Exploring in Watauga County

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Friday, January 10, 2020

This trek is just a little bit different from my regular ones.  It was actually a secondary concern for me since my primary reason for being in the mountains was to celebrate my Ninth Anniversary with Toni.  We have gone to the mountains pretty much every year since we got married to stay in a cabin.  In years past I had always taken the camera with me and planning on going out to search for new images.  This year, I was really wanting to take a little break from photography for the long weekend and just enjoy Toni’s company.  I actually wasn’t even wanting to take the camera, but she convinced me to bring it along…just in case.  We had room for it, so I packed it in the back of the 4Runner before we left.  The weather forecast was calling for rain pretty much every day and I wasn’t really thinking that I was going to be able to take advantage of the camera, but it was nice to have it just in case.

On our first full day there, there was some light rain in the morning and we decided that we would run into Boone and go to a few places.  I grabbed the camera since we would be out and about and the rain was looking like it might stop.  I wasn’t really planning on doing much with it, but figured that the weather was going to be pretty decent if the mood struck.  We spent a few hours in Boone and Blowing Rock before heading out to Valle Crucis to the Mast General Store.  When we got finished there, I started to go into exploration mode and we started going down all the little side roads in the area.  We found quite a few nice barns, but the settings were not all that great.  The light was fantastic and I wanted to try and find at least one scene to photograph before heading back to the cabin for dinner.

We turned up streets, and down streets but nothing was jumping out at me.  My creativity really was a little on the fatigued side after the first week or so of the month when I was out very regularly.  I still wanted to find something though.  It was not looking promising though as I kept finding more reasons not to photograph things than to photograph them.  One of the roads that I turned down quickly turned into a narrow dirt road that seemed to go to nothing.  There was no room to turn around so I continued to climb the hill to find a place to turn around.  As I came to the end of the road I found several buildings and just enough room to get turned around.  However, before I got turned around I caught a glimpse of a few old rusted trucks sitting behind a closed gate.  I got turned around and pulled off the road to see what I could make of the scene.

There was a heavy duty flatbed close to the road that held just a slight bit of interest for me.  Beside that was a trailer with a Subaru Outback on it that had no interest for me.  Just beyond that, and one additional trailer was an International pickup that had caught my eye.  Further up the hill I could see a red canoe with an old Chevy pickup in front of it.  It was way out of range for me, but I could tell that there was some interesting subjects here.  My attention was on the gate at this point though.  I could see no “No Trespassing” signs anywhere around, and there was not actually a fence up.  The gate was closed and that was enough for me not to attempt to go further than the gate.  I was pretty sure that I could get a decent shot of the International despite it being about 100 feet away from me.  I went ahead and shut the truck off and grabbed my camera out of the back.  Toni opted to stay inside as she gets a little nervous in these situations.

I had the 24-70mm lens on the camera to start with and began finding compositions that would work, but I was going to have to clone out a portion of the blue trailer that was next to it in order for the image to work.  At 70mm I was just able to get the crop that I wanted, but figured that I might need to go a little tighter so I went back to the truck and started swapping out to my telephoto lens.  I wasn’t all that crazy about the composition that I was going to be getting, but it was something interesting to try.  As I was getting the Polarizer mounted on the long lens, I could hear a car coming up the road.  Since there was only one house at the end of this street, I was pretty sure that this was going to be the property owner, and one of two things was about to happen.  I just hoped that I wasn’t going to get sent packing since the photographs that I had gotten thus far were not quite what I had in mind.

Sure enough, the car stopped when it got past me and the window rolled down.  I approached the driver and she asked if I was there for the road paving that was about to happen.  She had seen the tripod and thought that I was a surveyor.  Well, I was very thankful that the This was not starting out to be a negative encounter.  I quickly let her know that I was just a photographer and what I was doing.  I also asked if the gated property was her since I would like to go in further to get some pictures.  She was happy to let me get some pictures and agreed that the International was a special truck.  Now that I had permission to be there, things changed drastically for me.  I went back to the truck and stripped off the lens that I had just fitted and brought my 24-70mm back out of the bag.  After adding the polarizer, I was ready to make some pictures.

Weathered Crest“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

I got in closer to the truck and started to frame up the composition that I had in mind from the gate.  It went fair, but it still didn’t have the depth that I wanted.  Since I was in close, I thought that I would get up and shoot some isolations on the truck which I hadn’t planned on doing.  The hood ornament was still in place and it was very nicely weathered with cracks that looked like deer antlers.  The patina of the hood was wonderful as well, so that was what I focused on to begin with.  I tried horizontal as well as vertical images with different crops and compositions.  The one that turned out the best was the most simplistic of them all which was a vertical composition  that placed the horizontal trim at the bottom of the frame.  The rust had a nice look to it with a very natural darkening from the weathering near the top of the frame.  My intention was to keep this a color image, but when I started to process it, I didn’t like the uniform warm color over the image.  There needed to be more contrast to the photograph and I knew that the way to do that was to convert it to monochrome and really fine tune the tones that were present.  That did the trick for this image, and it became the first of the series that I decided to keep.

I shot a few more of the truck after focusing on the hood isolations but I just never really found a composition that I liked of it.  This was just not what I had in mind.  The truck looked so good from the road, and now that I was able to get up close with it I was floundering for ideas on how to shoot it.  I decided that I needed to clear my head for a moment and focus on something else real quick.  I turned my attention to the Chevy that I had seen just up the hill.  It was now no longer out of reach so I owed it to myself to check it out.  As I walked closer, I saw that the red canoe was not near the truck, it was actually in the bed of the truck with the nose coming within inches of the cab.  The canoe was not part of the story of this truck and that made me a little upset.  However, I also noticed a tractor sitting right next to the truck that caught my eye.  This was a nice bonus find and I decided to photograph the tractor with the front of the truck as a background to avoid the canoe and show a completely different story.  The problem with that image was it was too complex with the tractor and truck sharing a color palette  and parked just a few feet from each other.

