Friday, May 24, 2019
When it comes to the weather in North Carolina it can be feast or famine. For the longest time it seemed, I had my choice of cloudy days in the different areas of the state. In fact, I was actually wanting to get a little sunlight through the clouds at times. For the past week, there has been pretty much nothing but sunny days…at least on days that I could do anything with the camera. Looking at my time off from work, I was rather disheartened to see that the sun was going to prevail for pretty much every day that I was planning on being off from work. While most normal people would consider this a great thing, especially on a holiday weekend, for a photographer it wasn’t all that great. Checking the cloud forecast, it looked like my best chance was going to be Friday morning up until about lunch time. That would give me a few hours after getting Sierra to school to go somewhere local. Toni was even willing to go with me as long as I stayed local which was a great incentive. I had a couple of places in mind that would work. The most likely was another trip to Old Salem since I had so much fun there last time I went.
We were all set to head out there after dropping Sierra at school. But…as the evening drew to a close, I was watching the weather and started to see that the clouds were thinning in the forecast. Now the clouds would only by around until about 9am or so, which would give us no time to work the area if we went after dropping Sierra off. I looked around at other places that I like to shoot and the story was pretty much the same. No more clouds were to be had. I went to sleep asking Toni to wake me up when she left to go to the gym so I could check the weather and see what I would be able to do.
When morning came, Toni woke me up around 5am or something silly like that. I remember looking at the weather and determining that the clouds were really not going to be around long enough to make it worth my while. Looking ahead, there really wasn’t going to be a better chance before I went back to work. I was left considering my options. If I went out to Old Salem, I would need to get there shortly after sunrise and would probably be done by 9am. There was no way that Toni could join me with that kind of time constraint, but on the plus side, I would be home about the same time she got back from dropping Sierra off. While the bed was comfortable, I know the mantra of a landscape photographer all too well. You have to be there to get the picture. I was guaranteed to have no pictures to show for the day if I stayed in bed. If I went out, I might only get one picture, but I was sure to get something at Old Salem. I know it to be very forgiving on sunny days. I gritted my teeth and got out of bed.
I got to Old Salem around 6:30 or so which was just the right time. Things were starting to light up, but the color temperature was still quite warm which was what I was after. I grabbed my gear from the truck and started off on a reverse track from my normal route through the town. This time, I went out to the side near the cemetery first because I wanted to spend some time at the garden before the light got harsh. I also wanted to shoot some of the stonework behind the Single Brother’s House which has always fascinated me.
When I arrived at my destination, I found a section on the back side of the building that I really liked. I looked at the composition that I wanted and decided that my versatile Canon 24-70mm lens would be the best choice for the composition mounted to my Canon 5D Mk3. Of course, in order to boost the colors and add a little contrast to the scene while taking the reflections out of the glass, I added my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer on my Lee Filters Foundation Kit. This turned out to be the ticket for the rest of the images that I shot during the day. As you look through this blog entry, you will see just how versatile this setup is when dealing with wide angle and telephoto focal distances. This is probably my favorite walk around setup for my camera and a very large portion of my images are shot with this very combination.
For the stone wall, I really wanted to get the wall that was built on the embankment to show some depth. I had not done this shot in this way before, but it allowed me to really include the stone walkway as well. There was just so much texture in the frame as well as contrast and shapes. The thought came to mind to do this as a monochrome image, but there was just enough color and in the right amounts to really make this a good color image. The trick was my reflection in the window. I took special care to position the Manfrotto tripod just to the right side of the window so that there was no reflection of me. It only took three attempts to get one that I was pretty sure would work out just the way I wanted. The composition required a little bit of work to achieve the balance that I was after.
I wasn’t finished with this green door, and I knew that there was a composition that I had tried the last time, but found that it didn’t work with the tree not quite full of leaves. I moved down the hill to the stone wall that I had shot previously I knew of a composition that should be ready now with the tree framing the door above the wall. I moved into position and got things set up. I used the outer edge of the wall as a foreground interest. The really interesting part of the wall, was positioned just off center where it would introduce the door which was right in the middle of the leaves as I had hoped it would be. This is one of the advantages of shooting a wide angle focal length. I was able to get everything in this image sharp at f/20 by focusing about 1/3 of the way into the image. There was no focus stacking going on here. This image has a lot more depth and visual interest than my last attempt at this wall, but I have to say, I’m not sure I like this one any better than the intimate capture I did before.
