Saturday, January 4, 2020
There are times when nothing works out and then there are times when I really surprise myself with the ability to find these decay subjects. This was one of those latter treks. You see, I had been at home for most of the day while it was raining and just generally nasty outside. Toni was going to go to Raleigh to visit with a friend in the afternoon and I had figured that based on the weather forecast I might be able to slip out and get a few pictures if I was lucky. Shortly after lunch she headed out and I noticed that the ground was drying up and it hadn’t rained for a while. The sky was looking really great too with the weather front moving out of the area. I knew exactly what I wanted to shoot, and if you have been following the last two blog entries here you are familiar with the subject….the fabled Dodge that I have been trying to get a composition on for the ENTIRE YEAR! I was thinking that the dramatic sky might help me out just enough, so that was my destination.
The 10 miles that it took me to get to the car saw my optimism swell as I was looking at the sky overhead. This was going to be my best chance for a photograph of this car yet! However…things were not all that great. Not even two miles from the destination something happened that I wasn’t expecting.
…and then the bottom fell out. This was no simple rain, this was a downpour, and one that I was not expecting. I pulled up the weather map in the truck and saw that there was a string of heavy rain showers coming from the Southwest directly to where I was wanting to shoot. It was looking like the front was going to just keep dumping rain on this area for the foreseeable future. I thought about going to Mocksville to try and find the elusive Mercedes that I had lost, but the rain was already there and the cells were lined up to stay traveling right overhead. My best bet was to try and outrun the rain to the East and the South so I took a right turn in Walnut Cove and started my way back to Belews Creek. The rain didn’t seem to be letting up any, but I was hopeful since I was positioned right on the edge of the rain. There were times when it would slack up and give me reason to believe that I had made the right choice. One of those times, I came upon an old truck in front of a house that I had seen before but not in this good of a light. By the time I got turned around and parked to examine the scene critically the rain found me. This wasn’t going to be the day for that truck. I continued into Kernersville and got gas under a steady rain.
My thought was it was time to call it quits and go home. I wasn’t outrunning the storm at all, and it was following my every move. My only choice was to drive through it and go West and North to get on the other side of it. It was looking like Yadkinville was in the dry. The question was whether or not I would be able to find anything to shoot out that way. It was about 1:30 at this point so I had a little bit of time to play with before the sun went down. I decided to throw the dice and see what I could come up with.
It was a very wet drive and it was every bit of 25-30 miles before I got on the other side of the rain. Just as the rain let up, I could see clear blue skies to the West. I knew that I needed to turn North now and follow the back end of the front to keep clouds in my skies. I ended up going through East Bend where I have spent a lot of time recently. I didn’t want to shoot the same old stuff, so I started to search out roads that I hadn’t been on before. That worked great until I ran into roads that I knew which was starting to happen very frequently. Things were just not going my way. The sky was excellent and the quality of light was wonderful, I just had to find something to put under the sky. I did actually come across a nice landscape scene with a few bare trees lit by the low sun against a dark sky. The magic light was wonderful so I turned around with hopes of capturing the scene. By the time I got the truck parked, the light was gone. I waited a minute and the light came back. It was beautiful, but the composition was weak. I opted to bypass this in hopes that I would find a nice rural scene to capture instead.
That proved more difficult than I expected. I was losing the light and not finding anything at all as I drove around. We were now about two hours till sunset and I still hadn’t found anything. I was toying with the idea of going home, but I refused to give up when I still had light to work with and these excellent clouds. I turned down a small side road that I had never seen before and saw an old barn, and a few old trucks parked next to it. This was one of my clues for good subject matter, and I turned down the dirt road to investigate. It actually paid off and what I found was a field opposite the barn with about a dozen or so old cars scattered around. One of them was an old tow truck which I knew Toni would like, so I continued down the road to see if I could find a house that it belonged to. There were no other houses down the road, so I just figured that it was the one house at the head of the road so I got turned around to go and ask permission.
