Driving Aimlessly in the Country

· Reading Time: 13 minutes

Saturday, December 8, 2018

I’ll be the first to let you know that I had absolutely no direction in where I went today.  In fact, I didn’t even iron out a rough idea of what I wanted to do today until I was already out of bed.  With the impending snow slated to arrive late tonight and into tomorrow, I decided that I really wanted to try and get out and do something while the roads were still dry.  The problem was, the weather that was forecasted was completely overcast and cool.  This makes for great waterfall weather, but after preparing for and doing my waterfall workshop last week, I just had no want at all to shoot any more waterfalls.  Landscapes were pretty much out of the question because the sky was going to be pretty featureless with the cloud cover.  To make matters worse, looking at the quality of light at the start of the day, there was no life at all to the light, and that killed more of my mood for the day.  I needed something, and I needed to figure it out pretty quick.

As it turned out, I had been contacted by Hampton House Art and Framing for another order that he needed for one of his clients.  I had gone ahead and prepared the images for him the night before and found myself able to drop them off at the shop when they opened up.  That kind of gave me a direction of where to go for they day.   Since I was going to be in Stokes County, I thought that this might be a good opportunity to try and shoot a row of old cars that I had seen back in the Summer on Hwy 8 in Virginia.  After I shot those, I could come back and work my way down Hwy 772 where I had seen a nice Mustang that I was wanting to photograph.  There, I had a rough plan for how the day was going to go, so I headed out the door around 9:30 which is a very late start for me.

Before heading into King to drop the images off, I took a quick side trip to a barn that I have been considering photographing for a while now.  It wasn’t far from the house and the lighting was getting better.  When I got to the barn, I was so unimpressed with how it looked that I didn’t even give it a second thought.  I just continued on to Hampton House as was my plan.  I passed by a few other subject that I have been wanting to shoot for some time, but none of them jumped out at me with the existing conditions.  The sky was just too blah to really work for me.

When I got to Hampton House, I spoke with Mark for a bit and was really happy that I decided to drop these off so early.  As it turned out, his client was needing the images rather quickly and Mark can’t do anything until he gets the images from me.  In about 15 hours from when I had the request in my hand, I was delivering six images destined to be hung in short order.  It always makes me very happy when my images are enjoyed to the point where they become a permanent fixture on somebody’s walls.  This was a good start to the day, and I was motivated to go out and make some images.  I set my course to the Northeast and started to hunt Hwy 8 going into Virginia.

I found it with no problem and started to work my way into the next state trying to remember where I had seen this row of cars.  I had almost given up and thought I had remembered the road wrong when I started to make some turns through Stewart, VA.  Now I was remembering where I was and kept on going.  The sky was still very blah, and wasn’t giving me much hope for some dramatic compositions with the sky in the frame.  I was thinking through the different types of compositions that I could do, and figured out a few that would work.  As I was driving though, something caught my eye to the left.  It was a bright orange Ford pickup sitting in front of a barn.  Oh, that looked nice with the lighting and was enough to make me consider turning around, but I figured that I was almost where I wanted to be so I continued on.  In a few more miles I found my row of cars just as I had remembered them.

They were well off the road and I was going to need to get permission to be on the property before I could shoot the pictures I wanted.  They shared a lot with a shop which had a couple of vehicles by the door.  I pulled into the shop and knocked on the door.  Nothing….

I looked around and saw what looked like a common yard with a house next to the shop.  I did’t want to walk across the yard, so I drove over to the house.  There were no cars in the driveway, but there was a double garage so I was still feeling hopeful.  I went up to the front door and knocked.  Nothing….

I figured I would try on the other side of the cars to see if maybe that house was related.  I ended up in the next driveway which went well into the woods.  It didn’t look like there had been any traffic there in a while, and the house further down didn’t appear occupied.  At this point I had the option of leaving or potentially causing problems by making myself at home.  Knowing that the shots that I wanted were going to take some time, I didn’t think it wise to trespass for this particular situation.  I had a nice orange truck to shoot just down the road so I got back into my truck and went off to the other house.  There were two cars in the driveway so I was feeling really lucky.  I got out and knocked on the door.  No signs of movement or anything on the inside.  I was fully expecting to turn back to the truck and be met with the resident holding a gun.  I was a little disappointed that they weren’t there.  In fact, there was no signs of anyone at all.  I was now 0 for 2 on opportunities for the day.  I had the same thoughts here that I did with the last place and wondered if it would be worth trying to get the shot.  It was going to be too deep in the property for me to feel comfortable doing that.

I got back in my truck and tucked my tail between my legs and headed back to North Carolina with the camera taunting me from the back.  I set the GPS to take me out to Hwy 772 which I knew would be through a route of back roads.  I paid attention to the sights along the way and hunted for something…anything to shoot.  By the time I got to 772, I was really feeling like this was not going to be a fruitful day at all.  I had been on the road about three hours at this point and had photographed absolutely nothing.  I just knew that this location was going to turn something up since I have had great luck out here several times now.  I got into my familiar area and found the Mustang that I was wanting to shoot.  It was looking really good against the trees, and I could see an open door to the shop in the rear.  I pulled into the driveway to ask permission to work the Mustang.

Well, I made it half way up the driveway and a rather large dog started towards me.  I stopped where I was hoping that somebody would peek their head out of the shop door so I could maybe be granted clear passage to discuss my intentions.  Well, the dog was getting really irritated very quickly and there was no sign of life in the shop.  I stayed there a few minutes just to see what would happen and finally gave up.  I could have shot the Mustang from where I was, but I knew the minute I got out of the truck, I was going to have to make friends with the dog…if that was even a possibility.  I opted to put the truck in reverse and go hunting once again.  There had been a ’60’s sedan sitting in a yard a few streets up that I wanted to go see.  I found it, and saw that the surroundings were not conducive to photography.  I turned down the road though, and took it for a while to see what I could see.  I was really getting discouraged at this point.  I had been gone all day and had nothing at all to show for it.

