Saturday, June 19, 2021
I’ll be the first to admit that I have been quite a bit more active in the month of June as compared to May. It seems like I’ve been out with the camera every few days in some way or another. It feels really good to be back in a routine of going out to get images after a few weeks of trying to get motivated to be creative again. The odd thing is…this is the time of year that I should be working with landscapes in the mountains. The Spring colors are here and everything is in bloom. In fact, Summer is right around the corner and that is a lousy time for me when it comes to landscape work. So why have I been avoiding landscapes recently in favor of photographing man made objects in the rural and decay categories? It isn’t so much that I’ve been avoiding landscapes as much as I’m just not feeling them this year. My intention is to create unique images when I go out and when it comes to landscapes, it has just all been done before. It feels a bit mundane to me this year for some reason. I’ve been having such good fortune with the rural and decay subjects since about mid Fall last year that I’m having a hard time letting that go. These subjects give me a chance to photograph those scenes that are all too familiar, but folks tend to never take the time to really look at the scenes. It is completely opposite from landscape photographs where my images tend to get lost in the mix of other photographer’s works. I mean how many images can you look at of the Blue Ridge Mountains before they all start to blend together?
It is the decay photography that has really jumped out ahead of preferred subject matter because I just don’t see a lot of this type of photography, and especially when it comes to the area where I live. There is just something so satisfying about finding beauty right under the noses of folks who pass by these scenes every day. There is more of a thrill in this type of photography for me, and I guess that is why I’m having a hard time putting it on the back burner while I focus on the landscape images which I would normally be working on this time of year.
With that in mind, I’ve been taking a little break as the weather hasn’t been overly conducive to photography with clear blue skies for most of the week. With the exception of a morning with the Miata, I’ve not been doing much with the camera…at least directly. I have been getting my new lighting equipment squared away and figured out so that when the time comes to put it to use I’ll be ready. That time isn’t quite yet though and I was itching to get out with the camera once again. The question was where did I want to go? Looking at the weather, the first chance for some clouds was looking to be Saturday with rain following for Sunday. The clouds were forecasted to be high altitude clouds with pretty much total coverage. That usually means blank, overcast skies with relatively bright conditions. If I was lucky, there would be breaks in the clouds to show the blue sky in the background so I could have some definition in the sky. I couldn’t count on that though when it came to planning the trek.
On the off chance that the sky was no good, I decided that it might be a good idea to look at some night photography so that the sky would be less of a concern for me. I’ve been batting around an idea of getting a simple dark image with a single light illuminating a point of interest on the side of a building. I’ve seen images like this before which were taken in alleys and that was the concept that I wanted to work through. I knew that there were lots of little areas through North Wilkesboro that might fit that bill, but I had never really been through there at night so I wasn’t exactly sure what was available for me to shoot. Since I was going to be doing a bit of scouting before actually getting to the business of making exposures I was going to have to get out there about an hour or so before sunrise. The idea was, I wanted to be in position about 30 minutes before sunrise so I would still have the dark if I wanted it, and would also have a bit of light in the sky if I needed to balance the exposure with the sky.
I woke up at 4am and looked at the weather. It was clear, but the clouds were expected to roll in around 6am which was good enough for me. I got out of bed and got ready to roll out. I actually left a few minutes earlier than I had expected. My camera was already in the truck so I didn’t have to worry about fogging on the lens so I just grabbed my shoes and headed out. As I was going down the road about a mile from the house I was thinking that the last time I went out for pictures was when I shot the Miata. That made me think about where the tripod was since I had it out of the bag to fit in the less than ample trunk of the roadster. I couldn’t remember putting it back in the bag in the truck, so that meant that it was probably still on the shelf in the pile of new lighting equipment. I pulled off on the side of the road and went to check the tripod bag. Sure enough, it was empty. I got turned around and went back home. Not wanting to open the garage again, or turn the truck off, I just pulled the house key off of the key ring to go in the lower door near the office. I grabbed my tripod and went back out to the truck. it was too dark to lock the door, so I had to turn on my phone flashlight to get the door locked. Before I knew it I was back on my way again.
Since it was still rather early in the morning, my mind wasn’t working quite right and I was out of my normal routine. About 4 miles down the road I started to wonder if I had grabbed my tripod after locking the door. I didn’t remember putting in the bag after I left home so I pulled over once again to go check. Fortunately, it was there and I was all set to capture some pictures. However, my mind was totally flustered and I was feeling like I was already behind the 8-ball with all of the confusion. I kept telling myself that this was why I left the tripod in the truck so I didn’t have to worry about grabbing it in the mornings. I really wasn’t behind, but my brain was having a hard time slowing down and focusing. I was hoping that when I got downtown that I could reel myself in and get to work.
