October, 19, 2019
For a while now, I have been wanting to get back out to an old mill that is off of the highway in Yadkin County to attempt to photograph it once again. I’ve actually been out here many times in the past with the attempts to capture an image that I had in my mind. I needed a dramatic sky, and good lighting. The angle and position of the camera were also going to be very important here because the building is…well…oddly shaped. It is low to the ground, and when I first started photographing it, there were two really tall booms coming out of the side of it which meant that I was going to have to include a lot of the sky. Over the years though, one of the booms fell, and then eventually the other one fell down. This took some of the identifying traits away from the building, but it did make for an easier composition. The problem that I have been running into these days is that the field that it is situated in has become very overgrown and hasn’t been cut down in a while. This makes is very difficult, if not impossible for me to get into position. I also much prefer a low position for photographing this low building so that I can get a little more drama to the perspective of it. With the weeds growing up to my armpits, that would be impossible to do. I did keep looking every time I went past it going back and forth to the mountains. When I went out to Rough Ridge a week ago, it looked like they had come and bush hogged the field, but I didn’t have the time, or the weather to inspect any further. I just filed it in my head for when I had decent conditions.
As Saturday came around, there was the promise of mid and high level clouds coming in at the middle of the day. I would have loved to have gone out to the mountains for some more fall color, but I have a pretty hard rule on that this year. I am not getting involved in the crowds during the weekends. There is nothing quite as frustrating to me than to have constant traffic jams and parking issues where I am wanting to shoot. Since this is a destination for so many people across the country, I choose to wait for during the week to go to avoid some of the craziness that is happening in the mountains. With Fall color not on the menu for the day, I was looking for something else to shoot. It was looking like a pretty good rural day with non-directional light for the most part. I had been invited to shoot at a privately owned residence with a nice collection of old cars in the yard that I had been meaning to get out to. I tried to get in contact with the owner, but to no avail. I knew that he was somewhere in East Bend, but didn’t know exactly where. I had left a message and hoped that he would call back. With that hope, I didn’t want to stray far off from East Bend, and I didn’t want to miss out on the clouds that were overhead.
I figured that now was as good a time as any to go out to the old mill which was on the far side of the county. I was figuring that the clouds would be just about right for a long exposure possibly and the quality of light was pretty good for what was becoming an overcast day. I grabbed my gear and hopped in the truck headed West. The further I got out there, the more the sky was filling up with clouds and I was not seeing the textures that I had been there when I left the house. All was not lost though as there was enough texture still there to provide some interest for the image that I had in mind. I was exiting the highway before I had the chance to see the mill, so I still wasn’t sure whether or not the field had actually been cleared, but I was hopeful.
When I arrived, the field was cleared and there was still a bunch of overgrowth at the front of the mill which was just perfect for me. I pulled off in the cul de sac and got my Manfrotto and Lowepro bag before starting to walk out into the field. The sky wasn’t all that fantastic, but I was pretty sure with a careful capture and some post processing help, the sky would be just fine for what I was looking for. I had an idea of how I was going to shoot this building since I had shot it several times before but without the two vertical structures on the left, I had a little more flexibility. I started walking from left to right and forward and backward, looking at different compositions and how the elements all worked together. I wasn’t inspired with what I was seeing. There was just something missing, and I thought that without those booms the building just didn’t have enough character. I was just about to pack it in and try to find something else and I decided to get in very close to see how things looked like that. As I got close to the front of the building, the peak of the roof started to become more prominent and the white window frames which I liked became more visible as well. There was much more interest here, and I had hope for the composition finally.
