Headed to the Foothills

· Reading Time: 19 minutes

Monday, January 27, 2020

Over the weekend I took a little road trip with my Grandfather because he wanted to get out for a little bit.  Since he is 99 years old, I guess I really couldn’t turn him down on that request.  He had no place that he particularly wanted to go, but he just wanted some fresh air.  I get him into the car and off we went on a road trip out in the country since he was always so impressed with the back roads of the state.  I figured I could kill two birds with one stone with this.  Since I was just going out driving, I figured I might as well do some scouting so we headed out to the area of Stokes and Surry County to some areas that I had not been before.  It was too far away, only about 30 miles or so from his place.

As we drove around I was really enjoying the scenery as there were lots of old barns and even a few old rusted cars thrown in for good measure.  I started to take mental notes of the areas where I needed to come back and do some more detailed looking.  It was a very promising area, that much was for sure.  I hadn’t seen any compositions that would jump out at me yet, but I did like what I was seeing.  We continued to drive around and I was serenaded with the repeated statements of “wow there sure is a lot of traffic out here” as a single car would go in the opposite direction.  My personal favorite was “a forest fire would be horrible out here with all the trees.”  There was also a few verses of “there sure are a lot of nice houses out here” which worked for mansions, shacks, or totally vacant condemned homes.  This was how our road trips went generally, but it was a lot of fun to be out with him and show him some of the areas that I worked in.

We did come across a great little property with at least three great subjects for me in the back yard.  There was an early 50’s Chevrolet, and possibly a 40’s sedan with an old pickup between them.  The setting wasn’t ideal, but the Chevy was looking really good with the chrome still in place on the front end.  I pulled over and recorded the spot on my GPS to return to later.  We continued on and he actually asked me what I was looking for when I was out doing this.  I explained the elements that I was looking for and he either understood, or just decided to go off on his own thought process as he didn’t respond back to me.

As the gas gauge dipped a little lower than I would want it to, I decided to set a course back for his place and found that the GPS took me a different way than I had managed to get out here which was good.  One of the first turns that it instructed me to take made us pass by a house with a couple of out buildings behind it, but more importantly was an old Chevy truck up on the hill with Pilot Mountain in the distance.  This was another spot that I was interested in coming back for another time.  Not too bad, I had two locations plotted out to return to, and knew that there was a lot of great subject matter out in this neck of the woods to hunt through later on.

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

By the time the first of the week rolled around, I was starting to look for places to go for some photography.  The weather was set to be cloudy in the morning followed by rain just before lunch time.  I wasn’t going to have long to work with, but I would take the few short hours in the morning on Monday rather than have a dry Tuesday with totally sunny skies.  I decided that since the area I had just scouted was only about 40 miles from home and that I would need clouds to shoot the two locations that I had seen it would make sense to head out that way.  I didn’t need to leave overly early since I was going to need light and would be having to ask owners for permission.  Nothing like waking somebody up to ask if I can take pictures.  That never works out well.

I made plans to get out there a little after 8am so I could possibly do some scouting before starting to knock on doors.  Looking at the weather, I was going to have until about 11am before the rain was going to start so that should give me enough time to get several locations shot before heading back home.  When I left the house, the clouds were looking really good with a lot of texture to them.  I was feeling pretty good about how this trip was going to go even though there was the occasional rain drop on my windshield.  I took the lazy way out there and looked for targets of opportunity as I drove.  Nothing really jumped out at me, and I eventually found myself at the house with the trio of cars in the back yard.  There was no sign of life at the house, but I did see a new car in the driveway.  It was a little after 8 and I figured I would go ahead and knock softly to see if I could get lucky.

No such luck unfortunately and nobody came to the door.  I didn’t want to press my luck by knocking louder so I just got back in my truck and got back on the road.  I figured I would try for the Chevy on the hill while I was waiting for this location to work out.  It really wasn’t far to get to the other location and I was there around 8:30.  There was smoke coming out of the chimney from the outbuilding behind the house so I figured there was somebody there and they were more than likely awake.  I pulled up into the driveway and got out to knock on the door.  I heard nothing at all in the house indicating any movement.  I knocked once again and with no answer I came off of the porch.  I looked around back and didn’t see anyone.  All of the doors were closed and I didn’t want to get that kind of personal by going in the back yard to get somebody.

