Rural Virginia

· Reading Time: 16 minutes

Saturday, July 21, 2018

As you might recall, last week I found myself in Virginia after a quick planned shoot in Sparta, NC.  I have to admit, I really enjoyed my time there and was wanting to go back and do some more exploring.  As luck would have it, I actually had the time to go out and do some of that exploring this morning.  It was kind of a complex decision, and one that really started out backfiring on me.  So, here is now this all went down.

My week had been pretty much taken up with planning for my webinar with Singh-Ray which dealt with my Wabi-sabi style of photography.  That meant that for pretty much the whole week, I was working on my presentation and reviewing lots of images from my rural explorations.  I had some mixed feelings about this.  On one hand I was getting tired of seeing rust, but on the other hand, I was really studying my style and was really in tune with how my images were looking.

On Friday, at 9:15pm, my webinar was over and I closed out of the presentation program with a complete sigh of relief.  I was now able to focus on where I wanted to go on Saturday, and it was the first time I had given it any thought at all.  I looked at the weather and saw that sunrise wasn’t going to look all that great here or in the mountains.  There were chances of storms and rain through the early morning hours, and then sporadic clouds for most of the morning.  The clouds would increase throughout the day.

I was wanting to do some more waterfall work, but the lack of clouds in the morning would have been problematic.  With the intermittent cloud cover, I thought that my best option would be to do either some landscape work in the mountains, or some barn photography.  I wasn’t really up to doing landscapes after a week of looking at specific subjects, so I figured that I would do some rural explorations.  I might as well go to Virginia, and if I was going there, I might as well reshoot a scene from several years ago off of Hwy 52 in Cana, VA.

Just in case, I set my clock for 3:30am so that I could actually get up and to the mountains if the sunrise would be worth it.  It was after 10 when I went to bed, so when the alarm rang at ungodly thirty, I was not overly happy.  I looked at the weather, and the sunrise forecast was still looking rather dismal.  The clouds were absent here at the house, but showed to be partly cloudy in the mountains.  That was a far cry from rain and storms, but I was too sleepy to really care.  I decided to forgo sunrise, and get another hour of sleep before getting up.

When I finally did get up, I figured I would go on to Cana since the forecast was still showing patchy clouds for most of the morning hours.  When I left the house, it was pretty clear in Winston, so I figured that the forecast was pretty accurate.  I left about 5:45 and as I was traveling down the highway, I could see something that I did not expect in my rear view mirror.  There was actually some pretty good color in the sky to the East.  I didn’t have any time to take action on that sky, so I just enjoyed it in my mirror for a bit.  I guess my sunrise forecasting app missed this one.  It wasn’t a brilliant sunrise by any stretch, but it was enough that I could have put a barn I know under that sky to pretty good effect.  Oh well, I was off to Virginia with high hopes of some great photographs

Well, the further North I traveled, the more clouds I started to see.  This was no problem and it was actually welcomed since there was really good definition in them from what I could see.  However, as I climbed altitude I got closer and closer to the clouds and ultimately found myself driving through them.  I don’t mind working with fog so I was still happy with the turn of events.

When I got to Cana, I took one more kick to my stomach though.  The cars that I was there to shoot had been moved around a little bit, and the trees had overgrown most of them.  The shots that I was wanting to do were no longer possible.  With the flog, and now drizzle, I decided it wasn’t worth going through the overgrown field to get close to the cars which were most obscured by the trees.  Oh well, I was out here to explore, and that was what I was going to do.

Mountain Mist

I worked my way North and then West.  I found myself crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway, but I only knew it by the GPS in the dash.  I had absolutely no visibility, and I knew that the Parkway would be just as bad.  I needed to loose altitude if I was going to have a chance of finding something to shoot this morning.  I made my way towards Galax, VA on some road that was paved and had yellow lines (that was about all I knew).  I would pass barns that were moderately interesting, but in the current conditions they were not worth me pulling over.  I was starting to get rather discouraged at my progress at this point.  I remember thinking to myself I should have brought my tall boots and just done waterfalls.  The weather was perfect for that, but I was woefully unprepared for standing in the water.

Just as I was starting to panic a little that I wasn’t going to find anything, I passed by a red barn sitting at the base of a hill.  The barn was really pretty, and the hill had a lot of character.  The sky was really less than ideal though.  But…it was something and the red of the barn would pull the attention away from the sky pretty well.  I got turned around and pulled off of the road on the gravel shoulder.   I pulled the camera out and set it up with my 24-70mm lens and a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer.  The property was gated, so I wasn’t able to get in close, but the barn was relatively close to the road, so that wasn’t a huge deal.  It just limited my compositional choices.

