Downtown Winston at Sunset

· Reading Time: 14 minutes

Friday, August 9, 2019

What’s Your Angle“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

Let’s see, when was the last time I went out for some photography?  Was it last week?  No, I don’t believe so  Was it two weeks ago?  I dare say that it was two weeks ago when I went out to Roanoke, VA, to work on some architecture photography.  With the rate that I am going out, that felt like a lifetime without any new images.  The fact of the matter is there have been a couple of things that have led to me being slightly remiss in capturing new images.  First and foremost, the weather has not been great with a lot of really clear days over the last several weeks.  In fact, pretty much since we returned from Topsail Island, the weather hasn’t really cooperated with me.  Add to that, this has been a busy time at work with National Night Out which has played a part in keeping me in the office for a good bit of the week.  Finally, I have been working on another webinar with Singh-Ray which is scheduled for release in 2020.  I’m not going to give out any details on this one just yet, but I think that it will be even more engaging than my last webinar on the Wabi Sabi aspect of my photography.

Anyway, I have been just a little busy lately, but I’ve been wanting to get back out and do some more photography.  I’ve been leaning towards doing some landscape work in the mountains, but for that to really work, I need a lot more clouds than I have been seeing recently.  To me, there is nothing at all exciting about a landscape with a clear sky.  Not saying they aren’t pretty, but I need a little drama in my sky to make the image….well….mine.  I’ve tried to wait it out, but it seems that the rare occasions when the clouds come in, I have been unable to do anything with them.  Such is the price I pay for doing photography part time I suppose.

As this weekend rolled around, I was looking at the weather and not seeing much promise for anything in the mountains.  There were just some thin clouds peppered across the skies for most of the weekend and that just wasn’t going to cut it.  I started to think about what I could do with a clear sky.  As much as I hated to venture back out into downtown, that was going to be my best choice for the weather conditions.  I could do some high contrast work with an interesting building or something, or even do some isolations without the sky at all.  All I needed was a building to photograph.  I took a tour of downtown via Google Maps looking for something that I could work with.  It actually didn’t take long at all.  I found the Wells Fargo Linden Center and thought that the facade of the building was quite interesting.  It should be pretty good in the blue hour, but I wanted something that would catch the warm rays of the sun as it was coming down at the end of the day.

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

As I was working my way up 5th St, I found a view of the Integon Building that I had not really ever payed much attention to before.  It was a glass building with lots of angles built into the side.  There was no symmetry to the building and the rhythm of it was really awesome.  To say it mildly, this building caught my eye.  I checked the footprint of the building against where the sun should be setting and found that the sun should highlight the building just like I wanted it to.  This was going to be my quest for the evening.  I was so far ahead of the game that I still had two hours to relax before I needed to head out to get set up.

In that two hours, I made the mistake of looking at the weather for Saturday and found that the clouds were actually coming back into the forecast.  There was going to be a mix of low and medium clouds which should give me all sorts of textures in the sky to work with.  It probably wasn’t going to create a sunrise situation, but it was promising enough that I started thinking about where I could go in the mountains first thing.  I narrowed my choices down to the Linville Gorge (at nearly 3 hours away), and Rough Ridge (at around 2 hours away).  Both of these locations would benefit from the low clouds in the forecast but would have me leaving the house between 3-3:30am which was doable except for the part where I would be out till roughly 9pm to do the downtown shoot that I was planning.  I was in a dilemma and as I explained to Toni, if I did the downtown shoot, I wouldn’t be able to do the sunrise shoot.  If I was going to commit to the sunrise shoot, I would have to put the downtown shoot on hold till another time.  Add to that, I was actually looking forward to the downtown shoot because it was something new to me still and that brought a lot of excitement to the possibilities of the evening.  Even though I had been looking forward to getting back to the mountains, I knew that landscapes were a very known quantity to me, and I rarely get overly pumped up about going out to capture sunrises until I see conditions that warrant it.  There was no guarantee that I would have those conditions in the morning, but I was pretty well convinced that I would have some excitement shooting the Integon Building as well as the Linden Center.

