Saturday, December 15, 2019
I’m really trying to get back in the groove of doing some photography. I just have had very little time to really focus on it lately and the weather hasn’t been all that great with either sunny skies or rain. For the weekend, I was planning on just resting from the week before, but as I was driving down the road from running a quick errand, I passed by a house that I’ve seen thousands of times over the years. There has always been a shell of a F Body right by the entrance which has caught my attention a few times. There just wasn’t enough car there to really make a good image. This time, however, there was something else in the yard that really caught my eye. It looked to be an Impala, and I was driving by too fast to see how many doors or any other detail. I just saw some color in it that excited me. It had been raining most of the morning and had just recently stopped. The clouds were nice, and the light was just about perfect. I wasn’t really in the mindset of photography, but there are times when the scene dictates when I need to consider photography. After I got home, I took care of a few things on the computer and was thinking about heading back out to try and get permission to photograph the Impala. After about 20 minutes, my mind was in the right place to go out again and I grabbed my gear and headed back down the road. It was only about 4 miles from the house, so it took me no time at all to get there. The clouds were still great and the lighting was really good.
I pulled into the driveway and saw a car there that hadn’t been there before, so I was hopeful that there would be somebody home. As I was walking up to the front door I happened to notice a ’68 Firebird sitting by an old building in the back yard. I was now looking at two subjects to work with. The Impala was a four door which wasn’t ideal, but it was in a great setting so that was all I needed to make me happy. I knocked on the door and heard a dog bark. That is usually a good indication that there might be somebody home. In a short amount of time the door opened and a gentleman greeted me. He had a very concerned look on his face which I have come to expect when doing these cold knocks on people’s houses. I explained why I was there and asked permission to spend about 30-45 minutes in the yard taking pictures. He discussed my proposal with the property owners and granted me permission to capture the images that I wanted. I assured him that I wouldn’t mess with anything and gave him one of my cards. It was time to get to work!
Since it was the Impala that brought me back out here, I started with that car first. I looked at the scene and determined the best angle for the car and then decided on my composition. I wanted to get down low to the ground and get the trees behind it as well as the sky above. The problem with that composition was the clouds were getting very bright with the sun behind them. I had fitted my 24-70mm lens which would remain on for the duration of the day. I also had my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer on to add to the contrasts and decrease the glare on the metal. To control the sky, I chose to go with a Galen Rowell 3-stop soft edge ND Grad which was slid into the Lee Holder. I was able to get the exposure that I needed with the filters I added and the images were looking pretty good. I then started to look for some isolations on the car which I began working. The first one that I tried was of the headlights which did not need the Grad filter, so that got removed from the rig. I wasn’t really happy with the headlight isolation, and just couldn’t get anything to work with it.
I decided to move to the back side of the car and concentrate on the emblems and trim on the quarter panels. I started to get some images that I liked with this and decided I would try to incorporate the tail lights into an emblem composition. I wasn’t sure if these were going to be color or black and white so I shot them with having usable images for both events. While I was working on the isolations I noticed that the clouds were starting to clear which had been the routine pretty regularly these days. When the rain stops, the clouds are usually gone in a matter of minutes. I was now looking at having to worry about the lighting on the scene as the harsh shadows were starting to build. Fortunately, there were still clouds that would cover the sun occasionally which would help me out.
With the sun also came more dramatic light which I wanted to take advantage of as best I could. I went back to around my original position and looked for a slightly different composition on the front of the car. I chose to avoid much of the sky and just concentrate on the car and trees. I knew that I was going to shoot this as a 16:9 crop so I set that up in the camera so that I could tell exactly how I was framing the shot. While there was a bit of sky in the frame, I wasn’t concerned with it over exposing since there was no detail in that part of the sky anyway. There was no need for a Grad Filter here. I fired off several exposures with slightly different compositions. I was actually liking this set better than what I had captured earlier. It was much more focused on the car and its lines.
This composition included the S-10 wheels which I didn’t really care for, but it was part of the story of this car. That is the beauty about this type of photography. When you find these cars out in the yards like this, there is a reason that they look the way that they do. That is part of how it came to be in this setting. I would not want to change anything about that story even if there are aspects that I don’t like about it. This is the definition of authentic in my mind. It was not prepped for a photo shoot, nor were they wanting one. It was just there in the yard waiting on the next stage of its life, and that was the moment that I wanted to photograph it. There is a dignity to this car sitting as it is with the rusted air cleaner holding the hood up and the odd wheels on it that were certainly added to make it easier to move around. The personality of this car is the sum of all of its parts, not how Chevrolet planned it nearly 60 years ago.
With that series of compositions shot, I was pretty satisfied with the Impala and it was time to focus on the Firebird which was special to me because it was the same year as my Grandfather’s convertible that he sold when I was 15 years old. I’m still a bit bitter about that as a matter of fact in case you didn’t know. I’m sure it was not a great car for a new driver to have, but I would have loved to have had that 350 V8 under the hood! Anyway, this was the first time I had run across a Firebird like this in my travels and I was excited to give it a go.
There were some issues with the location of this car though. It was sitting right next to a building with a very odd window trimmed in blue. There was clutter behind it, and off to the side of the building. I had only a few ways to photograph this car, and those ways were getting a little bit harder with the sun coming out stronger and stronger. I examined the scene and determined what I liked and what I didn’t like about it. I really liked the way the roof was falling in on the building and I liked the birdhouse that was against the wall, but that window was killing me, and I was having a hard time finding a composition that flowed including the building. My other option was to go from the other side of the car and shoot the corner that had no wheel attached.
