Finding Doors at Old Salem

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Lonely Road
The forecast for the weekend looked rather bleak for photography.  Mostly sunny skies for the entire weekend.  Great for washing cars (which I did), mowing the yard (will do tomorrow), grilling out (neighbors did that), or just going for a nice walk through the neighborhood (everyone was doing that)...but not all that great for photography.  There was a slight chance of some clouds at the beginning of the day between Linville and Boone in the mountains, but they would only last from sunrise till about 10am or so.  But that was going to be my best bet.

The plan was to wake up with Toni at 4am when she was getting up to go to work.  That would put me on the road in time for a sunrise at Rough Ridge.  Well...we know what happens when I plan.  Toni's alarm went off at 4am, I remember it well.  The next thing I remember was her saying it was a not so calm voice.  I hate when that happens, but she was able to hurry and still made it to work on time.  For me, the time had passed to make it worth going to the mountains.  I had to step back and punt with my plans.  I still wanted to go out and do some picture, but I was going to need something relatively close at this point.  Since my plans were now up in the air, I decided to throw caution to the wind and act on a whim.

The last time I went to Old Salem was back in the Fall, and I came back with some really good pictures.  The best I have taken there...ever.  Well, it was Spring now, and I was hoping to follow up with the same luck.  I wasn't sure what the weather was going to do, but I figured I would start the day out at God's Acre Cemetery.  The idea was to try and find something that I could use in case of a good sunrise.  The other plan was to take advantage of what I was expecting to be some Spring colors.

The Circle of Life
I arrived at 6am, which gave me plenty of time to walk around and find something before the sun cracked the horizon at 7.  I meandered around the cemetery and found myself walking in the lower level which somehow managed to obscure the traffic lights and street lights in the distance.  The ones that were visible, I was able to block with other trees.  I found a nice little corner with some very tall trees to the side which lead down to the horizon where the sun was going to come up.  I went ahead and set up shop here with my 24-70mm lens.  Since I was planning on using the trees in the shot, I didn't want to use my grad filters since it would darken the trees as well.  I was just hoping for a soft light sunrise on the faint clouds above.

Well, I got my wish...the colors started to light up in the sky, and they were ever so soft.  That was good because my histogram showed me that I had a nearly perfect spread of tones across the spectrum.  This was going to be a piece of cake to process when I got home.  Everything worked out so nicely.  Had I known the sky was going to be so nice, I would have found a little something different to put under it, but I have to admit, these turned out better than I expected.  I shot a lot of different compositions as the sky changed, and moved around to pick out different ground features.  I'm really happy that I decided to risk shooting a blooming tree which was going to be back lit.  I wasn't sure how it was going to come out, but the blooms really came through in the photograph.

Life From Lifelessness
Once I got finished with the sunrise, I was off to find that Spring color that I was hoping for.  It was all over, and that excited me.  However, finding good compositions was a little difficult.  Plus, I have this really weird apprehension about walking around a cemetery.  Yes, they can make really great pictures, but I still haven't come to terms with using grave markers in my photographs.  It seems like an invasion of privacy in a way.  There are times that I can stifle these qualms, and today was one of those days.  I spent a good little bit of time walking around and shooting different scenes.  My lens of choice was still the 24-70mm which is a great walking around lens.  After the sun came up, I added a polarizer to the mix to help enhance the colors.  It helped to bring out the detail in the sky as well.

Angels Above
Even though I was searching out the Spring color, there were several mausoleums that really caught my eye in the warm morning light.  I have seen them before, but never thought to photograph them.  Today, they were calling my name, and I answered that call.  The compositions were a little challenging since I am used to photographing structures that are completely above ground.  These were constructed into the embankments at the edge of the property.  The first one that caught my attention was one with a sculpture above.  I really wanted to include that element into the composition, but the background was a little off.  I played with several compositions, and found that a portrait shot, with the deep clouds in the distance would work pretty well.  I had the shot I wanted...but there was more to that story.

Stone Catacomb
As I was composing the overall picture, I found that the different levels at the doorway were rather hypnotic.  There was a certain rhythm to the layers that I really liked, and though that might make for a good composition.  I reframed, and went back to a landscape orientation.  I worked the camera into a position where I could capitalize on the symmetry of the sections.  It took a little doing, but the final result was really cool, and I'm glad I saw that potential while I was there.  But wait...there's more.  If you act now, I'll throw in an additional isolation of the door.

