A Rural Exploration

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Farmhouse Sunrise
Winter is one of those weird times of year for photographers.  Personally, I really enjoy it, and have always been able to get out and get some really good images this time of year.  However, it takes a little bit of time for me to calibrate to the season after so many months of having color on the landscape.  I typically shift from doing landscapes to capturing more rural scenes which bring their own colors and textures.  With Fall winding down, I am still in the frame of mind to work landscapes though.  That was the original plan for the day when I was looking at the weather forecast.  I was looking forward to increasing clouds through the day, and I figured that I could head back to Stone Mountain and go up to the higher elevations to work some scenes there.

I also happened to check out the sunrise forecast and found that pretty much all of NC was going to see a potentially colorful sunrise.  Since Stone Mountain would be closed until after sunrise, I wasn't going to be able to do anything there, but I wanted to find a good place to take advantage of the colors of morning.  My first thought was Salem Lake, but having just done a really spectacular image there, I opted not to revisit that same location just yet.  My second idea was an old feed mill in Yadkin County which has changed a good bit over the last year with both booms coming down.  I have tried to photograph that building under the morning sky several times, but haven't quite gotten it right.  I figured it was on the way to Stone Mountain, so this would be the morning I would give it a try.

I woke up around 5am and was on the road a little before 6am.  That gave me plenty of time to get to the mill and find my composition before first light.  When I got there, the sky was already starting to show some colors and I was getting really excited.  There was a problem though...actually two of them.  First of all, it appeared as though they had plowed the field that the building was in.  That would make it hard to get into position, and I really didn't care for that as a foreground.  The second problem I was seeing was there was a tractor trailer pulled down to the cul de sac with the driver apparently asleep in the cab.  Anywhere I parked would put me in his way, and had a great potential of getting my truck hit.  Since the scene wasn't as I was hoping for, and the tractor trailer was causing problems, I opted to abandon my first stop on this photo tour.

Amber Skies
It was still too early to continue on to Stone Mountain, and the sky was looking incredible.  I decided to drive off blind and try to find something interesting to put under the sky.  It seeks I'm always chasing something to give context to the sky when I am out with the camera.  I was well into rural Yadkin County, so I knew that there would be trees and barns that might work for me.  I drove around in the dark, paying attention to where the light was in relation to the ground features.  The more I drove, the more I started to think that this was going to be a lost cause.  I was happy that I was witnessing one of the prettier sunrises I've seen in some time at least.  

At that point where I was about to throw in the towel, I saw a very interesting tree on the correct side of the road.  As I got closer, I could seen an old farmhouse sitting between two trees.  It was position absolutely perfect to give attention to the sunrise.  I quickly pulled off the road and grabbed my gear.  I evaluated the scene quickly and determined that the proper lens would be my 24-70mm with no filters attached.  I got right up on the fence line (as close as I could get to the house) and started to compose my images.

I started off including all of the elements I had seen with the two trees and the house.  The exposure was pretty straightforward and I did not need any grad filters as the sky was the predominant feature.  Once I had a few frames that I liked from that composition, I moved over to the more interesting of the two trees and composed one just of the sky, anchored by the single tree.  As I was reviewing the images in the LCD, I was pretty sure that I was going to like this composition much better than the one that I had shot previously.  As it turns out though, I like them both equally as well.  The sky was phenomenal to say the least.

As the sky brightened, the colors faded away, and I found no reason to stay at this location.  I had seen an old truck about a mile back on the road and figured that I would try to shoot that as the sun got high enough to light it up.  I packed the camera up, and went a little further down the road to see what I could see.  I found a lot of interesting subjects, but none of them were striking me as picture worthy this morning.  After a few miles, I turned around and went back to the truck I had seen in the dark.

You know the problem with scouting subjects in the dark?  You can't see all that is around them.  That was a fatal flaw with this truck.  There were houses much too close to the truck, and no appropriate backdrop to use.  I looked it over briefly, but found nothing that I wanted to work with at this particular time.  But my mind was pretty much set at this point.  I was wanting to work rural scenes rather than landscapes.  I was getting my Winter groove back kind of early this year.

Weather Beaten
I continued to drive around looking to see what I could find.  The sky was interesting in some directions, and less so in others.  The lighting was pretty uniform, so I was able to shoot in any direction, but to include the sky would be a little more difficult.  I came across a group of old barns that caught my eye.  The lighting was fine, but the clouds didn't have a whole lot of definition to them.  They had a little bit, but I wasn't sure if I could successfully bring it out in the editing process.  It was a nice enough scene to give it a try at least.