I knocked on the door and met with the homeowner. I explained my reason for being there and quite honestly I thought that I was going to have an uphill battle to get permission. Instead, I was greeted with a very positive response and was given their blessing to go out and photograph the cars. I was beyond excited because this was one of the better finds that I have seen lately. I got the truck parked and grabbed my gear from the back and walked into the field. It took me a minute to take it all in. There were Impalas, a Nova, an Oldsmobile, A Buick, and few Chevy’s and Fords, and even a Fiat and a Honda for good measure. I could see lots of potential here, but I wanted to get started with the tow truck first since that was going to be for Toni. I went over to it and found where the light was right on it. Luckily the light was good on the side that showed both trucks in a position like the tow truck was actually hooking up to the Ford. There was a story here for sure and I was ready to capture it. There was a slight background problem that I had to deal with since my 4Runner and a work van were parked just beyond the subject of my first image. By getting down low to the ground, I was able to mask the background issues with the trucks that I was shooting. It also gave me an opportunity to really get the sky in the frame as well.
In order to do that to the best advantage, I decided to get in close and shoot with a wide angle lens. Of course I fitted my new filter holder to the camera and snapped on the polarizer ring which had the Color Combo Polarizer already screwed on. This allowed me to control the glare on the trucks and with the sun to my right shoulder, it would also help add some definition to the clouds. When I started to set the exposure on the camera, I realized that I was going to have two different problems. First of all, the sky was going to be too bright to allow me to expose for the trucks correctly. For that issue I added a Galen Rowell 3-stop soft edge ND Grad which did the trick and brought the exposure right where it needed to be on the histogram. The second issue was the wind that was picking up and blowing the grass in the foreground. For that, I had to boost the ISO to 200 in order to raise the shutter enough to freeze the grass, or at least minimize the motion of it. That did the trick and I was left with waiting for the light to hit right which didn’t take long at all with the clouds moving rather quickly overhead.
With the first shots in the bag, I was feeling really good about this location. I decided to move over to one of the Impalas which was situated all by itself in the middle of the field. The sun was hitting the side of it nicely with some really great light. The bare trees behind it added some visual interest to the midground and the clouds were looking really good still. I set up the next shot as a horizontal composition using the same rig that I had just used for the tow truck. It was working nicely, but I couldn’t help but think that this could be much better with more sky in the frame. I flipped the camera on the L Plate, and tried a vertical composition. That did the trick and allowed me to get quite a bit more sky in the frame which I needed to balance out the warm tones of the car and the grass. The bunch of weeds on the hood of the car really interested me and I had a lot of fun playing with that aspect of the car for this set of images. I actually stayed here for a good bit of time fighting with the composition and the wind which was getting worse with every minute. It was not nearly bad enough to cause me to want to give up though. I was having a blast out here already and had just gotten started. There was more here that I wanted to photograph than I had time to work with I was pretty sure. I was also sure I was going to give it my best shot for getting all of the images that I could while I was here.
I felt like I was on a roll by this point and I was really feeling connected with the cars. The sun was starting to get a little bright so I started to look for a subject that was in a slightly less exposed location. I found this really cool Buick LeSabre in the shadows behind some trees. It was not like most of the cars that I shoot with the design or the patina, however the design was just completely awesome and over the top. I had to capture something with this car while I was here. I started out hunting for the composition. I had to worry about the truck behind the car which was really close and the Impala that I had just shot moments ago. In order to mask both of those with the Buick, I was going to have to shoot it nearly head on which I could do, but then I had a power pole that was right in the middle of the field that was well lit by the sun that I would have to deal with in post. Since the composition was weak, and I had some visual clutter that I didn’t like, I opted to go back to the stronger composition and just embrace the truck and the Impala. They were period correct for the Buick, so that didn’t bother me. I just lined them all up and found the right camera position to capture them all.
The exposure here was going to be really difficult because the car was in the shadows and the sky was still rather bright from the sun. I left the polarizer and ND Grad filter mounted and decided that I was still able to benefit from that combination with this shot. I had to be really careful with the trees to the upper right so that I didn’t expose them too dark. I canted the filter over about 45 degrees to minimize the impact on the trees while still holding the light at the top left corner of the image. I dropped the filter just enough to take the bite out of the clouds. The histogram seemed to like what I had going on with this exposure so I shot a couple of different versions hoping to get the wind to die down enough so that I didn’t have to worry with the movement of the weeds I still had the ISO set to 200 so I wasn’t overly worried about noise, but I did push the exposure as far to the right as I could without blowing out the sky because I didn’t want to try and add exposure later in post which would have added more noise to the scene. After a handful of exposures here I was satisfied that I had what I wanted and it was time to move to the next composition.
