A Road Trip Kind of Day

Saturday, March 10, 2018

No Tell Motel
The story goes like this...Toni was at work, Sierra was at a friend's house, and the weather was cloudy, with a good chance for a great sunrise.  How much thought did I put into whether or not I would be playing with the camera?  Not much, not much at all.  I did however, put a good deal of thought into where I wanted to go.  My first thought was Wiseman's View in the Linville Gorge.  With the possibility of a good sunrise, that would have been a good option, but if the sunrise failed, I wasn't guaranteed good clouds for landscape work.  Plus, I really wanted to wait until Spring to start doing mountain landscapes again.  The weather was going to be great for waterfalls, but quite frankly I was getting a little worn out on waterfall work.  I was really wanting to do some barn photography, and maybe find some old cars to shoot.

I tossed around my options, and considered the few cars that were close to me that I still had not photographed, but decided that those were going to wait until the trees filled in to block the background clutter.  Just in case the sunrise wasn't all that great I decided to stick close to home and go to Salem Lake.  After that, I was going to go on a road trip to the North.  I didn't really have a destination in mind, I was just going to drive.

Salem Lake
My morning when Toni got up to go to work.  I checked the weather and it was pretty much the same.  The hourly forecast was calling for clouds and some rain, while the sunrise forecaster was calling for a pretty good showing of color.  I weighed my options one last time, and got rolling with Salem Lake as my intended first stop.  Leaving at 5:15, I got there in plenty of time to capture all of the different transitions of sunrise.

I got myself set up near the playground and picnic area facing where the sun should be coming up.  I chose to use a spindly tree that was actually in the water as a point of interest for my visual anchor.  I opted for my 24-70mm lens so that I could capture as much of the sky as I could while still keeping the distant shore in proper scale to where I was.  I didn't add any filters, but I did screw on my Lee filter holder in case I needed a grad filter.  I started doing some test exposures at about 30 seconds, to see how things were looking.

There was a bit of faint color in the sky for these test shots, but nothing like what I was expecting in the next 15 or so minutes.  The exposures were showing more color in the sky than my eyes could see due to the long exposure.  It turned out that those test shots were the only ones I was going to get with any color.  The clouds were just too consistent with no breaks in them for the sun to shine through.  This is the first time my sunrise forecaster has been wrong.  At least I didn't drive 2 hours away to get this sunrise.  On the plus side, it was quite out there except for the birds chirping and the geese honking away.  It was rather relaxing after a long week at work.

Do You Dare
I went ahead and packed up the camera and walked back to the car.  I didn't really have a destination in mind, but started heading back towards home because the radar showed that there was rain about to hit.  It didn't, and I decided it would be safe to venture on down the road.  I went on through Walkertown, and up into Stokes County for a while without finding much that I wanted to photograph.  I was getting more and more lost, and found myself entering Rockingham County eventually.  Historically, I have had good luck in Rockingham so I was pretty excited about the prospect.

The funny thing was, I was seeing barns, and even some cars but nothing caught my photographic eye.  It was all just too mundane and stuff that wasn't appreciably different from the other images I've shot over the years.  I was looking for something different...something exciting.  The problem with different and exciting is that those opportunities don't present themselves that often.

Motel on the Corner
I'm pretty sure that I was on Hwy 770 and I came upon this nondescript hotel on the side of the road.  The office was a white building with a broken out door.  Nothing special to look at.  Then I went past it and saw the actual hotel part behind the office, WRAPPING its way around the intersection.  It was stone, and the rooms were all boarded up.  It was interesting, and unlike anything that I had photographed before.  It was different and it was exciting!  I turned down the street real quick and pulled off the road.  I grabbed the camera and got set up next to the building that was covered in vines.

Room Thirteen
There were so many textures with the plywood, stone, vines, brick, fixtures, and existing wood.  This was what I had been looking for all morning, I just hadn't known until now.  Just as I got the 24-70mm lens attached and mounted to the tripod a car pulled over in the "parking lot" alongside the road.  Uh oh...was I about to get kicked off the property?  That was what I was expecting even though I didn't see the sign indicating that I couldn't be there (at least on the outside of it).

