Virginia is for Photography

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Journey's End
After spending the week working on my webinar presentation for Singh-Ray which is dealing with photographing the derelict and decaying, I was fully in the mood to capture some rust and rural scenes.  The weather was a little uncertain for the weekend, but it was looking like Saturday was going to be my better day when it came to clouds in the sky.  I had thought about trying to get a sunrise out of the day, but looking at the sunrise forecast the color was going to be non-existent.  That meant I could sleep a bit later.  The only question was, where to go on this trip?

A few years ago, I had found myself in Sparta, NC, after a tip from a fellow photographer.  There is a great little roadside yard art display with a ton of tractors, and this one really nice GMC truck.  I remember having a great time with it last time, although it was in the winter and I was standing in a good deal of slush to get the pictures.  The green trees really should change the look of the compositions here.  This was going to be my starting point for the day.  I say starting point because I always have a first picture in mind when I head out, and then I start to explore from there.  Since I don't spend a lot of time in the area of Sparta, I was looking forward to a little bit of rural exploration.

I wanted to get an early start on the day, but not quite early enough to catch a sunrise.  This meant I left the house around 5:30am, looking to arrive in the area around 7ish or so.  The trip out there was easy enough, and it looked like the clouds were going to be cooperating with me for a change.  I found the old truck with no problems and saw that it was still pretty much as I had left it several years ago.  The sun was just now starting to hit the side of the truck, so the lighting should be pretty good for what I was wanting.

I started out with my 16-35mm lens for a change.  I wanted to accentuate the cab while visually reducing the impact of the rear frame and dual wheels.  Of course, I added my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to really bring out the colors in the patina and increase the contrast of the scene.  One of the first shots of the day turned out to be keeper which was pretty cool.

Patina Panels
One of the aspects of this old truck that I love is the patina.  There is so much texture in the rust and the colors are amazing.  Something that I started doing a little bit the last time I was here was shooting isolations on the truck.  I have gotten a bit better at it over the years and was all set to work some more intimate patina shots today.  I decided that I needed a different tool to make that work so I swapped over to my 70-200mm lens and kept the polarizer attached to it.  At this point, I was like a sniper picking bits and pieces of the truck out as subjects.  The chrome emblems on the hood really caught my eye since the bright color really contrasted with the rust that surrounded it.  The bit of pitting in the chrome pulled it all together.  There was a vent in the cowl of the truck that added to the visual impact with the repeating horizontal lines, and I used the vertical lines of the hood, and fender to balance out the composition.

I'm telling you, this truck is fascinating to work with, and every time I have photographed it, I have been quite fortunate and gotten many good images.  There is just so much character to find, and every inch of this truck is part of the story behind it.  The textures that it offers is nothing short of amazing though, and probably my favorite aspect of the whole truck.

Final Sigh
The grill of this old truck has always caught my attention, but it was a little blah when photographed straight on.  I tried that not only this time, but the previous time.  It just seemed to lack something  in the translation and I have yet to be happy with a straight on shot of the front of this truck.  However, when I moved over to the side and started to frame up a composition from here, the grill started to make sense.  It was no longer two dimensional, it had depth and life, and was rather impressive without being overbearing.  The patina detail on the bumper even added to the composition, giving a strong vertical aspect to compliment the horizontal slats of the grill.  The greenery was a nice frame to the whole image and the one bit of dead leaves in the background helps to pull it all together.  For a simple image, there is a lot to look at here.

Strong and Gentle
While I was paying attention to the front of the truck, I really wanted to do something with the flowers that were right beside the front wheel.  I had included them in the overall shot, but they were just too perfect sitting where they were to ignore up close.  I liked the grill shot that I had just done, but the flowers would not work with that composition.  They were much too related to the wheel.  Hmm, I could work with that.  I decided to focus on the wheel with the flowers framing the rim.  The fender would frame the tire, and the image would be bounded by a bumper corner, headlight, marker light, and the chrome emblem.  This composition seemed to really flow, and it had a softer side to it thanks to the flowers.  Even though this is just a small section of the truck, the sense of power that is conveyed here is unmistakable and the colors are rather dynamic which makes this an interesting image.

Vent Age
Speaking of the chrome emblem, the sun was peeking out from behind a cloud and the truck was getting bathed in a warm glow.  The rust was absolutely on fire on the side of the truck.  I reacted quickly and got into position for another composition on the side of the hood.  This time, I was looking for a collection of lines, I wanted to reduce the composition down to the emblem, and the vent with just enough of the fender to balance out the composition.

I framed the image very tight, at about 160mm and waited for the sun to hit it just right before releasing the shutter.  When I saw the image come up on the LCD, I knew I had a winner.  Even with the contrast and saturation reduced, there was color galore and the histogram showed a perfect exposure.  This one was going to turn out really good I thought, and I was right!

I tried a few other things, and even tried shooting into the cab through the open window, but the compositions were not as strong as what I had already done.  I looked on the other side to see if I was missing anything interesting.  There just was nothing really to keep me here much longer.  With the morning sun climbing into the sky, I wanted to continue on my journey to find some more rural subjects before the light got too harsh.  I packed up my gear and got into the truck for a destination not quite known to me.

I drove around Sparta, and into Piney Grove before getting really lost.  I was heading in a Northwesterly direction knowing that eventually I would come into Virginia.  Of course, that did happen rather quickly as I was at the top portion of NC to start with.  I believe I was entering Grayson County and found that there were a lot of great potential subjects, but power lines and bad lighting were getting the best of me.  I just won't even stop if I don't see a pretty good potential picture.  I was getting deeper and deeper into Virginia and was starting to get a tad discouraged as the morning was marching on quickly.

