Friday, November 15, 2019
A few weeks ago, I was shooting some old cars by invitation in East Bend and the owner told me about another location where I could find some cars. He checked with the owner a few days later and gave me his number over the phone. With Fall in full swing, I really didn’t have the time to go out and do a decay shoot that would take the majority of the day, so I just held onto the number for when I had the time and the weather was good. As Friday morning came around, the weather was looking really good for doing some decay photography so I decided that I would try to meet up with this guy and see what he had in his collection. I didn’t want to call too early in the morning in case he wanted to sleep in, so I decided to head out to East Bend where I was thinking he was located and explore for a bit before calling. By the time I got out to East Bend, it was a little after 9am, so I decided to try and call him. I ended up getting voicemail, so I left him a message.
I knew that the quickest way to get him to call me back was to find something to shoot, so I really started to look hard for something. It wasn’t going to be difficult since I was in a rural goldmine of a location. There were barns everywhere, and I just had to find the right one to photograph. The problem was, none of the barns were looking quite right for my needs. But as I was pondering over one, I happened to catch an old Ford truck out of the corner of my eye. It was situated in a very complex scene with a late model Honda Civic close by with some horse trailers as well as a fenced in lot that had a lot of other unrelated clutter to the truck. Its one saving grace was the fact that there was a rather large tree directly behind the truck which I thought would block out the featureless sky, and allow me to get in close to avoid the other clutter around the truck.
I got turned around and went down the street where the house was located next to the truck. I knocked on the door and found out that the owner of the truck was actually at a different house and that the property on the other side of the fence belonged to that same individual. I thanked him for his time and went over to the other house to see if I could get permission to go onto the property. A gentleman answered the door and informed me that the truck actually belonged to a friend of his and didn’t see any problems when me doing a little photography with it. I thanked him and offered a free print to his friend if he liked any of the resulting images.
I got over to the truck and started to check out the scene in more detail. I was a little less impressed with it close in with all of the clutter around it, but I was pretty sure I could make something work if I tried hard enough. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to shoot wide if I wanted to keep the tree in the frame, so I started out with my long telephoto lens which should compress the background well enough. I added my trusty Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to control the glare and started to find compositions. It wasn’t going well at all.
I just couldn’t get the background to declutter, so I decided to go in for some isolation shots as the truck was just too cool to pass up on. I started with the grill with the “V8” emblem in the middle. I had figured that this would be a black and white image initially, but after I considered it for a while, I decided that there was just enough warmth in the image from the rust that I could leave it color and it would be a little more effective. With the first shot in the bag, I started to feel better about my chances. I had seen a piece of duct tape on the front of the truck that had made me laugh a little bit. I wanted to capture that element, but I needed some context.
I decided that this would be a great opportunity to get the fender with that wonderful patina as well as the headlight which I’m always wanting to capture. The duct tape just hung there without a care in the world as I found the right framing for the image. The tall grass and weeds added so much to the shot and I was glad that they were there. I wasn’t fond of the wheels, so I was thankful that the wheel was turned out slightly to minimize the later model chrome wheel, but I included just enough to add some visual interest to that lower left corner and compliment the headlight.
As I was down low working on the corner of the truck I happened to realize that the tree behind the truck was rather massive at this low viewpoint. I started to consider other options for a background for the truck, and figured a tight shot from about the area I was sitting would make for a simple image of the truck. I swapped out the lens for my standard lens as I was needing to go a bit wider. I monkeyed around with the composition and my location until I found the best possible spot. I was able to use a fence post to block the view of the house, and to keep the eyes in the frame, while the horse trailer to the rear just blocked out the sky. The Civic was just barely coming into the frame and wasn’t a problem at all. The tree above the truck added some nice textures and complimented the grass in the foreground. This was the image that I was most excited about thus far.
