New Year, Old Cars

· Reading Time: 15 minutes

Monday, January 8, 2018

Impressive Stance

We are eight days into the new year and I have not been out with the camera since last year.  I would like to come up with a really good reason why that is, but mainly it is because I am a wuss.  It has been cold…like really cold for the last couple of weeks now.  I have just not wanted to go out and be miserable for no good reason, so I’ve stayed inside for the most part.  With all of this cold, it seems that everyone I know is out photographing frozen waterfalls.  The thought crossed my mind, but after the initial impact of seeing waterfalls frozen, they left me completely empty.  There was just not much that I really wanted to photograph with the frozen falls.  I’ll leave it to the hundreds of other photographers doing just that for the past couple of weeks.

I decided to spend the first warm day (just above freezing temperatures) out with the camera, but what to photograph?  The forecast was for cloudy skies with freezing rain starting after lunch.  We know how I was feeling about waterfall photography, so that was out.  I was still having a lot of fun with photographing old cars, and I thought that I might go out and hunt a few of them down.  With the threat of bad weather after lunch, I decided that I needed to have a bit more guarantee of subjects since I was only going to have a few hours to work with.  It only seemed natural to head out to White’s Service Station in Germanton for the morning.  I know that they have a bunch of vintage iron in the yard that I can play with.

Motley Ford

I got there about thirty minutes before they opened and the weather was great with solid overcast skies.  I was wishing there was a bit more texture in the clouds, but at least I didn’t have to worry about high contrast sunlight as I was walking through the yard.  Since I know that the owner likes for photographers to “check in” with him, I waited until they opened to let them know that I was there and make sure it was still ok for me to walk the yard.  As I was waiting, I could see that the sky was opening up a little bit and the sun was starting to shine through.  This was not a big deal as it would add a little depth to my images to have some sun in the scene.  When 9am approached, I got out of the car and went to the shop.  It was still closed.

Hollow Scowl

I didn’t have to wait long before somebody rolled up.  The few minutes that I was there though, I got cold.  I was already losing feeling in my fingers and was considering putting on my gloves.  I had a quick exchange with the guy who rolled in, and he checked with the owner to make sure that it was ok for me to take a scenic walk through the property.  He said that it was fine, and requested a card from me.  With that, I was on my way.  I grabbed my gear from the car and started walking.  It didn’t take long before I started to warm up.  Unfortunately, that was because the clouds were gone.  I mean there was not a cloud in the sky.  This was no good.  Everywhere I looked, the lighting was all wrong.  I looked for cars in the shade which might have emblems to photograph.  There were very few of those around, and most of them didn’t have good enough emblems to worry with.

Fender Jewel

I did come across one car where the sun actually made a great picture.  There was a fender ornament that had an opaque “V” in it.  The sun was back lighting the ornament and the graphic inside really stood out.  I worked with this for a good little while to get the right angle on it.  For some reason, I didn’t want to fill the whole frame with this bit of chrome.  Instead, I wanted to place it within the frame and give some abstract clues as to what was being seen.  The end result was much more dynamic than just a straight on photograph of the main feature.  This was just one of the quirky images that I got from the day.

Honestly, I was really wondering if I was going to get anything worth while since the sky was staying pretty much crystal clear as I walked from one end of the yard to the other.  There were a bunch of really interesting cars to be seen, but the problems I was running into was the lighting, and the proximity of the cars to other cars.  In the cases where cars were grouped around other cars of a similar era I was good.  However, far too often, I was finding great cars surrounded by some late model vehicle, usually import.  This became very problematic, and with the light dictating the direction that I could shoot, I was really starting to lose hope.

Low Beams

In order to try and make the best of the situation, I spent a lot of time searching out compositions that I could do where these problems would not be an issue.  I’ve found that photographing headlights have been very rewarding when shooting intimate compositions of cars.  I did happen to find one that had a nice twin headlight arrangement under a sculpted fender that had a good deal of patina on it.  I struggled with how best to photograph this, and found that going high and shooting down made for the best composition.  I was able to anchor the image with the lights and use the spine of the fender as a bisecting element.  The sun was strong on the left side, while the right side was in the shadows from the body lines.  A nice tight crop with the camera and I was in good shape to include only what I wanted in the frame.


