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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

First Impressions of Kodak Ektar

Kodak Ektar 100All images made on medium format Kodak Ektar film
Click any image for a larger view

I've historically been a color reversal film guy. I just haven't shot much with color negative film. I suppose that's a product of being a Galen Rowell fanboy. He was a Kodachrome and Velvia guy, so that's what I became (unfortunately Kodachrome was before my time, though).

But I decided to break out of my shell a little bit and give Kodak Ektar 100 a try because I've read great things about it and I've seen some beautiful colors from it. As far as I'm concerned, the biggest advantage to shooting Kodak Ektar over something like Fuji Velvia is the increased dynamic range and the ability to change the color balance after taking the shot. 

In the digital world, RAW and JPEG files have sometimes been compared to color negatives and color slides. That's because RAW files, like color negative film, have more flexibility in post-production than JPEG files. Much like a RAW file, I can change the "white balance" of my Kodak Ektar shots in the process of scanning. Also, I get a little bit wider range of tonality than on my trusty old Velvia. Velvia (and all color transparency films) are more like JPEGs - what you see is what you get, there's no doing drastic color changes after snapping the shutter, and the dynamic range is more compressed.

Having worked extensively with the "JPEG of film," I thought it was time to try the film equivalent to a RAW file.

So with my first roll of Kodak Ektar color negative film loaded up in my medium format Mamiya RZ67, I headed out to a local park at high noon. My goal was to create ultra-simplistic compositions of the overly-ordered suburban setting that is Irvine, CA. You see, Irvine is a master-plan community in Orange County, CA that might remind some of the Stepford Wives - the neighborhoods and parks are ultra-ordered, ultra-groomed, ultra-matchy, and ultra-artificial. Nice place to raise a kid, but it ain't exactly dripping with culture and variety.

These compositions aren't my usual high-contrast, high-detail landscapes that you might be used to, but that's the point. I wanted simple and ordered compositions to help highlight the artificiality of the community.

All in all, I felt that Kodak Ektar was a perfect match for this shoot. The wider-than-Velvia dynamic range allowed me to keep detail in the harsh shadows of midday and resulted in an overall softer contrast that suited this subject matter well. The vibrant yet soft color palette combined with the wide dynamic range helped me create the painterly look I was after.

I'm still working on testing this film on some of my more typical shoots - vibrant landscape photography - but I think it's safe to say that Kodak Ektar is a superb film that will forever remain in my arsenal of film stocks...well, at least until they stop making it.

Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak Ektar 100