Taking Advantage of the Clouds

· Reading Time: 10 minutes

Friday, November 29, 2019

I had been working on my next Behind the Camera feature as well as releasing some of my upcoming workshops here on the website.  The sun had been pretty bright all day long so I hadn’t really been wanting to get out and do any photography.  As the day moved on, the clouds started to build, so I began to think about what I could go out and try to work with.  Around 2:30, I had decided to go out towards Stokes County to see if a barn I had been eyeing for a while was ready to photograph with the clouds.  I grabbed my gear and headed out to see if I could get anything to work.

When I got to the barn, the sky directly behind it was pale blue with no clouds.  The interesting clouds were on the wrong side of it.  The light wasn’t all that great on the barn either, so I decided to let it go for the moment and see if there was something else that I might want to photograph.  It didn’t take long before I came across and old house with a couple of really cool trees in front of it.  As many times as I had been by this property, I don’t recall ever seeing it.  It might just be that the leaves on the trees had covered it, or the sky wasn’t as interesting behind it.  I don’t know the reason, but today it was asking to be photographed.  I got turned around and pulled off on the side of the road before getting out to make sure that I had a composition that would be workable for this house.  My main obstacles were the trees in the front of the house.  They limited my placement to pretty much directly in front of the house to keep from blocking the shape and flow of the home.  With the framing pretty much dead center on the house, I decided that I would shoot a vertical composition to really give the trees a place to live and a bit more importance to the image.  I wanted to keep the perspective distortion down, so I picked out my standard 24-70mm lens.  I didn’t seen any reason to add any filters at first, so I just got started with a nekked camera.

Blended Family“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, No Filters

This was one of the first images that I shot and I was pretty happy with it, but I wanted to try something a bit different.  I flipped the camera back to horizontal and framed an image that put the house in the right third of the frame and then extended the framing on the left side to get a very interesting tree.  With the way the exposure was looking I decided to add a Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 2-stop soft edge ND Grad to bring the sky back just a little bit.  I found that I liked this composition better, and really worked on the fine tuning of how I put it all together.  I shot about six images total at this location before deciding that I needed to move on to the next subject.  I would have liked to have moved in closer, but the house was so far off the road that I didn’t want to trespass on the property any more than I already was.  I was happy with what I had with the horizontal composition, so it was not a big loss that I didn’t get in any closer.

I continued North into Stokes County and saw a small tobacco barn to the left off of Bolejack Rd that I wanted to come back to, so I went up to the next road and turned in so I could get turned around.  The road actually looked very promising, so I continued down to see what I could find.  Sure enough, I found a great old country store that was sitting on the edge of a property next to an aged garage.  The scene was really nice, so I decided to pull over and see what I could do with it.  I got the camera set up with the same lens and I added the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer as well as a Galen Rowell 2-stop soft edge ND Grad.  I started working the scene from the opposite side of the road, and then moved over to the side of the road with the store.  I was actually really enjoying what I was seeing and was getting some pretty good compositions.  There was just enough detail in the sky so that I could pull it out in post processing.

As I was shooting the scene, the owner came out to talk to me.  He was a really nice guy and told me the history of the store.  He had actually moved it from its original location back in the ’90’s and had rebuilt it there on his property.  The signs that were on it, were period correct for the ’50’s and he had been collecting them for years.  The whole scene really looked great.  The more I heard about the history, the more involved I became in the scene.  This was going to be my favorite image of the day I was certain of it!

So, why are we not seeing this wonderful location?  Well, you see….what had happened was, I had a slight equipment glitch.  You will also notice that on my previous subject the horizontal composition wasn’t included either.  When I was editing the images once I got home, I found a really bad area of focus across the front of the house that looked like there was camera shake.  I found it in all of the horizontal compositions, in roughly to the same place, although it would move up and down slightly based on the framing.  I really wasn’t sure what was happening with the images but I wasn’t happy with it.  That was a complete shame since I had finished processing the image and it came out terrific.  In my quest for quality, I decided to trash the image because I couldn’t fix the focus problem after the fact.  I decided instead to move on to the old country store and work my favorite image of the day without stressing the old house.

