Back out to Union Cross

March 1, 2014

Last week, I set out on an attempt to photograph a barn, but the sky just didn't cooperate with me at all for what I was intending on capturing.  I ended up doing some scouting in the area to try and find some other places that I could file away for future treks.  One such location was an old barn beside of a school, tucked into a wooded field.  Had it not been for construction on Union Cross Rd, I would have never seen it.  I took some time to look at it, but determined that the lighting was all wrong.  In the few minutes that I was thinking about possible compositions, I thought that a nice cloudy sky would work well for this one.  I didn't put a lot of time in looking at things because I was running out of light and needed to find something to shoot for the day.

Fast forward about a week and my first day off of work it was very overcast and the lighting was very even on the ground.  I went through my mental list of possible subjects and quickly came up on the barn off of Union Cross.  The way I was picturing it, I would be able to crop the sky out and grab the barn against the trees.  That was my intended shot when I set out shortly after sunrise.

The Farmer's Field
When I arrived, I was a little disappointed by what I saw.  Not only were the trees not as full or as tall as I had remembered, there was a lot more open area that I was having to deal with.  To make matters worse, there was just a hint of green in the trees which was fine, but there were several blue tarps covering items that were stored in and beside the barn.  The biggest problem was those tarps.  I was having a very hard time finding a composition that minimized those tarps while keeping the sky at bay.  While fully overcast, the clouds were bright, and had just a hint of texture.  I had to use a 3-Stop ND Grad filter to hold back the exposure.  The best composition that I was able to come up with was actually the most simple one.  I used a small tree for some foreground balance, and placed a cluster of the dark green trees behind that, while keeping the barn itself in a prominent position in the right third of the frame.

I was happy with the exposure, and the composition, but wasn't very happy with the scene at all.  I wanted something more...I wanted color (other than the bright blue tarps which really distracted from the whole scene.  Even though I wasn't very happy with the scene as it was unfolding, I figured that I would hold judgement until I saw it on the computer at home.  I thought it might look good as a monochrome image since there was not much in the way of color that contributed to the image.  I knew that the exposure was solid and that everything was properly represented in tonality, so B&W would be a fine option if everything fell in place with the picture.

After a half a dozen frames I decided to pack it in and move on to something else.  I was still feeling like I probably wasn't going to have much to show for the morning and I wanted more.  Unfortunately, I was looking for color, and this time of year has very little of that.  I drove into Davidson County, and then found myself crisscrossing the county lines for about an hour as I drove aimlessly about scouting new locations.  Ironically, while I was getting close to where I started I was driving down Curry Rd and found an old Ford truck (late 70's, but still a decent subject) sitting in front of a house.  I was looking at it and debating on whether or not to try for a picture.  As I passed the house, I saw several old barns behind the house with some really nice rusted tractors around them.  Yeah, I needed to get turned around and knock on the door for this one!

I knocked, and knocked, but nobody came to the door.  As I was walking back to the truck, a lady pulled into the neighboring driveway and we spoke briefly.  After assuring her I was not there to commit various crimes, she told me that the property owners lived in the house much further down the driveway.  I went down to that house and tried again to knock.  There was no answer there either.  While the tractors and barns really caught my eye, there was just no way I would feel comfortable photographing them without permission.  I had to leave there with only the memory of the property for a possible later trek.

Feeling completely defeated, I started to direct my route back to the house.  I turned onto the main road and out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw an old red tractor.  As I passed the house, I looked behind it again, and saw a barn right behind the tractor.  Could it be...the color I was looking for?  I had to get turned around, and I pulled into the driveway.  Once again, I was going to need permission to get the pictures that I was wanting.

Looking Back
This time, the homeowner answered the door and let me give my normal speech about my strange requests to photograph old things.  He was a little hesitant, and admitted that he had never had a request like this before.  It took a little bit of talking, but he finally said "go ahead and get your gear".  He didn't need to tell me twice!

When I got around back I saw that once again, I had found an old International Farmall tractor.  Seems that I am drawn to these more than any other tractor.  Just as I had seen from the road, there was a nice old barn situated behind the tractor which gave the composition a very nice balance.  What I hadn't seen from the road was all the visual clutter around the tractor.  This meant that I was going to have to be very careful with my compositions in order to avoid getting too much visual distraction in the image.  I needed to simplify things as much as I could.

The Cub
One of the best ways I've found to simplify a scene is to pull out intimate details.  Since I seem to be drawn to these old Farmall tractors, I decided to get the label off of the hood, using the headlight as a visual anchor.  Even with this composition, the old barn snuck in and provided its textures to the background.  I guess these labels are the equivalent of a hood ornament on a classic sedan.  Either way, they are starting to capture my attention more and more.

While it was the red that drew me to the scene in the first place, I found that the tractor was almost too much.  This is very easy to find when dealing with red since it is such a powerful color.  There was no way to make the tractor a smaller part of a larger composition.  I just didn't have the room to deal with behind his house, and there was so much visual clutter to deal with also.  I again, thought about doing a monochrome conversion on the images I was shooting.  I knew that it was going to be a hard thing to separate the tractor from the background though because of the similar tones represented, but I kept the idea in my head.

Ever Ready
Ironically, the first composition that I set up was one that I didn't like at all in color.  There was just too much red, but the surrounding clutter was reduced quite a bit which I did like.  It was just too blatant, and in your face with the solid red, and then the sky was also a washed out gray which really messed with the flow of the image.  However, I decided to do a B&W conversion on it and see what I could do.  After doing some tweaks to the tonalities of the various colors, I was able to get a little visual separation in the tones.  I massaged the contrast a bit, and decided that this image worked out very well.  However, just in case I was stretching a little bit, I asked Toni's opinion on it.  She came over and didn't even think about it long and said "I like it!"  Typically, she doesn't like my tractor shots, or any of my old cars as much as my landscapes.  So, I asked her if she thought it was ok for that type of picture, or if she actually liked it based on its own merits.  To my surprise, she actually liked the picture, really liked it!  I was sold, it would be in the gallery.

While I didn't get the images that I was previsualizing when I left this morning, I had the opportunity to get what I think is a really good B&W barn shot, along with several shots of another Farmall tractor.  Photographically, it was a very good morning, and rather productive considering that I am really starting to hunger for the bright colors of spring.  My want for color is limiting what I am drawn to in the current season, but I am quite used to this, and know that it happens every year about this time.

I am really hoping for some good skies in the next couple of days so I can start working on my landscapes to get geared up for the Spring.  I'm itching to start poking around the Blue Ridge Parkway, as that is probably my favorite place on earth to find landscapes.  It won't be much longer now.

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