I pulled over, and pulled out the camera.  I staring at a big sign that said "No Trespassing" so, I wasn't going to be able to get close to the barns unfortunately.  I grabbed my 70-200mm lens and left the front element bare with no additional filters.  I set up right on the property line still on the easement.  I found that 125mm would capture the group of barns nicely, along with the trees, and some sky.  I played around with my exposure a little bit in order to eek out as much detail in the sky as I possibly could.  There was not a lot of exposure latitude to deal with, so I knew that I would be adding some contrast in post.

Since I didn't have many composition options from my position, I didn't stay here long at all.  I wasn't sure how this would turn out, but I was at least getting in the frame of mind to work rural settings again.  I was fine doing this instead of going to Stone Mountain to shoot landscapes.  The sky was iffy as to how it was wanting to behave, and I could tell that there was very little color to be had on the landscape.

I continued driving around for another 30-45 minutes before deciding that I might as well go and do a little hiking and try for some landscapes.  My rural adventure was drying up.  I went on to Stone Mountain just a couple hours later than I had planned on.  The park was nearly empty which was great after a full season of elbow to elbow hikers.  The sky was looking decent, so I decided that I would go high and shoot some landscapes from the summit.  I started out the hike, and went on the loop trail which should have taken me right where I wanted to go.  Unfortunately though, the trail was still closed due to damage.  My only other option was to head out to Wolf Rock which I have done far too often this year.  I ended up hiking back to the truck deciding to scrub hiking on the agenda.  In fact, I might as well go home at this point huh?

Ford Coupe
Just because I was headed home didn't mean that I couldn't take the long way.  I decided to go the rest of the way through the park and exit on the back side.  That would put me in an area that I had scouted back in January with Toni.  I knew that there were some nice subjects out that way.  One in particular that I was interested in was a house that had several old cars in the yard.  I had returned there once over the previous Winter to ask permission to enter the property, but nobody was there.  This time, I saw smoke coming from the chimney, and a car warming up in the driveway.  Might as well ask...

Well, the owner was home and had absolutely no problem with me working around his property photographing his cars.  I was excited about this!  I pulled the truck out of the way along the road and grabbed my gear.  I opted for my 24-70mm lens once again, and added my Singh Ray Color Combo Polarizer to help punch up the colors a bit.  The first car I worked was a 40's Ford Coupe that was nearly complete.  It was sitting next to an embankment that made for a great backdrop.  I just had to be a little careful with the clutter that was around the car.

Organic Ford
Before I moved on from this car, I decided to give the front emblem a little bit of attention.  This was different than most of the bling that I have been photographing recently.  The way it fit on the grill, and the lines created by the grill, hood, and fenders really worked together for an interesting automotive abstract shot.  That was how I framed the image in the camera.  I put the Ford logo in the most dominant position and let the rest of the line work around that part of the composition.  It made for a very interesting picture, and the textures of the moss and rust really added to the artistic quality of the image.

Blemished Script
Speaking of emblems, there was an old Ford pickup nearby that wasn't all that great for photography, but it did have a nice color paint on it.  The tailgate had a wonderful stamped Ford logo on it that was painted white.  It was a simple composition, but the fact that there was a huge section of rust at the bottom of the "F", I had no choice but to capture the image.  It wasn't quite the same as a chrome emblem, but the white script really stood out against the light blue paint.

The Gutless Crew
I should have counted how many cars this man had on his property.  Everywhere I looked, there were cars, trucks, and jeeps.  Most of them were just the shells and not much else.  Some still had enough character to photograph though.  The trick was isolating them from each other.  Sometimes that couldn't happen, so I had to include several of them at once.  The fact that the backdrop was a nice woodline was a huge bonus.  I would love to know the stories behind these vehicles.  That would have been the icing on the cake!

Chrome Scallop
There were more times than not where I wasn't able to capture the whole car, whether because of clutter, or simply because there wasn't enough of the car to capture.  When I ran into those situations, I would go in for the intimate study on some of the lines of the cars.  Most of the chrome had been stripped off of the cars, but occasionally I got lucky and found some bling to work with.  There is just something about the style and the lines of the automotive decorations from this era.  Add to that the patina, and pine needles, and you have a very interesting picture!