However, when I got it home, my excitement faltered quite heavily. I just wasn’t liking how it was looking at all when I was starting the editing process. The colors were all wrong, and it just seemed like a snapshot to me more than anything else. I decided to convert it over to black and white to add a little more attitude to it. I actually liked the result of the conversion, but it still wasn’t quite right for me. Something that I have found over the years is that when I adjust a black and white image, I’m often times improving the color image beneath with the white balance and tint sliders. Just for giggles, I went back and looked at the image as a color one once again with the same adjustments that I had made as a black and white. I was shocked at how much better it looked now. I changed my course of action and continued processing it as a color image until I got what you see here. I’m actually quite happy with the outcome, and while it is not the stellar image that I was hoping for, it is a lot better than I was thinking I would get when I started the editing process.
Sorry about the little detour on the morning. I just wanted to share with you a little of my frustrations with this image. I wasn’t quite done with this truck at this point. In fact, I was just getting in the groove of the true personality of the truck. I had done enough from the front, so now it was time to see what the back side held for me. For those who have followed my photography for a while, you know how I love to find human traits in the inanimate objects that I photograph. Well, I found that scene on the back of this truck and I had to capture it. For me, this next image summed up the entire truck and is one of the more fun images that I have shot in a while.
What I was seeing was an old man’s mouth with a gnarly toothpick sticking out of it. The stamped FORD letters just sealed the deal for me. I found the right position and the right focal length to accentuate the bend in the tailgate which was instrumental in making this look like a mouth. The chapped lips were firmly locked around the dried sticks. Now that you have seen it, you just can’t unsee it. I really enjoy doing these kind of intimate shots and think that the capture the vehicle much better than the overall shots most of the time. Had it not been for that patina and the bend in the metal, this would not have been a convincing image. However, all of the elements worked together to make this a really cool composition.
After I shot that, my creative mind said I was done. It just happens like that from time to time. I am getting in the swing of things and then all of a sudden I’m done. It is like a switch goes off. I was still wanting to do more photography, but not with this subject. I packed things back up in my Lowepro Whistler bag and went back to the truck. I still hadn’t heard from the guy with all the cars I was wanting to shoot. I still had time even if he called me in another couple of hours so I continued on with my exploration. I was getting more and more lost as I drove around. In fact, by this point, I had no idea where I was at.
I was getting deeper into farm country and that was usually a very good thing. Again, I was finding a lot of barns here and there which caught my eye, but were just not quite right. I was starting to lose my momentum and was still not getting any phone calls…well, I’m not counting the ones where they want to sell me an extended warranty, or check on my chronic pains, or tell me that I can get a better interest rate on my credit card. I’m just happy there isn’t a warrant out for my arrest from the IRS today as they keep telling me most days. I was needing to find something soon, or I was going to end up just going on home and processing the Ford truck. I just hated to be all the way out here for just a single subject when I was surrounded by so much potential.
Then I saw it…something that revved up my creativity once again. It was an old house sitting just off the road. The house was cool because large sections of the siding were missing allowing views into the structure. If that wasn’t cool enough, the trees that were around it were bare and really large. It just sent a shiver down my spine to look at it. I knew that I had to photograph this, and I knew it had to be in black and white. There was very little interest in the sky, and the light was flat on the house. It needed so much more pop to be a workable image, and by removing the color (which was minimal anyway) I would be able to work the tones and contrasts of the image to my heart’s content while leaving the sky featureless. I had a very eerie image in mind. I pulled off the road and grabbed my wide angle lens to really accentuate the size of the tree above the house. I got in close, right at the fence so that I could get a skewed perspective that I thought would really work for the image. There was no need for any filters for this shot as there was no glare, and nothing to be gained by bringing the sky back any.
As you can see, the choice for black and white really pulled out the details compared to the cell phone shot I used to show the view I had from the truck. The perspective here adds so much drama and the tonal values really show the condition of the house and add so much mystery to the image. This is one of the things that monochrome photography excels at. The color would have gotten in the way, and would have looked odd to bring out this amount of detail in a color image. By removing the color, you are only left with light and contrasts which is just what I wanted with this image. There was never a time when I wanted to do this one in color.