I framed the barn several different ways both including the sky and excluding it.  I didn’t have much hope for the shots with the sky in it, but the histogram was showing that nothing was blowing out at least.  I was really figuring that my money shot here was going to be the barn isolated on the hillside, omitting the sky entirely.  I was happy to find out when I was gong through the images that I was able to pull in some detail in the sky which worked with the composition.  I was really fortunate since when I was shooting these, I was seriously thinking that they would all be trashed when I got home.  That was not a fun thought since it was looking like this was going to be my only subject for the day.  The rain was increasing at this point.

Pasture Patina

I was here, and I had the whole day to ride around.  I might as well make the best use of it.  I continued to drive around for the next two hours touring small towns, long country roads, and getting chased by dogs.  It was starting to remind me of my cycling days, and I was getting pretty bored driving around.  I started to explore those narrow, winding roads that may or may not lead somewhere.  I found a bunch of barns that I would have liked to worked with, but there was nowhere to pull off of the road, and if I had, there is a good chance I would have caused a traffic issue in the event somebody else wanted to come down the road.  Just as I was about to give up, I happened to see a truck surrounded by weeds well behind a house somewhere near Independence, VA.  At this point I was getting desperate for something worthwhile to shoot.

Looking at how the property was, there was no way to shoot this from the road, so I was going to have to get permission from the owner to go and play the truck.  I pulled onto the long driveway passed the barn, and finally up to the house.  I got out of the 4Runner and approached the house.  The windows were open, and there was a car to the side of the house which indicated I might get lucky and find somebody there.  I knocked and rang the bell…and waited.  I heard nothing on the inside of the house and backed away from the door to give myself a view around the side of the house.

As if planned, as I was backing up, I saw a gentleman approaching with a concerned look on his face.  I explained why I was there, and what I wanted to do.  He looked less concerned at this point and more confused.  He wasn’t really sure why I would want to take a picture of an old rusting truck, but he seemed to believe my intentions were legitimate.  He said that I was free to help myself and I couldn’t hurt anything.  That worked for me!

I got the camera out and decided since there was a little clutter around the truck on one side I would fit my 70-200mm lens to better isolate the truck.  It also served the purpose of cropping out the sky which was pretty boring at this point.  I set up a few compositions and grabbed a few shots before the property owner started to walk up the hill towards me.

We actually chatted a few minute about the truck, and I found out that it was originally a Nebraska truck and his son had bought it with the intentions of restoring it.  However, he has quite a few projects and it has been left to sit there.  It is for sale, and if anyone is interested, I do have contact information.

After we talked I noticed that the sky had changed significantly.  There was detail in the clouds now, and that was a very good thing.  I swapped out lenses for my 24-70mm, and moved the Color Combo Polarizer from the long lens over to this lens.  Now the compositions were coming much easier.

Bowtie Break

Something that I hadn’t seen from the road was another Chevy truck parked behind the first one I saw.  This was a flatbed, and while it didn’t have a lot of rust, it still showed a great deal of weathering in the finish, and I thought that it would make for a pretty good shot as well.  The clouds were really nice behind it, so I was able to get in close and go wide to get a good portion of the sky behind the truck.  While I wasn’t wild about the color of the truck, it seemed to work very well with the greens and subtle blues in the clouds.  It wasn’t my normal patina, but the final execution was something that I was pretty happy with.  I didn’t work much with this truck since the color wasn’t the best.  I only shot a handful of exposures and a couple of different compositions before moving back over to the other truck.

Rural Revelry

There was a barn situated off to the side of the scene that interested me.  I really wanted to get that barn in a composition, but wasn’t really sure how to go about doing it.  There were a lot of vehicles around the base of the barn, and most of them really didn’t fit with the story that I was trying to tell.  The one Chevy was in a decent place to tie in with the barn, but I had to be really careful with the composition because I was using the cab of the Chevy to obscure a Geo Tracker, and a newer Ford Pickup.  There was also a red Firebird in the field of view.  I was able to block them all with the cab of the truck and still have the barn make sense in the composition.  When I got home and started to edit this one, I wasn’t really liking how the color image was working out, so I decided to see how it looked without the color.  When I made the conversion, I could see a great deal of potential and adjusted the tonal relationships until I came upon this image.  I wasn’t positive I liked it, so I asked Toni what she thought.  She liked it, and since she is the monochrome expert between us, I went with her opinion.

After this part of the shoot was over, I decided that I had done pretty much all that I could do with this truck.  I had tried to work some isolations out, but with the weeds in the way, I didn’t like how they were looking.  I didn’t want to wear out my welcome either, so I opted to load things back up in the truck and continue on my explorations.  At least I was feeling a little better about how the trek was going at this point.  I was pretty sure that I had something usable from this set of pictures.

