Spring Decay Workshop

· Reading Time: 17 minutes

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Today has been planned for a very long time now.  The initial plan was set in place in mid October when my website was recreated, and I set an exact date for it about a month or so later.  You have no idea the stress that put me under since I am used to making the final decision on where to go the night before, and possibly the morning of.  I am very dependent on the weather when it comes to my photography and therefore, I want others who are joining me on a workshop to experience the same kind of conditions that I prefer.  Of course, this is not really practical or possible when it comes to scheduling events well in advance like this.  I just hoped that it wasn’t going to rain, and was hoping that the sun would at least have some clouds to hide behind as the day progressed.  I was planning a full day worth of shooting from station to station within the property of Outlawed Restorations in East Bend.  I was going to have to deal with what the weather brought as there was no way to rescheduled the workshop.

About a week and a half out I was looking at the weather and it looked like it was going to be rainy.  I didn’t get upset about that just yet because I know from experience that a forecast this far out is sure to be wrong.  A few more days passed by and I started to see that the rain had cleared out for the 6th, but was replaced by sun.  I just wasn’t catching a break.  Exactly a week to the workshop I saw that it was going to be cloudy most of the day.  This was what I wanted to happen and I hoped that this forecast would remain.  As the last week ticked by, I kept an eye on the forecast and it appeared as though there would be clouds in the morning and eventually partly sunny skies in the afternoon.  I could deal with this, and at least we would be dry.

The morning of the workshop arrived and I woke up excited and nervous all at the same time.  This was only my second workshop that I had hosted, and while the first one was a relative success, I knew I had phoned it in.  You see, December 6th was awfully close to the middle of October when I lost my Mother.  I had just started getting back to what might be considered normal to the outside person, but inside I was still reeling from her death.  I couldn’t cancel the workshop and felt that I could do it justice if I really focused.  Well, I’m just not sure that was the case.  When it was done I realized that it was much more of a group photo outing than a workshop and that was something that I really needed to work on.

Prior to the Spring Decay Workshop I had sent out a series of emails asking the participants to come with questions, and even asked what they were wanting to get out of this workshop.  I felt that this would be my key for success more than anything else.  I knew going into this workshop that I needed to focus on compositional ideas, and how to really show off the textures of the rust.  There were some concerns about how to deal with adverse lighting, as well as post processing questions.  With that information I really felt like I would have a full day’s worth of information to go through, with a small portion of the time dedicated to a quick Lightroom tutorial showing some of the tricks that I use to get my signature look.  I was in a much better place mentally for this workshop and felt like it was going to be a great deal better than my last one…as long as the weather held.

When I arrived at Outlawed Restorations shortly after 7, I took a quick look at the land to see what was there to shoot.  This was always a wild card since Dean does move things around periodically.  I was very happy to see that the big fire truck was still by the barn, and some of my favorite vehicles were still in place.  Some of the brush had been cut back along the fringes of the property which was a mixed blessing.  On one hand, I was looking forward to the Spring color behind one of the barns, but that was one of the areas that had been cut back.  On the other hand, there was much better access to many of the vehicles which I enjoyed shooting.  I could deal with this, and I think that the lack of color was a decent trade-off for better access.

Have and Have Not“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I looked at my watch and saw that I still had about 20 minutes before everyone started to show up, so I figured I would take advantage of the cloud cover that was overhead and shoot a section that I had not done in a while because of the harsh light that usually fell on it.  I pulled out the camera and fitted the 24-70mm lens and added my trusty Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer.  I’ve learned that I always have to get that first shot out of the way before I can really put myself into the right mood.  I felt I owed it to the workshop to do this and get my mind right.  Yeah, we will go with that, I was shooting this for them.  Actually, this was just something that was begging to be photographed.  The light was soft and even on the pair of trucks.  As I was setting up the shot, I was going over in my head how I would explain the composition to the group because it was not really a simple one.  You see, there was clutter on both sides, and visible behind the trucks.  I was paying particular attention to how I was organizing the scene so I could then help everyone else avoid the pitfalls I was dealing with.

After I worked out how I thought the composition looked the best, I started looking for other compositions that I could work with.  Something else that I have tried many times before but with limited success due to light was a truck that was parked on the side of the main shop.  I went over and found it in the shadows.  The rust on the grill was fantastic, and I could see chrome peeling away from the trim.  I got in close and framed up a shot that I thought captured everything that I was looking for in this isolation.  It was similar to one that I had shot before on the truck pictured above, but had a slightly different execution where things were placed within the frame.  The textures of the rust really showed up as did the colors.  It turned out quite well and is easily recognizable as a grill with an emblem, but yet brings to mind a very cartoonish ghoul with very long fangs which was just what I was after.

