Starting Off the Year

· Reading Time: 14 minutes

Wednesday, January 1, 20XX 2020

I might as well get used to correcting the year on the first day of 2020.  I’ve still got several more months of doing that I suppose.  Anyway, here we are on the first of the year and I am already talking about some brand new pictures for the gallery.  Back when I was riding a bike, it was kind of the thing to do on the first.  You had to get the first ride of the year in and let that set the tone for the rest of the year.  I figured that it couldn’t hurt to give it a try this year with photography.  It also served the purpose of clearing my creative mind from a composition that I had in mind and couldn’t shoot.  You see, when I was driving around Mocksville the other day, I found an early ’80’s Mercedes parked on the side of the road.  it was faded gray and had no grille on it.  There was no visible rust, but the setting told a story.  I just didn’t like how the composition was looking.  I left it there figuring that it just wasn’t quite ready for a picture.  I was getting turned around to shoot another location anyway.  Well, the more I thought about that Mercedes, the more I wanted to try to photograph it.  I just had to figure out how.

During the day on the 31st I came up with an idea to go out and do some light painting with it.  However, it would not be my normal light painting as the warm light from my Maglite would have turned the gray car into a yellow car which just had no character at all.  However, if I were to use an LED flashlight that would give a much cooler color temperature which was going to be much more flattering for the car.  That was going to be the ticket.  Toni agreed to eat dinner early so that I could head out to Mocksville in time to get last light to get set up if I could get permission to shoot the car.  I was on the road just before 5pm which was going to have me arriving just at sunset.  That was going to be perfect!

I had the location set in my GPS and everything went smoothly all the way out there.  When I arrived, the road didn’t look familiar to me at all.  I drove down it and found the end but it wasn’t the road with the car.  I had made a best guess at where I had turned around and plotted that course.  I was apparently wrong.  But, I was in the area so I started to hunt the car out.  I turned down every side street that there was for a mile or more on either side of where I ended up shooting that day.  I never did find the car and it was getting a little dangerous on the narrow gravel roads in the dark.  I was having an increasingly difficult time getting turned around when I came to the end of the roads and the last thing I wanted to do was to hit something.  After about an hour of searching I had to give up.  It was pitch black now and I was apparently very wrong in my recollection of where I had seen the car.  That is the problem that I run into occasionally when I am out exploring.  I will find something and dismiss it only to figure out how to photograph it later on and not be able to find it again.

All the way home I was going over the way that I was going to shoot the car.  I had no idea if it would work out the way I had thought, but that was where my mind was stuck.  I couldn’t get it out of my mind.  It was king of like getting that really big ice cream cone on a Summer day and just before you take your first bite, you drop it and you never get to taste it.  I was there…mouth watering for ice cream and knowing that it just fell off the cone.  The really bad part about this was I know me, and I know that when I get this kind of idea in my head I have to shoot it before I move onto something else.  My creativity gets stuck right there until I can see a finished product, or I find that it doesn’t work the way I had intended.  I wasn’t going to know since I couldn’t find the blasted car.

Looking at the weather for New Year’s Day, there was going to be mostly sunny skies and that wasn’t going to be good for photography so I didn’t really plan on going out at all.  I did have a long list of things that needed to be done though.  I started out the day with publishing my year end wrap up Behind the Camera feature.  I then got my two postings done on both Facebook and Instagram and caught up on all of those alerts.  Then it was time to break out the calculator and figure out my quarterly sales tax to be submitted to the state.  By the time all of that was done it was nearly 11am.  I had been looking out the window and had seen that the sky had many more clouds than were forecasted.  The thought had crossed my mind to go out and do some photography, but I was still stuck on the Mercedes which I wasn’t going to be able to shoot during the day…if I could find it again.

I decided to go and visit my Grandfather, and since the camera was still in the back of the 4Runner I would look for something that struck my fancy as I was driving.  That seemed like a good plan so I went ahead and hit the road.  I decided that the clouds were looking really good and I wanted to go and try shooting an old Dodge Challenger that I had seen in the area of Walnut Cove.  That should get my mind off of the Mercedes.  Well…when I got there my excitement dropped a bit.  There was nothing really different about the scene, but the sun was all wrong for this car, and looking critically at the compositions available, there really wasn’t a story there at all.  I started to look at the other old cars there as there were several.  None of them jumped out at me as having a story to tell.  I tucked my tail between my legs and got back in the truck with nothing captured.

My next idea was to head out to a railroad repair facility that usually has a few trains sitting there.  I have been looking for a good time to shoot those again and this was looking like as good a time as any.  I set my GPS out that way and started to think about the ways that I would want to shoot the trains, not knowing if there was going to be anything there or not.  When I got there, I saw the workers on the engines which was a bad sign.  I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to get anything with them there so I decided to move on and look for something…anything I could capture.  I had been out an hour and seen two locations with nothing to show for it.  I drove up into Surry County, and then came back through Stokes County.  I saw a lot of barns, but none of them spoke to me.  I wasn’t finding any good old iron to shoot which was strange as these were areas that I typically have great luck with.

I ended up going into Virginia and decided that I needed to call it a day.  I still had to go see my Grandfather and I was going to run out of time if I kept driving around like this.  I wasn’t sure where I was so I keyed his address into my GPS knowing that it would take me a whole different way there so I was hoping I might get lucky going South.  There was no such luck.  I was on new roads, but I saw nothing that struck my interest.  I was resigned to the fact that I was still going to taste the ice cream, but not actually be able to eat it.  I refused to get desperate though because that was when I usually made bad decisions about what to capture.  I wasn’t worried about the amount of images that I captured anymore, I was worried about the quality of the subject and composition.  It was too early in the year to put that aside and grab the first thing that came into view.

