A Rainy Ride Through the Country

December 22, 2013

Well, this was my last day off of work before going back in.  I needed to get my oil changed, but still had a little bit of miles left before it was due.  The weather forecast was calling for rain off and on throughout the day with lots of clouds.  There was no guarantee that I was going to be able to do any pictures, but since I needed to burn about 100 miles, I figured that I might as well take my camera and go driving.  Who knows where I will end up, but if nothing else, I would be able to find some more potential subjects to put in front of my camera.  I loaded up the truck after sleeping in for a little bit while a monsoon was going on outside.

After looking at the weather maps, it looked like my best chance to dodge the rain was to travel North, so that is just what I did.  I set my sights on Hanging Rock, not wanting to go to the park, but to drive in and around Stokes County looking for some old barns and rusted vehicles.  The sky was doing some interesting things.  At one point, it was almost totally clear, and then the white clouds came in.  I wasn't sure from one moment to the next what would happen if I were to find something that caught my eye.  Like a kid with Add I turned right and left hunting down things that caught my eyes as I passed by intersections.  I found myself driving past South Stokes High School at one point and thought that I would need to redirect soon, but I found myself at another intersection.  The ADD kicked in again and I decided to turn right on Hawkins Rd because I saw an old barn.  That one didn't really hold my attention so I kept on driving.  Then I saw it....A house...no....two houses.....and some barns too!  They all fit my criteria for my Wabi Sabi photography.  They were in various states of disrepair, and obviously had been left to succumb to the weather.

I pulled off of the road and got out for a quick walk up a hill to see what my options were for a composition.  The house was surrounded by trees which would make for a difficult organization, but I thought that there was enough potential there for me to go and get my camera.  I quickly returned and started working out a composition that I liked.  I started close in, but didn't really care for how things appeared with the house filling the entire frame.  I decided to step back a little bit and give the house some room to breathe.  I was working with my favorite lens, the 24-70mm f/2.8L which  gives me a lot of flexibility when it comes to perspective.  I found a loose line of trees that I could incorporate leading the eye up to the house, and hopefully taking the focus off of a white sided barn to the rear of the house that I had no choice but to include in the frame.  I was taking some test shots to see how the lighting was working out, and much to my disappointment the sky was much too bright, and the house was in too much shadow.  I was having a very hard time working out an exposure that would balance the scene.  There was no way to use a filter to fix this because of the height of the house against the sky.

Humble Abode
I was moving the tripod back a little bit to adjust the trees so that the windows and doors were not blocked by the trees.  As I was moving back, the sun appeared from behind me.  It cast a wonderful warm glow on the property.  I had to move quick to take advantage of this.  I plopped the tripod down, leveled it quickly, checked that the camera was level, set the focus for what I was counting on being a good hyperfocal distance, set the exposure, and fired off one shot.  This process took about 15 seconds or so, but felt like a lifetime!  By the time the image popped up for review on the LCD, the sun was gone and we were back in the shadows.  In the 30 minutes that I was working this house, I had that sun for about 30 seconds...just long enough for this image.  I'm just happy that I was able to react so quickly and get this grab shot because all of the other images paled in comparison to this one.

After coming to terms with the fact that my light wasn't going to work with me any more, I started moving around the property to see what else could be photographed.  There was an old Dodge pickup bed behind the house, but it wasn't photo worthy in my opinion.  I did see the old chimney on the back of the house which caught my eye.  There was a tree growing right next to it, and some other signs of neglect.  The stonework was still very nice though, and I thought that since the lighting was good here, I would give it a try.

Brick and Mortar
One of the problems when picking an intimate scene like this is having it make sense after pulling it away from its context.  I played around with the composition for a good while trying to include only what I wanted, and nothing else.  I only made two exposures of this scene before moving on.  I wasn't sure if I liked it or not, and originally it was cut on the editing room floor.  However, for some trivial reasons, I decided to "develop the negative" and see what I had.  It was better than I first thought, but I still wasn't sold on it.  Knowing that Toni has an incredible eye for a good picture, I showed it to her.  Even though I was on the fence about it, she really liked it.  So...that being said, I finished processing and printed it out before uploading.

