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Postcards from the country

2006.09.24 — Culture | Postcards | Travel | by Derek Jensen

country field

A cornfield by a country road in northern Indiana. This is a natural sky, but I've saturated it a bit. (full res)

I like photographing buildings (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), and I generally think of the country as the empty space in between buildings, but I happen to live (and grew up) near the country. Not in the country; just near it. I have water and sewage provided by the town (actually, I provide the sewage; the town just provides a way of getting rid of the sewage), but I could walk to the country if I had to. The country is within walking distance.


And being a near-country boy as I am and a near-photographer as I am, I occasionally take pictures in the country. If you've looked at some of my other photos, you might have seen it in the background sometimes, behind the buildings.


Note: I've kind of given up on the 1400 x 1050 "hi res" size. That size happens to be the resolution of my monitor, so it made a convenient size for wallpaper (at least for me), but I've gotten a lot of inquiries asking to use my photos for print projects, which caused me go back and add full resolution master versions for those photos. Now, you can click the image on this page for an 800 x 500 pixel medium resolution image or click the link for a 3400 x 2300 pixel full resolution image.


country road

A paved country road in northern Indiana. (full res)

There are a couple of things you can find, as a photographer, in the country that are rare in the city. One is depth. The country tends to go on and on into the distance until you're sick of it—especially in Indiana, which is so flat that the highway patrol sometimes finds bowling balls that hopped the lane and rolled out onto the road for a couple of miles before ending up in a ditch.


Depth can be nice sometimes in the way that it allows lines to recede into the horizon and create an interesting composition. Compositions in the city tend to be rather flat and two-dimensional.


country pumpkins

Pumpkins! (full res)

The other thing the country has is color. Cities tend to be rather beige and gray, with rigid geometric patterns that are interesting enough but eventually a little boring. Of course, color gets drained away when the light wanes, and there's rarely enough light in the country to make an interesting night shot, so you're pretty much limited to shooting in daylight and twilight when the sky is clear.


A city can look interesting even on a dull, rainy day or an overcast evening. But the country needs the shimmer of sunlight in gold or orange or red. There's no such thing as a good night shot of a dirt road.


country lake

Hoffman Lake, just off US30, near Warsaw, Indiana. (full res)

Particularly nice about color in the country is the autumn turning of leaves, which in northern Indiana and Ohio can be very colorful. That's when the uniform greenery of the countryside turns to yellows, oranges, reds, and browns at all different times, side-by-side along the road. If you're a city person, you may not fully appreciate how spectacular this can be. You also may not realize that the night sky is supposed to have a million stars, not forty-seven.


There is a handful of small lakes and a couple of large rivers in my area, and they have a calm, natural feel of their own that is different from country roads, woods, and fields. Invariably, there is a boat or two out on a nice day, and it's tricky to get a good picture with an uncooperative boat. They zoom back and forth a little too fast and tend to stay a little too far away.


country river

A wide bend in the St. Joe River near Elkhart, Indiana. (full res)

There are two photos of water on this page, and both of them have a boat. One is perfectly natural, but for the other, I cut the boat out of another picture in the set and pasted it where I wanted it in the new picture. I'm pretty good at this kind of trickery, but I usually limit myself to removing things like stray tree branches, signs, and fat people. See if you can figure out which one is the fake.


I often stop in the country to take pictures of the sky. On a nice day, with a pleasant blue sky and a few fluffy clouds, you can get a very nice, broad sky shot in the country. But a good sky can be very useful. Some of my Indiana country skies have ended up hanging out behind buildings in Columbus and Dayton. One wound up in Las Vegas behind the MGM Grand lion.


country wind turbine

A small wind turbine in northern Indiana. (full res)

I sometimes stitch them together into a panorama and/or use them to replace dull gray or burned out skies in other photos. This is a little tricky, because not only do you have to cut around the buildings and trees, you have to pick the right sky to use as a replacement or it looks weird and unnatural.


A dull gray day washes out colors and doesn't allow much in the way of shadows, for example, so if you put a clear blue, sunlit sky in the background, it doesn't look right and ends up seeming phony. The Dayton images are that way.


country farm

Bales of straw at a farm near my house in northern Indiana. (full res)

The pictures of straw bales I've added here remind me of a question a coworker posed a few years ago. What is the difference between hay and straw? At the time, I didn't know exactly, since my farmer grandfather grew feed corn and kept pigs and chickens, and I don't recall ever running thru a field of alfalfa as a child. But I've researched it since then.


Well, hay is a nutritious long grass fed to animals; it comes in several varieties, one of which is alfalfa. It's the primary feed for animals that are not "grain-fed" or fed by natural grass grazing.


country hay rick

Round bales of straw at a different farm near my house in northern Indiana. (full res)

Straw is the less-nutritious remains of a grain crop commonly used as animal bedding, stuffing for scarecrows, and decorative bales for high school adaptations of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It used to be considered useful but, according to Wikipedia, it's kind of a nuisance today.


Hay bales are normally green, while straw bales are normally brownish yellow or "straw colored." I could be wrong about the bales in the pictures on this page; they're yellow, so I've labeled them "straw," but I could be mistaken.


Like I said, I grew up near the country, not in it. And Grandpa played his cards pretty close to the vest.


More postcards from the country....


f e e d b a c k

Derek's Dad wrote:

Yep, you're right about the hay and straw...   You see I actually did grow up on a farm and ran through a field of alfalfa (which became hay)...    And, I also ran through fields of both Wheat and Oats which became straw (after the grain was combined [that is, harvested with a combine —Ed.])...    Cows ate hay but likes to just lay on the straw for bedding... I also helped cut, rake, bale and load it on the wagon for putting in the barn in the haymow.. Farm work was hard.. Did I ever tell you about walking 8 miles to school when the snow was as high as the fences...


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