Thursday, May 14, 2020
I’ve started to resign myself to the fact that for the next couple of months my ability to get out for new images will be greatly limited with getting the new house ready to move into and then actually moving in. I’m in my last week of the holding pattern waiting for closing and short of getting a few things prepped here for the move, we are just trying to get a little rest so that we are ready when the flood gates open up on the work. Photography hasn’t been at the top of my priorities here of late and I’m starting to feel a bit disconnected from my artistic side. With that in mind, I’ve been looking for days when I could get out a little bit and do some photography, even if it was just something simple. Honestly, I haven’t been having all that great luck on my last outings. With my mind on all sorts of other things, it really is difficult to concentrate on being creative.
When I woke up on Thursday morning, there were thick clouds overhead and the quality of light wasn’t all that great. Having looked at the weather the night before, this was supposed to last until about 9am or so and then break up to a mostly sunny day. I wasn’t all that excited about the prospect of the lighting I was going to see so I didn’t really put a lot of thought into going out. However, as I was helping Toni get things together for Goodwill, I couldn’t help but notice that it was a beautiful day outside with a nearly perfect temperature. The clouds were still in the sky, but they were breaking up ever so slowly. According to the information that I had, I should be seeing a fully sunny sky by this point. As far as I could see to the West, there were still some really nice clouds with a lot of texture to them. I started to get the urge to go out and get a few pictures and recalled passing by an area in Yadkin County a couple of months ago where I spotted some great potential. I hadn’t been back out there since because I wasn’t really wanting to knock on doors with the Pandemic just getting started. I figured that I could wait for a little while before I started doing the knock and talks again. However, as we are now in our third month of quarantine restrictions, I decided that I would just be very generous with space so as not to frighten anyone that I might come in contact with. The time had come to get back to work as a photographer.
I made another check of the weather and saw that the skies should be clear at this point, but I was looking out and I was seeing some great potential in the sky for some rural images. I figured that if all else failed and the clouds cleared out then I could do some more work with the I-Ray 830 filter and try to get a little more experience with that. I had two workable plans in mind for the day and even though it was about 11:30 I was ready to head out and get some pictures made. Typically, this is a terrible time of day to try any photography, but the clouds were softening the light enough that I figured it was worth the try. I set my course West and headed out to the road that I had been on a while back. I didn’t have anything specific in mind since I had just seen a lot of indicators of potential subjects in the area. I was going to use my time to scout out specific locations to shoot and hopefully be able to get permission if I found anything.
It only took me about 30 minutes to get out into the area before I settled down into the hunting phase. This is often the most mundane part of the experience as I am just driving up and down roads and getting in everyone’s way (I do try to pull over if somebody comes in behind me). I am looking for the clues that usually lead me to the best subjects. It wasn’t long before I found my first clue. There was a 50’s Buick sitting on the side of the driveway which I had seen in passing before. It had stuck out in my mind because of the vintage of the car. It was black which is not one of my favorite colors to photograph, especially when the rust is very minimal on it. I took quick stock of the surrounding elements and found that it was much too close to a later model import car on once side, and there was a white house in the other direction. In short, there was nothing to photograph here as the story wasn’t strong enough. I did loop back and take a second look though. I always look for other subjects because where there is one old car, there are usually others. I wasn’t seeing any in this case though and with all of the clutter I was seeing, there was a really good chance that if there was something else in the back yard that it was not going to be in a place that I would want to photograph it. I decided to move on down the road and see what else I could find.
I started to drive on some side roads as I tend to get very lucky with these when I am doing my rural drives. I was seeing potential, but nothing that really jumped out as a photograph to me. I would stop ever mile or two and examine an old barn, or an old car for a moment, but that was about all that I could muster. It is quite frustrating being in a place with this much potential but not seeing any photographs developing. At least I could say that it wasn’t the light that was the issue this time. While great light will make a so-so subject really pop, the problems that I was running into was elements that just really detracted from the story that I would want to tell with an image. The last thing that I wanted to do was to come back with a lot of images that just documented what I saw. My purpose in creating images has never been to document cool things, but to find cool things with cool stories that need to be told. I just wasn’t finding the stories on this trip.