A man got out of the car and started out with "I've got to ask...."  which is usually followed up with ...what are you doing, and why are you on my property?  Well, that was not how his statement went fortunately.  He finished by asking "...what are you seeing that I'm not seeing?"  He continued to tell me that he had seen several photographers out there taking pictures of prom couples and engagement shots.  He wasn't seeing what the photographers were seeing, and was genuinely curious.

Boarded Up
I told him that there were so many textures here that would appeal to a photographer and the vines that were overgrowing the walls were just cool!  I could see how this would be a fun backdrop for couples, but I was looking at it completely differently.  I was seeing lots of chances for isolations, and some door photography.  I wanted to capitalize on all that I saw here.  He introduced himself, and told me that the motel had been vacant for about 35 years.  It was a jewel in the area in its time.  He told me that its name was the Grogan's Tourist Court Motel.  He suggested that I go around back to see the back side of the motel as well.  That was already on my list!

We chatted for a little while and then he bid me a good day and went on about his.  Now that I knew a little of the history of the place, I was really feeling excited about getting some images.  There was a diner across the intersection which was still being used for a business, and there was another section of the motel across the street where I parked.  I knew how they all fit together now, and that really brought the setting into a complete light for me.

Paint the Town
I was having so much fun working this motel, and I found myself switching lenses back and forth between my 24-70mm and my 70-200mm depending on the composition I was working.  Since it was really cloudy, and there wasn't that much glass to worry about reflections, I shot bare with no filters attached.  That made it very easy to swap out lenses.  Each building had its own character, and the section across the street was of newer construction and painted white with red doors, and even garages attached.  I could see this being a really high end motel in its day.  Of course the red doors caught my eye, and I had to get something to show those off.  The colors were just so amazing out here, and the light was nearly perfect.

Shrouded in Mystery
While the colors were great with the warm tones on the brick and stone contrasting the plywood, I also had the opportunity to shoot a monochrome image on the back side.  Earlier in this article, I shared Do You Dare which was one of the images I shot from the rear.  It was the only one that I liked when I was culling the images once I got home.  I was drawn to the repetitive patterns on the back wall.  There was obviously a walkway missing for the upper floor which added to the questions the viewer would ask.  There was a single door open in the lower right which I almost ventured in, until I saw the sign posted right at the door "No Trespassing".  This wasn't the safest thing to do, and adding in the legal issue, I opted to stay outside, but the question begged to be asked "would you dare?"  I mean the back side of this motel looks like something out of a horror movie to be quite honest.

Creeping Vines
I was a little disappointed with the rear of the motel after having so much fun with the front.  It was just too grown up back there to get in close to do much.  I did continue shooting different compositions along the front of the hotel, and even managed to get several that showcased the wraparound nature of the motel.  It might be silly, but I really liked that design element and that really made this motel unique, and visually interesting.  The stepped rooms added a diagonal element to many of the compositions which added to the visual tension within the frame.  All very good things when shooting something that is essentially two dimensional by nature.

Roadside Motel
I think I was there for about an hour and a half, although I really did lose track of time.  It felt like about 10 minutes when I was all done.  I went ahead and packed the camera up and got back on the road.  I was still looking, but after the fun I had just had at the motel I wasn't really up for much else creatively.  I cruised around and decided that it was getting a little late in the morning and I had better get headed back home...plus I was needing gas.  I decided to let my GPS take me home since I really had no idea where I was at.

I came down Hwy 220, back into Stokes County and then ended up on Hwy 65 back into Forsyth County.  I was starting to get the itch to bring the camera out once again, but I was getting close to home at this point.  There was one barn that I had photographed many years ago which set just off the roadway.  What the heck, I'll give it a go.  The last time I was there, it was full on Spring and the trees had already fully bloomed.  I was a couple of months earlier this time, so I knew the trees would be largely bare which would make for a different feel for the photo.