My next subject was a good distance away. I wanted to shoot the massive trunk on the Buick, and it probably took me 15 minutes to walk around the car to get to it. This trunk was huge and very impressive. I have photographed big Buick trunks before and wanted to try something different with this one. Since I still had my wide angle lens on, I decided to really go for the perspective distortion with this shot and I got in really close. I squared myself up on the back of the car and raised the camera up to above my head. With the camera looking down, I was able to fill the frame at 20mm with the rear of this car. All the while, I was singing certain verses of a well known Sir Mix-a-Lot song. Come on, sing along with me…
Oh, my, God Becky, look at her butt
It’s so big….she looks like
One of those rap guys’ girlfriends.
You get the picture. Anyway, I was really impressed with the back of this LeSabre with the chrome trim that followed the curves, the tail lights that provided the book ends to the car, and that split bumper which complemented the seemingly small roof of this monstrous car. The composition was excellent for what I wanted to convey and I only needed to shoot three images to make sure that I had what I wanted. The first one didn’t work because I had moved to get out of the way of the reflective bumper, but that allowed the sun to hit the lens and cause some flare. I then stayed and shot another frame with my hand blocking the filter. I missed some of the sun because I still got light leaking in, so I had to go with one more with me using my hat off to the left to block everything. That worked and I had the shot that I wanted. This one is a brutally simple image, but I really love how futuristic the composition makes the lines of this car. It really shows off the size of this rear end that missed no red beans and rice…cause Buick got back!
With the Buick all taken care of, I started to look for other subjects. My main goal at this point was to shoot something that I could do facing East to avoid the sun which was fully exposed and causing some serious problems for my exposures when shooting anywhere near it. The only car that I found that would work for this angle was an Oldsmobile sitting kind of by itself. I started to look at how I would be able to shoot it and found that if I got down low I could mask the Impala that was behind it. The problem was I was going to be down in the weeds to get that shot and I didn’t really like that angle for this car and the weeds were getting in the way of the shot. I decided that I could use the Impala as a counter element in the shot and by raising the camera and changing the focal length, I could have them interacting together for the image. I swapped on my standard lens and framed up the shot. The key was keeping the Impala big enough to makes sense in the shot and close enough to the Oldsmobile that you could see that it was supposed to be connected. As I was setting up a shot that put the Impala in the upper right of the frame, I realized that the sun was casting some really cool shadows that went diagonal across the ground at the same angle as the Olds. I changed up my position and put the Impala in the middle of the “V” that the sun helped create. This worked much better I thought, so I got the exposure worked out. Again, the sky was causing me problems so I had to add in the ND Grad once again to take the bite out of the sky. The soft edge transition makes it play very nicely with the trees so that you really can’t tell that I even used a filter here.
Originally, the image was shot as a color image, but when I got it home, I realized that the colors were not all that well balanced. I still loved the way that the light was playing on the scene, so I decided to convert it to monochrome to see how that worked. It was rather flat to start with, but once I started playing with the tonal values things started to come together rather nicely. The amount of detail really doesn’t show up in this low res image, but in the full sized version, you can pick out all of the features of the Impala in the distance, and the transitions are very smooth throughout the image. The part that really drew me in was the interaction between the cars. They are both GM products so they are family. However, they are obviously mad at each other and at odds, hence the 180 degree difference in direction. Neither car is ready to be the bigger car yet (cause that is obviously the LeSabre I just shot), and they are sitting there pouting in their respective corners. Hey, if the story isn’t there, I create one through the composition.
The sun was now getting down really low in the sky. The clouds were starting to pick up the colors of sunrise. I still wanted to get another Impala that was sitting off in another corner of the field and the best composition was one shooting towards the West which was really hard to do before. Now, the sky had softened a good deal and I thought that it would be worth another try at it. I moved over to where I thought that the composition would be and framed up a vertical shot. The thing about this car was that there was a small tree that bisected it and caused me not to be able to shoot the entire car. The front clip was all I could get and that was enough. These cars are very recognizable and I was fortunate enough to have the name plate visible just behind the wheel. I shot a few exposures and found that the composition was a little boring. With only a portion of the car visible, I had to pay particular attention to the visual weight that it had in the scene. The vertical shot was just too heavy on trees and sky, so I flipped the camera back to horizontal and tried it again. I liked this composition much better, but I was really hoping that the exposure was going to work out. The histogram was showing enough information, but I knew that it was a tough one to make. To be fair, it did take a good bit of work in Lightroom to massage all of the detail back out of this as well as have the colors appear right. I’m reasonably happy with how the image turned out in the end.
