Main Street Photography

Main Street in Laurel, Maryland, looking east. I applied effects with Topaz filters to give a surreal look to the image. No cars were removed or harmed during the photo shoot.

Main Street in Laurel, Maryland, looking east. I applied effects with Topaz filters to give a surreal look to the image. No cars were removed or harmed during the photo shoot.

I want to get back into photography. My camera gear has been closeted far too much, and I have been holed up in the house way too much. I’m telecommuting full-time now, which is great for some things but not so much for others. And I’ve gotten so fed up with traffic around here that I just don’t want to go out. There has to be something to draw me out. Years ago I would go out driving just to explore, but we have so much rubber-stamp development there’s really no point driving 20 miles just to see what’s 15 miles from your house. Yawn.

There aren’t a lot of vistas around here, either, so taking landscape photos is a bit difficult. But I am interested in doing some urban/architectural photography. I went out to Laurel’s Main Street several years ago to take a series of photographs for a class project. It was a rainy day and traffic was incredibly sparse, so I took advantage of it to take this rather desolate-looking photograph. I like how the road leads the eye to the horizon, and the adventurer in me wants to travel that road and see what’s up ahead.

Today is overcast and now I’m wondering if I could find something that interests me enough to take some photos with emotional vibe, but I don’t want to drive that much. There are plenty of buildings here, just so much of it is generic uber-development that it doesn’t seem to have any soul. But there are some odd shops along Route 1. Maybe I’ll pry myself away from my desk and step outside, despite the 23-degree weather. Yikes!

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Windows and Stone

Laurel, Maryland: A window in the old Laurel Volunteer Fire Department building. Here, I cropped the image to focus your attention on the window itself and not on the ugly power lines or pavement.

The original image was not level and had too many distracting elements.

I’m going through some of my older photographs and seeing what raw material I have for doing some creative work in Photoshop. I keep buying issues of Photoshop Creative and other art magazines and then I let them sit on my desk while I’m busy with schoolwork or other stuff. But this is the final week of my humanities class and I only have one more short assignment to work on, and I already feel like a kid of the verge of summer vacation.

I’m taking a month’s break before starting my next history class in June. I’m just about halfway through my master’s degree program in European history (another week!) and plan to use the final weeks of April and all of May to finish my novel and catch up on some other creative projects that I’ve started — one of which is learning Photoshop CS5 a lot better. So, now it’s time to dust off the electronic cobwebs from some of my digital files and get creative!

What I’ve done with these two photographs is extremely basic. With the window image, I had to straighten it so that the lines in the image were horizontal. I had taken the picture with a hand-held camera and the image was crooked in the frame. Plus, there were a lot of distracting elements in the original photo. This is one of those small things that you don’t necessarily see while you’re out taking photos, but as soon as you pull it up onscreen it looks awful. The trick is to start training yourself to look for these things while you’re out taking pictures so that you have less mess to deal with once you’re back at the computer, although sometimes you can’t avoid them altogether. You don’t want to spend all your time editing out power lines from your images!

I used the Image Rotation feature in Photoshop and manipulated the image by rotating it about 1.3 degrees counterclockwise. I had to play with the numbers a bit until it looked straight. I don’t know if there’s a protractor tool or not in Photoshop CS5, so I just winged it. I haven’t been using Photoshop for some time and I’m rusty with masking and some of the finely tuned controls, plus I haven’t learned most of the new tools in CS5 (I upgraded from CS, so it’s a bit of a shock to my system!).

After straightening the image I used Unsharp Mask and applied some sharpening, careful to keep the amount low enough so that I didn’t introduce major artifacts to the image. I cropped the image so the street and electric wires are gone, since they add nothing but clutter to the image. The result is that the window and the stonework become the center of attention. I also used Topaz Adjust’s HDR filter to bring out some detail in the stone. Take a close look at the original image and the edited image. There’s a great deal of texture in the brick and stone, and the glass has a much more reflective quality than it did in the original.

