Early evening at Shaker Village Pentax K10D, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL 2019
Margaret and I get away four times a year for a long weekend, usually in March, June, September, and December. Margaret started a new job recently and its demands will sadly keep us from our usual December visit to Chicago. To compensate we made two trips this summer, one to her hometown of St. Charles, Illinois, a few weeks ago, and one to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky over Labor Day weekend.
I’ll share more from Shaker Hill in posts to come, but in short the Shaker religious sect arrived here in 1805 and built quite a village of stone, brick, and wood frame buildings. They were innovative, building a system of running water throughout the village; the yellow buildings on the right were part of that system. They also lived communally; the stone building was one of three major houses the people lived in.
Today it’s a tourist destination with lodging on site. We stayed in a room in what had once been the East Family Wash House. The houses were named for their relative geographic location in the village, the people who lived in each house were called a family, and each family had a building in which they did their laundry. Innovatively, their laundry facility was horse powered, reducing the human manual labor of washing all those clothes and linens!
St. Charles Municipal Center Pentax K10D, 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL 2019
This dramatic Art Deco/Art Moderne structure really stands out on the main street in downtown St. Charles, Illinois. It stands right on the east bank of the Fox River. You can follow a path down the left side of the building and walk along the river’s edge.
St. Charles is charming. If you’re even in the far west Chicago suburbs, it’s worth visiting. They’ve made a lot of their frontage of the Fox River downtown, and there’s plenty to see and do on the main street.
The kind of work you do for yourself is very different from the kind of work that pays.
I hadn’t dreamed of being a writer when I landed my first writing job. I wanted to be a software developer. But the country was in a recession then and jobs were scarce. I was willing to do any job I could get in the software field. I wound up writing manuals, and it turned out that I really enjoyed the work. I did it for more than a decade. I even contributed to a few published books on popular software products. It’s a rush to see your name on a book’s spine!
In that field I met a lot of talented people who had dreamed of being writers. They came with degrees in English and poetry and journalism, and extensive portfolios filled with great work. Yet they wound up writing and editing books about software — not remotely their dream. For the kinds of writing they wanted to do, the supply of talent far outstripped demand. And then they found that the software industry paid well. Few of them loved the work, but they were grateful to be writing something, anything for good pay.
It’s much the same in photography. Many of us who shoot probably dream of creating great art and making a living through sales, or maybe patronage if that’s even a thing anymore. But most working photographers shoot things like weddings or consumer products. My first wife is a talented photographer, but when I met her she made her living in the United States Air Force shooting portraits of officers seeking promotions.
Photographers can find this kind of work rewarding, just as I truly enjoyed writing software instructions. But who dreams as children of being technical writers or wedding photographers? We back into these jobs because they leverage our skills and pay our bills.
Those jobs pay because they create clear value. This blog creates value, too — you wouldn’t keep coming back if you didn’t find my words and images to be valuable in some way. But the amount of value that captures your attention is much lower than the amount of value that opens your wallet.
There was a golden time when personal blogging could be lucrative: approximately 2004. Several talented early bloggers found large followings and made good money with online ads.
But in about 2011 online ad revenue dropped off a cliff. The bloggers that didn’t have to find day jobs again created other revenue sources: writing sponsored posts (where the blogger writes an ad and tries to make it sound like it’s about them or their interests), creating product lines, and offering services such as personal coaching and workshops in an area of skill or expertise they have.
These are great, legitimate ways to make money. But notice how these things aren’t personal blogging. They’re not the passion that made the blogger start blogging.
If your passion is something like managing hedge funds or starting tech companies, and there are really people with passions like that, well heck yes those passions can pay, and handsomely. But for most of us, we just want to make something that represents us or showcases our talents, and put it out into the world and hope people come to see.
