Wednesday, March 17, 2021
I’m starting to feel like a professional photographer these days. The last time I wrote in the blog a couple of days ago I had just done a shoot for a client focusing on two different homes that are special to the family. Here I am back in the blogs again writing about another trek that was pretty much centered on a client’s request as well. I have a client that is working on remodeling an old home and is wanting to fill it with artwork from the area and she is really enjoying the rustic and decay photography that I have been doing around Wilkes County. As she is getting the art fine tuned in her home she has started to request images of places that she has seen such as Nathan’s Batteries in Wilkesboro, which I shot a couple of weeks ago. While I was showing her those images she mentioned another Esso station with some older pumps out front that might be something good. This was an old convenience store in Alexander County which I had never seen before but it sounded pretty good.
I had a rough idea where it was based on her description but I was unable to find it on Google Maps. As I was looking she had actually messaged me a screen shot of where it was on the map and an address. From there it was just a matter of figuring out the best conditions to photograph it. Since it was on the West side of the street I was going to need to make this a morning shoot so that the light would be on the front of the store. Knowing that she was interested in having these images with color in the sky I started to look for a partly cloudy morning. Of course, we settled into a period of clear skies in the morning which wouldn’t work at all. I kept pondering the setting as I only had the street view and satellite image to scout from. I knew that there were houses on either side of the store and some trees which were interesting. It was going to be difficult to get shots that didn’t include the neighboring properties and the more I looked at the store, the more plain it became. There were a couple of vintage signs on either side which I would want to get as well as the two antique pumps out front, but the store itself was just a long plain building with windows and a door. If the sky was too interesting it would take the attention away from the building and the details associated with it. I was going to have to have light on the building and hope that the color stretched out far enough overhead to give some faint hues.
Not completely sold on my vision, when I saw that there were finally clouds forecasted for Wednesday Morning, I decided that I would give it a shot. If nothing else, I would be able to scout the location and get some isolation shots of the pumps with the even lighting. If the forecast treated me the way it normally did, the clouds would be much thinner than expected and would likely produce the color that I was wanting. It was worth a shot and I kept an eye on the forecast as Tuesday came to a close.
As night closed in the forecast was largely unchanged with low clouds in the morning. However, there was a good chance of fog added into the first few hours of the day. I’ve fallen for this trick before. I expect fog and find the morning with clear conditions and rarely any clouds. I wasn’t believing in the fog, but if it did happen to show up I was prepared to take advantage of that to help isolate the store from the surrounding structures. In short, I was prepared for pretty much anything that happened to come my way in relation to the lighting.
I woke up nice and early at 5:15 so that I could make the 50 minute drive South into Alexander County in order to get there before the sun came up. Not being positive what the conditions were going to be I wanted to give myself an opportunity to shoot some frames in the blue hour as well as capture the color of sunrise, and then take advantage of when the light hit the store. Like I said, I was prepared for just about anything when it came to lighting. When I looked at the weather I was actually surprised to see that there were foggy conditions being reported around Taylorsville which was near where I was going to be. It was looking like the forecast had been accurate for a change. It wasn’t ideal, but I wasn’t quite sure what ideal was going to be since I hadn’t seen this location in person yet.
The entire trip there was a matter of fog…no fog….fog…no fog….car…..fog…etc. Until I pulled up into the parking lot at 6:50 I had no idea what the conditions were going to be. It was foggy at the store which was great! I was looking forward to working with the fog here as it would simplify the background and make the trees stand out more. What I didn’t like was the large LED streetlight that was on the right side of the building. It provided great lighting, but it was very much one sided and lacked balance to the scene. I pondered my options briefly and decided to take advantage of the light and blue hour and shoot a few frames vertically on the side with the ESSO sign which was being fully lit by the light. I fitted my 24-70mm lens and framed up the scene that I wanted. There was no need for any filters so I just left it bare on the front of the lens. I had to shield the element from that LED light because it was causing some serious ghosting with me positioned basically right underneath it. The exposures were 15 seconds a piece so I had to time it when there was no traffic so that I didn’t get any of the reflections in the windows. After about a half dozen of these images, the light was coming up and I decided I could flip the camera to a horizontal format. I liked this composition better, but the lighting still wasn’t all that even with the street light. I shot another handful of these and then decided it was time to try something new.
By now you are wondering where those first compositions are I bet. Well, they are not here. None of them turned out good enough to keep. The lighting was awkward and there just wasn’t enough interest on the side of the building that was lit so well. The only interesting part was the ESSO sign and the tree over the back of the building. It wasn’t enough to keep the attention. I’m glad that I decided to find another composition because that was just not working out. I finally found a strong composition on the other side of the pumps aimed back at the street light. It was still on at this point and causing a starburst in the upper right corner which could be cool, or it could be a distraction. I started capturing these images while the light was still lit. I fine tuned the composition so that when the light went out I would have the composition set. It was about 10 minutes after sunrise when the light went out and the scene settled down to my eyes. The attention was now fully on the pumps and the sign which was my ultimate goal.
