Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas lights - Creswell, North Carolina 

Christmas Day Journey

When I was growing up, Christmas was a special time of year. Our house was alive with cooking and baking, decorating and the smell of fresh cut cedar.  My mother loved celebrating the season but her thoughts always turned to her aging parents and she longed to return to the house in the mountains where she grew up.

So every Christmas day until my grandparents died in 1963, we opened our presents, had a special Christmas breakfast and packed the car for the trip "home" to see my grandparents. In the 1950s, the trip took over eight hours and we would arrive after dark. Aunts and uncles sat in the overheated "parlor" to talk, while the cousins gathered in the kitchen, still warm from the fire in the cast-iron cook-stove, to compare Christmas bounty.

Later, we were all sent to sleep on cots or pallets on the floor in the attic room, warmed by the stone chimney that rose through the center of the house. I would lay awake in the dark and listen to the faint sounds of the grown-ups downstairs, and the winter wind in the mountains outside the single attic window.

But what I remember best about those Christmases was our small family, traveling together in the car along the two lane roads into the Virginia mountains. I remember the names of  the towns along the way:  Culpeper, Madison, Brightwood, Charlottesville, Waynesboro, Stuarts Draft, Greenville, Lexington, Natural Bridge.

Christmas decorations lit the way through each town, but the store windows were dark and the streets deserted. In the failing winter light, the road was lonely and a bit sad, but we were taking Mom home for Christmas.


Thanks for reading Photography In Place. We will be taking a short break next week, but will resume our regular publishing schedule on January 3, 2011. Hope you will stop by for a visit in the new year.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Cardinal and holly -Greene County, Virginia 

Best wishes for a 
Joyful Christmas Season
and a Prosperous New Year

Seasons Greetings from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Tomorrow we will publish our last post of 2010 titled "Christmas Day Journey."

We are going to take a few days off  next week, but will resume posting on January 3, 2011. Thanks for reading Photography in Place, and please stop by for a visit in the new year.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Service Station - Creswell, North Carolina 

The sun is low in the southern sky this time of year, and the light is good for photography throughout the day. Except for the cold, it is a great time to be out with a camera. Brooks Jensen, the editor of Lenswork magazine has some interesting thoughts on the subject in this podcast, Winter Light.


If you enjoy looking at old photos, take a look at this gallery of vintage Christmas photos on Shorpy. Click on the pictures in the gallery to see a larger version of the photo along with a short description. These old pictures are bound to bring back some memories of Christmases past.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

W.H. Snowden General Merchandise - Currituck, North Carolina

December 21, 2010

There are just four days of Christmas shopping left. There was a time when most, if not all Christmas shopping would take place in a  general store much like the one pictured above. It was certainly a simpler time, with no trips to the crowded mall, no need to visit dozens of stores to find the right gift. You just hoped that Mr. Snowden could keep a Christmas secret.

The Winter Solstice, the beginning of winter and the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, occurs this evening at 6:38 pm EST. Worldwide, there are dozens of festivals and ceremonies centered around the beginning of winter.

In 2010, a rare Lunar eclipse accompanies the Winter Solstice. It was visible in North America and the western half of South America starting at 1:33 a.m. eastern time this morning.

Update: If you missed the eclipse last night, take a look at Ctein's Post Eclipse Report over on The Online Photographer for a description of the event and some great photographs.

Monday, December 20, 2010

View from plantation house - Somerset Place, North Carolina

This picture was taken from the third floor window overlooking the gardens at Somerset Place. In the middle of the 19th century, this view was no doubt very different, but the interesting thing to me is that it could have looked this way 150 years ago. Stand at this window today and there is nothing that would have seemed unusual or out of place in 1860. There are no power lines, automobiles, paved roads, parking lots or fast food restaurants in sight. Of course, the camera can be selective, but one of the pleasures of a visit to Somerset Place is that once you leave your car and walk into the compound, there is almost nothing that seems inconsistent with the period. It seems a place set apart.

See more about Somerset Place here and here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Winter - Milltail Creek 

When I arrived on North Carolina's Outer Banks last Thursday night, the temperature was 26° F and Currituck Sound was fringed with ice. The weather conditions did not seem promising for another visit to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge for further explorations of Milltail Creek in the inflatable boat. We had spent two days at Alligator River in October (see here and here) and wanted to make one more trip this year.

Friday morning was warmer, the sun was shining and there was little wind. With forecast temperatures in the mid to upper forties, we set out for the mainland with the boat in the back of the truck. When we reached the launching area at the end of Buffalo City Road, there were patches of ice on the ground, but the water was free of ice, and we launched the boat in the cold morning air.

The morning was quiet. There was no wildlife to be seen; even the birds were still. Along the swampy shore, the dull orange of the cypress and the evergreen foliage provided the winter color, more subtle but just as lovely as the lush colors of fall. The low winter sun came and went behind the thin clouds, making the scene look warm and peaceful one minute, cold and gray the next.

