Did I Really Get Up for Sunrise?

· Reading Time: 16 minutes

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Did that really happen?   Did a bird just take flight from the shoulder of the road and run right into the 4Runner?  Maybe I’m seeing things.  I only had a bit over four hours of sleep and I’m a little fuzzy brained.  Why in the world am I up at this hour of the morning after hosting a late night workshop?  There are just too many questions that are going through my mind, but yet here we are.  Join me on this little roller coaster of a trek.

It all started yesterday while I was getting a print done for a client of mine in Traphill, who I had coincidentally just done a portrait shoot for.  I should have known things were going to get interesting for me at that point because it seems that every time I do anything related to Traphill, I get busy and I find myself pushing my own creativity.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining at all, it is just an observation that I have started to make over the past year.  Historically, if I go out there to make some photos, word gets around to a few families that live out there and I start to find out the history of the places that I have shot.  This will usually lead to a few more subjects that are suggested for more photographs.  This has been the routine for a while and I do really love when that happens.  I’ve met some great people out in Traphill, and I’ve learned a lot of the history of that portion of Wilkes County over the past year.  I’ve always liked working in that area because there is so much beauty out there and I just keep finding new things to capture.

OK, so you just looked through my recent treks and saw that I haven’t been out to Traphill in a while now.  You are right, I haven’t…and that is why this trek caught me by surprise.  There is some kind of weird link that I have developed with Traphill and I just can’t sneak around doing anything dealing with the area without coming up on a radar somewhere.  Going back to the print that I was making for my client, it was a scene in Ashe County, but my client lived in Traphill.  As I was getting that all ready for delivery, I received a message from another one of my clients that lives in Traphill that I met back in Fall last year.  She has been responsible for quite a few treks out that way as she has been sharing some of her family history with me.  Her message contained a simple request to help her with a project that she was working on.  Since I had been out and photographed so much of her family history, she has been taking some of her prints to make a collage, and there was one place that wasn’t represented that was very special to her.  That was where I came in.

She started to tell me about Traphill Motors located on Traphill Rd.  This was her Grandfather’s business which he ran until he passed in 2007.  It hadn’t been touched since so there was a frozen in time look to the location that she knew would appeal to me.  As I was reading the messages, I really couldn’t place the car lot, but I was sure that I had passed it at least once in my time out in Traphill.  She helped me pinpoint it on the map and immediately I recognized it.  It was a location that I had seen, but hadn’t really thought to photograph it before.  Now that I was hearing more about the story of it, the more connected I became with the location and the more I wanted to photograph it.  I just really had no idea how I wanted to go about doing it.

In addition to getting a print ready to deliver, I was also getting ready to teach a workshop that was going to start at 5:30 that evening in East Bend.  It was a late workshop because I was going to be teaching light painting and it was scheduled to run till about 10-11pm or so.  I had time before the workshop, but the weather was looking too clear and bright with just some passing clouds.  I doubted that I was going to be able to shoot the car lot before I started the workshop, but I did have time to drive out there and look at it critically to find a composition and determine the best time to photograph it.  It would also give me a good excuse to take the Miata out for a little ride in the country.  Hey, it was a nice day, might as well enjoy the trip.

When I got out there I found the dealership just as Google Street View showed it.  There was a rollback parked in the large bay of the structure and a late 80’s Isuzu parked by the office side.  It wasn’t ideal as I would have preferred to have found either no cars, or something a bit older, or a bit rustier.  But this was what I had to work with.  I wasn’t all that excited about the compositions available so I knew that to pull this shot off, I was going to need light, and interesting light at that.  I knew that I was going to have to get the front of the shelter that had the name of the business on it.  I was going to have to get it at an angle so that the rollback wasn’t foreshortened since the flatbed was pointed out of the bay.  I also would want to minimize the Isuzu on the other side.  The office which would have normally been a focal point for me was covered by a tree so that took that out of the equation because there was no way I would have been able to get a good angle on the office and the sign.  Since the sign was the whole point of this, I opted to let the office live in the tree in the background.  With all of that in mind, I could tell that morning light would be the best option as it would provide nice warm light on the side of the shelter and hopefully the trees.  That low level light should also help to light the underneath of the roof to keep the shadows from getting too dark.  I was going to be including some amount of sky and having some clouds would be beneficial, but they were going to need to be higher level clouds to hopefully pick up some color from the low sun.

I still wasn’t all that excited about how this picture was going to turn out, but I had a plan at least.  With that handled, I headed back home to get the final bit of prep work done for the workshop.  I kind of shelved the idea of Traphill Motors for the time, but I did check the weather forecast out.  It was looking like I might have a chance Sunday morning, but beyond that there was rain and clouds forecasted through most of the week until pretty much the weekend.  Well, my client had said that she wasn’t in a rush for the picture so I wasn’t stressed about it.  I had a night time workshop to get to.

