Rust Hunting in Danbury

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

After this past weekend, I was left feeling a little unsatiated when it came to my photography.  Yes, I was able to go out and I spent about an hour in the field, but when it was all said and done I had only worked one composition.  It turned out nice but I was still wanting more.  As luck would have it, I had a meeting Tuesday evening and that meant that I would have a little bit of time in the morning to go out with the camera.  To make matters even better, the forecast was calling for clouds and even a possibility of rain.  After all of the rain that we have had recently, this meant one thing...WATERFALLS!

I started to look at the time that I would have to work with and that put three locations in range for me.  That was Hanging Rock, Styers Mill Falls, and Widow's Creek Falls at Stone Mountain.  Any of these would look good right about now but just thinking about them caused me to yawn.  I've done some fantastic waterfalls here lately and I do enjoy them...but the ones that are close just weren't exciting to me right now.  In fact, after working so many waterfalls in the past couple of months I really didn't feel like that was where I wanted to focus my attention.  Add to it the fact that I've been to each of these falls more times than I can count and know every composition available for them.  I wanted to be creative and shoot something different.

American Textures
I looked back to a previous trek that took me out to Stokes County when I found three different rusty treasures.  I remember driving out to that location that I passed by Priddy's General Store which made me look back.  Thinking about the low clouds I was going to have got me considering a long exposure on the store for a little dramatic flare.  I was starting to get a little excited.  I also recalled seeing an old Mustang behind a house coming back home from the previous shoot as well as what looked like a parts car storage behind a shop of some sort.  All within about 10 miles of each other I had three possible locations to shoot rural and rusty subjects.  This excited me, and gave me the thrill of the hunt which was missing from waterfalls.  

French American Stalemate
I started to plan out my morning which would include dropping Sierra off at school and then heading to Danbury.  I wasn't quite sure what order I would work things in, but was really interested in shooting the General Store.  However, looking at it on Google Maps, I was a little concerned about compositions and felt that this might be a long shot subject.  I was going to be close and figured that I could at least give it a second look if I didn't shoot it.  The Mustang would be a sure thing as long as the owner was home as I would need to get fully into the property to shoot it.  The shop was a bit of a question mark since I had only seen it for a fraction of a second driving down the road.  I saw rust, but didn't know the compositions or even what types of cars would be present.  Based on all of this I decided to start with the Mustang and then decide from there where to next.

After dropping Sierra off, I took stock of the sky.  It had been phenomenal at the start of the day and the clouds were still really great but losing the definition.  This was going to be just fine for the automotive stuff and I didn't feel bad about putting off the store since the sky wasn't good for long exposure work just yet.  I made my way out to the area where I remembered the Mustang and the shop to be.  It was going to be difficult to find the Mustang coming from this direction as I would have to look behind me so I figured first come first served.

Car of the People
As luck would have it, I found the shop first and slowed down.  I could seen about a half dozen old cars in the back and a couple of them I didn't recognize the makes of.  They weren't quite the rusty messes that I like to work with, but I saw some potential.  It was a shop they were behind and I could see that the doors were open.  This was going to work out very well I thought.  I pulled off the road and took stock of the cars in the back once again before finding a place out of the way to park.  As I was parking, two guys came out of the shop with that look of questioning on their faces that I know ever so well.  I got out of my truck and introduced myself and shared why I was there.  They seemed cautious of me, but were willing to let me shoot some pictures which was all that I needed.

Double Dubs
I grabbed my gear and went around back to see what was there in detail.  I saw four cars up against the tree line that were definitely American and I was able to determine that these were Ramblers.  I just don't see that many of those around anymore, and it was a pretty cool find for me since my Grandfather had driven one many years ago.  On the other end of the lot there were two cars that looked German and turned out to be Volkswagons.  In the middle there was a modern Mercedes V12 car which I cared absolutely nothing about, but beside it was a blue car I wasn't familiar with.  The emblems were long gone from the back, but doing a little further looking I realized that this was a Peugeot 405 which was another really cool find!  The last car was some type of personal car which held no interest to me, but was cool at any rate.

American Decay
I went with the easiest to work with first, and that was the pair of Volkswagons on the far end.  For these, I opted to fit my 24-70mm lens and the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer.  That gave me a great deal of flexibility in composition.  I found that there was a great tree that was behind the cars which I tried to include in several of the compositions.  Also, I saw that the clouds in the sky were getting much better so I was able to do compositions from down low that included the sky.  What I had to worry about was a shelf and a couple of trash cans on the far side of the cars.  Fortunately with some creative compositions I was able to block them out with the cars.  I was even able to shoot from both sides relatively easily.

Ramble On
As I ran out of compositions I moved over to the Ramblers and started to work them for a while.  I tried to get them individually, but that was very difficult to do with how close they were.  I found that the better compositions included several of them at once.  The trees made for a nice back drop for most of the shots and the sky cooperated with me in the other direction.  The held a lot of interest, but I was running into exposure problems.  With the front of the cars in deep shadows the sky was overexposing too easily.  I added the Lee Filter Holder and then started to work my Singh-Ray ND Grads to keep the sky under control.  I started with a 3-Stop and found that was not enough and added an additional 2-Stop.  That still didn't give me what I was after, so I swapped that out for another 3-Stop which seemed to work well.  I had the soft edge one down lower to soften the line of the hard edge while keeping the cars exposed properly.

