Playing the Long Game

· Reading Time: 28 minutes

Monday, May 17, 2021

If you will remember from my last blog entry a couple of days ago, I am trying to reignite the creative fires within myself.  For over two weeks now, I haven’t really felt much like creating anything and that is kind of a problem for a photographer.  It does happen, and this isn’t the first time that it has happened to me since I started on this path of being a freelance landscape photographer.  After that last jaunt down 268, I started to feel a little better about my own creativity, but I was painfully aware that the entire day was forced and I was pushing myself to make images.  It wasn’t until the end of the day that I started to feel “normal” about my photography, but even when I got home and started to process the images things were not right.  Everything took longer than it should and I kept second guessing myself and my decisions every step of the way.  It was a start though.

The problem with these “starts” is that once you have one, you have to keep going to in order to maintain the momentum.  That was a daunting task for me to consider after putting that much energy into creating photographs.  I didn’t have the motivation to choose another area to work through, nor did I really know or care what I was going to photograph.  I had a plan to head out Sunday night to capture a composition that I had spotted during my most recent mini workshop at Doughton Park and I thought that the weather was going to be right for that image.  As the time crept closer, I found that I was less and less interested in going out.  The end result was I settled down with Toni and we watched a couple of movies before bed.  I was much happier doing that than going out to get a photograph…and to be honest, that bothered me a little bit.  It wasn’t that long ago that I would pretty much drop anything in order to go out and try to get an image.  That wasn’t the case at all here and I was absolutely content watching the movies.

I was putting together a plan to go out Monday morning to take advantage of the clouds that were supposed to be overhead through most of the day.  As I was getting ready for bed I was still not sure where to go for any photographs so I started to look at Doughton Park once again.  I had an idea for a composition which I had not shot before, and I was thinking that just before sunrise would be a good time to get that image.  It was going to require me getting up at 5am in order to get there in time for the shot.  It was going to be a short night, but I was going to give it a try.  From there, I would more than likely continue on with landscapes, or potentially run into Sparta for some rural explorations.  I had my plan.

Well, I slept terribly through most of the night and by the time my clock rang at 5am, I was just getting to sleep.  I killed the noise and looked at the weather.  It was looking good, but I just couldn’t muster the energy to get out of bed and get on the road.  That slump was still holding on it would seem.  The smart choice would have been to get up and go out knowing that I would get energized with this shot I had in mind.  I wasn’t smart at 5am, I was sleepy…so I rolled over and slept for another three hours.

Now that I was awake and starting my day I was considering going out and taking advantage of the clouds which would be getting interesting around 10am or so.  That gave me time to get my morning stuff done before heading out.  Part of what I needed to do was to call an appliance repair service about our range.  It hasn’t been heating evenly and I had exhausted all my ideas to fix it.  When I talked to them, they were able to have a technician out to us within the hour.  I needed to stick around for that so I put the trek off for another couple of hours so that I could deal with the stove.  Well, he wasn’t able to determine any faults with the stove and didn’t proceed with any repairs on it which was good I guess.  I was only an hour late heading out so I started to get geared up to head out to Traphill to check out some scenes that I had tried to shoot during the Fall and Winter which didn’t work out so well.

As I was getting myself psyched up for the rural trek I got a call from Toni who had been at the store.  She told me that she had parked under a tree and there was large white drops all over her car.  I immediately knew what she was talking about and had dealt with that tree sap on a number of occasions.  I knew that I had to get it off, so I had her pull around to the side of the house when she got home so I could wash her car.  Yet another delay and I was starting to feel like I wasn’t meant to go out for photos at all today.

It took me about two hours to get the car cleaned up and all of the sap removed.  I was glad to get that taken care of so the paint wouldn’t be torn up from up.  It was getting kind of late in the day at that point and I typically wouldn’t go out for a trek.  The clouds weren’t really as thick as I had hoped, but the weather was calling for thicker in Traphill.  I was really figuring that if I went I would just be driving around frustrated.  Had it not been for the fact that I needed to deliver a print to the owner of the last barn that I shot the other day, I probably would have stayed home.  However, since I had the print packaged and in the truck along with the camera I decided to go ahead and give it a try.  I would only have about four hours before I needed to be back home which would be enough time to give it a good try while not so much as to get really frustrated if I didn’t find anything.