I had been driving around for about an hour at this point and was back on the main stretch of road. I happened to see an old Ford truck off on the side of the yard that I had seen before. It was a ’60’s model and had a good amount of patina on it that looked really good. There was a lot of clutter around it with buildings and sheds, but there was something about this truck that really caught my attention. I circled around to get another look and saw two additional Fords along the back of the yard in similar shape. It wasn’t going to be easy working around the clutter, but I had a feeling that this was going to be a good location to do a little work. I circled back around with the intention of pulling into the driveway to ask for permission.
When I was pulling in, I saw movement on the front porch. It was my lucky day, the owner was already outside so I didn’t have to go and knock. This is always a much better scenario in my mind since The person can see me approach and can see me wave. That will usually put them more at ease about a stranger coming up to talk to them. I got out of the truck and did my quick wave and a hello. I introduced myself and told him that I was interested in photographing the old Ford truck on the side of the property. He was very receptive to the request and without giving it much thought he agreed to let me explore on his property. He mentioned that there was a ’46 Ford in the back yard, as well as several other Ford trucks that I wasn’t seeing from the road. He also had several tractors out back.
This was just getting better and better. I went from a single subject, with another couple of possibilities to about 10 different potential subjects for my camera. I expressed my thanks and gave him one of my cars as I told him that if any of the images turned out good that I would be happy to bring him a free print. His response to that was classic. He said “nah, I’ve seen them before.” I can’t argue with that logic, but I was getting excited to capture these gems in a way that he might not have seen them before. I grabbed my gear and started back to the first Ford that I had seen from the road.
The light was great on the old truck, but I was having some serious issues with the clutter that was around it. There was a black shed on one side of it, and an aluminum skinned singlewide trailer on the other side. If I shot it from the back, I was looking at a brick house with a late model Ford Expedition parked on the side. If I avoided all of the structures around it, I would be left with a composition pointed out to the road that would include a lot of power lines and very little sky above thanks to the tall trees on the other side of the road. I walked around in circles with this truck trying to figure out how best to capture it. I looked at changing the altitude of the camera as well as the focal length. In the end, I decided that my best bet would be to get in close and down low on the passenger side front corner. I was still going to see the singlewide, but I was blocking the covering over the back deck with the roofline of the truck. It was also simplifying the scene and including much more of the sky which I really liked.
I opted for my 24-70mm lens for the composition that I had in mind and it framed it up perfectly. I did some fine tuning on the positioning and then started to look at the exposure. I already had my polarizer mounted since I was working with surfaces that are prone to glare. It also gave a little added contrast to the sky, but not quite enough for my tastes. I was seeing some overexposure issues in the sky that I needed to deal with. In order to keep the truck well exposed in the shadows, I added a 3-stop soft edge ND Grad to take the bite out of the sky. That seemed to work perfectly according to the histogram and you couldn’t tell where the division line was which was why I chose to go with the soft edge filter. Now that my exposure was right, I just needed to wait for the clouds to allow just enough sunlight through to make the truck pop without causing harsh light. It didn’t take long and I had the first image out of the way. I was feeling pretty good about this one and it motivated me to work the other subjects in the scene.
I moved over between all of the buildings and found two other Ford trucks that I hadn’t seen from the road. They were both excellent examples, but looking at the lay of the land, there was no way to capture them to where the story could be told. They were parked right next to each other and surrounded on three sides by bright buildings with the fourth side going off to the roadway. I just couldn’t spin this at all, but thought that I might come back for some isolations here later on. I went back behind the rear building and found the Ford Sedan he had told me about. This car was nice, and had a certain attitude to it that I really appreciated. I had to get this car photographed. The problem, once again, was the clutter that surrounded it. there was a tractor just to the rear of it, a barn with another tractor to the right of the scene, and the two Ford trucks at the edge of the property to the left of the scene. I really wanted to isolate this car and get a nice image with the sky in it since the clouds were looking so good. In order to do that, I was going to need to go wide and make the car much bigger than the background. For that, I swapped in my 16-35mm lens and left just the polarizer attached. I started to try different positions until I came upon one that worked just as I was wanting it to. The problem was I had the camera set up just on the side of the rear structure. Fortunately, it was low enough that I could get my head under the building into the exposed foundation in order to get the camera framed and the exposure set.
