Friday, August 13, 2021
Friday the 13th….Hmmm, maybe I had better stay in today. I’ve stayed in entirely too much here lately. I need to get out and get back behind the camera once again. I finished out last month with a good bit of activity, and even got rolling early this month with a trek on the first. Since then, I’ve been kind of MIA. I have a good excuse though. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time going to school….well, my version of school. There are four new books in my library that I have been reading and learning so that I can get up to speed with portraiture sooner than later. The curriculum has included everything from posing, to lighting whether it be natural or artificial. Of course, as I’ve been learning the techniques that I will be incorporating, I’ve been adding to my gear which is kind of fun, but I don’t like spending the money. There have been a few new light modifiers added to the mix as well as a high powered studio monolite which will fill out my want for a three light setup. I’ve got a few portrait shoots in the calendar which I’m looking forward to with a little bit of apprehension. It will be my first chance to really put my studying to use in practice and I have high hopes which means that there is a high chance of disappointment for me, but hopefully not the client.
Needing to get out of my own head for a little bit and find my Zen with photography once again was becoming a real need. It is an odd thing for a photographer, such as myself, to be feeling like a complete amateur while learning different techniques. After 16 years of taking pictures I should be able to do anything with a camera right? You might think so, but each type of photography is something completely different and requires a different skillset to be proficient at. My current reading assignment started off with the history of art, dating back to ancient Greece. I’ve been learning how light was handled through each of the different artistic periods through history and how photography has evolved from those styles. Yeah, it has been very much like a history class on that end. I’ve also been learning about ways to shape light both inside and outside. I thought I was pretty good with natural light from all of my landscape experience, but dealing with light on a person is a lot more complex. All of this has been taking far too much of my mental energy and I was just needing to get back out in my comfort zone and work the camera to recharge my own creativity so I can continue to learn.
It all came down to what to photograph. With all my attention being on portraiture here lately, that was where my thoughts would go. For that, I was going to need subjects, which I didn’t have any at the moment. I also wanted, and needed to get away from thinking about portraiture for a while so I needed to focus on my existing specialties in photography. Somehow the landscape hasn’t really been speaking to me lately and with the aging green tones across that landscape I just didn’t see much promise for working those types of photographs. We are also in a pattern of clear skies and hot days until the afternoon when storms roll through. That becomes kind of difficult to plan around. There was always the rural subjects and decay in the area. I have been having a lot of fun with that subject matter this Summer which is not something that I normally shoot in the warmer months. I still didn’t quite know what to go out and photograph though.
A few days ago, Toni and I were coming back from going out to eat and we were just driving around giving her a chance to get out of the house for little bit since she has been doing online classes for Nursing for the past couple of months. While the classes are finished now, she has started a new job with Trellis Supportive Care as a Nurse Aide and has been going through orientation with the company largely online for the week. She was ready to get out of the house and I was happy to play chauffeur for a while. It was nice just taking the long way home, but as we were getting close to the house, I spotted an old building that I had seen many times over the past year. It was an old Barber Shop which I was pretty sure was no longer being used. The building wasn’t quite the decay subject that I would normally go after, but for some reason the story struck me at this moment. I was looking at the old striped pole on the side of the door and the old style lettering above the door and window. The empty bench grabbed my imagination of a time when customers would be sitting out there waiting their turn to get their ears lowered. There was a rusty drum and tank on the side of the building that showed great signs of age which helped to fill in some blanks of the story with some visual interest. There was still a schedule on the window, but a sign that said that it was closed was also seen. I was hooked!
What was really upsetting here was that the sky actually was looking really nice and the light was soft on the building. It would have made a great image as I found it, but I didn’t have my camera with me. Yeah, yeah, I know, a photographer should never be without their camera. I agree, but it is honestly too cumbersome to always carry it with me, not to mention I don’t want to have that kind of property only protected by a few windows on a regular basis. I will gladly trade the security of not having my truck broken into for my camera for a few instances of missing what would be a great picture. I did file this location away in my head for a later attempt at a photograph.
I contemplated the location that night and wanted to recreate those conditions that I had seen. The sky was great with the sun down low behind the building. My only concern was going to be that the front of the building would be in the shadows. As long as the light was soft enough, I could handle the exposure easy enough. I was just concerned that the light was going to be too flat in the shadows to give enough visual interest to the story. I was going to have to give it a try to see. I made plans to go out the following evening at roughly the same time as we had driven by and seen it. The weather was looking good with a storm passing through a couple of hours before. That should leave the sky looking very interesting over the building.