Here, I've given emphasis to the texture of the stonework by converting the image to black and white with the Topaz B&W filter plug-in.

For this smaller image of the building’s dedication plaque, I did very little except convert the image to black and white with Topaz filters. I liked the angles in this image because they lend some movement to the picture and make it a bit less static. And the horizontal lines aren’t so far removed from being level that the image seems unbalanced, either. Also, there’s an interesting contrast between the textures and shapes. The stone and concrete are rough enough that you can almost feel the texture, while the glass is smooth. The stones are irregular in shape but the square glass blocks with their vertical and horizontal dividers make for a strict geometric background.

Main Street, Laurel

When you read a novel or watch a movie on TV, a town’s main street is often depicted as a bustling center of activity, the busy heart of town where all the locals shop. Perhaps that is still true for many places, but in the suburban town that I grew up in, we didn’t even have a main street. Instead, we had a highway.

Today I live in College Park. Although College Park does technically have a main street — and the city proclaims it from colorful banners that hang from the streetlamps through the central part of town — that street is U.S. Route 1, a heavily travelled thoroughfare that bisects College Park on its way north towards Baltimore.

Route 1 is traffic congestion central. Crossing this busy strip of asphalt is no easy task for a pedestrian, and the main street that results has more in common with a strip mall that it does with the mild-mannered, pedestrian friendly main street that most people associate with the name.

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In contrast, Laurel’s Main Street is the kind of road that you associate with the name. It has restaurants and stores, a church, a post office, and even apartment buildings and homes. The only thing missing on Main Street is a gas station — but for that you need only to drive a few more blocks south or west.

Although it has a variety of stores, Main Street is a curious mixture of past and not-quite-present. That’s because it really isn’t the center of town life anymore — that title goes to our friend, Route 1. Sidelined but not out of the game, Main Street has instead become a haven for art galleries, antique stores, and one-of-a-kind boutiques.

At the western end, Main Street boasts a professional center, built from brick and styled to blend in with the existing local architecture. There, dentists, doctors, and lawyers ply their trades alongside the barbeque restaurant and sandwich store. The professional center’s parking lot is behind the buildings and backs up to the Patuxent River. To the east there’s a railway station which is still in use as a busy commuter hub.

I decided to do my photojournalism class project, which I finished in May, on Laurel’s Main Street. As luck would have it, every weekend when I had time to take photos, it rained. No matter, though, because I like rainy weather photos. There is a timeless nature to rainy days, and the diffuse lighting offers a chance to take pictures without having to worry about which direction the sun is coming from, or whether or not the harsh shadows will lose detail in the photograph. Also, the reflections can be wonderfully artistic additions to an otherwise bland photograph. It’s just a matter of how you use them.

End of an Era

The area we live in has been changing, sometimes quickly, sometimes too quickly. It’s not that new stores are being built in addition to the old familiar things, but that the one-of-a-kind stores are being run out of business and replaced by clone stores. Now I know that Tastee-freez is a franchise and that there are more than one of them, but in the Washington D.C. metro area they are very rare.

TasteeFreez
The TasteeFreez sign. Aperture: f/22; 20mm lens.

Laurel is about 8 miles away from us, and we end up doing a lot of shopping there. At least, there are several stores there that we visit on a fairly regular basis, anyway. One of our rituals was to drive to Laurel, stop at the Tastee-freez for cheeseburgers and the world’s best french fries, get a Starbucks coffee, and be fueled to do a bit of shopping.

Going out of Business
Oh no! No more french fries!

It was with horror that we ended up in an empty Tastee-freez parking lot one Saturday only to find “going out of business” signs plastered on the windows. Was it our fault? Didn’t we buy enough cones, enough fries, to keep them in business? When Ben asks me what I want to do for lunch on Saturday, I keep having to check myself to keep from saying “Let’s go to TasteeFreez.”

I miss TasteeFreez. But I did what photographers do; I took some shots of the store, the sign, the empty parking lot. Like they say, “Take a picture, it’ll last longer.”