Is There Enough There?

· Reading Time: 12 minutes

Thursday, January 21, 2021

There are just some subjects that have to wait to be photographed until they speak to me.  The subject for today’s trek is one of those.  I’ve passed it by a number of times while I was out in the area of Traphill and while I’ve looked at it every time I’ve gone past, it just hasn’t jumped out at me.  I’m as surprised as you are right now because this is a great old farmhouse that has seen better days.  it fits into my rural photography as well as my decay photography.  So why has it not really hit me before now to get out and photograph it?  Well, it has been because of the light.  I’ve just not seen it in the right light to really get excited about it.  However, when I was delivering prints a couple of days ago in the area, I passed by this old house once again.  The difference was the clouds were deep and moody with a heavy weight to them.  It was the perfect time to grab an exposure or two!  Just one problem with that.  I didn’t have the time, nor did I have my camera with me.  I had just enough time to deliver the prints and then get back home to get Toni for a nice dinner out.

I might not have been able to capture the image that evening, but it served the purpose of getting me interested in this old house which I hadn’t been before.  I started really thinking about how I was going to shoot it which was not the easiest thing to do.  Google Street View hasn’t captured this road yet so I couldn’t study the angles like I usually like to do.  I knew that there was a fence along the side of the road as there was a cow pasture all around the house.  The distance I was going to have to shoot wasn’t a big problem, the issue that I had was the trees that were along the road and the power pole that was situated to the left of the house.  The pole blocked the easiest view of the house where I could actually include a really nice tree in the foreground, but I just really didn’t like the pole that would have been situated very close to the tree in the composition I would have used.

There were a couple of things that I really liked about the old house which I really wanted to showcase in a photograph.  The first element was the main section of the house that had probably succumbed to some very high winds at some point.  The roof was mostly missing with only a shell left and a good bit of the siding was absent showing the sagging interior.  The other part of the house that I liked was the stone chimney on the side.  It was still in very good shape, and the warm colors of the stonework really stood out to me.  What I needed was really good clouds overhead with some warm diffused light on the house from behind me.

Looking at how the house was situated, in order to get the lighting that I wanted I was actually going to do better to head out in the morning to have the sun to my back.  This was the complete opposite from what I had seen that had sparked my interest which had been shortly before sunset.  The sky was fantastic and the house looked good, but it was in the shadows and what directional light there was happened to be back lighting the house.  It would have worked that evening, but to make sure that I had the light where I wanted it, I opted to get out earlier in the day.  The only thing left was to wait until a day with the right kind of clouds to put over the house.

Cat Under a Broken Tin Roof“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

Looking at the weather for this morning, there was a really good chance that the light would be right for the image that I had in mind.  I woke up early and checked to see how the clouds were looking before sunrise because if I was lucky, I would get some really good color in the sky as well as warm light on the face of the house.  Well, that wasn’t going to happen as there was a 100% chance of rain now for the first few hours of the day.  Not wanting to battle rain in the freshly cleaned 4Runner I rolled back over and decided that I would get it another day.  Well, I woke up about an hour later and started getting ready for the day.  The roads were wet and there was still a high chance for rain.  The clouds weren’t looking particularly great either.  I went on with my day not planning on going out at all.

However, as the morning moved on, the sky started to show some promise to the West which was the direction that I wanted to shoot in.  I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to take the freshly cleaned truck out there with the roads being a little bit wet in places though.  That was when Toni said that she wanted to go out and get a few things at the store.  Hmmmm, if she was going out anyway, maybe I could rope her into going with me to try to photograph the house.  I offered to go shopping with her if she would go with me to photograph this house.  I was surprised that she agreed.  Normally she shies away from going on this type of shoot because she is worried about property owners.  Since I was going to have to shoot this from the road, she felt comfortable staying in the car while I did what needed to be done so off we went.  It was getting a little close to noon unfortunately but the clouds were still showing some great potential.

It wasn’t long before we got out to Traphill and I found the house once again.  This time it jumped out at me because I had been thinking about the images for a couple of days now and was excited to see how it would work out.  I pulled off on the side of the road and grabbed my gear.  I wasn’t sure whether I would be using the long lens or the standard lens, but I started off with my 70-200mm lens because I knew that I would be able to really isolate the house best with that lens.  If I wanted to try a wider angle shot I would just swap out the glass later on.  I added my polarizer because I wanted just a bit more contrast to the sky and I wanted to control the glare on the tin roof.  It was all mounted to the tripod and I was off to capture some images.

I started off near where I parked the car which was on the right side of the house.  I had a relatively straight shot to get the house from the corner of the fence.  I came into the property just a little bit to get the angle right and then worked on framing up the image.  I didn’t like the background all that much because it was rather flat and boring.  The sky was looking really good from this side though, and that was where my background interest was going to come from.

