Alternative Subjects

In addition to the typical summer vacation, my family enjoys a number of weekend trips throughout the year. My wife has a traveling spirit and always having a trip on the calendar gives us something to look forward to. Some of these trips are traditions, for example we make it up to the Blue Ridge Parkway every fall to see the leaves change. Other trips usually revolve around putting a pin somewhere on the map, usually a landmark or a town we’ve never been to, and making a weekend out of it.

We recently visited Natural Bridge, an 215 high arch eroded out of the surrounding limestone. We spent the weekend there but if I can offer some advice, make it a stop on your general trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It a great site but there isn’t much else within 30 minutes and it’s surprisingly not very photogenic; it’s closed during gold/blue hour and surrounded by tourists in between.

One afternoon I searched for nearby sites and discovered a retired train station 20 minutes away. I pictured a wide-angle shot of the decayed building, long-exposure cloud streaks for some drama, probably black and white to really bring out the detail and grit. As you can guess there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the building was surrounded by trash and scraps, forcing me to shoot close to the station itself.

I took a typical landscape shot to record the trip, shown above, then walked around hoping I would find a more interesting angle. As I walked along I noticed the decayed detail in the sides of the building: rotted doors, rusted pipes, and the old crusty windows. I decided to ditch my typical approach and take some portrait style shots of the doors and windows.

Once again I find that my initial ideas are usually A) born from looking at other photos and assuming I can just wander up and take the same shot, or B) my wild hopes of the perfect subject, background, and lighting all occurring at the same time. More often than not I have to go with C) nothing worked out as planned and I need to keep hunting. I don’t think this means I should venture without intent, but capturing what I intended doesn’t equal success. The surprise of discovering alternative subjects on this trip was far greater than my original intentions.