in the yard about a month or so ago.  Between those two locations, I would also have several other areas which have proven to be target rich environments from which to choose from.

My goal was to get up really early and get started before the sun came up, but that didn’t quite materialize as I had hoped.  I was able to get out just after first light with the hopes of getting out to my location while the sun was still quite low in the sky.  I set my course towards the area of East Bend and started playing with compositional ideas in my head from the brief look I got at these cars while I was driving through.  That would turn out to be wasted time as when I got there, I started to look critically at the scene.  The way the sun was hitting the Impala made the shot that I wanted impossible.  Going to the other side of the car, there was a bunch of junk leaned up on it.  There were a couple of other cars out there that there was no way to get a clean shot of.  I considered knocking on the door a little later in the day and seeing if I could get onto the property for some different angles, but I really wasn’t seeing anything that was workable from any angle.  After a few minutes I resigned myself to the fact that this location was not going to work out.  I set my way further down the road and started to look for old barns or maybe some other old cars.

I found a barn off to the side as I was passing that might have worked, and while I was considering it, I saw another one down below a grave yard.  There was a slight driveway going to the graveyard, so I pulled down in there and parked.  That would get me reasonably close to the barn and I hoped close enough to get a picture or two of it.  I grabbed my gear and got into position.  The barn was still very much in the shadows, but I could see that the sun was coming up over my shoulder and that would mean that it would get hit with the morning sun before too long.  Looking at the scene, I was thinking that I would be shooting it at 50mm, so I picked out my 24-70mm lens and got that mounted to the camera.  I wasn’t sure on the polarizer’s use for this angle, but I pulled out my Singh-Ray Color Combo and looked through it to see what the effect was.  I could see just an ever so slight deepening of the blue in the sky, but more importantly, the roof on the barn darkened a little bit and the saturation increased with the rust.  It was subtle, but enough to warrant me screwing that filter on.

I started to work out my compositions and I fine tuned what I was liking about the scene while the light was still getting better.  I did start out shooting right at 50mm which was nice, but I wanted more emphasis on the barn and wanted to change the positioning of some key elements which meant going in closer and shooting wider.  By the time I found the sweet spot for the barn, I was shooting at 38mm which was perfect for this scene.  I had to be careful with the composition since there was a bright white trailer in the barn that if I had moved just a millimeter to the right you would have seen in the main opening.  That was a shame because I really wanted an angle further to the right, but I wasn’t comfortable with cloning the trailer out, and there was really no good way to include it in the darkest part of the barn.  I did like the complimenting tree that was slowly getting silhouetted from the sun kissed trees in the background and the small little barn to the right.  That provided a great little visual balance for the composition and it made the image pull together from this shallow side angle on the main barn.  The frost on the ground contrasted nicely with the mud from the driveway which I also enjoyed.

It was just a matter of waiting until the sun hit the barn before I could get the image that I was after.  I kept firing off shots as the light changed just so I didn’t miss the best that it became.  It did keep getting better, but the barn never got the full amount of light that I was hoping for.  I ended up finding this image which was about three from the end of the series which was the best one with the sun just hitting the roof, and barely striking the vegetation.  The ones where the light was a little better, the warmth was fading too much as the sun was getting too high up.  So, this was the best compromise from the morning with the light and the warmth.  The end result captured the chill of the morning along with the warming of the sun as it was just coming up.  It was a very accurate story for the scene.  It was also the one and only image that I got from this location after being here for about an hour.

When the Red Fades“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 2-stop soft ND Grad

With one barn in the bucket, I was off to see if I could find more.  I drove around aimlessly in a great location that I had not been before.  I found a lot of potential, but nothing that struck me as ready for a picture just yet.  Looking at my gas, I was going to need to think about getting a refill before long.  I was out in the middle of nowhere with about an 1/8 of a tank, so I didn’t want to trust that I would come upon a station by chance.  I knew where there was one on Hwy 601 in Yadkinville which was on the way to Mocksville, so I decided that I would head out that way to see about photographing the car I was wanting to get.  I stopped and got gas, and that made the rest of the day’s cruising a little less stressful for me.  After leaving the station and crossing US 421 I saw a barn over my right shoulder that I hadn’t seen before.  I only saw it for a second and contemplated compositions with it.  It was worth turning around so I looked for a place to get turned around.  Just as I found a parking lot, I saw another, larger barn to the right.  That one definitely has potential, so I jotted it down in my memory as I was headed back up the road.  I found the first barn again and looked at it critically.  There wasn’t much there for a composition and it would end up just being a documentation type of picture which I didn’t want for this.  I got turned back around and headed back to the second barn.