I decided to go back to the truck and leave a business card.  As I was getting ready to write down a note, a gentleman came from behind the house.  I got back out of the truck and introduced myself.  Once I told him why I was there, he seemed very happy to let me take a few pictures of the truck on the hill.  While I was speaking with him I noticed another Chevy truck in a barn that I asked about as well.  He graciously let me photograph both vehicles but asked how long I would be.  Not wanting to overstay my welcome, I said 45 minutes, an hour tops.  He was fine with that and I went to park my truck in the side driveway near the Chevy I was most interested in.

Woodland Chevy“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

As I was walking up to the truck, I started to work out a composition in my head that I thought would work best.  I wanted to take advantage of the trees with the textured sky behind them.  In order to do that, I was going to have to shoot a vertical composition.  To get the perspective that I was after, I wanted to use my 16-35mm lens so that I could really show off the trees to the best advantage.  I got the camera out and built it with that lens and a polarizer.  I mounted it vertically on the tripod and started to frame up the shot.  It wasn’t quite like I had in mind and seemed a little squished down at the bottom.  I shot a single frame vertically and decided that it would look much better horizontal.

Ironically, when I got the image home, I pulled it into Lightroom and didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would.  In fact, I kind of liked the perspective on the computer so I cropped it down to a 5:7 ratio which helped the balance and proportion of the image.  I started to process it and found that I really kind of liked how it turned out in the vertical orientation.  I wasn’t sure if I would like it better than the horizontal one, but I was very happy that I had shot that one image as it was the only vertical one that I had.

When I flipped the camera horizontal, I decided that I needed to get in a lot closer to capture the truck to the best effect.  I framed up a shot that had the summit of Pilot Mountain visible in the branches while keeping the perspective of the truck just slightly wide.  I used the evergreen trees to frame the truck and elevated the camera to put the knob of Pilot Mountain a little higher on the horizon to provide a little bit of balance to the entire composition.  I was liking this much better than the vertical shot from before so I spent some time fine tuning this view.  It wasn’t until I got the images home that I realized that there was a terrible color balance in the horizontal images with it being overly warm without enough contrasting elements to bring order to the image.

I was thinking that my best shot of the truck was going to be my one test shot which had great color balance and worked very well overall.  I did like the directness of the horizontal composition though and wanted to try it as a monochrome image.  Since the color balance was off, but I loved the composition, taking the color out of the equation would focus the eyes on the composition which was what I liked best of all.  I did the conversion and it was a little better, at least enough to justify continuing with the process.  I adjusted the color profiles until I found one that worked well, and then I played with the tones within the image.  The more I adjusted it, the more I liked it.  I was able to get the separation that I wanted to go along with the composition that I had seen earlier.  The color became extraneous and I didn’t mind losing it at all.

In the end, I did like the composition of the horizontal image the best, but I liked the tonal balance of the vertical shot best.  They both said completely different things, and both said them well so I decided that both images would remain in my collection as keepers.  I only had about a dozen images of this old truck at this point and really didn’t see anything else that I cared to shoot as far as compositions.  I had already shot a few isolations of the grille, but those didn’t really turn out all that well, so I trashed them.  There was another truck to photograph and I was ready to give it a try.

The Name Says it All“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

The big Chevy in the barn was not going to be easy to photograph as it was tucked in the corner of a metal building with spare siding stacked up on the passenger side.  To the right was some more clutter that didn’t have anything to do with the truck.  I had wanted to get an overall shot of the truck in the barn, but I was not thinking that would be a possibility.  I had swapped over to my 24-70mm lens for the isolations on the previous truck and that was the perfect lens to work with here.  I tried to find something where I could get the whole truck, but nothing really came together at all.  In fact, I didn’t even get to the point where I made an image.  Just nothing even remotely worked out at all.  I then shifted gears and started to think about doing some isolations on the front of the ruck.  That even proved difficult for me which kind of surprised me.  Isolations were kind of my thing, but I just wasn’t feeling them today for some reason.

