An Unplanned Adventure

December 7, 2013

This day started as so many did on my vacation...rainy.  I tell you what, we are getting positively waterlogged this week.  While the clouds are great for photography, its just no fun going out in the rain working a camera, so I typically stay home on these days.  This would have been one of those days except for the fact that I needed to go to the store and pick up a few things.  Just in case, I packed my camera in the truck so that if something presented itself I could take advantage of it.  It was drizzling pretty hard when I went to the store, so I didn't really give photography much thought.  However, when I was leaving, the rain had stopped and the clouds were still overhead.  I thought I would go ahead and take the long way home in hopes of finding something good.

Keep in mind, I have lived out here for many years, and have ridden a bike all over the area.  However, there are still many roads I have not traveled on before.  I happened to take one of them on a whim on the way home.  It was right next to Hwy 66 which I have traveled countless times over the years.  I found a few old barns, but nothing really worthwhile....that is until I happened to see one waaaaaay back in the woods behind a small house.  I found a place to turn around and went back by slowly looking at the old structure.  It was oddly shaped, and mired in all sorts of trees, but something about it called out to me.  I decided to turn around once again and knock on the door of the house to ask permission to go into the yard.  I knocked, but there was no answer.  The house looked to be occupied, but I was obviously not going to get anyone to the door today.  I slowly walked back to the truck with my tail between my legs.  I really wanted to get a closer look at this barn since I was essentially being told "no" at this point.

Before calling it quits though, I saw a gentleman working on a light fixture at a small church next door.  I decided to go over and ask him if he knew anything about the property.  To my surprise, not only did he know about the property, he knew where the owner was.  I got so very excited!  The owner was in Florida.  I got so very depressed.  Then he told me that he had his name and number.  I got so very excited!!!  he didn't have it with him.  I got very depressed.  But he would be home soon and would call me with the information.  Yaaaaay, happy again!!!!!  All this up and down really tires a guy out!

I decided to continue home.  I had my subject in mind and wanted to capture that barn.  Until I could do that, I just didn't feel like hunting anything else.  I got home and started watching some television waiting for the call that apparently would never come.  I kept looking out of the window and was watching the cloud cover start to break up. Well, there went the conditions that I thought would work for that barn.  The other end of that, was the sky was now a very interesting focal point.  That took my attention off of the barn and I started going through my mental catalog of subjects that could be photographed with an interesting sky prominently displayed.

It didn't take me long before I thought of an old dairy barn which I have photographed several times in the past, and have standing permission to be on the property from the security company that represents the owners of the barn.  It was about 30 minutes away so I needed to hurry in order not to lose the sky.  I booked down the highway with a destination in mind!

When I arrived, the sky wasn't quite as interesting as it had been, but was still very promising.  I quickly got the camera and tripod out of the truck and headed across the field to the old barn.  I knew where the best composition was to take advantage of where the sun was.  I put the sun to my back and set up low to the ground.  I used my 24-70mm f/2.8L II in order to decrease the perspective distortion of a wide angle shot.  I wasn't going to need an extreme wide angle, but did want something in the 24-30mm range.  Since I was shooting down low, I knew that would introduce some convergence in the vertical lines, and I wanted that minimized.  Since the sky was an instrumental part to this composition, I decided early that I was going to use a 3-stop ND grad filter to hold back the exposure of the sky, while keeping the barn as bright as possible.

Weathering the Storm
I shot frame after frame as the sky changed character many times.  I started to get a little nervous when the clouds started to break up though.  I really wanted the drama in the sky which had brought me out here in the first place.  Then it happened...I was hoping on this, but wasn't counting on it at all....the sun started to peek through the clouds to my rear.  For less than 30 seconds the sun bathed the white barn in its bright light.  I looked at the meter in my camera and saw that the overall image was overexposed.  A quick check of the histogram confirmed that the barn was about to blow out.  I quickly dialed back the shutter speed and brought the exposure down to a reasonable level.  I knew that this change would darken the clouds which were a middle gray on their own, but I had a 3-Stop filter pulling them back as well.  Now, being able to expose for the barn, the clouds were left significantly underexposed....PERFECT!!!!

When the review popped up on the LCD I knew I had nailed the look I was after with this picture.  By the time it cleared and I was ready to bracket the exposure, the sun was covered again.  The moment was past.  The clouds continued to thin, and after a short while, the barn was underneath a bland white sky with some pale blue patches.  The moment was over....but I had captured the magic when it happened.

