Tuesday, January 5, 2021
Welcome back! Seems that I have been quite active here recently in the area of Traphill, and I’m happy to say that I have had another productive trek out in that direction this morning. I had decided on my last venture out that way that I was going to try and get permission to shoot what appears to be a salvage yard of sorts. I have passed that location for years now and have left business cards there and have looked for any signs of activity at the shop without success. After so many time going past there, I have decided that the shop is probably not in operation any more and there was a house that seemed to be in the middle of the long and narrow property that the old cars were sitting on. With clouds forecasted during the morning, I thought that I could give it a go and hopefully get permission to get some pictures. I knew that if I got that permission I would be out there all day long because there are a lot of cars out there that I would want to work with.
When I was getting ready to leave for the morning, I told Toni that I was going to try and get access to the junk yard and if I did I would be gone for most of the day. If I couldn’t, then I would look for another location or two to shoot and head home after that. I really didn’t know what the day was going to hold for me, but when I was leaving, there was a light rain falling which didn’t bother me at all. The rain was supposed to be all cleared out within the hour and by that point I would be on site and ready to start shooting.
The trip out to Traphill didn’t take long and it was actually starting to feel like my daily commute to go to work since I have been going down this route for several days now. That is how I get the best images from an area though. I go out there many different times and get used to how the light falls on the landscape and when the best time to photograph the subjects is. I was just really hoping that I was going to have luck with the junk yard as I have been wanting to get in there for a very long time now.
When I got there, I could see a car in the car port of the house that I figured was part of the same property. I parked in the driveway and knocked on the door. In short order I was greeted by the property owner who informed me that the junk yard was not hers and it actually belonged to her neighbors behind the house. Hmmm, I had never really paid any attention to the house to the rear before, but she confirmed that the owners were onsite and this was a nice turn of events. I thanked her and got turned around on the road to go down through the yard to get to the house. It was kind of rubbing salt in a wound to be this close to the vehicles that I wanted to photograph and not being able to do anything about it. I got to the house and went to the front door. I knocked and rang the bell. I then stood quietly and listened for any signs of movement inside. There was nothing at all coming from in there. I waited a bit, and then slowly made my way back to the truck hoping that the owner would come around the side of the house as they are apt to do in these circumstances but no such luck.
I now made my second trip through the old cars that were sitting there waiting to be photographed. It wasn’t going to be today unfortunately, but that might be a good thing as the clouds were breaking up and the light was starting to get a little bright in places. I was doubting that I would have been able to spend an entire day out here with the light the way it was. Maybe it was a case of sour grapes, but I was content going to find another scene or two to photograph.
As luck would have it, there was an old Dodge A100 van which I had seen many times a very short distance from the shop where I was. I had opted not to photograph it because it was not necessarily a rusty or decayed vehicle. In fact, it was fairly freshly spray painted with “Goat Mobile” in big bubble letters on the side. It was not my typical subject and I just really didn’t ever want to photograph it before. Since I was out here and I had good light, I decided that I would see what I could do with it. I pulled off the road and grabbed my long lens and set the camera up. I had to fiddle with the composition to get all of the elements in place and keep the covered by the distant mountain in the background. I also had to pay attention to the elevation of the camera so that a house in the background didn’t creep into the frame too badly just over the ridge. I was also trying to keep meaningful separation between the trees which made up the main elements around the van.
I didn’t want to just zoom in on the van because I wanted to include the environment around it. This helped tell the story since this was obviously set up as a goat house, so it seemed fitting to include the surrounding area. It would have been perfect if the goats had been in the field and I was hoping that they would make an appearance. They never did though. that was ok as I was content getting this scene that was more about the colors than the actual van. I wanted to include the sky enough to show off the blue tones which helped to compliment the blues of the van. There was a large bank of clouds just above the van that never seemed to move which also forced a fairly large composition. I tried it as a vertical orientation which worked really well with the trees, but ended up making the van get lost in the mix. It was actually larger in the vertical image, but with the visual weight of the trees pulling your eyes up, they ultimately went away from the van too much for me to count that as a successful image. In the end, it was Toni’s pick that made it the keeper of the bunch which was this horizontal orientation that just seems to have the most pleasing balance of them all.
