Trying to Clear the Cobwebs

· Reading Time: 23 minutes

Friday, May 14, 2021

It would appear that I have dropped off the face of the Earth here recently.  It has been a couple of weeks since I last wrote in my blog or added new pictures.  I could give you some excuses about why that was, but in all honesty, I just haven’t been feeling very creative lately.  I’ve been trying to get out every so often to get some pictures done but I always end up back at home without even taking the camera out.  I’m not sure what is the root cause of this creative slump that I’m in, but it has been a very strong one and one that I am having a hard time shaking.  Earlier in the month I hosted a mini workshop at Doughton Park which went reasonably well and I even shot a couple of images for demonstration.  I wasn’t exactly happy with them and it took me a couple of days to even look at them.  Out of the three that I shot there was one that I thought had promise.  I started playing with it in Lightroom and ultimately gave up on it because I just couldn’t get it to look right for my vision.  My purpose in capturing the image wasn’t to get a great photograph, it was only to show how to come about getting a composition so I wasn’t really out anything by not having a workable image from the effort.  However, it did set me back a little further with the slump since I looking at a failure of an attempt with nothing to redeem it.  That negativity has continued on since that point and I have been having a lot of trouble finding beauty around me in a way that I want to photograph.

Not really knowing what to go out and capture added to those issues.  I wasn’t sure if I was feeling landscapes or rural scenes, and there was always the decay end of things as well.  Not having a clear vision of what I wanted to accomplish was a large part of the issue for me I’m sure.  Without a plan, nothing that I created would appear to be a well thought out or executed image so I was rather concerned about forcing the matter and ending up with forced images.  So there I was at an impasse where I didn’t want to force my creativity while at the same time needing to jumpstart that creative urge.  What to do?

I was hoping that the creativity would come back on its own.  I tried watching videos on photography to get something sparked, but that didn’t work.  I went through and worked on the edit from Doughton Park some more without any headway.  I even went back on a portrait shoot that I did a few months ago and did edits on a couple of photos that hadn’t made the cut originally.  That helped, but got me wanting to do a different type of photography that landscapes and decay.  Since portraits are difficult for me and require subjects that wasn’t really going to work all that well.  I eventually realized that my creativity wasn’t going to come back on its own and I was going to have to do something to push it along a little bit.

Measured in Feet“, Canon 5DS R, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Mor-Slo 10-stop ND Filter, 60 seconds

With Toni in school for a test for most of Friday morning, I decided to go out and start driving around to see if there was something that caught my eye.  I didn’t really have much of a destination in mind except that I thought that I might want to try try the Kerr Scott Dam again.  I had wonderful luck with it during an evening shoot and I was hoping to get different light on it during the morning and try for a lower perspective on the hill in hopes of getting a different sense of scale to the structure.  As I went to sleep on Thursday night I set the clock for 5am so that I could get out there before sunrise in order to capture all of the different types of light which were possible.

The clock rang and I wasn’t all that motivated to go out.  In my want to stay in bed I thought I might want to see if I could get into the area this early in the morning.  A quick search showed that the gates were all locked until 8am.  Well, there was no reason to get up this early so I went back to sleep and figured I would try to get up once again when Toni woke up to go to her test.  I managed to wake up about the same time and still had no motivation.  She left for her test and I was milling around the house doing my normal morning activities and getting thing caught up in the office.  Shortly after she left I decided to load up and just go out and see what I could find.  There were some good clouds overhead and Toni had sent me pictures of clouds along 421 which looked interesting, but thinner than what I was seeing at home.

When I got out on the road, the clouds were all clearing off and the blue sky was starting to really shine through.  This wasn’t all that ideal for the image that I wanted at the dam, but it was what I had to work with.  I wasn’t even sure if the composition idea that I had would work out.  If nothing else, I would go out here to scout it and see if the concept was sound and what I could do with it under different light.  I arrived there around 8:45 and there was nobody at all there which was good.  Last time, I had to work around several fishermen as I got a composition figured out.  This time, I had nothing to get in the way, but the sky was less than stellar at this point.  I did go out on the bank and worked on finding a spot where I could put my wide angle lens to use.

