Spending Time With the Cows...and a Donkey!

December 10, 2013

I'm sure that you are looking at the title and wondering just what in the world I am talking about and how this applies to photography.  If you aren't, read the title again.  No, I haven't gotten into farm animal photography, at least not yet anyway.  This Trek started out a little strange, and ended even stranger.  After a solid week of nothing but rain in the forecast every day, I was starting to wonder if I was going to be able to get out and take any more pictures before my vacation was over.  Tuesday started out like so many others with rain all morning long.  In fact, there was some heavy typhoon type rain early in the morning.  Because of that, I kind of set back and decided that it was going to be another indoor day.

Well, my plans changed...

The rain stopped, and the cloud cover was nice and thick.  Thinking about all the rain that we had been having recently, I thought that waterfalls would be a good choice for me.  The one waterfall that I wanted to go to was just too far away.  I would have to visit Roaring Fork Falls in Little Switzerland another time.  Today, I needed something close by so I wouldn't lose the cloud cover.  Hanging Rock was my go to park for waterfalls today since it was close, and there were still several falls I hadn't been to in many years.  I got changed and loaded the truck up.  I headed North along Hwy 8 with thoughts of Hidden Falls and possibly Tory's Falls in my head.

As I was driving, I couldn't help but think that I had worked both of those waterfalls nearly to death over the years.  There just wasn't that much more that held interest for me there.  Yeah, I could photograph them, and it was a great day to do just that, but I was already feeling empty at the thought.  I wanted something new, something exciting.  I decided to veer off onto some side roads and see if there was anything that caught my eye while I was still headed to Hanging Rock.  I saw a lot of old barns but nothing that really caught my eye...until I passed one off to the left.  It looked very nice from the road, so I decided to turn around and check it out.  When I got back and looked at it a little closer I found that there was just no way to photograph it without including lots of housing in the background...just not cool for a barn picture in my mind.

Slightly discouraged, I turned back around and began to make the march to Hanging Rock again.  When I got to the intersection, I decided to go straight and see what I could see down that way.  Again, I saw several old barns, but nothing that really grabbed me.  I made a few more turns, all keeping me directed towards my destination.

Shortly after passing through another intersection, I happened to observe some sort of green car (circa 1970-something) in a field well off of the road.  As I passed by, I caught a glimpse of a light colored 50's model pickup.  Yeah, I was going to have to pull over and ask permission for this yard.  I determined which house belonged to the potential subjects and parked my truck.

I made the long walk down the sidewalk up to the front door.  Nothing like feeling like the guy that causes the residents to call 911.  Well, that was me, scruffy face from not shaving, and wearing all green clothing.  I rang the bell and a lady came to the door.  I introduced myself and explained that I was interested in the old cars and the truck in the driveway.  She seemed very nice and said that they belonged to her husband and he was currently on the phone.  Of course, I could just imagine that he was talking to a dispatcher who was about to send a deputy out to talk to me.  After a few minutes, he came to the door and I again introduced myself and explained my purpose.

He then asked a question I had not had to answer before...."what are you going to do with the pictures?"  Well, I told him that they were for my use, and that I just really enjoyed photographing old vehicles.  I could tell that he was not buying my story at all.  I was loosing him and I was figuring that I was going to have to pass up on the opportunity for these cars and truck.  He was still talking, so I thought I would illustrate what I did a little better by pulling out my smartphone and accessing my gallery of pictures.  I started to show him one after another of my recent collection.  When we got to Ole Blue which featured a Chevrolet C10, I had him hooked.  He started to ask me questions about this truck.  He liked the picture, and was interested in the subject matter to boot.  I wouldn't tell him where it was though as I could tell he was a private man.  He asked if I was going to share the location of where his vehicles were and I assured him that I would not.  He started to warm up to me then and told me that he had a photography student come by and ask to take some pictures a while back.  He had let her, and he was going to let me.

He met me in the driveway as I was getting my gear on.  He explained that the Monte Carlos were out in a field that was very muddy.  I told him that was fine since I was prepared to stand in water for some waterfall photography today.  He escorted me down the driveway and showed me the truck I had seen from the road.  He said that there wasn't much that could be done with it as a photograph since there was too much clutter around it.  I quietly disagreed with him and we kept on to the fence.  he opened it up and pointed out the best way to get to the cars so as to avoid the majority of the mud.

Before he parted ways with me, he asked if I was going to be going into any of the cars.  I reassured him that I would leave everything as I found it, and had no intention on moving anything, or tampering with anything on his property.  I in turn asked about any animals.  He replied almost laughingly that there were cows, but they would probably not bother me, and then there was the donkey...he would keep his distance.  Almost as an afterthought, he asked how long I would be.  I said probably an hour or so.  Surprised, he replied "that long to photograph junk?"  Yep!

