Friday, February 21, 2020
To be honest, I have been waiting for the snow to fall this year for the first time in…well forever. Since starting with the Police Department in 1999, I was expected to not only make it into work, but drive around in all kinds of inclement weather. Snow days meant investigating car crashes through the entire day, having extreme difficulties in getting from call to call, and always being worried that I was going to end up in a ditch or worse. With this being the first year that I haven’t had to drive in snow, I was actually looking forward to the opportunity to make optional trips in it as I wanted to capture photographs. Wouldn’t you know it though…this has been the first winter in a very long time that we haven’t had any snow at all around home. With temperatures approaching Summertime highs many days and rarely getting anywhere near freezing Spring fever was starting to settle in for many folks. I was one of them actually and had started to put Winter behind me and began looking forward to the new life across the landscape. Of course, we have to remind ourselves that this is still February in NC and that makes the weather quite unpredictable.
With my mind looking ahead in terms of subjects and locations to shoot when the vegetation started to come to life I had pretty much forgotten all of the locations that I had intended to go in case it snowed. Having just got back in the groove of going out and capturing images again, I was more concentrated on focusing on my creative energy in general. It actually came as a complete surprise that we were expecting snow this morning and I really didn’t put much thought into it, until Thursday when I could see the snow approaching from the West on the radar maps. I would have planned out a course of action for this morning, but I was more in tune to the images that I had been working on that morning and getting ready for the Singh-Ray webinar that I was presenting that night. It went well by the way. While I was working through all those parts of my day I was watching the snow fall and begin to stick to the ground. It was supposed to continue through the night so there was a decent chance that I would have some good snow coverage in the morning.
Sierra’s school was cancelled and I knew that I wouldn’t have to take her anywhere in the morning, so I went ahead and left my alarm set with the intention of evaluating the snow and deciding if I would go out and do any photography. Looking at the forecast though, I was less than thrilled with the sunny skies that were on the menu. I would have killed for a partly cloudy day, but it just wasn’t in the cards. I had a rough plan of action to go to a barn that I have been wanting to photograph for some time, but figured that it would look best in the snow. I was also looking to photograph an old farm truck next to an old house which I haven’t bothered with yet but figured that the snow might really help it along as a composition. I had a few more loose ideas of where to head, but nothing at all planned out like I like.
When morning came, I got up and looked out the window. The snow was on the ground just enough to cover the grass. It looked like the roads were clear, but to make sure I checked with Toni who had to go into work several hours earlier. She said that the roads were fine and for the most part they were dry. Guess that is the benefit of the warmer days as the asphalt remained above freezing through the night. With clear roads and a nice covering of snow I decided to head out and see what I could manage. The sun was just coming up, so I would have that nice golden hour light which would be beneficial to me in lieu of the clouds that I would have rather had.
As I was traveling down the road to my first location, I spotted a barn that I had photographed a few months before that looked really good in the snow. I got turned around and then pulled off the road to look at it closer. It wasn’t going to work because the sun was too close to it, and it was causing shadow issues that I didn’t like. By the time the sun was in a better place, I was pretty sure that the snow would be gone. I pulled back out into the road to continue on with my travels. I eventually came to the old truck in front of the house. Again, the sun was not doing me any favors and the truck was in full shadow. The scene wasn’t quite as good as I had hoped anyway because there had been some brush dumped in front of the truck that kind of ruined the setting for me. Strike two!
I decided to head out to the barn I had spotted back in the early Summer which was all alone in a field with a white fence around it. I had visualized this one in the snow and I was pretty sure that it work out well. When I got there, I found the scene kind of like I had imagined it before. There was even a cow laying down in front of the barn. The problem that I was running into was the sky. The sun was in a decent place, but in order to compose a well balanced image, I was going to have to include a good deal of sky. There was nothing at all in the sky, and with a very straight horizon in the distance, I was just going to have a blue band across the top of the image. I could have minimized it by shifting the horizon up in the image, but that would have put the barn too far up in the frame and would have left too much foreground and the cow wasn’t close enough to make that work. There was just no way to make this image work with the sky that I had, so that was strike three for the day.
