Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Photographing Abandoned Buildings, Part II

Sunday, December 3rd, 2006

Sarah and I got up a little earlier today, got some lunch, and went to Cord Camera. I’ve been wanting to get a new lens for my camera, a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 Prime Lens. This lens has numerous advantages over the zoom lens that came with my camera, most notably that it goes to f/1.8 instead of f/3.5-5.6, allowing for shooting in lower light and shorter depth of field. The primary disadvantage is that it’s not a zoom lens. I bought the lens for a little over $100, to some dismay at the expenditure on Sarah’s part.

We had some trouble deciding which way to go in search of abandoned and/or weathered buildings. I pretty much just started driving, and we ended up going out State Road 45. I turned onto Mt. Gilead Rd., where I’ve done some bike rides, as I knew there was some cool stuff there I’d like to photograph, including a barn where a tractor is stored, on which the opening is cut in the shape of the tractor. We got to that area and debated what to do — there wasn’t really a good place to park, but it’s not a busy road, so I just parked on the road and put my hazard lights on.

I started shooting with my old lens, to take advantage of its wide angle capabilities, but quickly switched to my new lens. It felt really weird to suddenly lose the zoom capabilities, but I decided I should shoot with the new lens for the rest of the day to force myself to learn about it. One thing I quickly noticed was that despite the fact that it’s a 50mm lens, the Nikon D50 (my camera) has a 1.5 multiplication factor, so the 50mm lens acts like a 75mm (telephoto) lens. I knew this ahead of time, but it’s more magnified that I had pictured, so I really have to step back to get a full view of some scenes.

We took some photos of the barn I mentioned and the surrounding area, including another barn with a “Coke” sign on it, and another somewhat run-down barn. We didn’t go onto any private property at this point, taking all our photos from the street or outside of the fence.

When we finished shooting at this location, we continued down Mt. Gilead Rd., exploring some side roads as well. We found some things we might want to come back to and marked them in the GPS, but didn’t find any place we wanted to stop at the time.

Eventually, as we were driving through Yellowwood State Forest, Sarah spotted something that she thought was a rusted out tractor and asked me to stop. Fortunately, there was a place to pull off the road, so I did, and we got out. We walked over to the big rusty hunk of metal, taking some photos and discussing what it might be. After looking at it for a few more minutes, we figured out that it was part of a car or truck — including a headlight, wheel well, and some surrounding pieces. One side had red paint on it, and the rest was pretty much pure rust. I flipped it over to get some shots of the other side.

Nearby, we also found some random stuff such as a stovetop and some sheet metal that somebody had used for target practice, a pink sink, and an aquarium without any glass. We took photos and went back to the car. This wasn’t exactly the abandoned buildings we had hoped for, but we still had plenty of time to find more.

I took a detour to show Sarah a pond that Dave had shown me along the Tecumseh Trail. There were some berries with frost on them, and the pond has a sort of strange green hue to it, which it also had before. I got some cool shots of the berries and part of some pine trees that really show off how crisp my new lens is, and how good the bokeh looks.

We drove some more and ended up by two barns not far back from the side of the road. It wasn’t clear who owned them (which was good!) and decided to try photographing them. We are still pretty nervous about asking people for permission to take photographs on their property, and don’t want to have to do that until we know what we’re doing, so we won’t have to come back.

One thing we keep noticing as we drive around southern Indiana is that there are tons of run-down buildings around here, my favorite of which tend to be the barns you can “see through.” What I mean is that the boards in the siding pull apart, letting light through hundreds of tiny cracks, and some larger holes where siding is missing. In some cases, it’s so extreme that you can literally see through the barn as you drive by. This, to me, is the sign of a great barn.

The thing is, the vast majority of these run-down buildings are not abandoned — they are still very much in use by the people who own them. Sometimes, it looks like they’ve just got lots of old crap in there that they have no use for anymore, so it all pretty much just sits there, but it’s surprising the way people will use these buildings far past the point where they’re unsafe, right up to the time they collapse.

I think this says a lot about the people who own these buildings — they make do with what they have to extreme extents. Some live in trailers or crappy, dilapidated houses, with disintegrating barns — but they are thankful for what they have. I have a lot of respect for that kind of lifestyle.

I digress. These two barns we found were both “see-through barns,” and they were pretty much right next to each other. We found all kinds of cool stuff in and around them, including a turntable, an old wagon, a bunch of bikes, a binder from the 1960s, car and farm machinery parts, and a whole lot more.