The Red Roof
Doing this type of exploring, I have gotten used to a whole lot of nothing punctuated with a quick blast of "Oh Boy!!!"  That was just what happened as I was traveling down one of the state roads.  I saw a barn set just off of the road with no power lines.  It had this amazing red roof and the barn wood was perfectly aged.  As I was passing it by, I caught sight of a Chevy Biscayne all by itself next to the hill.  I even stopped in the middle of the road for a brief second and took it all in.  The car had some aftermarket wheels straight from the 90's on it, but other than that it looked perfect to me.  I got turned around and slowly came back.  I could get the barn from the road, but the car was really going to need some permission to go that deep in.  Looking at the properties around it, I was able to determine that the house across the street was probably the one associated with the barn.

I parked in the driveway to the barn and walked over to the house.  I picked a door that looked like a guest entry and and knocked.  I could hear sounds inside so I was pretty sure that somebody was home.  As I was looking around, I saw a dog coming out from one of the structures on the property beadlocked on me.  He didn't look fierce or upset, so I just held my hand out and spoke with him.  He came over and sniffed and then licked my hand.  At that point, I knew I was in good shape with the dog.  I rubbed his head for a minute and made friends.  He even sat down right next to me while I waited at the door.  I could still hear sounds, but the door wasn't opening.

I decided it was time to move to the next door that looked like it went to a sun room.  As I got close, I raised my hand to knock on the door as the door was opening.  The resident came out looking down at the ground.  I knew he did not know I was there, and I didn't want to scare him with my fist up in the air.  I quickly raised both hands and said "don't let me scare you."  He looked up startled but calmed quickly and we introduced ourselves.  He confirmed that the barn was his property and even volunteered about 100 acres of land for me to photograph on.

My first order of business was to work on the Biscayne at the rear of the barn.  I grabbed my gear from the truck and walked back there.  The exposure was going to be difficult because the car was in the shadows and the sky was pretty bright.  The clouds were nice though, so I was willing to work with the scene to make something great.  I went ahead and built the camera with my 24-70mm lens and added the prerequisite Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer.  Knowing that the exposure latitude was going to be too great, I added my Lee Filter Holder and slid in a Singh-Ray 3-Stop hard edge Galen Rowell ND Grad.  After the first couple of exposures I had a realization...

I have yet to do a video on the ND Grads for Singh-Ray, so I decided that this would be a fantastic time to do just that.  I pulled out my phone and set it up to shoot video.  Then I started to figure out how to make my one remaining hand be able to manipulate the filters.  I bypassed some of the steps just simply because I didn't have enough hands to be able to go through all of the steps and demonstrations, but in the end I think I got the general idea out there.

The resulting image turned out quite nice and really shows the patina that caught my eye in the first place.  The sky exposed well using the 3-Stop Grad.  There was just something about this car sitting there beneath the hill that captured my imagination.  The colors on the car really suited the environment it was in with the blues relating to the sky, and the green and rusty hues matching the landscape.  The chrome bits complimented the lighter parts of the clouds.  Everything just seemed to flow with this image

Deep Fins
The sky was starting to clear at this point and the sun was hitting the car pretty hard.  I really wanted to do something to highlight the wicked cool fins on the back of the car.  I moved to the rear of the car and set up close to the ground.  I opted for a pretty wide angle shot to really pull the attention to the lines in the back of the car.  The harsh sun actually helped here by showing off the shadows deep under the fin.  Without this shadow, the dramatic lines would not have been as obvious.  For this shot, I was able to remove the Grad filter since the sky wasn't as bright in comparison from this angle..

I worked around the car for a bit, but surprisingly was unable to find any isolations that I really liked.  The overall shots turned out so much better than any of the isolations that I did, so that is what I decided to keep from this shoot.

With the sun rising, and the clouds looking different, I decided to move onto other things.  I wanted to go out and shoot the barn real quick, so I grabbed my stuff and moved back out to the road.  I was able to keep my 24-70mm attached based on the distance I was shooting from and I started to fine tune the composition of the barn.  Now, according to the owner, this was a school originally before the civil war.  After that period of time, the school was moved to the current location and reassembled as a barn.  It is still in use to this day.

In the Barn
Once I finished with the barn pictures, I made my way back across the street and worked my way to a small shed over in the corner of the property. I had seen an old Ford tractor sitting in it while talking with the property owner.  This tractor was still in use, but had a certain rustic look sitting in the shed.  The lighting was not great with the back part of the tractor in the full sun and the light shining in from the rear pretty bright.  The nose of the tractor was fully in the shade, and I really liked the textures of the wood siding.  I decided to get a tight crop shot of the front of this tractor using my 24-70mm lens right at the frame of the entrance.  The Singh-Ray polarizer helped to make the red bumper pop and to control the glare on the hood of the tractor.  I tried several positions, but found that this one from about four feet off the ground worked the best out of all.  These N series tractors are always a lot of fun to photograph when I'm given the opportunity.  I was wishing for more compositions, but with the lighting, I was lucky to get the one that I did.  It was now time to move on to the next opportunity.

Having been given the overview of the property, I remembered that the owner said that the view from the top of the hill behind his house was fantastic.  Since he said that I could go check it out, I decided to put on my landscape eyes and give it a go.  I walked up to the top of the hill and checked things out.  Yes, you could see for miles and miles in two different directions.  You could make out Mount Rogers in one direction, and see into West Jefferson in the other.  It took me a few minutes to really determine how best to capture this view.

Mount Rogers
Looking at the sweeping views, I really wanted to take advantage of all there was to see.  I swapped out my lens to bring my 16-35mm into play.  I added the Color Combo Polarizer to bring out a little more contrast in the sky.  The composition needed something to anchor it, and I decided on a huge tree which dominated the landscape.  At the wide end of the lens, the tree was no longer as heavy in the scene and actually provided the perfect visual balance to the slope of the hill that I was on.  The strong diagonal helped to bring the attention to the distant mountain range and Mount Rogers in the distance.  The warm rolling hills transitioned into the Blue Ridge Mountains which blended nicely with the sky.  It was a simple landscape, but I thought it was an effective one.

