Rust Hunting in Stokes County

· Reading Time: 20 minutes

Monday, December 16, 2019

You may remember not that long ago, I had a serious problem with some of the images that I shot due to some oversight on my part.  I was able to keep images from all of the scenes that I shot except for one, a relocated general store that I had found on a side street.  I wasn’t able to recover any of those images so my only choice was to go out and reshoot the scene.  The problem came with when to shoot it so that the clouds would be right.  I had originally captured it under some really interesting clouds at the end of the day but I wasn’t sure if the clouds were going to come out looking right since I never did get that far into the post processing portion.  Looking at the lay of the land, I decided that a morning shoot would probably be my best bet, and I would need some clouds in the sky, but nothing quite as overbearing as I had before.  I was seeing this as a happier scene than what I had worked out previously.  With the forecast for Monday calling for a mixture of low and high clouds with increasing density through the morning, I figured that would be the best time to give it a try.

I left just after sunrise with the intention on getting to the general store as the sun was starting to peek over the trees.  The sky was looking good with just enough texture to keep things interesting and not enough to snuff out the sun.  The trip wasn’t but about 225 minutes and I arrived at the time that I was hoping for.  The sky was great, the lighting was great, but there were some problems.  One, I had been expecting and knew how I was going to deal with.  That was the mid 80’s sedan that was parked on the side.  What I didn’t know how to deal with was the covered Mini Cooper that was in front of the shop which was going to be the backdrop for the composition.  I studied it for a minute and decided that my composition wasn’t going to work out after all.  I put the truck in drive and started down the road looking at the building as I went past

Then I saw it…

I saw the composition that I was sure would work.

It was kind of straight on which I wasn’t wild about, but shooting it as a vertical image, I was pretty sure that it would work just fine.  I would be able to avoid the sedan with some careful framing and the shop wouldn’t be in the frame at all.  I pulled back off the road and grabbed my gear.  I fitted the 24-70mm lens which would remain on the camera for the entire day’s shooting and added a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to deepen the blues in the sky, and to remove the glare from the tin roof panels.  I then started to look for the composition that I had seen passing by.  There were some things that needed to be handled with care like how the Coca Colo logos were in the frame.  I had to make sure that nothing obstructed the view of them because they were very important to the scene.  I needed to make sure that the perspective distortion was kept to a minimum, and that I just cropped out the car to the right.  I needed to make sure that the trees were slightly above the roofline of the store, and that I didn’t include any of the buildings to the rear left of the image.  Needless to say, I was doing a lot of moving of the tripod to get it in the right place.

Bevis General Store“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I finally settled on the composition that I wanted and checked the histogram.  The exposure was going to be difficult, but I was not concerned about capturing all of the detail that I needed in the highlights and the shadows.  I did shoot a single four image HDR blend just in case, but I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to need it.  It became a waiting game for the light to do what I was wanting it to do.  I could see the sun rising, but the clouds were building quickly.  It was going to be a race to see if this would work.  As I have learned in landscape photography over the years, I was capturing an image every few minutes as the light changed and the sky changed hoping to hit that moment when it all worked together.  Just as the sun was high enough to light the store, the clouds covered it, and I noticed that the sky above the store was really kind of bland with the overcast.  My idea wasn’t going to work, but I did have a series of images that included a really nice sky and I was hoping that one of those would turn out well.

As you see here, one of the first images that I shot captured the feel of the store under an interesting sky.  I was able to keep all of the advertisement signs visible, and I had enough exposure information to really pull out the detail that I wanted.  The light was soft with the low sun still behind the trees and all I needed to do was add a touch of warmth to the scene to make it all come together.  It wasn’t the composition that I had gone out there for, but I really like how this turned out and it was worth the second trip to the property to capture this image.  In fact, the more I look at it, the more I like how the composition flows.  It is a better image than the first one would have been had I not messed up a filter.