Instead of pulling out my standard lens which I customarily use for architecture, I decided to go with my wide angle 16-35mm lens to really emphasize the roof line to bring some visual tension to the image. Since the building was metal, I added my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer even though I was shooting towards the sun which would minimize the effect of the filter. With the giant softbox that was the sky, I was able to see just a little bit of reduction in glare on the surface and that was enough for me. From there, I got down low…very low to the ground. I used the center column of the tripod horizontally so that I could drop the legs down nice and low to the ground. Using the L Plate, I was able to keep the Acratech GP-SS ballhead horizontal to keep the altitude down. I started to frame up the image and really liked how it was looking from this position which was a good deal closer and lower than I had been in the past. Looking at the histogram though, I was going to have a problem with the sky. Since there was very little texture, I was going to have to underexpose the sky which was going to put the building into deep shadows and I was going to have a very hard time getting the detail that I wanted from the building. I opted to add a Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 3-stop soft edge ND Grad to have a gradual darkening of the sky above for the effect that I was after. It would also allow me to capture the detail in the building that I wanted.
The image worked out quite well according to the histogram as there were no blown out pixels on either side of the grid. The question was going to be if there was enough detail in the sky to pull out the textures that I was wanting. I wouldn’t know that until I got home. Before I left, I tried a couple of different variations on the composition just to make sure that I had the best composition that I could muster. The closer that I got to the mill, I started to see a sign that I had not seen before in all the times that I had been here and it looked new. It was the dreaded “No Trespassing” sign. With where it was located covered by brush, it would not have been enforceable, but I always try to be respectful of other’s property. I’m pretty sure that they were just talking about no entry into the building, but why chance it. I had the image that I wanted to get and I wasn’t seeing anything else that really caught my eye in the way of isolations. I had gotten the close in shots years ago when I could get closer to the windows without the weeds getting in the way. I gladly packed up my gear and went back to the truck satisfied that I had my one image that I was after.
It was now time to find another subject to work, so I did what I do best. I got lost. I started turning down this road and that road looking at the GPS paying attention to what roads were dead ends and which ones looked to continue further into the country. The deeper I got into the rural areas, the better things were looking. Surprisingly, I found myself in territory I had never been through and that was kind of surprising as many times as I’ve come out here and gotten lost driving around. I was seeing some great potential, but nothing that I felt was ready for a camera just yet. I then happened by an old house with several barns around it. I processed what I had just seen for a moment and decided it was worth going back and looking again. After getting turned around, I pulled into the driveway of the obviously vacant property. I considered my options really quick just off of the road. The barns were not all that spectacular and I didn’t really have a any interest in photographing them, but the house looked really good where it was. More importantly, there was an awesome tree just to the side of the house that sealed the deal for the composition.
My plan was to shoot the house from the street so that I didn’t need to get too far onto the property. I didn’t want to overly compress the scene with a telephoto lens, so I opted for my standard 24-70mm which should give me the ability to capture both the bare tree on the right as well as a tree that was showing some fall color to the left. I got everything set up right in front of my truck and it framed exactly how i had figured it would. The problem was I was just getting the front of the house with trees on either side. The composition was boring and showed no visual tension which I wanted to have for this subject. I needed a different composition, and I realized that I needed to choose one of the trees to include so that I could avoid centering the house so much in the frame. I kept fine tuning the composition by getting closer and closer to the house. I stayed in the driveway for the most part because I wanted the angle with the chimney and the bare tree. As I got in closer and the lens got wider I started to see what I was looking for. By the time I got to 42mm, I was capturing a slightly wide angle of the house, but not enough to distort it. The tree was taking up just enough room on the right side of the frame and I was able to position things where I could still see the chimney as well as the upstairs window between the limbs. The swing that was hanging from the branch pulled just enough interest to complete the elements to the right of the tree so it didn’t look like the picture was just being bisected by the tree.
I had the story that I wanted with this image, now it was time to really get into the exposure. I already had my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer attached in the 105mm ring of the Lee Filter Holder, and that was helping with the exposure on the roof by removing the glare, but the sky through the trees was causing me some problems. I wasn’t all that worried about capturing detail in the sky since it was just little holes through the trees, but I didn’t want blown out white areas showing through. I needed to take the bite out of the sky, and to do that, I ran back to the truck and grabbed a Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 2-stop soft edge ND Grad which brought down the exposure ever so slightly above the house. It even helped with the roof a little bit. My histogram was finally looking the way I wanted it to, and I was able to make the image. I spent some time on this composition and fine tuned my position an inch or two one way or the other. After a handful of exposures, I was pretty sure that I had the image that I wanted. I looked around to make sure that there were no other compositions that were jumping out at me. Satisfied, I decided to move on and head back to the truck. I was having pretty good luck so far and wanted to see what else I could run into on the back roads of Yadkin County.
