Here’s another example of how an unexpected change can affect a photographic subject for many years.
There is a great water wheel at Cable Mill in Cades Cove in the Smokies. It had been quite photogenic, especially with its thick coating of moss. Here’s an image of the wheel made in April 2014.This photograph of the wheel was made in May 2018.The paddle boards had recently been replaced, making the wheel much less photogenic. It will be years until moss fully coats the wheel again. In fact, there was no reason for me to even make this photo except to illustrate what can happen if you don’t make an image when you first see the possibility.
If you make an image, you can always make a better one later if the light, the conditions, or your equipment are better. If the subject later changes or is gone, you’ll always regret not having made the image when you first saw it. Shoot it now.
In the first Shoot It Now post, I described how a scene can unexpectedly change at almost any time when part of the subject is removed. Scenes can also be irrevocably altered when potential subjects are torn down, uprooted, broken, burned, or collapse. I had originally posted this a couple years ago, but not only did the subject cabin gradually collapse, it has now been torn down and almost completely removed. These photos show the progression.
During the Spring and Fall workshops at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont (www.gsmit.org/photo.html), we always take participants to photograph details of the old, deteriorating homes in Elkmont. It’s one of our most popular shooting locations. There used to be dozens of old cabins, but only a few of them are now being saved and renovated by the National Park Service. All the rest have been torn down and removed.
As an aside, before the remaining houses are restored, they are in varying states of disrepair. The National Park Service prohibits anyone from going in some of them, and will ticket you if they catch you inside. This makes a lot of sense, since the floors, walls, and roofs could (and do) give way without warning. If you’re planning to photograph old structures anywhere, please be very careful about exploring inside them, and stay out if there is a No Trespassing sign. It’s for your safety.
One of the houses along Little River had a beautiful wooden staircase. Both the stairs and railing were dark brown, which contrasted well with the white ceiling and walls. I have photographed it several times from the collapsing wooden front porch through the always open front door. Fortunately, in addition to the front door, there were three windows just to the left of the staircase, and two across from it that let light into the room.
The first image shows the staircase in 2008. While it is the obvious subject, the subtle shadows on the wall beneath it add interest. Also, the window to the left both gives light and provides depth by showing part of the outside of the house.
By 2013, the roof began to cave in. Somehow, the window screen was still there, despite the window having fallen out. The staircase and its shadows are still the main subjects, but the story now includes the deterioration of the house around it.
Just a year later, the entire roof had collapsed into the room. The arrow highlights all that could be seen of the staircase anymore. Obviously, it could no longer be the subject of any photograph—except this one!
During 2017, the National Park Service took down and removed many of the cabins in Elkmont, including this one. All that remains of those are the stacked stone chimneys and the stone foundations. I certainly miss the old cabins, but am grateful I was able to see and photograph them before they were gone. Here is a view of what’s left of the cabin from where the front porch and door used to be.
So if you come across a potential subject, photograph it right then and there. You’ll never regret making an image of a particular subject, even if you make a better one later. But you’ll always regret not having photographed it, especially once it’s gone.
Yes, you read that right, even though I’m writing this in the last month of 2017. As I was deciding on my five favorite photos from 2017, I realized I had never posted my favorites from 2016. So, better late than never, here they are: Remembering the discussion of “favorite” versus “best” images from an earlier post, these are my favorites because they not only showed what I had intended in the way I had intended with the quality I had intended, but they also satisfy me emotionally, and I still enjoy them.
I’ve still got almost a month of shooting to go before I have to determine my favorite images from 2017!
I made this image in October 2015, but never thought of it again until December 1, 2017. Why did I let it languish? Obviously, the scene struck me enough to make the photograph. But I can’t explain why it took two years to do something with it.
Often, when I come back from a trip, I’m initially disappointed with the collection of images I made. Sure, I’ll have a couple I’ll send to friends to show where I’ve been shooting, but they’re not anything great. Later (and sometimes much later), I reluctantly look through them again, and am pleasantly surprised to find a couple, or even a few, images I really like. That’s always a fun discovery.
How about you? How many times have you gone back through your older, forgotten images and wondered why you hadn’t done anything with a specific image? Or, more poignantly, not only do you not remember making that image, but don’t even remember seeing an image like it before? Yet you made it!
Or how about the opposite effect? Several of my photo friends come back from a week shooting, and struggle for a few days to get down to their top 100 favorites from that trip. Ask them again in a couple months, and they’ll tell you they didn’t get anything at all from that very same trip!
What in the world is going on? That phenomenon is often called the recency effect. It can affect photographers in different ways—initially for good or bad. For some, their most recent images are all masterpieces, and they have a hard time choosing just a couple to show. But then, they lose interest in most of them. Others, like me, after an initial period of disappointment, find images they come to really like out of what seemed like a batch of rejects.
This leads to an important point. DON’T EVER delete images that don’t resonate with you the first time you see them. You made them for a reason. Let them simmer, and revisit them on occasion. You might be pleasantly surprised what’s already in your files.
