My First Serious Trek

November 25, 2013

Well, I was off and running with my second stab at the art of photography.  I had my gear and had gone on my first "Trek" in search of something to capture with my camera which had resulted in two different images which I was reasonably happy with.  The down side to that last attempt was that the following day I had to go back to work and was unable to do anything else with the camera for a while.  At least I knew I could still function as a photographer so I got to do a lot of thinking about things while I was at work.  It was like old times planning my next Trek.  This isn't as simple as it sounds though.  I have to kind of plan certain subject matter around the existing weather conditions.  If you have ever tried to plan a day activity based on a weather forecast you know just how frustrating this can be.  I also have to work around other commitments such as family and my other interests.  As it turned out, my first day off of work I had some time to play with and I saw a forecast of partly cloudy skies which would work out pretty good for shooting some more rustic scenes because of the diffused light, and potential for some pretty good detail in the sky.  You will learn that I just don't care for a blank sky even if it is the most beautiful blue ever seen...the same goes for just blank overcast.  I want to have some texture....visual interest in the sky if that is to be included in the composition.

The morning of the 25th, I set out under less than partly cloudy fact clouds were kind of few and far between.  The light from the late fall sun was harsh and caused an extreme contrast on the landscape.  Honestly, this was not the ideal day for any photography and my first inclination was to just stay at home.  Toni knew that I had been itching to go out and try some more serious photographs than my test shots at Old Salem the previous week.  She was right, and to compound that, she reminded me that we had a full calendar for the rest of the week with Thanksgiving just around the corner.  With that said, I loaded up the truck and set out in search of some nice rustic sights.  I found that the most rusty thing on this trip was my eye and my sense of creative motivation.  It has been a very long time since I rode around looking for subjects to photograph, and it apparently was a learned skill from before.  You know what they say....use it or lose it.  Well, I was starting to think that I had lost it.

I drove around for what seemed like hours and just couldn't find anything.  I will blame that on the fact that the sun was very harsh and nothing looked appealing.  I would love to believe that, but I think a more accurate assessment was that I was just unable to previsualize a scene like I once had.  I resisted the urge to go and reshoot places that I had done many times before.  I needed to prove to myself that I could still do the entire process from scouting, to visualizing, to selection of tools, to capture.  I thought I could still do it, but after nearly 70 miles I was starting to doubt that I still had it in me.  I also was starting to wonder where I was.  I had turned many times from the roads I knew which left me with a vague idea that I might be Northwest of home.  I found a lot of old barns, and even an old Ford on the side of the road, but nothing clicked for me.

Well, I can't say nothing clicked.  I kind of liked the Ford, but I was going to have to do some creative positioning to make a worthwhile image out of it.  I also was going to need the permission of the homeowner since I was going to right in his front yard.  I stopped the truck and got out to knock on the door.  When I approached, I saw what appeared to be a very small boneyard to the rear of the house...this was getting promising!  However, there was no answer at the door, and I wasn't really sure if anyone actually lived there or not.  I decided that I had better err on the side of caution and I got back in my truck and left.  While I was doing some last minute scouting and pondering if I could shoot the truck from a location not directly on his property, I saw a couple of teens walking from neighboring street.  They were watching me rather closely..almost like they had come out to check on what I was doing.  I thought about stopping and asking if they knew anything about the owners of the truck and house, but reconsidered when I saw the less than friendly looks on their faces.  This, and the fact that they were now sitting on the side of the road directly across from the old Ford convinced me it was time to exist elsewhere.

Feeling a little sheepish about the situation, I started to think that this Trek was going to be a bust.  The sun was still out, but the clouds were coming in gradually.  At least the lighting was improving, but I still had nothing that I was able to photograph.  I was still getting more and more lost and found myself out in the middle of nowhere.  I was getting ready to turn around and I made a left turn onto......ummmm......well.....let's call it "Bob's Rd", cause I have no earthly idea where I was.  The first house I came to had several old barns in the side yard, but more importantly, I saw five cars in various states of non-operation.  This was promising.  To make matters even better, I was able to photograph them from the road.  However, as I looked a bit closer I determined that the better bet was to get up close and personal in order to eliminate some of the clutter around the cars.

I decided to go to the house closest to the find and knock on the door.  To my surprise, the property owner was actually home and answered the door.  The conversation went a little like this...

"Hi Ma'am, my name is Greg Kiser and I have an odd request.  First of all, I'm not even sure where I am, but I was wondering if you know anything about the barns and cars off to the side?"