Remember that forecast that I had looked at earlier that said just some passing clouds for the afternoon?  Well, that was a lie.  Not long after I left the house bound for East Bend, the clouds came in quickly and the rain started.  At first it was a drizzle, and then a full on downpour.  Well, if this ain’t some junk?!?  I pulled up the forecast and saw that there was a 65% chance of storms and rain in Yadkin County until 6pm.  Hopefully the rain would clear out by then because the last thing I wanted was another workshop in the pouring rain…and at night.  I kept my fingers crossed and continued on hoping that it would all work out for my two participants.

Long story short, the rain ended right at 5:30 when the workshop was scheduled to start.  Both of my participants arrived slightly early and we got to work with some daylight compositions which was a bit out of the scope of the workshop, but that is just the kind of guy I am.  It turned into a really great workshop and it went very smoothly and even ran a bit long because we were all having so much fun.  What should have ended around 10 because of the slightly earlier start than planned, ended up running until 11:45ish.  We were all tired, but I think that we were all sharing the same adrenaline rush from the images that were being created.  Well, I wasn’t creating images, but I was excited helping them create their own which was almost as good.  As we got it all wrapped up and I started back on the road I began doing a little bit of math.  I was going to get home close to 1am, and was going to have to get a shower before going to bed.  That would put me going to sleep around 1:30 or so.  If I were going to go out and try to shoot Traphill Motors, I was going to have to be on the road by 6am so that I had the advantage of blue hour and golden hour to try and catch the best light for the scene.  If I pushed it, I could get up at 5:30, get dressed and have something to eat, but that would only give me around four hours of sleep.  My contacts need six hours in the solution before I can safely put them back in.  I guess I could wear my glasses…if I could manage to get up.  I set the alarm and just hoped for the best.

I don’t remember falling asleep, and I don’t remember the alarm going off.  What I do remember was realizing that I was awake and figured that I was just anxious about getting up early so I looked at the clock to see how much longer I had to sleep before I woke up.


Oh good, I still have some time to sleep…

Wait a minute, wasn’t I supposed to get up at 5:30?

I opened the phone and looked at the alarm time to confirm because that couldn’t be right.  The alarm was turned off and had been set for 5:30.  I guess I turned it off before I was awake enough to know it.  I really didn’t want to get up.  I just put the phone down and closed my eyes.  My mind was coming online now though.  I had remember seeing a weather warning on the face of the phone and that was probably going to be fog which I could possibly use in the composition.  I just didn’t want to get up.  But I knew that the next week’s worth of mornings were going to be lousy for this subject.  Out of guilt I picked the phone back up and looked at the weather.  Yep, fog was in the forecast until 9am.  The clouds were thinner than originally forecasted but very high which was very likely to catch the color of the rising sun.  Having atmosphere and a colorful sky was awful tempting, but so was staying in bed.

It was now 5:42, and I had 18 minutes to get on the road if I was going to get there.  That was not enough time to get ready and get rolling.  I’ll just roll over and go back to sleep.  As I tried to go back to sleep I was already feeling guilty about wussing out on this assignment.  I knew that I wouldn’t sleep well as I stayed covered up in regret for not getting up.

It was no 5:45, and I decided that I didn’t need to eat any breakfast since it was only a single location about thirty minutes away.  All I needed to do was get my clothes and put my glasses on.  After a big sigh, I threw the covers off and met the cruel world.  I was actually pulling out of the garage about five minutes early, but still not fully awake.  I noticed that there was a conspicuous lack of fog as I was driving down the road.  I could also see the stars above.  It was looking like I wasn’t going to get any of the conditions that I was after.  Well, I was up and moving so no sense turning around now.

Traphill Motors“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, 4 image HDR

When I got to my location I pulled off on the side of the road and got out to size things up once again.  The scene still wasn’t jumping out at me, but I was here and I might as well get some test shots to see how things were looking in the different light of morning.  Who knows, I might get motivated and inspired as the light changed.  I started off well into blue hour with an overall composition that included the main structure, a storage building behind it, and a small garage off to the left.  That allowed me to get a lot of the sky which was filling with some thin clouds.  I was hoping for a bit of color above the scene to add some visual interest.  that color came in and provided some nice pink clouds against the darker blue sky.  To add a bit of contrast to that, I added a polarizer to my 24-70mm lens and kept shooting.  It still wasn’t doing it for me though.

