Thursday, November 12, 2020
It seems that here lately I am really getting back into my rural subjects which I have be neglecting for a while now. With the lush vegetation of Summer and the colors of Fall gone, I am left with a lot more time to focus on touring Wilkes County. The last few treks have been geared towards just that and I have really been having a lot of fun getting to know the area a little more. A couple of weeks ago, I went around the area with our neighbor and friend who showed me a lot of the history in Wilkes County. That tour resulted in a study of a drive-in which was reduced to a couple of rusty canopies, as well as what is quickly becoming one of my most successful images of the Forrester Nuway Service Station as well as several other images that I have really enjoyed. Since that time, there was another stop on the historic tour that took me up to a nondescript church along Old 16. While the church itself was kind of plain to look at there was an inherent interest in it since the Reddies River Primitive Baptist Church was established in 1798. To add to that interest, many of my neighbor’s ancestors have been laid to rest here.
As he walked me around the grounds I found myself very interested with the surroundings of the church. The grave markers were fascinating and the trees were stunning subjects all to themselves. I started to come up with different scenarios that I could work this church in. I was going to need something going on in the sky to make it work, but because the church was so plain I needed to be careful and not create too much interest in the sky which might overshadow the church itself. Lighting was also going to be key as I didn’t want a lot of shadows and highlights to deal with. I was thinking a cloudy day would be good, but not my typical clouds. My thought was just some subtle textures in the clouds as opposed to my dramatic skies that normally find their way in front of my camera. A generally overcast day with some low clouds might just work for a subtle black and white image here.
Since we are currently seeing our weather patterns from the latest tropical disturbance named ZZ Top or something like that, we have had rain for the past couple of days and some interesting skies. I’ve been kind of tied up with delivering prints here locally in Wilkes County so I haven’t been able to get out and do much in the way of photography during this time. I had another print to deliver today, but I was able to get it out early in the morning which put me out at a time when the rain was supposed to be stalled out with some slight clearing in the sky. I wasn’t sure if that would work for the church photos that I was hoping to get, but I grabbed my camera just in case.
When I left the house headed to downtown N Wilkesboro, I noticed that the rain had stopped and the sky was looking pretty much like I envisioned it behind the church. I started to get my plan in place for the compositions I was going to work with while headed out to my client’s. I stayed there for a brief time and discussed future projects and then I was off to visit the church for the second time. It wasn’t but 15 minutes away or something like that so it really didn’t take long at all to arrive.
When I got there, I drove down the gravel road that served as the parking lot for the church and took in the scenery. The last time that I was here I was more interested in the history of the grounds than the compositions, but this time I was here for a single purpose. I wanted to capture the essence of the place and that meant I needed to really concentrate on how the elements all came together. Before I even parked though, I was a little dissuaded by the overall look. The church was just as plain as I had remembered and there wasn’t a lot of context to it. There was a large sign hanging on the fence to the left that I didn’t really care for when it came to what I wanted to include in my photographs The trees were still nice, but I was having a hard time getting them to correspond with the structure for a composition. The sky was also very bland, but it was what I had envisioned. I wasn’t sure if this was going to work or not, but since I was here and rain had stopped I wanted to give it a try. If nothing else, I would get some valuable insight about the compositions here for another visit down the road.
I grabbed my bag and the tripod before I started to work my way around the building. I could tell early on that some of my compositions were not going to work at all because I hadn’t fully taken in the different details of the scene. I worked my way around the front of the building and really didn’t care much for what I saw there either. In fact, I was starting to think that this was going to be a lost cause and I had completely misread the scene and what conditions I needed to shoot it in. I did continue around the side where there were several rows of markers. This was another part of the story that I wanted to capture so I paid particular attention to the grave stones as I moved along. There was one that really caught my eye which was a cross with some really intricate designs carved into the face. I started to look a bit closer and realized that there was a good chance that I could use that stone to block out the sign on the fence while also providing a great foreground anchor for the eyes to enter the image on.
