In Search of Rust

· Reading Time: 17 minutes

Sunday, December 20, 2020

It would seem that I have been a busy guy this past week.  I’ve come up with my 12 most significant images for 2020, gone out and photographed the ice in the front yard, and then went out on a rural road trip where I got some of my favorite rural image in some time time.  Here we are just a few days later and I’ve managed to get out yet again for some more rural images.  My goal for the day was to take advantage of the clouds and go in search of some rust which I have been really looking for since November.  With all of the luck that I have been having with the rural scenes here lately, one would think that I could find more rusty cars and trucks than I know what to do with.  I sure thought that would be the case, but this has turned out to be much harder than I expected.  When I’ve found good subjects, they haven’t been in good positions to be photographed, or they were tucked back on properties that I wasn’t able to access.  It was looking like I wasn’t meant to get that many rusted vehicles out here and I was coming to terms with that fact since I have been having more than my share of good luck with the barns and old houses.

With the forecast calling for partly cloudy conditions through the morning, I was really wanting to get out to find something rusty sitting on the side of the road.  Toni was getting up early to head down to Georgia for the next few days and that left me here with plenty of time to head out to go hunting.  I got up shortly after she did and made out the door shortly after she got on the road.  I didn’t have anything in mind for a destination other than I was wanting to head out towards Traphill where I have had luck finding these old vehicles several times before.  My plan was simple, just head in that direction and take side roads when I saw something that looked promising.

I was about 30 miles into my trek and still hadn’t found anything.  I had covered many roads that I had not been down before and several that I had forgotten about from previous visits to the area.  There was a lot of potential, but the theme of no compositions was in full effect for everything that I saw.  It doesn’t take too long to start getting frustrated at times like this.  The clouds were great and there was a slight fog over the mountains in the distance so the atmosphere was just excellent, but there was nothing at all worth putting in front of the camera.  I knew that the clouds were going to be clearing off at some point between 11 and 1 which left me plenty of time to work several scenes, but I was going to have to find them first.

The more roads I turned down, the more frustrated I became.  I was starting to get desperate which is never a good thing.  I honestly thought about just turning around and going back home because usually when I get desperate, my photographs start to look very forced and that was not what I was wanting from this trek.  I had time to really take my time and enjoy the process which is what I should be doing.  The stress was real though, and I felt the good light slipping away from me quickly.  The sun was already starting to poke through the clouds which was the indication that the clouds were already breaking up which wasn’t a good sign since it was still very early in the day.

Prison of Age“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 3-stop soft ND Grad

On one of the roads that I turned down I saw a small tobacco barn on the left side of the road.  It was covered with vines so even it wasn’t a good candidate for a photograph, but I kept looking at it as I came around the bend in the road.  Maybe the other side would be a better option?  I quickly lost interest in the barn when I saw what was on the other side of it.  There just on the side of the road was an old Ford truck nestled in some trees in front of a shelter.  The truck had just the right amount of rust on it to catch my attention so I pulled over on the side of the road to get out and look a little closer.  The truck was really nice, but the front end was blocked by some trees which I wasn’t all that happy with.  Even worse, there was a tractor just to the side of the truck which was not a great element that close to the truck.  I looked at this scene critically for a bit and decided that if I move to the right enough to place the headlights between the trees, I would get the apex of the roof behind the truck over the cab which was a really nice framing element.  It also gave some separation to the tractor which allowed me to reduce its impact in the frame.

I had the angle, but I had another problem.  There were signs indicating “No Trespassing” which I wanted to pay attention to.  That meant that I wasn’t going to be able to get in close to the truck like I would have wanted to.  By staying close to the road, I was going to be elevated slightly which would cause another tree’s limbs to block the front of the truck.  This wasn’t quite what I had in mind, but it was the best scene that I had seen all day.  I pondered my options for a moment and decided that I could use my long lens here and get down right on the ground which would allow me to shoot under the tree to the left and provide a more pleasing perspective on the truck.  It was worth a try so I went back to the truck and grabbed my gear.

I built the camera like I had planned with the long lens and I added a polarizer in order to control the glare on the truck.  I spread out the tripod and mounted the neck horizontally which allowed me to place the camera about five inches above the ground.  This gave me just the right altitude to achieve my goal with the tree on the left of the frame.  Of course being this low to the ground forced me to include the sky above which was still quite bright in comparison to the truck I was photographing.  That was an easy fix though and it just required the addition of an ND Grad filter.  Since there was not a defined horizon, I opted for a 3-stop soft edge ND Grad which would take the bite out of the sky.  It was not the easiest thing to adjust though as the camera was right on the ground and I was having a really hard time seeing the composition from either the viewfinder or the LCD in live view.  This was one of those times when an articulating screen would have come in great.