It was a gamble, but I was going to go ahead with my plans for doing the downtown shoot and try to get to sleep as soon as I could afterwards in order to try and get up to the mountains.  I had pretty much settled on doing Rough Ridge which was the closest of the two, and the easiest to deal with when the clouds are low.  I grabbed my Lowepro Whistler for the first time in two weeks and headed out for the quick trip downtown.  I did like that this was only a five mile trip and really required no travel planning at all.  I arrived in plenty of time to scope out the locations before I needed to get set up.

I started with the Linden Center which was not quite as impressive as I had seen in the pictures, but I had hopes that it was going to come alive in the blue hour.  The shape of the building was interesting and there were mirrored windows all along the front of it that would pick out any color in the sky.  The trick was going to be what lights were going to be on and how they made the building look.  I kept track of the mileage as I continued up the road to the Integon Building.  It was right at a mile which was easily walked.  I got the truck parked out of the way and grabbed my gear.

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

I must have looked funny out there on the sidewalk with my backpack and carrying my Manfrotto Tripod with the Acratech Ballhead attached, looking almost straight up into the air.  Since I don’t really care for heights, I was already getting a little uneasy looking up with no foundation for my eyes to lock onto.  This was an important step though, and would hopefully help me to pick the right angles to shoot this building.  I was excited to see it and be paying attention to the details of it.  It was as if the main building had started to absorb lesser buildings as they were partially exposed on the main wall.  The way the light was hitting it was fascinating and I was hoping that I could capture that in my images.  I walked all around and worked the angles from both sides of the street before deciding that my first set of images would be from the base of the building looking almost straight up at the top.  The light wasn’t tremendous yet, but I wanted to get a feel for the building before the colors started to pop.

My first image was destined to be a black and white image from the start due to the lack of color in the light.  I got my camera set up with the 24-70mm lens for a bit of flexibility in composition.  I didn’t add any filters at this point as I was really just seeing what I could come up with.  As I started to set up the shot, I could tell that cropping was going to be very important for this in order to really draw the attention the elements that I was wanting to capture.  I set things up as a 1:1 crop because I really thought that would give the best presentation for the image.  I composed to capture the diagonals in the scene as much as possible to keep it dynamic.  The exposure was pretty straightforward and I didn’t need to do anything special to get the image captured.

I moved around a bit more and really had a hard time capturing an angle that I liked on the building.  They all just looked too static for me.  The sun was starting to drop and the light was getting better, so I needed to figure something out pretty quickly.  I decided to take a page out of the “cool kids” book and go for an exaggerated diagonal effect by canting the camera on its axis.  This was easy to do with the Acratech Ballhead using the relief that is typically used to position the camera in portrait mode.  I was able to get some pretty intense angles with the camera using that ballhead, all while shooting nearly straight up in the air.  Going with a diagonal composition did allow me the ability to bring a good bit of drama into the scene.  With the colors that were now present, I knew that this one would be a color image, but like the previous one, I felt that a 1:1 crop would be the best way to present this image.  Looking at the LCD, the standard 3:2 crop looked odd at this angle.  The square crop made much more sense for this image.  Also, with the sun getting very low, I decided to add in my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to pull some of the glare out of the windows and darken the sky a bit.

As the sun dropped, I moved across the street right to the base of the stairs at the church.  That allowed me a nice calm perspective for the building.  I was going to have enough drama with the colors that the sun would introduce and I didn’t need any other ticks along the way.  I struggle a bit with the composition that I wanted because the building was just that kind of funky.  I decided on a horizontal framing that cropped out the sky completely at the top floor of the building.  My main focus was the windows and the way that the light was hitting them.  I framed the image to really capture the accordion nature of the design and hopefully give an abstract quality to the image.  The polarizer was still attached and I was able to pull out some rich color tones from the setting sun while the shaded portions were still reflecting the blue in the sky.  I was really getting excited about how this image was turning out.  In fact, I was pretty sure that this would be the one that kept from this series.  I dialed in a “shade” WB setting to really pull the golden hues out of the building which was my ultimate intention all along.  There were converging verticals that added to the visual tension that I liked, but didn’t want them overdone which was why I had moved to across the street.