I was back on track once again with the day. I still hadn’t heard from my primary reason for being in East Bend, but that was just fine. I was having a blast with the subjects that I was finding. I ran across another property with a couple of interesting cars in the back yard which I stopped at. I talked to the resident in the house which didn’t own the property. She did get me in touch with the owner who informed me that he had a much larger collection at a different location. He was willing to let me shoot it, but he was wanting to be with me while I did it. I can understand that, and we agreed to do it on another day as he was out of town currently. I’m not sure what that will yield, but I am excited about the potential of the property that he mentioned. I got back on the road and kept thinking to myself that I had been really close on that stop, but had captured no pictures. I was itching to shoot some old cars by this point.
Not long after, I was contemplating heading home the long way to see what else I could find. As luck would have it, I found a parking lot to get turned around in and right there in front of me was a Pontiac up on blocks, with a couple of VW Bugs in the front. I wasn’t sure, but I really thought that there was some great potential here so I stopped. It took me a little doing to find the owner of the property, but I finally did and he was happy to let me shoot some pictures. I went straight to work grabbing my standard lens with the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer which is my workhorse combination for this type of photography.
I started with the Pontiac that had caught my eye. My intention was to shoot it as a color image, but as I was looking at it, there really wasn’t much color to the surface of the car and the stark white of the building beside it was going to be a lot of negative space. I composed it and considered that I would probably do it as a monochrome during the editing process. I wanted to capture a few elements in this frame to make the image really work. First of all, I wanted get in close to distort the perspective a little bit so that the concrete pad would frame the car within the leaves. I used the tree to the left to frame the image. The white garage was used to add separation for the car while I was low enough to show the fact that the car was up on blocks with a lawnmower under the rear of the car. I also kept a large grill against the wall hidden from view with being down this low. There is a lot of story with this image, and in the end I did choose to render it as a black and white photograph which I think suits it so well, much better than the color version I had started out with.
The owner had told me that there was an old truck on the other side of the building, so when I got done with the Pontiac, I went over to check it out. It turned into a ’70’s Ford truck which really didn’t hold a lot of interest for me. However, I did see a roadster sitting off on the side of the property by a bunch of old utility poles that caught my eye and my imagination. I went over there and started to look at compositions that were available to me. I wanted to capture it from the front, but that would put the building and several other vehicles in the background which would distract from the main subject. I couldn’t get to the driver’s side, so that left the passenger side and that same rear quarter that I could shoot from. I liked the drama from the rear quarter and found that the utility poles added to the composition with the shadows and lines that they added. The blue of the car really stood out in the largely wooden setting. It was just a matter of finding the right height to shoot from to make the image make sense
Speaking of difficult compositions because of the clutter, it was time to turn my attention to the two Volkswagon Bugs that were out front. They were just off of the street, so in one direction I would have had a lot of clutter from the other buildings as well as the traffic on the road. Shooting into the property, I had things like a burgundy Cadillac and a Red Sidekick to deal with in the direction shown above. In the other direction, I had a Nissan truck and some other vehicles to contend with. I was going to have to get creative with the compositions and I knew that I would be including the building which at least fit the theme of the images. I started to get things set up and found that the easiest composition to make was on the blue Bug from pretty much straight on.
I have always been drawn to the rounded nature of the Bug, and I wanted to capitalize on that aspect with the images that I was shooting. I got in close to show off those rounded curves, but kept the lens at 57mm to minimize the background so that I could keep the other vehicles out of the frame. The garage ended up being a great backdrop for the image and one that helped to tell the story. You would never know that there was so much clutter in the area from this very simple image. The blue of the Bug becomes the most important color , so it was very nice to have the amber marker lights on the fenders, as well as the mismatched fender to add a little complimenting color to the image to keep it from being overly cool. I was happy with the image that I had gotten here, but didn’t find it particularly “arty”. It was more of the standard postcard shot which isn’t a bad thing considering the compositional hurdles I was dealing with. I was determined to get something a little more creative though, so I stepped back to the other Bug and started looking at the interaction of the two cars.
