A Morning at the Salvage Yard

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Hill
One of those things that I enjoy photographing in the Winter is rusty cars and barns.  The lack of color in the landscape tends to suit these subjects well for the most part.  It adds to the sense of age and decomposition in my opinion.  Well, I have been out scouting for some locations to shoot these subjects for the past month or so now.  I've lucked out finding a few here and there, but it is rare to find a lot of subjects in one place.  A little over a year ago, I found a pretty cool salvage yard close by, but that turned into a one time visit unfortunately.  However, I did find out that these yards do have a lot of potential for me photographically.  Does it provide that rusted out gem sitting beside of a barn?  Not really, but when it comes to bank for the buck, you just can't argue with a yard that has a supply of cars from the 30's on up.

I have passed by White's Salvage several times in my wanderings, and have been tempted to shoot there on occasion.  The problem was, every time I was out that way, the shop was closed, and I was unable to talk to anyone.  I could see some potential in the cars that were close to the road, but I disliked the fact that everything was so close together.  I kind of let this location be a passing thought for some time.  Last week, however, I decided to call and see what they thought about me doing some photography on the property.  They were very nice, but informed me that I would need to come out during business hours.

Well, that put a little kink in my plans since my work schedule now has me working during normal business hours, and their Saturday hours were reduced a good bit.  Add in that I would need some overcast conditions to really make use of the scouting element since I was not familiar with the lay of the land.  With the clouds, I would be able to shoot from any direction without having to worry about the direction of the light.  I also, figured that if I was lucky, I could get a bit of drama in the sky as well.

At the Yard
With having a few extra days off due to the holidays, and Toni being at work on Monday, I thought I might be able to go and check this junk yard out if the weather was conducive for it.  Looking at the forecast, there was going to be nice, thick cloud cover throughout the day, and the clouds would be low which was an added bonus.  That was a very good thing considering I was unable to get started until 9am when they opened.  I would be missing the warm light of early morning, but having the clouds, that didn't matter to me.

As promised, there was a nice cloud cover, and it didn't seem to be going anywhere.  I set out, headed for Germanton, which wasn't that far away from home.  When I arrived, I checked in with the folks in the office who let me know that I wasn't the only photographer who had come to visit.  Well dang, that meant that I wasn't treading on new ground, so I would have to really be on my game to do something different here.  Having not seen any of the other photographs done here, I wasn't sure what different would be, but I figured I would push myself and my camera to see what could be done.

I started out with my long lens and a color combo polarizer to bring in a little extra color.  I walked around a little bit trying to get in the right mood to capture these cars.  There is a little more to it than going around and pressing the shutter button.  I wanted to get a feel for what the cars were trying to communicate, and I was looking for a way to express some things that I was thinking.  It didn't take long, before I found an old rusted sedan atop of a small ridge...wait a minute...nope....it was sitting on top of another car.  Well, the weeds were tall enough that the car below was successfully camouflaged, so I picked my location carefully, and framed the image with my 70-200mm lens.  It took a little fine tuning to get the tree in the right place within the frame, but it eventually did work out.  That was the first shot, and the most important one of the day.  After that, the shots started coming a little easier, and I found my groove.

Chrome Smile
Up next was a line of older cars which started with this sedan.  I loved the blue tones in the fender, but was really unable to get that angle.  However, there were enough textures and tones in the passenger side that it made for a great lead in to the overall landscape (opening picture).  However, I found it very hard to get the right perspective up close with the long lens.  It was time to swap glass to my favorite 24-70mm, which I love using for automotive photography.  That was the trick, and with the same polarizer attached, I was able to get a slightly distorted view of the car, which is a look that I really like with this type of photography.

By this point, I was getting very warmed up and was starting to move around more and more looking for the right views.  I saw a bunch of cars that I really liked, and wanted to shoot, but invariably, they were packed in with Hyundais, or other newer cars.  It was a treat to find a nice vintage (all steel, with rust) car surrounded by similar cars, or set out alone.  When those opportunities came, I jumped on them!

Tree of Hope
Remember when I said I wanted the clouds for some added drama?  Well, the clouds were fair, but not all that great.  However, with a bit of ND grad trickery, I was able to bring a little density to the sky and add that bit of drama that I was looking for.  That technique allowed me to incorporate a lone tree right in the middle of some vintage iron.  When I was setting this picture up, I found myself drawn to the car which was up on wheels.  This slight attitude adjustment set this particular car apart from the rest, as did it's predominately light paint job.  In a field of drab death, it was reaching up, and trying to be positive.  It was looking toward the tree for direction.

As many of you well know, Toni just loves trees.  The stranger the better, but she has always enjoyed when I make trees my subjects.  Conversely, she really doesn't care that much for my old rusty picture.  However, as I was composing this shot, I couldn't help but think of her on so many levels.  Without getting into all sorts of personal details, what I was seeing here represented a lot of what she is going through right now, and while I almost called this "The Tree of Life," I thought that "Hope" was more fitting to the current situation, and the image in front of me.  Words can not express how happy I was when the developed image held true to my previsualization.