I backed up and started to think about my options on the front of this truck.  I loved the grille and the patina on the bumper and hood.  The “CHEVROLET” letters across the front were really nice and worked well with the small (by modern standards) bowtie emblem.  I noticed that the blue of the fenders was wrapping around the rusty colors very nicely to create a pretty decent color balance.  It was a touch warm overall, but I could live with that since there was a noticeable amount of blue sneaking into the composition.  Hey wait a minute…I might be onto something here.  How about a 16:9 composition of the entire grille assembly.  That could work!

I got the camera set up and dialed in the composition.  The lighting was just right, and with a twist of the Color Combo Polarizer, the rust sprang to life for me.  I used the headlights as bookends for the composition and framed it close to the top of the hood while giving the bumper a little room to breathe for balance in the image.  I tried to square it all up with the camera, but that was very difficult since the bumper was a little crooked, and i was imagining the rest of the front wasn’t all that square either.  It was looking pretty good in the LCD and I was pretty sure I was onto something with this composition.

When I got it home, I found that I really liked the image, and started to process it.  To my surprise, it really needed very little to make it come to life.  I might have spent 10 minutes total working on this one which was spent mostly on the color relationships in the image.  That blue was very important and I needed to make sure that it was the perfect balance to the rusty tones.  Beyond that, I just adjusted the contrast and that was it.  For a very simple image, it became one of my favorites from this location.

With that image in the bag it was time to head on down the road.  I wanted to try my original location one more time.  I was there in just a few minutes and nothing had changed other than it was much later in the morning.  I got out of the truck and knocked on the door.  Again nothing happened, so I knocked once more a little louder.  Still nothing.  I went back to the truck and grabbed a business card to leave by the door.  I was hoping that someone would come out to see what I was up to, but no such luck.  I left the card on a chair by the door and hoped that I would get a call back before I left the area.  With that done, it was time to put some more miles on the truck to see what I could find along the countryside.

Refreshed Tobacco Barn“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, No filters, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

The weather was starting to turn bad by this point.  The rain was getting more frequent, but there were dry patches that I could work with here and there.  I wasn’t really finding anything that I wanted to photograph anyway so it was more of a Sunday drive than anything at this point.  I was well into getting lost at this point and was going between Surry, Stokes, and even Yadkin Counties in my search for no rain and something to photograph.  I believe that I was back in Yadkin County when I finally got out of the rain and found something that was kind of worth photographing.  It was a tobacco barn, but not a really great one.  I’m not a big fan of the ones that have been recovered with metal since it is the wood that I most like about them.  This wasn’t the best tobacco barn by any stretch, but it did have a few things going for it.  First of all, it was isolated from the surrounding clutter which made it a viable subject to photograph.  It was situated so that a really pretty landscape was behind it.  There was even a lone tree off to the left.  In the background was a mountain which I thought really brought a lot of depth to the scene.  The clouds had just enough texture to them that I thought I would be able to pull out a little drama in a monochrome image.  Since there wasn’t much color in the scene to begin with I was pretty sure that was where the edit would end up and it was how I shot the scene.

It was a fairly straightforward scene to capture so I just went with my standard 24-70mm lens.  Since it was drizzling a little bit I debated on adding the Polarizer which would sit out far beyond the lens in the elements.  I pulled it out and looked through the filter to see what the effect would be.  There was actually very little effect on the barn, and since I was wanting to have it register as the bright part of the scene, I didn’t want to cut any of the glare.  That made life simple as I just went without any filters for this shot.  I tried several different compositions to make sure that I had an organization that I would like on a larger viewing platform than the camera.  Looking at the histogram, there was no problems with exposure latitude so I didn’t need to add any Grad filters.  It was all just too easy!

