A Road Trip Kind of Day

Saturday, March 10, 2018

No Tell Motel
The story goes like this...Toni was at work, Sierra was at a friend's house, and the weather was cloudy, with a good chance for a great sunrise.  How much thought did I put into whether or not I would be playing with the camera?  Not much, not much at all.  I did however, put a good deal of thought into where I wanted to go.  My first thought was Wiseman's View in the Linville Gorge.  With the possibility of a good sunrise, that would have been a good option, but if the sunrise failed, I wasn't guaranteed good clouds for landscape work.  Plus, I really wanted to wait until Spring to start doing mountain landscapes again.  The weather was going to be great for waterfalls, but quite frankly I was getting a little worn out on waterfall work.  I was really wanting to do some barn photography, and maybe find some old cars to shoot.

I tossed around my options, and considered the few cars that were close to me that I still had not photographed, but decided that those were going to wait until the trees filled in to block the background clutter.  Just in case the sunrise wasn't all that great I decided to stick close to home and go to Salem Lake.  After that, I was going to go on a road trip to the North.  I didn't really have a destination in mind, I was just going to drive.

Salem Lake
My morning when Toni got up to go to work.  I checked the weather and it was pretty much the same.  The hourly forecast was calling for clouds and some rain, while the sunrise forecaster was calling for a pretty good showing of color.  I weighed my options one last time, and got rolling with Salem Lake as my intended first stop.  Leaving at 5:15, I got there in plenty of time to capture all of the different transitions of sunrise.

I got myself set up near the playground and picnic area facing where the sun should be coming up.  I chose to use a spindly tree that was actually in the water as a point of interest for my visual anchor.  I opted for my 24-70mm lens so that I could capture as much of the sky as I could while still keeping the distant shore in proper scale to where I was.  I didn't add any filters, but I did screw on my Lee filter holder in case I needed a grad filter.  I started doing some test exposures at about 30 seconds, to see how things were looking.

There was a bit of faint color in the sky for these test shots, but nothing like what I was expecting in the next 15 or so minutes.  The exposures were showing more color in the sky than my eyes could see due to the long exposure.  It turned out that those test shots were the only ones I was going to get with any color.  The clouds were just too consistent with no breaks in them for the sun to shine through.  This is the first time my sunrise forecaster has been wrong.  At least I didn't drive 2 hours away to get this sunrise.  On the plus side, it was quite out there except for the birds chirping and the geese honking away.  It was rather relaxing after a long week at work.

Do You Dare
I went ahead and packed up the camera and walked back to the car.  I didn't really have a destination in mind, but started heading back towards home because the radar showed that there was rain about to hit.  It didn't, and I decided it would be safe to venture on down the road.  I went on through Walkertown, and up into Stokes County for a while without finding much that I wanted to photograph.  I was getting more and more lost, and found myself entering Rockingham County eventually.  Historically, I have had good luck in Rockingham so I was pretty excited about the prospect.

The funny thing was, I was seeing barns, and even some cars but nothing caught my photographic eye.  It was all just too mundane and stuff that wasn't appreciably different from the other images I've shot over the years.  I was looking for something different...something exciting.  The problem with different and exciting is that those opportunities don't present themselves that often.

Motel on the Corner
I'm pretty sure that I was on Hwy 770 and I came upon this nondescript hotel on the side of the road.  The office was a white building with a broken out door.  Nothing special to look at.  Then I went past it and saw the actual hotel part behind the office, WRAPPING its way around the intersection.  It was stone, and the rooms were all boarded up.  It was interesting, and unlike anything that I had photographed before.  It was different and it was exciting!  I turned down the street real quick and pulled off the road.  I grabbed the camera and got set up next to the building that was covered in vines.