Looking at the scene, I knew that I was going to emphasize the markers so that meant that I was going to need a wide angle focal length. Usually, I would fit my 24-70mm lens, but for this occasion I decided that my 16-35mm would give me much greater flexibility. I was doubting that I was going to need much in the way of filters since the lighting was very even and I didn’t want the effect of a polarizer for this image. I figured out my rough location and mounted the camera to the Acratech Ballhead before fine tuning the composition. I moved things inches at a time until I had the sign just covered while allowing just a bit of separation between the church and the stone. I had the edges defined by two tall trees which helped establish the overall crop of the image. By this point I was able to see that the sky was a little too bright and since I wanted to be able to pull as much detail as possible out of it, I was going to need to bring that exposure down a bit. I decided to go with a Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 3-stop soft edge ND Grad which was placed in such a way as to gradually reduce the light as the eyes traveled up through the image.
I now had the composition set and the exposure was looking very good overall with the addition of the filter. It was now time to start making exposures, so with the remote release in my hand I went to work. The images were looking good and I took the opportunity after reviewing each of them to make subtle adjustments to the composition so that I was sure to get the best one possible. The one that I ended up keeping was one of the last with the camera elevated quite a bit above my eye level. I liked the separation that the altitude provided between the different stones and I found a way to get them to have separation between them as well by adjusting the focal length and my proximity to the stone cross. Everything just lined up so well in this version of the composition that it was a natural to choose as the keeper. I did stick with my concept of making this a black and white image and I think presentation suits this scene so well. Color really wasn’t that important to the scene, but in order to sell the sky, I needed to lose the color in favor of showcasing the tones from light to dark. In the end, this image comes very close to my basic concept for this location. It wasn’t exact, but I think it captured the essence of what I was trying to convey here.
Having got the first composition in the bag, I was feeling a little better about the location and started to look for another composition. The next one that I was going to try was one that I had though about when we were driving away from the church during the tour. It was a simple composition from the front of the church. This is not really one of my favorite angles on buildings because there is just so little chance to show depth when you photograph something straight on. I had looked at this composition as I was walking around to where I had just been to capture the headstone images and had dismissed it quickly because there was just not enough visual tension from the front. Now that I had a successful composition in the bag, I was feeling a little more willing to try some things now. I came back to the front of the church and looked at things again. There was a very tall tree just to the left of the church that I was going to have to include in the composition because it overlapped the front of the building. I still had a large sign to deal with that I didn’t want in the composition. There was nothing on the church to identify it as a church like a steeple or a cross, so I was having a hard time with the story end of things with this angle. The sky was also very faint in this direction, but that was actually fine with me since the front of the church was pretty nondescript. One final element that I had to deal with was the road that went in front of the church. I had to decide if I was going to include it, or leave it out of the composition.
As I looked at this scene I decided that the church wasn’t quite strong enough of an element to carry the image, much like the previous composition that I had shot. It was a good supporting member to a photograph though which meant that I needed a primary element to really grab the attention. The logical choice was the tree to the left. It was a large one with most of the leaves fallen. The ones that were left were a rusty brownish red color that picked up some of the warm tones in the scene. It was very tall and if I was going to treat this as a primary element, I was going to need to include the entire tree from trunk to tip. That dictated a vertical orientation with the camera, so I flipped it on its RRS L Plate so that I had a nice vertical starting point for the composition. There was no reason to switch lenses here as I was needing the wider end of the spectrum so I left it all in place along with the Grad filter which I knew would come in well here as it had before.
I worked on finding the right location to set up at. It seemed that my first inclination of shooting from the road to avoid it in the composition wasn’t going to work. When I was that close, the perspective distortion was just too much to deal with. I decided to move away from the church into the field to see what that looked like. I was able to smooth out the distortion while still keeping a bit of depth in the image with the wider angle. I could have gone even further back and gone with a telephoto shot, but that would have overly compressed the scene which was already compressing enough on its own. I liked the compromise from this location but it meant that I was going to have to include the road. It actually helped to establish a bit more to the depth which made me happy.
The last thing that I had to deal with was the sign on the fence. That turned out to be much easier than I had anticipated. The tree naturally blocked it from this position and it became a non-issue. To keep this composition visibly exciting, I tried to focus on the different triangles in the scene. There were lots of them to be found like the roof and the corners of the eves. There were even implied triangles based on the different elements in the scene and their relationships between one another. It was a reach for the composition, but I had to try something because I was liking this concept. I framed the image so that the tree was totally included which I felt was very important. I kept that tree along the left third of the frame while the church came to rest in the lower right third of the frame. The upper right third was filled with the subtle texture of the sky which provided the color balance to the warmth of the tree. It is this color balance that cemented this image as a color one. As with the first composition that I shot, this was also one of the last frames that I shot which had the best sky of them all. The grad filter did an excellent job at providing a gradual darkening of the sky which was just what I wanted.
