Saturday, January 19, 2019
Social Media is one of those necessary evils with my photography. It is immensely useful for marketing and getting my name out there. It allows me to share my work with so many that wouldn’t normally get to see my images. Occasionally though, it allows me to get a glimpse at something that I want to photograph when I wouldn’t normally have a chance to see it. That was the case on January 7th, when two friends of mine, Dolores and Susan, let me know about a post that one of their friends had done on Facebook. Apparently, another Susan had posted that her daughter and her had discovered a couple of old cars out in the woods behind a house that they had recently moved into. There were a few pictures that they had taken of the cars and that was what prompted the tagging for me to see. Yep, this was right up my alley and I was so very appreciative of the heads up on the subjects. I got in touch with Susan through Facebook and got permission to come out and try some things out with the cars. Since I was leaving on my anniversary weekend in a couple of days, I didn’t have the time to do anything with them before the trip. The weather wasn’t good for it once we got home, and I was busy with getting three days worth of Treks processed and uploaded.
Not knowing exactly what I would have to work with, I kind of put this location on the back burner for another time when there were thick clouds in the sky since this was going to be a woodland shoot. I didn’t really give it much thought for the remainder of the week after our return until Friday night. Looking at the weather for the weekend, things had changed up on Saturday from the completely rainy day that was forecasted. Now they were saying that the rain was going to start about 10 or 11 which would give me a little bit of a window in the morning. I contacted Susan and she said that it would be fine for me to come by if the weather was decent for photography.
I have to admit, I was a little late getting up on Saturday and taking into consideration the travel time, I was well out of the window for getting to the other side of Guilford County before the rain was supposed to hit. However, after I got up and functioning I looked at the weather again and the rain was now pushed back to about 1pm. That gave me enough time to get out there and have a decent amount of time to work the scene and try different compositions. I went ahead and contacted Susan and let her know I was going to be headed out there. The sky was looking really good with low and thick clouds. There was just a little texture to them on the off chance I would have any shots that included the clouds. My bet was that I would have trees in every one of the shots and nothing with just the sky exposed, so the texture more than likely wasn’t going to be an issue. The rain that was falling on the windshield off and on was a little bothering, but it was just a light mist so I was pretty sure that the tree coverage would keep me dry if that continued.
Since this was kind of a last minute plan, I spent most of the drive out there thinking about how I was going to want to shoot the cars. I was figuring that I was going to have to work past the trees that appeared to be surrounding both cars, and I could tell that they were positioned nose to nose in close proximity from the pictures I had seen on Facebook. I was hoping that I could do some isolations of different elements of the cars, and was hoping that I could get some broad shots of the sides, fronts, and backs of these cars. I was pretty sure that I was going to be shooting up close, so wide angle was going to be my friend for the most part. I also knew that in addition to my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, I might end up using some of my Singh-Ray ND Grads in case the sky was a little too bright. I was feeling pretty good about things and hoped that when I got there I found a situation close to what I was envisioning.
When I arrived, Susan met me in the driveway and gave me a real quick synopsis of how they found the cars two weeks ago. With the leaves off of the trees, you could see much deeper into the woods. Her daughter had seen something up in the woods that looked like a truck. They went up to investigate and realized quickly that it was a couple of cars sitting in the woods. There was a tree across one of them, which got them thinking that this was some sort of accident. The close they got the better they were able to see the age of the cars and realized that they had been there for some time. They did some investigating around them and shot the pictures that ended up on Facebook. From the little creek where we had walked to, I could just see the light color of painted metal at the top of the ridge. The brush was thick, and I wasn’t real sure how easy it would be to get to the cars or to shoot them, but I was really intrigued.
Before we parted ways, she pointed out a small Western Flyer bicycle with training wheels that had been pulled out of the woods and set up next to a small tree. This was a really cool find, and it was all rusted and bent which fit my bill for a great picture. However, looking at the clouds and knowing that there was rain falling around us, I decided to save the bike for later and to get the main subject knocked out while I could. I crossed the creek and made my way up the hill to find the cars pretty much as I had expected. Fortunately, there was enough of a clearing around the cars that I had some workable area to compose shots in. I set my bag down in a remote corner so that it wouldn’t be in the way and got the camera set up. I started with my often used 24-70mm lens and added the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to bring a little life to the colors that were present under this heavily overcast sky.