Harvester of Sorrow
I found the barn just as I remembered it.  I went ahead and pulled out the camera and fitted my 24-70mm lens with the Singh Ray Color Combo Polarizer to keep the glare off of the tin roof, and to help saturate the wood tones in the siding.  I started off as I would normally do by taking full on shots of the barn.  I did some with a tree as a foreground, and I did some up close and personal.  They all seemed to have merit, but I was falling short of my want for different pictures today.  The answer came in the form of my 70-200mm lens.  I was going to get in close and do some isolations with the wood to show the textures and the aging of it.  Of course, I kept the same filter attached as it does a great job at bringing out the colors.

Sweet Amber
This was the ticket.  I was now in a position to create an infinite amount of photographs from this single barn by picking parts of it out from the whole.  I was looking for lines, and textures for these compositions.  Most of them came from the front of the barn where the wood was the most interesting.  I would frame the shots up so that they had the most visual impact, and in some cases I went into full on abstract mode to compose the shot.

The Struggle Within
I made it a point with all of my compositions to find a section that actually said something to me.  The interplay of the different elements or textures had to have some sort of meaning to me.  One of the things that I really liked to feature was the angles of the wood.  I would capture areas where the wood was placed in different orientations, and in the case of this picture, I shot at an angle to introduce a strong diagonal.  Since I was at the corner, I still had the edge of the barn as a visual reference to give the correct perspective.  This was a hard image to compose, but I think it is my favorite one from the intimate wood captures.

One of the features that I found interesting was on the side of the barn.  It appeared as though a limb was actually growing out of the siding.  I couldn't really explain it, but I found it quite fascinating.  I got in close and framed the shot countering the limb with the warm tones to the right.  The drab wood below the limb was the perfect highlight to the change in texture of the photograph.  This works well as an abstract because the visual clues are so confusing once you start looking into the picture.  Had I not explained what I shot, I'm betting you would still be scratching your head.

I have to admit, I had a lot of fun picking elements to photograph within the "big picture."  Textures are just so much fun to photograph.  Speaking of which, the upright supports under the awning at the front of the barn had some really neat features to isolate.  Since they are natural wood, both supports had a number of knotholes in them.  This was going to be another chance to shoot some really cool textures, and since there wasn't much difference in colors, I was going to shoot them as monochrome images.

Soul Searching
In an ironic twist of fate, these afterthoughts of a composition turned out to be some of my favorites of the day.  The black and white really made the images pop, and showcased the wonderful textures of the wood.  The knots were perfect visual anchors which also caused the lines in the wood to curve around them.  The way the lighting was creating shade was another big plus to these images.  There was just so much going for them photographically.

When I got done with my knotholes, I packed the camera up with a total of 93 frames shot.  Without having much clear direction for the day, I was totally thrilled with the outcome.  By the time I had gone through the images and culled out the less than acceptable images, I had 17 images from the day.  That makes this one of my more successful treks in a while.  The amazing part is that the images were from only three different locations.  Sticking around to work a scene really pays off in the long run.

Now my biggest problem....I've got to figure out how to fit some of these in the gallery rooms here.  Not a bad problem to have, but I'm going to have to make some hard cuts I think.

A little movie I found about the hotel which was built in the 30's.

A Red and Black Classic

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Old Sport
The last morning that I had free from work, I tried to go out and photograph this old car, but I wasn't able to get in touch with the property owner at the time, and then the rain came.  Several hours after I got to work, I got a call back from the property owner who said that he would not have a problem with me photographing his car, and with that, I had a definite destination for the next time the weather was decent.

This morning, I also got to go in to work late, so I had a little time to kill and the weather was looking pretty good for doing some automotive photography.  Having the permission to work the '56 Buick, I waited until the sun was fully up behind some pretty good clouds.  I needed that hint of warmth in the lighting that early morning wouldn't give me.  I drove over to the house, and pulled into the driveway.  The clouds were starting to break apart, but there was still plenty of clouds in the sky for some diffusing action.

I had let the owner know I would knock on the door when I got there, and he wanted to show me the seats that were going to go in the car.  By the time I was done with that, I went back outside and was greeted by clear blue skies.  Seriously?  Two days ago, I was rained out while looking for clouds.  Now the clouds have run away from me when there was supposed to be 70% cloud cover.  That is part of being an outdoor photographer though, you just can't count on the weather to work with you.

