History and Rubble

· Reading Time: 22 minutes

Sunday, November 29, 2020

We have been stuck in a very pretty weather pattern for the last week or so and I haven’t been able to go out to get any new images because quite frankly, pretty days don’t photograph well.  I much prefer clouds and interest in the sky for my images.  Looking at the weather forecast it was looking like the clouds would be rolling in on Sunday ahead of the rain expected through the night and into Monday.  With those high clouds there would be the potential of finding some dramatic skies, or at least some interest in them.  I started to make some plans about where I wanted to go in order to take advantage of the clouds.  With the reduction of vegetation all around due to the cooler climate, it was a great time for some rural photography, and I’m still working my way around the area and getting to know the different personalities of Wilkes County.  With that in mind I decided to pick an area and just work on things through there.

I have been having some really good luck in the area of Fairplains and Mulberry the last few times that I have been out.  I knew that there were still a couple of places that I hadn’t photographed that I thought had some potential with the right conditions.  The first one that came to mind was an old home that was situated just on the side of the road.  It had been covered by vines and full trees until recently when its face was exposed for me to enjoy.  I just wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to photograph it as it was a fairly tight scene.  The other location that I was really wanting to try my hand at was an old commercial building which had partially collapsed some time ago.  It was in really rough shape, but there was just something about it that called out to me.  Knowing that eventually it would be leveled and cleared away I knew that I had better act while I could as soon as I could.  Again, I wasn’t quite sure of the conditions that would best suit it though.

After dinner on Saturday night I took Toni on a tour of the area to check out some of the locations to get an idea how I might want to shoot them.  The old house was the first place that we passed and I took a few mental notes of how I might want to compose it.  There was a stone wall out front which was going to provide a bit of difficulty, but if I could incorporate it into the composition I thought that it would be a great element.  I confirmed the direction that it was facing to make sure that sunrise would be the time to capture it.  I could see the no trespassing sign on the gate so I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to get in close for some nice detail shots, or possibly look at things around the back.  There was a gas station across the street that I would be able to park in which was a very nice luxury compared to parking on the shoulder of the road.

After scoping that out, we continued South and I happened to remember an old filling station that has been converted into a tire shop on the right.  I had attempted to photograph that one of the last times that I was out this way but hadn’t had any luck because of a truck being parked right in front of the business.  As we passed by I could see that the view was open and unobstructed.  The only problem was that there was a Toyota Camry parked off to the side.  While not ideal, it was much better than having a vehicle blocking the view completely in front of the store.  I still wasn’t sure if I would be able to do anything with it or not, but I would take a look at it in the morning light to see.

The next stop on my list was just a mile or so further down the road and Toni spotted it before I did.  It was that shell of a building that had come crashing down at some point.  She pointed it out and mentioned that she thought it would make a good picture possibly.  I agreed, but still just didn’t know how to capture it.  With it being on the left side of the road, it was more than likely going to be backlit during the morning, so I was thinking it would be a better evening photograph with all other things being equal.  I had been questioning whether or not this would make a good image, but when Toni seemed to like it, that fueled my fire to capture an image of the old building.

I thought that we were done with the tour after seeing this but I continued South to go back through town to get home.  As we got into town I recalled a very interesting scene that I had contemplated photographing several times now.  It was an old Ford truck beneath a concrete wall.  Yep, you read that correctly….BENEATH the wall.  It was not my normal image, but there was something just interesting about the way that the wall just fell on the truck.  I had all but decided that there was no composition there, but for the pure interest factor, I wanted Toni to see it.

We pulled into the parking lot and I drove around back to where the truck was sitting.  She perked right up and thought that it was a very unique scene and said that she really thought it would make a good picture.  I agreed, but that I had been having a really hard time figuring out how to do it.  My last thoughts were centered around a black and white composition which would make use of the white wall and the blue paint on the truck.  I just wasn’t sure how to make it all come together.

A Day in Shambles“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, No filters

When Sunday morning arrived, I was wide awake well before my alarm rang at 5:30.  I had checked the weather and found that the sky was clear and the clouds were a little late coming to the party.  This could be a good thing if they came in nice and high as the colors of sunrise would be much better.  I hadn’t really considered any subjects for a sunrise session, but if the conditions were favorable, I would have to give it a try while I was out.  The remainder of the morning was looking like high clouds and overcast conditions.  I wasn’t sure how thick the clouds were going to be, so it could either be a slight diffuser for the sun, or a complete washout of the sky.  If I was lucky, they would add some drama to the sky which was what I was really after.  I went ahead and got up and headed out the door well before sunrise.

I started out to the house which was my primary subject for the morning.  When I got there, the sky was mostly clear and I was able to tell that it was going to be a while before the light was ready here.  I was thinking around 8am or so the sun would be high enough to get some warm light on the face since I wasn’t going to have totally overcast conditions.  Instead of just sitting here and waiting, I decided to head down to the Ford to see how it was looking in the early morning light.

