I-70 Sans Silhouettes


Kansas Cottonwoods. Cottonwoods bask in a gap in the summer storms near Ogallah, Kansas.

Last week’s post was all about the roadside silhouettes that I photographed on my recent journey across Kansas and eastern Colorado. While the entire trip was under stormy skies, there were moments when the sunlight obliged by highlighting some interesting subjects through a gaps in the clouds. The image above is a nice example where the sidelight from the sun gives the cottonwood trees’ leaves a vibrant shade of green. The trees are the subject, but there are a lot of supporting details that make this image special: the few fenceposts on the left edge echoing the tree trunks, the narrow sliver of green that leads your eye across the image to the right, the texture of the furrows in the foreground, the yellowish fields that complete a fairly simple color palette with the green and blueish-gray, and—once you notice it—the water tower far in the background, surrounded by billows of blowing dust. While the image is really about everything going on across the lower portion of the image, the sky above adds mood, drama, and rationale. There is a lot going on in this image on both a visual and narrative level. Minimalist images with very singular focus get a lot of kudos in photographic circles, but I tend to prefer images with a little more complexity—images that tell a story and reward some exploration, images where there is more to learn after the first few seconds.

Here is another image with some complexity that also tells a story:

Maybe Tomorrow. Storm clouds threaten a field in Ellis, Kansas.

The pair of (very similar) green trees balance the pairing of blue tractor and red mower, and the these two pairs make a nice triangle beneath the clump of lighter clouds amidst a field of dark gray storm clouds. Presumably someone should be driving that tractor to mow the field, but I can picture that driver looking up at those clouds and just heading back home.

Little Boxcar on the Prairie. A dilapidated boxcar dwelling sits abandoned under dark skies near Ogallah, Kansas.

In the image above, the story is a little different: the boxcar was clearly used as a dwelling, but decades of severe weather and neglect have left those days far behind except for the most desperate of souls seeking shelter.

The last post had a number of windmill images, but those were all silhouettes. In the following image, the sun is actually off out of frame to the left, but the clouds only allow some very diffuse light from that direction, essentially just enough to prevent the silhouette; but since the highlights are coming from the right, the sun must be bouncing off some exposed clouds in that direction out of the frame. I didn’t notice this subtlety at the time (I was, after all, zipping by at 75 mph or so) but in reviewing my images in Lightroom there was some appeal to the image beyond the composition: it has taken me a while to figure out why the image intrigued me.

Windmills Under Stormy Skies. Stormclouds roll across the prairies over fields of windmills, Colby, Kansas.

This final image is something a little different: just one of the many little oddities (like derelict billboards and such) that line roads all over the country. These are tricky because, being so close the road, they just flash by in an instant; I saw something very similar to this earlier but was unprepared and missed it. This time I was ready. I am really not sure what this ball on a pole was originally and how many layers of peeling paint are on it, but this radio station does live on about 20 miles further west along I-70 in Goodland, Kansas: URock Classic Rock, KKCI 102.5 FM:

Radio Buoy. A local classic rock radio station advertisement stands along I-70 in Colby, Kansas.

Technical notes. The photographs in this post were taken with a Nikon Z8 and the Nikkor Z 24-120mm f/4 S. All were processed from RAW in Adobe Lightroom Classic.

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