In an odd turn of events, I found a car that had no emblems left on it.  However, where the hood emblems had been, there was a nice ghost image cut into the patina.  Of course, this is an easily recognizable shape and for those who are familiar with the older cars, it is an image that you will understand.  For me, I love the textures of the rust and the hint of old paint where the emblems had protected the metal for decades.  Again, it was a quirky image, but one that I think turned out really well.

Sun Spots

In some cases it was the emblems that caught my eye.  In other cases it was the lack of emblems that caught my eye.  On this particular Buick, I found that the interplay between the emblem and the weathered trunk lid were the ideal subject to photograph.  I’m not sure how the trunk turned out like this, but the green on the car had faded off to one side, and within that area was a lot of surface rust.  The sun was hitting the trunk lid pretty hard, and that made the faded paint really change color.  There was a hard shadow from the emblem that gave it depth, and a little rusty runoff from the tail that gave it life.  The faded paint with the orange rust looked like a sun with some sort of winged ship headed for it.  I know, very geeky thing to see, but that was the image in my head after seeing this.  With a little careful use of the polarizer, I was able to capture this specific interplay between the ornament, paint, and rust.  Oh, and I had to shield the front element of the camera with my had to keep any lens flare from happening at that angle.


I had been out here for about 2 hours at this point waiting on the clouds to show up.  I was really starting to think that they were going to be a no show at this rate.  I continued to shoot for the conditions and looked for compositions that would work using the sun.  I found this old Ford which I have photographed before and it seemed to work with the sun.  I went ahead and started to look for compositions.  Because of all of the cars around it, I had to get in close and crop tight to the car.  At first I was not happy that the door was open, but after working on the composition, I realized that the door was blocking a ’90’s model Hyundai from my view.  I figured that the door was just fine where it was.  Because the sun was so bright, I didn’t have to worry about my exposure with the sky.  Everything actually went very well without the need for any filters other than the polarizer.  I got down nice and low to avoid any of the cars that were in the background, and fired off some frames.

Light Textures

When I got done with the overall view, I started to look for intimate views of the car that I could shoot.  Of course, since this car had its headlights, that became a focal point for me almost immediately.  I got in nice and close and chose to focus on the pitted rust which was a nice contrast to the smooth glass of the headlight, and the marker light below was a nice contrast in tone that balanced out the tone of the headlight.  There was just a hint of paint visible which told the story of the car.  It was a simple image, but darned if didn’t turn out nice!

Custom Patina

Speaking of patina…This car might have been pretty much completely rusted on the front, but the passenger side was still in pretty good shape.  There were even emblems still in place on the fender.  With that wonderful mint paint and vivid rust developing, I couldn’t help but try for a shot.  I embraced the fact that the door was open, and used the curve of the skin as a geometric element to compliment the bit of wheel arch.  The rust provided a diagonal element that helped to frame the emblems.  It was a fun image to shoot!

Under the Shade Tree

The clouds were actually starting to roll in at this point.  I started to retrace my steps going back to compositions that I wanted to shoot earlier but had been unable to because of the sun.  The funny thing was, it was about 11am at this point, and the freezing rain was supposed to be starting in an hour.  Looking up at the sky, I was pretty sure that there was going to be no freezing rain falling today.  I was still rather skeptical about the density of the clouds as they were just starting to come in very thin.  It did give me the chance to shoot a few images with some blue sky interest which played well with the warm tones of the rust on the cars.

Long Forgotten

Eventually, the clouds did come in as they were supposed to hours before.  This opened up lots of possibilities due to the diffused lighting.  That didn’t mean that it was going to be easy though.  In this image of the same Ford I had been shooting from the front, I wanted to include the sky which had some nice texture to it.  The exposure latitude was too much for the camera though since the sun was actually behind the clouds just above the frame.  I opted to shoot one of two HDR photographs for the day to deal with that exposure latitude.  The other one that I shot was the opening image for this entry.  With four images, I was able to capture all of the information that I needed in order to create the image that my eyes were able to see.

Derelict Row

Now that the lighting was working for me, I was able to go and work some of the areas that I had wanted to before.  There is a trio of cars from the ’40’s that I have photographed before, but not quite this close in before.  I composed images that showed them all, and some that just captured the front clips of each.  That was the composition that I found most appealing for these cars because it gave a lot of visual weight to the Chrysler in the foreground, which still sharing the scene with the other two cars.  In the past, I would have stopped here, but today, I decided to work on these cars individually as well.

