Monday, Oct 14, 2019
I was standing in the driveway of this abandoned house capturing an image of the car in the driveway when I heard a vehicle pull in behind me. I turned around and sure enough, there was a Jeep that had pulled into the driveway behind me. The driver asked if he could help me. I knew this routine very well. He was the property owner, or at least somebody that had stake in the property. I had been expecting him for some time, although I have never met him. I explained my reasons for being on his property and answered his questions as best I could. I offered to leave if I was causing any issues and for a brief time, I thought that was where the conversation was going to go. So, how did I get into this situation?
Well, it all started this morning when I woke up and looked outside to find some nice fog settled in the area. I started to weigh my options and decided that I wasn’t going to be able to go and take advantage of the fog any time soon because I still needed to get Sierra to school. I had visions of the locomotives that I had run across a while back and had been considering a foggy pre-dawn composition with them. I just wasn’t going to have time to get out there and shoot the images before I was going to need to get back home. I knew that by the time I dropped Sierra off, I would be out of luck to try and go out there as it is about 40 minutes away. If I was going to shoot anything with the fog, I was going to need to find something very close by. My mind went into overdrive considering my options, all the while the fog was thinning with the rising sun. The best option that I could come up with was a barn that I had not shot before, but it was very close by. In fact, I used to ride my bike by it several times a week years ago, and I’ve driven by it many times as well. The look was just not right.
Over the last year or so, the decay has really started to crank up with the barn and it was looking like a pretty good option to shoot. I was just needing something in the form of a foreground, or a counter element to really make it pop. The fog, would simplify the scene quite handily and add an air of mystery which I thought would work very well for the old barn. I hadn’t really worked out the composition, but since it was a pretty simple scene, I doubted that I was going to have an issue finding the right angles and positions.
Sierra and I set off for school just a little early and the fog was still looking good in many places. It was the open areas that the fog was burning off very quickly, and that bothered me a little bit. I was pretty sure I had missed my chance for getting that foggy shot of the barn, but I wanted to give myself the opportunity to try it, so when I dropped her off, I hightailed it out to the intersection where the barn was. All the way there, the fog was very patchy and I was thinking that if I was REALLY lucky, I might just have five minutes of fog that I could use. As I got close to the end of the road, my hopes were all but dashed as the air was crisp and clear, just like a fall morning should be.
I saw the barn sitting in front of the trees and it looked good there in the shadows. However, there was not a bit of fog anywhere to be seen. The rising sun was to the back of the barn and was lighting up the trees behind it. I was looking at a contrast issue right away considering I had been planning on very flat light for this shot. However, there was something about this scene that prompted me to want to continue on to try and get a few shots. I pulled off the road and grabbed my camera. Having an idea of the composition that I was going to try, I went ahead and fitted my standard lens which would give me plenty of options for the compositions that I had in mind. Because I knew that the tin roof would have some glare from the sun, I also added my Singh Ray Color Combo Polarizer to the front of the Lee Holder with 105mm adapter ring. I started out close to the street with a narrow field of view to try and eliminate the sky. It wasn’t bad, but it was a very flat shot with no life to it. I was liking the back lit leaves and decided to move in closer and go wider in order to capture the leaves above the barn. I kept getting closer and closer until I found a composition that I really liked. There was just one really big problem with the composition.
The problem that I was having was the sky was so bright behind the barn that it was going to register as white which I really didn’t want to happen. I needed something to balance out the exposure and most of the time it would be the easier option to bracket the images and blend as an HDR. Since the sky was the only area that I was having problems with, I didn’t want to do the blending option because as the trees and limbs moved, I would get ghosting. To combat that, I would use an overlay in Lightroom that would pick a single exposure to blend in, which usually results in strange artifacts. That was not something that I wanted to mess with, so I decided to go old school with the capture of the image. I ran back to the truck and grabbed a Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 3-stop soft edge ND Grad to slide in. I just needed a slight bit of correction at the top of the frame, so I went with a much darker filter than the scene called for because I was using the transition area as the filter effect. I was able to limit the effect on the barn as well as the trees, while taking just a little bit of bite out of the sky. It was a subtle correction, but one that I thought would work just fine.
As I was getting the composition fine tuned and the focus set, I noticed that the sun was starting to shine through the trees to my left and throwing light down on the ground in front of the barn. This was actually better than I could have asked for. I now had a complimenting element in the foreground that balanced the color in the trees above the barn. The fiddling with filters actually worked out very well delaying the shot just that few minutes to get a different lighting effect. I’ve had it work against me before, so I will gladly take a helping hand from the sun.
The image worked very well, even though it was nothing like what I had come out here to capture originally. I was pleased with the handful of images that I had gotten from the barn and with the sun getting brighter, I knew that my time here was done. I still had about an hour before I needed to be at the Dixie Classic Fair to pick up my two entries from the photography competition (where I won two first place ribbons by the way). That was enough time to shoot something else, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. The sky was totally clear so the lighting was going to be the deciding factor in what I shot. I knew that I was going to need something that was opposite of the sun, or at least to the side of it because it was getting quite bright very quickly.
I decided to head out to where I had been yesterday since I had seen a few other things there that might make good photographs in these lighting conditions. I wasn’t far from the area, and came at it from the other direction which always gives me a different perspective. I knew of a couple of old barns that might work similarly to the one that I had just shot. They were up at the top of the road, but I never got there. I passed by an old Mercedes in a driveway that I have passed by so many times before. It always caught my eye as it has not moved in probably 10 years or so that I know of. This was another area that I used to ride my bike through regularly and I’ve been watching the car show the signs of aging as the years pass. It hasn’t really risen to the point where I was compelled to photograph it, but when I passed it this morning, the entire scene grabbed my creativity.