He wasn't kidding about the mud!  It was slippery with the mud, leaves, and assorted cow pies I was dodging.  Oh well, I had gone through this much trouble, I was going to get some pictures even if I got dirty boots.  I arrived in a few minutes at the cars.  There were a half dozen old Monte Carlos as well as some other truck parts, and farm implements.  It was going to be difficult to get simple compositions in this field but I was committed to trying.

Monte Carlo
I started work on the complete car which was fortunately off to the side.  There was a truck bed on top of another frame of some sort parked very close to this car.  There was also some sort of farm equipment placed behind the car.  While it didn't really go with the car, it somehow worked with the image giving it a real sense of place and situation.  This car was no longer used, and had been out of service for some time now.  However, the vanity plate on the front of the car showed that it was loved at one time by the owner.  There is a story here...I just don't know it right now.

While working this car, I would occasionally turn and see what was going on around me.  I could see the donkey about 50 yards away from me.  It didn't seem like he had any interest in getting closer but was curious about my presence.  Every so often he would make some noises which I assumed was designed to keep me in line.  I adjusted to the sensation of being watched, as I was sure the property owner was keeping an eye out on me as well.

Weathered Shell
The car that had caught my eye from the road was sitting off on its on.  This was fortunate as it gave me a little more flexibility in my composition choices.  I found myself having to wrestle with the sky which was a pretty uniform light gray.  There was no visual interest in it, and therefore, I would not include it in my shot.  The car was positioned on a hill with the front aimed uphill.  The fact that there was no engine, or body beyond the firewall amplified the nose up attitude of this car.  I decided that the best way to work this out would be to introduce some perspective distortion to the image and embrace the angle the car was sitting at.  I was already using my favorite 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens which was able to zoom in to isolate the previous subject.  I just utilized the other end of the spectrum for this car and racked it out to about 28mm and got down kind of low to the ground.  I found that by shooting from the front right quarter, I was able to include a good portion of a nice and green tree further on down the field.  With a nice depth of field, I was able to keep sharpness throughout the image.

I realized that I had been very involved with this particular shot and hadn't looked at my surroundings in a while.  I decided I needed to make a visual sweep real quick and see where my friend the donkey was.  I turned around and found myself face to face with about 7 or 8 cows.  The smallest was slowly working her way toward me.  The real interesting thing was I had just about become cut off from my camera bag which was sitting on a bush hog to my rear.  In order to protect my camera, I picked it up and carried it over to the bag...very slowly.  I closed up the bag and put it back on my back.  I then slowly walked back to my original spot to continue working the remnants of the old Chevy.  Before I was able to get back in my groove, I turned again and saw the cows over where my bag had been and they were sniffing around where it had been laying.  The donkey was also back and was much closer than before.  He had a look on his face like, "its time for you to leave, I brought my friends to help persuade you."

I can take a hint, I was trespassing on their property, and even though I had permission, they weren't consulted.  So as not to make any of them upset I decided that it was time to go.  I made my way slowly back to the gate with the cows and a donkey right behind me.  I guess they wanted to make sure I knew where the door was and that it didn't hit me on the way out.  Once I made it to the other side of the door, one of the cows let loose a loud mooooooooo.  I can only speculate that it translated to "and don't you come back either!"

Well, I had worked the cars pretty well, and it was time to see what I could do with the truck in the driveway.  It interested me because there were two different barns in close proximity to it, that I was pretty sure I could include in a composition.  I did know that I would have more time to figure it out since I left the farm animals on the other side of the fence.

Here you see a rough idea of what I had to work with.  I had a very hard time determining the proper framing needed to include not only the truck, but both barns, without including the sky.  I needed to get some elevation in order to keep the sky out of the frame, and I needed just that perfect focal length in order to include the elements that I wanted.  It was not going to be easy.  I found that my best choice for a composition came from a vantage point on the corner of the garage.  The driveway made for a nice elevated platform where I could capture exactly what I wanted to include.  The exposure was simple, aim for maximum depth of field, while keeping the light colors of the truck from blowing out, and trying to underexpose the open garage to the rear so as to deemphasize the tractor sitting inside.  Simple huh?  Well, I guess it was because one frame was all it took and I thought I had nailed it.

Heartbeat Within
With the setting, there is no question about the use of this truck.  It has long since been put to rest, but its parts are obviously being used to keep another truck running.  Chevy's ad slogan was "The Heartbeat of America".  Well, I could tell the heart was still beating in this old truck, and it was still living on in other trucks.  Who knows, this truck might someday be put back together and ride again.

With that single exposure captured, I made a quick walk around to make sure I hadn't missed anything  I thanked the property owner for allowing me this great opportunity and I loaded the truck back up and headed back to Hanging Rock.  Unfortunately, the sun started to come out, and my clouds all just evaporated from the sky.  You know what....I was ok with that.  I had made a side trip that cost me the chance to work some waterfalls, but what I found was much better without a doubt.  I went home a very happy photographer!

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