Well, the following evening came and wouldn’t you know it….the storm came through as expected, but a little later in the day. The clouds that should have started to clear off failed to live up to their bargain though. As I was watching the radar, I could see the clouds growing in size over the area after the storm cell passed through. This was odd as usually a storm will pull the clouds along with it. By 7pm, I had made the decision that the sky was going to be too overcast to make this photograph work. Such is the life of a natural light photographer. I started to look at the following day to see what the weather was going to be like. The evening was looking promising again with some high clouds in the area. There were even a few clouds expected in the morning.
Something that had been driving me nuts about this particular subject was I was really worried that the lack of lighting on the face of the building was going to cause some issues with visual interest. I could see the photograph turning out such that the sky had the strongest visual pull due to highlights and color while the building was left in the flat shadow light. The only way to deal with that was to photograph it in the early morning hours while the sun was rising above the buildings on the other side of the street. That kind of resonated with me as I much prefer to go out early in the day for photographs. When I heard that Toni had confirmed that she was going to have to physically be at work on Friday for the next phase in training I saw the opportunity to get up early and give the image a try.
With an hour commute ahead of her, she was having to leave at 5:30 which would give me plenty of time to get up and roll out to get to the Barber Shop just after sunrise at 6:45. I made myself a deal that if I was to wake up before Toni left I would go ahead and go out regardless of the weather. I was needing to get back to working that camera and the morning light on the building was going to be more important than the clouds above for the composition that I was thinking about. If it didn’t work, I could come back in the evening and try it again as I originally planned the shot.
I woke up as I had figured I would and went ahead and got ready to head out. The drive out there took no time at all and I was there before the sun was fully up. I got parked over on the side of the building and got out and looked critically at the building. The composition that I had planned was going to work reasonably well here. The biggest problem that I was going to have to deal with was the power pole that was positioned right on the corner of the building. There was no way to avoid it, and no way to clone it out later. I couldn’t realistically include the top of the pole either which meant that it was going to bisect the image no matter what I did. I still liked the composition enough to get the camera out with a 24-70mm lens along with a polarizer to take the glare out of the windows.
I went through about four different positions before I found the perspective that I wanted on the building at 33mm. I carefully framed the image and placed that power pole right on the left third of the frame which gave it a nice and dramatic purpose for being there. I kept the crop tight in the sky which worked well due to the lack of clouds. The idea was to minimize the presence of the pole as much as I could and keep the interest on the building itself. I started to make exposures as the sun began to hit the building. It didn’t take long for the light to move down the wall adding all sorts of texture and interest. I was happy that I had picked the morning to get the image because the light on the building was much more important that the sky, and I was actually liking the clear sky because it brought even more interest to the textures of the building.
It was the fact that I was paying so much attention to the textures and the light which prompted me to really consider this as a black and white image. Typically, for that glorious early morning light, I prefer color to show the warm tones, but in this case, it was almost too warm with the red bricks. The sky was also not going to provide any real interest in color, but I knew that I could do more with it in monochrome. I was pretty sure that was how I was going to treat this image when I got home and started editing it. The more frames I shot of this scene, the more I really began to like it. It was simple and timeless while speaking to a period of history that is just no longer there. I remember getting my hair cut as a kid in a place like this, but you just can’t find them anymore. They are all “Great Clips,” “Sport Clips,” or “High Fashion Dippity Doos.” This was an important image to capture and I had a feeling that I had done just that.
With the first composition in the bag I considered my next step. I had accomplished what I had set out to do with this one scene and could very easily go back home and get to work on the processing. Yeah, I could do that, but I was having fun with the camera and wanted to do more with it before getting back into my book on mastering light. I didn’t really know where to go, but with the clear sky I was pretty sure that my best bet was going to be looking for urban angles so I could deal with some high contrast scenes with some hard lines and angles. I went through North Wilkesboro but didn’t really find anything that jumped out at me. Well, that isn’t entirely true as I found a really cool old door that was rotting at the bottom. The bricks around it were beautiful and it would make a great decay study, but there was a really nice sign for a lawyer overhead. This was obviously no longer being used, but the sign was just too new to fit with the scene and would be a distraction that I wanted to avoid. Maybe in another few years I’ll be able to get this image and do it justice, but for now I had to take a pass on it.
I continued out and found myself going up Hwy 18 through Mulberry which I had been on many times in the past. As I was driving, I started to think about an old drive-in restaurant that I think used to be a Sonic or something like that. I had often stopped here and looked at the canopies which were still standing. The shapes were interesting, but the overall scene didn’t hold my interest. With the low sun I was thinking that I might be able to pull off an abstract shot of the different layers to the canopies. It was worth a try and I pulled into the parking lot and started to look for my best light. There was only one section that really jumped out at me as having potential. I still wasn’t all that thrilled about the location as a whole, but there was something here that kept bringing me back over and over. Since I really didn’t have anything to lose, I went ahead and turned the truck off and got my camera out to find the right composition to make something work. I went ahead a loaded the 70-200mm lens which I knew I was going to need for the isolations I was seeking. Since I was pretty sure that this was also going to be in black and white, I wanted to keep the sky dark, so I added a polarizer as well.