I did a tour of the area of North Wilkesboro and couldn’t find anything that suited my vision for the image that I was after. I started to look for lit storefronts that looked interesting and even that seemed to fail. I was covering most every road through town and was turning up nothing of interest for a night shot. I could see that the sun was coming up in the East and I knew that I was going to lose the light that I needed if I didn’t find something really soon. I decided to head into Wilkesboro to see what was there which might fit my idea. A quick run through town and I came up with nothing at all. There was a gas station that caught my eye, but one of the overhead lights was out and it was the one that would have been the focal point of the image. I could have dealt with any of the other lights being burned out, but not that one. I considered it briefly and opted out. I was back on my way to North Wilkesboro, still with nothing at all in mind to shoot.
I was going through options in my head. One of them was the train depot near the Farmer’s Market which I had been wanting to photograph for a while now, but really hadn’t worked out a composition that I liked for it. I had been thinking about shooting it in the evening and using a rear quarter view along the wall for the composition. I wasn’t thinking that the sun was far enough South for the lighting for that though which meant that evening probably wouldn’t work out. I could always go and look at it from the other end and see what the rising sun was going to do for the building. It was my best bet of the morning, and since I recently had a client of mine ask about this location I felt a little extra motivation to get the image.
When I got to the Farmer’s Market, the sky to the West was actually looking a bit pink with the high clouds picking up the color of the rising sun. It was going to be a scramble to get down there and find a composition before the color faded, but it was my best bet. I got parked and grabbed my gear since I didn’t know what I was going to be needing. I walked across the street and started to look at the building critically to find out where to set up. Looking West was going to be my best bet, and the sun was already starting to illuminate the facia of the building where the main platform was. The sky still had a touch of pink to it, but that was fading quickly. I grabbed a quick composition so that I could get the sky, but the composition wasn’t all that great. It did give me a starting point where I could start to make adjustments to my position.
Since I was shooting directly away from the sun, there was really no need for a polarizer, and the general exposure was even enough, so there was no need for any filters for this series. I just kept moving around and changing the focal length of my standard lens until I had an image that I was happy with. Once I found that composition, I started to watch the light and I fired off a few frames as the lighting changed on the facia of the building. I wasn’t sure how I would like this since there were power lines in the frame. My intention was to clone them out when I got the image home if it was a solid enough composition to keep. Ironically, I did like the composition and actually liked the power lines in the frame as well. They helped to frame the sky in a way and they complimented the lines of the tracks which were my foreground interest. I ultimately decided to keep the lines in the frame and I’m satisfied with that.
When I was happy with the initial overall capture of the depot, I started to look at the light and see what it was telling me to photograph. The supports under the roof around the platform were catching the light in a wonderful way and the deep shadows behind them helped to really make them pop. With the repeating patterns that they offered, this became a no brainer to photograph. I flipped the camera on its side and started to work vertical compositions of the beams. I tried several different compositions as well as different apertures for depth of field. What I ended up liking was the one that I shot wide open at f/2.8. It through the background out of focus just enough to make it work. I was actually pretty excited about this set of image, but just in case they didn’t work out I decided to work my way down the wall of the depot to see what else I might find of interest.
There were a repeating series of doors along the side and I stopped at a couple of them in hopes of finding an interesting composition. I wasn’t really thrilled with any of the images that I was taking here, but I kept looking. Towards the end of the wall there was a door with two pairs of windows flanking it. There was a downspout which was leaning up on the wall diagonally for a bit of visual tension. I could see that this was a much better composition than what I had been looking at. I framed up the scene eliminating one of the windows to the left to keep the door off-center in the frame. The colors in this image were largely based on the bricks so I was figuring that this was going to be a monochrome image as the color really didn’t help the photograph at all. There was way too much red in it with nothing really to balance the visual warmth anyway. I did end up converting this one to a monochrome image which worked very well to showcase the different elements in the frame to the best potential.
With the sun coming up and getting rather harsh, I decided that I had exhausted my possibilities here. It was time to head on since the Farmer’s Market was starting to get busy with vendors rolling in. I got back to the truck and loaded up my gear. I decided that I would go and look at a Buick which I had seen earlier in the morning between the Wilkesboros to see if I could get a composition to work with it. I knew that I wasn’t going to have to worry with the sun since the car was on the West side of the building in full shade. My only question was whether or not I could get a composition to work with the car. It didn’t take me long at all to get to the tire shop where the car was and I pulled in behind it to evaluate what I was seeing.