At this point, the sun was starting to move well into the sky. Highlights were starting to develop, so I began to look for something else that I could shoot where I might be able to take advantage of the light. I didn’t have to walk far until I found a barn with a white fence running to the back side. It was situated between other buildings that really didn’t help tell the story, but I saw a lot of potential in this barn. The weathered wood and the slightly green tint to the white fence gave it an authentically weathered look. I was able to find a location to shoot from that avoided the clutter that I didn’t want to include. The only problem was that the exposure latitude was just a bit too excessive for me to be able to capture in one image.
The answer to my problem wasn’t going to be a filter unfortunately as this is exactly what my ND Grads are made for. They just don’t work well when I don’t really have a horizon to work with. I had a tree in the upper left and then the peak of the roof which would look funny behind an ND Grad. My only option was to shoot a bracketed shot and then merge them later in Lightroom. I ended up shooting 4 images at a full stop apart. That gave me the exposure latitude to be able to capture the blue of the sky and the textures of the barn in the shadows. Fortunately, it wasn’t windy which would have caused some movement and ghosting in the trees. The process went rather easy and quick, so I really can’t complain. It is all about using what tools you have that are right for the job at hand.
As I continued on through town, I came upon one of the administrative offices near Salem College. I have never photographed this building before and it really wasn’t all that interesting. however, it did have a few element that really caught my eye. These were steps positioned really close to the windows on the building. This was actually what I was looking for the last time I was here when I was wanting to shoot monochrome images. My idea was to capture some very minimalist images that concentrated on shape and contrast. The steps were important because they gave the image some nice geometrical qualities, and then the window gave anchors for the composition. The textures came from all the different surfaces.
I started to get everything set up for the shot which actually turned out to not be that easy. I had an idea of how this would look in my mind, but getting everything to line up was another story. I didn’t shoot many versions of these compositions because I didn’t like most of the compositions that I was seeing develop. I kept fine tuning it until I finally found that one that made me say “that’s it!” Then I would release the shutter. The two images with this formula were actually shot about 10 feet away from each other on the same side of the building. When it comes to character of the buildings at Old Salem, you can see how there is a lot to choose from.
The second of the two images was one that I really fought with as it was not an easy composition to create. I ended up masking the LCD as a 1:1 crop to try it that way. That seemed to work out nicely for me. It allowed me to avoid the clutter of the landing at the top left of the frame, and cropped in a bit tighter on the right side so that I didn’t have a sea of bricks to mess with the balance of the image. Something that I was worried about was the stain on the curtain and I really didn’t know how that would turn out in the final image. I was planning on doing it as a monochrome, so it would more than likely look like a design on the curtain. At least that was my hope. When I got done with it, I still wasn’t sure about it as far as being a successful image. This was where Toni came in. You know she is the resident expert on what looks good in black and white. If I ever have a question, I put the ball in her court. When she told me that she liked that one better than my simple image that I started with, I was confident that I should leave it in my keepers. If history repeats itself, this will go on to be an early success on social media.
Having captured what I was confident would be the best images of the stairs and windows, I moved on down the street in search of something else to shoo. I ended up by the town square and have always found all kinds of things to photograph here. I tried a couple of different compositions that I wasn’t exactly sure would work. They didn’t. But I did find the side light on the pink building to be rather interesting with the textures. I started to frame up a composition with this and found one that I thought worked quite well. I just wasn’t sure how the overall pink color would look in the final image. The shutters were even a darker version of the pink on the walls so there was really no color contrast at all. When I got it home, I immediately cropped it to the 1:1 square because it just seemed to really need that ratio to be a successful image. I got it all processed in color and held onto it for a bit. When i was looking back through my keepers, I just really didn’t like how the colors were looking. Toni agreed with me. However, before I trashed it, I thought I would try and quick conversion to monochrome in order to take advantage of the contrast that there was. It would also take the emphasis off of the warm tones in the image. After I played with it a bit, Toni came in and gave it her seal of approval. Hey, we are a team when it comes to these things!
