My First and Only Subject

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Monday, December 28, 2020

So, it has been over a week since I last made a blog post, and it seems like even longer than that.  I hope that everyone had a very Merry Christmas and they are looking forward to the new year.  I’ve got the Behind the Camera feature pretty much completed and ready for publication on the first.  It will be a year long wrap up from 2020 with all the behind the scenes stuff that I didn’t really go into during the year.  I hope that you take a little bit of time to see how the year went in general with my photography.  I think that things are going to end on a high note which I had some doubts about as we were going through the year.  But enough about that, I will be back here in a few days with that entry.

Let’s get on with this short trek that I took yesterday out towards Traphill.  I had been looking for an excuse to get out again after a marginally successful trip in the same area just over a week ago.  My goal that day had been to capture some rusted vehicles and I did finally find some.  I had seen a lot of potential in the area and decided that the first cloudy day that I had I would head back out that way to see if I could make use of any of that potential.  I didn’t have any clear subjects in mind, but knew that the area was rich in potential for my camera.  With the weather looking like pretty steady clouds through the day on Monday, I started to make plans to head out as Sunday came to a close.

I wasn’t really sure how I was going to proceed through the area, but decided that I would take my normal route into the area as I had seen several places that looked good, but needed some different light than I had seen them in previously.  I didn’t leave overly early in the morning since I wasn’t interested in getting any sunrise images and the clouds were likely going to be too low for that anyway.  There was also a bit of rain moving across the area which I wanted to avoid.  This was going to last until around 9 or 10 in the morning, so I left sometime between those times.  The rain was light and I doubted that it would cause me any problems.

Something that I wanted to also try out was my updated version of the Lee Filter Holder that I had purchased about a year ago.  I had run into some problems with the 105mm polarizer mount that made it a little clumsy to operate.  The bigger issue was with my ND filters with the gasket on them which was not clearing the opening in the main holder.  Over the last year, I have been using this mount for workshops and 1-on-1 Instructions which has allowed it to break in a bit.  While I was writing that Behind the Camera wrap up entry the other day I was taken back to those issues that I had.  I started wondering if the use on the holder had made any impact to how things would fit.  When I was finished I pulled out the holder and started to work my filters into it.  It was still tight, but I was able to push the filter from the back side to get it to slid in freely for the first time.  I also tried the polarizer ring which I found the right way to hold it to make it a little less clumsy.  This was going to be a nice addition since I was having a hard time constantly unscrewing the filter (especially in the winter) from the ring in the first design.  I was used to it, but there was going to come a time when I would run in to a cross threading problem which I really didn’t want to deal with.  By using the new system, there was going to be no more threat of cross threading the filter as it stayed screwed on and the mount just popped off of the holder.  I wanted to give this a try, and the best way to do that was to go out in the real world and make some images.

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

Shortly after leaving the house, I was on my way out to Traphill and was paying attention to all the locations that I had seen in the past which caught my eye.  The funny thing was, I usually go out to do my treks on clouds days, but the light is always different.  There were some places that I passed which I had shot before and loved the images that just didn’t even look interesting under the existing light.  It just goes to show just how much lighting has to do with an image and if the lighting isn’t good, then there is no reason to try and force it as there will be a subject for the existing light somewhere.  I actually found that existing subject that looked very interesting in the existing light.  I had passed by this barn several times over the last few months and while it caused me to look, I was never all that excited about it.  This time was different though.  The textures in the sky were soft and seemed to fit the mood of this barn.  There was a patch of three trees that grew together almost as one which also seemed to tell the story here like it hadn’t been able to before.  There were a couple of things that I didn’t like about the scene which were carryovers from my previous visits to the area.  The biggest problem was the barbed wire fence that was close to the road, but on the other side of a drainage ditch which limited my access to the scene.  It would force me to shoot high, and would dictate how much foreground I could include before I started to show the fence. The other part of the scene that I wasn’t happy about was the signs on the face of the barn that said “No Trespassing” and “Cameras in Use.”  This was just a minor issue as the lighting was even which would allow me to clone those out without too much heartache.  For the scene as a whole, I thought that it was worth stopping for.

I got out of the truck and started to look critically at the scene and determined that I was going to be able to get the camera elevated just enough to be able to avoid most if not all of the fence while still keeping a decent amount of ground in the frame.  I was able to find an angle that would allow me to shoot through the brush which was growing up around the fence.  It wasn’t going to be an easy composition, but I was going to be able to try it.  I pulled out the camera along with the standard lens which would allow me to include the tree and a good bit of the sky above.  I really felt that I needed to include that in the composition to allow the sky to make sense.  I popped on the Color Combo Polarizer and I was ready to mount it all to the tripod.

I moved over to the rough position that I had picked out and started to frame up the image.  I had the camera almost as high as it would go.  I would have loved to have gotten in closer to be able to shoot from within the brush, but the ditch would have had the camera too low, so I had to stay right at the edge of the road to keep the elevation.  I carefully framed the image with just the top of the fence coming in at the lower right corner figuring that I could clone that out.  I placed the right side of the frame just outside of the trees and then opened up the composition until I had the barn in the lower left third for balance to the composition.  I had a great deal of sky included which I wanted because that was going to be a large part of the depth of the scene.  I looked at the exposure and found that I had plenty of detail in the shadows as well as the highlights so there was no need for any other filters even though it looked underexposed in the LCD.  I knew that it would be easier to massage the tones than it would be to apply a grad filter here and have to work on the trees in post to get them out of the darkness.  With the exposure set, I focused on the nearest part of the barn so that I could get the tree and the barn in sharp focus along with the silos in the rear.  I snapped the exposure and the image review looked great.

