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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

Making a Fine Art Photography Print: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Making a Fine Art Photography Print: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
View on YouTube to see full HD

If you've spent any time around me or browsing through my blog, you know what a fan I am of printing your work. Digital sharing just isn't enough for me. It feels great to share your work on Instagram and to see your photos on a beautiful HD screen, but really, it doesn't hold a candle to getting a big ol' print made and hanging it on the wall. I think it's about the tangibility of it. A print is substantial, but a digital file seems to dissolve into the ether before anyone can get a real good look at it.

That's why I've been trying to get more prints made. But having recently gone through some storage to find a bunch of old prints, I've decided to be more selective about what images I print. See, these old prints I found...I couldn't care less about them now. But the funny thing is I remember how proud of them I was at the time.

You may be thinking, "Well this is why you shouldn't print. You'll eventually get over it anyway. Might as well not spend the money and just stick to digital sharing."

Valid point, but I see it a different way. The thing about those old prints is they all had one thing in common: They were heavy on the "epic" factor. I mean they were your typical super-saturated, wide-angle, maximum epic-ness type of landscape photos that are so prevalent in digital photography today. You know, those landscape photos that are supposed to make you go "Woah! That's soooo pretty! Can I get that for my desktop wallpaper?" The Peter Lik type stuff.

Much of my portfolio is in this style of photography because, to be honest, it's an easy way to "wow" people. Bright colors and epic scenes are impressive. But my more recent work has taken a turn for the more subtle, the more abstract. I've gradually moved away from those colorful scenes towards simpler color palettes and more simplistic compositions. Kind of like an oil painting more than a digital photo.

I've moved towards this more subtle style for a few reasons, the main one being that the super-epic colorful stuff doesn't seem to go well with most décor. I may be oversimplifying it, but when I look at my own home and when I study the interior design work of some of the best, I notice that subtle color palettes (especially earth tones) and subtle contrast tend to reign supreme. Unless it's a millionaire playboy's penthouse suite in 1989, I just don't think the vibrant colors are a good fit for most spaces.

That's why I couldn't care less about the old prints I found in storage. They eventually ended up in storage all for the same reason - they were too "in-your-face" to hang on my walls. Good wall art should mesh with the other décor in the room, not overpower it. It's no different for fine art photography. There are other things involved in a room - furniture, tables, wall paint, carpet, decorations - all these things need to jive together to create one nice unifying look. That's what successful interior design is about.

I designed this new piece with that in mind. The image is from Anza-Borrego Desert State Park on a solo camping trip I took a little while back (read about that trip here). When I took the picture I specifically had this goal in mind of staying away from that epic look with the super saturated colors. I chose Kodak Portra 160 film to render the image in a more muted color palette with softer contrast. Then, when designing the framed piece, I opted for a very simple float frame with a ¼" gap and some gorgeous wood grain. The piece screams simplicity and clean lines...just what I like to see in my own home.

Fine Art Photography Wall Art

Nick Carver with one of his Fine Art Photography Prints

As you'll see in the video at top, the image is from a 6x17 negative I scanned on my Epson V750 scanner using Silverfast software and it was printed by Pro Photo Connection in Irvine (check them out here) on Fuji Pearl paper. The print isn't inkjet (you know how I hate inkjet) but is instead a wet process C-type print for superior color, sharpness, and clarity.

I also had Pro Photo mount the print on ¾" gator board and laminate it with a luster lamination. This is an awesome presentation style I discovered with the help of the good folks at Pro Photo and I'm this close to trademarking it because I love it so much! The luster lamination takes the gloss out of the pearl paper which makes the print much easier to see but it still maintains that pearlescent glow. The lamination also makes glass unnecessary because the laminate protects the prints from most common sources of damage. No glass means no reflections, no light transmission loss, and a lot less weight. You really gotta see this in person to appreciate the look, but needless to say, I'm happy with it.

This piece will soon be on display and for sale in an art festival next Spring. So far the reaction has been excellent from those I've shown it to. And I have to say, it feels way better seeing this thing 72-inches-wide on my wall than on a 3-inch smartphone screen.

So get out there and make some prints!

Digital Photography Tips: Auto White Balance Kills Color

View on YouTube to see this photography tip in HD

Photography Tips: Don't Use Auto White BalanceSkill Level: Intermediate

I've had a lot of students ask me lately why the colors in their photos are coming out inaccurate, so I thought it would be fitting to post a digital photography tip all about auto white balance. I'm marking this photography tip as "Skill Level: Intermediate" because I'm going to assume you already know what white balance does and how to control it. And if you don't know what it is, I offer group classes and online courses that can get you up to speed.

The topic of this photography tip pertains specifically to auto white balance - often abbreviated "AWB." The auto white balance setting is like many automatic functions on your camera: it works well enough a lot of the time, but it can really screw things up if you're not paying attention.

Auto white balance works like this: it looks at the photo you're taking and it tries to determine if there's too much of one color family. If it sees too much of one color, it floods the picture with the opposite color to try and cancel it out.

So let's say you have some incandescent lighting overhead when you're taking a picture of your family. Well, incandescent lighting is throwing out a ton of yellow-orange light. So auto white balance sees the excessive warm tones and says, "That's way too much yellow-orange," and so it floods the picture with blue to cancel it out. This is assuming auto white balance is doing a good job. Many cameras don't add quite enough blue in this scenario and leave your indoor shots looking too yellow.

That's the basic concept of auto white balance - if the camera sees too much of one color, it deems that an "unwanted color cast" and then tries to eliminate it by adding the opposite color. This approach to eliminating unwanted color casts is good enough for many pictures. And when you have to shoot quick, good enough is good enough.

But here's the problem with auto white balance...how could it possibly know the difference between a color cast you want and a color cast you don't want? The yellow color cast from incandescent lighting is a color cast you don't want, but the yellow color cast from fall leaves is. The camera can't make the distinction between these two. Your camera is dumb! It doesn't even know what it's looking at. It just sees too much yellow, regardless of where that yellow is coming from.

So when you shoot fall leaves on auto white balance, what ends up happening is this; the camera's auto white balance sees a bunch of yellow and it says, "Well, that's way too much yellow. Must be a color cast my photographer doesn't want," and so it floods the picture with blue to tone down the yellow. The result is fall color that isn't so fall color-y anymore.

Here are some examples:

Photography Tips: Auto White Balance

 AWB (above) vs. the accurate shade setting (below)

Photography Tips: Auto White Balance

 

 

Photography Tips: Auto White Balance

  AWB (above) vs. the accurate cloudy setting (below)

Photography Tips: Auto White Balance

 

 

Photography Tips: Auto White Balance

 AWB (above) vs. the accurate daylight setting (below)

Photography Tips: Auto White Balance

 

Same thing on a sunset. The auto white balance sees a bunch of warm tones from the setting sun, assumes you don't want them, and then floods the picture with blue to tone it down.

Photography Tips: Auto White Balance

 AWB (above) vs. the accurate daylight setting (below)

Photography Tips: Auto White Balance

As you can see, auto white balance can really destroy colors in your photos. That leads to my very simple digital photography tip: when photographing subjects with strong color casts, don't use auto white balance. Instead, use the appropriate white balance setting (daylight setting in daylight, shade in shade, etc) or adjust it yourself in the computer by shooting RAW files. I used Adobe Lightroom to adjust the white balance on my RAW files. It's a great program and I highly recommend it to all shooters. Get a great price on Adobe Lightroom at B&H.

Use auto white balance when you need to shoot quick and you're not too worried about the colors being perfect. But when the colors have to be just right, don't use AWB...it may just tone down the colors too much.