The sun was starting to get a little high in the sky and I was starting to head back to the truck. One place that I was really wanting to go was the Salem Tavern and try to work with the woodshed. I made my way there before throwing in the towel. I walked around slowly and found that the woodshed lacked any real interest for me in this light and conditions. I tried a lot of different angles but just couldn’t get anything to really excite me. I never even turned the camera on for this one. I went back out to the main road and started walking down the sidewalk. I happened to see a barrel sitting beside the stairs that caught my imagination. As I got closer, I could see that there was an alcove with three more barrels inside. Then I saw that there was a pile of wood running alongside the steps. This was something that I had to photograph!
This was an interesting scene when I started to work out a composition. The stairs went up both sides, and there was a tall arch which made it necessary to include the stairs. There was an iron railing which did nothing for the scene, and then at the top of the stairs was the entrance to the tavern which I didn’t want to include as it would change the whole focus of the composition. I started out close and tried compositions straight on as well as off to the left. The right side was awkward and didn’t have a good balance, so I stayed focused on the left side of the barrels. In order to get a nice and simple composition, I went back to the 1:1 crop which seemed to work really well for this scene. I pictured it in monochrome and almost envisioned a pirate feel to the image. I shifted the camera inches in all directions to get the composition just right. Fortunately, the front of the tavern was in the shade, so I had plenty of time to work this one out. When I get a scene like this that I know I am going to like, I tend to really spend a lot of time with the composition. I probably spent more time with this scene than any of the others I had shot.
While I liked the square crop, there was something that I was starting to see as I moved around. The wood pile on the left really mirrored the slope of the steps. Plus, I was really liking the coloration on the surface of the wall. I wanted to get a horizontal shot to showcase this, but everything that I was trying was getting too much extraneous information in the image. I knew I needed to narrow my focal length and compress the image a tad. In order to do that, I had to put some distance between me and the scene. I backed up into the middle of the road which fortunately hadn’t seen a car since I started working this scene. This was the trick! I had the angles that I wanted now and the elements all worked together in perfect harmony. For this one, I had to do it as a color image to capitalize on the patina I was seeing. As I was finishing up the processing of the RAW file, I came to realize that this one is probably my favorite from the day. It is another one of those images that I have had in my mind for some time now, and I finally have it in my collection.
With the barrels in the bag, or the shot in the barrel, depending on how you want to look at it, I moved on the sidewalk. This was another image that I had been considering for some time. The brick sidewalks at Old Salem are quite interesting to look at. Every time I go for a walk out there, I am looking at them. This is partly because they are old and the roots of the trees have caused the bricks to lift in many places and I’ve tripped a few times over the years. The main reason is I have always looked for a combination of colors and textures that would make an interesting picture. As the sun was getting higher I decided I would put my idea to the test.
I found a section of the sidewalk not far from the Tavern that I figured might work for a photograph. I already knew that I was going to take it straight on to the bricks with no perspective or anything like that. In order to do that I knew that I was going to use the notch in my Acratech GP-S Ballhead which used to be used for vertical shooting. It allowed the camera to rotate down 90 degrees so that I cold get the angle that I was after. It was so much easier than manipulating the center column on the tripod which would have been my other option for getting the camera into position. This worked out well and allowed me to get several different compositions of the bricks that I felt might just work out. When I got home, I found that the one that had the big drift of sand over one of the bricks was the best of the bunch because of that visual anchor that the sand created. The repeating shapes and geometrical lines completed the image and resulted in another shot that I have been after for some time now. I’m not sure how it will be received, but I like it as a study in texture and geometry.
With that done, I had 46 images on my memory card which actually seemed like a lot less than I was expecting. I don’t usually come away from an outing with less than 100 images these days. I wasn’t worried though as I knew I had limited time to shoot before the sun became too harsh. I was also only looking for a few new images so the four or five that I was looking to get from the morning was pretty good actually. You can imagine my surprise when I ended up with NINE images in my file of keepers for the day. I trashed some others that were decent, but looked more like snapshots than anything else. I went out with the intention of creating something different and something that would stand out. Snapshots were just not something that I wanted from this trip.
It was a really good morning. I spent just at two hours at Old Salem and managed to get home just after Toni did. We had a great day together and after my mind had cleared from the morning, I started working on the images. This worked out really well, because by the time I opened the computer, I had forgotten what I had shot. This gave me a fresh eye to look at them without remembering the emotion I felt when shooting them. If they didn’t resonate now, they got tossed aside. I’m looking forward to being able to take a bit more time with my processing in the future. For now, I do have to fit it in pretty quickly after my treks.
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