We stopped and ate lunch on a small clump of dry land at the base of a large cypress tree and enjoyed the quiet and a peaceful sense of being surrounded by nature. Other than our small boat, there was no man-made object in view.

By three o'clock, the sun was already low in the sky, and the temperature was starting to drop. For a few brief moments, the sun found an opening in the clouds, and Milltail Creek was flooded with golden light.  It was a perfect ending to another great day. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Somerset Place - Creswell, North Carolina

From 1785 to 1865, Somerset Place was one of the south's largest plantations. Today, seven original buildings remain, including the plantation home. Pictured above is the plantation hospital on the left, and a reconstructed slave cabin on the right.

A light rain was falling when we arrived at the site, and I photographed in the rain until I was too soggy to carry on. The winter light in the late afternoon was soft and the colors were enhanced by the rain. We were the only visitors and in the quiet and the rain, the nineteenth century seemed closer than the twenty-first.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Saturday afternoon - Washington County, North Carolina  

Last week I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in North Carolina. Friday we made a winter trip on Milltail Creek in the inflatable boat, and I will be posting about that later. It rained on Saturday and we were not able to get out in the boat, so we spent the day on the mainland west of Manteo and visited Somerset Place, an antebellum plantation. The picture above was taken on the road leading to Somerset.

Please visit Photography In Place Print Gallery to purchase a print of "Saturday Afternoon"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

For The Birds . . .

I am not a nature photographer, but several times a year I haul out my tripod and cantankerous old 80-320mm zoom lens and take some bird pictures. This activity is usually motivated by a new visitor at the feeder, such as the recently spotted rufous towhee.

Photographing birds is not easy. Right off the bat, there's the problem of getting close enough. Even with a long telephoto lens, songbirds are small. Creeping up on birds is almost impossible so you sit around and get cramped and out of sorts before the birds decide you are a part of the scenery and come in close enough to photograph.

Cardinals turn up unexpectedly
 The next problem is getting the birds to stay still long enough to take a picture. With some birds, patience and anticipation combined with a fast shutter wins the day. Often enough, luck is your only friend, and with some birds, even luck is not much help. I have never taken an unblurred picture of the tireless and nervous titmouse. And even if the bird does stay still, camera shake at long focal lengths is likely to produce some blurry shots, and in all probability, the shot with the best pose and light will be one of the blurry ones.

Who's got the focus?
If that is not enough, consider the problems of focus. In order to minimize the effects of camera shake and flitting birds, you select a fast shutter speed. Working in natural light, this almost always means a fairly wide apeture which reduces the depth of field to somewhere around about 1/64 inch. What you get is a tack sharp beak tip in the middle of a vaguely bird-shaped ball of fuzz. And what about focusing? My sixty-some year old eyes are not too reliable, and the camera's auto-focus is not to be trusted. Just as I get ready to snap the shutter, the camera, whirring and grinding, shifts focus to a chinaberry tree on the other side of the yard. The bird flies away.

It is really all too much. So after a couple of hundred exposures, I put the tripod away and hope that luck will have intervened to give me one or two useable pictures. I am not a nature photographer, but I sure would like to have a nice picture of that towhee. I wonder if taxidermy is real expensive?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Abandoned camp - Milltail Creek - Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

The photo above was taken during my trip to North Carolina in October. This building on the water's edge  was the only man-made structure we saw on Milltail Creek that day. It appears to be accessible only by water, and was probably a hunt club or fish camp. We did not attempt to go inside. The structure is partially collapsed and did not look too safe, and there were rusty nails sticking out all over. We kept our distance, not wanting to risk a puncture in the inflatable boat. There was a lot of swamp between us and home.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

C&O Freight house - Gordonsville, Virginia  

My visit to Mitchener Station in North Carolina (see yesterday's post) reminded me of the C&O freight house in nearby Gordonsville. In size and construction, the two buildings are very alike. The Gordonsville freight house is an old Chesapeake and Ohio building. It was moved about 200 feet to its present location 6 years ago and the local historical society is pursuing renovation, but there has been little visible progress. The track is part of the old Piedmont Subdivision, and is now leased by the Buckingham Branch Railroad.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mitchener Station - Selma, North Carolina 

Last week I took a road trip to Charleston, South Carolina to see the grandchildren. Traveling south at this time of year is a bit like going back in time to the weather we experienced here in Virginia four weeks ago. The trees still had some color too.

On the way back, I stopped for lunch in Selma, North Carolina. Selma is a railroad town that grew up around the North Carolina Railroad in the 1860s. Mitchener Station was built in 1855 and is thought to be the oldest surviving train station in North Carolina.

The outskirts of Selma are littered with fast food restaurants and the kind of growth that is common along Interstate 95. But the town itself is well preserved and has a nice "small town" feel.  For an ongoing photographic journal of the town, visit Selma Daily Photo.

The day was cool but not uncomfortable and walking around town for a few minutes made a nice break from driving. These pictures of the station were made with the Pentax K10D. I also shot some black and white film with the Pentax MX but haven't finished the roll yet. After eating in Selma, I drove straight through, and got home in Virginia just after dark.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010