Classic Peugeot
This seemed to be the key and I moved over the Peugeot and had to get real creative with compositions since the Mercedes was parked right next to it.  I worked low so that the smaller in comparison Peugeot would completely block the large Benz.  That put a lot of the sky in the picture so I was having to use the ND Grads here as well.  I was able to drop down to just a single 3-Stop grad though which was nice.

Moby Dick
I was about ready to call it a day and go find the Mustang when I started to consider other options.  I went crazy and slipped on the 16-35mm lens with the slimmer B+W Polarizer for vignetting concerns.  I started working all three sections once again and found that I was getting some very dramatic compositions that included the sky.  Of course with the sky, I was having to add combinations of ND Grad filters to keep the exposure right.  Regardless, I was getting some very different feeling images while working on the same basic compositional ideas from earlier.  I was really on a roll, and loving getting in close and adding a lot of perspective distortion to the images.  The fun did eventually dry up and I found that I had run out of compositions.

Double Vision
I started to pack things up and saw the 70-200mm lens sitting there looking all pitiful.  OK, I'm a real softy and wanted to show it some love.  I attached it to the camera and added the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer once again and started to work some isolations.  It got rolling with a shot of the taillight on the Rambler wagon which I found quite interesting.  That lead to other isolations of emblems and rust.  I even started to shoot head on shots of the Peugeot since the front end was quite a bit different than anything in my collection and it was just cool to look at.

Needs a Second Chance
After roughly an hour and a half on location, I had run out of creativity and the sky was starting to get a little active with some movement.  I would be able to shoot long exposures with this sky, but the only way to do that here was to include trees which were blowing too much to try several minutes worth of exposure.  I packed up my gear and thanked the guys once again for letting me shoot the cars and headed off to Priddy's.

Classic Flare
It didn't take but about 15 minutes to get there and the sky was still pretty good.  The problem that I immediately saw was that there was a Tesla parked in front of the store.  That wouldn't fit my vision at all.  I did take the opportunity to look at how the compositions would work out.  Honestly, I wasn't all that happy with what I as seeing.  The sky would be a great element, but to include that I would need to include a lot of power lines and some other clutter that I didn't like.  The store wasn't all that interesting on its own, although it did have a yesteryear feel to it.  With all the things working against a picture of this, and not much really going for it, I decided that this was not worth my time.  I looked at my watch and wondered if I had time to try and find the Mustang at this point.  I really didn't since I was going to have to talk with the owner to ask permission.  The day was done, and it was time to get to work.
Spotlight on Decay
I spent the day not really having a clue in the world about what I had captured through the morning.  I was hoping that I had about six good images out of the bunch.  I wasn't quite sure how many I had captured since the last time I looked I was at 60-something frames.  When I got home I went right back to the office to upload the pictures from the day.  I had to wait a bit because there was an update ready for Lightroom which needed to be installed.  That took a little while, and then I finally was able to upload the images from the day.  I was surprised to see that I had 83 frames captured in less than two hours.  My hopes were for eight or nine keepers to turn up out of the bunch.  I went through the culling process and kept tossing images out and when I was finally happy with what I had in front of me, I was looking at 21 images!  That is a 25% hit rate which was amazing.

French Patina
 I eliminated a few others as I was doing the processing and finally came away with a total of 14 keepers from this trek.  I would say that is a pretty good haul for a morning.  It definitely satisfies my creative desire from the previous weekend.  I am very happy at this point, and can now look forward to the next trek to see what I will capture then.

As a reminder, if you are interested in trying out some of the filters that I use, be sure and visit and remember to use the code "KISER10" when checking out to get 10% off of your order.  I sure wish I had that code when I was purchasing my filters years ago.

Long Exposure at The Old Guilford Mill

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Old Mill of Guilford
To set the scene, the Southeastern US is getting over Hurricane Michael which hit Thursday afternoon.  While we didn't get hit nearly as hard as the Panhandle of Florida, North Carolina received a great deal of rain and some very high winds during the mid afternoon hours.  My plan Thursday was to go after work to the Old Mill of Guilford to take advantage of the dramatic clouds and the extra water that should be in the stream.  Well, shortly after 4, I got word that all units were being held over to be a storm response team.  By 5 I was out answering calls.  The hurricane passed through quickly though and by the time I got out of the office the rain had stopped.  The clouds were wonderful, and the lighting was just what I was after.  I was hoping that it wasn't going to take more than an hour to deal with the extra call load.  Boy was I mistaken!  I was at work until 11pm dealing with downed trees and such.

During the time that I was out in the field, all I could think about was how great the conditions were for the composition that I had in mind of the Old Mill.  By the next day, the clouds were all gone, and I was back at work dealing with the damage.  It hit us a lot harder than I had thought while I was sitting in the office prior to it passing over Greensboro.  The forecast for the weekend was looking pretty much as expected after a major storm passes though.  That's right, it was straight sunshine all weekend long.  I wasn't going to get my clouds, and there was even a chance that I wouldn't get any photography done.

When I got home on Friday, the sky was still crystal clear and while I had a little time to go out with the camera, I really saw no need.  I decided to mow instead.  While I got the mowing done, I ended up doing it under one of the prettiest sunsets I've seen over the house.  The color was completely covering the sky from West to East.  I was a little upset that I wasn't out with the camera, but it did get me thinking that I could possibly catch some really nice sunset colors over the Old Mill instead of the clouds that I was after.  If I was really lucky, I would hit magic light and have the mill bathed in warm light while the sky was shaded in subtle hues.