While setting this shot up, I had decided that my 24-70mm lens wasn’t quite wide enough, so I swapped out to a 16-35mm lens which gave me a little more foreground presence which I liked for the pumps. With it being foggy, I wasn’t quite sure if this was going to be better as a color or black and white image while I was shooting it. I knew that there was very little color in the scene, but the color that was there was a wonderful warm tone which I really liked. When I got the image home though, I decided that monochrome was the way to go with this one because it really emphasized the history rather than the decay which I liked better for this composition.
The lighting was looking really good at this point now that the sun was up and the street light had gone out. I was starting to see lots of areas that interested me around the pumps themselves. They were wonderfully rusted and aged with just the right amount of texture to them. I thought that these pumps could carry the scene quite well all by themselves. That was what I tried next as a matter of fact. I went back to the truck and swapped out my wide angle lens for my long 70-200mm which would give me the ability to really isolate the pump from the background. I left the filters off because in the fog, there is not a whole lot of reason for using filters in my experience. I was just happy with the soft lighting that was all over the scene.
I went back to the area I had just been and started to find the right spot to place the camera for the composition I had in mind. It didn’t take much time to get it sorted out because it was a simple composition, I just needed to watch for separation through the different elements and figure out how to place the pump in the frame. It all came together rather quickly and I was really happy with the depth of field that this lens gave me. With the focus being the old rusted pump, I knew that this was going to be a color image. There was very little color in the background so the pumps color helped it to jump off the page as well. I was really starting to understand and enjoy this location which was making the time go by really quick as I moved from composition to composition..
The next composition that I tried with the long lens was one that was similar to the opening image here. I remembered really liking how the tree looked to the right and how it followed a loose “S Curve” that mimicked the two S’s in ESSO. It was a subtle connection but one that I liked. I knew I had a vertical, wide angle composition featuring this view but I wanted to compress it a bit and shoot it horizontal this time. I adjusted the position of the camera until I had the right look for the whole scene and started to make exposures. Even though this included the same elements as the vertical composition it told a completely different story. The pumps were still prominent in the frame, but mainly because of the color since they were no longer emphasized by the wide angle lens from earlier. It was a calmer composition and a bit more relaxing to look at for me. I chose to go with the color here because I really thought that the color added to the image and there was a nice color balance thanks to the blue tones in the fog matched with the reds and oranges in the pumps and the sign.
Since I still had the long lens attached, I decided to look for more isolations of the pumps since they were the most interesting aspect for me. I had an isolation of the nearest pump that I liked already and it was the more interesting of the two. However, I had noticed that the other pump had the hose completely separated which added a bit of visual interest for me. I started to frame up the pump from the opposite side while still using the building as a background. I didn’t like the composition because of the location of the windows and the patina of the pump was just a little too bland. I almost gave up, but then realized that the solution was actually quite simple. Since the pump was usable from either side, I just looked at the back side. I found a much better patina on the face and I was excited to work this side as it was going to be completely different from the first one.
I decided to leave my long lens on because it was going to give me the narrower depth of field with the longer focal length. I framed up the shot trying to capture the entire pump. That was just too complex so I zoomed in to just capture the top part of it. That was too cluttered and missed my broken hose. I decided to split the difference and capture a 3/4 length shot of the pump that included the Lead warning at the bottom and all of the top with just enough breathing room. I rotated around to get the right background to surround the pump. There were great trees in the background that I really liked, and at f/4.5 they were perfectly blurred to keep the attention on the pump itself. It was that broken hose that sold the image for me and I found a lot of humor in seeing it. I just kept seeing somebody coming up to fill up and plugging the handle into their filler and depressing the handle. Yeah, it sounds far fetched, but I’ve seen similar things happen before.
I was starting to think that I was about done with the shoot as the light wasn’t really changing at this point and I was pretty sure that I had everything that I wanted. I made a last check around the building just to make sure though. When I got to the back side, I paused again. I had been interested in this angle before but couldn’t really figure out a composition to use. I had considered vertical and horizontal but neither really jumped out at me. With the long lens affixed, I tried an isolation at the top that included the old Pepsi sign as well as some of the others, but that didn’t work out. It did give me some ideas on a possible composition with a different lens though.
I went back to the truck to swap out the long lens for my 24-70mm lens that I had started the day out with. After I got it mounted and turned to walk back to the far side of the building. I stopped there at the truck for a minute remembering the horizontal composition that I had done before the sun came up. I was looking at the same composition now, only with much better lighting since things had evened up now that the sun was up and the street light was out. I contemplated my options and figured that I wouldn’t be out anything to give it another try. The sky wasn’t all that interesting, but the simple subject could use a bit of negative space in the composition to balance things out.