I’ve changed, renamed, and greatly expanded my old Steam Trains gallery. Yes, I know the movie title is Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, but since my new gallery used to be Steam Trains, I let trains keep top billing. http://tomvadnais.com/?page_id=352 As an automotive engineer, I’ve always been fascinated by all forms of transportation. As a photographer, I am enthralled with both overall and detail images of these intricate machines. I hope these images inspire you to see, enjoy, and photograph trains, planes, and automobiles yourself.
As mentioned on my Gear page, I almost exclusively use ZEISS manual focus prime lenses. I’m sold on their consistent color, sharpness, micro-contrast, and precise manual focusing ability. But before buying any new lens, I’ve gotten in the habit of renting one from LensRentals www.lensrentals.com. I can’t recommend the practice of renting before buying, and of renting from LensRentals highly enough.
For a recent trip to the Smokies, I rented a ZEISS Otus 28mm f/1.4 Apo Planar T* lens. I already own, and love, the ZEISS Otus 55mm and Otus 85mm (my favorite) lenses, and figured I’d love the 28mm Otus, too. Sure enough, it was the most amazing wide angle lens I’ve ever used. It was bitingly sharp corner-to-corner, with negligible aberrations or distortion. Even stars in the corners of night sky shots showed almost no coma. Silky smooth, beautiful, and incredible. I hated to return it, but still was not sure that I would find the 28mm focal length particularly useful—especially considering the price and the giant size of the lens.
With ZEISS’s recent announcement of the new Milvus 25mm f/1.4 lens, I decided to wait to try it before deciding on a new wide angle lens. I already own the ZEISS 25mm f/2 Distagon T* lens, which I regularly use for my engineering work. It’s wonderfully small and light, and perfect for my work kit. It’s quite sharp across much of the image, yet is just a little soft around the very edges and corners.The 28mm Otus proved that a wide angle lens can be sharp from corner-to-corner, with negligible distortion. But I wished it was just a little wider.
Before my return trip to the Smokies a couple weeks later, I noticed that LensRentals had the brand new 25mm f/1.4 Milvus lens available to rent. After nine days of shooting with it, all I can say is it was magnificent. It’s near-Otus quality for about half the price, in a smaller package with a smaller filter size, and less weight—plus it has weather sealing the Otus lenses lack. I absolutely loved it. I was only a little sad to send it back, though, because I put my name on the list at B&H to buy my own copy once they become available.
On my way home from the Smokies, I stopped by a long-abandoned motel near the GA/TN state line. I then parked my Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro at one end of the motel, and made the image above with the rented ZEISS Milvus 25mm f/1.4 lens on my Nikon D850.It’s a single frame, with some of the top, a little of the bottom, and a tiny sliver of the right side cropped off. There was no cropping of the left side. Because the lens was so new, there was no lens profile available in Adobe Camera Raw, so what you’re seeing is how sharp and distortion-free this lens is right out of the box. Neither the bricks at the left nor my 4Runner at the right are distorted.
Images from my field testing were all incredibly sharp edge-to-edge and corner-to-corner. The lens was easy to focus and a joy to use. Can’t wait to get my copy.
In late June 2007, I stopped by an old junkyard called Old Car City USA just off US-411 in White, GA. I asked owner Dean Lewis if I could make some photos there. He said okay, just be careful. It was overgrown, and there were no trails as such, as it was a working junk yard for older cars. While there, I made this detail photo of a 1948 Hudson: The next day, I returned with a friend. Dean again welcomed us in to shoot, with no charge either day. A couple years later, I stopped by again to ask about bringing some photographers from a camera club for an outing. Dean again said okay, and it would be $10 each. He also told me he was converting Old Car City USA from a working junkyard to an old car junkyard museum, and would be charging admission. What a great idea to preserve a unique place.
In November 2017, I went back with a couple friends from out of town. It’s now $25 for photographers, and is a bargain. Dean has completely transformed Old Car City USA from overgrown junkyard to photographer’s paradise with about seven miles of trails through nearly 4,000 cars! Many of you will have heard of Old Car City USA, as it has been featured in many websites, news articles, and television shows. Countless photographers have also held workshops there. It’s a truly wonderful place. Here’s a link to Old Car City USA: http://oldcarcityusa.com/ My friends and I stayed most of the day, and shooting there only made me want to go back. I intend to return often for the amazing photographic potentials and the riveting history there. There is also a gallery of Dean’s unique art, along with other collections all around. I’ve included several images from there in my new Trains, Planes, & Automobiles gallery. http://tomvadnais.com/?page_id=352
After you pay the fee at the entrance, this gate allows passage into the yard. Note the red button you must push to enter. It’s actually just a painted round wood piece nailed onto the sign. My kind of humor. I’ve always had a fondness for both intentionally and unintentionally funny signs. Old Car City USA is a gold mine for signs. I can’t recommend Old Car City highly enough. You’ll never find another place like it. Give yourself plenty of time, and make sure you talk with Dean. He’s a great guy with the best stories.