My fortune didn't end there, however.  Remember the gentleman working on the church?  Well, he called while I was looking for other interesting things around the barn I could work.  He gave me the contact information for the owner of the barn I had spotted earlier.  I quickly called and talked with him.  I explained what I wanted to do, and he informed me that he had thought that the barn was on his property, but a recent survey showed otherwise.  Well, drat!!!  He followed that up with explaining that his yard did go all the way to the barn, and that he had no problems at all with me going out there and photographing it.

That was all I needed to hear.  I quickly threw my camera into the bag and rushed back to the truck.  I hightailed it back to Kernersville and located the barn once again.  I went into the back yard to see what kind of compositions I could work with. The sky was rather blah, and white by this time.  I was not going to be able to use the sky at all in my photographs.  That limited me in how I could shoot this barn.  I walked all around the yard in search of that one spot which would allow me to tell the tale of this oddly shaped barn stuck in the middle of sprawled out trees.  The composition just wasn't coming to me.  everything that I did either had too much sky in it, or the barn was lost in the mire of woods that surrounded it.  I was getting rather aggravated trying to work out a solution.  After all that I had gone through to get the permission to photograph this barn, I wasn't going to give up on it!

I thought I would take a break for a moment and think about something else for a little while.  I had noticed a wheelbarrow over to the side of the property which I found interesting because of the state of abandonment it showed.  I had my 24-70mm f/2.8L II still attached and thought that would be a good lens for this subject.  I positioned in close, and focused on the wheel, allowing the rest of the wheelbarrow to fall into soft focus thanks to a larger aperture.  I wanted to direct the viewer's focus exactly where I wanted it because there was too much danger of eyes wandering over the similarly toned background.

As a creative choice, I decided to leave the stick where it was, laying across the abandoned tool.  I really thought that it added to the natural appearance of it.  This is a core value of my photography...I like to photograph the rustic scenes as I find them.  There is no staging of anything, and out of respect, I don't disturb the settings.  The twig, along with another branch to the left almost form a visual arch leading to the wheel, and keeping the viewer's eye firmly on that wheel.  Even the container portion of this wheelbarrow is a supporting element to the wheel.  The rotting wood, rusting metal, and dry rotted rubber tell the story all on their own.  This was a well used tool at one time, and was left here many years ago, and just....well...forgotten about.

Now that my mind was clearing, I decided to give the barn another try.  I had exhausted any options of including the barn as an element in a larger composition because it just blended too well with the background that it was intimately involved with.  I couldn't shoot it close in from the side with the clearest view because of the bright sky.  That left me with one other corner I could work with.  This happened to be the corner of the barn that was competently mired in with trees.  This was going to be fun....probably not.

In the Thicket
It took some serious doing to get this shot composed to where it made sense.  I was sitting in a pile of branches from a fallen tree in the extreme corner of the yard.  The camera was down in the weeds.  I was using the protruding branches as abstract leading lines from the top leading into the picture.  This was a totally odd construct for a picture in my mind, but it was seeming to work.  I picked out the best focal point that allowed me to maximize my aperture for maximum depth of field since I had branches very close to me, while the barn itself was about 20 feet away.

While I was getting things set up, and wearing out my depth of field preview button, the sky started to clear a bit more.  Shadows became a real issue in all of these trees.  I also had blue and white patches to deal with in the sky.  In order to make the most out of that situation, I fitted my polarizer which would intensify the blue in the sky, while adding some contrast to the wood in the barn.  Now, the trick was to wait for just the right amount of light to hit the barn without causing shadows to appear.  This process took about 15 minutes.  After that time, the sun did just what I wanted it to do, at a time when I had some good blue patches in the sky which kept it from looking like a white sheet was placed over my scene.  I saw the result in the LCD and thought that I had something decent.  After waiting another 15 minutes and not finding anything better, I threw in the towel and packed up to head home.

After culling my images, I found that my favorite image wasn't the dairy barn which I had captured right in line with my vision.  it wasn't the wheelbarrow that allowed me to refocus my mind.  It was actually the barn that had caused me so much trouble while trying to compose the image.  Everything just really worked with it, and to top it all off, Toni said she loved the idea of the trees in the image.  I was sold, this was my favorite from the day.  Maybe it was the completely different composition that I tried, or maybe the subject was just THAT good, and I made a really good call tracking down the owner.  Either way, I'm very happy with the images that I was able to add from today's rustic tour.

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