With that stop, I had my first images in the bag and I was ready to create some more, so I went down the side street where this van was and made the next turn which was a road I had not been down in the past. It wasn’t long before I saw something that caught my eye. It was a stone chimney….no….make that two stone chimneys right off of the road. There had obviously been a house here at one time or another, but it was long gone. All that remained was the two chimneys. In place of the house, there were some great bare trees which looked fantastic against the sky. The icing on the cake was the warm sunlight that was shining on the lead chimney with what could only be described as magic light.
I pulled off the road and started to grab my gear. I was going to have to be quick and efficient with this one because I could see the purple paint on the trees all around indicating “No Trespassing.” This was one of those times when I weighed it all out in my mind. I was going to be close to the road, and I would not be passing any of the purple paint. My intention wasn’t to trespass, but to use the road easement to gain just enough access to the property in order to get the picture. I would leave no trace, and wouldn’t be there long at all.
I grabbed my standard lens which would give me enough flexibility to make this image work and added a polarizer to it to deepen the sky a little bit. I got in as close as I dared and started to organize the elements. There were two prominent trees in the background that I wanted to include, but the only way to do that was to alternate the elements leading off with the large chimney on the left side of the frame, going to a tree, then the smaller chimney, and finishing out with the last tree. The separation worked fantastic, but the overall impression of the image was lacking. There was no visual balance since the primary element was being used as a bookend on the left with the supporting cast taking a great deal of the remaining space. I just didn’t like it at all.
I started to move over to the left and put the primary chimney more in the center with one large tree off to the background on the left with the smaller chimney to the right with the other tree behind it. I didn’t have the separation that I really wanted, but the composition made sense and more importantly, I had a great deal of visual balance with this composition using the supporting elements to frame the primary element which took center stage.
I was very lucky that the warm light remained long enough for me to get this image. I was expecting the clouds to cover the sun before I managed to get this far. They did shortly after this capture and the light was lost. I tried to find a better composition while the light was changing, but never really found anything worth while that was better than what I had already shot. With the light gone, and no more compositions needing to be shot, I decided it was time to pack up and head out. I had been here for about 10 minutes at this point and didn’t want to press my luck. I got things loaded back up in the truck and was off on my way once again.
I eventually ended up on Longbottom Rd which I had been on several times since Toni and I moved out this way. In fact, it was this road that we had started looking for land to build on back in the Spring. I had recalled seeing a great deal of potential out here and had been back a time or two without success. There are lots of areas that I get excited about, but haven’t done any photography in because the light is just so important to the image and if the light isn’t there, then I will usually not bother with the camera. This time though, the light was very interesting with the clouds full of definition and great soft light on the landscape. I was hunting something to put under this wonderful sky.
It wasn’t too long before I found something off to the right. It looked to be a church and I could tell that the wood on it was weathered a great deal. That meant that it might just work for my needs. As I got closer, I pulled into the parking lot of the new church that was built to replace this one. I looked critically at the scene and decided that I didn’t care much for the picnic shelter that was set up next to the church, but I did love the bare trees all around. I also loved the simplicity of the old church and the sagging roof with the leaning steeple. It just all came together to tell a great story. I went ahead and got my gear out. I was going to go for a dramatic capture here with the tree in the foreground so I opted for my 16-35mm lens which has been feeling a little neglected since I haven’t been doing much landscape photography lately. I added a polarizer and found my position.
I was thinking that this was going to be a black and white image because of the textures in the trees and the sky. Since the church was white, there wasn’t much color there, so I felt pretty good that these would all be black and white images. I found my shooting position right next to the road and got my composition set up. I could tell that the sun was going to be a problem since it was trying to slip through the thinner clouds within the frame. I went back to the truck and grabbed a ND Grad filter which I slid in at an angle to try and control the sun. It worked, but barely. I didn’t want to stack another filter on here because it would have made everything else too dark. I just was very careful with the exposures to make sure that I wasn’t blowing anything out too badly.
While I was waiting on the clouds to move, I was grabbing shot after shot in hopes that I would get one where the clouds successfully covered up the bright sun. I almost made it, and what I got was close enough to work with. I was glad that I got this image when I did because right after I shot this one a car stopped behind me. I knew I wasn’t trespassing so I had no worries there. The lady was just saying hi and started to talk to me about the old church. I wanted to pay more attention to what she was saying, but I knew that the light was changing quickly and my mind was on the capture of the church. She did get me more interested in this old church and told me about a few of the members as well. The best part of the conversation was that she told me that there was a school just around the corner that she thought I might like to photograph. Her mother had taught there in 1920 and it was for grades one through eight. This really did capture my attention and I got the directions on how to get there.