Keep Your Chin Up
Of course, the car continued to keep my attention and I saw the opportunity to capture the entire side by moving to the other side of it.  I find that I am always drawn to the blues and aquas in these old rides because it compliments the rusty tones that are so common on these 60 year old bodies.  This particular station wagon had just that right mixture, and the fact that it was elevated on the front added to the story.  It was just a cool sight, and too cool to pass up!

Dodging Time
Hey, like I said, I love the blues on these old vehicles when it plays against the rusty tones.  I preferred to grab the shot when the car was set away from others, at least a little bit.  However, there were times that I had to settle for a little clutter in the frame as in this case.  Fortunately, I was able to deemphasize the neighboring vehicles in this frame through Lightroom.  This allowed the Dodge to pop a little bit more, and keep the eyes where I wanted them in the frame.  Of course I composed the shot with that purpose in mind as well.  I would have liked to have done more with this old truck, but the vehicles were just too tightly packed to allow much else.

Self Conscious
For the most part, I like the grills of these old cars.  That is where the soul of the vehicle is.  Much like a face, the headlights and grill show the personality and character of these cars.  However, there are times that I will still find some interest in a picture when the "face" is obscured.  This is one of those times.  The hood that is propped against the front of this blue sedan is in the shape of an "A" which provides a great compositional element with the strong diagonal lines.  The fact that it is evenly placed between the headlights was a big plus!  At first, I wasn't all that happy with the hood being the standard black, but as I really started looking at it though the polarizer, I could see a lot of character in that old hood.  It had a lot of texture, and there was even a rainbow effect on the curve due to the light hitting it, and possibly oils on the surface.  Either way, it was a nice touch, and I thought helped the picture quite a bit.  I'm glad I stopped and gave this one a little attention, even though it looks like the car is hiding behind the hood.

Heavy Chevy

Flatbed Chevy
Next on my list of subjects was a heavy duty flatbed Chevrolet tucked into the wood line.  It was a little hard to photograph due to the weeds that had enveloped the cab over time.  There was also another truck parked right beside of it, which limited my compositional options.  Despite that obstacle, I was able to get two different compositions that that showcased the wonderful patina on the cab.  The first one is the standard 3/4 shot, but the one from the rear, I think I like even better.  I used the wooden bed of the neighboring truck as the foreground, and had the bedside frame the cab of the truck in the mid ground.  There was the added bonus of being able to get the patina on the hood as well.  Of course, I could have just lowered the hood, but I prefer to shoot things as I find them.

Windswept Weeds
While over on the side of the back lot, I found this nifty old sedan which was underneath a blanket of long weeds.  The colors were not all that exciting to me, but I just loved the flow of the weeds, and figured that I would make due with the lack of bright color in the frame.  At least this car had a ton of character on the back panel, even with the trunk lid partially open.  The other odd thing was that the missing hood on the front of the car was found right there on the trunk lid.  Maybe somebody forgot their part?  Well, it worked out for me, because when I finished this picture up in Lightroom, I found that I really liked it, and loved the visual tension that the weeds provided.

Feeling Blue
Once I got away from the weeds, it was back to the open sky once again.  I found a nice blue car situated underneath the clouds.  There was actually a good bit of texture in the clouds, so I was kind of excited about this shot.  My problem was the cars in very close proximity to the blue car I wanted.  I decided to make use of the fact that the surrounding cars were primarily solid rust, so I could just use them as a basic contrast to the blue, and not worry about including them in their entirety.  I was luck to have a tuft of weeds covering one of the cars, that actually acted as a visual framing element to the passenger side of the car..  The clouds added a nice moody feeling to the image, and the bunch of trees to the right gave a visual balance to the weeds, and completed the picture.

Retirement Holmes
The deeper I got into the property, the more little gems I seemed to find.  One of those, was an old tow truck that had actually been used by White's Auto Salvage before it was quite literally sent to pasture.  Since Toni loves tow trucks, I really wanted to get a picture of this for her.  However, I faced several different problems with this picture.  The first problem was it was on a noticeable hill.  Second, it was neighbored by a later model Mazda truck cab on one side, and a fairly good condition Blazer on the other side.  The third problem was, in order to get the front of the truck (where the personality is), I was going to have a lot of sky in the shot.  The clouds were still textured, but they were getting brighter and brighter with the mid-day sun above.  This was an exposure nightmare for me, but I did come out here to push myself and my camera, so I decided not to shy away from the opportunity to learn.  If the pictures didn't pan out, I wasn't out anything but time, and I was already invested in the time.