Room Thirteen
There were so many textures with the plywood, stone, vines, brick, fixtures, and existing wood.  This was what I had been looking for all morning, I just hadn't known until now.  Just as I got the 24-70mm lens attached and mounted to the tripod a car pulled over in the "parking lot" alongside the road.  Uh oh...was I about to get kicked off the property?  That was what I was expecting even though I didn't see the sign indicating that I couldn't be there (at least on the outside of it).

A man got out of the car and started out with "I've got to ask...."  which is usually followed up with ...what are you doing, and why are you on my property?  Well, that was not how his statement went fortunately.  He finished by asking "...what are you seeing that I'm not seeing?"  He continued to tell me that he had seen several photographers out there taking pictures of prom couples and engagement shots.  He wasn't seeing what the photographers were seeing, and was genuinely curious.

Boarded Up
I told him that there were so many textures here that would appeal to a photographer and the vines that were overgrowing the walls were just cool!  I could see how this would be a fun backdrop for couples, but I was looking at it completely differently.  I was seeing lots of chances for isolations, and some door photography.  I wanted to capitalize on all that I saw here.  He introduced himself, and told me that the motel had been vacant for about 35 years.  It was a jewel in the area in its time.  He told me that its name was the Grogan's Tourist Court Motel.  He suggested that I go around back to see the back side of the motel as well.  That was already on my list!

We chatted for a little while and then he bid me a good day and went on about his.  Now that I knew a little of the history of the place, I was really feeling excited about getting some images.  There was a diner across the intersection which was still being used for a business, and there was another section of the motel across the street where I parked.  I knew how they all fit together now, and that really brought the setting into a complete light for me.

Paint the Town
I was having so much fun working this motel, and I found myself switching lenses back and forth between my 24-70mm and my 70-200mm depending on the composition I was working.  Since it was really cloudy, and there wasn't that much glass to worry about reflections, I shot bare with no filters attached.  That made it very easy to swap out lenses.  Each building had its own character, and the section across the street was of newer construction and painted white with red doors, and even garages attached.  I could see this being a really high end motel in its day.  Of course the red doors caught my eye, and I had to get something to show those off.  The colors were just so amazing out here, and the light was nearly perfect.

Shrouded in Mystery
While the colors were great with the warm tones on the brick and stone contrasting the plywood, I also had the opportunity to shoot a monochrome image on the back side.  Earlier in this article, I shared Do You Dare which was one of the images I shot from the rear.  It was the only one that I liked when I was culling the images once I got home.  I was drawn to the repetitive patterns on the back wall.  There was obviously a walkway missing for the upper floor which added to the questions the viewer would ask.  There was a single door open in the lower right which I almost ventured in, until I saw the sign posted right at the door "No Trespassing".  This wasn't the safest thing to do, and adding in the legal issue, I opted to stay outside, but the question begged to be asked "would you dare?"  I mean the back side of this motel looks like something out of a horror movie to be quite honest.

Creeping Vines
I was a little disappointed with the rear of the motel after having so much fun with the front.  It was just too grown up back there to get in close to do much.  I did continue shooting different compositions along the front of the hotel, and even managed to get several that showcased the wraparound nature of the motel.  It might be silly, but I really liked that design element and that really made this motel unique, and visually interesting.  The stepped rooms added a diagonal element to many of the compositions which added to the visual tension within the frame.  All very good things when shooting something that is essentially two dimensional by nature.

Roadside Motel
I think I was there for about an hour and a half, although I really did lose track of time.  It felt like about 10 minutes when I was all done.  I went ahead and packed the camera up and got back on the road.  I was still looking, but after the fun I had just had at the motel I wasn't really up for much else creatively.  I cruised around and decided that it was getting a little late in the morning and I had better get headed back home...plus I was needing gas.  I decided to let my GPS take me home since I really had no idea where I was at.