With that composition completed, I was feeling pretty decent about the morning, but was really wanting to get something else on the memory card before I called it a day.  I knew that not much further up the road was an old Oldsmobile that I had photographed back in the Summer when I could barely see it through the brush.  With the end of Fall claiming the vegetation, it was time to pay this old car another visit.  I knew that there was a barn or house behind it that I really thought would make for an excellent complementing element if I could see it this time.  The trip out there wasn’t but maybe another 15 minutes or so.  When I arrived, I knew that I had hit gold with my timing.  The lighting was great with the building clouds and the brush was very much thinned out now.  This was the right time to be right here, so I pulled off the road and grabbed my camera.

Sleeping In“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I could see the old homestead behind the car for the first time and I really liked how it worked in the image.  I started to play around with the composition so that I could include both elements and have them work harmoniously together.  The trees and limbs were a bit distracting, but actually told the story of how everything had become overgrown.  With the leaves and vegetation gone, there was enough of the old home to make sense, and most importantly, the car was completely visible this time.  I hadn’t noticed the passenger side fender before, and was really happy that it was there to balance out the front bumper.  The open door in the back gave the image a real sense of abandonment which I really liked.  The sky was a little bright and I had to include it, but it wasn’t so terrible that I had to be concerned with the exposure difference.  The lighting was actually quite even all over the scene which was wonderful.

When I got done with the first, overall composition, I started to look for isolations that I could shoot since there were elements here that I could actually get to now.  I loved the fact that the one fender was still there as well as the bumper.  These are very specific parts to the Oldsmobile and it sets them apart from the Chevy counterparts.  I took a bit of time to really get to know the car since I hadn’t ever seen it fully like this.  I started to see parts that I really liked and wanted to capture, so I got down low and used the extended neck of the tripod to swing over to the side so that I could get right at ground level for the next series of shots.

Hollow“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

The first view that I wanted was my always favorite headlight composition.  Of course the light was long gone in this car, so I just had the bucket to photograph, but that works just as well for me.  I also wanted to add the large opening on the bumper in this composition which clearly identified it as an Oldsmobile.  For a bit of fun, I stretched out the framing to the right just past the center support and captured the start of the “Oldsmobile” emblem in the grill.  This is just a little Easter Egg in the image as I cropped in close, and then cloned out the “S” so that this just said “OLD”.  It is a subtle trick, but one that will reward those who look into this image more than just a surface glance.  Of course, the rust under the headlight bucket was just perfect to blend in with the leaves on the ground for a very cohesive image.  While I was down there, I wanted to do something with the Oldsmobile emblem specifically which was going to be easier said than done.  Without a fender, I really had very little options on how to capture this.  I tried a few isolations using the bumper chrome as a frame, but I didn’t like the flow of any of those.  When I started to widen my focal length, I could see a composition developing that I had not considered yet.  I really liked it, and with the camera on the deck, it worked fantastically.

Tuckered Out“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

With this image, I was much more likely to choose a monochrome presentation because the colors were just not that important in the scene.  What I wanted to focus on was the emblem and the size of the bumper.  In fact, I chose to go with a limited depth of field here to soften the background to make sure that the eyes stayed on the bumper.  The open back door again came to my rescue and provided a nice counter element off to the right side which was very much needed to show that this was still a full car, and not just a pile of parts.  The holes in the windshield added to the visual interest of the midground and again completed the view of the car in my mind.  It was the big bright bumper that was the star here and really looked great in black and white which became the logical choice for this one in post.  The textures of the decay really came through here for me, and this became a very exciting image to look at even with the lack of a headlight.  Strange thing about that…My eyes and mind are placing the headlight just above the curve of the bumper so the image becomes the complete the more I look at it as my mind fills in the missing details.  I’m hoping that this works for other viewers as well.

Curtain Call“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

While I was working on the front of the car I couldn’t help but wonder how the rear of the car would look in a photograph.  I hadn’t had the chance to see it on my last visit,so I wanted to check it out this time.  There was a clear view of the rear of the car, but the trunk had some boxes on it which I remember seeing through the weeds last time.  What I really liked about this view was the old barn in the background.  It made for a perfect complementing element to the car.  I raised the tripod back up and composed this as a 16×9 crop to accentuate the length of the car, and crop out some of the bright sky through the trees.  The colors were very simple here, but the mint green was pulling my attention right to the car which was a good thing.  I was pretty sure that this was going to stay a color image, and I was right.  It came together quite nice, and the open door was again useful as it framed a small tree that was growing there in the opening.  The open door lead your eyes right to the falling headliner which became the inspiration for the title to this one.  This is all about rural decay and there are so many stories here for those who choose to take their time and look around the image.