Trepidation Doorway
As I was looking at the framing on the last picture, I started to really pay attention to the doorway.  That weird sensation was starting to come back to my stomach for being here in the cemetery.  No, I wasn't scared, there was very little chance I was going to get attacked by a ghost.  But, I still feel "some kind of way" (hey look, I'm being a cool kid!) being out there.  I wondered what was on the other side of the door.  I wondered how long it had been since somebody visited here.  I wondered how long the body had been in there.  There were lots of questions to be asked, and most of the answers were on the other side of that doorway.  That doorway that has been there for quite a number of years.  That doorway was fascinating, even over 12 hours later looking at it as I type this entry.  I was diggin' the door!

The Heavy Door
As it so happened, there was another tomb right next door.  I wonder if anyone comes over to borrow sugar?  Well, the actual structure wasn't all that exciting.  Nothing like the one I had just worked, but there was a door that I found as interesting, if not more.  I found my compositional sweet spot which kept any perspective distortion to a minimum, and framed up a very symmetrical shot (very unlike me), and released the shutter.  But wait...there's more!!  If you act now....

I'm making a habit out of examining my photos for photos within.  This is actually a pretty good habit to be in for a photographer.  Like I said, it was all about the doors at this point.  This door had been photographed, but not up close and personal.  I moved in very close, and found a shot that had that special balance.  I didn't want symmetry, but I did want a rhythm to the picture.  I also wanted to incorporate the door pull which mimicked the other ring elements in the design.  There were so many repeating shapes here, and then when you add in the rust...I was a giddy kid looking at this.  I actually shot this for a black and white conversion, but after seeing it in full color, I couldn't imagine it any other way.  I'm so totally diggin' the doors!!

Walk of the Ancestors
For the moment though, I was out of interesting doors.  I was back in the upper level of God's Acre.  I've always liked the fence that lines the main walkway, and I've tried to photograph it several times without finding something that I really liked. At this point, I had my 70-200mm lens on after trying a composition a little while earlier that didn't make the final cut in my 105 images from the morning.  However, with the reach of that lens, I decided to try a couple of compositions with the fence to see how the long lens would handle it.  Well, I immediately saw a lot of promise, but I've thought that before while composing the past images.  I went with it though, and shot a few compositions.  I kind of liked the one that had the repeating headstones to the right and the wooden pickets repeating a similar pattern to the left.  There was a soothing balance to the picture when composed this way, and I liked it.

White Picket Walkway
Again, since I still feel a little uneasy about incorporating graves in my compositions most days, I chose to compose a shot that didn't have the markers in it.  I still got the full advantage of the repeating patters of the fence that always draws my eye.  This time, I had the balance of the brick walkway which balanced with the brick foundation of the fence.  Seems like I'm finding all sorts of visual balance in my compositions today.  They weren't doors though...and I missed them.

Woodland Elder

But wait...I found some trees right where I was shooting the fence that had some...shall we say, interesting growths on them.  I swear, it looks like somebody came and made sculptures out of the trees.  I don't remember seeing these trees in quite this way before, but I do remember trying to do some macro photography on the bark back in my Sony days.  I'm pretty sure I would have noticed this though because of how utterly cool it looked.  I still had my long lens attached, so I worked with it, and picked out the elements of the tree that caught my eye.  This first one was just too cool for words.  I could see eyes and a mustache below.  It looked like an old man right there at the base of the tree.  Maybe he was related to Tree Beard (those who have watched Lord of the Rings will catch that).  Regardless, I though it was the coolest thing, not quite door cool, but pretty cool nonetheless.  But wait...there's more....

Soulless Escape
Just above Tree Beard's cousin, I found another really strange formation.  It looked like a squirrel had been captured by the tree and frozen.  Yeah, maybe there is something to my apprehension about photographing in a cemetery.  Hey Stephen King, can you grab that filter over there?  Thanks!

I have to admit, I did a little enhancing on this image in the form of some dodging and burning.  There was no manipulation though.  I just used the old film technique to really bring out the shapes and textures.  I also deepened the shadow beneath the head.  It was there, but for the image I wanted to express, I needed it darker.  Maybe I was having a zombie moment.  Do squirrel zombies still want nuts, or do they go for brains?  I've got to get out of this cemetery!

Ornate Threshold
It was probably for the best that I left the cemetery.  I wanted to see what else Old Salem had to offer this morning, and my good light was starting to fade.  As I was leaving God's Acre, I stopped to look at a doorway that I have photographed once before with marginal results.  The lighting was a little better today, and let's face it...I was still diggin' the doors.  I remember how difficult this door was to photograph the way it was situated at the double arch entry.  I chose to do this one as a frame within a frame.  The color pallet was simple with the concrete, wood, and a touch of green above.  I used the narrow field of view from my long lens and framed it ever so carefully, eliminating the leading line that I had used before.  That one bit of simplification absolutely made the image.  Simple is usually better in photography, and that is a lesson that I learning more and more each day.