My goal was just a straight shot of the scene to really test the composition more than anything else.  There was just a slight breeze and the water was relatively calm, but with a normal exposure there was a bit more texture to it than I wanted.  I slid in a 5-stop ND Filter which got my exposure to 15 seconds which helped, but it wasn’t quite there.  My goal was to calm the water enough so that I could clone the floats out of the frame in post processing.  I needed a slower shutter so I swapped in my 10-stop ND and that gave me an exposure of a full minute which was enough to smooth the water completely and it even showed a little movement in the sky.  I shot a few frames like this to get the clouds in different positions before deciding to call it quits.  I wasn’t sure if I had anything usable or not, but I had actually made a new image which was the biggest hurdle I had to jump this morning.

When I got the images home, I started to weed out the better frames and found that one of my last ones turned out the best and had the best chance of being able to remove the floats.  I got the image processed and brought it into Photoshop thinking that I was gong to have a very easy time of removing this element.  I had done it successfully last time and had since gotten better with cloning elements out.  What I thought was going to be a simple task turned into a mess.  With the lighting this time, there was a harder division in tones on either side of the float than there had been last time.  No matter what I did, I couldn’t get a transition to make sense in the water.  The textures were even slightly different thanks to the breeze which only affected the portion on the far side of the floats.  After about an hour of working with it, I decided that I was going to have to leave it in the frame so I just subdued it a little bit with some local adjustments.  It isn’t perfect, but it was better than I was going to be able to do with removing it completely.

When the Fuel Runs Out“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

Still not really feeling any energy going through my creative mind I started back out on the road and decided to continue down 268 as there have been several areas out there that I have been wanting to capture.  Maybe this would be the day that the lighting and conditions would work out in my favor.  I worked my further and further without seeing anything at all that caught my eye.  I was starting to think that I was driving for nothing which was a little hard to swallow since gas prices were still quite high from the fuel interruption we had gone through earlier in the week.  Many stations were still out of fuel or on a reduced allotment due to gas hording which all made me feel guilty for being out driving around.  However, since this was essentially for work purposes so that helped ease the mental burden a little bit.  It would be nice if I was able to find something to justify my outing though.

As I was approaching the town of Lenoir, I passed by a fire station that I had driven by countless times with an old house next to it.  There were a couple of old gas pumps under an island light which caught my eye.  They weren’t the Esso pumps or anything from that era which was why they hadn’t really appealed to me before.  It was the fact that I was in a slump and needed to get something in front of my camera which prompted me to stop here for a bit.  I pulled in the fire station parking lot over to the side and grabbed my camera with the 24-70mm lens on it.  I added my polarizer and started to find a composition.  It wasn’t as easy as I would have liked, but I was working through several different positions to get a composition that I liked.  The lighting wasn’t great here but everything was in the shadows which helped keep everything nice and flat without a lot of deep shadows from the trees.

Alone in the Field“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, 7 images stitched in Lightroom

While I was working the gas pumps, I happened to look across the street and saw a beautiful field with a collection of farm buildings off on the side.  The hills behind were interesting and the sky above looked quite nice.  I figured that I could get something here with my long lens so I went back to the truck and swapped lenses.  I crossed the road and got set up on the bank just beside the fence.  I started trying to frame up a shot of the structures and found that I wasn’t really able to get any separation of them and the scene was just too cluttered with the focus on the farm.  I then had the idea to focus on the landscape and just let the buildings form an anchor for the scene so that the complexity of the buildings wouldn’t be quite as distracting.  It would also give me the ability to include more of the background which I liked a lot here.