By this point, the clouds were clearing up a little bit and the lighting was getting a bit harsh.  I was satisfied that I had gotten a couple of keepers from this car.  Even if it was just one image, I was already happier with this series than I had been with the first attempt in June.  I made one last pass by all of the angles to see if there were any more photographs to be had.  Confident that I had everything that I wanted, I packed everything up and started back on my way down the road with no clear destination in mind.  I was feeling pretty confident since I have spent a good bit of time in this area and knew it to be a target rich environment.

I drove around for about an hour without finding anything that was ready for a picture.  The sky had started to cloud back over and there was very little detail in it which limited what I could shoot as far as barns which I was seeing a good many of.  I was thinking that finding rust was going to be my main focus at this point because the sky is not nearly as important with doing automotive compositions.  I would pass an interesting vehicle every so often, but the compositions were not there due to clutter and other issues.  My mood was starting to drop a little bit and I was thinking that I had all the images that I was going to have for the day.  I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet though.

That was when it happened.  It was my second pass down this particular road and I saw something that I had missed on the first drive through.  There was chrome up on the hill in the woods.  That was definitely a bumper from a ’60’s model car in the woods.  As I looked closer, there were barns and what looked to be another car sitting there.  I pulled off the road and looked for signs saying “NO TRESPASSING”…there weren’t any.  I looked for purple paint on the trees indicating the same thing.  Nothing there either.  Everything that I could see said that I could venture into the woods without issue, so I parked and grabbed my Lowepro bag since I wasn’t sure what I would run into in the woods and wanted to have all my gear with me.

Bird’s Nest“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

It only took a minute or so to climb up the hill and find what treasures awaited me.  I was not as thrilled as I was hoping since I was looking at a really bloated Ford Thunderbird which is just not one of my favorite cars.  The other one was a Renault Dauphine which was cute, but not all that fantastic.  I was a little disappointed, but I remembered that I was here for the photography, not the cars.  For me, the compositions and the lay of the land are more important than whether or not I like the subjects.  I had some great lighting here, and the colors were all working well together.  The patina on both cars was remarkable and from a photography standpoint, this was going to work out quite well.  My only concern was organizing the scene and eliminating the distractions.  This was not easy to do, and I had to rely on my woodland landscape tricks to make the compositions work.  I looked for separation and simplification where I could get it.  That meant a lot of moving of the tripod up and down, and side to side to get everything organized.

My second concern was the breeze which was getting a little strong.  With the leaves and branches in the scene, I had to be very aware of movement which I needed to adjust for.  I boosted the ISO to speed up the shutter speed while keeping my depth of field rather deep since I wanted to include the barns in the background while keeping the entire car nice and sharp.  I was able to get the shutter speed to a fraction of a second which was enough to freeze most everything in the image.  Then started the waiting game for the sun to provide just a touch of light through the clouds which it would do occasionally.

Classic Strokes“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk 2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I was starting to warm up to the colors on this old Thunderbird and started to look for isolations on it.  One of the things that caught my eye was the script on the bottoms of the doors.  Just like with any emblem, they took on a a unique look against the rusted patina of the car.  Since it was laying on the rails the leaves provided another texture that went along with the color palette which made this isolation work so nicely.  It was a simple one, but the focus was on the color and texture all anchored by the scripted “Thunderbird” emblem.  I wasn’t sure if I would like this one when I got it home so I only shot two frames of it with slightly different executions.  When I started to look at it on the monitor, I could see a lot of potential here.  It is not my favorite, but I do like the colors and the design of the image so it did become a keeper.