I started to look at the weather predictions for Saturday and found that there was supposed to be a really good sunset, or at least the conditions were favorable for a good sunset.  Knowing that the water would still be up, I decided to give it a shot and hope that the few clouds that were forecasted would actually pick up the color.  In the meantime, I would have the chance to work on some video productions that I had been planning.

I started early on Saturday morning setting up my studio.  I had my bag set up and my video camera (cell phone) on a tripod elevated just right.  I was going to do a tour of my bag with all of the contents.  I started the recording and started my presentation.  Of course, I goofed when I started so I went and checked everything and made a few adjustments before starting to record again.  This one went great.  I was going through everything in the bag and telling the purpose behind each thing and why I had it where I did.  At the end of the production, it looked like I had been talking for about 35 minutes.  Perfect!

I went to turn off the recording and was greeted by a black screen on the phone.  I opened it up and found that the video had stopped long before I had finished, or even gotten into the good stuff.  I noted that there were some alerts that had popped up and I thought that might have stopped the recording so I put the phone in airplane mode before starting again.

Not wanting to spend another 35 minutes talking again, I decided to reduce the content and just focus on the filters that I use.  I was rolling and feeling really good about things and stopped at the 15 minute mark to check my progress on the phone.  Black screen again!  It stopped at the 5 minute mark, which was exactly where it stopped on the first one.  Now I knew that I had only 5 minutes to work with for a video.  I thought about doing one more take but this is how it would have gone.

Roll camera
Here is my bag
It is full of stuff
These are the filters
This is the camera
It is really comfortable

Not wanting to sound aggravated I opted to just put things away and try again another day.  For the rest of the morning, I took care of some things on the computer and kept an eye out for the weather at sunset.  It was promising that there were some nice puffy clouds rolling in, but the sun was too harsh to take advantage of them.  I was working out plans for what kind of compositions I would try at the mill, and even started thinking about alternate plans just in case that didn't work out.

Old Mill of Guilford in B&W
When it was about an hour and a half before sunset I looked outside.  There were some very thin clouds working their way from the West.  The East was pretty blank and that was the direction that I was going to be shooting.  I decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a try anyway.  I arrived just about an hour before sunset, and took a view of the scene.  The banks of the stream were grown over more than I was expecting but the water was at least flowing well.  The mill was mostly in the shadows which was not really to my liking.  However, on a cloudy day, it would have worked with the sun higher in the sky as my original plan had been.  It is nice to know that the concept is valid, I'll just have to wait to get another chance to shoot it in those conditions.

Since I was here I did set the camera up.  Looking at the available compositions I opted to go with the exact one that I had previsualized a few days ago.  I positioned on the bank near the roadway, but over the culvert that took the stream under the highway.  I made sure that the tripod was stable in the moist ground and mounted the camera with my 24-70mm lens.  I was shooting water, so I added the B+W polarizer which is a slim mount and allowed me to mount my Lee filter holder in front of that.  I knew that I was going to have to pull the exposure down on the sky to make this work since I only had some very thin clouds in the sky to work with.  I started with two different ND Grads and shot with 5 total stops of light reduction.  This was working, but I wanted a different effect.  I wanted the thin clouds to move a little and give some smoothing to the sky to match the water.  I left my 3-stop Hard Edge Galen Rowell ND Grad attached and added another Singh-Ray Filter, the 10-Stop Mor Slo ND Filter.  This was what I needed to really slow the exposure down.  I figured out my exposure and shot at ISO100, f/13, at 2.5 minutes.  The resulting image looked like it had some promise with the elements that I was after being represented.

I worked on some other variations on this theme with different exposures and compositions and ultimately decided that the sky was just getting more and more boring.  I packed up and cautiously made my way back along the railing trying not to slip down the embankment.  I looked around for more compositions and more specifically, isolations.  The lighting was not good on the mill for this and I ended up not pulling the camera back out again.  I decided to leave right at sunset.  I had managed to get a total of 17 images from the evening.  It was all one angle really, so that was a lot of shots, and I was looking forward to seeing what I had to work with.  My last set of three shots was looking like the best of the bunch though and they were vertical shots.

When I got home and loaded them in the computer, those were still my favorites.  However, I really wanted to see how the two long exposures I did turned out.  These always look a little off as digital negatives, and I wanted to see just what I could do with them.  I picked my favorite of the two which happened to be the shorter exposure of the two (151 seconds vs 210 seconds).  I started to work with it and the more I developed the shot the more I really liked it.  In the end, this was my favorite shot of the day, and I didn't even bother processing the others.

When I pulled the image into Photoshop to prepare for the web, I decided to try a quick conversion to monochrome to see how I liked it.  I played with it a little bit and decided that I had a nice moody image, but something wasn't quite right about it.  I started to play around and added a blue filter to see what that would do.  It gave a slightly cool tone to the image which I really liked.  I actually liked it enough to add the monochrome shot to my keepers from the evening.  It is a little bit of a moody piece where the color one has a completely different feeling.  I think that they both say very different things and I like that about them.

It wasn't the image that I had previsualized, but I had proven to myself that the concept would work with the right conditions and I managed to pull a pretty good image out of the lackluster evening thanks to some filters on the camera.

If you are interested in Singh-Ray filters, visit them at and use the code "KISER10" at checkout to receive 10% off of your purchase.