Well, I was here, and so was the sun.  I was going to have a really hard time photographing a black car in direct light.  I tried a few compositions, but there was just so much glare from the sun that the images were not really good enough to fine tune.  In an attempt to salvage the morning, I started to work with some isolations featuring rust.  There was one blistered place on the trunk that caught my eye.  I had my 24-70mm lens on, which was really good for getting up close with the subject.  I twisted the Singh Ray Color Combo filter and started to compose some images that captured the texture of the rust as it bled through the paint.  It wasn't quite as satisfying as I had hoped, but it was something at least.

One Hundred
While working the Buick, I couldn't help but realize that most of the trim and emblems were missing.  This is the part of isolations that I really like, but they just weren't there.  I had some interest in the two tone portions of the paint, but nothing that would work in a composition.  The Ford next to it, was a different story though.  It had plenty of emblems still on it, but the patina wasn't all that fantastic since it was a solid black vehicle, and still in decent shape.  There was moss on the diver's side which added some nice textures to play with.  I decided since this was in the sun, and it was more or less indirect, I could work with some of the emblems.

I started with the trim work on the hood and fender.  The diagonals were interesting to me, there was a splash of color with the marker light, and the moss gave the black paint a little bit of texture and life.  I had gone saying that I wasn't going to do anything with this truck, but all of a sudden, I was happiest with how these pictures were turning out.

Custom Moss
I moved down the side to the rear of the bed where I found another emblem on top of a body molding.  The same formula applied here with the diagonal lines.  The moss was a little thicker here which was a very good thing.  The sparkle of the chrome against the paint and moss really popped and I liked where this was going.  Isolation were going to be where I was going to get my images today since the sun was not cooperating.

Buick Style
I realized a few months ago, that you just can't photograph a classic Buick and not pay attention to the port holes on the fenders.  Had this car had the chrome trim, they would have been visually prominent enough to carry the entire image.  This car was void of almost all of its trim though, which made isolations a bit more difficult.  I played around with isolating a single one of the holes, but on a black car, it had no pop at all.  If I added the splash of red to the bottom, there was no visual balance, and I needed a complimenting color for the red.  Since the sky was blue, and I could get some visual interest with the A Pillar and roof, I thought about isolating the portholes in the bottom third with a bit of the red, balanced with the blue in the sky.  I started to frame the image up and found that the wheel well to the right matched up with the diagonal of the rocker panel to the left.  The door seem, took your eyes right up to the portholes,  The haze in the windshield and the A Pillar brought your eyes up to the roof, and the the trees and the cloud carried your eyes to the blue sky.

The only problem was the exposure was going to be way too difficult since I was shooting in the shade, and capturing the sky.  I decided to do a four shot HDR image that covered four complete stops of light.  With that, I was able to capture the detail in the black, as well as the detail in the clouds.  I wasn't sure how it would turn out, and honestly, looking at the individual images I didn't have much hope.  However, after they were blended, and I processed it, I was actually quite happy with what I had captured.  It wasn't quite an isolation, but it wasn't a full capture of the car either.  It highlighted the portholes, and then had a very light and airy feeling despite the primary elements and colors being quite dim.

Fire and Ice
I was feeling a little bit better about my isolations, so I went back to hunting elements on the car.  There was this one area of damage that had rusted over the years.  It struck me as quite interesting with the visual balance.  The area was about 6 inches tall, so I had to get in pretty close to capture what I was seeing.  I cropped in tight with that 24-70mm lens, and started to twist the polarizer until the black went completely glare free at the top.  I noticed that there was a slight problem on the bottom half.  I was reflecting in the image, as was the ground.  I could remove me, but the ground reflection remained.  I could have put my tripod bag on the ground to make that reflection black, but I started to see a different possibility.  The earth toned reflection at the bottom provided a nice visual balance for the upper elements of the damage.  I decided to keep that reflection, and even dialed back the polarizer a bit to capitalize on it.

When I was done processing the image, it seemed to take on a different feel from anything I had shot on a car before.  It was no longer rust, it wasn't even really abstract.  It was hard and gritty, and full of emotion.  It was a rock-n-roll album cover if I had ever seen one.  Oddly enough, this one 6 inch section on the quarter panel of the car turned into my favorite shot of the day.  There was just so much personality in this image that it can't be ignored.