While I was shooting the last composition I couldn’t help but wonder just how visible the stone was in front of the church. I knew that the resolution of the 5DS R would pick it up, but I was worried that the relative size of the stone would get lost in the mix. Normally I wouldn’t have cared, but after hearing the background of this church and the importance to the community centuries ago I felt compelled to really draw attention to that marker which was right next to the door. With that in mind I got in closer to see just what I could do with the stone.
I could have very easily pulled out my telephoto lens and shot an isolation of the stone. However, against the church there wasn’t much of a story for the stone that way. It would be your typical limited depth of field isolation that you always see which showcases the bokeh of a lens. I needed to do something different here and I needed context to the stone. I decided that the only other element that I could include would be the door and the stairs which were just to the left. For that, I could use any number of lenses, but since I still had the wide angle lens on, that was what I chose to start with. My thought was that I would be able to get a bit of depth to the scene with the stairs if I used the wide angle lens. I was right and when I started framing up the scene I found that the closer I got the better I liked it. Of course, I wasn’t going to need any filters here since I was omitting the sky completely. It was a very simple image and I only shot two variations on the composition with slightly different focal lengths.
When I was shooting it, I was looking at the fact that the wall was white, the stone was gray and white, and the only bit of color was the grass and a bit of warm tones in the brick foundation. I figured that this was going to be a black and white picture all day long. Boy was I wrong! When I got it home, I didn’t even consider doing it as a monochrome image. I wanted that splash of warmth in the lower third as well as the grass to balance out the neutral tones of the building. I didn’t want much color here, and I knew just how to make this work out. I have a color profile in Lightroom that I love to use in these situations that really mutes the colors while leaving them a part of the image. It worked very well and I really liked the effect. It wasn’t color and it wasn’t black and white. It was just a subtle play on the colors to set the mood just so with the image.
As I mentioned, I didn’t stay here long and I moved on to other compositions. I was now working on the opposite side of the church from where I started. There was a group of headstones that had some very colorful flowers decorating them that I wanted to capture. I started out with the 16-35mm lens but that just overly exaggerated the size of the stones and included too much background. I decided to step down to my 24-70mm lens to get a bit of a narrower field of view. I kept the 3-stop grad on as that was working great for the sky. Things were looking really good in the camera and I tried several different compositions playing on the first concept that I had done. I was more excited about these than the first images that I shot, but when I got home they just didn’t work on any level. They all appeared more like snapshots and that just wasn’t what I wanted to present about this place. Those images ended up on the cutting room floor sadly, but I wasn’t done yet.
As I was shooting the last series of images that ended up not making the cut it had started to rain again. It wasn’t a hard rain, but it was enough that the filters were getting drips on them and needing to be wiped off occasionally. I was thinking that it was time to pack it up and head home, but while walking back to the far side of the church, I saw one of the trees by the road that had caught my attention the first time I was here. It was once again speaking to me with a rather uniform sky behind it. It wasn’t fog, but the same type of mood was present around this tree now and with the light mist falling it seemed like a very perfect time to try to get an image. I still had the standard lens on and I didn’t see a real reason to switch it out as the tree wasn’t terribly large. I started to figure out just how close I needed to get for the perspective that I was after. I wasn’t really liking what I was seeing from 50-35mm so I decided to set the lens to 24mm and walk up to it until I had the frame filled with the tree. That did the trick and the composition fell into place perfectly. I was glad that I hadn’t swapped lenses as there would be a desire to go wider and that would have included too much extraneous information on either side of the tree. 24mm was just perfect for what I wanted to capture with this tree. I got the camera positioned and the composition fine tuned before firing off a frame to check the exposure.
The exposure was just a tad hot, so I backed off 1/3 of a stop on the shutter and wiped the lens to clear the water drops. Just as I finished wiping, I gave it about two seconds and fired the shutter before the rain collected on the lens again. The exposure was right and the composition was perfect. I repeated the procedure just in case there had been any breeze to disturb any of the leaves that remained on the tree. That was all I needed here and I was happy with the outcome of the tree. I was pretty sure that Toni would like this since she is my resident tree expert and aficionado. I was pleased that she did like the tree and that was all I needed to include that off the cuff capture in this blog entry as well as my gallery of Lone Trees.