Mountainside Silo

My happiness started to fade over the next two hours of driving around.  I think by this time, I was in the area of Mouth of Wilson, VA.  The sky was starting to clear which was what it was supposed to have done many hours before.  It was now getting close to noon and with the clouds breaking up, the lighting  was getting less and less flattering on the landscape.  I had pretty much given up at this point and set the GPS for home.  Of course, I opted for the back roads as my route just on the off chance I could see something interesting.

Well, that actually happened.  As I was driving down one of the back roads, I came upon this farm with a pair of barns situated at the base of a hill.  The rolling landscape was rather interesting, and to top it all off, the clouds were really nice looking overhead.  I made the decision to pull off on the shoulder and get set up.  Once again, I was going to have to shoot this from the road since there was a gate and fence.  Not wanting to loose the clouds, I didn’t bother finding the property owner’s house.  I was hoping that they would come out and ask me what I was doing so I could ask to go in, but that didn’t happen.  In order to get the sky included in my compositions, I chose to go for the moderate zoom of the 24-70mm lens once again.  I added the Color Combo Polarizer as well.  The exposure was pretty straightforward, so I didn’t need anything else to capture the image.

I shot many different compositions from different locations behind the fence.  Some of these compositions were dictated by the clouds, and others by the way the light was hitting the barn and mountains.  As I was getting in a nice routine of framing images, I realized that the clouds were all dissipating in the sky.  Without the clouds, I really had nothing at all to make this composition pop, so when I realized that the clouds were gone, I packed up and got back on my route to the house.

Timeless View

About an hour later, I was nearing the NC line and on familiar roads.  I happened to pass a barn that I remembered from last week and it caught my eye.  The difference was this time the sky was looking fantastic above it.  The blues were really deep, and the clouds bright white.  I decided that I would give this barn a shot or two since I had time and the conditions were really good considering it was about 1pm.  I grabbed my camera with the well used 24-70mm lens and added that Color Combo Polarizer once again.  I set the tripod up right at the fence line which gave me a pretty good composition.  I started to make exposures as the clouds changed their positions.

While I was shooting this shot, I was already thinking about doing it as a black and white image.  This is the kind of sky that I love to see in monochrome with a red filter applied to darken the blue against the white clouds.  The color version was pretty good as well, but it didn’t hold a candle to the monochrome image that I had previsualized before setting the camera up in the first place.

Rural Virginia

Before packing up, I decided that I wanted to try a different composition from a bit further down the fence.  I kept my same lens attached, and even stayed close to the same focal length (38mm with the first one, and 30mm with this one).  The biggest difference is the change in location of about 60 feet to the right.  This opened up the scene and really gave a lot of depth to the image.  This is a more dramatic composition, but there is just something I really like about the more intimate shot of the barn in monochrome.  Regardless, both of these images ranked among my favorites from the day which seems to be how I do things these days.  I wait until I have given up and then my best work happens.

I had shot 97 images throughout the day which was pretty good considering the terrible weather that I started out with.  I knew that many of them from the farm in Independence would get tossed since the sky changed midway through the session.  The first half images were tossed just on that one criteria.  I was happy with the seven images that I had decided to keep, even though it wasn’t as many as I was hoping for considering the investment in time for the day.

As I was exporting them for resizing and watermarking I looked at two images from the farm in Independence and wondered about switching the monochrome/color format on them.

Rust in Peace

The first one that I worked with was the final image of the Chevy and barn.  I hadn’t like it in color the way the processing was turning out so I had converted it to monochrome.  Part of that conversion includes adjusting the white balance, tint, and some of the contrast controls to get the tonal separation that you want.  Surprisingly, these color shifts that I made while in black and white actually really improved the appearance of the image.  I can say now that I have processed a color image while color blind.  I just made a few additional tweaks to the image and I decided that I was a fan once again of the color version.  Both work equally as well I think, so I kept them both and gave them different titles.

A Storm is Coming

The other one that I wanted to play with was the flatbed truck behind the original Chevy.  I still wasn’t really happy with the paint color on the truck, even though it worked for the scene.  I wanted to see what would happen if the image was stripped of color.  The initial conversion looked very promising indeed.  I started to work on the sky a bit more, and changed some of the tonal relationships in the image.  In the end, I found that this image had a lot more visual tension and drama than the color one.  However, I still liked both of them equally as well, for different reasons.  I felt that this one also deserved to stand on its own with its own title.

At the end of the day, I ended up with nine new images in my collection and these are nine that I am very happy with overall.  I’m still very much a fan of Virginia and will be making a return trip out there again to do some more exploring at some point in the future.