When I got it home, I started to process the images and picked the composition that I thought was the strongest of the half dozen that I had shot.  As I had planned, this one turned into a black and white image and required a fair amount of work to get the contrasts to where I wanted them both in the sky and on the ground.  In the end, I had a rather soft image with that bright metal barn as the visual anchor.  It did work in the black and white rendition and I kind of liked how it all came together.  I had also shot another barn across the street at the same location that failed as a composition.  It was trashed without even running it through the editing process.  It was just too static and screamed desperation on the part of the photographer to capture another image.  It was uninspired, so I had to let it go.

Weight of the World“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, No Filters, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

I obviously wasn’t finished with the day since I was still scrounging for another composition so I continued on my quest to find something else to photograph.  It didn’t take long and I found myself turning on a secondary road where I found a nice rusted roof on the right side of the road.  There was a house just behind the barn so that angle wasn’t going to work at all.  As I passed it by, I saw that the roof came down much lower on the opposite side, and I could see a potential composition developing if I could avoid the houses just beyond the trees.  I thought about it for a while as I drove down the road looking for a better candidate.  Feeling pretty sure I wasn’t going to find anything any better I turned around and went back to the barn.

When I got there, I slowed down and looked to see how the elements all lined up as I drove past.  There was one sweet spot where I was pretty sure that I could avoid the extraneous houses, and capture the barn with trees making a natural framing element on both sides.  I puled off of the road and grabbed my camera.  I again opted for the 24-70mm lens and went through the same debate over filters.  Looking through the Color Combo, I could see no real difference at all in the barn and since it was raining, it wasn’t worth the very subtle difference that it would introduce.  I set the camera up without filters and started to look at the exposure. The histogram was looking really nice, but the sky was lacking a lot of detail.  There was just the hint of detail in the clouds and I was actually not sure if I would be able to pull that detail out in post.  The exposure at least captured all of the data that I would possibly be able to have which would give me the best chance of getting the sky to work.  I was hoping that this would be a good color image since the roof had a lot of rusty tones in it which balanced the sky very well.

When I got it home, I was really disappointed to see that the sky was very bland to say the least.  I started to process it as a color image and found that what I was having to do to the sky to get the detail back was creating some very awkward colors casts.  I just didn’t like it, and didn’t want to go through all of the work to get the colors to work out.  I was seconds away from trashing the image when I decided to try for a monochrome rendition.  This is the best way to pull detail out as you have a lot more control over contrasts in monochrome.  The early conversion didn’t look great, but it was better than the color one.  I started off by adding a blue filter to the image which gave me the contrast that I wanted, but then found that the contrast was too much as I adjusted the tonal relationships throughout the image.  I went with another color profile in the black and white choices and found one that worked much better.  I was able to go in and tweak those tones to give me a much more satisfying image.

When I got done with the conversion, some 30 minutes later, I had an image that looked almost effortless.  It was just so natural, and the sky turned out tremendously well despite all of the work that it put me through.  This image that almost got trashed in the editing process turned into one of my favorites from the day.  I don’t miss the color at all with this because it just seems to fit so well with the monochrome presentation.  The textures of the wood shows up, the rusty contrasts on the roof are nice and visible and I even got detail in the trees which was a nice touch.  The sky was creamy and dreamy which contrasted so nicely with the hard lines and edges of the barn.  There was just enough left in the shadows to cause you to wonder what the barn was used for.  There is a story here, and it was a better story in black and white.

I do hope that you enjoyed this quick trip into the foothills of NC.  I had to call it a day after this last barn because the rain was falling too hard to continue on with any photography.  I had only planned on being out till about 11 or so, and it was now after noon.  I needed to get home and start sorting through the 40 frames that I had captured to see if I could get any of them to work out.  I was very happy to see that I had five images which I liked enough to keep.  They are not stellar images by any stretch, but they each have their own merit I believe.  It was a fun day out in the country, and those days are always worth the time.

If you see any images here that speak to you, please don’t hesitate to let me know.  I would love the opportunity to match you up with a print of your very own.  These images are best viewed in their tangible form and they take on a whole different life than when you are just viewing them on a computer monitor.  I look forward to working with you whether you are an existing client of mine, or a brand new fan of my work.

Until next time…

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