Behind the barns, Sarah spotted an old 50s-looking truck that was blocked by severely overgrown plants, mostly with thorns. We managed to make our way back to the truck and take some photos of it as well. On the way back, I let go of a thorny branch, which hit Sarah in the face and got stuck in her hair. I felt terrible and helped get it out of her hair. She took it pretty well, and got out with just a scratch on her face.

After all that, it was time for a break. I looked at the GPS to try to figure out which way to go. It wasn’t very helpful, but my instincts, combined with some things on the GPS map, made me take a right. We ended up in a small town, which I initially thought was Helmsburg, but soon realized was Nashville. We went to a gas station where we often stop to use the restrooms and get some beverages.

I entered the mens’ room in this gas station, started peeing, and noticed that there were two buttons on the toilet’s tank: one with a yellow sticker, and one with a red sticker. The button with the red sticker on it was a little bigger than the other one. It took me a minute to figure out what they were for, upon which I looked up and saw a hand-written sign hanging above the toilet. It read:

  • Push yellow button for liquids
  • Push pink button for solids

I just about pissed on the floor from laughing, and then I noticed someone had hand-written on the plastic sleeve the sign was in a letter “P” by “liquids,” and “Poo” by “solids.” This had to be the funniest bathroom I’ve ever used, so much so that when I finished, I took Sarah in there to show her what I’d found.

Since we were in Nashville, we decided to stop on our way back to Bloomington at this burned down log cabin we’ve seen many times. We ended up having to step over a gate to get to the area where the cabin is, and saw another building that was abandoned. It wasn’t particularly old or run-down, but it was mostly vacant except for a few items, including a calculator. I took some photos in there and had Sarah take a few of me in some cool lighting where the sunlight was streaming in an open door.

We then proceeded to the log cabin, which we had joked in the past must have been burned down for the insurance money. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but it’s a funny thought. The weirdest thing there was that there was a fire extinguisher sitting on top of a pile of burned logs and other items. I guess someone had tried to stop the fire — maybe. The fire extinguisher looked suspiciously clean. I’m not sure what to think. It’s pretty hard to describe the cabin; the photos will do a better job.

On our way back, we continued looking for other things to photograph. We came up to a road on which I had long wanted to drive, but never had, and we went that way. This was where we saw the weirdest thing of the entire day: a blue school bus with a chimney coming out of the top, and smoke billowing out of the chimney. There were some goats in front of the bus, who became agitated with our presence and started “yammering,” as Sarah put it. Not exactly screaming, but I guess yelling at us to stay away from their owners’ bus. The neighbors lived in trailers and run-down houses. This whole area was pretty surreal, like a completely different world. I often felt that way when I lived in Rogers Park, although that is much closer to a ghetto than a trailer park. Overall, both can feel pretty surreal, and you see and hear things that you wouldn’t experience in any other context.

Finally, as we got closer to Bloomington, we stopped at a small shelter along State Road 46 that we’ve seen many times. We noticed that it has its own address! Pretty cool for a little shelter. It was pretty much empty except for some hay and a couple of bags of road salt. We took a couple of photos.

I’m pretty pleased with my new lens. I need to get to know it better, and I definitely did some things today I shouldn’t have done. I kept the aperture at 1.8 for much of the day, I really should mess with aperture settings more. I like to use depth of field to highlight whatever subject I’m shooting, but I’m sure there are times where I’m setting the depth of field too short. I also need to work on exposure, as for a while it seemed like the shots I was taking were turning out too bright (in Aperture Priority mode), so I put it in manual and started making things darker. This worked OK, but I need to get better at this. Ideally, I should be using manual exposure most of the time. I also want to try using this lens for infrared photography … its wide aperture would be great for that.

I took 360 photos today. I’m really getting out of hand with the number of shots I take. I filled up my 2-gig card and had to put in one of the 1-gig cards I had on hand. It’s convenient to be able to take as many shots as you want, but now I don’t have time to sort through all of it looking for the good shots. Maybe I should do some film photography soon to get me back to thinking through each shot better.

3 Responses to “Photographing Abandoned Buildings, Part II”

  1. Sarah Says:

    You are so awesome. All using funny bathrooms and hanging out with yammering goats.

  2. Van Says:

    HA. Goats. I hit the yellow button FWIW

  3. i, squub Says:

    I think taking 360 photos is awesome. I can see the point in thinking more about each shot, but I think having extra stuff is good.

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