I came down Hwy 220, back into Stokes County and then ended up on Hwy 65 back into Forsyth County.  I was starting to get the itch to bring the camera out once again, but I was getting close to home at this point.  There was one barn that I had photographed many years ago which set just off the roadway.  What the heck, I'll give it a go.  The last time I was there, it was full on Spring and the trees had already fully bloomed.  I was a couple of months earlier this time, so I knew the trees would be largely bare which would make for a different feel for the photo.

Harvester of Sorrow
I found the barn just as I remembered it.  I went ahead and pulled out the camera and fitted my 24-70mm lens with the Singh Ray Color Combo Polarizer to keep the glare off of the tin roof, and to help saturate the wood tones in the siding.  I started off as I would normally do by taking full on shots of the barn.  I did some with a tree as a foreground, and I did some up close and personal.  They all seemed to have merit, but I was falling short of my want for different pictures today.  The answer came in the form of my 70-200mm lens.  I was going to get in close and do some isolations with the wood to show the textures and the aging of it.  Of course, I kept the same filter attached as it does a great job at bringing out the colors.

Sweet Amber
This was the ticket.  I was now in a position to create an infinite amount of photographs from this single barn by picking parts of it out from the whole.  I was looking for lines, and textures for these compositions.  Most of them came from the front of the barn where the wood was the most interesting.  I would frame the shots up so that they had the most visual impact, and in some cases I went into full on abstract mode to compose the shot.

The Struggle Within
I made it a point with all of my compositions to find a section that actually said something to me.  The interplay of the different elements or textures had to have some sort of meaning to me.  One of the things that I really liked to feature was the angles of the wood.  I would capture areas where the wood was placed in different orientations, and in the case of this picture, I shot at an angle to introduce a strong diagonal.  Since I was at the corner, I still had the edge of the barn as a visual reference to give the correct perspective.  This was a hard image to compose, but I think it is my favorite one from the intimate wood captures.

One of the features that I found interesting was on the side of the barn.  It appeared as though a limb was actually growing out of the siding.  I couldn't really explain it, but I found it quite fascinating.  I got in close and framed the shot countering the limb with the warm tones to the right.  The drab wood below the limb was the perfect highlight to the change in texture of the photograph.  This works well as an abstract because the visual clues are so confusing once you start looking into the picture.  Had I not explained what I shot, I'm betting you would still be scratching your head.

I have to admit, I had a lot of fun picking elements to photograph within the "big picture."  Textures are just so much fun to photograph.  Speaking of which, the upright supports under the awning at the front of the barn had some really neat features to isolate.  Since they are natural wood, both supports had a number of knotholes in them.  This was going to be another chance to shoot some really cool textures, and since there wasn't much difference in colors, I was going to shoot them as monochrome images.

Soul Searching
In an ironic twist of fate, these afterthoughts of a composition turned out to be some of my favorites of the day.  The black and white really made the images pop, and showcased the wonderful textures of the wood.  The knots were perfect visual anchors which also caused the lines in the wood to curve around them.  The way the lighting was creating shade was another big plus to these images.  There was just so much going for them photographically.

When I got done with my knotholes, I packed the camera up with a total of 93 frames shot.  Without having much clear direction for the day, I was totally thrilled with the outcome.  By the time I had gone through the images and culled out the less than acceptable images, I had 17 images from the day.  That makes this one of my more successful treks in a while.  The amazing part is that the images were from only three different locations.  Sticking around to work a scene really pays off in the long run.

Now my biggest problem....I've got to figure out how to fit some of these in the gallery rooms here.  Not a bad problem to have, but I'm going to have to make some hard cuts I think.

A little movie I found about the hotel which was built in the 30's.


  1. Can't ask for a much better day out! I love shooting old architecture and you did a great job of capturing these places.
    Culling out good images is hard, but keeping fresh images in your galleries keeps people coming back.

    1. Thank you Kevin. It was an amazing day, and it gave me a chance to try a few different techniques with the architecture. It was a fun learning experience as well. Culling makes us much better judges of our own work. We become very skilled at picking out the little details that will make or break an image.