I started to work on the white car that I think was a mid to late ’50’s Plymouth. Three of the four doors were opened, and I stuck with my mantra of shooting it as I found it. I went with the easiest location to shoot from which was the back left corner. From here I got a pretty good view of the trunk area, but there was a tree that blocked the rest of the car, save for the doors which were showing off their blue trim. Having the tree interrupt the composition was fine with me because this was going to be all about nature reclaiming these cars and I wanted to capture the connection between the two elements. The leaves from the past Autumn were still covering the trunk which complemented the leaves on the ground leading up to the rear of the car. The first few shots were pretty simple, but they got me fully into the mood for shooting these cars.
I moved over the other car, which was a late ’40’s Plymouth Special Deluxe Coupe. Something that I immediately noticed was the “Plymouth” emblem on the front of the car had been broken and now read only “outh.” I have this habit of assigning personalities to the cars that I photograph. Since this broken emblem was right next to a tree that had grown up against the front bumper, I naturally read this as the car saying (with a slight speech impediment) “OUTH!” after making contact. The emblem was framed by two pieces of wood which kind of forced my next compositional idea. I had to get in close enough to avoid the trees and branches that were between the two cars. I ended up setting up right next to a tree, while holding a vine back with my leg. It looked like I was doing some sort of weird gymnastics, but it worked for what I needed. The wide angle of the lens helped to make the front end quite impressive as well.
After I did some work with the front of the car, I moved around to the back. I love these coupe designs from this era! They have such a nice flow to the body work. I started to work out a composition that would capture what I was seeing with the dramatic lines and the chrome bits that were adorning that hind end. I wanted to get the sweeping lines of the side of the car, but there was a tree that prevented me from making a good composition that way. By getting in close to the tree though, I was able to get the perspective I was wanting. By getting down low, I made the focal point of the shot the trunk and really minimized the impact of the tree that had fallen across the car. There are a lot of compromises that have to be made in this type of photography, and sometimes they make for pretty good pictures.
I was really getting in the zone with these cars and started to pick out details I liked. One of the most obvious places I wanted to shoot was inside the coupe since the dash was largely in tact and full of chrome bits. Since the windows were long since smashed out, I was able to get the shot that I wanted through the passenger side window which showed off the shifter as well as the dash. These cars had so much character in their day, and I dare say that character is timeless. The addition of moss and fallen pine needles just added to the personality. Things were rolling right along now, and I was starting to get a little creative with what I was shooting.
Looking around the old Coupe, I found that the engine was still in place after all of these years. It looked like a flathead six cylinder under a lot of pine needles. What really drew me in was the fine with bright green leaves coming out of the engine compartment. I found myself thinking that this was truly a “green” engine. The lines of the bay opening were dramatic and really called for a special composition. I tried my normal straight from the front shot which seemed a little anticlimactic. I tried it from the side, but I missed having the windshield chrome in the shot. I decided to do a little something different for this and took a diagonal shot. Normally I like everything level and resist the urge to take the dramatic tilted image that is so popular with folks these days. It did work here, and achieved the look that I was after. There was just enough of the engine visible to get you to look deeper into the bay for more clues. There was enough of the car visible that you knew exactly what you were looking at, but yearned for more answers. It’s a quirky image, but I like it.
Since I was already between the fronts of both cars I swung my attention to the windshield area of the sedan. The front clip was missing, although the frame was still there. The first point of interest in the front of the car was the firewall and windshield frame. The glass, of course, had been knocked out years ago except for a small portion at the driver’s side corner. There was also a bright green vine draped across the dash. The blue of the interior was still in pretty good shape considering that the roof had a giant hole in it. The lines, the colors, the textures…they all worked together to create a really nice subject. It is a little abstract because the primary feature is the fallen leaves. The chrome provides a framework for the real focal point of the image, and the seats give that much needed color balance to the image.
In photography, one of the hardest things to do is to simplify your images. You have to choose exactly what to include in the frame and what you don’t want in it. This is one of those images where that becomes so very important. In fact, I had to apply a 16:9 crop to the image because the firewall was causing too many visual distractions from the windshield area that I was focusing on. The angle I shot it from caught just enough of the seats in introduce that much needed color. I also avoided getting too much of the hole in the roof which would have been another distraction for the image. I think that with the colors and the chrome frame the viewer’s eyes are kept right where I want them to be with this shot.