While scouting in preparation for our Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont (GSMIT http://gsmit.org/photography-workshops/} fall photography workshop, I visited one of my favorite cascades to make sure it would be a good place to bring the participants. This first photograph was made on Thursday, October 19, 2017—the day before the workshop was to begin. Water levels were so low, that even the full bottle of water I had with me wouldn’t help the situation! No rain was forecast until the last day of the workshop. Obviously, we’d have to find other subjects to shoot.
It poured rain overnight Sunday, October 22, and continued through when the workshop ended mid-day Monday. Monday afternoon, I returned to the cascade. This time, it was almost overflowing with silt-filled water. Still not photogenic.
Water levels change rapidly in the Smokies, and by the next day, the water was clear and at nearly perfect levels and flow rates.These were good reminders that landscape and nature photographers are completely reliant on Mother Nature for the conditions we face. We must incorporate whatever water levels, fall color changes, light, clouds, fog, wind, rain, snow, dust, drought, fire, etc., we encounter. That’s why it’s so difficult to duplicate an image we’ve either made or seen before. It’s also why we need to remain flexible when we go out to shoot.
While I end up flying fairly often for work, I usually choose an aisle seat. They don’t seem as confining, and allow me to get up and move around if I choose. This is especially important on cross-country flights. But on a recent return flight to Atlanta from Los Angeles, I was able to get a window seat in first class on a new Delta Boeing 777-200LR. On this plane, there was only one lay-flat seat on each window side. It was the best of both worlds: window and aisle access all in one.
You can adjust your lay-flat seat into all kinds of positions. Since it moves and takes up so much room, each seat is in its own “pod”, surrounded by walls except for the opening to access it. While this is nice and private, the walls impede your direct access to most of the windows. (I found that only Row 5 had direct window access. I was in Row 4.)
Wanting to take advantage of window access to shoot with my new Nikon D850, I made sure to sit on the left side of the plane so it would be in shade most of the eastbound trip. I planned to use both my ZEISS 135mm f/2 Apo Sonnar T* and ZEISS Milvus 50mm f/2 macro lenses.
Right after takeoff from LAX, I noticed the pod wall made getting a DSLR and lens perpendicular to the window nearly impossible. Since this plane was meant for long flights at high altitudes (the flight preceding mine came in from Sydney, Australia), the multi-layered windows seemed particularly thick.
I had started with the 135mm lens, which was physically long enough to force me to hold the camera at an angle to the window. Even though the ZEISS 135mm lens is one of the sharpest ever made, I could never make a sharp image with it on the plane due to distortion from shooting at such an angle through the glass layers. I reluctantly abandoned it.
When I got home, I looked at the images on my desktop monitor, and saw just a narrow band of focus on each image I made with that lens. Focus rapidly dropped off in either direction from that narrow band. All those window layers had increasingly distorted the image the further away from the focus plane you looked.
Fortunately, I was just able to fit the D850 with the 50mm macro lens perpendicular to the window. Of course, if the lens was against the window, vibrations from the plane would have made every image blurry. So I had to hold it back just a little, while making sure to keep the window frame out of the photo. It was a tight fit, but I was able to get sharp images with this combination.
As we were approaching Atlanta, thunderstorms began to form. Our pilots zigzagged around them, which gave plenty of opportunities to photograph their incredible shapes. During one of our pivots, I saw and photographed the elusive Dog Cloud! Granted, it’s not quite as famous as Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, or Elvis sightings. But being a dog lover, I was glad to prove it exists.
When shooting from aircraft, a fast shutter speed is required to compensate for vibrations on the plane and for the high speed of the plane. The closer your subject is to the plane, the faster your shutter speed needs to be. This photo was made at 1/800 second to make sure the relatively close Dog Cloud would remain sharp.
Shooting from commercial airliners has plenty of challenges, but is fun and can be rewarding.
In my last post, I mentioned inviting 21 friends and fellow photographers to submit their five Favorite, not necessarily their five Best, images from 2015. Almost everyone participated, which created an amazing and inspiring collection of images. But even better, this exercise sparked many discussions ranging from practical techniques about how, to more esoteric questions about why, we made or chose a certain image. Much fun.
One of the more esoteric questions still being discussed was how to distinguish between a best and a favorite image. My conclusion, as I proffered in my last post, was that your best images would be interesting, technically sound, and what you intended, but to be a favorite, they also have to evoke an emotional response in you. What we’ve all found is, just like with songs or pieces of music, what moves one person may not register, or may even engender strong dislike, in another. That’s great; it makes us all different. (Some are more different than others, but we’ll ignore that for now…..)
So, here are my five favorites from 2015, with captions showing where they were made. I felt something special when I was drawn to make each image, and I still get that feeling when I look at each of these images. To me, that’s the very essence of a favorite.