My plan for this one was going to be a panorama with the field as the foreground, the mountains as the midground, and the sky as the background.  It was going to be a classic layered setup for a composition.  I got the tripod leveled and spun the camera to make sure that the ballhead was leveled as well.  Then I flipped the camera on its side and zoomed to roughly the intended height of the scene.  I did a dry run through the scene to check my exposure and then I locked focus on the farm.  Seven frames later, I had the panorama captured and I was confident that I had the exposure right and I saw no need to do a second take of this one.

Inner Working“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

While I had the long lens attached, I moved back across the street to look at the pumps once more.  They really weren’t all that interesting because they were from the 80’s it appeared and that was almost a current design.  There wasn’t much to them that really pulled enough interest to carry a photograph all by itself, but there was one aspect that kept drawing me in.  The pump to the left was missing the cover for the pump gear inside.  That was very interesting and made for a better subject than the pump itself.  The vegetation growing up through the different pieces made it that much more interesting.  I decided that the story here was the internal workings of this pump and not the pump itself.

I got down low and framed a vertical composition using the flange of the pump’s outer skin to frame the image.  As it turned out, this was nearly an exact 5:7 aspect ratio which worked fantastic.  I dialed in the correct exposure and just waited for the breeze to stop blowing.  Just to be sure, I shot several of these and then opened up the framing a bit to allow for more exact cropping after any perspective corrections that might have to be applied.  I didn’t want to get home and realize that I had messed up the capture.  As it turned out, I had the position exactly correct which allowed me to not crop any at all except for a bit off the top to make it the 5:7 aspect ratio that I had planned on.  The framing was perfect and it captured what I loved about this single pump.

It was this shot that I was most excited about going through the morning.  It was a simple shot, but one that really spoke to me and showcased what drew me into the scene.  I could feel the creative energy flowing a little bit once again.  The fact that this was a rusty isolation shot during the peak Spring colors was not lost on me.  I’ve been feeling a deep connection to my decay photography which seems to have grown over the Winter.  This is the time of year that I will typically move towards landscapes and will start spending a lot of my time along the Blue Ridge Parkway capturing the natural scenes.  The vivid Spring colors are wonderful to see after a season of dormant fields, but yet I had no draw to capture those scenes.  It was the decay that I was after and this struck me as odd after years of fluctuating with the seasons on what types of photography interested me.  Even though I wasn’t sure the reason, I was seeing the key to getting rid of my creative funk.  I needed to work more decay it would seem.  That is a hard subject to focus on during this part of the year and that might be part of the reason why my creative energy has been dwindling as the colors are coming alive around me.

Field of Gold“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, 8 images stitched in Lightroom

I continued down 268 until I got into Lenoir and met 321.  Since I had seen a few barns that I was considering photographing on the way out, I just turned around to head back to them to see if the light had changed for the better at those locations.  I passed one and then another only to realize that the light was no more favorable on them at this point than when I had seen them before.  I was really hoping for deeper clouds overhead with a bit more moody light on the landscape, but I wasn’t getting that at all.  I kept getting this bright and cheery light with the bank of clouds off in the distance.  It was a beautiful sky, but I had to find something to put underneath it which would add to the sky and not fight with it.

I happened upon a location which I had heard about last Fall, but had been closed the times I had come by to check it out.  I noticed that the sign said that they were open from April until October so I decided to drive on it and see what I could see.  When I got there, I followed the signs for parking and parked in the empty lot.  As I got out and got my gear, a gentleman came out to greet me.  It threw me for a loop when he asked what I was wanting since the sign said that they were open.  I told him my reasons for being there and he let me know that I missed another sign that showed limited days during the week when they were open.  I apologized for my oversight and we spoke for a bit.  He was nice enough to let me get a few pictures even though they were not open, and out of respect for his kindness, I am not going to mention the place in hopes that others don’t try to take advantage of his hospitality.