Having worked the house all I could, I turned my attention to the other house that was across the road.  It was pretty neat, but when I looked at it from this angle, I saw that the roadway was going to be an important element in this picture.  The long sweeping  curve was just perfect and provided the exact element to the composition that I needed to really make this shot pop.  I found my section along the shoulder of the road that I figured would be the best vantage point to create the composition.  As I was dialing things in, I felt the rain start to fall.  It wasn't too bad, so I continued with setting things up.

Just Around the Bend
For once, the sky was actually very close to what I was wanting.  There was enough texture in it to provide lots of interest, and most importantly...it was not that bright.  I was able to get a very balanced exposure, capturing detail in both the shadows and highlights.  I didn't have any time to celebrate or to confirm that I had the best possible picture because the rain was starting to get heavier now.  I rushed back to the truck where I packed the camera back up and loaded everything back in the cab.  I got in just as the bottom dropped and a torrential downpour found its way to my location.

I continued on in scouting mode since the weather was too miserable to get out and shoot at this point.  I continued down Hawkins Rd and found an old GMC pickup along the side of the road...off to the side of the property was an old MG, and another old truck, an old car....oh wait, off in the distance were more!  There was nothing that I could do with these pieces today, but I sure intend on returning when the weather is favorable for the subject matter.  The nice thing is that there are a couple of different weather patterns that will work for these old relics.

I continued in scouting mode for a while later, and even came back by my old cars.....just in case.  But as I approached them, the rain picked back up again.  It just wasn't in the cards for today.  I decided it was time to go and get gas and start to head home.  After filling up, the rain seemed to be tapering off, and the closer to home I go the lighter it became.  I figured that I had one more leg of scouting in me before servicing my truck.  I struck out on Hwy 158 toward Stokesdale because I remember there being an old tractor on the side of a field that I had photographed about four years ago.  I remembered exactly where it was and pulled off the road at the edge of the field.  I couldn't see the tractor, but decided to get out and check, just in case it was still there.

Iron Grin
BINGO!!!!!  Not all of my luck was bad after all.  I found my tractor just as it had been all those years ago.  Because of the close quarters, I swapped my normal lens for my telephoto 70-200mm f/2.8L so I could really isolate the tractor from the overgrown section of the field.  There was a little bit of drizzle so I left the lens hood on to protect the front element.  I worked several variations of this composition.  I really wanted to include the rear wheel, but because of the tall weeds by the seat, the wheel looked like an afterthought to the image, and there was an unrelated wheel propped up against the tractor wheel.  I had a lot of fun with this tractor.  The rust just jumps out at you, and you can almost touch it.  I have always thought of the front of this tractor as a face.  For some reason, today, the bumper stuck out at me.  That made naming this piece an easy task.  Even though the tractor looks very rough, there is a certain contented smile in that rusted face.

Having done a similar composition of this tractor in the summer, I wanted to do something a little different.  Off in the distance there was an old farm house which was also partially overgrown with weeds.  I wanted to link both of these elements in one cohesive shot.  I tried to use my telephoto to compress the scene and equalize the sizes of the two elements.  The problem that I ran into was I was staying in the 70-80mm range and having to go with a portrait orientation to make it work.  The image was ok, but not what I had in mind.  It looked too much like a snapshot.  I decided to swap out lenses again, and put on my 24-70mm f/2.8L which would allow me to go a little wider, while still keeping a compressed perspective, and most importantly, allow me to shoot the scene in landscape mode.

Rest Home
A problem that I developed after getting things set up was the sky in the upper left.  There was no way to eliminate it, and I had minimized it as much as I could.  There was no way to get an exposure to work that would cover the range of tones that were included in this image.  My only option was to fit a 2-Stop hard ND Grad filter to address that one section at the top.  That did the trick, and my histogram fell into line with a good exposure.  I snapped this one as the rain drops were falling more and more quickly.  Using the 4x6 filter made it impossible to use the lens hood.  I was getting drops on my filter, so this one shot was all I could manage before my equipment became covered in rain drops.  I moved over to my camera bag to put things away as the drizzle had turned into a heavy downpour.  I went as quick as I could, but everything got soaked!  Thank goodness for Canon's weather sealing on their top end cameras and lenses.  At least I would not have to worry about water damage.  I put the drenched bag back in the truck and headed home for the day very happy about what I had managed to capture.

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