Not long after I got driving, my phone rang. I answered it fully expecting a caring soul to offer me an extended warranty on my vehicle, or maybe a back brace for my constant pain if my new Medicare Card has come in. I might even be eligible for a lower interest rate on my credit card. I was excited about all the prospects, and hoped that I had won that million dollar prize as long as I paid the taxes directly to them. Sadly, it was none of that good news at all. It was the gentleman that I had been attempting to reach earlier in the day. I guess that would have to do, at least I was talking to a real person and not a computer generated voice.
He was fine with me coming out to his place to get some photographs and once I got the address, I was headed that way. I was about 30 minutes away, so I had time to get my mind set for photographing some old rusted cars. Granted, I had no idea what the scenery looked like, so I wasn’t able to plan any compositions, but I was thinking about different things that I could look for. I wanted to be ready to shoot when I got there since there was some rain in the forecast for later in the afternoon.
When I arrived, the owner was in the process of pulling a ’67 Chevelle out of the woods for a buyer. The front end was missing, but I really liked car in general. I wasn’t overly upset that it was being moved since the front of it was gone and I wouldn’t have been able to do anything with the rear anyway where it was sitting. There were a good many cars in the woods and most of them were ’40’s vintage which was right up my alley. They were very close together so I knew that there were going to be some difficulties in getting compositions that I liked. They were also facing downhill which meant in order to get the front ends of the cars I was going to have to deal with a bright sky with the sun behind the clouds, as well as the house and other buildings. The better compositions were all downhill, but that didn’t include the best parts of the cars. I loved what I was seeing as far as subject matter, but I was pretty sure that this was not the best set of conditions for the photography of them. I was here, and I am good enough to deal with less than ideal circumstances so I went to work.
To get started, I wanted to find an easy composition. I wanted simplicity in the image and there was one car that jumped out at me. It was all by itself which is always a good thing for figuring out a composition. The problem was, it was behind a fence and there were goats and a Donkey in that section of the yard. Not wanting to have turf wars with the animals I set out to finding a composition that would work that I could do from the other side of the fence. I did find the angle that I wanted, but I was having to be very careful of the sky through the trees and there was some clutter in the form of other buildings just beyond the car. In order to balance the elements that I wanted to include while hiding those that I didn’t, I had to shoot between the wires of the fence. I got the Manfrotto set up so that the camera could fit right between the wires. The thought crossed my mind that this could be an electric fence since there were yellow ribbons tied at each post, so I was careful not to touch the fence.
For this composition, I knew that my best bet was to have my standard lens attached which would give me the flexibility that I needed for the image. I added the Color Combo Polarizer because…well, I always do for cars since they are magnets for glare and I wanted to get the detail from the rust. I found that perfect spot to have the camera where the buildings in the background were covered by the C Pillar of the car or were below the window line. This actually gave me a very dramatic look to the car showcasing that beautiful curvaceous rear end. As an added bonus, the root system from the tree to the right seemed to pull the eyes in with a similar slope leading right to the rear bumper. There was another tree that had just enough separation from the front cowl that it helped fill the void left by the missing hood. The composition was coming together quite nicely but the sky behind the trees was giving me a problem. As was turning into a theme today, I was having lots of highlight issues through the branches. In order to control that, I decided to add a Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 3-stop soft edge ND Grad which would just gradually pull the sky back but there wasn’t enough room for the filter to actually get to the full 3-stops which was why I went with a more aggressive ND Grad. The idea was to have the effect ramp up a little quicker while still leaving a very slight division line in the frame. It seemed to to the trick and I was able to get the exposure that I wanted.