I was not batting 1000 with wheels on these cars but I started to really think about the story here. The car was in decent shape with a lot of moss growing on it. The lack of a wheel added a bit of visual tension as we are just used to seeing something in that fender well. I embraced the situation that the car was in and framed up the shot. The first two that I took were not all that dramatic, but then the sun came out and hit that fender. The color erupted in my camera and I knew that was the shot. I fine tuned the exposure to deal with the added highlights and shot it again. There was a good deal of glare on the lens from the sun that I saw in the review, so I had to do something to shield the lens. My hands weren’t big enough, so I went with my 12″ reflector which did a great job of keeping the sun off of the lens. This was actually a trick that I picked up from a participant in my first decay workshop earlier this year. It is portable and I carry it on the outside of my bag for easy access. I had time to get another shot of the car before the clouds covered the sun. It worked just like I had hoped. the exposure was great the the colors were phenomenal even in the flat rendition of the image review.
I was pretty sure that this was the best shot of the Firebird, so I started to look at the Impala again and really liked how it was looking in the sunlight under the tree it was near. From this angle, I started to see another composition that I hadn’t considered earlier. I moved in closer and started to work out the composition as my mind had seen it. It was starting to come together, but the camera was right in the sun once again. Since I had the reflector out, I used it as a flag once again and it worked great. It was just a matter of capturing the scene a few different times as the light changed on the car and on the background.
Once again I was finding myself faced with a composition that included the sky. My first thought was that I would add a Grad filter, but decided against it since there was a good deal of blue in the sky now and I felt that it would expose correctly I framed up the shot and dialed in the exposure checking the histogram. I was able to get a nice spread of exposure from dark to light with enough detail in both to be able to work it all out as a single image. It was just a matter of waiting for that perfect moment of light, with no wind so that the near branch wasn’t moving. I probably shot a half dozen images before I got the combination right with this one. I loved how the textures worked on the tree with the ivy that was covering it. The sun illuminated the car just enough and the shadows were filled in with the soft light from the passing clouds. The sky in the background was well exposed since I was exposing for the part of the scene that was in the sunlight. The fence in the midground capped off the composition and added to the sense of place for the scene. It gave it just that bit of country feeling that I felt that it needed.
Surprisingly, this was the image that required the most in post processing. The color tones were really driving me nuts across the shadows and sunlight, not to mention the contrasts from light to dark. I normally really like saturated images, but this one tended to take on a very orange look really quick due to the dormant grass and fallen leaves. I ended up desaturating the image quite a bit while adding contrast in some areas and reducing it in others. The idea was to make an image with the dynamic range similar to what our eyes would see looking at it. In the end, I really think that this is true to the scene as I saw it under the sun. For an image that started to really hate working, I have found that this is one of my favorites from the day. It really has that old country feel to it and I think tells a large part of the story of this car. I’ve also found that images from the rear of the vehicle automatically carry a whole different feel than the typical front shot, so that makes this stand out a bit more than my classic front quarter view. Plus, you can’t mistake those tail lights in the groups of three.
After this image was captured, I started to look around one last time to see if there was anything else that I wanted. My eyes kept going back to the Firebird and the building. There were just enough added elements with the building that I really wanted to see if I could make it work out. I set myself in motion for finding that perfect composition with the proper flow. I moved all around trying to find something and would occasionally pause to capture an image, but I just wasn’t liking what I was seeing. That blue window frame was driving me nuts, but the whole story was really good. I continued with the composition fine tuning until I came about one that I liked relatively well.
When I got the image home to process it, the window was again killing me. The blue was an off shade, and really didn’t fit with the overall scheme. I tried to adjust the hue of the trim, but it wasn’t working. Just as I was about to trash the image, I decided to try it as a black and white presentation. I immediately saw potential with that and went forward with the conversion. I worked the tones in the image and fine tuned the contrasts throughout. I was able to capture all of the aspects of the story that I wanted and didn’t have the conflicting blue colors to deal with. The patina on the car still came through rather nicely and it all seemed to work together very well. This was another one that took quite a while to process because of all of the issues that I came across. There really isn’t much that has changed from the RAW file (with the exception of the lack of color), but there have been numerous very subtle adjustments to just about every part of this image. It does capture exactly what I wanted it to, and I’m very glad that I stuck it out.
After getting that last composition with the Firebird, I took one last look around and determined that I was satisfied with what I had captured. I had a total of 50 frames in the camera which seemed kind of high, but I had forgotten the isolations that I had shot and dealing with the changing light. When I got home, my first round of culling yielded a total of four images that I wanted to process which was pretty decent. I got those mostly edited before calling it a day. I started back with the images the next morning and fine tuned the edits I had started. I also went back through the images as I like to do and found two others that I had ideas for. I worked those out early in the morning and decided that they were good enough to keep with the direction that the edits had gone, so that left me with a total of six keepers from the day. I was actually quite happy about that.
I do hope that you enjoyed my short afternoon working these two cars. I had a great time and it was good to get out with the camera again. If there are any that speak to you and you would like prints of, don’t hesitate to let me know. I would love to assist you in bringing my art into your home.
Until next time…