A Little Rust in Stokes County

Saturday, October 6, 2018

It is officially Fall here in NC according to the calendar.  The leave should be changing, there should be a certain brisk quality to the air.  I should be in the mountains photographing the leaves somewhere around 4000 feet.  The reality here is that we are still having ninety degree days, the trees are still green, and there is no telling when Summer will actually end.  This is really messing with my head as I was getting into the Fall mood in the closing days of September.  When it came to deciding where to travel for pictures, it should have been an automatic answer of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It was not going to be quite that easy to decide.

I really didn't want to dedicate a full day to traveling to the mountains for more green.  The rainfall has been minimal, so waterfalls weren't really an option either.  Fortunately, I have been getting back into my mode of shooting old cars and trucks.  That gave me a viable option.  I also had some new locations that I wanted to try out as well.  These are two places that I have seen before and filed away in my mind for when the conditions were right.  In both cases, I wanted overcast skies and a low sun.

Come Friday, I had not really had any time to think about what or where I was going to be shooting.  I had no idea what the weather was going to be, and just didn't have the gumption to really go out at all.  I guess this is what happens when the week has some unexpected ups and downs along with considering a complete rework of my website.  Not to mention, I am starting to really put a lot of thought into where I could do a workshop for a small group of photographers.  My mind was pretty much fried.

Inspection Due
As I was getting ready for bed I checked the weather and it showed cloudy conditions to start the day, but partly cloudy fairly early in the morning.  It would likely be a good landscape day, but I just didn't want to photograph any more green landscapes right now.  There weren't going to be enough clouds to do what I was wanting to do with the old cars that I had found.  More than likely, I was going to be out of luck on Saturday and would just stay home.  I wasn't arguing with that one bit actually.  I did have Toni wake me up before she left for work so that I could check the weather one more time.

A quarter of five in the morning happens all too quickly on a Saturday morning, but such is the life of a photographer.  She woke me up and I checked the weather.  It was looking pretty much the same as it was showing the previous night.  I rolled over and went back to sleep.  I figured today just wasn't going to pan out at all.  About an hour or so later I woke up again and started to think about options to shoot.  I looked at the weather again and saw that the clouds were pretty thick outside, and that the partly cloudy conditions were going to be around 70% coverage.  I then had the idea to look at a new app that I installed a few days ago.  This is "Clear Sky" and shows the detail of where the clouds are, and what kind of coverage is expected.  This gave me a different perspective showing good cloud cover until early afternoon.

That told me that I was actually able to go to the two locations in Stokes County if I wanted to give it a try.  The main location I wanted to try was off of Hwy 8 and was an old garage with a busted Chevy sitting out front.  I have passed this location many times and wanted to get a composition, but the lighting had never been right with it.  I also knew that I wanted the overgrowth of late Summer rather than just an empty frame rail.  I was running out of time to shoot this car unless I wanted to wait until next Summer.  With the weather looking good, I decided to go on and give it a go.

I grabbed my gear and set off on the drive into Stokes.  The entire way there I was behind a dump truck that was going between 25-35mph despite the road being a 55mph limit in most places.  There were no passing zones where I could get around him so I just sat in place and took in the scenery.  A bit over an hour later, I arrived at the car.  I have no idea who owns the property, but I decided to take my chances with this one and pulled off on the side of the road.  I picked out my 24-70mm lens and added a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to it and mounted the camera on my tripod.  I worked compositions on both sides of the car and tried to include the sign on the shop wall that stated that this was an Official Inspection Station.  I found that rather funny when paired with the Chevy below.

The problem that I was having with this composition was that to open things up and let them breathe a bit, I needed to include the sky.  The sky was brighter than the shadows I was shooting in which caused exposure problems.  Instead of hoping that I could recover the shadows, I just went ahead and added a Galen Rowell 3-Stop ND Grad to control the exposure at the very top of the image.  This worked very well and allowed me to get the exposure that I wanted on the main subject while keeping the sky from blowing out.

After a while shooting with this lens, I decided to swap out to my 70-200mm and step away from the car to get a bit more compressed look to the image.  I found myself shooting basically the same compositions with this lens.  Without the perspective distortion, the car seemed to disappear into the background of the shop.  In the end, I didn't like any of the ones that I shot with the long lens.  In fact, out of thirty some pictures, I ended up only liking one enough to keep it.  This was part of the reason it took so long to shoot this car.  I knew that getting a good composition was going to be difficult with the lay of the land.  I am quite happy with this image though, and it captured everything that I wanted it to.

I seemed to end this one rather abruptly.  When I decided that I was done I went back to the truck and broke down the camera rather quickly.  I was getting sweaty and hot which was just not cool at 10am in the Fall!  I got back on the road and decided that I would check out another location that I had scoped out a few weeks ago further into Stokes County.  I had pinned the location on my phone so I just let it direct me to the location.  I didn't have a lot of hope for this location since I was expecting it to be gated like when I saw it last.  The car was sitting in front of a pretty bland commercial building, but it did have grass growing up underneath of it at least.  My plan was to shoot with the 70-200mm lens with possibly the 2X teleconverter attached.  That should isolate the car well enough from the road.

Wing and a Prayer
When I got there, I was actually surprised to see the gate open and a truck by the corner of the building.  I didn't drive fully into the property though thinking that there was a good possibility that the gate might need to shut while I was shooting if I could get permission.  I parked and started walking up to the shop.  I saw no movement or signs of life.  I knocked on doors to no avail.  I looked around and figured since the gate was open, and there were no fences I might be able to stick around and shoot really quickly.