I decided to play around with the composition a bit just in case I didn’t want to bother with the cloning out of the fence.  I tightened up the shot just a little bit to eliminate the fence and made another exposure.  From there, I shifted my position a little bit to another hole in the brush to get a different relationship between the barn, silo, and trees.  As I was working on all of that, I was starting to wonder if the trees were really all that necessary in the final composition.  They weren’t particularly elegant, and they seemed to make the barn a little smaller in scale than I was hoping for.  Since I couldn’t change my distance greatly from where I was, there was no way to change that scale with focal length.  My best bet was to just take it out of the equation and focus on the barn and silos as my subjects for this location.

Silent Testimony“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

I zoomed into 70mm which was not nearly enough to get the crop that I wanted, so I took everything back to the truck and pulled off the filter mount, swapped to my long lens, and put the filter holder back on.  It was a very task with this system which it always has been.  I was back on my mark in less than two minutes with a fresh view of the scene.  I was now around 100mm with my focal length which seemed to give a great fit to the elements in the scene.  I was able to crop out the tree to the right, and still had a great deal of the sky above in the image.  The exposure values were pretty much the same so there were no needs for other filters for this more intimate scene as well.  I had considered making a long exposure here as the sky was really interesting, but it wasn’t moving fast at all and I kind of liked the definition that I was seeing here so I decided to leave it as a normal exposure.  I shot a few variations on this as well which brought my image count up to twelve.

I was excited that I had two basic compositions here that I liked and was confident that I had my first images in the bag from the day.  I was ready to go and find more to shoot, but before I could do that, I needed to break the camera down.  This went easier than I expected as I used my new technique to pop the polarizer off of the holder.  It was still much more difficult than I thought it should be, but it was easier than try to unscrew that 105mm filter with cold fingers.  I was back on the road in a few minutes and off to Traphill.

As I was getting closer, the clouds were starting to clear off and the sun was starting to make an appearance.  I knew that the clouds were going to be variable today so I didn’t worry too much about it as I just knew that they would fill back in soon enough.  I kept looking for scenes to photograph, but everything that I found had a fatal flaw in the location which caused me to look another way.  There were a couple of places that I put into my memory for when the clouds came back as there was some promise there, but I wasn’t sure if the light would be right for them or not.  I just kept driving around and waiting for the light to get better.  The more I drove, the brighter the sun got.  The clouds were all but gone by this point so after a couple of hours driving around, I decided to point the 4Runner home.

The weather never did improve so I called it a day and Toni and I ended up having time to go into Winston for a few things.  By the time we got back, there really wasn’t time to get started on the images.  I knew that at best, I would have only two to work with, but I wanted to wait until the next day to tackle them.

When I pulled them into Lightroom, I wasn’t as excited about them as I had hoped I would be.  I guess I had built them up in my mind as to what they should look like and these just weren’t it.  I did go through my process of culling the images and ended up with two that I wanted to process.  The first one was actually one of the very first images that I had shot of the barn where I had included enough of the ground to have a bit of the fence included as well.  I had figured that this image was going to require too much cloning to make it worth while, but I was so glad that I had shot it this way because it had just the right amount of ground to keep the image balanced.  The other image was the intimate shot about mid way through that series.  It had the best visual balance and the best clouds of the bunch.  I had already thought about doing one as a black and white and the other as a color image.  That was my next choice in the process.

Since the wider angle shot had more going on in the image, I decided that it needed to be left in color which would help to guide the eyes through the scene.  The more simple scene didn’t really need the color to guide the eyes as it was much more direct.  It also had the better sky which would always come out better in monochrome.  I had my choices made and I started the editing process.  With the color image, the more I worked it, the more I didn’t like vibrant colors as it seemed to contradict the mood too much.  I ended up pulling the saturation levels down quite a bit on every channel and I made the colors very muted which really helped the story that I was trying to tell here.

The black and white one was quite a bit easier to process and I put the advantages of the presentation to work for the different textures that I had included in this shot.  I was able to really pull out the detail in the sky, but I made sure to watch the contrast levels as I could tell that they could go over the top very easy.  It was all about subtle nuances with the gradations in the clouds.  I also paid particular attention the barn wood as well as I wanted to keep it subtle in tonality as well.  The end result is an image that I think is much better than I had anticipated it being when I shot it, or when I looked at the RAW image.  In fact, both of these images were better than I thought that they would be when I was looking at the twelve imported files.

I have through many different opinions on post processing over the years, but I have been of the mindset that the editing of the image is as important as the capture in the field when it comes to telling your story.  It is hard to fully capture the emotion of a scene with just a camera.  It is how you interpret the scene and then convey it to the audience that creates that mood.  Neither of these images had any mood to them as RAW files which makes complete sense.  They are flat images with just data, much like a film negative.  It is through that processing that I can bring the mood back into the image and show a scene that made me feel a certain way when I was there.  Both parts of the process are equally as important to the final image, and this is when photography turns into an art form.  But I will have more on that in February as that will be my topic for that Behind the Camera.

I do hope that you enjoyed this quick trek.  I wished it had been longer, but the clouds didn’t stick around like they were supposed to.  I am very happy with the two images that I came home with though and I think that the conditions were just perfect for both of them.  I certainly can’t complain about the trek when I was able to come back with not one, but two images that I was happy to add to my portfolio.  It was a good day!  Remember, if there are any of my images that speak to you on that level, please consider purchasing a print as that helps me continue on my photographic path.  Also, be sure to check out the upcoming workshops that I am getting scheduled for 2021.  I’m going to be trying some different things in the coming year and I will try to make my workshops even better than they have been in the past.

Until next time…
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