Carolina Thrift

· Reading Time: 11 minutes

Saturday, March 27, 2021

You have probably already looked at the title and wondered just what exactly you are going to be reading here.  I batted around several titles in my head that would describe the trek and develop a little interest for the blog entry, but none of them really seemed to work.  I could have gone with “Going to pick up a bulb”, possibly “Getting gas for the yard equipment,” or simply “There were good clouds, so I tried.”  You get the idea what was going on for this trek with those working titles.  It really barely counted as a photo expedition and it was much more running to the store for a minute.  Let me backtrack real quick here and give you some background on this one.

A couple of weeks ago, I was out delivering a print in North Wilkesboro and while I was waiting on my client to arrive, I spent some time looking around the parking lot of Key City Antiques where I was meeting the client.  While I was looking around, I spotted a sign on the other side of the street above what I came to realize was Carolina Thrift.  The sign was a simple one with “Carolina” in script stretching across a checkerboard siding.  It was simple, yet captured my attention for the patterns behind the script.  Of course “Carolina” was an element that there was an immediate connection to as that was where we were at.  There was just a hint of patina to the sign and you could tell that it was old.  There was a bit of age on the siding behind it as well.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it, but my mind started to work on the possibilities.  The biggest problem that I was going to have with it was going to be the power lines.  There were banks of lines on both sides of the street and it was just too much to shoot through and still get a clear view of the sign.  Of course, I straight on shot wasn’t what I was going to be after here at all.  I was looking for more of an artsy rendition for it based on the simplicity of the scene.

Well, as it turned out, when the client arrived, we started to talk about my photography and the types of subjects that I was interested in.  Since my mind was currently on the sign across the street I pointed that out to them and explained why I liked that kind of scene.  I probably did a horrible job at explaining it because this was still a very fresh concept in my mind.  When our business was done, I got back in the truck and continued on with my day still trying to sort out how to capture that sign.

I only had a sidewalk’s width to work with to get under the power lines so that I could keep them out of the frame which wasn’t giving me very many options.  It was going to be an angular composition no matter what I decided to do.  The one that would keep the script level would be straight down below it looking up which would give me strong vertical and horizontal elements to the scene and I could divide it up with the sky as the top third, the script as the middle third, and the lower third being those large graphic boxes below.  I just needed to pick the right time of day for this image to happen.  With the predominant cool tones on the siding, I decided that I wanted some warmth in the sky to contrast that overly cool tone.  With the way that the shop was faced, I thought that a sunset would work with the color coming in from the right hand side of the frame.  The question would be whether or not the front of the sign would be lit which would be important.  Judging from the path of the sun at this time of year, it would be largely backlit which was not going to be good for my plan.

My other idea was a blue hour shot hoping that the street lights would properly light the sign and allow me to get some interesting colors and textures in the sky above.  Again, there were issues with that since the street lights would very possibly cast shadows of the power lines and the poles that I was trying to avoid.  I was also going to have issues with ghosting on the lens from the very lights that I was needing for the scene.  With the angles that I was going to have to be shooting, I wasn’t going to be able to shield the lens from that strong lighting.  It was kind of looking like that wasn’t going to work either.  I was actually starting to think that this idea just wasn’t going to work at all.  It was just a sign after all and there was really no reason to worry with stressing this much over the scene.  I needed to think about other subjects to photograph.

Well, part of what makes me tick is I will get an idea and I won’t let it go.  In the days and weeks that followed, I kept trying to come up with different ideas for other photographs to capture but kept coming back to this silly sign idea that I had.  Everything that I was trying to consider capturing included the portion of the plan that I would drive by and see if the light was right on the sign to capture an image.  It was maddening, and knowing that was going to be my main destination I decided not to go out for any pictures because I had convinced myself that the sign just wouldn’t work.  In other words, I was at a creative impasse and until I saw this sign concept through, I was going to be stalled in my creativity for other images.

That brings me to Saturday when we were having some storms rolling through the area and I was downstairs working on my upcoming Behind the Camera Feature.  When I came upstairs the storm had passed and it was mid afternoon.  Toni was working on a little project that I started to help with and found that the light bulb for our curio cabinet had burned out.  It was one of those special bulbs that you don’t just have laying around in the house.  With the top shelf emptied to gain access to the bulb, I didn’t want to leave it like that until the next time I went out, so I checked to make sure that I could get the bulb in the store and decided to go and get the bulb.  I knew that the camera was still in the truck from the last time I was out without any success so I figured that while I was out I would see if the cloudy sky would work for the concept of the sign in North Wilkesboro.  I also grabbed my two gas cans to fill them up for the yard equipment.  This was just an errand run and I was certainly going to drive through North Wilkesboro and decide that this wasn’t going to be the day for the picture.