How My Garden Grows
I was finally free of the cemetery.  Now I was surrounded by folks dressed in clothing from the turn of the 19th century.  Again, I wondered if there was something about walking in a cemetery taking pictures.  They weren't looking at me funny carrying a camera, so I figured that these were just the roll players...well, that's what I was hoping.  I was following the same path that I did when I was here in the Fall, and not surprisingly I came upon the same period house with a garden.  What are the chances?  Well, there was a bit more green here compared to last time, and I decided that I would give it another try. With the was things were situated, there wasn't a lot of choice about compositions, and I remember what I had done previously.  I was still using the same 70-200mm lens at this point, so I went ahead and framed up the same composition and released the shutter.  It was a good shot, but not really that much different from what I had shot six months ago. I didn't spend any more time with that house.  Instead, I started to explore in areas that I don't normally go.  That was where the rewards are typically found I told myself.

A door!  I found another door!  Have I mentioned that I am really enjoying doors today?  This door wasn't an old door, but the geometry of it really caught my eye.  Add to that, the green tone when matched with the overall warmth of the stone wall.  There was also a window just to the left that made for a great counter element, while not making this a mirror image element.  I set the camera up to eliminate any perspective distortion, and dialed in the exposure.  Click...I was satisfied with the first shot.  There was no need to continue on this one.  I poked around behind the buildings and found no more interesting doors, so I worked my way back out to the road.

Spring Branches

Off in the distance, I saw an old barn with a long white picket fence leading to it.  Unfortunately, there was a modern day pickup truck parked next to the fence.  Well crap, can't really use that in my picture now can I?  I would have passed up on the picture, but there was a really grand tree behind the barn that was framed by new growth on other trees.  The scene was too good to pass up.  I worked on several different compositions in an attempt to eliminate the truck, and finally found this simple portrait orientation that worked well.  I wished that the face of the barn was visible, but the weathered wood on the primary side was a nice tradeoff.  There were a lot of great textures there with the barn, fence, tree, and leaves.  It was a simple, yet effective image.  But there were no doors to be seen.

Historic Lines
As I continued to walk around Old Salem, I found the gunsmith building.  No, I'm not trying to trade in my Canon on a musket!  I have, however, photographed this building several times.  In doing so, I've always gone for the full building.  This has always been rather blah when the pictures are culled at the end of the shoot.  Today, I was in the mood to try something different.  You guessed it.  I was going to try shooting the window...No, No, No...not going to shoot the window!  I was going to compose an image around the door!  I found a great spot to set the camera up that rendered the siding as diagonal lines to give a bit of drama to the image.  The door, had wood that ran vertical, as did the window beside.  The bricks on the walkway even added another linear element to the frame.  This picture was less about the door and more about geographical lines...but I was still diggin' the doors!

Reflections of History
Windows.  Hmmmm, speaking of windows, maybe I could make a composition around a window.  Let me see what is on the side of the gunsmith's building.  Yep, there is a window with a nice white picket fence beneath it.  That was worth a shot or two.  I decided to use the fence in the composition, but not too much of it as to avoid overpowering the wood siding that I found so interesting.  I love the aged wood on buildings when I can find it!  The window fit in very nicely, and the vertical shutters matched the vertical lines of the fence, while the siding was horizontal.  There was rhythm to this picture, and an inherent tension in the geometry.  It isn't my normal shot, but I must admit, I think it works.

With that shot, I found that there were just too many people walking around Old Salem, and I was starting to get a bit tired.  Hey, I had been out here for four hours, and had shot 105 images.  I should be a bit tired.  I wasn't sure how things would turn out.  I'm always hesitant to count my eggs before they hatch.  I wanted to believe that I had gotten some good images.  I did know that I have found a new love for doors, and was excited to see how they turned out.  I was also very hopeful over my tree sculptures, especially since Toni likes interesting trees.  I wanted them to turn out good for her.

When I got home, I did a rough edit of the pictures and got them down to 18, which I then processed.  In about two hours, the initial edit was done on all 18 images, and it was time to go out and wash the truck, and smell the neighbors cooking out, and see folks out walking, and listening to yards being mowed.  Hey, it was a wonderful day to be outside.  But as far as photography goes...well, Stephen King and I had a great time, and I'm still diggin' the doors!


  1. Nice work Greg, I haven't shot there in many years. Love "Stonework" and "Reflections of History"
    Randy Rogers

    1. Thanks Randy! I don't go there often, but the more often I go, the more I'm seeing to like about the place. Maybe I just haven't given it a fair shake in the past.