Virginia is for Photography

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Journey's End
After spending the week working on my webinar presentation for Singh-Ray which is dealing with photographing the derelict and decaying, I was fully in the mood to capture some rust and rural scenes.  The weather was a little uncertain for the weekend, but it was looking like Saturday was going to be my better day when it came to clouds in the sky.  I had thought about trying to get a sunrise out of the day, but looking at the sunrise forecast the color was going to be non-existent.  That meant I could sleep a bit later.  The only question was, where to go on this trip?

A few years ago, I had found myself in Sparta, NC, after a tip from a fellow photographer.  There is a great little roadside yard art display with a ton of tractors, and this one really nice GMC truck.  I remember having a great time with it last time, although it was in the winter and I was standing in a good deal of slush to get the pictures.  The green trees really should change the look of the compositions here.  This was going to be my starting point for the day.  I say starting point because I always have a first picture in mind when I head out, and then I start to explore from there.  Since I don't spend a lot of time in the area of Sparta, I was looking forward to a little bit of rural exploration.

I wanted to get an early start on the day, but not quite early enough to catch a sunrise.  This meant I left the house around 5:30am, looking to arrive in the area around 7ish or so.  The trip out there was easy enough, and it looked like the clouds were going to be cooperating with me for a change.  I found the old truck with no problems and saw that it was still pretty much as I had left it several years ago.  The sun was just now starting to hit the side of the truck, so the lighting should be pretty good for what I was wanting.

I started out with my 16-35mm lens for a change.  I wanted to accentuate the cab while visually reducing the impact of the rear frame and dual wheels.  Of course, I added my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to really bring out the colors in the patina and increase the contrast of the scene.  One of the first shots of the day turned out to be keeper which was pretty cool.

Patina Panels
One of the aspects of this old truck that I love is the patina.  There is so much texture in the rust and the colors are amazing.  Something that I started doing a little bit the last time I was here was shooting isolations on the truck.  I have gotten a bit better at it over the years and was all set to work some more intimate patina shots today.  I decided that I needed a different tool to make that work so I swapped over to my 70-200mm lens and kept the polarizer attached to it.  At this point, I was like a sniper picking bits and pieces of the truck out as subjects.  The chrome emblems on the hood really caught my eye since the bright color really contrasted with the rust that surrounded it.  The bit of pitting in the chrome pulled it all together.  There was a vent in the cowl of the truck that added to the visual impact with the repeating horizontal lines, and I used the vertical lines of the hood, and fender to balance out the composition.

I'm telling you, this truck is fascinating to work with, and every time I have photographed it, I have been quite fortunate and gotten many good images.  There is just so much character to find, and every inch of this truck is part of the story behind it.  The textures that it offers is nothing short of amazing though, and probably my favorite aspect of the whole truck.

Final Sigh
The grill of this old truck has always caught my attention, but it was a little blah when photographed straight on.  I tried that not only this time, but the previous time.  It just seemed to lack something  in the translation and I have yet to be happy with a straight on shot of the front of this truck.  However, when I moved over to the side and started to frame up a composition from here, the grill started to make sense.  It was no longer two dimensional, it had depth and life, and was rather impressive without being overbearing.  The patina detail on the bumper even added to the composition, giving a strong vertical aspect to compliment the horizontal slats of the grill.  The greenery was a nice frame to the whole image and the one bit of dead leaves in the background helps to pull it all together.  For a simple image, there is a lot to look at here.

Strong and Gentle
While I was paying attention to the front of the truck, I really wanted to do something with the flowers that were right beside the front wheel.  I had included them in the overall shot, but they were just too perfect sitting where they were to ignore up close.  I liked the grill shot that I had just done, but the flowers would not work with that composition.  They were much too related to the wheel.  Hmm, I could work with that.  I decided to focus on the wheel with the flowers framing the rim.  The fender would frame the tire, and the image would be bounded by a bumper corner, headlight, marker light, and the chrome emblem.  This composition seemed to really flow, and it had a softer side to it thanks to the flowers.  Even though this is just a small section of the truck, the sense of power that is conveyed here is unmistakable and the colors are rather dynamic which makes this an interesting image.

Vent Age
Speaking of the chrome emblem, the sun was peeking out from behind a cloud and the truck was getting bathed in a warm glow.  The rust was absolutely on fire on the side of the truck.  I reacted quickly and got into position for another composition on the side of the hood.  This time, I was looking for a collection of lines, I wanted to reduce the composition down to the emblem, and the vent with just enough of the fender to balance out the composition.

I framed the image very tight, at about 160mm and waited for the sun to hit it just right before releasing the shutter.  When I saw the image come up on the LCD, I knew I had a winner.  Even with the contrast and saturation reduced, there was color galore and the histogram showed a perfect exposure.  This one was going to turn out really good I thought, and I was right!