I pulled off on the shoulder of the road and grabbed my Lowepro bag before hoofing it up the embankment.  When I got to the top, I really liked the barn and the setting.  The sun was hitting it nicely and there was a nice tree to the left of it that I could use to frame the sky which was looking rather nice for very thin clouds.  I was thinking that for this, I would be using my standard lens once again to keep the perspective distortion down to a minimum.  With the angle that I was at, I knew that a polarizer would be beneficial as well so I added that too.  I started to find my composition and did a lot of walking around to find that perfect spot that would keep the angle of the barn interesting and not quite so flat.  It was a low and wide barn which made it very difficult to capture without just having it bang in the middle of the frame and looking very static.  When I finally decided on my composition I started to set the exposure up.  The sky was a little bright, but not too bad.  However, I wanted to make sure that I maintained the detail in the clouds so I added a Galen Rowell 2-stop soft edge ND Grad which allowed me to capture this as a single image so I didn’t have to do any blending later on in post.  I’m all about getting it as right as can be in the camera at the time of the capture.

As with the first barn of the day, after I captured this image, I was pretty well done with this location.  I packed up my gear and got back on the road towards Mocksville.  I didn’t see anything else along the way that grabbed my attention so when I pulled up to where the car was I was excited to see another truck in the driveway from what I had remembered seeing last time I was here.  I got out and knocked on the door and the same dog came to greet me and sounded like he was trying to tear the door down.  I was confident that somebody was home with the truck in the driveway, but nobody ever came to the door.  I looked once again at the car and decided that it wasn’t looking as good today as it was the last time, so I wasn’t going to be upset about not getting it today.  The problem was, where to go now?  I had exhausted my intended destination and it was still rather early in the morning.

A New Roadmap“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 3-stop soft ND Grad

I did what I do best at this point.  I decided to get lost.  I was driving all over the place and going down every dead end that I could.  One of which I would regret since I ended up coming through right as a cattle farmer was pulling out of his field.  I could hear the cow patties being chucked up in my wheel wells as I drove over the clumpy tracks that he was leaving down the road.  The smell was almost instant and would remain with me for the rest of the time I was out there.  It is all part of the thrill of doing rural decay photography though and I accept that.  What I was having a hard time accepting was that I wasn’t finding anything else that I saw potential in.  The lighting was great, and I was in a great area, but for some reason, I wasn’t having any luck at all in my quest.

At around 11am, I was about to call it a day and head home with my two images that I was pretty confident about.  Just then, I saw an old tow truck in front of a shop that caught my eye.  That is one of the clues that there might be some interesting subjects to work with down that road.  I got turned around and went in to inspect.  Sure enough, there was some rusty goodness there for the photography.  There was a gentleman outside working on one of the cars which had caught my eye so I got turned around and pulled in to see if I could possibly get a few pictures.