Since he had been gracious enough to give me permission to get some pictures I decided not to photograph the main attractions here since I was not really following protocol.  Instead, I decided to shoot a barn which was on the other side of a brilliant field of yellow.  This was the more natural scene for me and I felt better working that instead of the show pieces which were on the rest of the property.  I found my position right at the fence and loaded up the 70-200mm lens along with the polarizer.  I started to figure out a composition which would simplify the barn against the cluttered background.  I was feeling like I did with the previous farm that I had just shot where all of the buildings were on top of one another and I was fighting to simplify the chaos.  As I did with that, I decided to focus on the field and the sky more than anything and just use the barn as a visual anchor for the image.

I went through the process of getting a panorama captured and ultimately created a series of eight images which I merged together in Lightroom when I got home.  The exposure looked good and I just needed to shoot a single series of frames to get the raw material needed for the image I had in mind.  Things were coming a little easier for me at this point but I was still feeling like I was forcing the issue.  I wasn’t sure if the panorama was going to work or not so I decided to work on a single frame image of the scene as well.

Spring Shelter“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

For that option, I moved to another location a bit closer to the barn.  I was met with a compositional problem with another barn directly behind the main subject which I had been able to minimize from a distance and with the different angle.  Now it was something that jumped out and distracted my eyes from the main barn.  Looking around, I saw the chance to even things out a bit and have a bit better flow for the image by adding the side of a closer barn to the composition.  This barn had some great wooden siding, but the overall design wasn’t all that photogenic.  However, that one side of it brought the eyes into the scene quite well and helped to overpower the barn in the background which then brought the visual weight back to the main barn I was wanting to capture.

I was pretty happy with how this composition came together and more happy with the way I worked it out in my head.  When I am in a creative slump, I typically have a very hard time working through complex compositions and will just give up.  I managed to problem solve this composition and create a workable image in a short amount of time.  It isn’t one of my strongest images, and honestly none of the ones from this trek fall into that category, but that wasn’t really the point of the day.  I just needed to get my mind and eyes working together again to create images that told the stories that were begging to be shared.  I was getting there with my images and with every press of the button I was feeling better about my photography in general.  It is after I get into that creative mode that I can start creating those images that I can look back on at the end of the year as some of my most significant photographs.

Feeling that I had taken advantage of the hospitality as much as I dared, I went back to the truck and headed back out to the road.  I was actually feeling like I still had more in me which was a nice surprise.  Up until this point I was having to tell myself to keep going.  For the first time I was feeling the urge to really find something to photograph and that was a nice feeling.  I worked my way back into Wilkesboro and decided to go and check on Toni to see how the test went since she wasn’t too far away.  I got to the school and found that her car wasn’t there.  I figured that she had probably just left and I went to my phone to locate her.  It looked like she was still at the school, but the blip was slowly moving across the street to the gas station.  I looked that way and I could just see the corner of her Hyper Blue Crosstrek sitting there at the pumps.  I rushed over there to see how things had gone.  She wasn’t sure of the results but would know later in the evening or first thing Saturday.  We chatted a bit while she was putting gas in the car.  She hadn’t eaten before heading out since she didn’t think it would take all that long so she was going to get something to eat before going home. I told her that I was going to take the long way home and hoped to find something else to photograph since I was starting to get back into the groove of this photography thing.

Fallen and Stripped“, Canon 5DS R, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

That long way home was basically just meandering up and down roads.  My intention was to photograph a chicken house which I had shot months ago, but when I passed it, I didn’t really see anything that excited me about it.  I continued on and knew that I would be coming in the back way home and passing a barn that I had been wanting to shoot for many months.  I had even stopped and knocked on the door of the house a couple of times in my travels with no success.  I wasn’t sure if I would have any different luck today, but since I was passing by there I would check it out again.  As I approached it, I noticed that the clouds were looking good overhead which was a good sign.  It wasn’t the foggy mist that I had seen floating on the distant ridge back in the Fall, but the lighting was good on it at least.