Hot to Rot“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

When I got done delivering the print, I made my way out to Traphill on the route that I normally took.  I was very familiar with this route and what was on the road.  It was the first time I had been out this way since Spring hit and I was quite interested in how things had changed along the road.  In fact, one of the barns that I had shot just a few months ago was now torn down and it was looking like they might be trying to rebuild it.  I was very happy that the one time I had stopped at this barn I had managed to get two images of it.  There was no chance of ever photographing it again now.  I made notes of things that might be possible later in the season and some things that I knew wouldn’t be workable again until Fall.  While I was driving I was thinking ahead trying to figure out if there was anything that might work with the current conditions.  Nothing was really coming to mind, but I did decide that since I would be passing this one shop with a lot of old cars behind it I would slow down to see if anyone might be working there this time.

You see, I found this shop around 2016 while exploring around the area of Stone Mountain.  It was a rainy day when I first saw it and nobody was there.  I left my business card with a note written on the back.  I never did hear anything from that card.  Since that day, and after moving out to Purlear last year, I have stopped by here a dozen times or more.  I’ve finally figured out where the owner lives and have been to that house at least three times knocking on the door with no luck.  I’ve never seen anyone at the shop in all of my visits either.  This is one of those locations that there is just no way to shoot the cars from the road, and with it clearly marked for “No Trespassing,” I didn’t want to enter the property without permission.

My gut was telling me that this day was going to be much like all of those days in the past.  I would drive by and see no activity and since I had left a card with the property owner previously, I didn’t want to seem pushy so I knew I wasn’t going to be knocking on that door today.  I wasn’t sure what I was hoping would happen, but I knew that the chances were strong that I would just drive by like I had so many times in the past.  It was probably for the best anyway since with the vegetation in full growth at this point, it would be very hard to isolate the vehicles and get good images of them.  I knew from past experience that this was a much better location for late Fall and Winter.

Delivering Spring“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I drove by and saw pretty much what I was expecting to see.  The cars were pretty well grown over and hard to see.  They were still beautiful though and I was still very interested in eventually being able to photograph them.  As I was looking at the cars I noticed a guy getting into a truck.  Hey, there was life at the shop!  He might be a customer, but there was a chance that I might just get lucky here.  As I passed by I also noticed that there was an open door to the shop.  This was my chance to make contact with a person on the property which was the first time I’ve managed to do that in many years.  I got turned around and pulled into the parking lot.

Before I could get out, the gentleman I had seen a few seconds before was coming towards me.  I was hoping that he was friendly and not coming over to run me off.  I got out of the truck and introduced myself.  Mike shook my hand and I found out really quick that he was a very friendly fella.  We struck up a conversation and I let him know how happy I was to finally get to meet him.  I shared the reasons why I was there and he was happy to let me photograph right there at the shops property.  He confirmed that the cars were owned by Kim who lived in the house which I had knocked on several times.  He took a couple of my cards to give to her and another property owner a bit further in with more cars.  This was the contact that I was hoping for.  It was icing on the cake that he was willing to let me work around the shop area to get some photographs while I was there.

Water Bug“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

the conditions weren’t the best, but I really didn’t care.  The light might have been a bit harsher than I would have wanted with only moments of respite from a passing cloud.  The vegetation might have been a little thicker and greener than I would have wished for.  I only had access to a few of the vehicles that I had been wanting to photograph, but when it all boiled down I was so thankful that I finally had my foot in the door for this location.  One of the things that I had talked with Mike about was my method for finding these locations.  Sometimes it takes a very long time to get permission, but I have found that I get a lot further by asking permission than by trespassing and getting run off.  I referred to this as “Playing the long game” and investing in the chance to get full access to places.  It was paying off now, nearly five years later.  I had my permission, for at least part of the property and a really good chance to get permission for the rest of the property in the near future.

