Going North in Search of Rust

· Reading Time: 15 minutes

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Just Reached the Goal“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

This adventure is a great illustration of the benefits of talking to the owners of the different properties that you are wanting to shoot.  Several weeks back, you may remember I shot at a location and made a great contact with the owner.  While talking to him over the course of several return visits I earned his trust and he started to give me some really good information about other locations that I might want to shoot at.  This is always a great thing when it comes to decay photography.  Sure, I can drive all over creation in search of these derelict cars, but that takes a lot of time and fuel.  If I can simplify things and know a destination that really cuts down on the scouting time.  One of these locations in Northern Stokes County and in all of the time I have spent out that way, I have not yet run across it.

On Thursday, the weather was looking decent for some photography with high clouds all day which should diffuse the sun rather well.  I wasn’t expecting much in the way of texture so landscape photography wasn’t really the best idea with the conditions, but it was a good day for some decay work.  The time is quickly drawing to a close when I can effectively work this subject with the vegetation becoming active once again.  So many of the subjects that I like to shoot become concealed during the warmer months.  I was hoping that I could squeeze out one more day of decay before nature overtakes these wonderful vehicles.

Reaching for the Heavens“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

After dropping Sierra off at school, I set my course to the North and plugged in the location to my GPS.  Here is one of the parts that I really love when going to new places…I get to take new roads to get there.  As I cleared Walnut Cove, I started to drive on roads that were not all that familiar to me  The further along I got, the more rural the settings became.  I saw a lot of promise in the area for future days out, but the clouds were just not working for these subjects at the moment.  There was a nice thin overcast which was providing some fantastic light on the landscape which I was hoping to take full advantage of here shortly.  I went through a couple of small towns and finally ended up at the address that I had been told about nearly a month before.  I pulled into the driveway and could see a lot of cars on the property, but most of them seemed to be newer models and held no interest for me.  However, I had been told that there was a collection of cars from the ’40’s through the ’60’s that might appeal to me.  I got parked and started to walk to the different buildings in search of the owner of the property.

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

Of course, when I got out of the car the clouds started to break up and the sun started shining down really hard.  I hate when that happens!  That wonderful even light was all of a sudden very harsh and directional.  I was going to have a hard time with this, but I was here, so I might as well see what I can find.  It might be a moot point because I was unable to find the owner anywhere in any of the buildings.  There was a rather large dog that tried to answer one of the doors and shook the whole building.  I was pretty sure I didn’t want to ask him for permission as I was positive that he would eat me before I got a word out.  I decided to look through my records and find the phone number for the owner.  I called the number that had been provided to me and I could hear the phone ringing in the shop.  I could also hear a lawn mower coming closer.  As the mower rounded the corner, I could see the driver reaching into a pocket to get a phone.  I waved at him and tried to tell him that it was me calling.  I went over to meet him and let him know how I found out about the place and what I was hoping to do.

The conversation went well and he had no problems letting me photograph the cars on the property.  I think a lot of that came from the fact that I came by way of a friend of his who already trusted me and my motivations.  I went ahead and added that I was after rusted cars older than the mid ’70’s since I saw nothing of the sort as far as the eye could see.  He didn’t flinch and pointed me to the edge of the property, over the hill.  With that, I grabbed my gear and went off on my expedition in search of rust.

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

It didn’t take long and I started to recognize the shapes of classic cars against the tree line.  I was not happy with the lighting as the sun was still out, and was situated in the direction that it was appearing that I would need to shoot.  I took my time and surveyed the scene.  There were not nearly as many cars as I was hoping for, but there were some standout examples that I was excited to be able to photograph.  The trick was going to be finding the right compositions and waiting on the clouds to cover the sun to get the exposures right.  Since the sun was too bright, I was given the opportunity to scope out some compositions that I was wanting to shoot as the morning went on.  As the sun started to hide behind the clouds I was already in place with my 24-70mm lens wearing a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer.

This started a game of cat and mouse.  I would get set up for a shot and wait for the clouds to cover the sun giving me time to shoot a few exposures and compositions of the subject before the lighting would change again.  It was slow going for a while as the good light was few and far between.  Eventually, the clouds started to thicken a little and the sun stayed covered a bit more allowing me some more opportunities to capture images.  This turned into one of those days when I would shoot multiples of the same composition at different times because the light was ever changing.  I wanted to make sure that I got the image with the best light, and for that goal, I needed to revisit compositions many times over.

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

I was able to make some compositions along the treeline with the sun out since the leaves were able to block most of the harsh light.  The compositions were just a bit harder here because of the natural growth that had been left unchecked.  Take for instance the picture above.  This car is pretty much overgrown at this point, and will be difficult to spot in a few more weeks.  It was not easy to create a composition that really worked here because most angles just had too much blocking the view of the car.  By getting down low and embracing the vegetation while keeping some of the identifying lines visible, I was able to create an image that made sense with the surroundings.  This was how so many of the images went down during this trip.  I had to work with the landscape which was not always willing to cooperate with me.

Plug ‘n Play“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

When the sun got too bright, I reverted to doing isolations on the cars.  Oddly enough, I didn’t find may isolations that I really liked.  There were a lot of great hood ornaments, but the hoods were boring with just a uniform coating of rust and no real textures or color variations.  I tried a few, but in the end none of them were what I was after.  There were a couple of cars in close proximity to each other that had some really nice patina going on, and were in such locations that I could get some decent isolations showing off that patina when matched up with chrome.  The aging process is amazing on these old cars and I love how the paint hues will remain when the rust has taken over so prevalently.