Farming Sorrow“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

My next thought was to capture the tractor in its own composition but that was also going to prove difficult.  It was very close to the truck, and there was just a small ridge behind it before you saw the house.  To the right of the shot was a fence that wasn’t too terrible, but  would become a distraction if given too much real estate in the frame.  I worked on compositions and found that the only way to eliminate the house was to shoot from an elevated position so I raised the tripod up to nearly seven feet tall to get the angle that I needed.  I didn’t have enough room to justify a vertical composition here, and a horizontal frame would either include a section of the truck, or too much of the fencing.  My only option here was a square crop which I went ahead and selected in the camera.  That was the missing element to the composition as it all came together nicely.  The visual weight was good with all of the elements and the perspective on the tractor was flattering from here as well.  I liked the color balance too as the tractor was a pale blue with just a hint of surface rust in places.  The ground around the tractor was a muted brown from the fallen leaves and brush.  It looked good in the viewfinder and on the image review on the LCD.

By now you are asking why the image isn’t in color I bet…

Well, when I got it into Lightroom I found that the color balance wasn’t nearly as strong as it looked in the camera. The blue was too pale to really work, and the rust on the tractor made the image too warm overall.  I started to trash the image, but figured that I would try a monochrome conversion first.  At first, I wasn’t any happier with it this way, but as I started to go through the different profiles I found one with just the right tonal qualities and started to process that version.  As I tweaked the tones and contrasts I started to like the image more and more.  This was the way to go for sure and it really put the focus on the tractor.  The three visible wheels balanced out nicely with the fence post in the upper right and it all just balanced out perfectly, especially with the square crop.

After figuring that I had the image of the tractor that I wanted, I moved to the front of the Chevy to try and get an image of that truck that I liked.  The only way to do it was to get about headlight level and shoot straight on.  The composition was not very dynamic and it just lacked any real story.  I tried only two compositions of the truck and didn’t like either of them so I picked up the camera and made my way back down to the International to see if my mind was ready to create something with that truck.

I started off shooting from the driver’s side and actually found a composition that blocked the Subaru, two trailers, and large truck, but it lacked something.  It was still just a snapshot of the pickup and that wasn’t my goal at all.  I moved around to the other side and started to look at different angles.  I needed something to show depth , and I decided to go a little wide to include the tree line that cut in sharply just in front of the truck.  I played around with the focal lengths and decided that shooting a little wider would include the sky as well, but I would have a trailer to contend with in the lower left corner of the frame.  I decided to crop in and make it a 5×7 crop which used a nice tree as a framing element on the left side of the image.  I was liking the composition at this point and thought I was onto something with it finally.

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

The color balance here was going to be a delicate aspect since there were so many warm tones in the frame with the fallen leaves and the rusty truck.  The only contrasting colors were going to be the bluish tones in the clouds and the greens of the trees and grass.  When I got it into Lightroom, I could see that the truck was getting lost in the mix too easily so I considered doing a black and white conversion.  I really didn’t want to go in that direction because I really liked the warm tones on the truck, I just needed to find a balance in the frame with it.  I ended up using one of my little tricks with desaturation to help bring the attention to the main subject.  The more I worked the image the more I liked it.  It helped that the trees were all pointing to the truck, and the large posts on the ground behind the truck  also pointed to it.  The leaves formed a framework around the truck which was accentuated by the green grass on the right.  The subtle colors around the truck balanced nicely with the bold colors of the truck.

By the time that I finished with this image I realized that it was my favorite from the location.  Ironically, it was the image that I had seen in my head from the other side of the gate, but didn’t have the angle that I needed.  It was different from the initial compositions that I shot because of the wider focal length that I was shooting it with that gave depth to the image.  There were only two compositions that I shot that had this aspect and they worked the best of all of the shots I made of this truck.  This one just happened to be framed ever so slightly better for the sky showing between the trees.  My only regret was that it didn’t include the front tag that simply read “Cadillac.”  That was a nice part of the story and one that I had wanted to include, but the composition wasn’t quite strong enough to make that happen.

Now that I had achieved the image that I wanted from this truck, it was time to pack up and head on back down the road.  Toni was still in the 4Runner and hadn’t run away out of boredom yet so that was good.  I got everything situated and we were back on our way.  We continued to explore until it got to be time for dinner.  By this point, we were in Tennessee and had to get turned around.  I set the address for the cabin the GPS and off we went.  Ironically, that was when all of the really great subjects started popping out of the woodwork.  I made mental notes of the route so I could return later on to photograph some of these finds at a later date.

My intention was to return later in the weekend, but that never did happen.  It rained for the solid day on Saturday, and Sunday didn’t have the needed cloud cover for any photographs.  The best weather was on Monday, but that was the day that we were headed home and that was not the time to go and get pictures.  We are looking at quite a number of cloudy and rainy days so I am thinking that I will be able to return out there to get the scenes that I had seen on the way back to the cabin.  I’m hoping that will work out here in the next few days.

I’m am happy that you were able to join Toni and me on this quick trek during out anniversary.  There weren’t a lot of pictures from it, but I am happy with the three that I have.  As always, if there are any here that you like, please let me know as I would love to help match you up with a print.  Viewing on the computer is nice, but nothing is quite as satisfactory as seeing them in their intended tangible form.

Until next time….

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