I found the composition that I liked and decided that I would do this as a black and white image to really pull the attention to the house itself.  I Got the exposure set and saw that the histogram was looking great and there was no need for any more filters to get this one right.  I fired off two shots with slightly different framing and moved on to a point about midway along the property line to try a different composition.  I didn’t care for that view at all, so I didn’t stay long.  What was funny about this was that I had missed something interesting about the house while at these two angles.  It wasn’t until I got home that I saw what I had missed.

To give you an idea of the power of the 70-200mm lens when it comes to reaching out and getting close to a subject, I had been looking at this house from the street and never noticed the cat that was in the upper left window.  Seeing things through the viewfinder made them so small that I didn’t see it, and it was even hidden in the LCD for the image review.  When I was importing them into Lightroom I saw the cat plain as day and was happy to see that even though I hadn’t worked the shot around the cat that it was rendered sharp.  I could make out the eyes and the texture of the fur in the full resolution image.  I’m telling you, the 5DS R with a high quality lens on it will bring out detail you would have never though to see.  The cat that I hadn’t even noticed when capturing the image became my favorite part of the image when I started to edit it.

It was that monochrome edit that really gave the image life.  There wasn’t much going on in the frame for interest with the lack of trees at this angle, but with the deep clouds above and the lack of color I was able to give this a very moody and timeless feeling.  For me, it has a aura around it that brings me back to the post depression era in the dustbowl of the US.  It was the first one that I edited and as it turned out, I really liked the final product.

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

As I mentioned, I hadn’t really liked the second composition that I shot of the house.  I might have made a couple of exposure there, but it was just too jumbled and didn’t have any depth to it at all.  I picked my gear up and moved further off to the left to where the best angle was from my quick drive-by a few minute ago.  I found a tree that I was going to have to work with as well as that power pole.  Ideally, I would have been able to move even further to the left, but that pole and the large tree were going to cause me problems.  Where I was at, I had a reasonably clear shot as long as I didn’t get the tree to the right in my frame which was kind of close.  I also had to make sure that the horizon wasn’t too close to the center of the frame.  The answer to all of my questions came in the form of dropping the camera down close to the ground.  By doing that, and shooting between the electric wires of the fence, I was able to avoid the tree to the right by getting under it, and I was able to drop the horizon down just to the roofline of the house which was perfect.  I framed the shot so that I had the three tallest trees in the background working as a framework to the house.  They dictated the height of the scene and I let the rubble pile in the front of the house serve as the foreground and the lower framing element.  I had just enough room to include the fence that went around behind the house and to give it a terminal end so as not to pull your eyes out of the frame.

Once I got the composition dialed in, I checked the exposure and once again I didn’t need anything added in the way of filters as there was a good spread of tones through the histogram.  I started to make exposures and things were looking good.  Not wanting to keep Toni waiting too long, I was about to call it a day, but the sky was starting to do something interesting.  The clouds behind me were breaking up and allowing the sun to come through more than it had been.  I loved the extra light on the scene and the clouds behind the house were still looking fantastic.  I started cranking off exposures as the light changed not knowing just how much light would help me tell this story.

After about five minutes the light faded again and I had a series of about six images from the time that the light had been the best.  I was pretty sure that was going to be enough for what I was wanting.  After taking a quick look around to see if there was anything else that I wanted to shoot, I took one more look at the scene in front of me to determine if I might do better with a standard lens.  There were elements that I could use in a larger composition and I almost convinced myself to go for the more complex composition, but as I was looking at everything I realized that the house was going to get lost in the mix.  Not wanting to sacrifice any of the details of the old house, I opted to pass on the wider angle shot.  The elements that I was going to include were more shapes than elements to further the story so it really wasn’t worth it.

When Toni and I did get home and I started working on the images, I was so excited about the cat in the window, but was let down by the time that I got to this last composition.  There was only a single frame where the cat remained in the window from here and it was the one with probably the worst lighting of them all.  I had to give up the cat in order to get the light right throughout the image.  It was good trade though and I don’t really miss the cat in this composition.  I was able to get that glorious chimney and the remains of the two story section of the house which was what I was after from the get-go.  The trees in the background gave the image depth and the sky was just right with textures and tones.  It was this color image that was my favorite of the day and it was the one that I had previsualized when I saw this house for the seventh or eighth time.  It really is a great illustration of how light and my own mood will prompt me to capture different things.

I hope that you enjoyed this short Trek.  For those of you who are worried, Toni made it just fine.  She was a little disappointed that she had no service on her cell phone though, but we weren’t there long enough for her to get overly bored waiting for me to finish.  I’m very happy that things worked out to where I could go out there for a minute and it was nice to have her along since it has been quite some time since she has been out in the country with me for pictures.

If either of these images speaks to you, let me know as I would love to get you matched up with a print.  If you are interested in learning about the “art of photography,” be sure and join me for either of two upcoming workshops on the topic.  The first one will be at the Wilkes Art Gallery on February 19th from 1-3pm.  It will be an in-person class, but a reduced content version of the upcoming two part online webinar type class that will start on February 27th and finish on March 6th.  These will be roughly two hours each Saturday night starting at 7pm.  There are spaces left in both classes and I hope to see you there.

Until next time…

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