I had played the long game and won this round.  I grabbed my gear and started off with a Comet that was parked right along the driveway.  Ironically, it was the only car which wasn’t overgrown with vines and other vegetation.  However, there was too much clutter around it from the road directly behind it to the shop on the driver’s side, and the line of old trucks on the Passenger side.  I walked around to see if there was any way to get an all over shot of the car and just couldn’t find anything at all that I liked.  I did love the patina and chose to do an isolation on the quarter panel emblem.  That was my first composition in the bag and I really liked it.  I did try a shot from the front which had the driveway and the street in the frame.  The idea was fine, but the execution looked too much like a snapshot for my tastes.

Bug by the Stream“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I started to work my way around the other vehicles in the general area.  I looked for unique vehicles that were relatively visible through the brush.  There was an old truck with a beige/yellow patina going on that stood out from the leaves which I liked.  There was just enough of it sticking out to make it interesting which was what I was after.  The composition was rather simple to come about as I just did what I could to mask the other vehicles close by so that I could keep this truck isolated.  The hardest part was waiting on the breeze to stop long enough to make the exposure.  It wasn’t really windy, but with the leaves on the trees, any little breeze showed movement.  My shutter speeds were about a half a second and that was enough to show a bit of motion blur if I wasn’t careful.  I could have boosted the ISO, but I knew that there was a lot of shadow detail that I was going to be pulling out and didn’t want to introduce any noise early on in the process.  By keeping my ISO at 100, I ensured that my images would be clean and noise free which was what I was after.

When I was happy with the truck, I moved further into the property near the stream.  I had seen the unmistakable shape of a VW Bug which I will always photograph if I can.  These cars are so iconic and the shape is so recognizable that it would be a crime to avoid getting the image.  This one had its share of hurdles to overcome though.  First of all, it was in the shadow of a tree right beside it.  That was going to cause problems making the iconic car stand out.  The second problem, and possibly the most difficult to deal with was that the color of the patina on the car was very close to that of the grass.  I recalled having to deal with that same problem with a Dodge that I shot recently in North Wilkesboro.  I knew that I could work a little color magic and get the tones to separate a bit better.  It was just going to be a guess as how much separation I was going to be able to come up with.

Straight as an Arrow“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

My first composition was on the side that was lit the best.  I knew that this would be the easiest one to process.  The composition was a bit weak though as there wasn’t much in the way of a foreground.  What I ended up focusing on was the lavender colored flowers in the field that kind of matched the color of the bug.  They gave interest in the area that would otherwise be negative space.  Ideally, I would have used the car as the foreground with the tree as a midground.  I actually did try that, but found that the sky came into play with that composition and it was much too bright to include since my main subject was in the shadows.  I could have used an ND Grad or two here but I felt that the end result would have been unrealistic and that wasn’t what I was after.  I just went with the more simplistic composition and hoped for the best.

I really did love this car and wanted to try for a more technical composition before I moved on to something else.  I wanted to get the tree framing the car which would have me photographing the shaded side of the car against the field that was bathed in the sunlight.  It was going to be a good deal more difficult to capture, but the composition was much stronger I felt.  I got into position and started making exposures.  I tried to wait for the clouds to cover the sun to diffuse the light for a bit.  The challenge really came when I realized that I was going to have to time my exposures around the breeze once again as well as the sun. I had a couple of occasions where all the elements lined up just right and allowed me to make a couple of images.