Is that you? That’s me. And so I persist. I’m very happy that my work creates enough value to keep capturing your attention. I’ve dabbled in ways to generate a little passive income and hope to pay this blog’s costs and maybe some of my photography. But I have no delusions that this will ever let me quit my day job. The same almost certainly goes for you.
Illinois 64 Pentax K10D, 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL 2019
We lost Margaret’s mom last week. The funeral was yesterday.
JoAnne Joyce was 90. She wasn’t ill; it was just her time. She leaves behind a husband of 63 years, eight children, 25 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren.
Margaret and I got away last weekend, impromptu. We drove straight to her hometown of St. Charles, Illinois. We saw the house she grew up in, and we walked the town’s lovely main street. It was good to reconnect with her past as she faces a future without her mom.
In all of my years driving the old highways I’ve learned a thing or two about how to photograph a road. Here’s how not to do it: straight on, from eye level, like this.
I’ve made dozens, maybe hundreds of shots like this as I’ve documented old roads around the Midwest. As a piece of documentary work it’s fine, as this road is hereby documented. It’s good that I documented it, for three reasons. First, this is historic pavement that carried the old Dixie Highway. Second, it is from the early 1920s (I estimate) before they figured out you need to put expansion joints in or the concrete will crack as it will. Little of this continuous concrete remains anywhere. Third, you can no longer visit it as it was destroyed in about 2017 when an Interstate highway exit was built here. This image is very interesting to roadgeeks.
But as a photograph, it’s boring. When photographing roads, you have to find the interest, or add it. I aim to show you here what I’ve learned about how to do that.
Before I go on, let me say be careful photographing roads. The cars on them can maim or kill you. (Unless the road is abandoned!) Make sure the road is clear of traffic both ways before you step into it. Wait for a quiet moment an listen carefully for vehicles. Work quickly — do not lose yourself in the photographic process. Get in and get out.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
You don’t need special equipment. I made most of these images with point-and-shoot digital cameras and occasionally my iPhone.
I do some level of post-processing in Photoshop, most commonly to boost contrast and and adjust exposure as I like it. If Photoshop is too rich for your blood there are a few less-expensive alternatives. That’s more than I can tackle here; Google can help you with that.
I wish I could always make road trips on good-light days. I can’t. I get the light I get. You’ll see that in the examples that follow. But light matters a lot, for all the reasons light always matters in a photograph.
Sometimes I get lucky, though. I made this photo as late-afternoon sun cast long, soft shadows.
The gloomy sky and diffuse light heighten this road’s desolation.
A road in a photograph naturally guides the eye. Eyes find curves more interesting than straights.
Does the road disappear around the bend? Use it; it adds mystery. Where is the road going?
Something crossing the road, or appearing to cross the road, often adds interest. Here this abandoned road is juxtaposed with a bridge carrying this road’s current alignment.
Here, a rusty old railroad overpass gives you something to look at other than pavement.
This hairpin turn is interesting by itself, but because of challenging terrain it was difficult to find a great angle on it. So instead I brought in the rising hill behind it.
The rising hill and the low placement of this long road create contrast. I made this photograph from the passenger seat of the car while my wife was driving, by the way. The windshield tint doesn’t do your colors any favors, but fortunately a quick hit of Auto Tone and/or Auto Color in Photoshop almost always clears it away.
Look for interesting things by the roadside
Objects by the roadside let you photograph a straight road at an angle. I usually put the object on one of the rule-of-thirds lines.
How improbable to find a basketball goal on this abandoned highway!
Make the road the backdrop
Sometimes the roadside object can become the subject, with the road passing by in the background.
Making the most of straight-ahead shots
Sometimes none of the above tips work in your situation, and all you have to work with is a straight-ahead shot. Sometimes, if you crouch lower you can pick up interesting textures in the road to add interest.
Sometimes a rolling hill can add a little drama.
Perhaps the surroundings can act as a frame, creating a tunnel effect.
There you have it, everything I’ve learned about making interesting road photographs. Go forth and stand in some roads. Carefully!