At this point, there was a garbage truck that was coming down the road with a car behind it. not wanting to clog up the traffic I let her know they were coming and she bid me a goodbye. It was a very nice talk, and I was happy to get a lead on another location to shoot. As she was going on down the road, the garbage truck pulled off to get a trash can and the car behind continued on. I went back to shooting, but before I could get my bearing again with the camera the car had pulled up behind me and I heard “excuse me?”
I turned around once again while the light was still changing. I was getting frustrated at this point, but I didn’t let it show. The driver just simply asked if the road was open. There had been a sign board just before the church saying that the road was closed, but I hadn’t been any further than this to know. I just said that I had no idea and that I was just here taking pictures. He thanked me and went on down the road. I was now back to the camera and seeing if the light had changed in my favor or not. I could hear the garbage truck behind me now and it was stopping. That didn’t phase me at all since they were picking up trash. As I was getting another image ready to go, I head the driver saying “excuse me?” over the diesel engine. I turned around ready to throw something at this point. He asked if the road was open. I said that I had no idea as I hadn’t been down that far yet. He said that he thought I was a surveyor with my tripod. That makes sense and I suppose now it made sense why everyone was asking me about the road. I just informed him that I was out taking pictures and had nothing at all to do with the road closure.
When I got the driver taken care of, I made the decision to move away from the road so I could get some work done. I was tired of being the answer man on the shoulder of the road. I got in closer to the church and started to figure out a new composition. I wanted one that was a bit more direct and dramatic of the church itself. I wanted to fill the frame with what I liked. I found that composition and worked it out so that nothing blocked the doorway to the church and the steeple stood out enough to make sense in the overall image. I was still needing that ND Grad filter as the sky was still quite bright. I knew that these were going to be difficult to do in post production but I had learned the capabilities of the 5DS R quite well by this point and felt confident that I was going to be able to pull images out of these captures. I was pretty sure that I was going to still be doing this as a black and white image for the same reasons as the first one, but wasn’t opposed to making it a color image if the exposure could handle it. From this close in, the rusty red of the steeple roof caught my eye and made me really consider doing this as a color image.
I tried a handful of variations on this composition with some different exposures before I felt that I had enough to work with when I got home. I packed up all my DOT gear…I mean my camera gear and got ready to head off to the school which was just down the road. I had no idea what the school would look like, but I was interested in any building that is over 100 years old and still standing. But before we get to the school, let me redirect for a moment here and talk about the processing of this last image from the old church.
I get a lot of inquiries about my images and the filters that I use. I’ve already mentioned that I used a polarizer and a 3-stop soft edge ND Grad for this picture. These are just designed to get me closer to the finished product. There is a lot that happens after the capture to make the finished image that you will see here in the blogs and in my galleries. Since there was such a huge transformation with this image, I wanted to take a moment to show the before and after. The above image is directly out of the camera with the exception of being resized for the blog. There have been no exposure changes or color changes. I shot the image with the white balance set on “cloudy” and the exposure set to the right which means that I am just short of clipping my highlights. The shadows were showing to have a little bit of detail in them when I looked at the histogram so I knew that I could recover those dark areas in Lightroom. My main focus was to avoid blowing out the highlights in the sky which I wouldn’t be able to recover.
When I was going through the images, this was the one from this set that I chose to look at further, but I really didn’t like it. It was just too dark and I didn’t see a whole lot of promise to it at all. The grander image had more punch to it when I was looking at the RAW files and that was what I decided to process first. I was very happy with how that one turned out when done in a black and white presentation so I had the image that I had previsualized from the stop. When I was done with all of the edits from the day, I went back to look at this one of the church once again because I did like the frame filling nature of it, and the colors of the steeple roof still interested me. I started to work on it and I just took it step by step in Lightroom.
The first thing that I did was to correct the perspective distortion from having the camera lower than optimal. It was well over my head and at the top of the tripod reach so I could do no better in the field. I had planned on doing the perspective transformation so that was no problem to do. From there, it was all about massaging the tones to bring out the details in the shadows and to bring back the detail in the sky. When I was finished with the processing I was very impressed with the final image as it captured exactly the scene that I had witnessed while I was there. This is the power of post processing for those that don’t quite understand its purpose. It is not there to fix the image, it is there to allow the photograph to represent what your eyes saw rather than how the camera captured it. I plan on talking much more about this in my upcoming Behind the Camera where I talk about whether or not photography is art. It seems that photographers are seen as second class citizens in the art world and are not given the credit that they deserve. At least that is what it appears like in my view. Anyway, I will be discussing this at length on February 1st. In the meantime, lets get on to our next stop with the 100 year old school house.