"You are in Stokes County, and that is my land....but not my cars."

"Whew....ok, I know where Stokes County is!  I am a photographer and you have a treasure chest over there photographically speaking, would you mind terribly if I went over there and made some pictures?"

While a little confused about my request, she granted me permission and I quickly went over to the side of her house and got my camera out.  I was able to put things together at a more familiar pace than last week, and my hands seemed to know what to do.  I was totally aware of what the sky was doing while I was setting up.  I knew that there was sun and clouds and that the clouds would cover the sun for about 30 seconds to a minute at a time before the harsh light would return.  There was little visual interest in the sky for me, so I knew that I wasn't going to be able to include the sky as an element in any of the pictures.  I picked out my two favorite vehicles which happened to have their own old barns in perfect proximity to where they lay.  This was going to be fun!!!!

My first victim....uh, subject was an old green Chrysler New Yorker.  While not the most attractive of vehicles, the era, and the condition that it was in just screamed for a picture.  I was very lucky that the barn behind the car made for a wonderful backdrop, and there was a small tree to the rear that added to the mystery of this car.  I just love photographs that ask more questions than they answer.  The green paint was a nice complementing hue to the fallen leaves on the ground as well.  Just as if I had never gone on hiatus from photography, I knew I would need a polarizer filter to cut down on the reflection in the windshield, and would need to wait for the sun to be covered by a passing patch of clouds before I could make the exposures.  I didn't have much time when the lighting was right, so I had to set the exposure quick and crank off the frame before the lighting was lost.  This was so much fun....the thrill of the hunt I suppose.

 "Chrysler New Yorker"

As you can see from the resulting image, the diffused light worked wonders to help me saturate the colors and keep shadows to a minimum.  There is just so much detail in this piece, and so many mysteries as a result!  I was really excited with this piece as I was working it.  I had my answer to my burning question from earlier.  I could scout new things and successfully work a composition, while working with the lighting that was available.  I still had it!  I could feel myself getting my groove back, so to speak.  I could also tell that there was a really good chance for some improvement in my technique as I wasn't even breaking a sweat with this.

The next subject I was wanting to work was an old Chevy C-10 pickup.  There were a few more hurdles with this image when compared to the previous one.  As you can see above, I had to deal with some rather obvious metal tubing in the foreground.  I thought about incorporating it to make my job easier, but decided against it since it had nothing to do with the story I was trying to capture.  There was also the fact that the canopy was lacking here so the sky was going to be a problem potentially, as was the power pole to the rear of the barn.  This composition had a lot working against it to be sure, but the look of the old pickup really caught my eye and I figured I owed it a good, honest try.

I set the camera up in several different places in attempts to avoid the aforementioned clutter. I kept running into problems with every location.  One of the more notable, although the least offensive to the photograph was the thorned vines I was having to stand in to get the picture.  I was actually trapped by the vines at one point and had a hard time breaking loose without seriously ripping my pants!  Oh the things we will do for a photograph.  I was able to find that perfect location, lens, composition formula which allowed me to minimize, or eliminate the elements that I didn't want in my image.  However, in the time that it took me to do that, the clouds were starting to break up and some of that harsh light began to hang around.

"Ole Blue"

I took the changing lighting in stride and decided that I would use it to help the picture.  While I couldn't deal with direct light, some of the less intense light which passed overhead would help me highlight the truck, while underexposing the surrounding elements.  The story here was the truck, not so much the barn, although the barn helped to tell the story.  The fact that I was shooting through some light brush also presented the need for this type of lighting.  Without that added pop on the light color of the truck, the brush would have proved to be a visual obstacle to the main subject.  The sun helped to eliminate that concern.  The resulting underexposure of the scene also helped to render the sky in the background with some color and texture.  I wasn't too sure about the resulting image from this composition, but after doing some culling of the images, I have to say that the one that made the cut is rather impressive.  It is all about color and textures.  The hues present in this image are a perfect balance of cool and warm tones.  There are stories here as well, and mysteries locked in the barn behind.  Yeah, this is a successful image in my book!

With the Chevy captured on my memory card, I could tell that the sun wasn't going to cooperate any longer.  I had shot the goody out of this property for the day and was happy with what I had.  I left feeling like I had accomplished something, and that feeling was very good!  I set off to find home, and once I located Hwy 311 I was well on my way there.  Of course, I didn't take the direct route as that is not the way of the photographer.  I went on as many back roads as I could while not getting too lost.  The sky was kind of hit and miss.  One minute it worked out nicely, and the next it was terrible.  I just hoped to find another subject at the time that the light was good.