Low Visibility“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

When I was satisfied with the series of images from the Bug I turned my attention to an old Ford F-500 which was sitting between several other vehicles. and nosed up to a tree.  I tried to figure out how to get an overall shot, but there was absolutely no way to make that happen.  Instead, I looked at doing a partial shot of the front of the truck.  It looked good on the back of the camera, but when I got it home and into Lightroom it failed as an image and I didn’t go any further with it.  The one composition that I ended up working and actually liked was a composition that I normally do with GM trucks of the same vintage.  I focused on the emblem on the side of the hood while including the fender and part of the cowl with the vent.  The way that the lines all go together really work for a composition and I’ve been happy with how this shot has turned out on more than one occasion.  That streak continued with this Ford and the side shot was the one that I went with.  I might be wrong, but the lines actually come together better on the Ford than they do on the GM trucks even though they are very similar in design.

Starting to really find myself among all of this rust, I got a little ahead of myself and decided to venture a bit further down the driveway than I had been.  I knew from my many times driving down to the house that there was an old tow truck about 20 feet or so down the drive.  Since Toni loves tow trucks, I wanted to capture an image of it for her.  I was just hoping that it was visible since the last time I saw it I had seen all of the dormant vines on the windshield.  My fear was it was going to be fully engulfed by the vines and trees at this point.

Bug in a Breeze“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

Fortunately, I was wrong in that assumption.  When I got there, the truck was actually quite visible and the vines were still dormant on the glass which made for an interesting compositional element.  Not wanting to press my luck here I got set up very quickly with the camera and found the composition that I was wanting.  The overall exposure was simple as there was no sky involved in this shot.  I just wanted to make sure that I included the tree in the background which I felt was very instrumental to establishing depth to the image.  The colors of the truck helped it to stand out from the trees which I found to be a big plus for this truck.  in fact, it actually looked really good with the greenery all around it.  I didn’t stick around here long and once I got a few images captured I moved back down to the area I knew I was able to work in.

I made one last look around to see if there was anything that I missed.  I was assuming that I would be able to come back here at some point in the future so I wasn’t looking to get absolutely everything in this one visit.  Ideally, I will be coming back here in the Fall when things are more visible, but I know that further on down the cars and trucks are not nearly as overgrown.  If I can come back this Summer, there will be plenty of subjects that I can work with while waiting on the greenery to fade away.

I did see one last opportunity for a shot.  Up to this point, I had been fighting against the breeze trying to freeze the foliage, but the wind was picking up now and I saw the opportunity to embrace a bit of movement in the frame.  I looked back at the Bug sitting there under the tree which I had spent a good deal of time working a few minutes before.  The tree overhead was blowing noticeably in the wind and I saw my chance to get a dreamy image of the car.  The light had evened up which was kind of a good thing, but it also made the car look much greener and therefore more of a match to the surrounding elements.  I wasn’t sure if this was going to work, but I decided to give it a try to see.  I fired off several frames trying to captured the perfect gust of wind with a half second exposure.  I managed to get that perfect gust which added just enough blur to the leaves without making them a distraction.  It was the post processing that ran into a roadblock.  The colors of the car were just too similar to the surrounding elements with this lighting so I chose to go black and white with this one.  It worked out pretty well and the lack of color actually did force the viewer to see that unmistakable shape of the VW.

Rust Bucket“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

When I was done with the Bug, I noticed that there was a box truck up at the shop moving around.  I was hoping that my truck wasn’t in the way, but just in case I decided to call it a day here.  I had what I was wanting and was really happy with how things were looking on the back of the camera.  I went up to the 4Runner and got everything packed away before getting out of the way of the box truck which was hooking up to a trailer.  I had roughly 55 images captured from this location and it felt like such a huge accomplishment after waiting for five years to get access to the property.  The question now was where to go.  I was actually too pumped about photography to go home just yet.  I wanted to find more and I wanted to get more pictures.  This was how I was used to feeling when I was out on a trek and it felt very good to be in that frame of mind once again.

The question was where to go?  I started driving down the road noticing all of the roads that I had turned down previously during my explorations.  There wasn’t much that was new out here at this point, but that was why I liked the area of Traphill.  I was pretty comfortable with where the subjects were hiding.  I remembered seeing an old house near where I had delivered a print back in the Winter that I wanted to check out.  I was thinking that I hadn’t photographed it then because I could see too much behind it thanks to the bare trees.  With Spring here, that wasn’t going to be an issue at all.  I wasn’t far from that location so I continued out to that house.