Regardless of the issues, I was able to get the filters adjusted correctly and I started making exposures.  From what I could tell from the histogram the images were going to look great.  It was the composition that I wasn’t sure about since I really couldn’t see the details in the screen with the camera so low.  All I could do was hope that I had it right as I was capturing images.  The last thing that I wanted to do at this point was take the camera off of the tripod just to look at the image review because I might not be able to get it back in the same position if I needed to make adjustments.  I just crossed my fingers until I was relatively certain that I had the image that I was after.  When I reached that point, I removed the camera and looked at the image review for a final check of the composition.  It actually looked pretty good, and that was a nice surprise.

I tried a few other compositions from easier locations which I ultimately didn’t like before loading up the gear and continuing on the road.  I had my first image for the day which was always the hardest one to get.  I was feeling better about being out now, and was more relaxed about looking for more rusty treasures.  Thankfully, that didn’t take long, and it was just a mile or so down the road I saw what looked to be an old classic sitting off by itself on the side of the road.  As I got closer, I could tell that it was a two door Ford Galaxy which I don’t find all that often.  The lighting wasn’t the best, but this was exactly what I was looking for so I pulled off the road.  I didn’t even turn the truck off because I knew that I was going to be able to grab this one pretty quickly.

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

I decided to use my 24-70mm lens which is my best lens when it comes to this type of photography.  I added a polarizer to it in order to handle the glare on the car and started to find my composition.  I was wanting to get it from the front, but there was a tree blocking half of the headlights, and there was some clutter behind the car as well.  Just as I was getting a composition figured out, the sun came out behind the car and gave me way too much back light to make this work.  Wanting to take advantage of the light on the car, I moved over to the side of it and worked on a side quarter view.  This seemed to work out much better with the light.  I just had to figure out a composition that worked.  The car was very long and seemed to stretch through the image quite a bit forcing a lot of the sky to be included in the frame.  I didn’t want it there as I thought that it was a distraction.  I contemplated my options and decided on a 16:9 crop in camera.  This seemed to work perfectly as it accentuated the shape of the car while reducing the extraneous sky as well as some of the grass.  This was looking pretty good on the live view so I started to dial in the exposure and began making images.

The sun didn’t stay out for long and it was eventually back behind some more clouds.  At this point I went back around to the front of the car to get the composition that I had originally planned on.  It wasn’t a wonderful composition, but considering my recent dry spell with old iron, I took it in stride and started to make exposures  from the front of the car as well.  I wasn’t sure how any of these were going to turn out, but it was so nice to find a car like this off on its own where I could make a simple composition of it.

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

Realizing that there were very few options on how to photograph this car, I made one last look around before I packed up my gear.  I had been here probably less than ten minutes from start to finish.  I was glad that I had stopped, but wasn’t sure exactly what I had from this Galaxy.  It was time to move on down the road though and find more rusty subjects to photograph.  I was feeling pretty good after finding two great subjects in such quick succession.  I just knew that my next opportunity would be right around the corner.

Well, it wasn’t.  I managed to find my way out to the main road once again which usually meant that the old cars were not going to be found now.  I continued on that road for a short time and came upon a barn on the side of the road.  It was on the other side of a fairly large field that had been recently cut back.  The barn was unique in how long it was, and there was an addition on the front of it that added to that interest.  I really wasn’t seeing a photograph there though.  Well, I thought there wasn’t a photograph there, but as I was looking for additional elements to put in the frame, I could see the shape of a mountain coming out beneath the clouds in the background.  This brought just the right amount of interest to the scene and prompted me to pull off of the road once more.

With the distance of the barn from the road, I knew right off I was going to need my long lens.  I got that mounted and added a polarizer to help give a little contrast to the sky with the clouds breaking up.  I started working on compositions which wasn’t all that difficult.  I had the right lens, but in order to get the barn and the mountain in a good location within in the frame I was having to include too much sky and foreground.  I tried several options including a 16:9 crop in the camera which didn’t quite work the way I would have wanted it to.  There was still too much at the top and bottom of the frame.

Thinking that the problem was the long length of the barn, I decided to crop a portion of it out only focusing on about a third of it which balanced nicely with the mountain in the distance.  The problem with that was the barn lost its unique qualities which was part of what drew me to the scene to begin with.  I wanted to capture the whole barn with the eight tires holding the roof panels on, and I wanted to get the mountain in the distance too.  I was going to need a large frame to fit that much in, but I didn’t want that much included on the top or the bottom.  Then it hit me, this was looking like a great opportunity for a panorama.  I could include just what I wanted in that long format and have everything scaled properly for visual balance.