I grabbed my camera and mounted the 70-200mm lens as I didn't want to get too close to the car.  I had also seen a couple of other old cars that looked promising as well which I could do easily with the long lens.  Of course, I added the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer since I was dealing with glass and metal.  I got everything set up and turned the camera on as I heard a lawn mower coming down the road.  By this stage in my tenure as a photographer I knew a lawn mower driving on the road toward where I was could only mean one thing.  The pavement needed to be mowed.  (Pausing for laughter).  It meant that the property owner was on the way to talk to me.  This could mean that either I was going to be leaving shortly, or I was about to have better access to things.

As the mower turned into the driveway I knew I had pegged the situation.  I made sure that the tripod was stable and I walked over to meet him.  I wasn't sure how this was going to go, but I introduced myself and explained why I was there.  He ultimately gave me permission to shoot the cars out in the open area of the lot which included the Chevy that I had seen earlier as well as the shell of a Nash, and a Chevy Nova just on the side of the building.  This was great news, and I was very thankful for the opportunity.  It did come with one caveat though.  It appeared that he was mowing the yard while I shot the cars.  I get it, I really do.  I would want to watch a stranger doing anything around my property as well.  We managed to stay out of each other's way for the duration of the time that I was out there.

Roll the Dice
Now that I had permission to be on the property, I was set to do more than just a quick overall shot before moving on.  I had the long lens on, and did a couple of shots that I had previsualized when I had originally found this car.  They weren't all that great, so I moved on to doing some more intimate shots of the sections of the car that particularly interested me.  One of the sections that really caught my eye was the broken quarter window on the driver's side.  I loved how the glass was shattered and it paired so nicely with the patina on the side of the car.  As an added bonus, there was a skull and crossbones decal on the door under the handle that really set the tone for what this car is...or was.

Deluxe Decay
While I was shooting my intimate shots, I moved to the front of the car for my trademark headlight/grill shot.  Typically I would do this with my normal lens, but since I was usually zooming to nearly 70mm I decided to just keep the long lens attached.  It worked just fine this way, and I managed to get a nice composition from the corner of the car.  The chrome really stood out against the black paint and the rusty undercoat.  The lines all seemed to work together to form an abstract design that flowed.  Oddly enough, there was what appeared to be chrome paint on the bumper corner from an earlier repair possibly.

I was pretty sure that I was done with this car for now.  I needed my 24-70mm lens to try some other compositions, but before I switched that lens in, I wanted to work on the Nash that was parked on the side of the property.  This was just a shell and a hood, but the blue color along with the rust tones were just perfect against the trees in the background.  I knew I was going to need the long lens for this since it was parked very close to a more modern minivan and I was going to need to cut in close to avoid that.  The trees were also taking up a very small section behind before dropping off to show power lines and a house across the street.

Nash in the Grass
I found this a very hard vehicle to form a composition with.  The hood was angled off to the driver's side which pretty much dictated that I shoot from that side.  This was fine since there was a long bungee cord holding the hood to the A pillar on the passenger side.  It distracted from the composition way too much for me to want to shoot that side just for that reason alone.  The lack of a front end of the car made the hood the anchor for the car, but there were no wheels visible through the grass to balance out the front end.  I couldn't really do a full on quarter view since there was very little body.  Essentially, I was taking a picture of a hood and a windshield frame.  The colors were good, and the grass was tall so I went for it.

Gnashing Beak
The sky was not looking great, but for the shot that I felt was really the key view, I was going to need to include the sky.  Looking up, I didn't see much definition at all in the clouds.  This was not going to be good at all to have a blank void at the top of the image.  I flipped on the live view and started to reduce the exposure to see what effect it had on the sky.  I was seeing it go from white to gray, but I could still see no detail in the clouds.  That told me that it would be worthless to add an ND Grad to the lens as it would just turn the white sky gray.  If this was going to work, I was going to have to hope that I could pull the detail out in post processing later on.

As you can see, I did capture some detail in the sky here.  I didn't do anything out of the ordinary to accomplish this.  I just added a grad filter in Lightroom where I reduced the sky exposure slightly, and then worked the "Dehaze" slider ever so slightly to get a hint of definition in the sky.  It worked very well, and I ended up with a sky that was worth being in a photograph.  The blues in the clouds as well as in the body of the car balanced very nicely with the greens and reds  which made up the rest of the composition.  When I was done with this, I thought about trying something with my 24-70mm lens, but opted out of it as there was too much potential clutter in the background if I went any wider than what I was already shooting at.

I still had one more car to work with.  It was a pale yellow Nova sitting on the side of the shop.  I was not happy to see that it was a four door version though.  I would have much rather shot a two door, but I couldn't argue with the patina on it, so I got to work.  I started out focusing on the front of the car against the side of the building.  I thought by cropping out the back half of the car I might be able to disguise the sedan body.  That image lacked any kind of emotion though and ultimately didn't make the cut.  I worked around more and more and found that my standard quarter shot worked the best for this car using the trees as a background instead of the building.  It wasn't a two door model, but with a 16:9 crop, I gave it a little bit of a sleeker feel leaving the primary focus on the front end of the car.  I really liked that there was a headlight missing which really finalized the story of the car.