Well, I got there and pulled into the parking lot of Key City Antiques and looked at the sign.  I didn’t even turn the truck off because I knew that it wasn’t going to work.  Yep, I was right it wasn’t going to work.  The sky was interesting, but the power lines were just too close to the building to get a good angle on it.  However, instead of putting the truck in drive, I turned it off.  Why in the world would I turn it off, this wasn’t going to work and I needed to get a bulb.  before I knew it, I was out of the truck and across the street sizing things up with my cell phone to see if there was a workable composition.  I started with my ideal placement directly underneath of the sign, but found that composition boring as could be.  I moved to the left and tried one from that side and that was better.  I moved to the right, and found a composition that was horrible.  This wasn’t going to work.

I went back to the truck, but instead of getting in, I went to the back and opened the hatch.  After the whiff of gas cleared, I grabbed my tripod and camera bag and started to go back across the street.  At this point, I was fully aware that my subconscious was in charge and I wasn’t making the decisions anymore.  I went down to the left side near the roadway and set the tripod up.  Since the phone had indicated around 24mm as being the focal length, I fitted my 16-35mm lens so that I had some flexibility within that range.  With the siding being metal, I added a polarizer to reduce the glare and started to frame up a composition.  I wasn’t really liking much of what I was seeing but I kept fiddling with the shot and taking several frames along the way as I thought that this might be as good as it gets.

Carolina“, Canon 5DS R, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I ended up shooting a total of eighteen images of the sign from slightly different vantage points.  I moved from left to right and even captured compositions from the center and from the right side just in case they looked better on the computer than they did in the LCD on the camera.  I was only after a single image and I was already knowing that post processing was going to play a large part in this presentation.  It wasn’t because I needed to fix anything.  Quite the contrary, I had developed this concept knowing that I was going to put a very artistic spin on the image and I was giving myself a lot of leniency with the colors and lighting in order to develop a mood with the final image.  That being said, I really wasn’t sure how the images were turning out because they all looked rather boring in the camera.  I was starting to see a lot of potential with the scene though and I was really hoping that one of these would turn out.

While I was working on the images, the store owner came out to talk to me.  Of course it started with the typical question of “what was I doing?”  I explained that I found the sign interesting and was capturing a few images of it.  I told her I knew it sounded weird, but I enjoyed finding images that most people would overlook.  Then she surprised me and said that a lot of people came by and took pictures of this sign.  Well, great!  I wasn’t as original as I thought I was.  Then she added that she had never seen anyone come out to get a picture with……(she looked at my camera on the tripod).  I interjected “…..all this gear?”  She agreed and implied that most were snapping pictures with their phones.  I was back in business because that meant that there were probably very few high quality images out there of the sign.  She let me know that the plans were to move the sign to the side of the building and to open up the windows that were behind this sign.  I was immediately happy that I was capturing this sign at this moment because it wasn’t going to be here long and part of her plans were to restore the sign.  My mission was complete by celebrating the history of this sign before it was no longer there to enjoy.

After I finished with my eighteen captures I was pretty sure that I had the image that would work.  I just didn’t know which one that would be.  I went and did my errands and went home.  After eating dinner, I went downstairs to see what I had.  I rolled through the images and found four that I kind of liked.  I was torn on which ones to cull out of that group, so I just took the most dramatic of the four and started to process it.  I began with a color profile that I though suited the scene and then fine tuned that before going into the edit.  I went for an overall cool toned image with a bit of drama added to the lighting as well as a good bit of desaturation.  This is not a faithful representation of the scene that I was photographing visually, but it nails the concept that I was after while I was shooting it.  There are no manipulations to the scene with the exception of one power line that was removed in the upper right corner.  The rest was just dodging and burning after that initial color profile selection.  That touch of warmth that I wanted came in the form of the lichen on the underline of the script.

The final image here is dramatic and powerful with the cloudy sky above it.  I’m sure there are other ways to shoot this, but I do think that it fits the scene well and with that extreme perspective forced from trying to avoid the power lines, I have an image that I am very happy with.  Just to make sure, I did wait until the following morning to release the image after I had some time to live with the image.  I actually liked it better the following morning which was a good indication.  Toni even liked it and this is not her normal cup of tea when it comes to my images.  I do hope that you enjoyed this one as well.  I would love to be able to get this one done as a print so if it speaks to you, please let me know and we can work towards getting a print done and in your hands.

Don’t forget, I have a Decay Workshop coming up in the last half of April which still has room for more participants.  We will be covering this type of photography and it is always a lot of fun for those who attend.  If landscapes are more your thing, consider my Landscape Workshop in mid May on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  If you don’t have a full day, I have a mini workshop being hosted by the Wilkes Art Gallery which is April 10th at Doughton Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway where we will discuss Composition in the Landscape.  I’ll be getting the second half of the year’s workshops lined up later in the spring, but these are the last three that I have scheduled at this point.  There is still room in all of them, so get signed up today.

Until next time….
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