My next concept was to get right beside of the tree and do something with the small rocky outcrop that was just to the right of it.  When I got over to it, I could already see a composition taking place right in front of my eyes.

The View From Here
One of the things that immediately caught my eye was a pond in the valley below.  It was just perfectly nestled at the base of the trees and helped to guide the eyes through the image.  The clouds seemed to mimic the ridges in the distance as well.  My initial thought was to shoot this as a sweeping landscape, but it lost the sense of meaning by doing that.  When I flipped the camera on the side and recomposed, it all made perfect sense.  My eyes were going exactly where I needed them to go within the frame.

A Rolling View
Just below the big tree where I was standing currently was a field with lots of hay bales scattered about.  I have always enjoyed photographing hay bales and decided that I would give these a shot or two before heading back to the truck.  Leaving the wide angle lens on, I started to put together some compositions.  I found a few bales that would give me a leading line into the scene and got in close as to really make the bale prominent in the scene.  In this picture, I was actually about 10 feet away from the first bale.  

I liked how my eyes moved from one bale to the next until the leading lines of the distant field pulled you the rest of the way in.  The dark green trees provided a great framework for the image, and the clouds again seemed to mimic the features in the landscape with the largest hanging above the largest grove of trees.

I tried this scene as a landscape shot as well, but it just didn't have the same visual impact and the eyes seemed to rove all over the image as opposed to following a course.  I looked around for some other shots as well, but I was seeing nothing else that caught my eye with the current light.  I went ahead and walked back out to the truck.  Before loading up, I went back over to the Biscayne and shot a few more images with different light.  At the time, I was thinking that these were going to turn out better, but after getting home and seeing them on the monitor, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the original ones had turned out better by far.

This pretty much wrapped up my day, and it was time to get back home since it was nearing noon.  I wanted to spend the second half of the day with Sierra since it was her birthday.  That is why it took so long to get the images processed and the blog entry done.  I didn't start it until 5am the following morning.

I had shot a total of 92 images from essentially two locations which was pretty good.  I was thinking it would be somewhere more in the area of 75 frames.  I had estimated about ten of the images would be keepers, and I managed to make a collection of 12 shots that made the cut.  It was a successful day and I was able to get my old iron, and even added a rustic scene with the barn.  I even got to do some landscape work which I usually don't get to do when I'm working on rural exploration.  

Now, it is time to put the finishing touches on the webinar presentation, and get ready for that.  It will air on Friday the 20th at 8pm.  To view it, you will need to register with Singh-Ray which is free to do.  Once you are registered, you will be able to view it live, and will have access to the archived recording as well.  I hope to see you there!

Summer at Big Creek

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Cascades of Summer
It would seem that I have been very much focused on old iron here lately, with the exception of a week at the beach.  I have been away from the mountains for far too long.  I had the opportunity to spend the day in the mountains today and looking at the weather, my best option was going to be waterfalls.  I have a lot of options when it come to waterfalls, but since we have had a lack of rain lately I wanted to go where I stood the best chance of getting some good flow.  That meant going to Big Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains since it was usually unaffected by water tables.  I actually had a little bit of luck the night before and there were some pretty strong storms that moved through that would more than likely boost the water levels a little bit.

Since it was full on Summertime, I knew that I was going to have to get there early to get a parking spot with all the hikers and swimmers that would be there when it warmed up.  This posed a slight problem since the park was a bit over three hours away from home.  I was wanting to get there shortly after sunrise, around 7-7:30am.  Doing the math, that meant that I was going to have to leave around 4am, which put me waking up earlier than that.  I'm not a morning person by any stretch, but a photographer has to do what a photographer has to do in order to get the pictures.

Beneath the Blooms
Somehow, I made it out of the house shortly after 4 and was on my way to the mountains.  I ran into a little rain here and there as I was heading West, but I knew that rain was a potential for the day.  Sometimes rainy weather makes for the best waterfall photography.  I arrived at the park just before 7:30, and I was already about the 10th vehicle in the parking lot.  I was really hoping that I wouldn't have to jockey for position at the different sections that I like to photograph.

A Bit of Drama
My goal for the day was to capture a section of Big Creek that I shot during a drought a couple of years ago.  I had not been back to this particular section since that trek and really wanted to see what it looked like with water flowing.  I have actually really liked this image since I shot it, and have entered it into several contests since.  In order to make sure that I achieved my goal, I wasn't going to stop at places unless there was something particularly interesting to photograph differently than I had seen before.  This would speed things up and make sure that I could get to the the intended location well past Mouse Creek Falls.

Another one of my goals which I had was to shoot some more instructional videos for Singh-Ray about how to use a polarizer for a more normal application than old cars.  I wasn't sure when this was going to happen, but I went into it knowing that I would be shooting some video since the lighting was good, and relatively stable.  This is what I love about shooting waterfalls on cloudy and rainy days.  I can pretty much count on the light being right for long periods of time.

Summertime Swim
As I was working my way down the trail, I was looking over to my left where the water was flowing to see if there was anything interesting.  One thing that I quickly noticed was that the brush was pretty thick this time of year and it was obscuring many of the locations that I was used to shooting.  I didn't spend long trying to get a vantage point at these locations since there wasn't much different than what I had shot previously.

There was one little section which I tend to shoot regularly which caught my eye once again.  It wasn't the water this time, but the blooming Mountain Laurel just above the falls.  This was worth taking a little bit of time to work with, so I worked my way down the scramble path to get into position.  I did a little rock hopping until I found the position I wanted to use to capture the falls and the seasonal greenery behind it.

As I was setting up with my 16-35mm lens, I decided to do a little comparison shooting with and without a polarizer.  This might be the first time I have ever shot a waterfall without a polarizer, and honestly, I didn't like it much.  It was a good comparison though, and I was able to send them to Singh-Ray.