With the rain falling steadily now, I decided it was time to load the camera back into the truck and move back down to my secondary area of operations for the day. I hadn’t been sure if the church was going to work out or not so I had planned on an alternate location in the event that it didn’t work, or I had time to do more. Boone Trail was to the South of my current location and that was showing to be outside of the rain which was good enough for me to want to give it a try.
When Toni and I first moved out here, I spent several mornings along Boone Trail capturing some great rural scenes, but that was back in the Summer when it was hard to see though the trees to spot subjects. Now that the trees were emptying, we have been seeing a lot more potential along that road and I was looking forward to spending some more time out there in search of some images. I took the long way back to that location hoping to find some more targets of opportunity along the way. There were a few scenes that caught my eye, but the sky just wasn’t doing me any favors anymore. It was find for the church, but in general, I much prefer a more dramatic sky. As I drove down Boone Trail the scenes that had caught my eye after the leaves had fallen weren’t speaking to me today for some reason. One after another I dismissed and just kept on driving.
It wasn’t until I got to a quaint little cabin down a small embankment that I decided to stop. I had seen this cabin since the first time I drove down this road but it really hadn’t jumped out at me. even during the Fall, there wasn’t anything special about it. For some reason today, in this light the cabin was asking to be photographed. I wasn’t sure exactly why that was, but I have learned over the years not to argue with myself when that voice in my head speaks up. That was why I pulled off the road.
I had no idea who owed this land and the cabin was a good ways off the road. Unless I had permission from the owner, I didn’t want to get in too close so my options were simple. I could use a telephoto lens, or I could try to find the owner really quick. Since I didn’t need to get the sky in the frame, and all of the points of interest for me were close in together I opted for the long lens approach. I fitted my 70-200mm lens along with a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to combat the glare on the roof. I mounted it all to my tripod and ballhead before finding the right angle to work with. What I determined was that the best angle happened to be right where the power pole was located. Further to the right and fallen tree in the background would be covered by the flag and a hanging bottle would be visible in the frame. Any further to the left and the pole for the porch would cut through the chair on the porch. These were minor details, but they were important to me. I looked at my options and figured that the best thing to do was to extend the easement of the road where I was standing to the utility easement and set up just on the other side of the power pole. That did the trick and allowed me to get the angle that I needed.
The only thing that was left was fine tuning the composition and then waiting for the wind to die down allowing for the flag to be captured as still as possible. I decided on a composition that included the well as the framing element to the left which seemed to complete the story of this cabin and give a bit of balance to the main subject. Sticking with my love for triangles in a composition I used a bare tree that appeared to be a very light shade of gray to establish the top of the frame as well as the top of the triangle. The angle of the tree also seemed to point to the cabin which helped pull the eyes right where I wanted them to be.
Considering that I have passed this cabin many times in the last four months, I am really surprised that I have never stopped to photograph it before. It is just so quaint, but I guess I was waiting for the right combination of lighting, and textures in the background. I think that the bare trees do more for this image than the colors of Autumn, and much more than the green of Summer. The American Flag has remained out front since the first time I have seen this scene and that element is really speaking to me right now for many different reasons. It just all came together for me and I’m glad that I chose to drive down this road. This wasn’t the image that I intended to get, but I am so very pleased with how it turned out. I think that it is one of my favorites from the day’s images, but I don’t think that it is the most powerful one.
I really hope that you have enjoyed the ride with me as I get back into my love for the rural scenes. I just really love the stories here and I enjoy the opportunity to share them with you. As always, if you see an image here that speaks to you on that personal level, please let me know so we can work towards getting you matched up with your very own print. There is just nothing quite like holding one of these images in your hands and seeing it mounted on your wall. It is the best way to enjoy photography I believe and I love seeing my prints being born.
As of right now, my Fall Waterfall Workshop at Hanging Rock is still on for December 5th and there are still slots available so now is the time to get signed up for that always popular workshop. It will be a full day covering as many as seven waterfalls. If you have wanted to figure out how to photograph waterfalls, or want to hone your skills at them, this is a great opportunity to learn. I hope to see you there!
Until next time…