With that picture taken, I decided that I had worked everything that I could on the car with the existing light.  It was time to pack up the camera and head to work.  I got everything put away and suddenly realized that the sun was not nearly as intense.  I looked up.  There were clouds moving in, nice thick ones at that.  I still had a bit of time, so I pulled the camera back out, and left the 70-200mm lens attached this time.  I added that Singh Ray filter once more and started to find new compositions.  I went with the front quarter shot from where I was standing since I had the long lens.

I was just able to miss the corner of the house and the Ford next to the Buick.  With the clouds killing some of the glare, the lighting was much better, but having a black car with shiny bits on it, was still creating problems.  I decided to be safe and shot a 3-Shot HDR image which appears as the opening image.  It is kind of a flat composition due to the focal length, but it draws the attention directly to the car.  The patch of tan grass behind gives a nice color balance to the image, so it does work fairly well.  This was the view that had caught my eye from the road several weeks ago, and I now had that shot in my collection.

Season of Rebirth
Now that the clouds were coming in nicely, I decided to try another composition I had attempted earlier in the morning.  Not wanting to take the chance of losing the light, I kept the long lens on and went into the back yard.  I had to get a good distance back , but that actually worked out even better than when I was up close.  I had the sky included earlier which would not work now with the clouds.  I did have a nice tree that was resplendent in white blooms.  That achieved the all important sense of time for the image.  There was a lot of red in this shot, so I was very happy to have the greens to balance things out.  With the overall image rather dark, the white tree balanced that out as well, and helped to compliment the windows of the old Buick.  Since the paint was in as good a shape as it was, I was happy that I was shooting on the North side so that I could get that moss which gave an indication of how long it had been sitting there.  For me, this was another great success shot of the day.  It was also the third HDR image that I shot that morning which appears here in this entry.

For a single location, being shot on the way to work, I have to say that this was pretty successful.  I shot 55 frames in about an hour and a half.  Of those, there were three different multiple image series for HDR conversions.  I ended up with seven out of the batch that I deemed good enough to hang onto.  With that, I really can't complaint one bit.

It was nice to be able to get out with the camera once again too.  It had been far too long.

Rainy Day Editing Pictures

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Mercyful Fate
I had a late meeting to go to, so that meant that I had a little time in the morning to do some photography.  It was cloudy, so I was pretty excited about getting out and photographing a plane that I had found in a parking lot (long exposure possibility).  I was also going to work a '57 Buick I had found sitting in a back yard, as well as an old Ford truck under a tarp in the rear of a house.  There was also some type of early 50's sedan tucked in a backyard North of Walkertown that I was interested in.  I had a lot of plans for the morning.

Well, once I got Sierra off to school, I headed out to see how the morning was going to go.  When I got to the plane, the clouds were featureless with no movement in them at all.  I decided that I would return and do some light painting with it later on.  I then moved over to the Buick, and called the number on the sign out front which was for a tax prep office based in the house based on some Googling I have done.  There was no answer, and I didn't see much signs of life in the house.  I decided to wait till a bit later on to find out if I could get some pictures.  By the time I got to the GMC, the rain was starting, and I wasn't able to really get a good angle set up in my mind for a picture.  By this time, I was getting a tad frustrated, and went off to the sedan.

The rain had stopped, but the clouds were really thick and since the car was black, there was going to be no visual pop for the image.  I started to drive aimlessly around hunting a barn or something else to photograph.  I was also noting that the sky was getting quite dark.  I checked the phone and found that the rain was coming in, and the rest of the morning was going to be a washout.  I tucked my tail between my legs in utter failure and headed home.

Trying to get my creative juices flowing again, I opted to go into Lightroom and look through my old negatives.  All of my images prior to 2016 had been processed with Photoshop which I was never all that great with, and wanted to see what I could do with Lightroom.  One of the first ones that I started working on was the opening picture to the entry.  I had never processed it before, but had kept it just in case I wanted to try it later on.

I was actually pretty amazed at how well the picture came out.  There was lots of detail and punch in the image file, but I had been having a really hard time getting the bright truck to render the way I wanted it to.  That was a piece of cake with Lightroom.  That set the tone, and I started to go back to other images that I had really liked, but thought I could eek a bit more detail out of with Lightroom.