This image is straight out of the camera with no filters.  I just did a proper exposure and shot it.  You can see how the water shows a great deal of glare, and it lacks a little visual pop which I like in my images.  This composition ultimately ended up as my opening image for this blog entry.

This next image is the same composition but with the addition of the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer that I use in the majority of my photography.  You can immediately tell the difference in the water, and a lot more contrast has been added.  Just the addition of the polarizer lengthened the shutter speed from 0.4 seconds to a full 2 seconds to blur the water.

Since I was already working without a filter, I figured that this would be the best time to shoot the video that I had been planning on.  I went ahead and got everything prepped for easy of manipulation with only one hand and got my cell phone out to record the video.

After doing some of the behind the scenes work that I had planned on doing, it was time to pack up and move to my next location.  There were several along the trail that I really enjoy working with but this time, they really didn't stand out all that much to me.  The next time I exited the trail was at Midnight Hole which I really didn't want to stop at since I have two really good pictures of that waterfall already.  However, when I walked passed it, I could see that there was some really good color to the water.  It was worth a stop to see what I could do with it.

Summer Smells
I worked the scene from a distance away and gradually moved in closer.  For this waterfall, I used my 24-70mm lens with the polarizer attached.  The ones from a distance were fair, but nothing all that special.  As I got in close to the tree with the exposed roots, I ran into a problem with a tree that had fallen and was floating on the water.  This was just too much of a visual distraction and I had to abandon that composition relatively quickly.  I composed a tight crop on the falls and included the blooming tree above it for a touch of seasonal flare.  As I was shooting this series, the air was thick with the perfume of Summer.  With all of the moisture around and the Mountain Laurel in full bloom, it just smelled like Summer in the mountains.  When I was titling this piece, those memories came right back to me, and it pretty much named itself.

I did a little work with the small cascades in the stream over to the side, but I wasn't able to find a composition that really worked.  There was just no organization among the rocks.  I needed something for the eyes to follow.  Since I Wasn't having much luck, I went down to another section by the trail and found that the lighting was even better on the rocks.  I went ahead and pulled out the camera once again, and fitted the 70-200mm lens and polarizer.

Mountain Stream Abstract
I was starting to have some pretty good luck with these rocks.  I could find order in the chaos with them, and was able to pick out several workable compositions.  While shooting these isolations, I got the idea to do another video about how I can get a nice long shutter speed with just a polarizer attached.

Video is not my specialty by any stretch, but considering I'm doing this on a cell phone while manipulating the camera I'm doing pretty good.  This shows a bit about how I do these isolations, and what I'm looking for on the back of the camera.  Unfortunately, I ended up not liking this particular composition on a big screen so it was trashed.  However, I did do another one from the same area which turned out pretty good.

Mossy Islands
When doing these intimate captures, it really is all about simplicity of composition and having something poking up above the water to give a nice visual anchor.  The silky ribbons from the passing water give the visual drama to the image which makes it interesting.  It didn't take long and I was tired of shooting the intimate shots and was ready to get on to the main goal which was still a good ways up the trail at this point.  In order to get there, I chose to pass right by Mouse Creek Falls which was looking pretty good, but not spectacular.  I even passed right by the bridge which overlooked some really good cascades.  I thought that if I had time I would grab a few shots here on the way back, but for now, I needed to get moving.

The Drop
Things had changed so much with the extra greenery and increased water flow that I almost didn't recognize my spot. It also happened a good deal further up the trail that I had anticipated.  When I arrived, I quickly remembered where I had been set up and made my way to that spot.  I was actually pretty amazed at the difference a little water would make.  I went ahead and used my 24-70mm lens with the Color Combo Polarizer.  I wasn't quite happy with how the overall composition was going, so I started to shoot some isolations here showing off the full flowing water.  The one that I really liked ended up getting processed as a black and white image because it lacked the visual pop it needed in color.  This way, the detail in the water is very apparent, and I think it is a much stronger image this way.

I did finally settle on a composition that I liked.  I had to adjust from how I shot it last time because the pool at the bottom right was just too bright, and became too much of a focal point if I included too much of it.  By reducing the footprint of the white water, I was able to compose a workable image of the location that shows the difference in the water.  I still like the original image, and possibly better, but this one turned out quite nice as well.  There is a lot to look at as you eyes work their way to the background.

After about 20 minutes here, I had shot all that I cared to shoot of this location.  My camera position was pretty restricted due to the rock that I had to be on, so there was only so much that I could do compositionally without falling off of the rock I was on.  That was OK since I had plenty of other things that I wanted to shoot.  I started to work my way back down the trail towards the bridge overlooking the creek.

Full of Life
When I arrived, there was no longer anyone standing on the bridge which was a very good thing.  You see, on these wooden bridges, any movement translates into vibrations which affect the sharpness of the image.  I had the bridge to myself and took advantage of it. I shot low to minimize the perspective distortion that I was going to have from shooting this far up.  Fortunately, I was able to peak the 24-70mm lens through the slats without any issues.  I had to use my B+W polarizer for these shots because my Singh-Ray had gotten fogged over pretty bad on the last set and had a thick haze on it which I was unable to remove with a lens cloth in the existing humidity.

Through the Trees
The gentle curve of the creek allowed for a great composition in both landscape and portrait orientations.  When I was editing the landscape shot, I started to see it as almost a square composition.  I ended up cropping pretty drastically from the right to change the feel of the image.  It allowed everything to line up much better than its native aspect ratio.  The portrait shot worked well as it was thanks to the two rocks in the foreground that really provide a nice visual anchor for the eyes.

I would have loved to have gotten down to the water for some really dramatic shots, but there was just no way I could get down there safely.  I checked a couple of different locations for other compositions but found that I had already located the best spots to shoot this from.  I went ahead and packed things up and got ready to head on to Mouse Creek Falls a short distance down the trail.  The lighting was about the same as it had been, and I figured as long as there were no people there I would give it another try.