“Long in the Tooth”, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-700mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

As I was finishing up this composition my first participant showed up.  From here on out, things started moving very fast as three more showed up in quick succession.  I got the model releases out of the way and we all did our introductions.  I tried to set the tone for the day, but I wanted to get rolling as soon as possible because I could tell that the clouds were not wanting to stay thick for long.  Knowing that one of the worst places for the sun to effect was the area where I had started shooting.  Because of that, we made the first station by the two Chevy trucks.  I went through the steps that I had just gone through on my own with the group and started to see that what I was saying was resonating with them.  This was starting off very well, and my excitement was growing.

After we discussed a lot of the options, I got out of the way and let the group have their way with the truck.  I was very happy to see them all trying different angles and moving around.  They were working really hard at avoiding the clutter that you can see all around these trucks.  This was going to be a fantastic group which was listening to what I was saying and then applying bits and pieces into their own photography.  This is a very hard part of any workshop I would imagine.  You are essentially learning a new way of shooting in a very short amount of time based on what somebody else says.  Your natural inclination is to shoot how you have always done it because that is what is comfortable.  You have to consciously stop yourself from doing what you have always done and start inserting other methods that interest you, and incorporating some new ways of thinking…all while shooting something that you find very interesting.  This has to be very mentally taxing, and for somebody who has never been through a workshop before, it is hard to instruct on that level.  It is all about gradually providing the information, and making it a smooth progression.  There were a lot of questions that popped up which allowed me to springboard onto different topics as they were coming up.  I thought that this was a quite natural way of hitting the points that I wanted to cover in a way that would be more readily absorbed.

Once everyone had gotten their fill of trying for the overall shots of these trucks, we started to move into the details.  This truck was full of isolation shots and the lighting was still quite good on it.  I saw several things that I wanted to shoot, but in the interest of everyone else benefiting, I kept my camera over on the side waiting patiently.  This workshop was for them, not for me.  I wanted to be available for questions as they popped up and that wouldn’t happen if I was busy with my own pictures.

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

As the morning moved on, we had other stations to visit.  Since the sun was starting to come out, I went over behind the barn where I knew that the shadows would help us out a little bit.  Sadly, the sun was in a different position than I was expecting and the shadows were not quite as evenly distributed as I was hoping.  Oh well, as outdoor photographers we have to deal with the conditions as they present themselves.  This was the side where much of the brush had been cut back leaving more of the trucks exposed than I was used to.  As I was talking about potential compositions I started to see one that I was really interested in with the old Forbush Volunteer Fire Department truck.  There was this awesome branch above it and I started working with a couple of the guys showing them what I was talking about.  It was not easy to explain what I was seeing based on images that they were taking, so when the question came up about how to get the big bold look on the fronts of vehicles I saw that as the perfect opportunity to demonstrate through my camera with the wider end of the 24-70mm lens.  I had the live view going and was showing how the focal length really accentuated the boldness of the truck and some of the things I look at with composition.  I really wanted to include the curved branch above the truck and had the opportunity to show how the camera elevation really came in useful with positioning elements in an image.  As I was putting this image together I was really liking what I was seeing and figured that I would probably be keeping this one.  Shooting my own images was not a goal of this workshop, but who am I to question an opportunity to capture one or two if it helps the greater good.

While we were at this station, we started to deal with the harsh light for the first time during the day.  This was one of the areas that had been mentioned before the workshop so I welcomed this opportunity to talk about how to address harsh light.  In some situations, you just go to the other side of the vehicle where the light is better.  In other situations you use a flag to block the sun and provide shadow.  In a twist of fate, there was actually a small reflector in a bag of tricks that had been used as a flag to block the sun.  I helped show another way of using that reflector by bounding the sunlight and filling the shadows with warm light.  Just simple things like this is what I envision a workshop as being.  They don’t have to be these grand productions, but just showing some simple tricks which increase the impact of the photograph or the final presentation of it, is just so beneficial to the participants.

I can’t help but draw parallels to my first workshop and see just how far I’ve come in how I conduct matters.  For the first time, I really felt like I was teaching.  This has always been my goal, but the last time I had just not brought my “A” game at all.  This time, I was seeing so much impact from what I was showing and explaining.  This was quite exciting for me as I have always enjoyed sharing knowledge with others when it comes to photography.  To be able to do it in a formal setting such as this felt quite natural.  By this point I was showing the benefits to live view and using a histogram before actually taking the shot.  I was discussing the finer points of exposure and what to keep an eye on and what you could let slide.  We talked about the power of composition to reinforce the reason behind shooting a particular image.  This really was a full on workshop.  I could tell because I was already getting hoarse from using my outside voice so much.

When it came to composition, one of the hardest subjects to shoot in the entire workshop was up next.  This truck was so cool with the patina and it even had a tree grown around the rear bumper which had been left attached.  Honestly, this is one of those trucks I have struggled with and know how hard it is to capture with the Trans Am resplendent in bright red so close to it.  There was also the frame in front of the truck with a bright chrome bumper attached.  I have to say here that this group did fantastic with their compositions.  There were some that I saw which I liked infinitely more than my own.  So much so that I wanted to get my camera and so something similar.  However, I didn’t want to copy somebody else’s composition, and this workshop was not for my portfolio.  I resisted my urge and I’m glad that I did.  I’m still very impressed with how these guys photographed this truck.

