Finding Rust in Sparta

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Well, it is the last day of 2016, so what do I do?  Well, I go out for some pictures.  My original plan based on the weather was to go to Pilot Mountain and do some long exposure stuff with the knob as the focal point.  The clouds were looking decent for that to take place, but the light was so diffused that it also made for really good "Old Iron" photography as well.  Working off of a tip from a fellow photographer, Randy Rogers, I set out to Sparta to find an old GMC heavy truck which he had photographed some time ago.  I had plenty of time to get to this truck and back to Pilot Mountain in time to get the end of the day light.

The trip went relatively quick, although it was about an hour and a half away.  The clouds kept changing up on me the entire time.  By the time I got into Sparta, things were a dismal overcast with very little contrast in the landscape.  Despite that, I was still on the hunt for subjects to shoot.  As I was traveling down Hwy 63, just North of Sparta, I happened to see an old truck by a barn sitting off to the side of the road.  It caught my attention, and it was close enough to the road that I felt that I had a decent chance in getting a good shot or two without needing permission to get access the property.

Just Done
I had to use my 70-200mm lens to get the reach that I needed, but it turned out that it compressed the scene very well considering that the elements were rather spaced out from each other.  The hill behind allowed me to exclude the sky which would have exposed as a solid sheet of white.  Using my color combo polarizer, I fine tuned the composition, while shooting through really tall weeds.  To add to the difficulties, the sun was starting to burn through the thin overcast and was back-lighting the scene.  I had to time the shutter release to when the lighting was the most flattering to the old truck.  I managed to get several different shots that were well exposed in between the blasts of sunlight.

Left Beneath the Tree
While I really like the feel of the first composition, I think that the second one works a little bit better, but in a different way.  Simplification goes a long way with photography in most cases.  I would have liked to have had the barn in the shot, but eliminating it really focuses your attention on the truck, and the added openness to the top of the frame gives the tree a little room to breathe.  For this particular moment, this one is my favorite from this location.  Unfortunately, there was not much I could do with what was in front of me since it was looking like there was nobody to ask about entering the property, and I had a schedule to keep, hoping that the clouds would work out for Pilot Mountain.

I decided to pack things up and continue on to my original destination a bit further North. I saw so many great subjects to photograph in this area, and want to come back again soon.  For some reason though, I wasn't getting moved by what I was seeing which was why I wasn't stopping at each location.  My mind was firmly planted on shooting landscapes, which I hadn't realized before coming out here.  To make matters worse, the sky really wasn't looking like it was going to cooperate with me at all for my secondary shoot location.  Well, at least I still had the old GMC that I was wanting to photograph.

When I finally arrived at the destination (right where Randy had told me), I was slightly underwhelmed, but excited at the same time.  There were a ton and a half of old tractors on both sides of the road.  It was an odd sight, but one that wasn't really lending itself to photography all that much.  The truck was a little on the blah side at first glance, and the rear wheels were off on the driver's side.  I was here though, and I was going to work it for a little while.

Last Breath
It took a few minutes of walking around this truck to really get the feel for what I wanted to do with it.  The patina on the sides was wonderful, and it was starting to spark my creativity.  I decided to shoot it from both sides and see how they turned out.  I used my 24-70mm lens so I didn't go overboard with exaggerating the bulk of the front quarters.  I added my intensifying polarizer to bring out the saturation in the rust, and reduce the glare.  From that point, it was just a matter of hopping around different angles so I could get the best composition possible.

I found that the driveway to the rear was a very nice element to add depth to the picture.  Using the driveway, and the tree to the left, I had the needed balance to place the truck a little further to the right than I would normally.  You see, one of the suggestions in photography is to give your subject a place to go.  With the truck "driving" to the right of the frame, I really should be giving it more breathing room on that side of the frame.  However, the driveway gives the truck context, and the tree gives a framing element to the composition.  In my mind, the truck came out of the driveway and just conked out right there.  Ending the frame close on the right, gives a visual element that indicates a sudden stop.  This was a compositional choice I used to help tell the story.  The visual tension that it adds also helps with the drama in the photograph.

One Job Too Many
As I was shooting around the different angles, I found that I was really drawn to the side of the cab, and the company name on the door.  I decided that I wanted to really capture that door the absolute best that I could.  I tried quite a few different things, but nothing quite worked.  I decided to break another one of my own rules and shoot the door from straight on without any angle.  Normally this gives a flat image with no sense of depth, but I wanted to try it.  I found that the sky was starting to get a little interest in it, and I was pretty sure that I could pull that detail out in post processing, at least enough to make the image work.  I dialed in a fairly dark exposure, nearly a full stop beneath what I wanted to shoot for the cab.  It was one of those shots that would either work extremely well, or one that I would look at and trash immediately.

Well, when I got home and started to process the images, I really didn't like what I saw.  Compositionally, I thought it had a great deal of merit, but the exposure problems were just too much for my liking.  But...I have had several images that I've shot over the last few months that at first sight left me feeling very much uninterested, but with Lightroom, I was able to eek out details that the 5D Mk3 captured in RAW that were not showing up in the digital negative.  I started to work the image, and found that not only did the camera capture every bit of detail in the highlights and the shadows, the colors were amazing!  The more I worked the image, the more I liked what I saw.  The depth came through with the trees to the right, leading off to the mountains, and the sky.  The foreground is just POW, right there, with all the wonderful warm tones that balance out the greens and blues to the rear.  This was, by far, my favorite image from the day, and the one that makes the trip very much worthwhile.

That is a good thing because once I packed up from the GMC, I looked at the time that I had left, and there wasn't going to be enough time for Pilot Mountain after all.  That wasn't the end of the world since the clouds were not what I had in mind for that location anyway.  I set my direction towards home, and kept my eyes out for any other possibilities along the way.  As it turned out, the sky started to do incredible things, and I found myself chasing the light (wishing I was at Pilot actually), but was never able to find the right setting for the sky.  The closest I got was a cemetery with a very cool tree in the middle of it.  I almost got out and shot that scene, but I still have some reservations about shooting cemeteries and there was not time to come to terms with that before the light was lost.  Sadly, that was my last chance, as the light quickly fell, and the moment was lost.  I'll get it next time.

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