Cascades in the Forest
When I arrived at Mouse Creek Falls, I was very happy to find that there were no hikers to be found.  I started to work my way down the scramble path to the bottom. I knew that the best composition was from about the half way point on the path, but with the low limbs near the falls with leaves on them, I needed to get down lower.  Looking at the scene in front of me, I decided that while I really wanted to use the 16-35mm lens, I would be better suited with the 24-70mm which I put on the body.  I added the B+W polarizer as well since I had smeared my Singh-Ray beyond use for the rest of the day.  I found a couple of workable compositions before trying to get in closer.

As I was swapping over to my 70-200mm lens, I had my first real run in with hikers.  There were two guys coming down the scramble path to enjoy the waterfall.  They asked if they would get in my way with I though was very considerate.  I said that I doubted it, but I would only be another couple of minutes.  They patiently waited as I got the long lens fitted with the polarizer and started to make a few images.  I wasn't really happy with what I was shooting as I wasn't getting quite close enough.  I thanked the hikers and said that I was finished.

They actually went well out of my way to sit down and have lunch which made me feel kind of bad since they wouldn't have been in my way regardless.  While I was starting to pack up, I remembered my 2x teleconverter which I carry in my bag.  This piece goes between the camera body and my 70-200mm lens to make it equivalent to a 140-400mm lens.  I have only used it twice before, and figured that this would be a good time to give it another try.

Dreaming in Black and White
I was very happy that I thought to give this a try.  I was able to zoom into about 253mm for this image.  It was just a smidge tighter than what I had been able to get with the lens alone, but it was an important compositional change.  It also kept the lens at its sweet spot near the middle of the zoom range.  I shot this figuring that I would convert it to a monochrome to really make the water stand out.  The color version was pretty good, but there was just too much green in the image, and I wanted a higher level of contrast.  The conversion to black and white worked just perfectly and I ended up with a really nice execution of the concept that I had when I switched over to the long lens in the first place.

This was the last bit of pictures that I shot.  When I got back to the trail, there were hikers by the dozens going up and down the trails.  Many were obviously set to go swimming in addition to hiking.  The clouds were also starting to part a little more than I liked.  With these things going against me, and seeing that the time was after noon, it was time to head back to the truck.  I had shot 123 frames during the five hours that I was in the park.  That would be enough to keep me busy for most of the night once I got home.

It turned out to be a pretty good day.  I achieved all of my goals that I had set for myself for this trip.  It was also a fantastic day to be outside.  The temperatures stayed right around 70 with just a passing drizzle with the clouds.  After weeks now of 90+, it was almost a Fall day in the woods.  I am starting to get tired now as I have now been awake for 19.5 hours and still have a few more things to do before bed.  Thanks for joining me on my hike at Big Creek!

Revisiting the Blue Apache

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Patina in the Morning Sun
I've been in a little bit of a creative slump for the past couple of weeks.  Shooting a week solid at the beach, and then coming home to working on the series for the rat rod Cadillac really wore me out.  Add to that, I have been having problems with the computer locking up once again which has really caused me a great deal of stress.  I think I've got the computer issues under control though.  I am limping on a single bank of memory right now (8 gigs), while I wait for two new banks of memory to arrive later this week.  At least I am able to function at this point, just a little slower than I am used to is all.

Since I have a traffic assignment this evening, into tonight, I thought that I would use this time to try and get my creative groove back on line.  I had looked at the weather and the morning showed to be mostly clear with a few clouds here and there.  That wasn't enough to justify going to the mountains which was what I wanted to do.  However, it was passable light for doing some rural shooting as the sun came up.  Since I had a print to deliver in Yadkin County, I figured that I might as well hunt around out there for something to shoot.

After doing my last Behind the Camera entry, I was feeling nostalgic about the old Blue Chevy Apache that I had shot in 2014, and done a fresh edit in 2016 which had won a photo contest shortly thereafter.  I checked the map and found that according to the last pass over the area, the truck was still there.  I remembered speaking with the owner back in '14 and getting a little history on the truck.  I was expecting to speak with her once again to gain permission to get in close to the truck.

When the Light Hits
Knowing how this is situated, I was expecting the sun to catch the front of the truck more than anything and that was fine by me.  It should provide some dramatic light to work with.  When I arrived at the house, the sun was up and already bathing the shelter and the truck.  There was a good deal more hay in the shelter than the last time, but the house looked to be in a much different state than I remembered.  It looked to be vacant, but the yard was mowed.  There were no cars around, and all of the blinds were closed on all of the windows. Weeds were grown up pretty tall around the base of the house.  From the looks of it, I wasn't going to get an answer at the door.  To keep legitimate appearances up, I parked in the driveway with my tag showing to the road and neighbors.  I went ahead and grabbed the camera.  Just in case, I fitted the 70-200mm lens with a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to give me the reach to get some shots in quickly without having to completely walk through the yard.

I started making some compositions and noted that the exposure, while pretty contrasty, was within the latitude of the camera.  Knowing that the grill would be my biggest problem, I exposed for the highlights, and let the shadows fall where they would.  I had plenty of details in the shadow portions so I was pretty confident that I could balance the exposure in Lightroom so that the image would reflect the view that my eyes were seeing.

I worked my way closer and closer in until I was at the wide end of the lens.  I hadn't been challenged yet, so I went back to the truck and swapped over to my 24-70mm lens which would allow me to get in close and distort the perspective of the truck ever so slightly.  I kept the polarizer attached though as it really helped bring the blue of the truck out a bit more.

A Summer Morning
As I got done with the basic shots of the truck, I started to work on some of the details.  The problem that I was running into was the weeds that had grown over the truck.  Where the lighting was the best, I wasn't able to really get a good view.  The ones that I shot were not all that great and I ended up trashing them in the first or second pass through the images.  The remaining three compositions were surprisingly similar, but the more I looked at them, the main subject was different in each one.  I felt that they each stood in their own right, and deserved their time on display.

