On Assignment in Ramseur, NC

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Monday, February 5, 2018

Country Home
When it comes to photography, my normal process is find a scene that appeals to me and then shoot it.  I’ve done it that way for many years now, and have found getting lost is usually the best way to find myself.  There are other times I am more directed in what I am shooting which changes things up a bit.  Occasionally, I’ll have a client request that I photograph a particular subject, or location.  This can be a little daunting for me because it is my style that has drawn them to ask that I photograph something that is special to them.  I no longer have the luxury of finding a subject that fits my style.  Instead, I am making my style fit a subject.
I had the opportunity to embark on one of these adventures for this trek.  A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a client to photograph the family home in Ramseur, NC.  The reason was one that I could absolutely understand.  This was a childhood home for my client, and there were so many memories tied up in the home.  Not only the home, but the tree off to the side of the house.  As she was telling me about the house, I could just picture the tree growing from a sapling into what Google Street View was showing as a huge, mighty tree.  I was intrigued at the project to say the least.
Family Tree
I had a couple of different rough directions to go with this project.  The tree was important to include, as was the home.  One of the biggest problems was that the house was currently painted yellow.  My client expressed a desire for it to be represented as white since that was the color that it was throughout he childhood.  Of course, I was not really thrilled about changing the colors as that was going to be digital manipulation which I wasn’t really comfortable doing.  I discussed the possibility of doing it as a B&W image which would show the pale yellow as white, and also give it a timeless look.  That seemed to fit with her vision.
I wasn’t under any real time constraint, which was a nice thing.  I had my choice of seasons, and weather conditions.  That should make it easy enough.  I agreed to the assignment and started to research the location.  I could tell by the satellite view that there were houses on either side of it, and there were more behind the property.  The trees around were huge, and I expected any fresh foliage to block a lot of the light and the view of the house.  That would be a problem in the Summer.  The house was situated with the front of the house facing North.  In order to get illumination on the side of the house with the tree, I was going to have to shoot in the morning with some diffused light.
With these constraints in place, I set out to find the perfect morning to shoot the house.  Too many clouds and the sky would be totally white after getting the detail in the tree and shadow areas of the house.  Too few clouds, and I would have a boring expanse of blue sky above the house.  I was feeling like Goldilocks to be honest.  I was torn between the current bare trees, or to wait until Spring to capture blooms on the trees.  I decided that I would go ahead and at least get some test shots in the Winter with the trees bare.
Sipping Sweet Tea
It seemed that my available mornings were all either rainy or totally sunny.  When I had a meeting on a Monday night, I decided that I did have time to go out and give it a try seeing that there was a 26% cloud cover.  I was wanting more, but for a test shoot, I was fine with it.  I left out before sunrise, and got to the house about 30 minutes after sunrise.  That was by design to give the sky a chance to get some blue to it, and to get a little altitude to the sun so that it would help highlight the house.
When I arrived, I was not really excited about how things were looking.  Google was accurate to a point, but things were very tight between the houses and there were a lot of trees that were going to become visual obstacles to overcome.  My normal eye would have moved right past this house, but I had been commissioned to shoot this subject, and I was going to make it happen.
I spent about 15 minutes sizing things up from across the road and then from inside of the property.  I wanted to shoot isolations because that would be the best way to eliminate the visual obstacles.  I couldn’t do that because it would negate the whole purpose of being out here.  I needed capture photos that would tug at the heart strings of the family.  I needed to capture the essence of the house with that all important tree.  I really had just one option…go superwide.
I fitted my 16-35mm lens that is so awesome for landscape work and added a polarizer.  I knew that distortion was going to be a problem using this lens for architecture, so I had to pay very close attention to the pitch of the camera.  I started composing shots that simplified the scene that I was in.  I was trying to minimize the impact of the neighboring houses as well as the car in the car port.  Oh, did I mention that there was a large “For Sale” sign in the front yard just on the other side of the driveway.  I’ll admit it, this house really tested my abilities.
I set everything up as black and white in my head.  I looked for strong contrasts and shapes.  As I was shooting the sun was really playing with my head.  What I was expecting to be a nice illuminating element, turned into a shadow maker.  There were thick trees to the Eastern side of the property that blocked the sun from providing any foreground illumination.  I was needing more clouds to soften the sun, but that would just increase the shadow effect on the foreground, and force the sky to overexpose.  I was here, so I was going to make the best of it.
In the photograph above, I actually decided to shoot into the sun….well, sort of.  I hid the sun behind the roof and shot a four shot HDR series to get all of the detail in the house.  I liked this because it was a completely unencumbered view of the house while still including a large part of the tree as a background.  I didn’t know how it would turn out, but I tried it anyway.
When I got done, I had 23 frames of digital negatives to work through.  I pulled out three that I really liked from the batch and started to process them as monochrome images.  What I really thought would turn out decent left me feeling empty and a little disappointed.  I changed gears and processed them all as color images which I actually liked much better.
Remember that one of the requests was that I render the house as being white.  Well, as I was processing, I found that by dropping the saturation in the yellows, I was able to almost get an eggshell white appearance in the house.  Since I wasn’t changing the color, I could live with the saturation adjustment.  There was still one image that I really wanted to do some more work with in black and white.
Country Home in B&W
I imported the file into Photoshop and started to do a more serious conversion.  As I massaged the image, I started to see something I had missed before.  The tones were actually coming together quite well.  I finished doing the conversion and decided that I did have one picture that met my requirements for a black and white image.  This made number four that I was happy with for the day.  Honestly, for the conditions I was shooting in, I’m quite pleased with how this turned out.
I might opt to go back in the Spring to try again with some buds on the tree, but I’m pretty happy with the outcome of this trek.  It was a test of my interpretation of a scene for sure.  I do enjoy the occasional challenge, and this really fit that classification.  The true test will be whether or not the client is happy with the images or not.

A late addition to the group is a monochrome conversion of the single tree.  I had to go about it in a slightly different way, and used the Lightroom tools to make it happen.  I’m actually quite happy with it, and think that it goes well with the other conversion that I shot.

Family Tree in B&W