Another Change of Pace

Lighthouse Food Mart — Selma, NC © jj raia

This day started out the way most days do when heading out for some photography, very early in the morning. But instead of heading to a nearby lake, or downtown Raleigh, it began even earlier than usual since the destination was the small town of Selma, NC with a long railroad history, and there was about an hour drive to get there to begin finding the interesting places discovered during some basic research using “street view” in Google maps, which proved invaluable to begin the day there. With the pandemic subsiding somewhat, it was to be a group shoot with a few friends; our first in a very long time since we’d be outside and we’ve all been fully vaccinated. None of the others wanted to carpool with me since I was leaving at 4am to arrive while it was still dark and try some night shots if I found anything interesting, and wanted to take a few other shots of things I found in the blue hour before the sun came up and began lighting things.

The image above was not something I found on the street view, but passed it along the main drag through town, and immediately turned the car around to take this first shot of the day (5:17am) while the town was still asleep, as were most of the others I was meeting later. I was hoping to find something that said “closed for the night” and this was just what I had in mind. There really wasn’t any more time to scout another night time spot afterward because the sky began to lighten in the east, and there were a few more spots to explore before the sun came up at 5:57am.

The image below was one I had seen on the “street view” and headed over to it after finishing with the Lighthouse Food Mart. The map showed that the wall faced east and might be hit with early, flat sunlight and wanted to get there before then while there was still even lighting. It was taken at 5:56am, just as the sun began to rise, so I raced over to the Bailey Feed Mill to try to get the first light hitting the tops of the structures there.

Brick Pepsi — Selma, NC © jj raia

I got there just in time and took several images of all the interesting water and rust stains, along with various lines of tubing, ladders and openings. Some were with and some without the use of a split ND filter to balance out the sunlit areas and those that remained in shade, but found during post processing, the sensor was able to hold decent values at both ends since the sunlight this early was still soft. (The image below was without the ND taken at 6:14am; the second was with a split ND filter at 6:23am). My time there was cut short by some company “official” probably working the graveyard shift, who informed me that “I was done”, and I made a hasty exit now knowing I was not welcomed there. I probably should have called for permission earlier in the week, but there is a saying to the effect of “take the shot first and apologize later”. Although I do know of someone who actually received a summons for taking photographs where they weren’t supposed to be, and ended up doing some community service time for the infraction. So it was on to the third and final spot found using the Google’s street view.

Bailey Feed Mill — Selma, NC © jj raia
Bailey Feed Mill — Selma, NC © jj raia

It was an old weathered wood building in town built in 1854 along the railroad tracks. The Mitchener Station was a definite stop after I had seen it on the street view, having several interesting doors, with wood nearly void of any remaining paint, having been worn away long ago. One unfortunate/fortunate thing was going on that particular day though. A rather large group of residents involved with the revitalization of downtown Selma were to have their photograph taken in front of this structure. The unfortunate part of it was two of the doors were completely covered with temporary billboards nailed to them for the shoot, and I was bummed because at least one of them I recalled from street view as being particularly photogenic, at least from my point of view. But first things first, was to photograph the east side door while it had just a hint of side-lighting (see below – 6:33am) before the two other doors facing south, which would be in shade for quite a while. For all the doors and close-up of the knotty wood, the lens used was the 70-300mm taken a short distance away in order to keep proper perspective rather than shooting closer with a wide angle lens looking up, and having the doors keystone; although the idea of keeping lines level and parallel was out of the question because after 167 years, nothing was plumb!! The fortunate part of the morning was we spoke to some of those residents later in the morning and asked about other places in the area that may have some weathered buildings like the Mitchener Station, and were told about Kenly, a town about 10 miles north which we decided to visit.

But I was able to wander around the building without being harassed and photograph the remaining uncovered doors in the early morning shade of a clear blue sky day. Soaking up some of the history through the weathered and rotted timbers, I thought about the time it was built 167 years ago when slavery was still very much a part of our nation’s life, and wondered how many slaves may have stood on that platform adjacent to the tracks that still carry passengers and freight to this day. It was a sobering thought and wondered what lay beyond the locked doors that might give voice to more of its history. By then, the sunlight began to make it’s way further into the town and people began to start their day opening shops and grabbing coffee on their way to work, as we did at the wonderful Coffee on Raiford.

click on any image to view full size

So we decided to take the advice and headed up toward Kenly in hopes of finding more there to photograph. It seemed we were striking out until we spotted a vacant lot in the downtown area which had some interesting designs left on the walls of the remaining buildings. One wall was in complete shade, and the opposite wall was as well being in the shadow of both the new and old water towers. We all spent some time there photographing whatever we felt was interesting, yet barely had any duplications. Amazing how we can all see the same things, yet individually come to differing conclusions as to what should be memorialized with our cameras. I suppose that’s what makes every photographer unique in their particular perspective and areas of interest.

We headed back to Selma and had a great lunch, enjoying the food outside in the wonderful fresh air, at the Pixie Dust Lunch Box and Bakery. Just being outside all day among friends of like interests, breathing the clean air without the suffocating affects of a mask was a joy, and I was reluctant to head back home. But first, I needed to find that alleyway that garnered my attention earlier in the day before actually calling it quits. I managed to find it and parked the car nearby, grabbed my gear and headed into the alleyway menaced by two big, barking dogs who apparently did not like intruders within their domain. Luckily, someone pulled them back inside before they jumped the fence and caused any serious damage.

Alleyway Wall — Selma, NC © jj raia

For this final image taken just after mid-day (12:44pm) with the sunlight streaming vertically down the wall, are conditions generally avoided, with complete shade being preferred. But there were several ingredients that drew me to it in spite of the lighting. First was the bright turquoise color that caused me to investigate the small snippet I originally saw from the street hours earlier. When I finally did get there, this composition, among several others there, really stood out because of the high-key colors, the weathering, and the horizontal lines of the louvers surrounded by the vertical lines of the wood grain, which were both surrounded by more horizontal lines of the blocks and bricks. And the usually avoided lighting actually enhanced all the textures of the blocks and mortar to give it a bit more contrast, depth and texture than would the flat lighting of full shade.

I have researched new locations many times in the past with the help of Google Maps, and it is easy to find particular landscape locations of interest and access roads. But this was the first time I had used the “street view” to see what was there at ground level. I could actually see the Pepsi wall and the Mitchener Station with enough detail to determine that a particular door may be something I would photograph when I arrived. There was even a street view of the Bailey Feed Mill that showed the grain silos with all their stains. But one disappointment there was a weathered, pale blue corrugated building I saw on the street view that looked very interesting, only to find it was no longer there, evidently torn down since the Google truck came through.

There were many other photos of doorways and walls taken during the wanderings of the streets and alleyways in town that morning that didn’t make it into this post to spare your patience. Some I felt were good and others fell under that category of “what the hell was I thinking there?” But it was a day that got the juices flowing and enjoyed a different subject from the usual landscapes, and especially enjoyed being with friends again in-person. But the important lesson learned was using street view in Google Maps to research this type day of shooting. Armed with the information gleaned from that research, allowed me to take photos at four different locations, with the anticipated lighting, within 75 minutes! That would not have happened if I just drove into town and “looked around”. I probably would never have seen the Pepsi wall at all, and wouldn’t have known about the silos at Bailey’s Feed Mill, and might never have passed by the Mitchener Station building. Or if I did, at the time, the light most likely would have not been optimal. As is usually the case, the most important tool for your photography does not reside in your camera bag. For this shoot, it was Google Maps Street View!

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