My first impression was that the car wasn’t as interesting as I had hoped. There was minimal rust, and the body was in good shape. Except for the lack of a tag, and the fact that the car was very dusty, I would have thought that it was an operable vehicle. It was not my typical subject, but I did like the vintage and the Buicks are always a fun car to photograph. Having never seen this car here before, I didn’t want to ponder the compositions and come back later only to find that it had been moved away. Rule #1 of decay photography…If you can get the shot, take the shot. There may not be a second chance. Listening to my own advice, I parked the truck and grabbed that standard lens once again. This time I added a polarizer so that I could control the glare on the metal and glass. I then started to set up my composition.
I had a pole on the passenger side of the car to deal with. I initially thought that I would use that pole as a framing element for the car, but I quickly found that wasn’t going to work at all. I cropped it out in my composition for a cleaner look to the image. I then had the garage doors on the driver’s side to deal with. The leftmost door was right at the edge of the building and there were pallets stacked against the wall. I still needed to have a pleasing angle to the car which provided balance with the doors offset to the left. When I found that position I then had to worry about the red stripe on the wall of the shop. I had to pay attention to where the roof line of the car would be in relation to that line. I started out with the car above the line, but that was too complex for the composition and the line became a distraction. I elevated the tripod a bit and brought the top of the car in line with that red line painted on the wall. That simplified the image and kept the proportions correct. It was a simple exposure from here and it only took one to get the image that I wanted.
On the chance that my overall image wasn’t going to work out, I started to look for isolations which would make for good compositions. With the lack of rust on this car, I wasn’t all that thrilled with most of the compositions that I could find. To add to that, the chrome was in great shape and highly reflective. I didn’t want to be a cameo in the composition so I avoided the shiny bits. That left me with the trunk emblem which was effective at identifying the car. I framed up an image which included the vacant keyhole at the bottom to balance out the emblem. It was a subtle element but my vision was to have the photograph go basically black beneath the emblem. That little bit of detail would give the negative space purpose and would keep the image from being top heavy. With the even lighting in the shade, the exposure was a piece of cake and it only took a single press of the button to get an image that I liked. From there I did one last search around the car hoping to find something else to photograph. With the way that the car was positioned, I wasn’t able to find anything at all so that was that. I loaded the camera back into the truck and I was off once again.
My goal at this point was to head out to Taylorsville to see if I could get anyone at home at a house I’ve been knocking at for some time now. There is a great classic bus around back along with a trio of old tractors by a barn. I was hoping that by the time I got there that the sky was going to be looking better. It was rather featureless and I knew that I was going to need an interesting sky to pull off the compositions that I had in mind. When I got to the house there was a new RV parked right in front of the bus which was going to affect the compositions that I had in mind for it and the tractors. The sky also wasn’t all that great. Since it was still rather early in the day I didn’t bother knocking this time. I was doubting that the images would be any good from here if I did get permission. I figured that it would be better to look for other subjects to work with instead.
As I was driving down the road I happened to see an old Chevy truck in a fenced field behind a house. It was missing a good portion of the front of the truck, but there was a hood raised and that gave it just the right visual interest for me. I was going to need permission to get to it though and it was still kind of early. The sun was also rising behind the truck which made the lighting less than ideal for this subject. It was worth turning around to give it another look for an evaluation on its potential. When I passed by every so slowly this time I saw movement in the driveway. Could it be the owner? I pulled into the next driveway and got turned around. As I came up on the house I could see that the person had gotten into a car and was driving down the driveway. Not wanting to freak her out by pulling in and blocking her in the driveway I aborted and drove on past while looking in my rearview mirror. When I didn’t see the car coming to the road I wondered if she was just moving it. I got turned around once again and saw her walking to the house. I pulled in and got out of the truck to introduce myself. I hated to do it this way as I’m sure this looked a bit threatening. I tried to put her mind at ease as quick as I could and informed her what I was wanting to do. She was happy to let me get some pictures and gave me permission to access the field as long as I kept the gate closed for the horses. I could do that!
Not wanting to take my full pack in there I just loaded up the camera with a 24-70mm lens and added a polarizer. I was pretty sure that I was going to be needing a grad filter so I grabbed my filter wallet and tucked it under my arm. I got the lock on the gate loose and let myself in and then locked the gate behind me. It was a bit of a process, but I wanted to make sure that I didn’t cause any grief with the horses. I got the camera set up and started to find my composition. There was a long barn in the background which I wasn’t able to avoid, and there was an RV I believe in front of that. Since it was white and really stood out, I allowed the barn to fall wherever it needed to so that I could use the truck to block the RV for the composition. I landed on a composition that I really liked, but the sky was very bright with the sun just out of the frame above. I was going to need a grad filter, and I opted for a 3-stop hard edge grad since there was only a sliver of sky included. Had I used a soft edge, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve the needed amount of darkening to the sky. The hard edge just meant that I was going to have to be very careful with how I positioned it on the horizon to keep a telltale division line from showing up.