Remember when I said I was happy that the fire truck was still out in the yard?  This is why.  It makes for a great challenge on exposure, and gave me an opportunity to really get in depth on different ways of finding the right exposure.  Ten years ago when I learned about Ansel Adams’ zone method of exposure, I never would have thought I would be explaining portions of it to other photographers.  This truck was a great example since it was white, but couldn’t be blown out white.  We talked about how exposing this truck properly would affect the surrounding scene and how the resulting underexposure would help simplify the composition quite nicely.  It was here I got to really explain how beneficial the exposure highlight warning (blinkies) would be for image review.  This was the first time that this was used for some, and I was pretty sure that this would help them out tremendously.

At this point, a lunch break was called.  It was probably overdue, but that is something that I am terrible about.  I’ve trained my body to go without those silly “human needs” after being stuck in a patrol car for 11 hours at a time for much of my life.  I was happy to take a break though as this was wearing me out.  I took this opportunity to get some feedback from the group about how things were going.  I was very pleased to hear that they seemed to be enjoying it as much as I was.  There was some really good positive feedback which I took to heart.  This workshop was as much for me to learn on as to teach, and during this break, I was learning.  It was nice to hear about other experiences with workshops since I had no experience with them personally.  I was shocked to hear how much some of the workshops were going for, and what was delivered through them.  I was very reinforced about my choice not to do my own pictures after hearing these accounts.  The last thing I want is a workshop where I have paid participants there to witness me taking pictures.  Seriously, I’m not that kind of good at what I do.  If you are going to pay me for my time, I need to give the group that time for their benefit.  Now, something that I do need to work on is spreading myself around a little bit more.  That is easy enough to work on, but falls right into my desire for workshops where everyone comes away feeling like they learned something and really benefited from the experience.

A nice treat at lunch was provided by Susan who was actually celebrating a birthday by taking part in this workshop.  In honor of that event she was nice enough to bring some cupcakes for us to eat.  Oh my, they were so good!!  I tell you, this is something that really made me feel special that she would rather spend her special day with an unknown (in the realm of workshops) shooting rusty cars than anything else.  It made me remember the fact that one of the participants in my Summer Landscape Workshop is treating herself to that workshop for her birthday.  Maybe this will become a regular occurrence where I have birthday cake at the lunch break on workshops.  Hey, there are worse ways to spend a day, that’s for sure.  Regardless, this was pretty cool and it makes these two workshops just that much more special to me.

After the break and quick party it was back to the business at hand.  The clouds were pretty thin and the sun was beaming.  The last station that I had in mind was over on the side of the property which included an Olds 88 and a Ford Starliner, in addition to a couple of rat rods which I had photographed a number of times.  By this point, I was a little tired and no longer thinking about taking group pictures.  Honestly, it was all I could do to stand up and form sentences.  I plowed through and did some one on one with several of the group.  Something that I am quite proud of was I taught the transition from Aperture Priority to Manual Mode in just a few minutes.  That was about the last thing that I could manage though.  It was time to pack things up and let those last few shutter releases happen before going in to hit the final topic.

Lamenting Days Passed“,   Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, and Galen Rowell 2-Stop soft edge ND Grad

Note:  The above photograph was shot last Fall and is being added here to show the cars that were being photographed.

At this point I was really treading on unfamiliar territory.  I was putting the camera away and getting a laptop out of the truck.  Yes, I said laptop.  I have just recently added Lightroom to this computer and planned on using it for demonstration purposes.  This was going to be the first time that I ever attempted that for an actual audience.  I wasn’t sure how it was going to work with such a small screen and positioning it where everyone could see it and I could see it well enough to edit a few photos. It was cumbersome but worked better than I thought it would.  When I first envisioned doing this workshop I really didn’t consider doing any editing instruction, but the more I was reading about what this group was wanting to learn, I saw that having that component was very important to the workshop.  I did about an hour demonstration of what Lightroom could do, and took them through my editing process on a couple of images.  It barely scratched the surface, but I think that it made an impact on what was possible with a fairly intuitive program.  It was the icing on the birthday cake and a great way of finishing up the workshop.  I was happy that I decided to incorporate that into the day.  In the future, I would like to turn this into a two day affair where the second day is dedicated to the processing of the images.  Ahhh, goals…

It was a full and exhausting day for me.  I have to thank Dean Cornelius for opening up his shop for us to work around all day long.  There is no way I could have done this without his assistance and collection of rusty gold.  I would also like to thank Randy, Russ, Susan, and Tom for having enough faith in me to join me for the workshop.  I have learned much more from you all than you will ever know, and for that I am eternally grateful.  The lessons I have learned from this workshop will help me improve the experience for the next workshop in just a couple of months.  I am also motivated to plan another workshop for later in the summer now.  I really do enjoy helping photographers get better with their craft and as long as I can manage to make a difference I think I will continue with my workshops.