As I was driving down the road I was starting to see some color in the sky to the East and the clouds were starting to gradually come into frame.  The color wasn’t going to last long from the looks of it and I had nothing in mind for a sunrise composition so I just decided to sit back and enjoy the colors as I drove.  I had forgotten about the collapsed commercial building though and when I saw it off to the left with the colors behind it my mind started to spin.  Yes, the building was backlit, but the street lights were providing illumination on the dark side of the building and allowing all of the interest to be seen.  The trees behind the building were standing in perfect contrast to the sunrise in the distance.  It was all just so beautiful that I pulled into a parking lot across the street and contemplated things for a moment.  This could actually work if I moved quickly.  Just to make sure that I knew what was the best angle, I drove back across the street to the parking lot attached to the old building.  I didn’t like this view nearly as well, even though the colors were brighter in this direction.  It was the front of the building that I wanted to capture so I drove back over to the gas station where I had just left.  I’m sure that I was causing some questions inside of the store.

I got the camera out quickly and fitted my 24-70mm lens which I felt would give me the right focal length for the job.  I plugged in my remote release to ensure tack sharp images, and mounted the camera to the Acratech GP-SS Ballhead and Manfrotto Tripod.  With the lighting conditions at hand, I didn’t think that any filters would be needed so I left all of that in my bag while I started to find the right place in the parking lot to set up.  I paid particular attention to the trees on the other side of the empty windows to ensure that I had separation of my elements.  I then looked at how the building appeared in the frame as well as how much of the background was included.  I didn’t want too many of the trees, and there was also a large power pole in the distance that I wanted to avoid.  Fortunately, it didn’t take me long at all to get this composition set up and I was ready to fire off some frames.  The exposure was looking really good considering the contrasts involved.  The street lights really helped balance the exposure and I was sure that I had all the detail that I needed in both the highlights and the shadows.

The only thing left to do at this point was to wait until traffic cleared and I could make the exposures.  I just included the top of the ridge with all of the debris as my foreground element, but that was just low enough to capture the roofs of passing cars.  I was shooting exposures of a second or two so I had to make sure that nothing would cross during that whole time.  I got a handful of frames shot of the building with the ever changing light which had turned out to be rather brilliant.  I hadn’t expected to shoot a sunrise this morning, and hadn’t really known what lighting conditions would work for this subject, but it all came together to create an image that I think really tells the story of this property.  I don’t think I was here more than about 15 minutes before the color started to fade and the sun became a bit harsh.  That meant it was time to pack it up and move on to the next location.

Liquid Horsepower“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I was still looking forward to checking out the old Ford truck under the wall, so that was where I went next.  When I pulled into the parking lot and went around to the back where I had seen this truck for the first time maybe three months ago, I could tell that the light was really no different than I had seen before.  I wasn’t overly excited about and there was something that looked too plain about the whole scene.  The truck was in just too good a shape (aside from the wall laying across it) for me to really get excited about it.  Once again, I decided that I was going to take a pass on this truck.  It just wasn’t right this time either.  I put the 4Runner back on the road and headed North to the house that I was wanting to photograph.  The lighting was looking pretty good for a good image of the house at this point and that was what I had come out here to do in the first place anyway.

However, before I got to the house, I was passing that tire shop that had caught my eye before.  It wasn’t exactly my typical subject because it was a building still in use by a business.  However, the old style canopy out front with the logos had caught my attention as well as the old style of the sales office.  It fit the historical theme that I am shooting here in Wilkes County here lately.  This time when I saw it, it was the subtle warm colors that caught my eye.  The sky was really a cool shade of blue behind the store and the accent colors on the canopy as well as the store were nice and warm.  I was seeing a beautiful color balance here more than anything and decided to give it a go.

I pulled across the street into another business parking lot as I expected to be shooting this location from across the street.  I still had the camera built from the collapsed building, so I just left everything as it was, but added my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to the lens.  I wanted to use this so that I was sure not to get any glare in the windows and might possibly get a little more detail in the sky.  I started looking for my composition but everything that I tried included the mailbox out front which had a banner on it.  This was not something that I wanted as it was going to overly confuse an already complex scene.  I picked everything up and ran across the street to see if I could do something different closer in.

That was the trick and I was able to get a composition that made sense and eliminated all of the clutter that I didn’t want with the exception of the Toyota Camry parked on the side of the lot.  I tried to compose from the other side to avoid that car, but the composition was much more disjointed.  By including the car, I found that the color helped minimize the impact of it as it kind of blended into the background.  It also helps to tell the story that this business is still functioning.  I had my composition figured out and I started to make exposures with slight adjustments to the framing just to make sure that I had everything in the scene that I wanted.