Starting to get my groove with this property, I went with another easy composition in the middle of the cluster of cars. This was the nose on a Dodge sedan that still had the crest hood ornament on it. I loved the patina of the car as well as the lines and curves. The chrome was interesting and still in place, but the part that really pulled me in was the top of the grill which had some vertical elements that still had a bit of sheen left to them. They would be the perfect lower frame for the image. I pulled out the ND Grad as I wouldn’t be needing that filter for this shot. I kept everything else the same with my setup and started finding that perfect composition that showcased the elements that I liked. It really didn’t take me long to find that composition and the exposure was brutally easy. I was well on my way at this point. I started to search for more difficult compositions, but I still wasn’t really ready to deal with the exposure issues from shooting up the hill. I did find a nice composition including two similar cars that I really kind of liked. I started to fiddle around with how the composition was constructed and found that sweet spot. I was able to leave the camera just as it was which was a nice bonus for having the standard lens attached. It seems that in this type of situation, that lens gives me unbelievable flexibility. I’ve so far shot a single car at a slight distance, an intimate capture of the Dodge, and I was now setting up for a multi vehicle composition. None of this caused the 24-70mm any concern at all. It just did what it does.
As with most of the compositions that I would shoot here today, there were compromises that had to be made. In this case, there was a Chevy C-10 pickup at the end of the line of cars. It was about 20 years younger and still had paint on it. I didn’t want to include it in this composition so I worked it out so that a tree blocked the view of the majority of it. I got down low enough to the ground so that the roof of the truck wasn’t high enough to distract the viewer’s eye. The wheel and tire that were leaning up on the fender of the sedan made for a great visual anchor to introduce the eyes into the frame. The composition was working out very well, but I was seeing that the sky was going to be a problem. There was a large section where the trees were opened up that I not only needed to keep the sky from blowing completely out, I needed to maintain a little texture to it as well. This was going to be a tall order, and nothing I could do compositionally would fix this issue. I went into my bag of goodies and got a Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 3-stop soft edge grad which I slid into the holder expecting all to be great. Well, my first exposure proved that was a lie. The sky was still blowing out in the opening of the trees. I wasn’t able to do an HDR series because the breeze was blowing pretty good and I had already had to boost the ISO of the camera up to 200 to get a faster shutter speed. I needed to be able to get this scene captured in a single exposure. I went back to the bag and grabbed another ND Grad, this time I went with a 2-stop soft edge which I slid in just in front of the 3-stop. I staggered them slightly so that the gradient would spread out a little bit more to make the transition as natural as I could. It seemed to work this way as the histogram said that I had nothing blown out on either end of the spectrum. Zooming in I could see that I had some branches that were blurred from the wind, so I waited for a lull and repeated the exposure. That was the trick, and I had the image that I wanted.
While I was shooting this one, the owner and his wife came out to check on me. I showed them what I was doing and how I was using all of the filters I was because of the lighting I was dealing with. We got to talking about the cars and the property and an interesting topic came up. He wanted to know if I had shot the car in the field with the goats. I proudly said that I had gotten it already and was really happy with the outcome. He then asked if I had touched the fence. Hmmm, I replied that I hadn’t and had a feeling what was coming next. He informed me that the fence was charged and that he should have told me beforehand. There are times I’m really happy with my choices not to mess with what I’m shooting and to leave as little evidence as possible that I was there. This was one of those times. I was very thankful that I had not bumped the fence while I was getting the camera into position. I don’t know how much it would have zapped me, but I was fine without having that knowledge. I made a mental note to myself to really avoid that fence from this point on though.
From here, I was feeling a little more able to capture some of the more complex compositions that I was seeing. I moved around to a Dodge sedan that I really liked, but hadn’t been able to figure out a composition on because it was all but touching another car right beside of it. I started working out different scenarios and even tried different aspect ratios without being able to isolate the car. I could get close, but there was no breathing room at all at the front of the car if I were to crop out the other car completely. I was going to have to include it one way or the other. To include the entire Chevy would be problematic as it would balance the visual weight and take the attention away from the Dodge which I was wanting to be the star of this composition. I decided to find a place on the Chevy to cut the frame in order to minimize its visual weight.