What I saw was not so much the car, but the driveway, the house, the overgrown vegetation and the general look of abandonment that I just love to capture with my camera. The car was still in very good shape, but the tires were flat and it hadn’t been washed in a long time. I decided to turn around and give it a second look. When I turned down the neighboring street I was really liking the composition that I was seeing with the car. The newer design of the car didn’t bother me as it once did after doing some recent images with newer cars that were quite successful. I pulled off on the shoulder and got out of the truck. The house was obviously vacant and there were no signs indicating that I couldn’t be there. I looked around for any clues that maybe a neighboring house was related to this property at all, but was unable to get that figured out. This was one of those times when I just took the chance and started to do some photography. I was expecting somebody to join me any time because that was the kind of neighborhood I was in. In fact, I was counting on that. I was very obvious with my movements and made it a point not to get too close to the car or the house because I knew that eyes were on me and I didn’t want to give the wrong impression.
I started out by working from the edge of the property as I was waiting on the owner to arrive any minute. I found a composition that I liked that included the house and the car. What I loved about this particular composition was the sign that was laying in the yard. I’m always talking about what elements to include that add to the story of an image. This was one of those great pieces of the puzzle as the sign was for a person that buys houses. It had been apparently posted on the property some time ago and has since been knocked over. I framed the shot so that the sign was an important focus of the foreground while the house was in the background with the Mercedes used to balance out the composition.
I was able to capture this composition through the use of my well used 24-70mm lens which gives me plenty of freedom in my compositions with a decent wide end as well as a light telephoto range. Of course, since I was working with a vehicle, I needed to be very careful of the glare, so I added my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer which pulled out the glare from the dew covered paint as well as reducing the exposure in the glass. As I framed up the shot, I was noticing that the sun which was pretty much behind me was casting a lot of light on the trees above which was wanting to throw the main focal points of the image into deep shadow. I grabbed a Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 2-stop soft edge ND Grad to balance the exposure just a tad. That did the trick and got the exposure balanced. However, when I took the first shot, I realized just how skewed the histogram was with the white house, silver car, and dark shadows in the trees. I had the sky and the highlights on the trees handled with the filter, but I still wasn’t happy with the exposure. I dropped it down about 2/3 of a stop and started a four image series that was a full stop apart. This allowed me to get plenty of detail in the bright areas as well as the shadows. I did two different captures like this just in case there was less movement in the branches in one of them.
The intention was to shoot this in color, but when I got it home, I wasn’t really liking it in color. There was just too many neutral tones with the three main elements and I wasn’t happy with it. Initially I tossed it in the discard bin, but on my second look, I pulled it back out and considered doing a black and white conversion since the colors were not a part of the image. When I did the basic conversion, I knew I was onto something special and I worked on it for a little while. By the end of the conversion, I had come upon an image that fully met my goals when I shot the composition. It told the story quite well, and actually became an image that was much better than any of the individual elements. For me, this one is true story telling and really pulls you in.
When I got done with that composition, I was actually quite surprised that I didn’t have any company yet. I decided to move in closer to get an intimate shot of the Mercedes because it was in surprisingly good condition, but there were just clues to its age and neglect that deserved to be captured. They were subtle things and I was excited about the opportunity to put my camera to work on those details. I got things set up with the same gear that I had been using, but I did pull out the ND Grad since I wasn’t dealing with any exposure issues. I just found a composition that I really liked which included the car and just enough of the house to give that much needed clue to that part of the story. The rest of the composition was made up with the vegetation that was present in the front of the house showing how long the property had been left alone.
It was at this point that I heard the Jeep pull in behind me. I was pretty sure that he was going to tell me to leave and I was prepared for that. As he was talking with me he advised that I should ask permission before entering a property like this. I agreed with him, and as I am sure you know, I am a stickler for that in my day to day practice. I did explain, very politely, that I had no idea who owned the property and there were no readily available clues to help with that. I understood how the area worked and had been expecting him to come by. I think that by me explaining the thought process that I had gone through to get where I was, helped put his mind at ease. In the end, he reluctantly gave me his blessing. I wasn’t going to overstay my welcome and even though I might have been able to capture a few more images, I was content with getting this one image that I had just set up.
The sun was shining a little brighter now, and the light was creeping into my frame. This wasn’t a bad thing at all, in fact I welcomed it. It added a nice pop of yellow in the upper portion of the frame which balanced out the silver of the car. Again, a few minutes of delay actually worked to my benefit. Once I got the image that I was happy with from this angle, I picked up my gear and decided to leave. I was very appreciative for the ability to finish what I had started, but I had no interest in making anyone uneasy about my presence there. I was confident that I had at least one image that I would like from there, and that was plenty.
As I was culling my images at home after picking up my two entries at the fair, I was very pleased to see that I had three images that I thought were strong enough to keep from the morning. I had shot a total of 47 frames with the two subjects, but fundamentally figured that I would keep one composition from each subject. As it turned out, the Mercedes was the surprise star of the day. I’m really liking the later model cars that are fitting into my decay style. The decay is a lot more subtle than a rusty car, and I think that actually adds to the story of the vehicle. There are more and more of these cars turning up from the last 40ish years and they deserve some love to. Their stories are not that much different from the ’52 Chevy pickup, or the ’47 Ford Sedan. Every car has had miles roll under the tires and with each mile, there are stories to be told. It is my intention to capture those stories!
Thank you for joining me on this short trek under a very blue sky. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Remember, if you see anything here in the blog that speaks to you, I would love to discuss getting a print into your hands, or more specifically up on your walls.