When I got home and started to look at the image in detail, I was able to read the signs on the door which I didn’t take the time to do while in the field.  As much as I hate this pandemic, it actually made me smile a bit to see a sign on the door saying that masks are required.  That simple sign will lock in a time frame for this image and will bring to mind all of the small businesses that are really struggling right now.  It is a little detail, but one that I really kind of liked about the whole scene.

Stone Curve“, Canon 5DS R, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

As I was getting ready to cross the street back to the truck, I had to wait for traffic to pass by.  One of the cars was a NCSHP car which honked at me as they went by.  I am betting that it was the same Trooper that I met while photographing the old gas station in North Wilkesboro a few weeks ago.  I’m slowly starting to get recognized around the area and that is a very good thing in my book.  I got everything back in the truck and it was back on the road to finally get to the house that I had come out this way originally to get.  My two stops along the way hadn’t taken much time at all and I was still on track to get the warm morning sun on the front of the house.

When I arrived, the sun hadn’t quite made it to the front of the house which was good.  That would give me time to get situated with the camera.  I parked in the gas station as I had planned and pulled out the tripod and started to set the camera up.  I had noticed that the clerk had stepped outside of the door as was looking at me.  When I made eye contact with her, she asked in a less than friendly tone “Can I help you?”  For those that don’t understand the South, this phrase can be used in two completely different ways.  The first way sounds all sugary and sweet and can be taken at face value as the person asking will likely be willing to give you the shirt off of their back.  The other way, and coincidentally the way I had just been asked is code for a different question.  What she was in fact asking was “Just what in the Hell are you doing?”  which is either followed by “I’m going to call the law on you,” or “I’ve got a gun, and can get a shovel.”  Without missing a beat I just let her know that I was parking here to stay out of traffic while I shot a picture or two of the house across the street.  Her answer, in the typical Southern sugary sweet tone was “OK, I don’t blame you baby.”  Now that we were all on the same page, I grabbed my bag because I was pretty sure that I was going to be swapping things out as I figured out my compositions.

While I was still on the far side of the road I started to look for composition that I could shoot with my 24-70mm lens because I was pretty sure that once I got on the other side of the road I was going to be met with terrible perspective distortion to have to deal with.  I wasn’t finding anything at all that I liked with the standard lens, so I decided to cross the street to see what awaited me over there.  Sure enough, when I got there and started looking, there was no way I was going to be able to work with this lens.  I opened up the bag and swapped out lenses for my 16-35mm which would give me the focal length that I was needing.  I kept the polarizer attached since the clouds were going to keep any strange banding out of the sky.  I tried vertical and horizontal shots and since I wasn’t liking one over the other, I even tried a square crop.  Nothing was working for me.  The stone wall was just too close to the road and I was having a very hard time with the distortion caused by the wide angle lens.

I kept at it though and eventually found a great location right at the driveway where I could set up.  By raising the camera to above my eye level I was able to control the distortion well enough and I was able to include the curve of the stone wall which made for a great foreground.  I positioned myself so that the tall tree by the driveway could be used to fill the negative space.  The right side of the frame was established by the driveway and the gate.  I had originally shot this as a color image, but after careful consideration I decided that it would present much better as a monochrome image.  The sky was that perfect type of sky for black and white, and by taking out the color, the red gate no longer pulled my eyes out of the frame to the right.  The focus was on the wall, the tree, and the house…just like I intended.

Whispers of Yesterday“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I was now feeling much better about this house and felt that I would be able to get an image from across the street after all.  I crossed back over and stood on the opposite shoulder this time and trained my camera at the house once again.  I could tell that at 35mm I was still too wide for the composition that I was thinking about.  I swapped out my glass for that standard lens once again and switched the filter along with it.  I kept moving around until I found the right spot where the front door wasn’t blocked by either of the columns and everything made sense.  I started out with only a portion of the stone wall included, but didn’t like how it dropped out of the frame.  The only way to include it and have it make sense was to include a sliver of the road in the lower left corner.  It was not ideal, but the overall effect was one of balance with all of the elements.

The nice thing about shooting this at almost 50mm was there was no perspective distortion at all to deal with and the image felt very comfortable as this was the way way that my eyes had seen it.  The framing of the scene was a little touchy though as I wanted to avoid having the red brick fire place smack in the middle of the frame as that would be the only thing that the viewer would see.  I also wanted to watch the gate to the right which would pull the eyes out of the scene and it also included a large sign on it which I didn’t want to include.  I finally got a composition worked out which provided a great deal of visual balance and showcased all that I wanted to include about this house.

For the next few minutes I stood there making exposures as the sun dipped in and out of the clouds.  I was very fortunate with the increasing clouds that the warm light did strike the face of the home as I had hoped it would.  I got a few images like that with varying degrees of intensity from the sun.  It didn’t take long and I was finished with this house.  It had been much more difficult to photograph than I had expected.  I’m glad that I stuck with it though as I ended up getting two different compositions and presentations from this old house.  You just can’t beat that.