The things that I do to get that perfect angle!
It did work well though, and I was very happy with the image. There was just one problem with it though. With the composition that I had chosen, there was an old washing machine that was present at the rear corner of the car. I had to include it which I didn’t like, but my other options were more intrusive to the composition. I ended up cloning that washing machine out in Photoshop during the editing process. I only mention it because it is what I would consider a significant manipulation on the image. That is something that I don’t particularly like doing, but there are times when removing something that doesn’t support the image is necessary. I had also removed a power pole from the first image that I shot as well as the power line that went with it. It wasn’t terrible, but it also served no purpose in the image. Removing power poles and lines are routinely accepted during post production and while I try my best to avoid getting them in the frame, it does happen occasionally.
After I finished with the overall shot on the ’56 Ford, I turned my attention to the tractor that I had been concentrating on blocking from view. This tractor was very interesting to me for the simple fact that it was missing all but one wheel. The grass had grown up around it and it just had so much character to it. The problems that I ran into with this one was that there was an engine hoist on the left side of the tractor that reached up into the sky quit a bit. There was also the building to the side of the scene. Just on the other side of the tractor was the Ford I had just shot, and if I were to have taken a front quarter view I would have included the two trucks along the back of the property. I figured that my best option was to include the engine hoist as part of the composition so I framed up a shot from that side which used the hoist as a triangle element. It looked OK in the viewfinder, but I wasn’t convinced that this was the strongest composition. I pondered my alternatives once again and decided that since my favorite part of the tractor was that it was missing wheels, I should photograph it from the side where the big wheel was missing with the hub sitting on blocks.
I moved around to that side and realized that the hoist was too tall and it was sticking out from the top of the tractor. It was too significant to clone out in post so I had to figure out how to either incorporate it into the image or to figure out how to block the view. I just wasn’t able to figure it out and figured that this was going to be a lost cause. Instead, I moved over to the other Ford tractor in the barn that I had been trying to avoid with the other images. I figured that this might be a good opportunity to embrace the shadows for a little bit of mystery in an image. I still had my 16-35mm lens mounted and started to figure out how to organize the scene.
I had some really high contrast elements here with the siding of the barn reflecting the harsh sunlight. The dead grass along the base was doing the same, but the inside of the barn was completely dark with the exception of a window that I could see. I worked out a composition that omitted the window, but it was a little too flat of an image. I decided that in order to give depth to the scene, I needed to shoot it at an angle and include the window. That really introduced a lot of contrast to the scene so I immediately thought that I would go for a black and white presentation. My first exposure was decent, but I had some hot spots in the foreground as well as in the widow. The shadows were all blocked up too which didn’t bode well for my ability to pull any detail out of these areas at all. My only option here was to shoot a series of images and blend them as an HDR image.
That was what i decided to do here. I shot a total of five images a full stop apart in order to get plenty of detail in the shadows and in the highlights. Since there was no movement to speak of in the frame, this would work quite well. I could see the histogram shifting brighter and brighter as I made new exposures and I was pretty confident that I was going to have plenty of information in order to make the blended image. After the series was completed, I decided that I wanted to go back to the one wheeled tractor and try that one again. I wasn’t happy that it had beat me like that.
When I got back to it, I went back to the side that had the missing big wheel. My thought here was to concentrate on that aspect above all else. I decided to swap out my lens for the 24-70mm for a little more flexibility in composition and to keep me from making the exposed fender too big of a feature in the image. I started to wrestle with the engine hoist and found that if I got down low enough, the fender would block it from view. I had to include the structure in the image though, but that was less of a problem than having the hoist breaking through the horizon. I settled on a composition that I thought would work out and used my polarizer to add some contrast to the sky. When the image review came up, I didn’t like the fact that the tractor was in the shadows as much as it was. The picture was just a little bland and needed more oomph. I added a Galen Rowell 3-stop soft edge ND Grad to take the bite out of the sky and shot another exposure. That worked well for the exposure, but now the sky was competing for attention from the tractor which I didn’t want.