When I got there, I saw that the house was now completely covered by a tree in the front which was blocking the view.  There was no picture to be had here today.  However, just down the driveway there was a old truck sitting by a barn that had always caught my eye before.  The other part that caught my eye was the gate post that held a sign indicating “No Trespassing.”  In order to get close enough to the truck I was going to have to get onto the property, but the fact of the matter was I had no idea who belonged to the property that I could ask.  As I sat there pondering the house behind the tree and the truck by the barn I started to think that I could go down the driveway and set the camera up at the gate.  As long as I didn’t pass beyond the sign I felt I was remaining on the right side of the law.  I wasn’t going to linger there though because this was not the time to push my luck.  On the other hand, I was kind of hoping that the owner would come to see what I was up to.  If I was really lucky, they might be inclined to give me access on the other side of the fence.

I grabbed my 24-70mm lens with the hopes of getting a good composition of the truck and the barn from the gate.  I set the camera up in the location that I felt was the best option for the composition.  I started to frame up the scene and realized that I didn’t have enough reach at 70mm.  I went back to the truck and swapped out for my longer 70-200mm lens which I knew would work for this scene.  I went back down and started to get a composition framed up with that lens. The focal length was right, but I was having issues with the tree to the right of the truck.  There were a couple of branches that kept getting in the way.  there was no way that I could avoid them since the further I moved to the left, the more another tree entered into the composition.  I was running out of options and I was spending a good deal more time here than I was intending.  It just wasn’t going to work from here like I was hoping.

I started to go back to the truck, but I kept looking over my shoulder.  Do I risk going past the gate?  Nobody had come to check on me yet so I was pretty sure that I could do it without anyone caring.  However, it would be a blatant violation and something that wasn’t comfortable with no matter how much I wanted the picture.  I wasn’t going to do that.  But as I was walking, I started to see another idea forming from further up the driveway.  Instead of just capturing an isolation of the truck against the barn, why not embrace the other elements that were wanting to bogart their way into the frame anyway.  If I was to capture a scene from further up the driveway, I could use the trees to frame the scene and there would be enough background behind the barn to keep the sky out of the frame which was vitally important.  The only issue was the post by the gate with the sign on it.

As long as I kept that sign surrounded by the grass and the driveway I would more than likely be able to clone it out completely when I got the image home.  I liked the idea and it was a fair compromise I felt. I framed up the image that I had in mind and started to make exposures.  I changed the composition here and there to try and make sure that I had the right separation on all of the elements and especially the sign post that I was going to be removing later on.  I was liking this composition much better than the more intimate one that I had started with.  It was just going to be a matter of whether or not I was going to be able to get the post cloned out in Photoshop.  It was a large element, that was residing right in the forefront of the frame so it was going to have to be a very good cloning job to make it work.  I think you can see that it worked out quite well and the image was a success.

Love Your Hooker“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

I had spent long enough here working around the “No Trespassing” sign so I decided to pack it up and continue down the road.  I still had a bit of time left before I needed to get home so I was still on the hunt for something else to photograph.  I was still making turns on roads that I had been on before and I was still hoping that something that I had seen before would catch my eye in a different way.  I was on a roll it seemed today.  I had photographed many subjects that I was familiar with but had never photographed before.  It was exciting and it was definitely breathing new life into one of my favorite photographic destinations in Wilkes County.

One of the roads that I turned down brought me to a location that I had been to several times during the Winter.  It was a house with an old Corvette in the driveway.  The Chevy was definitely something that interested me due to the condition that it was in.  The problem had been that it was in the driveway of a home.  The house hadn’t really furthered the story of the car through the colder months and I recalled sitting in the parking lot across the street pondering compositions several times.  I had yet to come up with anything that would work.  This time things were a good bit different though.  The yard had grown up and was looking the part of a vacant and neglected house.  Despite the fact that the house was in generally good condition there was no mistaking it for a lived-in house during this season.  This was the missing link for what I was after when looking for a photograph of this car.