I pondered as I passed by.  I got turned around thinking that I might as well knock on the door since I was there.  I knew that the chances of finding anyone at home were going to be slim so I really wasn’t thinking about the photograph just yet.  Wait a minute!  Was that somebody in the back yard of the house?  It sure was!  Somebody was at home and I was ready to photograph the barn.  I got parked in the driveway before hopping out to introduce myself.  I went around to the side of the house and announced myself so I didn’t scare anyone.  I then started a discussion with the property owner who was happy to let me get as many photographs as I wanted there.  In fact, he invited me back any time to photograph the barn.  That really excited me because I just knew that in a few months there would be those foggy mornings with the wonderful sky in the distance like I had seen several times last year.  Those were ideal conditions, but I didn’t have them this time.  At least I had totally workable conditions and permission which will always outweigh no permission and perfect conditions.

I grabbed my gear and loaded my wide angle lens along with a polarizer.  I started with the most simple composition which was straight on from the barn focusing on the tall tree and the barn.  It was a basic composition and I liked how it looked, but there wasn’t enough depth to the scene for me.  I moved over a little bit and flipped the camera.  In order to crop out the tree to the rear, I had to frame very close to the tree and the composition looked too forced.  After months of wanting to photograph this barn I was feeling a little let down in my ability to create a composition worthy of the building.  I stopped for a moment and looked around the scene to see what I had to work with.

The biggest thing that I had to worry about was the two houses which were behind and below the barn.  I had to be very careful with my positioning to avoid having them pop into the frame.  As far as elements that I could work with, I had the tall tree that I had already been using right next to the barn.  There was a smaller tree behind that one which could be used, and over to the side of the yard was a fallen tree trunk surrounded by bare ground.  That tree trunk kind of excited me as a potential foreground element because it was pointing to the barn and had a similar color tone to it.  I moved over to the side and started to line things up.  I was able to mask one of the houses with the barn, but the other one was going to be visible to the left of the barn.  That is, unless I backed away a bit more and lowered the camera.  By doing that, I was able to drop the house below the ridge and left it camouflaged in the valley below.  You can just see the top of the house beyond the mound of dirt, but it wasn’t a distraction at all.  I would have liked to have lowered the camera a bit more, but then I would have lost the separation that I wanted at the gate just above the downed trunk.  There are just so many things to keep in mind when it comes to composition and how to include elements.

This was the composition that I felt the most confident about and I spent some time working it out with the depth of field and the sky.  When I was relatively happy with what I had I decided to go to the other side and work a composition from there.  The sky was getting really nice in that direction, but the overall composition was weaker with the back side of the barn as the foreground element.  It looked good on the camera’s LCD so I stuck with it until the rain started and I decided to pack it in and thank the property owner and his wife for letting me photograph their barn.  I’ll be heading back there in a few days to bring them a print of the one above since that was my favorite of the bunch.  The last composition that I had been hopeful about didn’t really turn out all that great in full size.

When it was all said and done, I had 95 images from the day.  I had started out laboring through the process of capturing images of the Kerr Scott Dam.  That had progressed to forcing myself to see interest in scenes that I hadn’t really paid attention to in the past.  This brought me to a place where I could work through compositional issues to arrive at workable organization through the frame.  It all culminated with a successful shoot of a barn that I have been after for quite some time now.  The editing was a slightly different story though.  Is my creative slump over?  I seriously doubt it, but I’ve given myself a jumpstart to work through it better now.  I had the hardest time getting things to look like I wanted them because I was still feeling less than positive about photography which is why it took until now to get the images and the blog published.  I had finished with the rough edits around 6pm last night, but just didn’t feel good about them.  I came back to them this morning and spent another hour and a half on them to get the colors right and to do some fine tuning.  I eventually had to say that this was good enough because I kept second guessing myself which was going to negatively impact the photographs in time.

I appreciate you joining me on this trek and I hope that you enjoyed it.  These are far from my best images, but I do have to admit that I really love the last one of the barn.  It feels good to finally get that connection made and a photograph created from this scene.  Maybe you have found one of these images that jumps out at you.  If that is the case, I would love to help match you up with a print.  There is also still time to sign up for my Spring Landscape Workshop which has been rescheduled for next weekend.

Until next time, which I hope doesn’t take too long….

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