Well, I was starting to get the processing finished up, and as I was zooming in to work on the details, I found the same anomaly when it came to the focus.  This time, it went right across the tin roof at the front of the store.  I started to look at all of the series of this scene and found it was present just like with the house.  OK, was my lens busted?  Couldn’t be the lens, because the area moved with the compositions so it had to be a filter problem.  The only filter that was common between the two scenes was the Grad filter.  I pulled it out of my bad, and sure enough, something had gotten into the sleeve and smeared the filter right around the division line.  It was faint enough that I didn’t see it on a quick glance, but holding it up to the light showed a very prominent optical issue.  I grabbed my lens cloth and it wiped away with no problem.  Only it was too late to save the images that had been lost.  I was about 15 images into the 20 that I had shot from the evening and all of them had fatal flaws.  Well, all but the first two that I shot where I had no filters at all.  I went back to them and picked the one that was slightly underexposed to keep the sky at bay and started to process it.  Fortunately, the camera had the dynamic range to handle the lighting without having to use the Grad, but I was pushing the envelope further than I typically want to.  However, in order to salvage one of the locations, it was worth it.

So, that explains why there is no picture of the historic store that I was so excited about.  For the internet, the image would have been just fine and nobody would have seen any problems with the image.  However, once I made a print of the scene, it would have been very apparent that there was a very important part of the scene that was blurred and funny looking.  Since I pride myself on having top quality prints of my images, this was unacceptable for me.  My evening wasn’t over yet though.  fortunately, I had left just enough time for one more subject before calling it a night.  I had gotten back on the road, happy as could be with what I thought were some really great images.  I turned down Bolejack Rd and started to study the tobacco barn I had seen.  There was just not a good composition to be had of it without including the house behind it so I passed it by.

Tin Roofed Tales“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, No Filters

As the light was fading on the evening, I found another old tobacco barn tucked into the woods at the edge of a field.  It was all alone and just begging for a photograph.  The trees had shed their leaves around it making it much more visible than it would have been just a month ago.  I pulled off the road and sized up the situation.  It was looking like a great shot for the long lens since it was a good distance off the road and I didn’t need to include much in the way of a background since the trees around it provided plenty of filler for the setting of the image.  Since the sun was pretty much at the horizon behind some clouds, there was not much need for any filters.  I got the shot set up from the left side of the barn to begin with and got some images with the sky just in case.  I then moved to the other side of it and started to capture the scene that had caught my eye in the first place.  The lighting was perfect and I was thinking since there was very little color to the scene that I would do this as a black and white image.  I only shot a handful of frames of this barn as there wasn’t much I could do to change the composition around being limited to the side of the road.  After about 10 minutes I was packed up and back on my way home.

When I started to process this image, I found that I really liked the black and white and thought that was going to be the one.  However, there was a slightly different composition which I had also liked, so I decided to see what a color rendition would look like.  The more I tweaked the colors and the contrasts, the more I started to really like the color image.  In fact, I liked it better than the monochrome image I had started with.  In the end, I decided against the monochrome one and stuck with the color version.  I had now pretty much fully processed five images from the evening and realized that two of them were completely worthless due to that little optical issue from a dirty filter.  A third was tossed in favor of keeping a color presentation of the subject.  That left me with the two images that I have included here.  Two of twenty frames is still my normal 10% keeper rate, so I can’t complain, but I really was excited about the old store.

I’m hoping that if the weather holds long enough tomorrow that I can go out there and try the store one more time now that I have the filter issue taken care of.  I had been thinking about doing waterfalls tomorrow, but I’m kind of in a rural mood currently, so it is looking like I’ll hopefully be going back out to Stokes County in the morning.  Fingers crossed that it works out!

Until next time….