As luck would have it, I stumbled onto an old farm house located off of Piney Grove Rd in Kernersville.  I had driven past this house many times, and ridden by on my bike more times than I cared to count.  I had never paid particular attention to it until today.  It tripped my photographic eye, and I just had to stop.  I had no way of determining property ownership so I looked high and low for a way to shoot this house from the side of the road as to not trespass on their property.  I tried alongside the cow pasture, but couldn't find anything I liked...mainly due to the sky.  I could get a nice composition from beside the driveway at the top of a small hill.  It was reasonably close to the roadway, and I felt comfortable with that as a location.  I set the camera up once again and fine tuned my exposure and composition.

I had a few things to worry about here which took some doing to overcome.  First and foremost was a power pole to the left of the house.  It caused me problems with every composition I tried except for this location.  The key to the success here was the stand of three trees lining the driveway.  The pole just blended in with them and there was no real need for any further attempts to camouflage it.  the other concern was the sky.  It was interesting in sections, and very blah in others.  I needed to find a way to reduce the size of the sky in the final composition.  I did this by elevating the camera well above my head.  This allowed me to accentuate the lower portion of the scene and use more of the driveway.  This helped out a bunch by introducing a leading line into the frame...something for the eyes to follow.  The trees gave some foreground interest, but more importantly, they blocked the sky over about 2/3 of the frame.  All of the work enabled me to place the house in the most interesting section of the frame following the time honored rule of thirds.
 "Farm House"

The last thing for me to do was to wait for the right light to grace the scene.  The sun was getting low which helped with providing a nice diffused light, and actually gave the sky some interesting colors and textures.  Even with that, I had to wait for a good while before the clouds moved into the frame in a way that worked with the image, and gave a nice flow.  I lucked out with the sky for this one.  The cool blues really helped to balance out the overall warm tone of the image, amplified by the rusted tin roof, and chimney.  despite the shear amount of work that went into this composition, the element that makes this picture work was the sky.  Without that cool blue the image would be very flat and look like it was captured through tinted glasses.  Score this one another success in my return to photography.

It was now time to really head home.  I had been gone for about 6 hours and had driven about 120 miles.  I was hungry, and I really wanted to see what I had captured on this Trek.  I also wanted to see Toni who had kicked me out many hours ago.  I made a direct line to home, but I still kept an eye out (finding it harder not to even at this early stage).  About a mile from home I happened to catch a glimpse of a barn which I had seen and wanted to capture since getting my camera.  It was just a convenient subject, and one that I had planned on making a throwaway image to try out my digital work flow.  however, the same sky that was over the farm house was here as well.  I decided to give it a try....but instead of stopping, I drove on home.  When I got home I checked with my daughter Sierra to see if she wanted to walk out to the barn and photograph it with me.  You see, she is also starting to learn photography on my old Sony F-828 camera, and I figured this would be a great chance to get her out of the house to capture some frames.  She jumped at the chance and we were out of the door a few minutes later.

We arrived at the barn after a short, brisk walk.  I started setting up, and before I even got the camera mounted to the tripod, Sierra had cranked off her first few images.  Yeah, I'm what?  As with the farm house, I knew that the sky was going to be important to the image and I wanted to make sure that I captured the textures and colors in it.  With the barn not getting much direct light, I needed to balance the exposure.  This was a job for a ND grad filter which would hold back the exposure of the top section of the image.  I selected a 3-stop version which brought the overall exposure down to a controllable level and allowed me to expose for the barn as opposed to the sky.  due to the distance from the barn, I also had to fit my 70-200mm f/2.8L lens in order to fill the frame with the barn.  Since there was not any real interesting foreground, the compression of this telephoto worked very well for the final image.

"Tin Roofed Barn"

While not as good as the previous images of the day, it turned out so much better than I had anticipated.  The bare tree to the side was the perfect complementing element to the image, and one that added some much needed visual tension.  The sky was also an important part to this image, and I was lucky to get a swatch of blue above the barn.

With the sun now effectively gone for the day, I called an end to my second Trek.  I was quite pleased with the work of the day.  I had created images of subjects I had never worked before, and felt that they were all successful images in their own rights.  I answered that burning question about whether or not I still had it in me to "read" a scene as I had taught myself to do years ago.  I guess even dormant, the skill remained within me.  Now its time to hone that skill and make it better than ever!

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