He was a very nice man and we chatted for a bit and he let me have full access to the property for pictures.  With that, I was on my way to the back yard where i had seen some nice trees and old cars which I thought would work out great.  The first one that I wanted to work on was a 2 door Chevy that was sitting by itself under a nice tree.  Well, it was mostly by itself.  There was a trailer to the right of it, but I was pretty sure I would be able to avoid that in a composition.  I surveyed the scene and decided that I really loved the tree and the best way to capture that was to shoot vertical.  That would also help to eliminate the houses in the background to the left which was a good thing.  I wanted to go wide with this one, so I opted for my 16-35mm lens which should really pull the tree in and capture the sky which was looking really good in this direction.  The angle of the sun made for a great use of the polarizer as well so I added that to reduce the glare on the car and to deepen the blues in the sky.  As I started to compose the image, I could tell that the sky was going to give me an exposure problem since I didn’t want the car in the shadows.  I opted to add a Galen Rowell 3-stop soft edge ND Grad which would pull down the sky just enough to keep the car exposed perfectly.  It was just a matter of fine tuning the composition from here.  I loved the one branch to the right that went horizontal.  It made for a great framing element for the car while the main trunk was perfectly placed on the left third of the frame.  I was able to keep the angle on the car at a flattering perspective.  I got down low and shot the image slightly upward to really capture the tree.  I was energized after seeing the images pop up on the LCD.  I was onto something here!

The Knockout Punch“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 2-stop soft edge ND Grad, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

Feeling that I had what I wanted from the Chevy, I moved over to a Ford from the same era which had caught my eye.  It was packed in with an old Thunderbird and a Cougar which I wasn’t all that keen on including.  I had to really work the scene to find an angle that I liked with this car.  I wanted it to be from the front  since the bumper was bent up in a very interesting fashion.  It was going to be a very close in shot and one that was a little complex.  I framed it tight with my standard lens which I had put back on for this shot along with the Polarizer.  I dialed it in and looked at the exposure.  I wasn’t all that worried about the sky, but I did want to retain some of the detail in it so I opted to slide in a Galen Rowell 2-stop soft edge ND Grad which would be very subtle in the composition.  I shot a few versions of this trying to minimize the Thunderbird in the back while still keeping the Ford at a flattering angle.  I got down very low to the ground for this one and even had the neck of the tripod extended and flopped over to the side so that I could bring the camera down very close to the ground.

It wasn’t until I got this one home that I realized that it was just too complex in color.  I was about to trash the image, but decided to try a conversion on it.  It was better, but still not great so I worked on massaging the tones throughout the image a bit.  I tweaked the contrasts throughout the image until I had a scene where the eyes went right where I needed them to go.  The image was a little eerie, and nothing like I had intended, but I ended up liking this one quite a bit.  The monochrome treatment allowed me to include that awesome tree in the background and have it really show up nicely against the clouds.

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

Having worked so hard at excluding the old Thunderbird I decided to give it a little love.  Even though I really don’t care for the body style, there are some styling cues that I enjoy with it.  I started to look for isolations on the car and found my first one at the front corner.  You know how I feel about headlights, and I wanted to include those, but they seemed to lack character all by themselves so I turned the corner and got the fender emblem which read “Thund” as the rest of the emblem had broken off long ago.  The swoop of the bumper chrome set off the composition and linked both sides so nicely.  I knew that this was probably going to be a black and white shot since chrome was the dominant feature in it.  The green moss was the other big part which allowed for no color balance in the scene at all.  By converting to monochrome, I was able to concentrate on the shapes and textures of the scene which were what I found most entertaining in the first place.  Since the wheels were off of this car, it was another example of where I had to get the camera down really low to the ground to get the perspective that I was after.

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

After finishing up on the front of the car, I moved to the rear of it and started to look at the shredded vinyl top.  I loved the abstract quality of the tearing and the chrome trim that was present along with the Thunderbird emblem all went together really nicely.  The trick was finding a composition and crop that allowed for a pleasing balance without the main diagonal chrome trim bisecting the image from corner to corner.  I fought with this one for a while with different focal lengths before I settled on a composition that really worked for it.  There was just so much here to look at when you started to look into the image which I loved.  However, it was a very simple image on its face, anchored by a long bird emblem in a dish.

I struggled with other compositions of the Thunderbird, but in the end it was the isolations that really hit the home runs.  The overall car wasn’t all that pleasing and I was never able to get a simple composition with it either.  I took a bit of time and looked around the scene to see if there was anything else that struck my interest.  Sadly, the rest of the cars were too new for me, and there were no great stories present with them to allow me to photograph them.  I had been out here working for about an hour or a little more and had gotten quite a few images from essentially three cars.  My favorite of them was that Chevy picture that I started with and I figured that would probably be the favorite one of the day at the rate that I was going.  I was still feeling pretty good about this location and knew that there was still some subjects to be found up front, so I grabbed my gear and started that way once again.