I shot a series of about a dozen images, some of which were portrait orientation on the off chance that I liked the longer presentation.  The one that I ended up keeping out of that last bunch was one of the last shots of the evening of this building.  The sun was nearly behind another building so the warmth was going to be blocked shortly after this image.  The polarizer had been dialed in just right to get the right amount of color and glare to make the image work as intended.  I knew that when I shot this one I had a winner.  Sure enough, that was the one that I kept from the group when I got home and saw it on the computer.  Just two more images after this and the color had gone away.  It was time to head down to my other destination to see if the lighting would work as I had previsualized.  I kept the camera built on the tripod and just carried it all down the road just like it was.  Part of that was because there wasn’t much sense in breaking it down for a 20 minute walk, but I also wanted to remain at the ready in case I saw something that I wanted to capture.

Sunset Curves“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, 3 images merged in Lightroom

The walk went quickly and I didn’t run into anything else I wanted to shoot along the way.  When I got to the Linden Center, I was less than impressed with the scene.  The mirrored glass was not really pulling any of the color in the sky, but it was reflecting the water tower over the new apartments across the street.  It was a cool refection, but not what I wanted to capture.  I walked around and looked for a composition without much luck.  I was seriously starting to think that I had wasted the trip down here and would be walking back empty handed.  That was a hard pill to swallow so I doubled down and looked hard for a composition.  I did notice that the clouds to the North were pulling the warm tones from the sun which was below the horizon at this point.  It was just a hint of warmth, but it was something.  There were no lights on at the business to speak of which blue hour photography kind of relies on.  I didn’t have much time to work this out, so I got into a position where I could capture the cloud in the distance.  I used the stairs at my foreground and the rows of bushes as a bit of framing element to balance out the tree to the right.  I left the camera set up the way it was from earlier and dialed in the polarizer to pull the blue out of the sky and add a little contrast.  I mounted the camera using the RRS L Plate to get a vertical composition which seemed to suit the scene nicely.  I set the exposure and captured the image.

The only problem was the clouds were blown out and I had a lot of shadow detail that would need a lot of work to pull out.  I reconsidered my options.  I could use an ND Grad, but that would affect the building too much for my tastes.  My only workable option was to do an HDR series which was what I ended up doing.  I shot three images a stop apart for this image in order to get the detail in the shadows as well as the clouds.  I wasn’t quite sure how it would work out, but I knew I had plenty of detail to work with for the final image in Lightroom.  This was the only image that I really liked when I got home.  Ironically, it was the only HDR image that I shot which tells me it was the only image I really liked in the field as well.  As I processed the RAW files for this image I decided that it was really worth shooting and I was very happy with how it came out.  It is a bit more of a simple image than the Integon images, but it really has a nice flow to it which was very important to me for this subject.

I was well into the blue hour by now, but there were no lights coming on, and I wasn’t seeing much of anything else that caught my eye.  I knew I needed to get home if I were to have any chance of going out to the mountains in the morning.  I went ahead and packed the camera up to allow me to move a bit quicker back to the truck.  I worked my way through the crowds as I determined that downtown Winston has a very active nightlife on Friday nights.  This was not what I signed up for!  I was happy to get back to the truck and on the road home.

I think I surprised Toni when I didn’t go back to the office and start working on the images right away.  I just dropped the bag off in the office and charged a battery before getting in the shower.  I needed to get to bed quickly with hope of heading out in the morning.  As I was getting ready for bed which happened after 10pm, I reconsidered my Rough Ridge idea.  Looking at the weather the clouds weren’t going to be all that fantastic, and the chances of a colorful sunrise were slim.  Looking at the clouds that I would have to work with, I decided that I would be better off doing a rural road trip instead.  I picked the area of Sparta, with hopes of getting into Grayson County, VA as the day progressed.  I had a plan, it was now time to get to sleep.

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