I decided to cut the composition right at the edge of the driver’s door so that there was a complete section of the car visible. I elevated the camera on the Manfrotto so that I could get a little bit of the dominating feel of the front of the Dodge which would help keep the attention on it. I ended up exposing an old speed limit sign just beyond the Chevy which at first I didn’t really like, but decided quickly that it worked to help tell the story here. I finally got the composition set the way I wanted it, and then started to look at the exposure. Again, I was faced with the same challenges as the previous images so the setup that I already had in place worked fantastically for this composition as well. It wasn’t my favorite composition for the day, but I liked enough aspects about it to deal with the intruding car on the left of the frame. There was just no way to avoid having it there unless I shot straight on and cropped in really close to the bumper which would leave me wanting more breathing room, so this was a good compromise.
Starting to feel a little more adventurous having dealt with the exposure issues, I decided to turn my attention to the other direction and shoot up the hill for a change. I found a nice composition with the Dodge that I had shot the emblems on that included a Chevy just on the other side of a thin tree. I started to work out the composition where one tree was my framing element to the left, and the tree in the middle of the cars wasn’t in the middle of the frame and didn’t block the view of the front of the Chevy. The biggest issue I had to work with was the clutter at the top of the hill. I say clutter, but that would actually be the houses which aren’t exactly clutter. For my purposes though, they didn’t fit with the composition so I needed to figure out how to deal with that. My first thought was to elevate the Manfrotto as high as it would go to push the horizon of the frame up to the edge of the composition. In theory that would have been a great idea, but the reality was I wasn’t that tall and wouldn’t be able to frame the image effectively. Plus, I was noticing that the perspective wasn’t all that great from that high up. I had to bring the camera back down to just over six feet off the ground. That gave the best compromise with the perspective and minimizing the background. However, it was still there, and I needed to address it.
I like to have the edges darkened to keep the eyes in the frame when I start to do my post processing so I considered the effect of darkening on the top. It might work, it would definitely tone down the brighter portions of the background. To help that along, I decided to add a Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 2-stop hard edge ND Grad so that nothing would be blown out in the background while I was exposing for the cars. That seemed to do the trick and already I could see that the visual weight and distraction from the background was minimizing. My next step was to work with the aperture to soften the focus of the background. I started to open up the lens until I could see that the background was getting a bit soft, but I kept checking the cars to make sure that they were staying in focus. I had a focus point set on the hood ornament of the Dodge to make sure that it was completely in focus as the foreground. At f/6.3 the Chevy started to go soft just barely and the background was just about soft enough for me. It was going to have to work as this seemed to be my sweet spot.
When I got this image into post production, I found that my gamble had paid off. The image worked as I had anticipated. It wasn’t perfect, but the emphasis was on the cars and not the background that had been lit more brightly and had lighter colors in the elements. It was no longer the first thing that you saw when you looked at the image and that was all I could ask for. I really liked the overall approach to the image and I thought it told an interesting story of these two cars. After getting to know the Chevy at the end a little better from this image, I decided that I might want to have a go with trying to capture an image of it next. I knew that the background would be even more problematic though, so I prepared myself for that as I walked over to the car.
I really needed to make the front of the Chevy very impressive in the frame to keep the eyes on it as opposed to the background. There were also two other cars that were going to have to be included as well which was just fine with me as they helped tell the story. The tree that was between the two cars in the previous picture became the framework for the left side of this composition which transitioned into the Dodge that I had been photographing as well as another Dodge in the background. What I loved about this particular Chevy was that the headlight was dangling out of the socket on the driver’s side which I thought added a bunch of character to the front of the car. By getting in close and going wide, I was able to really pull the eyes down on that front end of the car which was what I really liked with this car. My standard lens didn’t have quite the ability to capture the angle that I had in mind so I had to switch over to my wide angle 16-35mm lens which is a fun lens for automotive photography, but it tends to really get into the perspective distortion that I try to be careful about overdoing.