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

When I got back out front I started to look at the oldest of the cars.  The front end was missing so I really didn’t have an overall shot of it.  I loved the back of the car, but the only way to capture a composition of that was to shoot into the sun which wasn’t quite as covered by the clouds as I would have wanted.  I did try an HDR series for this, but that ended up really lacking what I was after and it was trashed.  I did find an isolation that I liked from that view though.  I got in close and framed up a composition that included the back wheel and the missing fender.  The blue tones of the paint along with the texture and warm tones of the rust made for a very interesting image. The textures throughout caught my imagination as well.  It was a bit of a choppy composition, but I really liked the story that it told so I ended up processing the image and keeping it.  It was not the only isolation that I shot on this old car though.

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

I came around to the other side of it where the firewall was.  The same colors were present here and they just really caught my eyes.  I liked the lines in the metal as well as the fasteners used.  This one was screaming abstract to me, so I got in really close and started to isolate the shapes and the lines that were present in the section that I liked the most.  I knew that this was going to be color and that I would be really working the saturation end of it.  This was going to be a very interesting image to say the least.  Even a car guy would be hard pressed to see this for what it is.  It was all about the colors and textures present and the wonderful lines that moved through the frame.  The viewer was left with so many more questions than answers with this one.  The more you looked for clues, the more visual interest you would find until you really didn’t care what the picture was actually of any more.  You just enjoyed it for what you were seeing.

As I was wrapping up this composition, a car came into the parking lot and the driver got out to come and talk to me.  I figured that he thought that I was the shop owner or something, but I quickly figured out he just wanted to come over and talk with me for a minute.  We engaged in a conversation and eventually the property owner came out and joined in.  At this point, I could tell that I was done with the photography, so I quickly put everything away in my bag while we chatted.  The conversation went inside where I got to see his hot rod convertible which was very nice to look at.  A bit too shiny for my tastes on the photography end though.  It turned out to be a great connection and he promised to keep his eyes out for me in the future for any other areas where I might find a bunch of old rusty gold.

With that, it was time for me to head on back towards home.  I had been out all day at this point, and it was now 2pm.  I headed back towards the highway and off to home I went.  I was thinking about stopping by a pawn shop that was close to the house where Toni had spotted a couple of old cars a few days ago.  They were behind a fence and sitting right up against a building so the photography was going to be difficult, but since it was still within business hours, I figured that I could go by and give it a try.  I could at least see what I had to work with, and if they would even let me on the other side of the fence.

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

When I got there, I saw that the cars were still locked up behind the fence.  I went inside to ask if I could possibly get back there to get a few pictures.  I ended up talking to the owner of the pawn shop who seemed happy to let me go back for a bit of photography.  I was let in and left to do my work.  I was happy to see a really nice Cadillac that appeared reasonably complete right there in the front to work with.  The other car was a Packard which had a little less visual interest for me, but was of the right era to go with the Cadillac.  I started out by working on compositions that included both cars together and trying to isolate the Caddy the best that I could.  Those really didn’t work out all that well.  I had a hard time dealing with the wall that was to the left, and by shooting from the wall, I was actually aimed right into the sun which was a little bright at this point of the day.  I knew that my best shots would be isolations on these cars with the environement that they were.  The better of the two cars was the Cadillac and it offered a lot of different options to work with.

It was the hood that caught my eye to start with.  All of the emblems were there as well as the hood ornament which looked great against the black paint and green moss that surrounded it.  I had my standard lens mounted along with the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer which was the best option for these compositions.  In fact, this was the combination that I used for this entire location because of how flexible it allowed me to be.  I had a lot of fun with the front of this car and managed to capture two compositions that I really liked.  The first one started with the grille at the bottom and went along the length of the nose with the hood ornament crowning the whole thing.  The moss transitioned just perfectly down on the lower half so as to really make the hood ornament at the top stand out in the stark contrast to the black paint.