I really liked the cracked glass and will shoot that whenever I get the opportunity. It didn’t really stand out much in the previous shot, so I decided to do a little something different and shoot another composition in vertical format. The firewall and cowl which had been a distraction in the other image became a focal point for this image which led up to the cracked glass at the top. There was still enough of the cool tones for a nice color balance, but more of the car was shown here. There was just so much rust present that it became a feast for the eyes. Since this area is usually covered by the fenders and hood, it becomes very visually interesting for the viewer as they try to resolve what they are looking at. This image doesn’t have the same visual framework that the previous one did so the eyes are allowed to rove all through the image. There is a lot of detail in every layer of this image into the woods in the background. There are bits and pieces hanging from the roof that will pull you right back in though. There is just enough of the hole in the roof visible to make it interesting, but not enough to suck the viewer’s eyes out of the car. I wasn’t sure how this one would turn out, but I have to say…I like it!
Since I was up at this part of the car, I started to look to see if there was a way to shoot the dash as I had in the other car. This was going to prove a bit more difficult. I wasn’t able to get a clean shot of the dash since the door were both open…and looking at it, I wasn’t sure I wanted a clean shot of the dash. I tried a few images from the rear door area that I didn’t really like. I even tried going over to the passenger side, but that didn’t look right either. As a last ditch effort, I decided to get in between the two doors on the driver’s side and try to compose something there.
As I was composing this image I ran into the problem of simplifying which was going to be a much bigger issue than the other ones I had dealt with. I had tree limbs, vines, and parts of the car dangling that I had to shoot around. I decided to embrace some of the branches and I got down very low to the ground. I was able to use both doors as a framework to lead the eyes into the image. The branch became the foreground that enveloped the door card that was falling off. It also framed the corner of the glass in the windshield. The leaves in the seat kept the cool tones from being too overbearing for the image. Even the hold in the roof made sense for this shot. It is a very complex shot, but one that keeps the viewers eyes in the frame and constantly moving around. I wasn’t sure if this would turn out as I envisioned it, but I’m happy to say that I hit the mark exactly with what I had in mind.
While I was looking to see about shooting the dash of the sedan, I had been over to the passenger side. There was a slight clearing on that side, but it was a pretty steep hill. I thought about using that hill to get a low point of view on the back quarter of the car. I moved everything to that side and started to figure out a composition. I had a large tree in the way of the car that I had to embrace. There were also limbs coming into the side from the front half. There were a lot of visual distractions to work around, but after playing with my position and focal length, I finally got something that made sense. Just as I found the composition my battery light started to flash on the screen letting me know that my battery was at a critical level. Normally, this would not pose a problem, but I had gotten myself wedged between the camera and a tree while my foot was holding back a vine. If I moved, I was going to lose the composition I had been fighting for. I crossed my fingers and made the exposure which was a 1 second long exposure. I was just hoping that there was enough juice in the camera to make it work.
Fortunately I had enough power to complete the exposure. I shut things down and unwedged myself and the camera to go back over to the camera bag. I swapped in a fresh battery and removed the lens in favor of my 70-200mm lens which would be excellent for isolations. Of course, I moved the polarizer over to the long lens as it was quite helpful with the glare on the cars. With a fresh battery and a new outlook through the long lens, I started to work both cars once again. I went back to the coupe and started to look at that broken emblem on the front. I really wanted to highlight that bit of chrome before I left the area.
As you can see, by this point, it was raining once again. It wasn’t bothering the camera, but since I had the long lens on, I had to be a little careful of the front element. This is the one lens that I have where I have to use a step up ring to fit filters which means that I don’t get to use a lens hood. Normally, I have a hat that I use to shield the filter, but I left without a hat this morning which meant that I had to use my hand. Fortunately, the rain was light and wasn’t causing undue issues. The long lens really did well at picking out the details that I wanted to capture though. With this composition, I was able to get the broken chrome trim as well as the textures of the rust around the emblem. You can even see the dent that broke the emblem in the first place when the car said “OUTH” in pain. Yeah, that personality will stick with this coupe for ever and always I think.