That was when I had the idea to do a long exposure image of the tractor. Looking up at the clouds they were moving at a noticeable pace and I figured that I could show enough motion to blur the clouds with about a minute to minutes of exposure. For that, I was only going to need my Mor Slo 10-stop filter which I slid into the holder. I checked the exposure and found that 30 seconds was going to be too dark, which I expected. I clicked over to bulb mode and plugged in my remote release. I made a minute long exposure and looked to see where I was at. It was a little under exposed, but I could tell that the theory was sound here. I increased the exposure to 90 seconds (actually missed that and stopped at 91 seconds) and found that to be perfect for the scene. With the textures removed from the clouds I was able to draw the attention back to the tractor and the rusty goodness that it provided. I had finally won against this tractor and had an image that was an early favorite of mine.
Since I had my 24-70mm lens mounted, I decided that it was time to shoot some isolations. I pulled off the ND filter and the Grad filter leaving just the polarizer and started to find new compositions. The most interesting vehicle out here was the ’56 Ford and that was what I chose to work on next. The headlights were decent, but not inspiring just yet. It was the tail lights that caught my attention. One of them was broken while the other one was still in tact. The lines around the tail lights really fit into my vision for the images that I was working on at this point.
I started to work on the broken light first since that one had the most character and the better colors around it. I framed up a portrait shot of this tail light and found the exact composition that I wanted which highlighted the design of the understated fin. The chrome became the focal point of the image while the remaining red lens fragments provided the color balance to the image working with the rust tones and the mint green of the paint. There wasn’t much to this image and I didn’t need but two exposures before I was satisfied that I had gotten what I wanted. I then moved to the other side for a different story. This lens was in tact, but there were hazy cracks all through the lens from years of sun damage. That was the story that I wanted to capture here and framed up a more direct portrait composition of the back fin. In order to keep the balance here I shifted the camera just slightly to the left so that I was able to capture the side of the car as opposed to the grass and trees in the distance which would have thrown off the visual balance quite severely. Again, this image didn’t take much thought to put together, nor did it take multiple exposures. I actually only did two exposures here and that was for a different depth of field to see which I liked on a big screen once I got home.
Having successfully captured the tail lights on this car, I decided to give the front end another attempt. The headlights weren’t all that fascinating to me for some reason, but I did want to capture that element before I left. I tried the direct shot which usually works well. This time, that direct composition lacked visual balance at the bottom of the frame due to the missing bumper. I tried shooting a trailing image showing the length of the car off to the side, but that was boring and I much preferred the overall composition that I had shot earlier. I was running out of ideas here which was a little unsettling since I have always made it a point to shoot interesting headlights. I just had to think outside of the box here.
I decided to go for a front end shot that showed the grill and the passenger side headlight. I used the center brace as a natural framing element for the right side of the frame. I could see some potential here, but the image needed depth and balance. I moved around trying to get the sky in the shot, but that wasn’t happening. What I ended up finding was the two trucks at the edge of the property to round out the composition. I elevated the camera so that they were in line with the headlight right along that upper third of the frame. The benefit with this composition was I had interesting lower panel that was bent which flowed right into the trim of the grill. That added a bit of interest to the grass which was needed, and then I had the two trucks keeping the eyes from getting lost on the left side of the frame. The proximity of the headlight to the trucks ensured that the eyes would come back into frame when they were looking at the trucks. It was an odd composition, but I think that it is just quirky enough to work.
I had been at this location for about an hour now and I was starting to get tired. I was also running out of compositions that I wanted to try. One part that I had not worked with at all was the two trucks that were surrounded by the buildings. I had checked them out when I first started and decided that there wasn’t an overall shot to be had here. I had considered shooting some isolations instead and since I had my 24-70mm lens on there was no time like the present. I picked out the best example and looked for the most interesting part of it. As it turned out, the hood ornaments were the best part in my eyes. They were still remarkably well kept and they were surrounded by some really nice rust and patina. I flipped the camera on it end and set to work framing up a portrait shot of the hood. The light was nearly perfect for this as the sun was overhead, but slightly to the rear of the composition. This added a lot of depth and contrast in the places that I wanted it. As with the other isolations, I didn’t spend a lot of time here as it was a pretty simple composition to make.