Mint to Be

I got down low to the ground to capture the front quarter of the Chrysler which was resting on the bumper.  It seems that the mint green that is on this car was a very popular color in the day.  Fortunately, it does look good with rust.  There are a lot of stories behind this fascia.  I can only imagine what it looked like rolling off of the assembly line some 70 years ago.  The chrome all shiny, and the mint green paint resplendent as it was on display in a showroom.  These days, it rests on its bumper because the wheels are long since gone.


As I continued to work around this trio of cars, I found that the backs of the cars could be accessed by climbing a short (and very loose) embankment.  I did just that and got into position to shoot the trunk of a (imagine this…) mint green Plymouth.  The rust on it looked as though it had been painted on by hand.  It was one of the more interesting patterns that I had seen in a while.  The nameplate stood out rather subtle in comparison to the chrome light housing over the tag mount.  It all worked together very nicely though.

Brushed Rust

Not wanting to stop photographing the rear of this vehicle, I moved over to the side to capture what I am starting to recognize as a genetic link to Plymouths of this era.  They all seem to have these same body lines that work so nicely in a photograph.  Of course, the hand painted rust under the mint green paint is always a treat for my eyes.  The hardest part here was keeping the camera steady on the loose dirt as I was slowly sliding back down the embankment.  Fortunately, I was able to hold everything together in order to make a few exposures on the back of this car.  While I was working it, the black car next to me really started to grab my attention.  The rust just looked amazing under the fuel filler neck.

Caustic Residuals

Before I slid down the embankment, I had to grab a photograph of this pattern.  It took a little doing to find a composition that worked well with the rear of this car.  There were so many complex lines and shapes.  I found that doing a close crop, anchoring on the bumper and the fuel filler made for the best composition.  There is still a great abstract quality with the image, and the patina is the star of the show.  We can file this one under the quirky images that I have been shooting today, but sometimes it pays to step outside of the box occasionally.

Mint Crackle

Since I was in a quirky mood, I went back to the car that had taken the spotlight with the group shot and started to look for abstract images to shoot on it.  In addition to the mint green paint, I was drawn to the lines created by the window trim, and the way that the paint was cracking.  I decided to focus on those elements for a while.  I tried both the portrait view which kept everything nice and compact, and then stretched it out to a horizontal composition that showed the swooping lines of the car.

Chrome Lines

There is just something magical about cars from this era.  They all have so much personality which just spills out into the camera.  They are just so much fun to photograph, and I just honestly can’t get enough of them.  The patina on most of these cars just adds to the whole composition.  So many different textures to see on these old cars!

At the Yard

As the clouds came in thicker, I started to look for other images that I could shoot that included the clouds.  I found this beautiful old Buick (I think) sitting off to the side of the yard.  Of course, the grille was well over the top, and turned into a great focal point for several photographs.  One of the compositions that I worked on was a shot that highlighted just the grill as it looked over a row of cars from the early 60’s.  The tree above the hood provided some much needed balance to the composition and this one turned out to be one of my favorites from this car.  However, the HDR image that opened this entry takes the prize as my favorite of all.

Earth Tones

One of the things that drew my attention to the car in addition to the grill was the embellishments on the fenders.  This was so upscale back in the day, but these days just screams “I want to put crap on my car to make it look faster”.  The design of these old cars was just spectacular, and I hate that the current generation is cheapening the design elements.  This is what these are supposed to look like.  You can tell it was designed into the car from the beginning and they still look the part.  The deep green paint with the rusted patina work great together in stark contrast to the chrome that is still holding on all these years later.

Hood Scoop

Another testament to the design of the car can be found on the hood.  The original scoop is still there, although I have a sneaking suspicion that the 8 has fallen off at some point, leaving just the “V”.  Either way, this was a pretty classy hood ornament that was recessed into the hood with an emblem below.  The deep surface rust around the chrome helps it to stand out in the picture.

Chrome Rows

At about 1pm, I decided to call it a day.  Looking at the weather, there was ice headed my way, and more rain after that.  Since I was about 30 minutes from home, I decided that I had better get home before the roads got bad.  I had about 80 frames in the camera so I was feeling pretty good about the day.  Despite the fact that the first half of the day was spent trying to wish the sun away, I had made the best out of the lighting situation.  I was expecting to have about ten images or so from the day.  You can only imagine my surprise when I got done culling and editing my images and found that I had 23 that I deemed worth keeping for the collection.  Yes, it was a great day, and not too bad for a first trek of the year.