Cones of Silence“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

While I was working on isolations, I moved the back of the car where I really did like the tail lights.  The trunk was open, and in the spirit of shooting these cars as I find them I left it open.  It did mess with the available compositions I had around the lights though.  I finally worked out a frame that I liked which captured the essence of the car with the trim on the quarter panel which helped to show off the subtle curve, and the chrome provided a nice frame within a frame for the trio of lights.  I was pretty sure that this would be a black and white image because the only colors here were warm tones which became a bit overbearing without anything to balance it out.  Considering that I don’t really like the car, I was really pleased with how this tail light tuned out and I think it does capture a good bit of the story of the car.

While I was back here looking at the lights, I had a wild idea for a shot.  I wasn’t sure if it would work or not, but I decided that I would give it a try since I was back here anyway.  I got the camera centered up on the gas filler and set the lens at its widest focal length of 24mm.  From here, I moved forward and backward while raising the camera up until I had the framing perfect.  I wanted the visual anchor to be the tail lights and the bumper while the top of the frame was filled with the trunk lid, and the depth came from the actual trunk opening.  I had never attempted anything quite like this and was interested to see how it would turn out.  The character lines on the edge of the trunk really pulled this image together I though, and made it almost an “X” which pulled your eyes into the frame rather effortlessly.

Stuff the Bird“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

The image was really cool when I looked at in on the monitor and I was committed to making it work in post.  The composition was great, the lighting in the trunk was great, but the attention wasn’t where I wanted it.  I needed to pull the eyes into the trunk more than they were.  I started by darkening the ground around the car, but that just muddied the image.  When I did a little dodging and burning inside of the trunk it was looking better, but the color tones were all wrong for keeping the eyes focused where I needed them.  I started to play around with a monochrome conversion and immediately saw an improvement in where my eyes went.  I worked on fine tuning the conversion and changing the relationship between the color tones until I had a version that was true to my creative vision for this piece.  I added a couple of custom vignettes to the image to further direct the eyes and massaged it all until I was totally happy with it.  I’m pretty sure that this will be one of those images that either you will love or hate.  I can’t fault you for either opinion, but I really love how it turned out.  It is something completely different and for me, that will always be a check in the positive box.  The perspective here is what pulls the eyes in, but it was a slippery slope.  I think had I gone just a touch wider I would have lost the flow.  Had I tightened up the shot, it would have been just too plain.  As it is, my eyes are pulled right to the floor of the trunk and I can enjoy the textures and details in there while still checking out the rear end with all the little details there.

Caught in the Web“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

Not wanting to go too far off the reservation with the Thunderbird, I decided to change my attention over to the Renault.  It was a cute little car that was worth a frame or two.  I started off shooting from the front but everything that I managed to capture just looked like a snapshot and that wasn’t what I was after.  The real composition jumped out from the rear of the car.  The lines were better from back here, and the vines wrapping around the car helped to tell the story.  The opened door was a favorite part of this for me.  It was opened, but not enough to see in.  There is mystery behind that door, and that is what I think will pull people into this image.  The colors all worked well here with the aqua tones cooling the warm tones for a bit of balance in the frame.  That color also helps identify the main subject, so there was no way that this would end up being a monochrome image.  It was a brutally simple image, but I am thinking it is a pretty effective one when it comes to story telling.

That pretty much wrapped up my day.  After working these two cars, I was pretty tired.  I set the GPS to home bypassing the main roads just in case I found something else to shoot.  However, as I have come to understand about myself, when I am done I am done.  It would have taken something really awesome to get me to pull the camera back out as my creative energy was spent for the day.  It had been a really good day though with a total of 87 frames exposed from three different locations.  I culled those down to 13 images which turned into ten keepers for the day.  That is a really good turnaround for the number of subjects that I shot.  I was really impressed with all that I got at the Oldsmobile site since the last time I was there, I struggled to get a single image.  Just goes to show why this is my favorite time of year for decay photography.  It is just so much easier to find and photograph the subjects.

If there is something here that speaks to you, I would love to help you get connected with a print of your very own.  Remember, my images are not meant to be enjoyed on the computer nearly as much as they are meant to be enjoyed in their true tangible form.

Until next time….
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