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

The second composition was a bit tighter on the emblems, but went with the same basic approach.  It was the moss that I was most after as it really brought a lot of character to the scene in my opinion.  That green really looked great with the black paint and the bright chrome of the bright work.  The lighting was great here as well with the front of the car being in the shadows.  That allowed for some great color contrasts.  I was starting to come into my own with this car and wanted to see if there were any other isolations that would work.  I tried the typical headlight shots, but the chrome was a bit too reflective and started causing me issues with reflections.  I wasn’t really liking the compositions either, so I decided to look at the back of the car for something else.  When I got back there I found that the trunk was caved in and I didn’t see a whole lot of potential back there when it came to compositions.  However, I was struck by the swan on the Packard hood and felt that I could do something with that easy enough.

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

I redirected my attention to the front of the Packard and started to feel my way around that beautiful swan.  I started off with some horizontal compositions that really didn’t do it justice.  I worked with various depths of field to try and get just the swan in focus which I thought would be the key to this image.  I was getting there, but wasn’t quite where I wanted to be on this subject.  I flipped the camera on its side using the L Plate which kept my composition basically the same, just with a different orientation.  That did the trick.  With the limited depth of field, I didn’t need any background, or context.  I just needed to fill the frame with the swan. I got in very tight and did just that.  I found an aperture that rendered most of the swan in focus and let the rest of the image go very soft.  I knew ahead of time that this was going to be a black and white image since I wasn’t dealing with any real color.  The car was black, and the background was in shadows for the most part.  The bright parts were chrome, so it just made sense to do this one as a monochrome which I think really worked out well.

I looked all over the Packard for any other compositions that might work out but couldn’t find any.  I did decide that the car was pretty ugly and there were very few angles on it that looked flattering.  I was pretty sure that the most attractive part of the car was that elegant swan on the hood.  I wasn’t quite done with the day just yet though.  The sun was hiding behind some clouds now and I thought that I might be able to get that overall shot that I had been wanting at the start.  I moved back around to the front and got in close to the trailer that was parked in front of the building.  I had no way of fully including both cars here, and I also had no way of blocking the Packard with the Cadillac.  Had they been parked directly in front of each other I might have been able to.  I just had to keep the building out of the frame since it was very bright with the sun hitting it, and there was really no visual interest there at all.

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

I tweaked the composition the best that I could and found that the closer that I could get to the trailer the better.  However, to get the camera up high enough, I had to extend the legs of the tripod which effectively pushed the camera position away from the trailer.  To combat that, I collapsed one of the legs and allowed the tripod to push the ballhead right up to the trailer.  That allowed me to be able to get enough of the side of the Cadillac and a decent amount of the Packard into the composition to keep it interesting and to fully tell the story.  I used the wall of the building as my framing point on the left side.  In fact, had I moved the camera to the left by a hair, you would see a white line from the wall.  The top part of the frame was decided by the tops of the vegetation in the background.  That was why I needed to go high here.  By shooting down, I was able to avoid the bright sky above the brush.  It also helped to fill the frame with cars at this angle.  It was not the best composition I’ve ever shot, but considering the visual difficulties I had, I really can’t complain one bit about it.

With that, I felt my creativity fall away.  I was done.  I know that feeling all too well and no matter how well things are going, when my mind is finished with a day’s photography it is done.  I packed everything up and closed the gate back before bidding the owner a good afternoon.  I was back in the truck and on my way home.  I got back around 3:30 which made my day a little over eight hours long.  I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening doing preliminary edits on the images.  By 9:30 it was time to call it quits for the day.  It had bee a long day, but after shooting just shy of 130 frames, I had 12 images that I was interested in keeping.  That makes for a great day in my book and adds quite a few new subjects to my portfolio which is always a good thing.

If one of these images, or any of the images that you find in my blog strikes a cord with you, I would love to help match you up with a print of your very own.  These images can only truly be enjoyed in their tangible form.  While they are nice to look at on the computer, there is just no comparison between the two.

Until next time…
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