Weather Worn
I looked around the Nova to see if there were any isolations that I could do.  Nothing really stood out to me though.  The few areas that I would have typically worked were missing key parts that made the composition in my opinion.  I decided that this one view was all the old Nova needed and moved back to the original Chevy out front.  I was ready to try some different things with this car now.  I swapped the lenses for my 24-70mm while keeping the Polarizer attached.  I got in close to the car for a little perspective distortion and started working the composition.  I wanted to minimize the building behind the car so I elevated the camera to about seven feet.  This gave an interesting view of the car and really concentrated on the patina on the hood.  More importantly though, the building was minimized.  I was able to compose the shot in such a way that I was including the stairs to the door on the right side of the image for a bit of balance in the image.  I cropped it as an 8x10 to keep it simple and add a little visual punch to the image.

Hot Rod Deluxe
I liked how this composition was looking in the camera, but felt that it might not work as well at full size later on.  I really wanted to get down low to show the stance of the car.  The problem there was I was going to have to include the building as well as the sky which was still rather bleak looking.  As with the Nash, I decided to give it a try and see what I could bring out in post.  I dropped the camera down low to the ground and started to frame up a composition.  What I found was I was able to get the angle where the two sections met.  This was good as it helped give depth where a straight building would not have worked.  It helped to lead the eyes to the car which was great.  I also had a minimum of sky to work with which was a plus as well.  The angle was such that there was no way I would be able to get an ND Grad to work, that was unfortunate.  However, as with the Nash, I felt that I would be able to get some detail out of the sky in post.  It was worth a try anyway.

When I got home, I found success here as well.  I did the same techniques as I did with the Nash to bring out the little bit of detail in the clouds.  It wasn't much, but it was effective in setting the mood, and providing just enough visual interest to make it worth including in the frame.  What was really a gamble of a shot turned into my favorite of the day.  Funny how that works out isn't it?  I really do like this piece for the angles that are in it, the lines, the patina, and the shape of the building fully holding the car in the frame.  It was similar to what I had previsualized, but so much better in every way.  

Style and Decay
Now that I had my workhorse (for automotive photography at least) lens back on, I set to work picking out more details on the body.  The rust was wonderful, and this car still had a good bit of its chrome still in tact.  I started to look for abstract compositions that excited me.  The sides gave me all sorts of views that worked well I thought.  I looked for textures, and transitions between the paint and the rust.  Occasionally, I was able to get the rust stained paint that glistened under the diffused light above.

Fractured Finish
The rear fenders really held my attention with their lines.  The chrome trim at the tops of the fenders was great on both sides of the car.  In an attempt to capture the awesome shattered glass once more, I worked out this composition that had lots of rust staining, abstract lines, textures, and just all around great patina.  I'm usually not a fan of shooting black cars in this condition, but I have to say that this one is among my top choices with patina.  The contrast is just so perfect and the paint still has a good bit of gloss that really draws the attention to the rust.  I'm so glad that I had the ability to get up close and personal with this car.

Where to Go?
Before I packed up the camera, I set up a shot that captured the steering wheel which still had the Bowtie emblem on the horn.  The dash was pretty much in tact, and I was able to compose a shot that included the side mirror and hood ornament as well.  The chrome of the door frame made a great leading line and frame for the cockpit as well.  It is a little bit of a different image for me, but I'm starting to like doing them when the opportunity presents itself.  This is also a great example of what a polarizer can do for you.  The glass is in tact for the most part here, and had a glare on it from the clouds.  By adjusting the polarizer to this point, I was able to eliminate the glare and be able to shoot into the car with no issues.  

At this point, the property owner was finishing up mowing and was going around to the side of the building.  I was pretty sure that I had gotten everything that I could from this location.  I started to pack up and went around to let him know I was leaving.  We chatted briefly and he told me about another location with some older cars and said that he would try to get in touch with the owner of that property.  It sounds really promising, and I really hope that it works out at some point in the near future.

By this time, I wasn't sure how many images that I was going to have as keepers, but I knew that I had shot a total of 72 frames, evenly split between the two locations.  The first location I had been mulling over for a year or more and felt that I had a lot of good stuff from there.  This second location was my alternate subject that I really didn't have much enthusiasm for.  It turned out to be my favorite location of the day with lots of variations on compositions, not to mention three different cars to shoot.  It really is funny how the success of a shoot doesn't necessarily relate to how much thought or planning had gone into it.  I love that about photography, and it goes to show that to be successful in this game, you have to adapt to what is there at the time.  Planning will only get you so far, reading the scene will get you the rest of the way.

Behind the Camera: Photo Competitions

Welcome back for another installment of my Behind the Camera series.  In these entries, I will highlight a certain aspect of my photography and the topic is usually selected from a question that I have received over the previous month.  I'm going to do something a little different this time, however.  You see, the first of the month coincides rather conveniently with the start of the Dixie Classic Fair here in Winston Salem, NC.  This is something that I have participated in for a total of seven years since 2005.  It is the only contest that I regularly enter, and I have learned quite a bit from it over my years participating.

With this contest spending so much time in my head recently, I figured that this would be a great opportunity to speak about contests and what they mean to a photographer, and I'm sure any other artistic medium.  Contests are always an interesting topic and there are some very wide views on their relevance and importance.  I've run the gamut in my own personal experiences with contests over the years, and have come to a conclusion.  Contests can be fun for the thrill, but they are always a learning opportunity more than a validation of your own work.  What I mean is this, your goal should not be to win the contest, but to learn to view your own work more critically.  Of course we go in hoping to win, but one thing that I have found is that the only part of a contest that you can control is your own entry.  Beyond that, nobody knows what the judges will be looking for, nor what the other entries will bring to the table.  Contests are in essence a contest with yourself to find your best work that fits the character of the particular contest.  This is where you win or lose, the results of the contest are largely ceremonial and will likely come with dissension among those who have opinions on the entries.