I decided that the composition was lacking punch and a real story.  I worked around and recomposed a scene that omitted the garage on the lower level of the property.  That left me with a more pronounced structure.  I worked this for a while as the sun came up.  I still wasn’t getting the impact that I was needing for this scene though.  I was about to call it quits on the morning until I saw the warm yellow light from the sun just barely kissing the storage building.  I did some quick calculations and figured that the sun was going to be gradually lighting the entire side of the structure…if I was lucky.  That might just do the trick for this composition.  I adjusted my position once again watching for the separation of elements to simplify the scene.  Beams, windows, doors, spare tires, and even the tip of the rollback bed were taken into consideration as I was placing the camera.  I got in nice and close with the les set to 24mm so that I could emphasize the corner of the building.  My hope was that the warm light was going to reduce the impact of the red cab on the rollback so I could make it a bit larger in comparison.  It would also help balance out the red script on the sign to the right of the truck.

At this point, it was just a matter of sitting and waiting for the sun to gradually paint the side of the structure.  As I was grabbing an image here and there in case it was the best it was going to get I realized that there was going to be a problem with the exposure.  The light on the side of the building was going to be very bright, and there were going to be deep shadows inside the shelter.  While I didn’t necessarily like all of the elements in the shelter, the thought of having them all in deep shadow while taking up so much space in the frame was not a pleasant thought.  The way the setting was composed there was no way to fix the exposure issues with a grad filter because the side of the building was going to be brighter than the sky, but that sky was still brighter than the pavement and the inside of the shelter.  I had one option open to me at this point and that was shooting an HDR series.

Since the wind was minimal and there was nothing moving I felt pretty confident that the HDR blend would work very well here.  I started shooting four image groupings to expose everything from the brightest portions to the deepest shadows in a way that I could pull detail out of all of it.  For the first time, I was starting to feel that this might be a very good image when I was finished with it.  It was definitely becoming a very complicated image which I have a tendency to enjoy if for no other reason than the process of the capture.  Just as the light grew over the entire side of the building it became just too bright to be flattering.  I had the images that I had come for and everything beyond that would be just too contrasty to deal with.  Feeling that I had the best the morning offered, I packed up my gear and headed home for the second time since midnight.

Not long after I was on my way, I had settled into a relaxed drive feeling good about my dedication to my craft.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a medium sized bird leap up from the shoulder of the road to the right and fly towards the road…and me.  Why in the world is it that birds that can walk, run, and fly in any direction will always fly right towards oncoming traffic…especially if they were just to stay still they would be in no danger at all?  Well, this bird flew up and I lost sight of it as I got that couple of inches closer.  The next thing I saw was a poof of feathers blowing over the left corner of the truck.  I never saw the bird again, but I was picturing all kinds of carnage on the front of the truck.  I just decided to continue on home so I could deal with whatever I was going to have to handle being better equipped than I was currently.

All I could think of was that I probably should have stayed in bed.  I had probably just obliterated a bird, not that I had any other choice in the matter.  I had shot a whole bunch of images that probably weren’t going to turn out good at all, and I was very sleepy.  I prepared myself for multiple levels of disappointment when I got home.  After pulling into the garage I went around to the front of the truck expecting the worst.  I was surprised to see no bird, no feathers, and no damage.  I had a bunch of bugs, but that was it.  Tweetie might just have made it around the truck after all with just a slight bump that caused the feathers to explode out.  That’s what I’m telling myself at least.  I went up and had some breakfast and then came back down to the office to see if any of the images were going to work out.

As they were loading into Lightroom I could see that the early images with the colorful sky were just not interesting.  The light on the main subject was flat and uninspired.  As the images continued to load in, I still wasn’t liking them at all.  It was the last dozen or so that caught my eye.  None of them looked great, but I could see that the light was interesting and these were the HDR images so they were not exposed correctly just yet.  I picked the last few groupings and merged the images together.  It was the next to last image that I started to process first.  I did a couple of global adjustments to see what I had to work with and I was actually quite impressed with how it was turning out.  I reset the sliders and started to process the image from the ground up taking advantage of the four stops of exposure that I added to the scene through the bracketed exposures.

It took some time to work though this image because there was a lot to it with the different lighting, but at the end I had an image that was better than I had anticipated.  It was one that I actually liked and I thought that it told a story all its own even though I actually knew the story.  It had been very worth getting up so early after a very late night working.  All that is left is to find out if my client likes it and if it captures what she was hoping it would.

Thank you for joining me for this odd trek, and I hope that you like the photograph as much as I do.  Now that I am reasonably caught up with things once again, I can start turning my attention to an upcoming maternity shoot that I have scheduled in October.  You head me right….I’m going to be doing a portrait session with a young couple expecting their first baby.  Things are going to be getting interesting here I believe.  I’m just along for the ride at this point.

Until next time….

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