It was then just a matter of working my way around until the elements in the scene lined up with a good visual balance. I found the right place to stand where everything fell into place where I felt the balance was the best. There were lots of triangles throughout the frame which was my goal. I looked for separation of the main elements and made sure that the light and dark sections all made sense. The exposure was actually a bit more difficult than I thought it would be with the highlights from the sun really trying to blow out parts of the structure. As the sun came up, the highlights seemed to diminish a little on their own which didn’t make any sense. I wasn’t changing the exposure and the shadows were staying constant, but the highlights were no longer blowing out. Maybe I had become the master of light after only a chapter and a half of the book?
Whatever the case was, the images were looking good and I was satisfied that I had enough frames to give me something to work with. I made a quick look around to see if there was anything else that I wanted to photograph before packing the camera back up. It looked like I had all that I was going to be able to get from here, so I packed up and happily got back into the truck. On a day that I would typically not have ventured out, I had managed to capture two images that I was actually pretty excited about. I wouldn’t know for sure until I got home and started the editing process since both of the images were likely going to be black and white.
As I continued up Hwy 18, I made the turn that would take me back home. I was still looking for new images, but I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to find anymore since the sun was now pretty high up in the sky and rather intense. I was satisfied with what I had for the morning and had no problems calling it a day at this point. However, when I got to Tumbling Shoals Rd, I turned right since it had been a while since I had been that way. I hadn’t missed anything as there were no compositions to be had down that road. It did lead me back out to Hwy 16 which would take me home. As I was driving down that road my eyes caught an old shell of a building that I had seen many times before. It was your standard block building with windows broken out and a missing door. It definitely fit my decay criteria and really more of a ruin. I had considered photographing it before, but couldn’t find a compelling reason to do so. This day shouldn’t have been any different with the harsh sunlight coming in from behind the building and a clear sky above it. The brush was overgrown and not much jumped out at me as a composition. However, something told me to turn around and go back to look closer which I did.
When I pulled into the remains of the parking lot I started to look critically at the scene. It wasn’t overly compelling, but there was one part that resonated with me that I didn’t recall seeing before. Above the mostly missing door was a hand painted sign that read “Cold Beer.” Now, I don’t drink so this was not all that appealing to me, but with a tree that had grown into a position to mask the “C” the sign was left to read “Old Beer,” and I found that humorous as well as a great addition to the story of this building. I now knew what it had been, and the modified sign supported the age of the building. In short, it was that sign that became the story of the scene. The window, door, and vegetation were all just supporting elements for the sign now.
I got my camera out with the 24-70mm lens. I considered filters, but the building was in the shadows and there was nothing there which would benefit from a polarizer with the glass all broken out. It was going to be a very simple image and it didn’t take me long to get several different frames with slightly different compositions. The biggest thing that I had to worry about was the movement of the weeds, but there was no breeze which helped a ton. It was only the passing vehicles that disrupted the air enough to cause issues. I just timed my exposures between vehicles and that did the trick.
When I got home and started to edit the images, there was no surprise that the first two were done in black and white. It was just the right choice and exactly what I had figured when I was composing the images. It should come as no surprise that the last composition of the day was also done in black and white for many of the same reasons. Color really played no part in the image and it became a distraction in this last one where green and white were the only major colors with the painted sign being a faded red. I felt that the scene looked much more balanced without the color and fit with the theme of the day quite well.
It has been a really good morning to get back out with the camera after two weeks of book learnin’. I had 37 frames captured from three different compositions and had driven a total of 31 miles on the 13th of the month. As I am finishing this blog entry up the thunder is rolling outside and we are about to have a storm. Who knows, the light might be worthwhile for me to go back out again this afternoon and avoid learning more about lighting.
I hope that you enjoyed this short trek as well as the images that resulted. Remember, if you see an image in my collection that speaks to you, I would love the chance to get you matched up with a print. Speaking of which, I am delivering a 10″x42″ canvas panorama to a client tomorrow afternoon. I tell you…there is just no better way to enjoy photography than in the tangible form which was intended at the time of capture. I’m excited to get this canvas in the hands of my client and I know she will be impressed. Print sales also helps me stay afloat as a photographer which is quite important these days. It is looking like we are going to be back under some sort of lock down again thanks to Covid, and even if we don’t it has affected my workshop schedule for the rest of the year so I only have one left in the books for 2021. If you are interested in learning how to paint with light, I invite you to sign up for my Rust at Dusk Workshop which is scheduled for September 18th in East Bend, NC. I would also like to mention that if you have any portrait needs and are in the area of Wilkes County I would love the chance to exceed your expectations.
Until next time…..