When I got back to the truck I had the opportunity to meet a gentleman that had been pumping gas.  He asked if I was a surveyor.  I get that a lot since I shoot with a tripod and it does kind of look like I am doing surveys.  I spoke with him for a few minutes and told him what I was doing with the house.  He asked if I did weddings to which I responded that I didn’t.  There is no stress like the stress of being the one potentially responsible for ruining the wedding day in the eyes of the bride.  I choose to leave that to the groom as the ceremony was designed.  I kid….I kid, but in all seriousness, wedding photography is one of the hardest types of photography there is and there are too many opportunities to screw things up.

Looking at the sky, the sun was getting bright and the clouds were not coming in quite as I had expected.  It was looking like I  might be calling this day over quicker than I had anticipated.  I wasn’t done creating though and I knew that I still had a little more in me.  Not knowing where to go at this point, I decided to head back to that old Ford truck that has been really vexing me for some time now.  I’ve lost count of the times that I have sat in the parking lot and pondered how to organize the elements.  With all that time invested, the last thing that I wanted to happen was for the property owner to clean up the wall and have the truck towed off.  Based on the condition, I could see that all that was holding that up was an insurance settlement.  If it got gone, I would always wonder if I could have made an image there.

Just a Crush“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I didn’t really have high hopes for this subject, but I decided to give it yet another try before calling it a day.  It didn’t take long to get there and I drove around back just like I had earlier.  Only this time, I pulled in a parking space.  I’ve done this before and then left a minute or two later so I wasn’t doing anything really any different.  Looking at the scene, the sky was mostly clear overhead and the light was bordering on harsh, but still had the benefit from the clouds to the East to diffuse the light.  It wasn’t all that different from any other time I had been here, so I don’t know what prompted me to turn off the 4Runner.  I was going to get out and give it a try.  I still had the camera built from the last scene with the 24-70mm lens and polarizer attached.  That saved me time and made it easy to just mount on the tripod.  I started to look for a composition for the first time in earnest.

I had been thinking about a monochrome isolation of the truck under the wall, but that wasn’t really going to work as I was going to have to include the sky above, and some of the clutter just over the ridge.  I could shoot down onto the truck, but I would get a lens full of fallen wall which wasn’t my idea of a good image.  If I went for an overall shot, I would have to include the jagged wall and a lot of the sky.  I didn’t really like that idea, but it was my best bet.  I started to get the camera into position and found that if I got down low I could minimize or completely omit the power lines in the background.  I could also have the jagged wall introduce several dramatic diagonals to the frame by shooting low.  It would also cause the wall to jut into the sky creating an element there to balance out the truck while including enough sky to fill out the image.

It was just a matter of small adjustments here and there to get things ideal as I was making exposures.  During the process, the clouds started to come in gradually and quite thin giving just a hint of texture to the sky which I welcomed. The thicker clouds behind me were starting to diffuse the sun quite well and the light got much softer on the truck which really helped the image out.  I had been shooting this with monochrome in mind, but looking at it, the blues in the sky and the paint of the truck were very similar.  The dirt gave a nice hint of red to balance out the cool tones, and the subtle warm light from the sun on the cement wall helped to balance the color tones.  The light texture in the sky also matched the sheen on the side of the truck further balancing the image.  I was starting to get impressed with this composition the more I looked at it.

I committed to this one composition and shot about a dozen frames as the light changed.  I was pretty sure that this would be the composition that I would end up picking from and I was right.  This image was near the end of the session, but after this one was captured, the sun started to get too harsh and I began to lose the warn tones.  As it turned out though, this one had the best balance out of all of them and really was just right for what I had in mind for the image.  The edit wasn’t difficult at all as the image pretty much shot itself by this point.  The light and the shadows were all spot on, and even the scrap pile in the foreground was getting good light by this point.

With this one under my belt, I decided it was time to head home.  I had over eighty images to sort through and the sky was getting blander and blander as time went on.  I was happy with the day and felt that I was really getting a good handle on this part of Wilkes County.  It was another successful day in the area of Fairplains and Mulberry.  I’m not sure where I will be headed next as I have pretty much worked the scenes that I have been excited about in this area.  There are some side streets that I will go down at some point, but I’m thinking that the next time I go out, I’ll head off in a different direction.

I do hope that you have enjoyed this trek as well as the photographs.  It is really nice to be back into my groove with this type of photography.  I love my landscapes, but there is just something so rewarding about photographing scenes that may or may not be there the next time you visit.  If any of these speak to you on that special level, please reach out to me so we can get you matched up with a print of your choice.  You can also get standard sizes here in the gallery store.

Until next time…

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