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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

Abandoned Buildings on Route 66 in Ludlow, CA (Part 2)

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

More abandoned buildings from Route 66
Shot on Kodak Portra 160
with a Mamiya RZ67

This is part 2 of my visit to the abandoned buildings off Route 66 in Ludlow, CA. Click here to see part 1.

Yes, sir. Abandoned buildings along Route 66 in the middle of the Mojave Desert - I really can’t think of a better recipe for a good time. But wait, it’s missing just a few ingredients: a heaping cup of Shen-Hao TFC-617 camera, a Mamiya RZ67 with 6x7 and 6x6 film backs, plenty of Kodak Portra 160, and just a dash of Fujifilm Velvia 100. Ah, yes, now we got ourselves a tasty dish.

I tend to overpack on camera gear. I’m always afraid I’ll leave behind the one thing I wish I had. So I brought with me on this trip my full Mamiya RZ67 outfit, my complete 6x17 kit, and even a couple of polaroid cameras - a Polaroid SX-70 and the new Polaroid OneStep 2. Combine all that with 5 different films stuffed in my cooler and there are more camera/lens/film combinations than I could ever want. In fact, I think I may have had a few too many options to work with.

The Mamiya RZ67 with 6x6 back may have been my favorite to use. Something about shooting square format is just plain fun. Especially out here on Route 66. Route 66, 6x6 film...come on, might as well call it Route 6x6! Amirite?

But my favorite pictures came from my 6x17 Shen-Hao TFC 617-A. I love shooting the 6x17 panoramic format anyway, but out here in Ludlow, the abandoned mechanic’s shop and gas stations seemed like they were built to be photographed in this format.

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Fuji Velvia 100 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Fuji Velvia 100 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Fuji Velvia 100 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Fuji Velvia 100 film

The 4 pictures above were shot on Fuji Velvia 100 film
Click to see them bigger

And check out Part 1 of this trip recap to see
how they compare to Kodak Portra 160 film

I used both Kodak Portra 160 film and Fuji Velvia 100 to photograph these decaying buildings in 6x17 format. I prefer the look of Kodak Portra overall - can’t beat those nice soft tones - but I’m glad I shot Velvia too. To compare the 2 films side-by-side is quite interesting for a film geek like me. The dynamic range of Portra far exceeds that of Velvia, so the shadow and highlight detail is much improved. I’ll always have a soft-spot in my heart for Velvia because it was the first film I fell in love with, but these days I’m really loving the look of Portra.

To see a full in-depth comparison of these 2 films along with a review of all the images from this trip, check out the video below.

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

The following pictures were all made on Kodak Portra 160 film with a Mamiya RZ67 camera equipped with a 6x6 back:

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Portrait Photography Tips for Good Easy Light

Photography Tip Skill Level: Beginner

Portrait Photography Tips for Good Light

Portrait Photography Tips for Good Easy Light
Click Any Image to Expand

Good lighting in portrait photography can be the difference between a terrible photo and a phenomenal one. I'd go so far as to say that the lighting used is more important than the composition, the subject, the makeup, the wardrobe, the lens, the exposure settings... If you have good light, the job becomes very easy. But it seems that photographers like to overcomplicate things (shocking, I know). They start adding flash when it isn't necessary, breaking out soft boxes, umbrellas, light stands, Pocket Wizards, and who knows what else to try and get the light just right. Sure, that works great if you have the time and budget of Annie Leibovitz, but for most of us just looking to get better portrait photos without going crazy, this approach can be a bit much. So I thought I'd post this portrait photography tip about how to find good, flattering light that'll take your natural light portraits to the next level. No need to purchase anything for this portrait photography tip, you just need to move into the right position.

So a friend of mine manufactures these amazing sunglasses made out of exotic woods (keep an eye out for Knottywoods Eyewear). He dropped me a line over the holidays because he was going to be in town and wondered if I might be down for a photo shoot highlighting these awesome specs. Although you might think of me as a landscape guy, I can still snap a mean portrait and I love the opportunity to get creative on something like this.

The situation was a little tricky. We went out into a local nature park, brought some props, and started searching for a good place to set up. The tricky part was the light. It was a clear day, not a cloud in the sky, and the sun was beating down harsh on our models. If we shot in open sunlight, the shadows would be too harsh because direct sunlight is generally hideous for portraits (unless it's towards sunset or sunrise). The dark, hard-edged shadows created by the open sun exaggerate facial features and blemishes. It can also put dark shadows on people's eyes, robbing the photo of that sparkling glint in the irises. So direct sunlight was a no-go.

The second option was shooting under a tree. But that gave us mottled light - blotches of sunlight mixed in to the shadows of the branches. Also no good.

That brought us to the third option and the subject of this portrait photography tip: flat even shade. That's right, some of the best light you'll ever find for portrait photography is even shade. And when I say even shade, I just mean the shadow is big enough to completely engulf your subject - no splotches of sunlight breaking through. Whenever I'm shooting portraits in natural light outdoors, the first thing I look for is a big shadow I can throw my model into. But not just any old shadow will do. You need a shadow that has some lighting bouncing into it from the sunlit environment around it. In other words, I don't want to be so deep into a shadow that virtually no light is illuminating my subject. I want to be near the edge of the shadow so that the sunlight bouncing off the trees, clouds, ground, buildings, street, and whatever else just outside the shadow will bounce into the shadow, bathing my model in a nice, soft glow.

For this shoot, I found the shade I was looking for on the eastern side of a big oak tree. The tree was sufficiently large enough to completely block the westerly sun, casting a nice big shadow for my models to pose in. And just beyond the shadow (further to the east) was a sunlit landscape of hills and trees that kindly bounced that sunlight right back into my shadow in a huge, soft glow. As you can see in the photos, the light on my models is soft, even, and consistent. No dark eyes, no exaggerated features, no highlighting blemishes. The light is easy to work with and it results in softer skin, requiring no touch-up work in the computer. The light works very well regardless of the tools used. Here I used a DSLR and medium format Portra 160 film.

Don't make your portrait photography shoots more difficult than they need to be. Remember this portrait photography tip and just put your models in the shade. They'll be more comfortable, your job will be a lot easier, and they'll like the pictures more (which is the most important part).

Portrait Photography Tips for Good Light

Portrait Photography Tips for Good Light

Portrait Photography Tips for Good Light

Portrait Photography Tips for Good Light

Portrait Photography Tips for Good Light

Portrait Photography Tips for Good Light

Portrait Photography Tips for Good Light