A Virginia Day Trip

General Thoughts
Lake Gordon — Union Level, VA © jj raia

Lake Gordon — Union Level, VA © jj raia

Last April, I spent some time photographing a few abandoned storefronts in a very rural part of southern Virginia. As I was driving there and getting close, I stopped nearby a few times to try some HDR shots since it was mid-morning with that soft, filtered sunlight that found its way into so many paintings I’d seen by artists of the Hudson River School, and I thought I would try to capture that in a photo of a lake I happened to pass by. This exercise was truly one of painting the scene after the initial HDR was completed. In addition to changing light values in many, many small areas with the Lightroom brushes, I reduced the vibrance and saturation to try to emulate that soft light I spoke of and reduce the signature of the HDR. To really be true to form of the painters of that era, there probably would have been someone in a small boat trying their hand at fishing. But no such luck came along to add that final element, although I suppose I might be able to add one later…

Spring Storm  —  Union Level, VA

Spring Storm — Union Level, VA © jj raia

The second spot I stopped at was an open field with some very blue wild flowers, not so many, but enough to get a grouping for some foreground, but the HDR showed quite a bit of ghosting in the distant trees even though the winds seemed calm. Since I felt The image could never really be used for any printing, I decided to see where I could take it and found that I could change the soft lighting into a threatening storm with some dramatic lighting added to the meadow. So it was simply an exercise in what might be possible and how to work with various elements of Lightroom after the initial HDR was produced. Experimenting sometimes adds experiences and lessons learned that we can hopefully reproduce when the need arises for images we might take in the future.

I was to meet up with a friend to shoot these boarded up buildings and luckily, the sky was still mostly overcast for more even lighting. In the short time we were there, no fewer than three cars pulled up to see what was going on, and so about half my time there was spent talking to these folks, all of whom seemed pleasant enough, except one seemed pretty irritated we were there; but maybe he was just putting on that he was irritated. I certainly hope so.

Red Door — Union Level, VA

Red Door — Union Level, VA © jj raia

As far as the storefronts were concerned, there was no entry into what secrets lay beyond the locked doors and particle board, so everything was dependent on what lay outside. The only building with any color had a red stain applied probably not too long ago, but it, as well as all the others, was difficult to isolate in any meaningful way. But I noticed an oddly placed door above the porch roof and I was able to capture it with a bit of the roof with a long lens from a distance to eliminate any of the sky with the narrow angle of view, as well as any keystoning if I had taken the shot looking up from street level with a wider angle lens. Since the roof sloped downward, I’m not quite sure why there would be a nicely framed door there, especially without a doorknob! But that’s what makes these abandoned places so interesting: trying to figure out the history of what may have occurred over the years that passed. My guess is it may have been a second story exit before the porch roof was added; maybe some of the locals know for sure.

Graffiti — Union Level, VA

Graffiti — Union Level, VA © jj raia

When faced with the situation where larger views just don’t seem as interesting within the frame of the camera as it does as a whole scene, I narrow the view and try to isolate some interesting elements such as doorways or deteriorating paint, and if necessary, get even smaller by looking for some abstracts among the decay.

Flake Board Detail  — Union Level, VA

Flaming Flake Board — Union Level, VA © jj raia

Since it was the beginning of spring, some of the vines that had grown around the structures had begun to show new leaves and after shooting many different locations, I finally found one plant, aptly named Virginia Creeper, latched onto an old screen door that had lost its screen long ago. It was the final shot of the buildings before heading back home after an interesting day trip. I would love to go back again because the last person I chatted with, a local photographer, told me about a few locations outside this tiny town that may be worth exploring. As I’ve said in the past, it always seems that photographers are always willing to share experiences, knowledge and secrets with others, and this day was no exception.

Virginia Creeper  — Union Level, VA

Virginia Creeper — Union Level, VA © jj raia


Spring Trees

General Thoughts
Backlit Buds - Soco Gap — Blue Ridge Parkway, NC © jj raia017-449

Backlit Buds – Soco Gap — Blue Ridge Parkway, NC © jj raia

I remembered having taken a springtime panorama at Soco Gap a few years ago and decided to head that way to see the same spot with what I thought would be late afternoon backlighting. The hillside was lit beautifully from behind and I took another panorama with that lighting, but with patience, waiting for the hillside to go completely in shade, left only the few foreground trees still lit by the sun. I passed the 40 minutes or so just watching motorists and motorcycles gliding by, but at one point, I turned around and saw a small group of flowers among the meadow grasses. I took a few shots thinking I might blend a sharp image with a blurred one, but ended up simply cropping the upper and lower portions to form a sliver of green punctuated by the lavender flowers.

Flowers in the Meadow t — Blue Ridge Parkway, NC © jj raia

Flowers in the Meadow t — Blue Ridge Parkway, NC © jj raia

It’s amazing how much cooler (blue) an image is when taken in the complete shade of late afternoon or early morning on a clear, blue sky day. The image below is an example and was one of the first taken on the trip as a way to get my feet wet since, as most have told me as well, it takes a while to get into “seeing” mode, and I wanted to do some shooting before the first sunset. It was the texture of the trunks that really caught my eye, but after several attempts, most of the images never seemed to work. They were either too busy, off balance, or lacked a central focus where the eye is initially drawn. This was the only one where it wasn’t too cluttered and, by standing slightly off center, the one tree crossed in front of the other giving the image a bit more tension than simply having them all parallel.

Spring Trunks — Blue Ridge Parkway, NC © jj raia

Spring Trunks — Blue Ridge Parkway, NC © jj raia


Pointalism -  Spring Forest — Blue Ridge Parkway, NC © jj raia

Pointalism – Spring Forest — Blue Ridge Parkway, NC © jj raia

What I truly love about spring is the pointalism effect of the tiny buds and new leaves backlit by the sun. Generally, you’re shooting almost directly into the sun, so a lot of care is needed to properly shield the lens from it. Otherwise there is some flare which degrades the image with severely reduced contrast. Also, it is usually a good rule of thumb to reduce the metered exposure by at least 1-2 stops to maintain the brilliance of the buds and that deep, deep dark background as illustrated by the image below.

Backlit Buds near Graveyard Fields — Blue Ridge Parkway, NC © jj raia

Backlit Buds near Graveyard Fields — Blue Ridge Parkway, NC © jj raia

After shooting Looking Glass Falls without much inspiration, the sunlight had already begun to reach into the surrounding forest and I thought I would try a panorama even though the lighting was pretty severe. I used a 35mm which is not the usual lens I would use because the distortion at the edges makes it difficult for the software to stitch the frames together. But it seemed to work this time since the air was still enough to maintain almost every leaf as sharp as it could be without any “ghosting”.

Looking Glass Spring Forest — Blue Ridge Parkway, NC © jj raia

Looking Glass Forest in Spring  — Blue Ridge Parkway, NC © jj raia