There’s just something about an old car.
They’re big, they have lots of curves and angles. They have – style.
Some folks spend time restoring old cars and making them look like new. I’ve seen restored cars with engines so clean and sparkling you could eat off them. It’s pretty amazing really. I tip my hat to anyone who has that kind of talent.
Today, however, I’d like to show you some old cars that haven’t been cared for. In fact, they have been sitting in a junkyard in north Georgia, some of them for over 25 years. They’re rusted, beat up, dented, covered with pine straw and other vegetation. Some of them even have trees growing inside them.
And they’re beautiful. Fantastic, really.
I recently took a road trip to White, Georgia, and Old Car City USA. Originally a car dealership opened in 1931, it is now home to over 4,000 classic cars, each in varying stages of decay. For a while, it was a working junkyard, and it survived by selling parts from the cars housed there. Over time, it became less of a junkyard and more of an attraction. Photographers starting coming, and now it is billed as a Photographer’s Paradise. I totally agree.
I found out about Old Car City from Bill Fortney, who is one of my photography heroes. Bill is an excellent shooter, and he’s known for his work with landscapes, close-ups, nature, Americana, and travel. His book America From 500 Feet is one of the best photography books ever. Bill does a yearly workshop at Old Car City, and he has a video course at Kelby One titled Photographing Vintage Auto Americana, which was filmed there.
I visited on a Saturday morning, and when I arrived – precisely at the opening time of 9:00 – there were over a dozen photographers waiting to get in. That’s in addition to a workshop with over 20 folks who arrived just a few minutes later. There is a $25 admission fee if you plan to take pictures. You can get in for $15 if you just want to look.
There are over six miles of trails through the property, and each foot of the trail is a veritable feast for the eyes. For a photographer, it is a “target-rich” environment. Everywhere you look there is rust, flaking paint, chrome, broken windows, all surrounded by vegetation and nature. The textures and colors of the cars are so rich, they are begging to be photographed. There are thousands of pictures to be made, and no shortage of people interested in making them.
I was met at the front desk by Dean Lewis, the owner. When I told him it was my first time visiting, he took me over to a map and told me what was where, and helped me plan my day. I watched Bill’s video the night before, so I felt like I was ready, but Dean’s guidance was very helpful.
Here’s my load out for the trip:
- Nikon D800
- Nikon D70s Infrared Body
- Nikon Coolpix P7700 point & shoot
- Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 zoom lens
- Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens
- Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens
- Gitzo 3531 tripod
- Nikon MC-36A remote shutter release cord
- Extra batteries
- Extra memory cards
As it turns out, I used the D800 with the 24-70mm zoom almost the entire day. I took one shot with the 14-24, and one with the 70-200. I used the Coolpix P7700 pretty extensively throughout the day. I continue to be impressed with the quality of the P7700. It can shoot raw, it has full manual control, and it supports exposure bracketing. I used it mostly for close-up and macro work so I wouldn’t have to bring the macro lens. It’s a great little camera.
In planning the shoot, I felt like a few infrared shots would be interesting. After seeing the cars, I’m convinced there are some intriguing shots to be made with the IR. I’ll have to save that for another trip because I just ran out of time. I never took the infrared body out of the bag.
Next time, I think I’ll either bring a lot less equipment, or I’ll bring a lot more, but leave most of it in the car. I’ll also bring a camp chair, and some water. I wore my snake boots because it’s springtime in Georgia and there is thick vegetation, and I hate snakes. I didn’t see any, but I’m glad I wore them because it was damp and muddy. One person I saw had a great idea that I intend to steal. She had a big plastic Home Depot bucket and she put all her gear in it. When she needed to rest, she just took the gear out, turned it over, and sat on the bottom. Brilliant.
I started walking the trails at about 9:20. I shot non-stop until 1:30, and I didn’t even get to 25% of the cars. The place is just really vast, and it would take several days to do it all justice. I’m pretty sure I’ll go back. I’m guessing it will become one of my favorite shooting trips.
In his video, Bill suggested shooting in themes. I took several environmental shots, but I decided, for my first visit, to focus on the theme of Nameplates and Logos. As I walked I searched for cars that had distinctive nameplates and / or logos. It was even better if there was some interesting texture or color.
Here are a few of my shots:
Click here to see the entire gallery.
I wanted the subject of the images to clearly be the nameplate or logo – they needed to pop out of the frame, but the patina on the cars just could not be ignored. The subtle coloring and tone shifts over the area of the shot are just wonderful. Bringing that out without overpowering the subject, and without over-saturating, was the big idea for all my shots. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether I met the goal.
Each of the shots I finalized and published took a good deal of post-processing. I had a standard set of things I did for each shot, but even so, there was a lot of hand-editing and tweaking.
In my next post I’ll go into detail about how these images were processed. Until then, thanks for reading!