I tried a few other things, and even tried shooting into the cab through the open window, but the compositions were not as strong as what I had already done.  I looked on the other side to see if I was missing anything interesting.  There just was nothing really to keep me here much longer.  With the morning sun climbing into the sky, I wanted to continue on my journey to find some more rural subjects before the light got too harsh.  I packed up my gear and got into the truck for a destination not quite known to me.

I drove around Sparta, and into Piney Grove before getting really lost.  I was heading in a Northwesterly direction knowing that eventually I would come into Virginia.  Of course, that did happen rather quickly as I was at the top portion of NC to start with.  I believe I was entering Grayson County and found that there were a lot of great potential subjects, but power lines and bad lighting were getting the best of me.  I just won't even stop if I don't see a pretty good potential picture.  I was getting deeper and deeper into Virginia and was starting to get a tad discouraged as the morning was marching on quickly.

The Red Roof
Doing this type of exploring, I have gotten used to a whole lot of nothing punctuated with a quick blast of "Oh Boy!!!"  That was just what happened as I was traveling down one of the state roads.  I saw a barn set just off of the road with no power lines.  It had this amazing red roof and the barn wood was perfectly aged.  As I was passing it by, I caught sight of a Chevy Biscayne all by itself next to the hill.  I even stopped in the middle of the road for a brief second and took it all in.  The car had some aftermarket wheels straight from the 90's on it, but other than that it looked perfect to me.  I got turned around and slowly came back.  I could get the barn from the road, but the car was really going to need some permission to go that deep in.  Looking at the properties around it, I was able to determine that the house across the street was probably the one associated with the barn.

I parked in the driveway to the barn and walked over to the house.  I picked a door that looked like a guest entry and and knocked.  I could hear sounds inside so I was pretty sure that somebody was home.  As I was looking around, I saw a dog coming out from one of the structures on the property beadlocked on me.  He didn't look fierce or upset, so I just held my hand out and spoke with him.  He came over and sniffed and then licked my hand.  At that point, I knew I was in good shape with the dog.  I rubbed his head for a minute and made friends.  He even sat down right next to me while I waited at the door.  I could still hear sounds, but the door wasn't opening.

I decided it was time to move to the next door that looked like it went to a sun room.  As I got close, I raised my hand to knock on the door as the door was opening.  The resident came out looking down at the ground.  I knew he did not know I was there, and I didn't want to scare him with my fist up in the air.  I quickly raised both hands and said "don't let me scare you."  He looked up startled but calmed quickly and we introduced ourselves.  He confirmed that the barn was his property and even volunteered about 100 acres of land for me to photograph on.

My first order of business was to work on the Biscayne at the rear of the barn.  I grabbed my gear from the truck and walked back there.  The exposure was going to be difficult because the car was in the shadows and the sky was pretty bright.  The clouds were nice though, so I was willing to work with the scene to make something great.  I went ahead and built the camera with my 24-70mm lens and added the prerequisite Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer.  Knowing that the exposure latitude was going to be too great, I added my Lee Filter Holder and slid in a Singh-Ray 3-Stop hard edge Galen Rowell ND Grad.  After the first couple of exposures I had a realization...

I have yet to do a video on the ND Grads for Singh-Ray, so I decided that this would be a fantastic time to do just that.  I pulled out my phone and set it up to shoot video.  Then I started to figure out how to make my one remaining hand be able to manipulate the filters.  I bypassed some of the steps just simply because I didn't have enough hands to be able to go through all of the steps and demonstrations, but in the end I think I got the general idea out there.

The resulting image turned out quite nice and really shows the patina that caught my eye in the first place.  The sky exposed well using the 3-Stop Grad.  There was just something about this car sitting there beneath the hill that captured my imagination.  The colors on the car really suited the environment it was in with the blues relating to the sky, and the green and rusty hues matching the landscape.  The chrome bits complimented the lighter parts of the clouds.  Everything just seemed to flow with this image

Deep Fins
The sky was starting to clear at this point and the sun was hitting the car pretty hard.  I really wanted to do something to highlight the wicked cool fins on the back of the car.  I moved to the rear of the car and set up close to the ground.  I opted for a pretty wide angle shot to really pull the attention to the lines in the back of the car.  The harsh sun actually helped here by showing off the shadows deep under the fin.  Without this shadow, the dramatic lines would not have been as obvious.  For this shot, I was able to remove the Grad filter since the sky wasn't as bright in comparison from this angle..

I worked around the car for a bit, but surprisingly was unable to find any isolations that I really liked.  The overall shots turned out so much better than any of the isolations that I did, so that is what I decided to keep from this shoot.