With that one in the bag, I walked around both trucks once more and decided that there was nothing else here to capture. I took one last look across the property and decided to go back to the original truck that I had photographed to begin with. I looked for other compositions that I might have missed early on, but found that I had the best composition that I could muster of this subject. With that, my creative energy for this location was done. I packed up my gear and walked back to the front of the house. The owner was still sitting on the porch and I went over to him to let him know that I was finished and really appreciated his hospitality. It had been a great experience and I was so glad that I stopped here when I did.
I wasn’t quite done for the day though, I still had time to find one more location to shoot and the sky was still looking really good. I continued heading East towards home and kept a sharp eye out for another subjects. Again, I ran into a lot of potential, but nothing jumped out at me. I was starting to see less and less old cars and more barns at this point. That was fine as barns are usually pretty easy to shoot under skies like this. I kept looking and as I was getting to the edge of what I would consider the prime target area I saw a white barn over on the right side of the road. I normally don’t care much for white barns, but this one had several things going for it. The sky was awesome overhead, there were lots of Spring colors in the grass. The roof of the barn was a darker one that I was used to seeing which gave some nice contrast to the scene. It also had two different sections which added to the interest of the composition. What I didn’t like about it was the fact that to the right there was a tree with a large fake boulder (to cover the power box). Just beyond that was a house with several cars parked in the driveway. It wasn’t going to be easy to get a composition that excluded these items, but I really wanted to give it a try.
I pulled off into the parking lot of a church about 75 yards from the barn. I grabbed my gear and walked over to the fence line where I was thinking that the best angle was going to be. Looking at the scene I was thinking that I would go wide, so I started off with my 16-35mm lens which I quickly realized was just too wide. I stepped back to my 24-70mm lens which fit the scene much better. I added my polarizer and started to frame up the barn. I began by including the tree to the right, just cutting out the boulder. The tree blocked the view of the neighboring property, but the tall tree added too much visual weight and made the barn look funny in the composition. I changed my thinking and moved to the left in order to crop out the tree. That gave a much better balance to the image and I worked on finding that sweet spot where I could include as much of the barn as possible before the tree crept into the frame or the cars in the driveway became visible.
I finally found that perfect spot and framed up a nice image using the fence as a leading line with the barn along the top third of the frame. There was just too much green here, so I decided to recompose with the barn lower in the frame and had the elevation changed to still include the fence. Now the sky was taking up about 2/3 of the frame which was much better for the balance of the scene. Now I was trying to get the exposure set which should have been easy. It wasn’t though. The sky was too bright and I needed to do something to bring it down a tad. I decided to add that 3-stop ND Grad which I had already used to great effect several times today. That did the trick and the colors and contrast of the sky came right into place. I just had to wait for the softer diffused light of a cloud passing overhead which happened within a minute or so of setting the shot up. That was what I had wanted!
I looked around and saw that there were no other compositions that would be any better of the barn so I went ahead and packed my gear up. It was getting late in the day and I was ready to head home. I had 61 frames for the day which actually seemed a bit low considering all the compositions that I had been working on. Thinking back through the exposures I was figuring that I had between five and seven images that would be keepers. Not a bad amount considering I was out shooting in the middle of the day when the light is notoriously the worst. When I was going through the images, I ended up with thirteen images that I wanted to process, and of those, I found nine that I really liked. Not a bad hit rate at all.
I do hope that you enjoyed this little ride through the country with me. It was a lot of fun, and it is always a great time getting out and riding through the back roads. If you see any of these images that speak to you, don’t hesitate to drop me a note so that we can discuss matching you up with your very own print. There is just nothing quite like seeing one of these images in the form that it was originally intended. Looking at them on a computer monitor just can’t compare to seeing them on satin paper and holding it in your hands. I am still in awe at how my images look in print and I’ve been seeing them for years now.
Until next time…