Cloud Chasing in Two Counties

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The original plan was to head out after work and take advantage of the clouds by going to Pilot Mountain.  I wasn't sure if I would be shooting the summit like I would normally do though.  I was kind of feeling going for some slightly different views, and possibly doing a little hiking around the summit.  As I left work, I was starting to change my mind though as the clouds were looking really good.  In fact it was starting to storm, and I had a quick thought of maybe being able to get some lightning around the summit.  

By the time I got home, the storm was in full swing, and I looked at the weather app to see how much time I had to play with.  The storm was going to be ending in about 45 minutes or so, and that worked out well.  The hope was to get the clearing sky behind me to light up the summit, while I got the regressing storm front as the backdrop for the mountain.  I grabbed the camera and headed out with a purpose.

I made it about five miles from home before I realized that the clouds were already starting to break up.  I pressed on hoping for the best.  By the time I reached Pinnacle, there was nothing but clear blue skies with the storm clouds well off in the distance.  I could even see that the summit was rather hazy with the heat and humidity of the afternoon.  The decision was made to abandon Pilot Mountain and start looking for barns out in Surry County.  I exited off of the highway and started my meanderings around Hwy 268.  I did find a really cool old car in front of a dilapidated garage, but the sun was to the rear and the shadows were all wonky.  I will be back to that location though as I do see a lot of promise with the setting.

I also found a couple shops with salvage yards in the front that had some promising vehicles, but again, the lighting was too harsh to really take advantage of it.  Since they were packed in pretty tight, I decided not to wait to see if the lighting changed any.  I was finding no barns out here, and it seemed that my eyes were being drawn to the old iron instead.  At least I was finding some things here and there that caught my eye, but nothing that I could really work with.

It felt like I was driving forever just aimlessly milling around.  I started to dip back and forth between Surry and Stokes Counties on some roads I had never been on before.  It was starting to feel like a bust and the sky was still not working with me, but I was getting closer to the clouds at least.  I finally found the edge of the front and the lighting immediately changed for the better.  I still had the warm sun to my rear, but the sky was a good deal more interesting now.  I just needed to find something to put in front of my camera!

Into the Blue
I found myself on a road I had passed many times, but never driven down.  There wasn't much to see on this road, as it was just a simple country route.  However, something caught my eye as I drove past a modest home.  There was an old pickup in the front yard.  But just beyond the truck was an old Ford with grass growing up around it.  There was a hint of color to it, but it was primarily in primer.  It wasn't perfect, but there was a good deal of greenery around it, and the sky was looking good above.  I got turned around, and came back for a second look.  I was going to have a hard time photographing it from the street, so I was looking to see how possible it would be to get in closer to it.  As I was pondering, I saw the front door to the house open (which surprised me as I really thought the house was vacant).  I took this as my opportunity to park and speak with the owner.

She was a very nice lady, and we had a pretty good conversation about the car.  She told me it was a '55 Ford that had belonged to her late husband.  He had picked her up in that car when they were dating and I could see that she was still quite excited about the thought.  She described the original color as "mountain green" and that color could still be seen at the rear of the car.  The car was now her son's, and the intention is to restore it to the original condition.  She was happy to let me photograph the car, and I jumped at the chance, especially knowing some of the history of it now.

What Was
I went back to the 4Runner and grabbed the camera fitted with a 24-70mm lens and an intensifying polarizer.  I started to work out compositions from the rear of the car since that was where the light was the best at this point.  I was really wishing for more color and less primer, but I was able to find patches of color on the car that made for pretty good compositions.  The trunk lid was probably the best piece on the car for getting the color, and the natural patina.  It just so happened that there were emblems still in place, and I saw a great intimate composition in that.  I just love the way age pits the trim, and the paint starts to peel away in the sun.  There is just so much texture to play with.

I started to look for other intimate compositions but had a hard time picking out interesting areas because for the most part, it was just a plain gray.  Having had a fair amount of luck with the emblems on the rear, I started to look at other trim work and lines on the rear quarter panels.  The emblem for the model was still in place on the passenger side, as was the tail light and reverse light.  I started to work this area next.

Club Sedan
Just wanting to capture the trim at the rear, I went with a narrow depth of field to through the rest of the photo into blur.  F/5.6 seemed to do the trick, and I anchored the whole picture on the red tail light.  Of course, the red was quite deep, and needed to be balanced with some cool tones which came from the "mountain green" around the model name, and the lower quarter.  I had my pitted chrome and my peeling paint.  There was even a natural framing element with the tall weed that was growing just behind the rear wheel.  It wasn't my normal shot, but it was one that I was rather excited about.

I still wanted the picture that captured the "story" of this car.  I wanted something that showed its past, the memories, and the hopes for the future.  That was one tall order for sure.  The truck that I had seen first from the road was also the husband's vehicle and I felt that it was a part of the story as well.  I tried to capture a picture that included the truck as the foreground and the Fairlane in the background.  That didn't work out well enough because too much emphasis was given to the truck.  The only way to make this story work was to capture the car in the foreground, but that presented a myriad of problems.

When looking from the front, there was a house to the left, and a storage building to the right.  To make matters worse, there was a storage trailer beside of the building.  These elements were very distracting to the image that I had in mind, but I was determined to find something that I could do including only the car and the truck.  I got down low, and used a wide angle (24mm) to emphasize the front of the car.  This essentially hid the building and trailer to the right and simplified the composition.

A side benefit from using such a wide angle was that I was able to capture the sky as well.  There was a nice patch of interest in the sky right above the car which served as a visual framework for the composition.  The touches of red in the rust and in the center of the wheel gave the picture some much needed drama.  The truck was there, but not overbearing.  There was a slight bit of overlap showing the connection between the two vehicles.  My issue was the exposure latitude with the sky.  I thought about adding an ND Grad to the lens, but decided that would not work out due to how the horizon was. I opted to shoot this one as an HDR image instead.  The difference in exposures were not terrible so I did a modest three shot capture and blended them in Lightroom later.  What I ended up with was something very close to how I envisioned the shot when I was setting it up.

With that, I was done.  The thunder was starting, and I was dripping with sweat.  I packed up my gear and spoke briefly with the owner once again before leaving.  I was quite thankful for the time she allowed me with the car, and for the story behind it.  I just hope that I was able to do it justice.

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