I went ahead and parked the truck and grabbed my camera with the 24-70mm lens and a polarizer.  I left the bag in the truck because I wanted to be able to move quickly.  There were no signs posted and nothing indicating that I couldn’t be there, but I still didn’t want to draw too much attention to what I was doing.  The camera and tripod would be enough of a curiosity to anyone passing by if they happened to look down the driveway.  When I got across the road I started to look for compositions.  this was actually going to be harder than I had thought.  The house was going to have to be included in the overall image so I started to work that out from different areas just off of the driveway.  I wasn’t really liking any of those so I decided to get the one shot that I had seen from the road which would be rather simple to get.

The concept was easy, and just included the rear of the car.  I loved the stained paint on the back section and got in close to get an exaggerated view of the rear bumper area of the car.  I got the composition set the way I had envisioned it and started to make exposures.  I was pretty sure that this was going to be a monochrome image to keep things simple since the car was white to begin with.  As I was working on this composition I was struck by the humor of the decal on the rear window that said “I Love My Hooker.”  That pretty much summed up the late ’70’s when this car was new and I had to incorporate that in my title of the image.

Forgotten Accomplishments“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

As I said, that rear shot was pretty easy to create, but I was still wanting an overall image to tell the story of this car and even the house.  I moved back over to the side of the driveway and went to a slightly different position.  The sky was looking better at this point so I was able to include more of it and not have it be a distraction.  The overgrown yard pulled the entire composition together and I loved that the Vette was front and center to the whole scene.  You can see the missing T-top, hood, wheel, window, etc which was certainly not how the car was parked here originally.  Time has not been kind to this entire property and that was what I wanted to capture here.

The title here came from the fact that at some point the owner here had the goals of owning a nice house and a desirable sports car.  They obviously made that happen.  The question here, and the story that I wanted to tell, was what happened after they achieved those accomplishments.  It is if time had just forgotten all of the positive things here and what is left is not even a shell of a memory.  I’m sure I will never know what happened here, but my mind is racing with the possibilities.  The questions I’m asking could only come up during the warmer months as there weren’t enough clues during the Winter to come up with the story.  Now that I had finally shot the Corvette that I had been wanting to capture for months I was satisfied with the day.  It was time to head home anyway.  It had been a long day and I was getting hungry.  My plan was to get the images processed on Tuesday, but I was actually excited about them and happily stayed up until well after midnight to get the images processed and the blog written.

I do hope that you enjoyed this trek as much as I did.  It felt like old times with the camera once again and I didn’t have to force the creativity at all.  It was nice to get some of these locations captured that I had been waiting for.  Sometimes patience pays off, and I’m glad that I do things the way that I do.  I feel honorable about my photography and it is paying off here recently.  I’ve made a great contact with a wonderful barn that I have now shot and have been invited back as often as I like.  I’ve finally made contact with the folks involved with the multitude of old cars and trucks which promises to be another source of images in the future, not to mention quite a number of them from this trek.

Most of all, I am happy to be getting my creative drive back.  I was getting worried about that with a workshop coming up this weekend.  I need to be positive and be able to be a creative voice during the day.  I’ve also got a One-on-One session the following week at Linville Falls which I want to be ready for.  I am professional enough to work through these events even when I am not feeling my best behind the camera, but I’m sure that it is much better for all involved if I’m full of energy while doing the instruction.

Remember, if you see any photographs in the blog, or galleries here which speak to your heart.  Please let me know so I can help get you matched up with a print of your choosing.  You are also welcome to order the basic stock sizes through the gallery store if you prefer.  I’ve been doing a lot of prints here recently and I have to say that the quality of the print has improved noticeably with the higher resolution camera.  I’m constantly in awe with the quality that I am seeing as they are coming out.

Until next time….
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