I was getting back in the swing of photography, and was starting to feel that creative energy surging once again.  I spent some time driving aimlessly around Jonesville, NC, looking for some more rural subjects to photograph.  I found a few, though not as many as I was expecting.  The lighting wasn't right for any of them, so I just filed them in my head for later and kept looking.

After a while, the sun was up too high and the light was too harsh on the West side, so I opted to wrap it up.  It was time to go and deliver my print in East Bend anyway.  This is part of the frustration of photography.  I had spent about three hours on the road looking for things to shoot and ended up only finding one subject that had good light.  There are plenty of times that I don't even find that so I'm pretty happy with the morning altogether.

I'm hoping for some really good weather very soon so I can get out and do some mountain landscapes again.  It has been far too long since I've been out to the Blue Ridge Parkway under some dramatic skies.

Behind the Camera: My Wabi Sabi Style

Welcome back for another installment of my monthly "Behind the Camera" series.  In this series, I delve a little bit into the motivations behind my photography and why I do some of the things that I do.  This month, I have decided to talk a little bit about my interest in the rusty and aged subjects that I have been shooting here of late.  I'm actually scheduled to do a webinar on this very topic later this month with Singh-Ray so this is a chance for me to start to get my ideas together on the topic.

I started photographing old barns almost immediately when I got my first camera.  In fact, the first day I went out with the intention of capturing "art" instead of just pictures, I found myself at the Old Mill in Guilford County, and also found the remnants of an old house well in the woods off of W Market St in Greensboro.  Those constituted my first images with my first "real" camera.  From there I started to concentrate more on landscapes, but if I came across a nice barn I would shoot it as well.  I read recently that old barns are a favorite subject for newbie photographers and I guess I fell right into that mold.  My primary motivation for photography was capturing the landscape though.  It just took me a while to learn how to organize things in the landscape to make a compelling image.  I think that this is why barns are a favorite subject for photographers.  There is already a point of interest in the landscape, and an anchor to capture the eye of the viewer.  My landscapes at the time looked like a layer cake with the sky above, with a fairly flat horizon and not much in the way of visual anchors to draw you in.  A barn added instant visual interest to the picture and I enjoyed that!

For years, I would go out to capture the landscape, but I would keep finding rural settings that would grab my attention more and more.  I found that I loved to see how the wood aged, and how rust would start to coat the metal roofs.  Then I found my first location with some old trucks.  I had not thought to capture vehicles before, but for some reason the rust caught my eye.  There were a total of four trucks at this particular property, three of them were stuck in the woodline, and the fourth was just on a ridge at the beginning of a clearing.  There was even a pair of tractors that I started working with in the same area.  In the end, I had a whole bunch of pictures with subjects that I had never really worked with before.  I was amazed at how much personality that the images had, and the textures of the rusted trucks added a pretty cool touch.  I was so impressed with the way one of them turned out, I actually entered it into a photo contest later that year.  It actually won a third place ribbon, but I forfeited it because I felt that the judging was flawed across all of the categories.  That is a different story altogether.  The point was, the pictures of rusted vehicles were obviously appealing on some level to others as well.

It wasn't until I came back from a long hiatus from my photography that I started to learn why I was being drawn to rusted relics, and old barns.  I had even been drawn to rotting tree trunks over the years.  As part of my re-education in photography, I selected a lot of books to read in order to brush up on some of the new technology and techniques.  One of these books was Creative Landscapes, by Harold Davis.  In addition to hitting on lots of different elements in landscape work, he also touched on some of the concepts behind it.

Spring Cradle
The first concept that he speaks of is "Tao" which is a philosophy with roots in ancient Chinese culture.  Tao is traditionally connected with the landscape painters who seek a spiritual connection with the landscape that they are painting.  This applies to both grand landscapes as well as intimate, or even microscopic renditions of the landscape.  It was these connections to the landscape which had always drawn me to what I wanted to photograph.  I was finding myself being drawn more and more to images that I shared a emotional or spiritual connection with.  Old wood, whether it was in a natural setting as seen above, or as part of something man made, drew me in on a very deep level.  As I was reading this book, many of my motivations on photography started to make sense.

As I moved through the book, I came upon another concept from the East which really should have stumped me, but it was like a light had turned on when I read it.  The concept that the author was trying to convey was an ancient Japanese aesthetic and world view called "Wabi-sabi".  This view accepts that everything passes, and is by nature, transient and incomplete.  Art which is based in the Wabi-sabi concepts accept that this decay and decline is beautiful.  That decay is then used as the prime vehicle for conveying the emotion in the imagery.  Simply put, "All things pass, and in their passage lies beauty."

Under Cotton Skies
As I was finding my rhythm once again in photography, I was putting to use this newfound knowledge of Wabi-sabi and looked to strengthen my connection with what I was shooting.  I celebrated the decay that once appealed to me as just something interesting to photograph.  That decay became the main element in many of my photographs.  Barns fit that bill very well, but in no time at all, I was working on finding old cars to photograph for the same reasons.  Being a car guy at heart, I found that I was able to achieve a great level of Tao in my compositions because I already had a deep connection with these vehicles that were left derelict in yards, or in the woods.