For some reason I was a little obsessed with this coupe and the windshield chrome. I had already composed an image with the engine that included that trim, but I wanted to do something a little different with the long lens that captured that windshield as well. I backed up and started to look at different compositions. I found one that captured the “Special Deluxe” emblem on the side. It wasn’t going to be an isolation since the emblem was rather plain and there wasn’t much character around it. However, with the lines of the car, the greenery coming from the engine compartment and the trees in the background, I knew I had something that would work. The steering wheel became the focal point of the composition and the rest of the story was told in textures. The greenery helped pull the eyes to the steering wheel which was covered in moss.
Before I left the coupe, I decided that since this car had a front end, I would see what I could do with the headlights. I found a good place to shoot the passenger side light and was delighted to see that there was a spider web in the bucket for some added visual interest. Of course, both of the lenses were long since gone leaving only a rusty void. This was fine since the chrome had a good deal of character around the headlight. The trim was also in place. The bumper was partially covered by pine needles which actually helped with the visual framing and complimenting the needles in the headlight bucket. I don’t know why I love shooting the headlights on these old cars, but they always seem to turn out really good when I do them.
I was just about to wrap things up as the rain was getting heavier at this point. Before I packed things up though, I wanted to shoot the beautiful fins on the back of the sedan. They had such great angles and the textures of the quarter molding really set things off. The best side to photograph was the passenger side since more of it was visible. I started with a straight on angle and didn’t really like that, so I moved out just a little bit. I again found myself baking up into a tree and getting myself wedged into a very tight position. At least this time I didn’t have to worry about the vines since I was shooting such a narrow field of view. I shot both a vertical and horizontal composition and found that the vertical really captured the “Z” angle of the chrome the best. The rain droplets really helped bring the chrome to life as well. The broken tail light wasn’t a big factor at all for me since it was the chrome that I was after in the first place.
With that composition, I was done with these two cars. Most photographers will shoot until they are done, and that moment comes about suddenly. We will search for more compositions up to a point. After that point, we have shot what we feel is important with the subject and then a switch flips. I didn’t need to look things over any more, I didn’t need to switch lenses and try different things. Nope, I just needed to put things back in the bag and go back down the hill to the house. I was done here. Maybe another time with different conditions, but I had what I cam for, and I was pretty sure I was looking at about seven or so images that I would want to keep.
Hey wait a minute…not so fast! Remember the bike beside the creek? Not to worry, I didn’t forget that at all. When I got back across the creek I started to look it over. It was badly bend and it had a lot of rust on it. One tire was missing, and it had been through hell and back it appeared. It was just quirky enough for me to really want to shoot it. I pulled the camera back out and loaded up the 70-200mm lens once again since this was a pretty small bike. I added the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer because I really wanted to make the red stand out from the background. I started putting together compositions and found that this was a very difficult subject to shoot. The tubes were so small that they were getting lost in the background which was not very easy to isolate. I ended up opening up the aperture to f/9 so that the background would soften while keeping the bike relatively sharp. That helped, but things were still looking very complex in the LCD review of the images I was shooting. My thought was to do a 1×1 crop on the image to eliminate as much of the background as possible and do some heavy dodging and burning in Lightroom to help the bike pop a little bit against the grass and brush. However, just in case that didn’t work, I needed an alternate plan…
My second option was to do an isolation on the bike. The question was, how to go about doing that. Well, I figure that emblems work on cars, why not the decoration on the head tube? I got into position where you could make out the entire crest of the Western Flyer. It also showed the way the bike frame had bent over the years. I framed up an image that showed the handle bars bent in a strange way, the seat kicked back, and of course, the beautiful rusty texture on the metal. This was looking a bit more promising than the overall shot that I did. The truth of the matter was, after I got home an started to process these two images they both needed ample dodging and burning to really make the bike stand out against the background. I almost gave up on both of them, but pushed through and found the combination of tricks to achieve what I needed to have a successful image. There was nothing terribly invasive done, just some work on the tonal relationships that were present. In the end, both images were true to what I saw looking at the bike.
In fact, all of the images that I decided were worth processing turned out just like my eyes had seen them. I came home with 100 images on the camera which was a lot considering I was shooting only three subjects. I had felt pretty good about seven of them. I ended up with a total of 16 images that I thought were worth keeping and processing. That was pretty incredible considering I hadn’t really put much mental energy into this Trek at all. I am happy that I decided to go here at the last minute, and consider it a very successful day!