The Depressed Express
Magic Bus
The next one I chose to tackle was this bus which I would love the chance to shoot again.  Unfortunately, the property had sold, and the bus was towed away.  This particular image had been a lot of fun to shoot just before dawn.  I got to play with light painting on it, along with a long exposure for the sky.  Both versions are nice, but I do like the additional detail offered in the new version.  I know Photoshop is much more capable than Lightroom, but I am just so much better with Lightroom, and it fits how my mind works.  The difference is quite apparent.

Weathering the Storm
Poor Twisted Me
In this picture of the dairy barn in Greensboro, the differences are more subtle.  One of the things that has always bothered me was the perspective distortion on the barn in the original shot.  That was an easy fix in Lightroom, and gave the barn a little more of a proud look.  I was also able to do some local adjustments (dodging and burning) to bring out details, and reduce some of the contrast in areas that didn't need it.  The sky also has a more natural color balance to it.  It is hard to tell in these low res images, but the amount of clarity that has been achieved in the second edit is quite amazing, and has brought this image new life in the gallery.  Even subtle differences can change the entire meaning of an image.  In this case, the tree becomes a much more prominent focal point, and adds a lot more interest to the image.  That lead me to the title, which was inspired by a Metallica song by the same name.

Something Brewing
Stand Here With Me
My next venture into the digital dark room was this barn from the Union Cross Community  I've always liked the barn, and loved the sky that I had captured, but there was just something drab about the picture, and the color balance was awkward.  This is where the Lightroom workflow is just so much easier to deal with for my brain.  In just a few minutes I had an image that really popped and dazzled my eyes.  The clouds that I loved so much were almost three dimensional and the textures shown in the tree and the wood on the barn.  Heck, the roof was even brighter.  There was just one stumbling block to the image that bothered me.  That was the big white panel on the face of the barn.  It was a visual distraction, and there wasn't anything that I could reasonably do to minimize it without making it look obvious that it had been worked.  I decided to do something that I don't usually do, and clone it out.  I really try to avoid doing that because it affects the accuracy of the image.  However, I decided that the payoff would be worth it because it had been a false focal point for the whole image.  Now it flowed so much better.

The Heartbeat Within
For my final hat trick, I revisited another image of that GMC truck that I've liked over the years.  The problem that I kept having with the image was the light colored paint on the truck was lacking detail as were the shadowed areas under the hood.  I mean, the fender is missing, might as well get a look at what is under the hood right?  There were also too many competing elements in the scene as well.  I liked the background elements as they told the story of the truck, but they refused to play second fiddle to the truck.  By processing through Lightroom and doing some dodging and burning, I was able to accomplish two very important things.  First, I was able to get the detail that I was wanting in the truck with both the highlights and the shadows.  Second, I was able to downplay the background, so I could keep the truck as a focal point.  To really emphasize this, I did a slight crop to the image to reduce the background's visual weight.  I kept the red in the barn to the rear, but toned it down to fit with the overall look and feel of the image.  In the end, I have an image that feels completely different, and has so much more detail to look at.  I have always liked the first image, but I have to admit, I can see where my editing skills were really lacking five years ago.

It is funny how my ideas of editing have changed over the years.  Once upon a time, it was all about bright colors.  These days, I am more interested in the way the colors relate to each other, and much more interested in detail.  I look back on my early days as a photographer and remember that I refused to get into image processing because it was not true photography.  I would work the images in Microsoft Picture It just to tweak it straight from the camera.  It wasn't until I started shooting RAW that I started to see the benefit of image processing.

Regardless of what software you are using, to really get the most accurate rendition of the scene you are using, some amount of processing is needed.  It is the same as it was in the film era.  The real art of photography was dependent on how the darkroom process was done, and ultimately how the printing was done.  The tools I use in Lightroom are pretty much the same tools that were available to film photographers in the form of chemicals, and masks for differences in exposures.  My photographs are still true to the scene that I shot and never have any serious image manipulation done.  For me, it is all about the scene that I shot, not the scene that I wanted to find.