With the light levels dropping I was thinking that it was going to be time to call it an evening really soon. One car that I hadn’t photographed yet was still calling my name though. It was one of those Thunderbirds that seem to be stalking me here lately. I’ve shot a few of them here recently and I really don’t care for them. However, I am learning that they make pretty good pictures. This particular bird was a Carolina Blue which caught my eye in the brown of the woods. If for nothing else, I liked the colors that were present with this car. I went over and started to figure out a composition. With the clutter that was around it, my best bet was going to be a shot from the rear quarter. I had to be very careful with my framing because there was another car just out of the frame to the left as well as a wheel on the ground just behind the car. To the front was a truck that I had to avoid which left me with pretty much this composition. I was able to fine tune it by raising and lowering the camera until I got the perspective that I wanted. I manged to work it out to where I was comfortable with the composition and it had a bit of story and visual tension to it. Some might wonder why the chrome trim is still laying on the trunk. Well, I considered moving it, but opted not to since I do pride myself on shooting these scenes as I find them. Plus, had I moved it, there would have been a line where the trim had been which would have stuck out too much. For me, it was a much better option to leave it just like it was. It was a part of the story of this car.
Not wanting to spend too much time on the Thunderbird, I decided to go and check out the Buick one more time to see if there were any isolations that I could do with it. The part that really interested me, other than that trunk, was the grille and the emblem in the middle. Kind of like the Plymouth Fury that I shot a while back, I loved the curved slats and figured that they would make a great isolation. I got the camera in position and tried my best to square it up on the front of the car. I got things level relative to the lines and made sure that it was as centered as I could make it. I then set the aspect ratio to a 16×9 because I wanted to accentuate the fins of the grille and that gave me the perfect way of doing it. With the front of the car in the shadows, I was looking at a 20 second exposure which was just fine by me. nothing was moving in the frame so I didn’t have to worry about any motion at all. I just had to make sure that the composition was good and the exposure was right. I shot two different images with with polarizer positioned two different ways to see which I liked better on the computer monitor. I then pulled back and tried to get a shot of the hood along with the emblem. As it turned out, I didn’t like the way that the perspective affected the emblem when shooting from so high up, so that one was trashed before the editing process hit it.
As an interesting side note, the grandson of the property owner came out while I was working the LeSabre for the second time. He introduced himself and we chatted for a bit. As it turned out, he follows a few photographers on Instagram that do this type of of photography, so we had a lot to talk about. I let him see some of what I had shot thus far and talked about the importance of capturing these old cars at this stage of their lives. It was a great conversation and it is always nice meeting folks that understand the draw of this type of photography. Most everyone that I run into looks at me like I just made a peanut butter and sour kraut sandwich. I always feel like I have to assure them that I’m not a mental patient after telling them that I like to photograph old rusted cars.
After he bid me farewell and left me to my devices, I started looking around for just one more composition. I really liked the 2 door Impala that I had shot much earlier and decided that I would try it again with the softer light. It was now in the shade and the sky behind it was much darker than it had been before. That rusty patina on the side was what excited me. It complemented the cool tones of the sky quite nicely. Of course, the weeds on the hood were still my favorite part when it came to character of the car. In this light it just looked like a really bad hair piece which was where I got the idea for the title. The wind was getting really animated by this point and I didn’t want to try and fight the movement of the grass, so I just decided to embrace it. I dropped the ISO back down to 100 and let the shutter speed fall where it would. It turned out to be around 10 seconds which was slow enough that some of the tall weeds were showing up blurred in the image. it really didn’t bother me too bad because it actually helped to simplify the foreground just a little bit. The exposures were looking very good and well balanced without the need for any ND Grad filters which was nice. After a few different variations on this theme, it was time to call it a day and head home for some dinner. I had been gone much longer than I had intended, but it was well worth it. I had nearly 50 images captured which really wasn’t that many considering the gold mine that I found. I was just really fortunate to feel confident about the images without the need to make changes. In the end, I had nine images that I felt were strong enough to be included here. This has easily been my most fruitful trek of the year. I guess that isn’t saying much since when I was going on this one it was only the 4th day of the year. However, keep in mind that this was the third time I had been out for photography in those four days. Not too bad at all!
As always, if there are any pictures here, or anywhere else on my website that speak to you please let me know. I would love the opportunity to match you up with your very own print of the image. That is the best way to enjoy my work, and you will be helping me continue to go out on treks such as this.
Until next time….