A Rusty Streak
In the beginning, finding these old cars was quite difficult.  It usually involved a lot of luck as I was just driving around and a sharp eye looking out behind houses, and in the woods.  I found that barns were quite a bit easier as they are pretty big, and usually set fairly close to the road.  It became the thrill of the chase to find these old cars though.  Since I have been doing this type of photography, I have gotten increasingly better at spotting these old relics.  For instance, the picture above is a Pontiac which has been sitting beside this field for a number of years now.  It is visible from the highway that I use most often to get to the mountains.  I had passed it by many times before catching it one day coming home.  I had trained myself to look off to the sides of the highways, well into the yards of houses that I passed, and there it was, right beside a big white house.  I exited the highway and snaked my way back to the location and determined that the property was more than likely vacant, so I had the opportunity to check the car out.  The driver's door was open, and the grass was completely grown up around it.  It had been here for a while, but I wasn't sure how long.  I don't know how I had missed it over the years, but I was glad that I had found it.  I have since been back many times to photograph it, with the most successful visit shown above.

Wide Grin
Other times, these cars are just sitting right out in the open for all to see.  In this example, the old Plymouth is sitting in a repair shop parking lot at a major intersection in Yadkin County.  I had been out driving in the area looking for some barns the first time I photographed it.  I have been back a few times and was able to take advantage of different lighting each time.  Also, each time I saw it, the car was in a different state of deterioration.  In this last visit, the trim was dangling, the wheels were removed from the front, and the windshield was broken out.  All of these elements gave more clues to the current state of affairs for the car.  It is the continued visits to this car that really fascinate me.  Whether the changes come from vandals, or parts scavenging, it shows a different character each time.

Impressive Stance

There are other times that I rely on word of mouth as to where to find these cars.  The salvage yard where I found this rotting Buick was based on a tip from a friend of mine.  I have since been to White's Salvage yard twice to photograph the different cars in the lot.  They have a lot to choose from and every time I go there, I come back with some pretty amazing images.  The nice thing is that the owners don't really mind that I am walking among the boneyard.  Their only request is that I do it during business hours and let them know that I am there.  I find that completely understandable.

The other end of the spectrum to finding these cars and even barns is that so many times they require entering the property to photograph them.  This is harder than it sounds, especially with me being a police officer.  I just don't feel comfortable walking right onto private property to photograph something.  Ideally, I will be able to make contact with the property owner so that I can ask permission.  The conversation usually goes a little something like this:  "Hi, I'm a photographer and I enjoy photographing old cars and barns.  I notice that you have a ____________ in the back yard and I was wondering if you would mind if I shot a few pictures?"  The answer is typically "You want to take a picture of that old junk back there?"  We chat for a few minutes and then with any luck I will get permission to enter the property.  Other times, I am denied that permission, oftentimes before I'm ever able to ask.

Cracked but Intact
Here is one of those funny stories from my adventures searching out these old cars.  I was out driving around one Sunday and happened upon Pack's Body Shop which had a rather large salvage yard attached to it.  It was obviously closed, but I noted that there were no fences, or other barriers in place.  There were no signs indicating that I wasn't allowed on the property, and nothing in place that prohibited me from walking through.  I parked right up front in the parking lot to indicate that I was there, and grabbed my gear to start photographing the area.  I was out there a couple of hours that morning and had no issues at all, even with lots of cars passing by.

Several months later I returned on a Saturday and figured that I would do the same thing.  I got my gear and started to get set up near some cars up front.  This time, there was a guy that slowed to a stop in the road.  I went out to meet him and asked if he was the property owner.  He wasn't but stated that the owner lived right down the street and that I should probably go ask him.  I could handle that, so I went down the road on foot and found the house where the owner lived.  I knocked on the door and stepped back from the door allowing a full view of myself (hey, I understand folks get apprehensive about strangers knocking).  While waiting for the door to open, I caught a sense of movement from the side of the house.  I looked over and found a gentleman coming around the corner with a gun in his hand.  OK, it wasn't pointed at me, so I was not terribly concerned, although I was unarmed.  He inquired as to why I was there and I gave my normal speech.  He was less than impressed and said that he never wanted to see me on his property again.  I attempted to plead my case one more time, and was met with a similar reaction.  I left, and have not returned since.

That was the first time that I had been turned down for a chance to shoot on somebody's property.  It was one that I will always remember since there was an off chance that I could have gotten shot.  Although, I am glad that it went that way rather than him finding me among the cars and shooting first and asking questions later.  

There was another time that I was coming from Hanging Rock and stopped off to photograph a truck that was sitting under an overhang of an old gas station right off of the road.  There was nothing but businesses around, and it was a Sunday.  I got out and set the camera up and started to get my composition just right and I see a truck coming from a little ways down the road.  They slowed and entered the lot.  Before I could ask anything the driver asked (with his right hand conspicuously out of sight) what I was doing there.  I answered that I was photographing the truck sitting under the overhang.  His response was "Who takes pictures of things that don't belong to them, you need to go."  I tried to show examples of what I did, but he was not interested, and I still couldn't see his right hand.  I figured it was time to go, so I packed up, and while loading my camera gear back in the bag he continued to question why I was there.  Knowing that there was probably a gun aimed at me, I opted not to engage in any arguments.  I got in the car and left with him following behind me for a mile or so.

Fire Prevention

On the other hand, I have had the completely opposite experience when photographing these rural scenes.  One of my favorite stories is one that happened recently in East Bend, NC, at Outlawed Restorations.  I had found this location after a full day of photography in the mountains.  It was just too good to pass up, so I pulled off to the side of the road and surveyed the scene.  There were a couple of houses that could have been attached to this property, but with the changing weather I needed to shoot fast and didn't have much time to ask any permission.  I figured that the scenes that I wanted to shoot I could get from the street.  I started working out positions and compositions, but before long a gentleman stepped out of the shop that I had assumed was closed since it was a weekend.  I was all prepared to be told to leave, but saw him motioning me in to talk.

This was where I met Dean Cornelius and he was quite gracious about letting me onto the property to photograph whatever I wanted to.  What a nice surprise!!  He told me a little bit about the vehicles on the lot and about what he did there.  The difference being able to be on the property versus standing on the road was huge.  The picture above was shot with my 70-200mm lens zoomed in to almost 200mm to get the composition I wanted for a panorama.  Once I got onto the property, I was able to swap to my 24-70mm lens and get images like this...

