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Abandoned Buildings on Route 66 in Ludlow, CA (Part 1)

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160
Abandoned Buildings on Route 66

Shot on Kodak Portra 160
with a Mamiya RZ67

Abandoned buildings. Photographers love ‘em. I don’t know why we love them so much, but give us a dilapidated old farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere and we’re in hog heaven. That’s why I was so happy to stumble upon a cluster of decaying structures straddling the iconic Route 66 in Ludlow, California.

I was getting that itch to go take pictures of someplace new, so I began scouring maps of the Mojave Desert looking for something - anything - that might be worth pointing my lens at. Some sand dunes maybe, an old railroad depot, something with character. But despite my map-studying and route-planning, I just couldn’t make up my mind as to where to go. And the clock was ticking; I only had one day to get away from work and it was approaching fast.

So instead of going out with a plan, I just started driving. I left early morning in hopes that I’d just figure it out along the way. I pointed my trajectory towards the high desert, Mojave National Preserve would be my end-of-the-line if I couldn’t find anything sooner. Heading out like this with no plan is not my normal operating procedure. I’m the kind of guy who likes to have a plan.

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160

Please click the above photos for larger views
Both shot on Kodak Portra 160 film
with a Shen-Hao TFC 617-A Camera

I’d seen some abandoned buildings off the highway on previous trips out to Las Vegas and Mojave National Preserve, but I’d never taken the time to pull over and see what they had to offer. Whenever I’d driven past them before, I had a destination to get to. Goes to show that having a plan isn’t always the best plan. Had I not had such clear-cut destinations in mind on my previous journeys, I might have stopped to see these buildings years earlier.

But this time I had no destination. No schedule, no plan. This would be the perfect opportunity to see these buildings up close.

I pulled off the interstate into the nearly non-existent town of Ludlow. The cracked and rough Route 66 runs right down the center of it. You can feel the rumble of freight trains passing by just a stone’s throw away. There, standing in all their run-down glory are the sun-bleached buildings of a forgotten town. The roof of an abandoned gas station juts out over the dusty desert like a bird’s wing. Next door is a mechanic’s shop with a caved-in ceiling and the fading letters of “GARAGE” emblazoned on its side. A tiny house, a big house, a house barely visible behind overgrown shrubbery, and the skeletons of old monument signs all just begging to be photographed.

This was going to be a good day to take pictures.

Be sure to read part 2 of this Route 66 trip recap and also check out the on-location video below!

Photography On-Location: Route 66
View on YouTube to see full HD

The following pictures were made with Kodak Portra 160 film and a Mamiya RZ67:

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160

The following pictures were made with Polaroid Originals 600 film:

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Rembrandt Lighting in Portrait Photography

Rembrandt Lighting in Portrait Photography Rembrandt Lighting in Portrait Photography
Click Any Image to Expand

Continuing my previous post showcasing the photo shoot I did with my brother, here I wanted to share some more details on the lighting I used to create some of these portraits. I opted for a style of lighting called "Rembrandt Lighting" because I've always loved the deep, soft-edged shadows it creates. When used in the right way, Rembrandt lighting makes for some excellent depth and drama in portrait photography. Granted, this light probably isn't ideal for the fun family portrait to hang over the fireplace, but in these shots, it worked quite well.

Rembrandt lighting gets its name from the works of the 17th-century painter Rembrandt. His painted portraits often utilized a light that appears to originate from a large source - like a big window - at the extreme side of the model. The light was soft and the shadows dark with little to no fill-light on the shadowed side. The trademark look of Rembrandt lighting is when the shadow of the nose and cheek creates a little upside-down triangle of light on the model's cheek opposite the light source.

Take a look at the picture below. Notice that triangle of light on the model's left cheek (your right). That's Rembrandt lighting.

Rembrandt Lighting in Portrait Photography

So how to do you find Rembrandt lighting? Simple. You just need a big light source to one side of your model and a dark, unlit room or shadow to the opposite side. Put someone next to a sliding glass door in an otherwise darkened room, then photograph them with the door to their right or left. All of the sunlight outside bouncing off the landscape will pour in through the door as a big, soft glow. You don't want sunlight shooting directly in through the door, just let the light bounce off the trees and sidewalk and grass and sky and everything else beyond the door. But the photos you see here were not taken next to a sliding glass door, so let me dissect the light on this series of shots.