With that out of the way lets take a look at what goes into selecting images for a contest.  This varies widely from artist to artist, so what I am going to talk about here only applies to my process.  The first step is determining what contest to enter.  There are a lot of them out there, and you have to be really selective in what contests to enter.  Many of the ones that are based online are ploys to get stock photography for a website/company.  What I mean with that is say you are submitting pictures for a calendar.  The company that publishes the calendar also publishes other items.  You submit your picture hoping to be featured in the calendar, and sign a licensing agreement that states something along the lines of you allow the company to reuse your image for this purpose and that purpose related to the contest, and for other promotional material.  If you aren't really careful, you will sign away your rights to that image while in their control.  This leaves them the ability to use it for whatever they want in many cases without any further compensation for you.

The other type of contest I have seen is one where you submit the image, and get notified that your image is among the best of the best and will be featured in a coffee table book which you can purchase for the nominal fee of $50.00 or something similar.  These contests usually have large prize money purses attached to them for the winners, and you have to pay to enter the contest.  These contests are money makers for the ones holding the contest with entries more than paying for the prize money, and then you have the book sales that many will do after receiving notification that they are finalists.  You should never have to purchase a book at full price where you are a contributor.  These folks are preying on a photographer's desire to get published.

I actually inadvertently stumbled into this type of contest earlier this year.  It was the Photographer's Forum magazine, 2018, Best of Photography contest.  I saw an add for it in an Outdoor Photographers magazine which is a very reputable publication.  I started to look at the website for the Photographers Forum and found some very quality images presented.  I looked at the contest which was a yearly thing, and looked very legit.  I perused through previous year's winners and thought that they had a wide variety of subject matter, much of which I shot.  Since this was a legitimate magazine, and it was sponsored by a reputable lens maker I decided to enter a handful of images based on what I had seen winning in previous years.

Brake Time
Back in July, I got word that one of my images had made the top 12% of the entrants to the contest.  While I should have been happy, I was very skeptical almost immediately.  There were several things that I saw wrong with this.  Based on the reported 8,760 images that had been submitted this was among the top 1,000.  Sure, I liked the image and I submitted it because it was similar in concept to a previous year's prize winner, but it was not the strongest out of what I had chosen to submit.  The kicker came at the bottom of the letter when they notified me that there would be a "beautiful hardcover coffee-table book showcasing all the finalists."  OK, I know where this is going.  I opted out of the book of course and tried to regain my composure.  I did some research (which I should have done earlier) and found that this was the way the contest ran.  It was legit, but it was primarily a vehicle to sell books to photographers that wanted to be "published."  Of course, I didn't win anything with this and that was not surprising at all.  I did learn a lesson that I apparently needed a refresher on about entering contests.  In the end, it wasn't a bad experience, and the winners were actually pretty good so no arguments there.

Down to Earth
2016 First Place
The one contest that I have entered over the years that I do actually like is the Dixie Classic Fair.  It is an opportunity to display my work in its intended printed form.  There are no licensing forms to fill out, no shady stuff behind the scenes.  It is just a simple contest with a small amount of prize money attached.  The judging is not always to my liking, but that goes with the territory.  What I like is the excuse to print out my work and have it framed, which costs more than any potential prize money I might add.  It is a great motivator to add to my own collection though so it is very much worth it.

The way the contest is set up, you have to differentiate between professional or
Dairy Barn in the Summer
2016 First Place
amateur.  Based on their definitions, I have to enter as a professional which limits me to two entries.  I can do one black and white and one color image framed and ready to hang.  Over the years, I have been very impressed with the amateur entries and find many of them to be competitive at the professional level.  What I don't like is that they are only allowed to be mounted and not framed.  I'm sure this makes it easier to display, but I think it detracts from the images.  I am a fan of having a finished piece on display.

2017 First Place
Since returning to photography in earnest in 2016, I have had really great luck in the contest with three first place ribbons and a second place ribbon.  I have regularly entered both the color and black and white categories even though I am primarily a color photographer.  Based on my winning entries, I have determined that rural scenes tend to do very well at the Dixie Classic Fair.  This starts to go into my decision making process when it comes time to select an image to enter.

I have entered landscapes in previous years, and some have done well, but
2017 Second Place
most seem to fall short.  What I have determined about that is that landscapes appeal to a certain type of person and then you have to find the exact type of landscape that will catch the eye of all of the judges.  This is difficult at best, and I have found that the landscapes that have done the best have been of a particular feature or subject.  With the rural photography, each image is featuring a particular subject that draws you into the image.  I think that the judges like that, and I have been very fortunate with this recipe over the years.

When it came time to select the images for the 2018 contest, I thought long and hard about it.  I really wanted to enter some landscapes this year and had a few in mind.  They had a lot of wow factor to them, but in the end they were just landscapes.  Several of which were sunrise/sunset images which should not be entered into competition since they are quite cliche' in the field.  I knew my safest bet was to enter something in the rural category once again, and that narrowed my choices down significantly.