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

After a while of fighting with the sky, I started to look at the sky to see if there were ways that I could incorporate it into my compositions.  The clouds were starting to have some definition and the blue in the sky was looking pretty good with just a light haze to dull the blue slightly.  I picked out a few images where I would need to include the sky to see if they would work.  Fortunately, the majority of them seemed to be oriented to the North which gave me a bluer sky than in any other direction.  This helped, and by using the Color Combo Polarizer, I was able to capitalize on the blue hues for some added contrast in the sky.  I was able to get several images this way with the sun hitting the subjects decently.

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

I was actually starting to think about calling it a day.  I wasn’t feeling all that well by this point and I had gotten most of the compositions that I thought would work with the lighting that I had.  There was an old Chevy that I wanted to capture before leaving though.  I went over there for one last attempt.  I had been trying several times already with limited to no success with the lighting.  The compositions had not been inspired either.  I tried to work out something different with it, but just wasn’t satisfied with anything that I was trying.  I did realize that I was spending most of my time at the wider end of the focal range on the 24-70mm lens, so I figured I would give my wide angle lens a try for something a little different.

Roll With the Punches“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted in Lightroom

As I started to work on the composition, I realized that this was exactly what I was needing fro this car.  I was able to really accentuate the presence of it, while keeping the car to the left out of the frame, and minimizing the car to the right.  By getting low and right on the headlight, I created a directness to the image that really punched things up.  When I got home and started to go through the images, I was excited about this one, but it left me feeling empty when I saw it.  It was really no better than the other half-dozen that I had shot of it.  Sure, the composition was stronger but the car was getting lost in the surrounding clutter.  I considered doing a monochrome conversion and that seemed to help a little bit, so I started to massage the tones to really work the image out like I had imagined it.  The more I worked on it the more impressed I became with how the personality came through.  This one was the best by far, and captured just what I wanted to convey with the image when I shot it.  I’m surprised I hadn’t considered working this one as a black and white image prior to my desperate attempt to keep an image from this car.  It really is a natural for the conversion with how the tones are working within the image.

Bird in the Bush“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

With the wide angle lens in play I started to go back to several cars that I had worked earlier to see if the wide angle might help those compositions out a little bit.  One of the cars that I had thought about shooting, but never did was a Thunderbird.  It was protruding just enough through the weeds to be interesting, but since I am not that much of a fan of these cars, I didn’t linger too long to try to make something work.  Now that I had a wide angle lens on, I was able to make the hood and headlights very prominent in the scene which really told the story of this car.  The bit of blue sky in the top corner completed the color balance in the image and helped balance the blue in the car.  Even though it was missing a large portion of the front end, the personality of this car still shines through.  Of course, with all the weeds around it, the title was kind of a no-brainer for me.  Despite this being one of my least favorite cars from the era, this has turned into one of my favorites from this shoot because of how it turned out.

Open Door“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

Another one of the cars that I had spent some time with already was this Studebaker Commander which had the most awesome color palette between the rust, the aqua, and the beige.  Not to mention that the body design was quite unique in this field.  I had worked several compositions out with it already, but wanted to try again with the wide angle lens.  This time, I wanted to get in from the rear and get the sky in the background.  This seemed to work out quite well when looking through the camera.  Ironically, I was shooting at 35mm which I could have done with my standard lens, but for whatever reason things had not come together as well when I had that lens on.  This was going to work, and the blue sky was well placed right over the front of the car which was perfect.  The missing door also added some character to this one as well.  I will say that this one took some of the more intense processing because of the color tones that were present.  I wanted to have a nice balance in tones while making sure the car stood out from the grass.  It should have been a simple evolution to process this one, but it gave me a lot of problems to get it right.  In the end, I am quite happy with how it turned out.

That was pretty much all I had the energy to do.  I was getting hot, and I had very little energy from being sick.  I wanted to get back to the car to get some water and some air.  I was pretty sure that I had the images that I was wanting at this point.  The sun was getting a little too far up in the sky at this point, so the light was getting too harsh to really work with.  I worked my way back to the parking area and let the owner know that I was on my way out.  He picked this time to let me know that he had several old trucks and some more cars of the same vintage in another section of the property.  I went against my best judgement and went out that way to see what I could see.  There were a few more examples, but nothing that really jumped out at me.  Of course, that was mostly the fatigue and the poor lighting talking I’m sure.  There was a pair of old Ford trucks in the treeline that caught my eye.  I went over to work with those for a bit.  I pulled the camera back out and fitted the 24-70mm lens with my Color Combo Polarizer.  I tried a few group shots, and went in for some individual ones as well.  The one that I liked the best was from the side that originally held very little interest for me.

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

This was the side that was missing a fender, headlight, and a door.  That took away so much of the patina of the truck, and there was a lot of vegetation growing around the corner.  It might not have been the side that captured my attention, but it really did tell the story of nature taking over.  This is what I run into in the spring and summer with decay photography.  The cars become very difficult to see and photograph.  I was able to get a good view of the grill and the Ford letters which identified the truck and told its story.  The fallen branches in the engine bay were funny to me.  The engine was still there, and covered it up appeared, but those sticks became the motivation for the title for this piece.

I worked a couple of the other subjects in the area since I had the camera out, but the entire rig was getting heavy and cumbersome for me to lift.  I knew I needed to call it quits for the day before I passed out.  I had collected 76 images by this point and was confident that I had a few keepers in that bunch.  I was hoping for about five or six honestly, since I had been focusing so much on just a handful of subjects bouncing around as the lighting was changing.  I was really surprised when I narrowed down the digital negatives to around 23 for further examination.  I culled that down to 12 for a final crop which was nothing short of amazing considering the lighting was not the best, and I was feeling lousy through much of the morning.

This will likely be the last decay trip that I do until Fall.  As you can see, nature is already working on reclaiming these gems and concealing them from sight.  I’ll keep an eye out for them as I am traveling around for my landscape work, but doubt that I will go out looking for them any more for a while.  Let the landscape season get rolling!