I chose to go with a passenger side 3/4 shot which was shooting uphill, and included the light color Blazer.  My hope was the Blazer would blend into the cloudy sky above.  Knowing that if I used an ND grad filter for this shot, I would be cutting the exposure of the top of the cab and the towing rig on this truck.  That was not something that I wanted to do.  I decided instead to apply the ND grad in post processing so that I could still eek out the detail in the top of the truck, while bringing the exposure down in the clouds.  Essentially, this meant that I was going to be exposing for the clouds and avoiding any clipping of highlight detail.  I got in close, to exaggerate the lines of the truck using the wide end of my 24-70mm lens.  I grabbed the shot, and looked at the LCD.  I wasn't all that happy with how it looked, but I was relieved to see that I had plenty of information on the histogram with no clipping on either end of the graph.  It wasn't until I got home and started to process it, that I found that I had actually captured something very close to what I had previsualized.  It was good enough that I didn't even use the subsequent shots that were much easier to expose.

Calico Beetle
One of the most iconic shapes in the automotive world is that of the Volkswagon Beetle.  This car has been around in varying forms for nearly 80 years.  It is one of those cars that I have wanted to photograph for some time now, but haven't quite found the right one.  Well, today I found one that fit the bill close enough.  It was set apart from the rest of the cars, and it was sitting right by a small tree.  The basic car was black which I wasn't all that wild about, but the silver fenders and the patina on the hood captured my attention.  It was an ugly little thing, and one that would work well in a photograph.  I set things up, and got things carefully positioned so that the cars in the background would not be as intrusive.  I watched the depth of field, and covered the bright cars the best that I could.  When it was all said and done, I had found a pleasing composition that used two green trees as counter points in the frame, and had the red hood prominently placed.  It wasn't the best picture, but it was just quirky enough to work.

Emerging From Ruin
By this time, I had been on the property for almost four hours.  It was long past time to get back in the truck and head home.  But I was destined to be that kid that was outside playing...just five more minutes.  As I was walking back, there were cars that I had passed by without photographing, that I was now giving another look.  It might be because I was not in tune with these cars and was listening to what they were telling me.  It might also be because the light was shifting a little.  But probably, it was me not wanting to quit just yet since I really wasn't sure if I had gotten "that" shot yet.

Well, walking back, I happened upon a car that was about 90% rust covered, sitting atop a brown patch of ground.  It was almost like it was blending into the ground to look at it.  It just refused to stand out at all, but it was at a corner and was just too good to pass up.  There were two modern cars that were very much in the frame that I had to deal with.  When shooting a car like this, the last thing you want is for a Hyundai to show up to the party, but that was just what I had.  I had to drop down low, an compromise to get just small portions of the Korean cars in the frame.  I managed to all but make the one to the left disappear, and the one to the rear blended in due to similar color tones.  That was the first hurdle of this shot.  The second was making the drab car stand out.  Well, I was fortunate that by shooting low, I had the sky in the frame.  With the use of a ND grad, I was able to bring the sky into a nice dark gray appearance which helped draw the eye to the windshield.  In post, I was able to add a little punch to the limited greenery in the frame, and to provide a little visual highlight to the car itself.  This was a difficult shot, but one that I am pretty pleased with in its final form.

With that, it was time to go back to the truck.  I had spent long enough here, and didn't want to wear out my welcome with the folks at White's.  However, the little boy came back out once I got to the truck.  Across the road, there were several old cars sitting that begged to be looked at.  I hadn't given them much thought earlier, because I was not in the right frame of mind when I first got here.  However, now that I was "hearing" the cars, there was one that was calling to me.  It appeared to be an old 30's model race car, which was pretty cool.  I'm sure it had all kinds of stories to tell.  I tried to hear them, but there were not quite enough clues other than the roll bars, racing tires, and windshield reinforcements.

Let's Go Racing
As with the previous image, I was facing the difficult task of making this car stand out against the similarly colored leaves.  The colors that I had to work with were the patches of bright red, with a little bit of blue in the hood, and a slightly tarnished radiator.  I set up the composition that I wanted, and dialed in a basic exposure.  The lighting was so even that the exposure was simple...maybe the easiest of the day.  However, there wasn't much visual pop in the image.  That would be taken care of through Lightroom with the addition of some contrast, and some dodging and burning.  I'm sure that the image would have more pop in the summer with more green around the car, but I think that in this case, the uniform color tones actually work well for the picture as a whole.  It adds more visual interest since it forces the viewer to really look into the frame to seek the clues about what is being seen.

My truck was only about 30 feet from this particular car, so I no longer had any excuses to stay out.  I went ahead and packed the camera up, and dropped by the office once last time to let them know that I was leaving.  It had been a really good day, but I wasn't really sure how good of a day until I got home and started to process the images.  I knew that I had captured 88 frames worth of pictures.  I figured that if I was really lucky, I would have between eight and nine new images that I would be keeping.  Well, after it was all done, I had a total of FIFTEEN images that I considered were good enough to keep.  That was pretty incredible, and put me at nearly a 20% hit rate which was outstanding!

Junk yards might be a mixed blessing since they are so packed, but it is hard to deny that the number of potential subjects is very high.  Today proved that if you open your mind, and listen to the cars, you will find a lot of great eye candy among the derelict automobiles.  I am very appreciative to White's Automotive for allowing me the privilege of walking around with my camera.  I'm sure I will be back in the future since there is still another third of the property I haven't even stepped foot on yet.