Timeless View
My black and white entry turned out to be the easiest choice to make.  I did have several that I really liked to choose from.  There was a beach scene, and a foggy tree from the Blue Ridge Parkway that were in the top slots.  Both of these counted as landscapes, and the beach scene was a very moody piece and I knew it would have a limited appeal based on the emotional statement that it made.  The tree was eliminated after seeing the previous year's winner.  I saw that the judges really liked to see pure white and pure black elements in the monochrome entries.  The foggy scene was just shades of gray and did not have the visual impact that I figured that they were looking for.  The one from my short list that stood out in my mind and checked all of the boxes for what I was needing was Timeless View which had it all.  There was excitement, depth, a country feel and a complete range of tonality from white to black.  It was an image that amazed me at the time of capture, through the editing, and finally the print process.  I looked for other options, but was unable to find anything that came close to checking these same boxes.  It also turns out that this is one of my favorite images from the year thus far.

A Rusty Streak
When it came to my color entry, things got much harder.  I had a lot of favorites in mind for this entry and started really going through them.  There were several landscapes, a barn scene, and a couple from my rusty car collection.  I was really leaning towards a sunset at the coast as it was one of my all time favorites, but I just hate to enter that type of image into a competition.  The barn image was my initial selection as it was the quintessential rural scene, but the barn was small enough that it would almost be considered a landscape.  That little voice in the back of my head kept saying to go with what has won in the past.  I started to look closer at the old cars I have.  The ones that I was really wanting to enter were more intimate shots and became more abstract.  While they were strong images, I doubted that they would be well received by the judges.  When it came down to it, A Rusty Streak edged to the top.  It had the boxes checked that I wanted.  It had the rusty car, and even added a barn in the background.  The seasonal autumn colors were present in the trees adding to the palette of the image.  The field of yellow bridged the two elements, and the patina of the car pulled in the tones and colors from the entire scene.  It was a very cohesive image, and one that has been highlighted by Singh-Ray on more than one occasion.

I had the two images picked out, and win or loose, they represented what I thought were my best images for the contest that I was entering.  That was a huge hurdle for me, but not nearly the hardest part of this choice.  Now that I had the images, I had to get them prepared for display by getting them framed.  This is one of the harder aspects of making a piece of wall art.  It is very easy to slap a gallery frame job on an image and go with a black frame and white mat for uniformity.  Unfortunately, this is not always the most flattering presentation for the image.

I have been going to After 5 Framing in Greensboro for years now for my framing needs.  The owner, Dave is great at what he does, and has an eye for matching colors and pulling out the elements that you want highlighted in an image.  I used to really stress getting a picture framed and would struggle for days to figure out just how I wanted it done.  These days, I go in with the print and flop it on the counter.  I just let Dave do his magic with just a little bit of guidance from me.

13x19" print matted and framed behind art glass
$270.00 as shown
The first one to be framed was the black and white print.  I typically do these with a white mat and a black frame just because there is no need to pull any color out of the image.  This time, that just didn't look right at all.  We ended up playing around with things and found that a light gray mat would work better, and he added a dark mat under it.  That didn't look right so I flipped the mats and found that the light gray worked great as an inner frame and the dark gray brought out the textures in the print so much better.  The black frame completed the tonal transition that lead your eyes into the image from dark to light.  It was one of the more risky framing jobs that I have done with a black and white print, but I have to say that it turned out phenomenal and is one of my all time favorite framed prints.  Despite that fact, it is for sale as are all of my personal collection prints.

13x19" print matted and framed behind art glass
$270.00 as shown
The old Pontiac was supposed to be much easier to frame as I had colors to work with this time.  It turned out to be much more difficult in the long run.  I was expecting maybe a light gray mat with a yellow inner band and a brown frame.  Well, that just didn't look right at all, and we started to change things around quickly.  Dave did his thing and went for a brown mat to pull the color of the car, but that was too much.  We played with different colors for a mat to put on the top, and ultimately decided to go with a gray tone that matched the top of the hood and fender.  My idea for a brown frame kept the eyes from settling in the picture, so we went darker and found a weathered gray frame that worked perfectly.  When it was all said and done, the frame leads your eyes into the image with the gray picking up the sky and the car, while the brown grabs not only the car, but the barn in the background.  Since the field was so resplendent in yellows and greens, they stood on their own very well.  Once again, the frame helped to accentuate the picture, and really helped in the presentation.

At this point, it was all done except for the competition.  I was confident that I had selected two images that would show well, and hopefully do well during the competition.  As of the time of this entry being published the fair is in full swing but I have not had the opportunity to get by there to know how my pictures have done.  As soon as I find out, I will come back and add the results.  Regardless of how they do, I am looking forward to having them up on my walls and available for clients to purchase.

Edit October 5, 2018

The results are in from the photo competition.  I'm excited to share that A Rusty Streak has earned top honors this year in the professional color photography category.  I am really proud of this image and how it did in competition.  There was a lot of thought that went into which image to select for this category and apparently I chose the correct one of the bunch.  On the other hand, Timeless View did not do so well in the competition.  Surprisingly, it didn't place.  Since I have not been to the fair as of yet to see the winners, I have no idea what the judges were looking for this year in the monochrome genre.  I can only assume that the competition is getting much stiffer as the years go on.

I can say that I am still very proud of this image.  In fact, it is still one of my all time favorite shots and it captures everything that I wanted it to when I shot it.  That is the thing with competitions, opinions vary and there is never a guarantee on how the chips will fall.  I still say that of my two images, the black and white one was the stronger of the two.  I would be interested to see which ones took home ribbons in the competition to see how I can improve on my selection process for this particular competition.  It is always a learning process.