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

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