For the photos you see here with the concrete background and floor, we were in the shade of a storm drain. No joke. Just a dirty old storm drain. It was one of those rectangular drainage tunnels about as tall and wide as a 2-car garage. You could easily drive 2 cars down it side-by-side. We went right to the edge of the storm drain where the ceiling of it terminated and opened up to daylight. This is where I found Rembrandt lighting - under the shadow of this dark tunnel, but just at the edge of it where sunlight bouncing off the environment poured a few yards in to the cavernous space.

This is where you find good light: the edge of shadow. What I mean by that is you put your model in a shadow, but get right up to the edge of the shadow where it just starts to meet the sunlight. The sunlight bouncing off the environment outside the shadow will pour light into the shadow itself as a beautiful gentle glow.

When you think of a shadow, you probably think of a lack of light. But shadows are not a lack of light. There must be light in a shadow, otherwise we wouldn't be able to see anything in a shadow. The light in shadow is coming from light bouncing off of buildings and trees and clouds and sidewalks and the sky itself. So when you're in full shadow, like we were under the shelter of this storm drain, the light source is actually the environment out there in the sunlight. Standing indoors next to a sliding glass door or a big window achieves a similar effect. The environment itself illuminates with the sunlight and that light bounces into the shadow.

When it comes to light, the bigger the light source is, the softer the light is and the fuzzier the edges are on the resulting shadows. When the whole environment to your left (in this case) is the light source, you have a huge light source to work with. Thus the light is soft and, for portraits like this, very flattering.

Rembrandt Lighting in Portrait Photography

Rembrandt Lighting in Portrait Photography

Rembrandt Lighting in Portrait Photography

Rembrandt Lighting in Portrait Photography

For the photos in this series below done out in the open where you can see the sky, I used the setting sun to illuminate my subject. The sun itself is not small but relative to us it's no bigger than a quarter held at arm's length. That makes it a small light source which, accordingly, creates harder-edged shadows. But you'll notice in these photos that the shadows are nearly nonexistent, which indicates that the light source is very large. Well, if you wait long enough, the sun will drop so low on the horizon that its intensity about evens out with the sky around it. Basically, the air stretching out to the sides of the sun and a little bit above it illuminate like fog in headlights. When this band of air illuminates under the light of the setting sun, it creates what is called the "twilight arch." This illuminated air - this twilight arch - acts as a light source in and of itself, making the shadows just a bit softer than in the middle of the day when the twilight arch is absent and the source of light is much smaller.

If you wait until the sun is below the horizon, the light source becomes the sky itself. This light source is huge, and so the shadows virtually disappear after sunset. In fact, if you look at the series of shots below, you'll see that the first photo shows some relatively sharp shadows on my brother's face. This is because the sun wasn't that low on the horizon yet, and thus the light source was relatively small. Then, as the sun dropped lower for the next 4 photos, the twilight arch started to glow, creating a bigger, softer light source, bringing with it the attendant softer-edged shadows.

So size does matter...at least when it comes to good lighting for portraits.

Medium Format Kodak Portra 160

Medium Format Kodak Portra 160

Medium Format Kodak Portra 160

Medium Format Kodak Portra 160

Medium Format Kodak Portra 160

All of the photos featured here were made on Kodak Portra 160 film using a 6x7 medium format camera (Mamiya RZ67 with a 110mm f/2.8 lens). I was switching back and forth between medium format film and 35mm film using a Canon 50mm f/1.2L lens throughout this shoot because I wanted to compare the shooting technique and the overall look between the two formats. Upon reviewing the shots, I quickly came to the conclusion that I prefer the medium format. The resolution is unreal and the 110mm lens at f/2.8 created the perfect depth of field and compression. I also enjoyed shooting with this camera a lot more. Since I had far fewer frames to burn, I was much more careful and deliberate with my shots. I hate feeling sloppy, and that I wasn't on the medium format.