Rural Winter
Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8LII, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

As you have seen, up until now there have been no pictures in this entry.  That is so you could feel my pain on this trek.  However, what you see here was a scene that I stumbled on while on one of the back roads.  The barn was nice with the wood tones and textures from aging, and the red tractor served the same purpose as the orange truck from earlier.  It gave me that needed pop of color that I needed on this dreary day.  I evaluated the scene in my head and decided to turn around.  As with everything that I saw today, I was gong to need permission to get into position to photograph this barn.  I pulled into the driveway and walked up to the front door.  Much to my surprise, somebody actually answered the door!  I went through my normal dialogue and expected some questions or clarifications, but instead I just simply got permission to work the scene.  Finally!!!!

I grabbed my tripod and mounted the camera with the 24-70mm lens and the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer (Use KISER10 to get 10% off) that I knew would help to boost the colors.  I piked out my angle that would give a good composition while avoiding the house behind the barn, and minimizing the impact of the sky.  When I shot these I was really thinking about doing them as black and white because of the sky.  I wasn’t all that happy with how it was looking, but persevered anyway.  This might be my one and only chance for a picture and I wasn’t going to waste it.  Looking at the histogram I was able to capture detail in the shadows as well as the highlights in the sky.  This might work out after all!

Gathering Wood
Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8LII, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I was rather limited with compositions with this tractor because I had a house to the left of the barn, and due to the supports on the roof of the barn, I could only shoot from so many angles on this side.  I ended up doing several horizontal as well as vertical compositions taking advantage of the wooden tones on the barn.  The fact that there was classic country playing in the background made it all that much better for me.  I was really getting into the mood for this old tractor.  I just wanted something that was going to really stand out and make a composition pop.  With the sky included in these shots, I was worried if they would turn out as I was imagining them.  I started to look for compositions that didn’t include the sky, but those were rather static and didn’t have much depth at all.  The nice thing about the heavily overcast day was there was not much direction to the light.  That meant I could actually shoot into the sun from the other side of the tractor.

I got into position and started to work on a composition.  I found one that I really liked and for the first time I was really excited about the image.  There was no sky, there was a good bit of depth in the background from the trees, there was texture, and visual interest.  It was everything that I was after and the red just jumped out of the viewfinder as I was framing it up.  While the other ones were likely going to be black and white shots, this was going to be my color shot with all the rich tones of the wood and the red paint on the tractor.

Well, as you see, the leading two images here are in full color.  Now I did drop the saturation a bit to give it a more aged and winter feel, but there is no doubt about it, they look better in color.  The one that I shot from the other direction seemed to lose the effect I was after in color.  It just looked like a postcard shot and wasn’t special at all.  How could I have been so wrong in the field about this composition.  This was supposed to be THE shot of the day from this location and here I was sitting, staring at the computer feeling like it was just a snapshot.  I didn’t want to toss this image away just yet though.  I still liked the composition and I saw potential here.  I decided to see what would happen if I processed it as a black and white image.

Massey Ferguson
Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8LII, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

The initial conversion was about as flat as the color image, but I started to play with it regardless.  As I started to adjust the individual color tones and massage the contrasts a bit, I saw something that I got excited about.  I did some dodging and burning throughout the image, and worked on what I wanted the eyes to focus on.  As I was putting the finishing touches on this image, my excitement had returned to where it was in the field.  As a monochrome image this shot captured the emotion I wanted with this old tractor, and the way the tones all played out, the tractor has a lot of visual impact after shedding the color.  The birdhouse to the right was one of those elements that seemed unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but when I was composing this shot, I wanted to make sure that it had a special presence in the composition.  I have to say it worked out very well and frames the tractor just perfectly.  The entire composition was processed as a high contrast black and white image which I think suits the mood to an absolute “T” of what I was feeling at the time of capture.

This image started out as my favorite, and it ended as my favorite, but with two completely different interpretations of the scene.  Having shot this composition, I was done with the tractor and ready to find my next subject to shoot.  I was full of hope for the next subject, and started to go out and look once again.  I drove past the Mustang once again and saw nothing at all different about the property, and the dog was still there watching me.  I took a series of back roads until I ended up on Hwy 65 and decided to go knock on the door of another old car that I have been looking at for several years.  Today was going to be the day I was going to shoot it.  I got there, and found the car just as I had remembered it.  The lighting was great on it, and the background of trees was going to be just perfect.  I pulled into the driveway where there were four vehicles sitting.  This was going to be no problem at all.

I rang the doorbell which I heard from my position and waited.  The door never opened and I heard nothing on the inside.  I waited a few moments and slowly started to walk back to the truck.  I even stopped to tie my shoe before getting back into my truck hoping that somebody would come out and ask what I wanted.  That never happened though.  At this point, I was pretty close back to home and decided that I would just head that way and process the images that I got from the tractor.  I had shot just 27 frames after being on the road for about six hours.  It was not one of my better days, but I can at least say that I didn’t just get desperate and shoot something for the point of getting something.  My one subject was a very good rural scene and one that actually caught my eye as I was driving through.  I may not have gotten a bunch of images, but I’m very happy with those that I did get.  Of those, I found these three that were worth keeping.

I also saw a bunch of other potential places to shoot when the weather is different.  I will also go back to the places where I got no answer and keep trying to get those images.  For now though, I have to think about what to shoot tomorrow if the conditions work out for some snow pictures.  Stay tuned…