Slowing With Age
There were times that most of the vehicle was gone, and there were no embellishments left on the remaining shells.  Occasionally, I would luck out and there would be some parts of the dash remaining.  I found one that had an intact instrument cluster and a missing door.  The one remaining window was right above the cluster, and there was a nice spider web on the dash.  That made for a fun little composition to change things up a little bit.  It struck me as funny that the odometer could be seen clear as could be, while the speedometer was almost unreadable.  I doubt that either works any more though.

There was a great Ford fastback from the mid 60's  sitting there.  It didn't have a front clip, but it did have the chrome gills on the oversized "C-pillar" which really grabbed my attention.  The patina around them was awesome and the swooping lines of the quarter window really fit with the flow.  The lines of the fastback, as well as the body line on the quarter really added a lot of visual interest as well.  I spent some time working on this element as I included it in several compositions.

Chrome Gills
When it came to rust, I think that this Ford had the other beat.  There was just enough paint left to really make the rust pop off of the metal.  The chrome really stood out as well.  Compositionally, this car made for some fine photographs with the lines.  Pure art from Ford back in the day.  I really wish that the car had been a little more complete though.

Speaking of complete cars, there was a Four door Bel Air that was in really good shape and was mostly complete.  The paint was even in pretty good shape, although you could tell that it had been parked for a few years now.  I tried several different compositions with it, but the paint was just too good, and the front was in the shadows.  I was about to hang it up for this car when I got the idea to work on the hood ornament.  While I was putting the composition together, I noticed something really cool.  The shadows on the hood made for a very distinct division of tones, and the lower hood emblem was still picking up the light on the top edge.  This was looking rather interesting to say the least.

Aqua Abyss
It is no surprise that I really like working with emblems on old cars.  Part of that is the emblems are usually set off by a wonderful patina.  Not in this case though.  Like I said, the paint was actually in pretty good shape, and there was no patina to speak of on the hood.  I photographed this one with the full intention of really massaging it in Lightroom to take full advantage of the contrast that the sun was already providing.  I wanted to keep the lower emblem in the shadows except for the top edge.  The focal point was going to be the plane, and I wanted to gorgeous paint to melt around these elements.  This wasn't going to be a grungy rendition showing the rust, but a pure abstract that makes you think of something else entirely.

The more I played with this image, the more I liked it.  The cool tones were very relaxing to me.  The simple composition was striking, and the editing that I did seemed to really accentuate the elements that I was wanting it to.  I think that this is probably my favorite image of the day, and I've got at least one other vote in that direction from my daughter Lexi.

Eager For More
One thing that I haven't photographed much has been old Jeeps.  There were several on this property, and they were in varying degrees of condition.  One of them on the front of the house was pretty complete, but was surrounded by a lot of clutter.  The only way to really get this one was to shoot an isolation.  I started out just with the grill, and then added the right headlight.  However, I decided that I wanted to try to go at an angle to include the fronds of a tree next to fender for a bit of context.  The predominant grill was still the focal point, but the headlight brings your attention to the tree so you immediately get the feel that this is an offroad vehicle.  It is a little different than my normal compositions, but I'm enjoying thinking outside of the box these days.

Work in Progress
Before packing it up, I went around the house one last time and found a semi enclosed garage that housed the project vehicle.  Of course the lines of this car caught my eye as I've always been a fan of the 40's coupe designs.  An odd element that I liked was the skylights above.  They gave not only some visual interest, but helped provide a leading line into the photograph.  I would have loved it if the trash barrel was moved, but ultimately, everything here tells a story.  As my last set here on this property, I was going to tell the story of why there were so many cars on the property.

Hotrod Shop
It was a complex story, and scene to photograph.  I figured that in order to really put it all together, I could shoot this as either a portrait or a landscape.  When I got home, I liked them both equally as well, for different reasons.  I even liked the "Private Property" sign (mainly cause I had permission to be there) on the wall.  Everything here was telling a story, and that is my job as the photographer...to tell the story.

After a year, I had finally gotten the ability to return to this location and shoot so many of the cars.  It wasn't the landscapes that I had gone out looking for, but for that matter, my sunrise wasn't the scene that I had planned.  In fact, nothing about today had gone to plan, but in the end, the result was so much better than what I expected.  This will be a fun Winter I believe!

At the end of the day, I had shot 90 images.  I decided that 15 of them were worth keeping, and I had another handful that I liked, but they weren't quite special enough to process.  It was a spectacular day, even though I had my doubts at every step.

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