Shattered Dreams
There is just no substitute for being able to get up close and personal with your subjects.  Dean and I have since formed a pretty good friendship, and I've been back out to his place once more for my own purposes and then was invited back for a contract shoot of a Caddi that was going up for sale.  What started out as a normal contact asking for permission has since blossomed into other opportunities. I have to say, I like these experiences much better than those where a gun is involved.

Ole Caddi at Home
Another benefit of speaking with the owners of these cars is that I get a lot of the history behind them, which aids in the spiritual connection with the subject.  I've talked with several folks who have their deceased loved ones vehicles on their property.  Some are destined to be restored, others are just there as a tribute and memory to somebody they have lost.  Either way, it is fascinating to me to learn about these cars and what they mean to the owners.  As a car guy, I completely understand the emotional connection that we have with our vehicles, and how those vehicles somehow become linked to us.

There are plenty of times that I am unable to make contact with the owners of the properties, and in those situations I have to make a choice.  Should I just come back another time, or try to capture something from a location that I feel comfortable in.  I've shot a lot from the side of the road, and I've ventured onto property that looks to be relatively abandoned.  Every time I do this I expect to have a property owner approach me, so I usually work fast in case I am told to leave.  I'm always very conscious of signs indicating that they don't want anyone on the property, or fences that provide some type of barrier to the property.  Again, as a police officer, I just can't risk a criminal charge over my photography.

Found on Roadside Dead
When it all comes down to it though, I've found that these rusted out cars have a soul remaining and it wants to be captured.  When I see this decaying Ford, I am transported back to a time before I was even born.  I am hearing the cheers of kids in the back seat on a family trip.  I am imagining the owner of a brand new car taking it home and polishing it.  I can imagine the lengths that the owner would go through to keep the car on the road and then finally being forced to give up the ghost leaving it in the yard, until it could be overhauled.  In a way, the car's life flashes in front of my eyes, and I can imagine 40 or more years worth of history behind the subject that I am photographing.  It is my hope that I am sharing that same reaction with the viewers of the pictures.  It is a great case of "if that old car could talk..."

Time to Mend
The Wabi-sabi approach to photography applies to just about every aspect of my photography these days.  I might not always be photographing old rusted cars, or even barns, but I can find beauty in the decay of so many things that surround us.  This fence along the Blue Ridge Parkway illustrates that quite well.  In the middle of the Spring flowers and vibrant colors, we have a very dramatic sky that breathes life into the image.  Then there is the fence.  It has obviously seen better days and has been standing for quite some time.  Several of the boards have fallen, and what is still standing is showing signs of decay.  By definition, this really should not fit in the image, but it does.  In fact, the fence becomes the image in a way.  It is all beautiful and shows life in different stages all at the same time.

Chrome Scallop
Even in an abstract composition, I can find beauty in decay.  Here we have the side of an old Ford that has clearly been left out in the elements for some time now.  The chrome is no longer shiny, and the paint is no longer rich in color or gloss.  There is mold where Turtle Wax used to be, and pine needles where glistening reflections had once been.  To look at this pictures, you really don't know what you are looking at, unless you are really familiar with the cars of the era, but the shapes and textures stand on their own.  There is an understated beauty to this scene even though there is a lot of deterioration going on.

Guarded and Weathered

The next time you are driving down a country road and thinking to yourself "this is such a nice road," consider why it is a nice road.  There sure isn't a lot of high rises, and concrete.  The cars aren't flashy, and you will see that weathered wood and rust dominate the man made elements.  Might it be you too are enjoying the beauty is the passage of time?  We say it hearkens back to a simpler time, but I would disagree.  Sitting in your car with air conditioning and an automatic transmission whizzing down the road, are you really thinking that working on a farm is simple?  Maybe driving a car with three on the tree and an AM radio is somehow more relaxing than what you are in.  Somehow I think we are getting things confused, and we are actually seeing these things in the waning stages of life which is much simpler than when they were in full functioning trim.

For me, there is a certain quiet, calm, reverence to these old structures and cars.  I can remember the good times that were had in and around them, but not really the hard work.  I see many happy memories that I have never experienced first hand, and that helps to center me in a current world of turmoil.  I guess in a way I am capturing a fantasy image of what once was, while celebrating the life of the subject I am photographing.

Magic Bus

Another equally valid point to this type of photography is that you never know when these pieces of our collective history will be gone.  Case in point is this bus.  I have shot it a total of three times in various states of decomposition.  This was the most recent and it dates to 2014.  Shortly after I shot this bus, the property sold, and the new company that bought the building had this bus hauled off.  I don't know of the outcome of this bus, but I do know that it will never be here to be photographed again.  My camera was able to document the last days of this bus that served proudly for a career.  With every click of the shutter, I might be taking the last picture of an object that will ever be shot.  To be that kind of historian is pretty impressive when you think about it.

Just Tired
Here is one of those pictures that documents a scene that didn't last for another 24 hours.  Most would have passed the opportunity by, but I saw something really cool in this setting and stopped to photograph it.  I spoke with the owner and found out that there was a guy on the way to pick up the tractor to take it away later that afternoon.  This was absolutely the last chance to photograph this scene as it sat.  I found that it spoke volumes with all of the little subtle elements within the image.

I hope that I've opened your eyes a little bit as to why I'm drawn to these rustic scenes and rusty old cars.  I really do believe that there is a lot of beauty in them, and I really hope that I capture that beauty in a way that speaks to you.  I know of many in my audience that don't really care for these types of images, but I know a good many are coming around to enjoy them on some level.  There is beauty at all stages of life, and we owe it to ourselves to stop and enjoy it when we can.  

Until next time, enjoy the beauty that surrounds us!!  If there is anything that you would like to know about my photography, let me know.  I'm always looking for inspiration for these Behind the Camera entries.