With the sun rising, and the clouds looking different, I decided to move onto other things.  I wanted to go out and shoot the barn real quick, so I grabbed my stuff and moved back out to the road.  I was able to keep my 24-70mm attached based on the distance I was shooting from and I started to fine tune the composition of the barn.  Now, according to the owner, this was a school originally before the civil war.  After that period of time, the school was moved to the current location and reassembled as a barn.  It is still in use to this day.

In the Barn
Once I finished with the barn pictures, I made my way back across the street and worked my way to a small shed over in the corner of the property. I had seen an old Ford tractor sitting in it while talking with the property owner.  This tractor was still in use, but had a certain rustic look sitting in the shed.  The lighting was not great with the back part of the tractor in the full sun and the light shining in from the rear pretty bright.  The nose of the tractor was fully in the shade, and I really liked the textures of the wood siding.  I decided to get a tight crop shot of the front of this tractor using my 24-70mm lens right at the frame of the entrance.  The Singh-Ray polarizer helped to make the red bumper pop and to control the glare on the hood of the tractor.  I tried several positions, but found that this one from about four feet off the ground worked the best out of all.  These N series tractors are always a lot of fun to photograph when I'm given the opportunity.  I was wishing for more compositions, but with the lighting, I was lucky to get the one that I did.  It was now time to move on to the next opportunity.

Having been given the overview of the property, I remembered that the owner said that the view from the top of the hill behind his house was fantastic.  Since he said that I could go check it out, I decided to put on my landscape eyes and give it a go.  I walked up to the top of the hill and checked things out.  Yes, you could see for miles and miles in two different directions.  You could make out Mount Rogers in one direction, and see into West Jefferson in the other.  It took me a few minutes to really determine how best to capture this view.

Mount Rogers
Looking at the sweeping views, I really wanted to take advantage of all there was to see.  I swapped out my lens to bring my 16-35mm into play.  I added the Color Combo Polarizer to bring out a little more contrast in the sky.  The composition needed something to anchor it, and I decided on a huge tree which dominated the landscape.  At the wide end of the lens, the tree was no longer as heavy in the scene and actually provided the perfect visual balance to the slope of the hill that I was on.  The strong diagonal helped to bring the attention to the distant mountain range and Mount Rogers in the distance.  The warm rolling hills transitioned into the Blue Ridge Mountains which blended nicely with the sky.  It was a simple landscape, but I thought it was an effective one.

My next concept was to get right beside of the tree and do something with the small rocky outcrop that was just to the right of it.  When I got over to it, I could already see a composition taking place right in front of my eyes.

The View From Here
One of the things that immediately caught my eye was a pond in the valley below.  It was just perfectly nestled at the base of the trees and helped to guide the eyes through the image.  The clouds seemed to mimic the ridges in the distance as well.  My initial thought was to shoot this as a sweeping landscape, but it lost the sense of meaning by doing that.  When I flipped the camera on the side and recomposed, it all made perfect sense.  My eyes were going exactly where I needed them to go within the frame.

A Rolling View
Just below the big tree where I was standing currently was a field with lots of hay bales scattered about.  I have always enjoyed photographing hay bales and decided that I would give these a shot or two before heading back to the truck.  Leaving the wide angle lens on, I started to put together some compositions.  I found a few bales that would give me a leading line into the scene and got in close as to really make the bale prominent in the scene.  In this picture, I was actually about 10 feet away from the first bale.  

I liked how my eyes moved from one bale to the next until the leading lines of the distant field pulled you the rest of the way in.  The dark green trees provided a great framework for the image, and the clouds again seemed to mimic the features in the landscape with the largest hanging above the largest grove of trees.

I tried this scene as a landscape shot as well, but it just didn't have the same visual impact and the eyes seemed to rove all over the image as opposed to following a course.  I looked around for some other shots as well, but I was seeing nothing else that caught my eye with the current light.  I went ahead and walked back out to the truck.  Before loading up, I went back over to the Biscayne and shot a few more images with different light.  At the time, I was thinking that these were going to turn out better, but after getting home and seeing them on the monitor, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the original ones had turned out better by far.

This pretty much wrapped up my day, and it was time to get back home since it was nearing noon.  I wanted to spend the second half of the day with Sierra since it was her birthday.  That is why it took so long to get the images processed and the blog entry done.  I didn't start it until 5am the following morning.

I had shot a total of 92 images from essentially two locations which was pretty good.  I was thinking it would be somewhere more in the area of 75 frames.  I had estimated about ten of the images would be keepers, and I managed to make a collection of 12 shots that made the cut.  It was a successful day and I was able to get my old iron, and even added a rustic scene with the barn.  I even got to do some landscape work which I usually don't get to do when I'm working on rural exploration.  

Now, it is time to put the finishing touches on the webinar presentation, and get ready for that.  It will air on Friday the 20th at 8pm.  To view it, you will need to register with Singh-Ray which is free to do.  Once you are registered, you will be able to view it live, and will have access to the archived recording as well.  I hope to see you there!

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