Foothills Farming“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, 8 image pano stitched in Lightroom

I was already in the right location for the composition that I wanted, I just had to level the tripod.  It was close, but for single images, I don’t worry about it being exactly level.  For a string of images though, I have to be very precise so I got the legs adjusted to they were perfectly level and then leveled the camera on the ballhead.  To make sure, I did a sweep left and right to make sure that the spirit level in my hotshoe didn’t budge.  Now that I knew that the camera was level, I twisted it by using the tripod collar to capture vertical images.  I then double checked that the camera was still level through a full sweep of the intended frame.  I then found my rough top and bottom edges to the composition and framed up the shot to capture just beyond that height.  Now that I had the focal length set, I found my focus point in the image and locked the focus.  I adjusted the polarizer for the effect that I was after, and fine tuned the exposure to make sure that none of the scene would be blown out.  That exposure was locked in and I established my start and finish points for the series before actually making exposures.

I went from right to left for this one, and I really don’t know why I did that.  It really doesn’t matter, but usually, I go left to right in my panoramas. I made overlapping exposures one after another until I had eight frames captured.  I made a check back through and saw that they were all exposed properly and I didn’t see any problems developing with the individual captures so I assumed that the final panorama would be just fine.  Just in case there was an oddity in the captures, I made another sweep of eight exposures so that I had a backup image from here.  It is just something that I usually do with panoramas as you just never know how the stitching process might affect the image.

When I was done with the two panoramas, I was pretty sure that this was the going to be my answer to the composition, but I stuck around and tried several more variations on the single image compositions.  I wasn’t overly happy with any of them for one reason or another so mentally I put my all of my hopes into the pano images.  When I got home and started to look through the images and made the panoramas, they came together quite nicely.  The second of the two was actually a bit better as the sky had just a touch more definition in it.  That was the one that I decided to process and the end result of the effort was one that I was quite happy with.

The sun was starting to come out in force by this point, and it was getting close to high noon which was not a good combination.  I wasn’t sure if this was going to be my last image of the day.  I was hoping it wasn’t since I had only shot three scenes now, and they were all in about 4-miles of each other.  I wasn’t that kind of lucky to find my next subject just around the bend this time.  I had to keep driving, and I was chasing the clouds by this point.  I would make my turns based on the direction that brought me closer to the clouds.  I don’t really know where I was at by this point.  I think it was still Traphill, but I was totally lost chasing the clouds.  I was about to give up hope on finding another image when I saw something off in the distance.

Napping Blonde“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

What I saw was a red barn well below the level of the road.  As I got closer, I could see that it was situated in a clearing with some great trees behind it.  Beyond the trees was the distant mountain with some really good clouds above it.  The icing on the cake was the fact that there were horses in the field.  One of my clients from way back in the day has been after me to get pictures of horses and I saw this as the perfect opportunity to do just that.  I could see a great composition with just the barn in the scene, but the horses allowed me to expand that composition and keep the all important visual balance.  They didn’t look like they were going to do much moving which was good.  In fact, one of them was laying down.  This is not something that I am used to seeing, but I know that horses do lay down from time to time to get deep sleep.

Not wanting to waste the opportunity to get the horses, I moved quickly to get the camera set up.  The barn was a good distance away from me so I knew that it was going to be an opportunity for the long lens once again.  I mounted that and added a polarizing filter to take the glare off of the barn roof as well as adding a bit of definition to the sky above.  I frame up the shot just as I had planned, and then moved around to until I had the right separation from the two standing horses.  From here it was just timing the exposures with the light, and when the closest horse would raise their head.  You see, this was one eating the hay and I didn’t want to get the head down.  I was rattling off images regularly as the head would come up hoping to get the right light during one of those times.

After about 20 frames I figured that I had enough to ensure at least one good capture.  In fact, there was just one best capture from this scene.  Many of the frames showed motion blur in the head of the horse which was never terrible, but I wanted it to be as sharp as possible.  There was one image where the horse was sharp and the light was good.  This is the one that I processed and I think that it turned out remarkably well.  I’m so glad that I got lost and ended up here.  I think that this is my favorite image from the day and it represents a bucket list photograph for me with the inclusion of the horses.

With that image in the bag, it was time to consider heading home.  The sky was getting clearer and clearer by the minute at this point.  I set my GPS to take me home with the hopes that I would come across just one more scene.  That never did happen, but I did go home with 97 frames captured which turned into five keepers from the day.  I can’t complain about that at all.  It was a great day, and I finally got my rust that I have been missing for the past month, and even got some horses along with a barn.  It was a great day after a slow start.  I do hope that you enjoyed the trek as well as the images.

Until next time…

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