Looking at the way the image was coming together I was doubting that this was going to make it as a color image. I was going to have to embrace the contrast of the scene and look at going to a black and white presentation of it. I didn’t mind that at all because it would make the bright sky a little more tolerable in monochrome. Just in case, I did add a Galen Rowell 3-stop soft edge ND grad just at the top of the frame to take the bite out of the sky. It didn’t do much, but it did enough to keep the sky from blowing out in the upper right corner. I had the image that I wanted with that, and when I got it home I had been right about it needing to be a black and white image. The color version just didn’t work at all, but it popped in monochrome and I really liked the overall image. The background wasn’t a problem at all either which was a nice surprise.
I wanted to continue with this car, and I really liked the vantage point that I had with the camera and lens, so I moved in a bit closer and frame up just the front clip of the car. I pulled off the ND Grad since I didn’t need to worry about any exposure issues. I started to fine tune the composition in order to get just what I wanted in the frame. The angles were just about the same as the previous shot so I was looking at including a good bit of the driver’s side fender. Fortunately, there was a pile of leaves on the fender that helped give a little bit of texture to the image and something to help frame the top right corner. I really liked the image and I didn’t have near the contrast to deal with so this one was able to be processed as a color image quite easily. The two images are similar, but the are both telling completely different stories about the subjects in them.
From here, I was getting to the point I was pretty sure that I had captured everything that I wanted to get, and since it was getting late, I needed to get home for dinner. I made one last look around to see what else I might want to capture. I didn’t seen much else with the current light, but I was seeing some good light painting subjects for another time. I went ahead and made my way to the house to let him know that I was leaving. Of course, as any car guy would, he wanted to show off his prized possessions. Who was I to argue, I was enjoying the “junk” in the back, so I might as well get the benefit of seeing the finished products with shiny paint. There were some amazing examples of restorations and freshenings of cars and trucks. He had a great little shop set up where I had the opportunity to see another Chevy Sedan that was fully restored and in great shape. The setting was right at that edge of being interesting. Since my camera was out, I decided to see if I could do anything with it. I still had the wide angle lens attached which I thought would work well to capture the whole setting from close quarters.
I started to move around and find that sweet spot, but was having a very hard time with the composition. The frame was just the wrong aspect ratio so I decided to see what it would look like as a 1:1 crop so I dialed in that option with the camera and framed up a square shot. That seemed to work quite well so I fine tuned things and made a couple of exposures. I was pretty happy with how the image was looking in the LCD, but I wouldn’t know exactly how things were looking until I got it home and into the computer.
The car was two toned brown with the lighter shade on the top. With the way the light was hitting it, the two tones kind of blended together just a bit and lost that pop. There was no real element of color in the frame and after I got done processing it, I wasn’t all that happy with it. When Toni saw it, she wasn’t all that thrilled with it either and suggested that I go black and white with it. We all know that if she likes an image in black and white it will typically do pretty well. I set things up to make the conversion and then started to adjust the tonal relationships through the image. I was able to get that division of tones in the browns that I was needing and it was much less problematic to put the shop into more of a shadow to bring the car to the forefront of the image where it belonged. After a little tweaking, I had an image that I was liking much better than the color one, and thought that it told the story much better than in color.
By the time I was done with capturing that image, it was really time to get rolling home. I got things packed up and headed that way. I had a family dinner to get to, and then it was a long night of editing until 3am. At that point, I wasn’t able to stay awake any longer so I turned in. The next morning I got started early-ish at around 9am getting the images added to the website and writing about the day. Some six hours later, I am getting to the closing bits of that task. I need to find a way to make these blogs shorter I think, but there is always so much that goes into the images and I am just scratching the surface with my descriptions of them.
I do hope that you have enjoyed my rural adventure through Yadkin County. Remember, if any of these images speaks to you on that special level, I would love to help get you matched up with a print of that image. I never shoot these subjects with the intention of them staying in a computer to be seen digitally. I want them in a printed, tangible form and nothing makes me happier than seeing one of my photographs in that form. I know you will be impressed with the image as well!
Until next time….