I placed the camera in roughly the same place that I had started the day with about an hour earlier. I framed up the same composition only this time I wasn’t worried about how the light fell on the side of the building. My focal points were the sign, the tree, and the pumps which everything pointed to. It seemed to work nicely this time and all of the elements fell into place with the diffused lighting. I shot several frames here with slight adjustments to the compositions as I went. I felt pretty good about it and was looking forward to working with the negative space in the upper left third. You can really get an idea of how vanilla the front of the building is here and why I was having such a hard time with compositions to find interest along the front of it.
I was now happy with that first composition that I had shot and figured that I would be going with the later version as far as which one to process. I then moved to the opposite side of the building and started to work on the composition that I had been thinking about a few minutes earlier. It was a bit of a complex scene with the corner of the building being very close to a Pepsi sign which didn’t quite coorespond to the flag pole on the other side. There was a weather vane on the roof as well as a vent tube of some sort. There was a large tree which was going to have to be in the frame since the limbs were so prominent over the building. That meant that I was going to have to include a barn to the left of the building and to give the whole scene room to breathe I was going to need to include two lesser trees to the left,. That was all well and good, but I had a power pole to the left of all that which I needed to avoid, but there was a power line that was stretching from it to the side of the building that was a distraction for me. I could eliminate the power pole easy enough with the right angle, but the line was going to have to either be camouflaged in the tree or removed in post. I decided to figure that out later if I even liked the image when I got it home. Because I wasn’t sure if I liked this composition or not, I only shot a couple of frames of it before deciding to call it a day.
By this point, I had shot 50 frames in about an hour and a half. Keep in mind that the first two compositions I didn’t even use, and then I had some more shot with a street light lit that all added up to 25 frames that were not even processed. Essentially, I had shot 25 frames of workable compositions and out of those had processed six as keepers. I was actually quite impressed with myself for that kind of hit rate once things got going in the right direction. This was my first time photographing this old station and I had very little idea of what I was going to be dealing with; so to come away with this many images that I thought were good was pretty amazing.
I wasn’t quite done either. While delivering a three panel panorama to a client the other day, they had told me about a barn in Alexander County that had an MG sitting out in front of it. This got my attention on two different levels. I love barns, and I love old cars, so to have them together like that makes for a very good photo opportunity in my mind. They had given me the rough area where it was located which happened to be only 15 minutes away from where I was at. I loaded up the gear and headed in that direction.
When I arrived at the intersection I saw an old house and a few barns behind it, but didn’t see an MG. I figured that this wasn’t the right house, but when I turned down the road I caught the MG out of the corner of my eye beside the barn. It had been just low enough beneath the embankment to keep me from seeing it from the main road. There was a bonus tractor in the barn which also caught my eye. I got turned around to look at the scene once again. It was definitely something that I was wanting to photograph so I looked to see where I was wanting to be. It was far enough into the property that I was going to need to ask permission, but I was seeing no signs of anyone at home. In fact, it didn’t look like the house was lived in, but there were alarm signs posted and the yard was maintained. I could just tell that there were no cars parking there on any kind of regular basis and it looked as if I could see through the rooms of the house.
I pondered this for a while. There were no indicators that they intended to keep trespassers away and nothing was fenced. The composition that I wanted would have been from well inside the property, but there was a composition that I could shoot from the driveway which I felt comfortable doing. I pulled off the road just to the side of the property and grabbed my camera with the long lens attached. I added a Color Combo Polarizer for this shot since I wanted to control the glare on the car and saturate the colors a bit.
I started working my way down the driveway getting closer and closer. I was surprised that nobody was driving up to confront me, but it seemed that all was quiet. I finally worked my way close enough so that I could get 135mm on the lens to capture the composition. That was about right and I was a bit closer than I really felt comfortable with. I got a couple of shots and turned around. I didn’t want to press my luck and every car that was driving by I expected to turn into the driveway. It wasn’t the best composition, but it was workable and possibly the best that I could do without being able to talk to the owners.
With that done, it was time to get by Lowe’s and head home to see what I had. I had shot 55 images for the day and managed to keep seven of them which was really good for just two locations. I’ve already shared the images with my client who requested this location and she seems happy with them so I will count this as a win all around. Remember, if you see an image here in the blogs or the gallery that you like and that speaks to you, I would love to hear from you and help to get a print into your possession. There is nothing quite like hanging that special image on the wall so that you can look at it every day in the manner in which it was intended to be seen. You can order directly from this site, or you can email me at [email protected] to discuss your options.
Thank you for joining me on this foggy day at the gas station.
Until next time…