Getting Lost on the Road

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Since Toni had to work today, and I was off, I decided that I would go out for some pictures.  I'm still wanting to do waterfalls, but there just isn't enough water in the state to really make that a possibility right now.  Ironically though, the weather was calling for rain, and clouds through the morning with clearing skies after 11.  This was actually pretty good news for me, and I was looking forward to taking a little road trip up through Danbury, NC to work some of the old vehicles I had come across last weekend.  I also wanted to try a creative composition with a 57ish Chevy I've located that is in a particularly lousy setting to photograph.

I set out before sunrise in an attempt to get the first light in the sky for a background, and to be able to light paint the actual car.  There was a little bit of rain falling, but the hourly showed that I would be OK once I got where I was going.  Well, the forecast was right, and the rain stopped when I got there.  However, the sky was way too blah for the long exposure that I was wanting to do.  I needed a much different sky for my idea to work.  The good news was, with the right sky, I think the picture will come out quite nice in the end...if I can get what I want in the right combination before the car gets moved.

Not wanting to admit failure before the sun even came up, I plowed on to the North headed to Danbury.  When I got there, the lighting was really good with the clouds, and the recent rainfall on the ground.  I even found a subject that I wanted to photograph with the existing light.  I stopped the truck and started to consider my options as the rain started to drizzle.  That wasn't going to be a concern though, as the angles would be such that the front element would be shielded by the hood.  What bothered me was the two dogs that were coming down the street with a purpose towards my truck.  They had that look in their eyes that indicated I was going to be their Thanksgiving Feast if I got out of my truck.  Not wanting to be an early meal, I cut bait, and started to drive on down the road.

Well, I had two ideas for the morning, and both of them have failed to materialize.  Such is the luck of a photographer I suppose.  Well, I was out, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and get lost.  I don't mean a little lost...I mean crank the GPS up to get home lost.  I went down roads that I've never heard of before, and entered townships I never knew existed.  This was what Toni had suggested I do a week or so ago, and today was as good a day as any to do that.  The the lighting was still really good as the clouds were thick and low in the sky.  I just wasn't having much luck in finding that perfect subject to work with.  There were plenty of barns and old houses, but none of them spoke to me this morning.  There were issues with the compositions for every subject I found.  To make matters worse, the clouds were starting to break up, and I could see that the sun was going to be poking through soon.  This could be a very good situation with the right subject, but it also meant that the good light was going to be short lived from this point on.

Under Cotton Skies
This was going to be magic light time if I could find the right subject.  The sun was now clearly out in the open and the sky to the West was still covered in clouds with a nice texture.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw three different barns down a side road.  I made a quick U-turn and went down the street.  It looked more like a driveway than a street, but the sign indicated it was a public roadway.  I pulled over to the side of the road and got the camera out.  Wanting to work fast, and knowing that I wanted some depth to this one, I used my 24-70mm lens with a color intensifying polarizer.  I worked from several locations to try and get the best composition from the three barns.

The more I worked the scene, the more I realized that there was only one barn that I really liked out of the three, and it was the largest.  There just wasn't much space between that one and the neighboring structure.  I wanted the sky in a large portion of the frame, but I didn't want the barn to show too much perspective distortion, so I had to really balance how close I got to the barn, and what focal length I used.  What I ended up with was using about 30mm worth of lens, fairly close in to the barn.  Once I was happy with my composition, I had to sit there and wait for the sun to do it's thing.  Slowly, it came out from behind the clouds and lit up the barn with a wonderful, warm light.  I had already worked out everything except for the shutter speed, which I dialed into get the proper exposure on the barn.  That actually ended up underexposing the sky, which for my tastes was a perfect combination!  Within a minute, the clouds started to clear, but not after I got my shot.

I had taken about a dozen or so frames from this location, and while I liked some of the ones that included the other two structures, they all seemed to fail in comparison to this one.  The lighting was dead on, and the composition followed one of my new rules for myself--Fill the frame with what you want.  There was a nice flow, and balance as well.  I found no need to process the other shots, and I was satisfied with the results of this one for the location.

Now the clouds were all but gone in the sky, and the sun was steadily climbing.  Normally, this would mean that I was done for the day as the quality of light was lacking.  However, I was coming off of what I thought was a pretty successful subject, and I wanted to use that as motivation to keep going.  I continued North into Virginia on a road I probably could never find again.

Three Old Friends
I was starting to come off of my photography high....OK, I actually had.  I was squinting in the sun, and losing interest in the light.  Then I passed a house with a red Ford Fairlane 500 in the yard.  It was in decent shape, but I could tell it was not an operable vehicle.  It caught my eye, and my imagination.  It wasn't perfect, but it was the best option I had seen in a while.  I turned around and went to knock on the door of the house.

This is one of the most nerve racking parts of doing this type of photography.  Normally, I'm met by the owner who has come out of the side of the house with a gun pointed at me.  I'm not sure if this guy was armed or not, but he answered the door I knocked at (nice change of pace), and allowed me to explain the reason for my holiday visit.  Surprisingly, he gave me full permission to go and play among his vehicles.  I was now looking further into the property, and the vehicles no longer were just the Fairlane and a Bronco.  There were several old rusted shells in the woods.  Yep, I was glad I stopped here!

I found three of them to be my favorites based on location, surroundings, and general condition.  I started to set the camera up, again using my 24-70 with a intensifying polarizer attached.  I started to work on the group of vehicles since they were so close together I didn't feel comfortable trying to separate them in the frame.  The lighting was harsher than I like, but I was able to make due, and compose using the lit side to keep out of the shade as much as possible.

A Close Race
One thing that I have learned over the years is that the position of the camera can make or break an image.  That really holds true for these vehicles.  By adjusting the angles of the camera, I was able to eliminate the middle vehicle and concentrate on these two that were very similar in appearance.  I also benefited in this composition from the shadows cast by the sun coming through the trees to my back.  These shadows created some very strong leading lines that I thought really strengthened the image.  The primarily blue sky above, helped to bring out the remaining blue tones on the panel truck as well, which helped to balance the image with color tones.

Coming and Going
In an attempt to make sure I got every possible composition, I swapped out my lens for the 70-200mm.  Now, I had some other compositional tricks I could use.  By stepping back a little bit, I was able crop out the closer jeep, and increase the relative size of the green Jeep that was further away.  The trick here was to cover the background clutter with solid parts of the panel truck, which I was able to do by paying very close attention to the height of my camera on the tripod.

Empty Eyes
Before leaving, I decided to try and isolate what had become my favorite vehicle out of the bunch.  I flipped the camera on its side and got down pretty low to the ground to reduce the impact of the green Jeep to the rear.  It is still visible, but with the exposure difference, it is not distracting at all.

As you can see, I had a great time at this property, and am very appreciative to the owners who allowed me to get a few photographs.  I really do enjoy photographing these old cars, but I'm a little gun shy after several really negative experiences talking to property owners.  I don't fault them for being cautious as i would be with strangers asking to get up close and personal with my property.  However, as a photographer, I love these opportunities, and am always looking for "Old Iron" sitting on folks' property.  If you have anything like this on your property, shoot me an email ( or call me (336-681-0220) and I'll do my best to create some art for you!

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