From this angle, there were other problems to think about, so I had to be very careful with my composition. I wanted to minimize the building in the background, as well as being careful with the sky which really added nothing to the scene. I really had to think hard about including what I liked in the scene while excluding what I didn’t. What I ended up with was a composition that included the front of the one Bug with the really cool wheel. The chrome trim pointed to the blue one and there was a bit of overlap showing a connection between the two cars. I was happy with the composition as it was the “arty” one that I was after. When I got it home, I brought it into Lightroom and had a really hard time making the image work. The colors were not great, and didn’t carry the image. Converting it to monochrome fixed that, but the contrasts in the frame weren’t all that wonderful either with the textureless blue slab on the side of the one VW. What I ended up doing was desaturating the image quite a bit and then adding some saturation back in with certain elements. I concentrated on contrasts where I could and left the ground and background very subdued. In the end, I had one of my more interesting images when it comes to color tones, but I think I nailed the vision that I had with the capture of this image. Now, I just needed to try one more thing before I called it a day.
I really liked the moss on the darker VW and decided that I wanted to try and get an image of that car by itself. I had a lot of issues with the composition that I was going to have to deal with. First of all, I had the two vehicles on the other side of the main subject that I didn’t want in the frame. The next problem was the fact that it was looking like I was going to have to include the sky which was not really all that interesting, plus there were a lot of power lines to deal with between the trees. I was able to get in position to obscure the extra cars in the background to where you can’t see a single clue of them. Then I started playing with the aperture so that I could blur the background a little bit. I wasn’t able to get the power lines to go away, but they were faint. I was going to have to see what I wanted to do with them later on. I couldn’t do anything else with them here.
When I got the image home I pulled it into Lightroom and found that the power lines were invisible in the sky which was great. The sky was also very bright and pulled the eyes out of the frame. I ended up doing a good bit of dodging and burning on the image and I darkened the sky down quite a bit which made the power lines very visible. My first thought was to clone them out. Had it been a couple of them, I would have done it without a second thought. However, there were just too many to deal with in this image. There was very little open sky to sample from either. I had to make a decision on this. I could crop close from the top and get rid of most of them that way, but then the picture wouldn’t have room to breathe. I could brighten the sky back, but then the eyes would want to leave the frame which was bad. I could leave it as it is, and use the power lines to add a little interest to the sky, and make the left corner a little more difficult to leave. I opted for the last choice and kept the lines in place. I don’t usually like power lines in my images, but I have to say…they work here.
With that image in the bag, I was done here, and my day had come to an end. I had to get back home to pick up Sierra after school. I still hadn’t heard from the gentleman I called earlier in the day, but it was all well and good. I had spent the day out in the country finding all kinds of new subjects to photograph. I had shot 68 frames during the day and felt really good about 6-8 of them based on memory. As it turned out, I had a solid ten images that I felt were quite strong compositions and worth keeping. I also made another contact for another location worth of cars that I would be able to shoot another day. It was a fantastic day exploring, and I’m so glad that I came out to East Bend, and then well into Rockford in the neighboring County to the North. I had covered a lot of area, but was quite satisfied with the outcome.
Be sure to visit www.singh-ray.com and register for my next Webinar scheduled for February, 2020. I’ll be talking about how you don’t have to go far to find those epic photographs. This trek is an example of that theory as I didn’t really drive but maybe 40-50 miles from home. You can register for it, but if you can’t watch it live, you will have access to view it later on at your convenience. It should be a fun hour, and I have a really good presentation ready to go.
Thanks for joining me on my little adventure today and if there are any photos here that speak to you, please let me know so we can work on getting a print to you. I really love the opportunity to make prints and see my images the way that I intended for them to be viewed. There is no comparison between holding a print in your hand and looking at a picture on a computer monitor.
Until next time…