I started to make exposures and realized that my battery was showing only a single bar. I had forgotten to swap out the battery after finishing up with the depot. Swapping a battery would be easy enough, but the bag was back in my truck which was on the other side of the locked gate. I didn’t want to go through the hassle of going in and out of the gate again just to get a battery so I decided to make what I had count. I worked the initial composition and then looked for an alternative one with better light. I landed on one from the back of the truck which was still backlit, but the angle of the camera put the sun at about 10 o’clock instead of straight ahead. I didn’t like this composition as much, but the lighting would be quite a bit more forgiving.
After a couple of exposures from that angle, the battery indicator was blinking red. I wasn’t able to push it any more. I had what I needed from here and that was good enough. I went back to the gate and unwound the chain so that I could exit. I then wrapped it all back up and made sure that the gate was secure before loading everything back up in the truck. Of course, I used this time to swap out the battery so that I was ready for the next subject if there was to be one.
I ended up taking many different side roads through Alexander County on the other side of Taylorsville. I was in a totally new area but wasn’t finding much of anything of interest. Add to that the sky was losing even more texture and the clouds were starting to just turn into an overcast haze. Looking back on the morning, I had shot three different scenes and I was pretty sure that I had at least three or four images worth keeping. With the weather conditions deteriorating and the sun getting higher in the sky I figured that it was time to head on home. I wasn’t exactly sure where home was from here, but I knew the general direction I needed to drive. Instead of doing the GPS thing, I just pointed the truck North and started to work my way home still exploring.
I ended up back on one of the main roads that I knew and took it to 16 where I knew how to get back home. Before I could get there, I saw an old car down either a gravel driveway or a gravel road. I slowed down and saw that it was too wide to be a driveway, and it was right next to a commercial building. I pulled down the gravel road and parked off on the side. The car was situated right on the edge of the commercial property and there were several semi trailers behind it. The one that was the closest was a Pepsi trailer which really didn’t work in the composition. Behind the car, further down the gravel stretch there was a tractor trailer parked near a large house. There was a golf cart between the trailer and the house. The composition here was going to be very tricky to say the least. If I photographed the side of the car which was in the sun then the house and tractor trailer would be in the background. If I went with the more simple background of a couple of semi trailers, hoping to block the Pepsi one, I would be photographing the side in the shade once again.
I really didn’t like my options here, but this was a Hudson Wasp which I had never seen before, much less photographed. The colors of the car worked well with the subtle sky above and it really looked good enough to try something at least. I grabbed the camera with the standard lens and added a polarizer before setting up the shot from the shaded side. The composition went about like I had planned and I thought that it was a workable one. The lighting wasn’t great and the end result didn’t really knock my socks off. I decided that I was going to have to move to the side that was lit by the sun. That gave me a better look on the Hudson, but I had to deal with the rocks that lined the edge of the commercial property as well as the structures and vehicles in the background.
I ended up getting down pretty low to the ground and including a portion of the line of rocks which I used as a foreground to the image as they had complementing colors to the rust on the car. By getting low, I was able to use the car to block the view of the structures in the background as well as some trees which allowed the car to penetrate the horizon nicely. This angle actually worked out much better than I had anticipated and I was glad that I had tried it. I committed to this composition and started to time the exposures for when the wind died down in order to keep the grass nice and sharp in the image. The exposure was well distributed so there was no need for any grad filters here. When I was done with this composition I moved my attention to the front of the car where the Hudson emblems were still attached.
It was that grill that made for the perfect visual anchor for the rest of the brightwork on the front of the car. I elevated the camera well above my head and started to work out a composition that highlighted the angles of the grille and the sides of the hood ornament. It took a few different attempts to get a well balanced composition here, but when I got it, I knew that I had it. I took one more look around the car and decided that I wanted to give the rear lights and the “Wasp” emblem a try. I framed up a shot that I thought would work and I made two exposures thinking that I had what I needed. Well, when I got home I realized that I blew my focus. I knew I should have checked in the image review, but I thought that I had a good point of focus and didn’t bother. Well, that omission cost me an image, but at least it wasn’t a fantastic one so I’ll gladly take that error in stride.
I do hope that you enjoyed this quick ride through Wilkes and Alexander Counties. it was a fun morning, and while the sky never really did materialize into the sky that I was hoping for, it provided just enough for a few different compositions through the day. It was nice to get out and shoot some different subjects than I have done before. If any of these jump out at you and you would like a print, please feel free to contact me, or order directly from the website store.
Until next time…