Summer is here.
That means summer road trips are here. Time to pack everything you need (and don’t need) into the car and hit the road.
You’ve been behind the wheel for two hours and it seems like two weeks. It’s a never-ending cycle of whiny kids, car games, too much junk food, the dog hanging out the window, and the occasional pit stop at the closest gas station you can find.
It’s your own personal version of National Lampoon’s Vacation.
When you made the stop at that gas station, did you ever really look at it? I mean REALLY looked at it? Have you noticed the lights? The lines? The architecture? My recent project for Coulson Oil gave me a new appreciation of the humble, yet very important, gas station.
Last October, I was contacted by one of the senior executives at Coulson Oil to photograph a few of their selected gas stations. The goal of the project was simple: Coulson Oil was building a new corporate headquarters in North Little Rock, Arkansas and they wanted artwork of a few selected stations to hang on the walls.
The project was to photograph seven locations: four in Little Rock, one in Conway and one in both Texarkana, Arkansas and Texarkana, Texas. The client originally wanted seven digital files of their choosing, one from each location. Since they had a specific concept in mind, they would handle the retouching and printing on their own.
The client was very specific in their request, they wanted twilight shots of each station showing the blur of the cars as they moved in and out of each station. I was given a deadline of late February to deliver the files.
Over the next few weeks and months, I kept an eye on the weather (we had a very rainy fall and early winter) waiting for what was hopefully going to be a nice evening and traveled to each location about 60 minutes before sunset. The station manager was notified ahead of time I was coming out so when I arrived, I stopped in to say hello and scoped out my angle(s).
With sunset falling earlier and earlier, I was able to time a lot of the visits to coincide with evening rush hour so I knew many of the locations would be busy. For a few locations, my husband came with me and drove our car in and out to add to the effect.
For sunset, architectural photos, you have less than a 15 minute window between too light and too dark. I photographed and proofed a variety of lighting looks so they client would have the largest selection to choose from. At most locations, I was able to get two or three angles in my short window of time since I had arrived so early and pre-planned my angles.
On a few occasions, when I left the house, the skies were perfect. But as I drove and got closer to the station, walls of clouds moved in. I had feared it was a wasted trip but the ominous skies gave a very pleasant and unexpected look. Again, this gave the client having a large variety of looks to choose from.
Two of my favorite photos came from the Texarkana, Texas location. As I left Little Rock, the skies were perfect. During the 2+ hour drive, the clouds thickened up just as the sun was setting. What resulted was a very vivid purple and blue sky. Initially, I was concerned because this location was not as busy as others, but the client preferred this one with a little less traffic since it was one of their newer locations so the details of the station were really front and center.
Initially, the client only wanted delivery of digital files. Half way through the project, things shifted a bit. The client then asked me if I could recommend a printing company. Since I have been using a pro lab based out of state going back to 2004, I knew they were perfect for the job. After a bit of back and forth discussion on the look they were hoping for, I felt that metal prints would help them achieve their goals. I sent the client an 11x14 high gloss, metal print (with my compliments) as a sample so they could get an idea of what this would look like.
It was perfect. They loved it.
Between the seven gas stations I photographed over nearly three months, the client chose 24 different images for final delivery. Twenty two metal prints were ordered at 40x30 to line the hallways and two at 60x40.
After a few shipping snafu’s (a few prints arrived bent) my printer sent new ones, free of charge, and they were perfect.
For digital retouching, the client left mostly everything up to my judgement and discretion. Since I prefer to (when possible) get everything right in camera, most of the retouching was focused on cleaning up random sensor dust specs, digital removal of some trees and power lines, removing unsightly oil stains from the pavement by the pumps. I opted not to make the pavement too clean and new since this was a gas station after all. Certain aspects were very tedious so I hired out some aspects.
One of the biggest surprises I had while working on this project was the overall cleanliness of the Roadrunner convenience stores owned by Coulson. A visit to the ladies room followed by buying a Coke and bag of chips was the last thing I did before I headed home. I was shocked, and I mean really surprised, at the cleanliness of the ladies room. Let’s face it, we’ve all used the restroom at gas stations at some point in our lived and some are pretty damn nasty. ALL of the ladies rooms at the Roadrunners were spotless and fresh.
I really loved working in this project for several reasons. I was given the opportunity to photograph a gas station from an architectural standpoint which was a first for me. I was pleased with the variety of different looks I gave my client considering I only photographed seven location. Time of day, cloud cover (or lack thereof) building angle in relation to sun angle plus timing the cars all played a role in how an image turned out. But what I was most excited about was working so closely with my client from start to finish with not only taking the photos, but handling the printing and personally delivering the artwork within my deadline.
I’ve been to the new Coulson Oil headquarters a few times for other projects related to Coulson. See my other blog posts on working with Evo Business Environments and Fennell Purifoy Architects for more details. It really gave me great pride to walk the hallway and see my work.
To see all of the photos, head over the the Recent Work section of my website.