When I came down 66 and found myself back on familiar grounds I was all but certain that my day was over.  Well, if that was the case, I would not have started writing this blog would I?  I’m not one to waste my time typing and your time reading for no pictures.  This was one of those times when I find myself in a very familiar area but see something for the first time.  Off to the right I caught a glimpse of a barn and I turned my head.  I didn’t see much except for an old barn with a long fence going to it.  There were some really impressive trees on the property as well.  This could be something!  I was really surprised that I had never seen it before though.  I got turned around to check it out again.  I was expecting to find a fatal flaw in the composition since that was how my day was going so far.

Nope, the only flaw to the composition was the fact that the trees were drooping rather low and I was going to have to get the camera lower in order to shoot under them.  As long as the fence didn’t prove a problem I was thinking that I could so something with this scene.  I got pulled over in a parking lot just next door and grabbed my gear.  My plan was to shoot a vertical image with my wide angle lens to capture the fence and the towering trees so that was how I built the camera.  I framed up the shot and found it to be decent but the barn was now too hidden in the scene and the composition lacked the pop that I needed it to have. This was a picture of the barn and not just the trees.  The balance was all off shooting vertical, so I flipped the camera horizontal and tried to frame that up.  There was too much coming into the edges for that to be a success.  I had to swap out my lens in favor of the standard 24-70mm which I ended up using at 50mm to get the framing that I needed.

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

As you can see from the picture here, the trees were very close to blocking the view of the barn.  Since I was after separation to keep the barn completely visible, I had to get down very low and actually shot between the slats on the fence.  I also moved over quite a bit to the right and gave up using the fence as a leading line into the barn in favor of using the leading tree as a foreground element.  There were three dominant trees that I decided to include so I had to be very careful with the placement of the camera so that all three trees had their own visual space.  I also had to pay attention to the framing to the right as there was a house just outside of the frame.  There was another building just outside of the frame on the left, so my boundaries were set my necessity more than anything.  All I could do was shift right and left to get the balance that I needed.  I ended up with the camera sitting on the middle slat of the fence to get the perspective that I needed on the barn.  I hadn’t been using any filters, but I decided to see what a Color Combo Polarizer would do with the scene.  Since I was no longer shooting wider than 35mm I didn’t need to worry about dark parts of the sky, and the clouds were moving in slightly which broke up the blue nicely.  The polarizer added a little pop to the clouds as well as added to the contrast of the barn so I went ahead and screwed that onto the filter holder and mounted it to the front of the camera.  I changed the exposure to compensate for the filter and started making images as the clouds moved through the frame.

Between my two different locations on this barn I shot a total of 26 images which was quite a lot actually for a single subject and only two compositions.  I was working with the changing light as the sun would come in and out from the clouds and also seeing the clouds moving across the sky overhead of the barn.  I managed to decide on three of the 26 that I liked, one of which was the original vertical composition that had better balance when cropped down to a 5×7 image.  I looked at all three of them and picked the strongest one to process.  I was pretty sure that this was going to be a color image, but didn’t discount the idea of monochrome just in case.

The more I worked the image, the more I liked the color balance.  The blue sky really contrasted wonderfully with the slightly warm tones of the wood and ground.  What I wasn’t liking was the saturation levels that I was seeing as I tweaked the contrast of the image.  I checked to see how a black and white image would look at this point and found it to be too complex with all the branches present.  The color actually simplified the scene nicely which was odd.  I switched back to color and started to work the saturation levels and found that by dropping them a good amount I was able to keep the color contrasts that I loved while really calming the whole scene at the same time.

As I get older and wiser in my photography, I am starting to see the power in subtle colors more and more.  Normally I would have embraced the saturation and really made this image pop.  Now I look at it as a much calmer scene that doesn’t need that pop.  It has plenty of structure with the trees and the color is only important for balance, not for telling the story.  A very desaturated image does this so much better in this case.  I made sure that all of the colors were right where I wanted them to be, and I normed my eyes looking at other pictures that I have done before coming back to this one.  I made a few more subtle changes and decided that I really liked how this one image came together.

It still strikes me as being very funny how many times I’ve passed by this barn and either not seen it, or not paid it any mind before.  Granted, in the Summer, the leaves would have blocked it almost completely from view, but I have been by here in the winter before a number of times.  It just goes to show you that it pays to return to areas at different times of the year as you will see different things each time.

Most importantly though, I had erased the taste of ice cream from my mouth.  While I still have the idea in my mind for the Mercedes, I have broken the chains that kept my mind focused on that subject.  I have found another subject, visualized a picture, and executed it.  That was how I wanted to start off the year, and I managed to do it right after I had given up for the day.  I guess I never really give up, I’m always looking for that next image.

Thanks for joining me on this first trek of the year….and of the decade.  I hope that this sets the tone for the ones to follow.  I’m really going to go for quality over quantity this year.  That means less images, but the ones that I have will hopefully be much better on average than they have been.  At least that is the hope.  Remember, if you like any of the images that I have posted here, or that are in the gallery, I would love to be able to help you bring a print into your home.  Just let me know how I can help you and I will get right on your order.

Until next time….
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