I’m very glad that I was given the directions to get to the school as I would never had found it on my own. The “road” that it was down looked more like a gravel driveway than a road. It was just a simple two track path behind some houses. There were a couple of other houses along this path, but I wasn’t seeing a school. I was really thinking that I had stumbled onto a driveway and was going to end up in a living room if I kept on driving. The road was rutted and muddy with lots of puddles. I was so glad that I had my 4Runner for this as the terrain didn’t bother me at all. It seemed like a long drive, but I doubt that it took more than a minute to drive down this road before I found the old school.
It was a fairly nondescript white building with the only indication of its use a school bell on top of the entry way. The roof was tin and rusted which I loved, and you could see the age in the siding. I especially liked the one board that was broken and dangling on the right side. I pulled off the road and about sank in the tuff beside the road. I got out and looked at the scene before me. There wasn’t much that I could do with this to add interest. There was no foreground elements, and really nothing that stood out around it that I could use to help tell the story. This was going to be a subject that needed to fill the frame as it was the only bit of interest with the exception of the sky above. The clouds were still looking really good and I could see this as a low saturation image, or ever a black and white one depending on my mood at the time of the edit.
I grabbed my camera and the wide angle lens along with my polarizer. I found a good place to set up shop and started to make a composition. I found one that had a bit of depth to it as I shot from the quarter view that used the junction of the roof as a leading line to the bare trees that seemed to stand out a bit more than the others which then opened up to the sky above. I liked the composition but the sky was a little on the bright side for my tastes. I went back to the truck and got a 2-stop ND Grad which I slid in to take the bite out of the sky. That did the trick and during the time that I was doing that, the sun popped out just enough to put a subtle spotlight on the front of the school. I couldn’t ask for a better setup than this so I grabbed the shot before the light faded.
At this point I was seeing how fast the clouds were moving and the fact that there wasn’t even a surface breeze. This was a good opportunity for a long exposure so I dug out my 10-stop ND filter and slid it into the holder. That gave me a 3 minute long exposure which I fired off. When it was complete, the sky had lost a lot of the character it had with the clouds stationary. I wasn’t really liking the long exposure look here so I didn’t repeat the technique. When I got home, my instincts were right. It just didn’t look right at all so I trashed that image quickly.
Before calling it a day though, I wanted to try one more view of the school. I wen to the opposite side and found that there as a power line that I would have to deal with if I shot from that quarter view. the light wasn’t nearly as good there either. My only other option was to shoot from the direct front of the school. I got in close and tried to capture something with the door and windows in the center section, but that really didn’t appeal to me. I just backed up and started to look at an entire view of the school. That was looking better and I decided to commit to that view. I got the camera positioned so that I could get a good bit of the sky above the school while keeping the trees visible to the rear. This meant getting pretty far back as the closer I was the less I could see the trees behind the school. I found my spot in the middle of the road. I wasn’t too worried about traffic since the road ended at the edge of the property of the school and there was only one house across the street from it. I stood there and made several exposures as the clouds changed. I was trying to get a dark section to the upper right to balance out the taller trees that were present on the left. Symmetry was all important with this image since the school was very symmetrical in appearance anyway.
With the simple nature of this composition, it seemed to work well as a black and white presentation and that was how I chose to process it. I was able to do so much more with the sky this way and I was able to really pull out the details of the scene the way that I wanted to at the time of capture. It was the last image that I shot for the day. I was loving the clouds and the light, but I had been out for several hours at this point and I was getting a little tired. I had shot 79 frames through the day and considering the new images that I have been adding in over the past couple of weeks I was getting a little tired. In fact, I am thinking that I am due a little break over the next few days unless we get interesting weather which might come Thursday and Friday. baring that, I am thinking that home is where I will be staying for a bit.
I hope that you have enjoyed this trek as much as I have. There were more images from it than I would have thought having only shot four different scenes which is always a nice treat after a morning behind the camera. If any of these images jump out at you and speak to you, please let me know. I would love to help get you matched up with a print of your favorite image. If you enjoy my decay photography and would like to learn more about how to create these images, consider joining me for my upcoming Spring Decay Workshop in April. If you are content just reading the blogs, please click “subscribe to the blog by email” on the front page so you can get alerts when new blogs are published.
Until next time….