The sun was creeping further up in the sky with every mile I drove. The scenes that I was seeing which would make good photographs, were in the wrong light. Those areas that were in the right light were not good compositions, or they had distracting elements that I didn’t want to include. I was getting rather discouraged and feared that I would be put right back in my creative slump once again. My creativity is rather fragile right now and I’m basing my view of my photography on the last time I went out. I was in good shape right now because I had come back with two images I was happy with yesterday, but today wasn’t looking good. If I came back with nothing, then I knew I would be questioning my own talents and skills. Knowing this made me very motivated to hunt out an image, but I also knew that if I forced it, the image would look forced and I wouldn’t be happy with it either. I was feeling kind of stuck, and the sun was getting harsher by the minute.
I was out of destinations and the snow was starting to melt already. I just set myself in a mode to roam around for a bit to see where the light was good. As I was coming down one of the secondary streets near home I passed by a red barn that was just off the road. I have passed this barn many times and even thought to photograph it from time to time, but it was just too simple sitting there and there was nothing really to tell the story of it. I wasn’t all that interested in it today either and was approaching it going towards the sun which didn’t help. As I went past it though, I turned and looked at the sunny side of it. There was actually bits of sunlight hitting the face of the barn, and they had added a flag to the front of it as well. There were now more elements to work with and the snow really does wonders for a red barn. I got turned around and decided to give this a second look. I was cautiously optimistic on this one.
I pulled off on the side of the road and looked around. The things that I liked about this scene were many. I liked how the sun was hitting the face of the barn. I liked how the snow was undisturbed on the roof and around the lot. The trees were catching some of the warm sunlight that added to the warm tones of the scene to balance out the blue sky. The blue sky actually worked well in this scene because it would only be included in a top corner of the image if at all. What I didn’t like about the scene was a fire hydrant situated close to the barn and those stupid power lines that seem to always show up when I am photographing a barn on the side of the road. I don’t like to clone out objects, but these two elements were not going to be instrumental to the scene, and their omission wouldn’t change the focus of the image at all, so I was prepared to remove them if needed. In order to get the perspective that I was wanting I went ahead and fitted the 16-35mm lens and grabbed my Color Combo Polarizer. I went in a little closer to the barn to get under the power lines and I started to frame up a composition. I managed to exclude the power lines and the hydrant in this first composition, but it felt too flat and had no depth to it at all. I also noted that the sky was very unevenly polarized at this angle, and it was causing some tonal problems on the image so I removed the polarizer and found a much more even tone to the sky, but it was washed out.
I went back to the truck and put the polarizer away and grabbed a 3-stop ND Grad from my bag and went back to the camera. I slid that filter in and cocked it to the left to follow the line of trees with the composition that I had set up. It was looking much better than with the polarizer. This wasn’t shocking to me as polarizers don’t do well on wide angle lenses when a blue sky is included. I was back in business and I was onto something with the composition. I kept moving the camera an inch here and an inch there until I finally had the perspective that I was after. The problem with the composition was I had two power lines right in the middle of the blue sky in the upper left corner and I had the hydrant right at the left edge of the frame. I was comfortable with cloning those elements out as I had mentioned, but I still wanted to minimize them as much as I could.
Looking at the composition, I was able to see that it would be a much better 16:9 crop which would also minimize the power lines at the top. I set that up in camera so that I could get the framing right and dialed in the composition just right. From there, I adjusted the grad filter so that it just started to affect the trees. I’m sure that the graduation barely made it to full strength before it was completely out of the frame. I just had enough darkening to take the bite out of the sky and make it easier to deal with in post processing. The image was looking good, and the exposure was looking good. I captured the image and the review histogram looked good as well. I kept fine tuning the composition, but in the end, that single 16:9 cropped image that I shot turned out to be the winner. It had just enough sky to balance the image and give a sense of scale and depth. The same could be said about the snow in the foreground. It did have texture, but I didn’t need a lot of as that would overpower the rest of the image.
The editing was rather simple to do, and I did most of it in Lightroom, but I did bring it into Photoshop for the final cloning of the power lines and hydrant since the tools there are a bit more powerful than in Lightroom. In the end, I was quite happy with the one single image that I had gotten for the day. I would have loved to have gotten more as it was a really pretty snow, but the bright sun made many scenes less than ideal photographs. Not to mention that the sun was melting the snow very quickly. It wasn’t long after I shot this barn that the grass was showing in most areas. I guess I was quite fortunate that I was able to find something to photograph in the short amount of time that I had to work with. I had locations in mind, but I just kept striking out with those. I had never even considered this particular barn a potential subject for the day, and really hadn’t given it much more than a passing thought in the past. I guess it was the snow around the red barn that added that classic touch to the image that completed the story.
Until next time….