Documenting the railway scene is more than just making pretty photos of trains passing bucolic countryside.
April 13, 2011, ten years ago today, having spent a weekend on England’s North Yorkshire Moors Railway (making pretty photos of steam locomotives in the moors), I took the Thameslink electric suburban train from Harpenden to London.
I alighted at Blackfriars, where I found the station under construction.
Working with my Nikon Z6 set to ISO 8000, I made these photos yesterday afternoon to document the progress on the HO-scale interpretation that I’m building with Kris Sabbatino in New Hampshire.
Since my last update several weeks ago, I’ve put down a lot more track, wired up significant portions of the railroad, and begun the task of fixing the track in place which includes laying down ballast.
Also, we have continued to acquire freight cars, mostly Reading Company hoppers. Construction is still very much in the railroad structural phase, the task of building mountains and towns is in the future!
Rather than work with a tripod, and make slow-ISO photos with very long shutter speeds and small aperture (for greater depth of field), I took the easier approach by simply boosting the ISO on the Z6.
Perhaps on my next round of photos I’ll dig out a tripod!
Friday, April 9, 2021, Conway Scenic Railroad operated a Work Extra on its Conway Branch. The sky was clear and blue and the sun bright. This was a perfect opportunity to experiment with my Nikon Z6 digital camera.
Although I purchased this image making machine six months ago, I haven’t come close to mastering it.
The Z6 has an amazing ability to capture and store visual information.
However, to best translate the Nikon RAW (NEF) file requires a bit of study and interpretation, and it is in the interpretation that I am still learning.
Below are two images of the Work Extra, and two interpretations of each. The top in each sequence represents the camera-JPG output with built-in Vivid color profile (scaled but otherwise unadjusted in post processing). The bottom of each sequence is my interpretation of the NEF file using Lightroom, where I’ve made nominal changes to color temperature, shadow and highlights, and overall contrast.
Five years ago, I traveled on the second leg of a two-day Irish Railway Record Society diesel rail tour. We had laid over at Killarney, and in the morning a select portion of the group made a round trip to Tralee and back, before heading eastward for a circuitous trip back to Dublin.
It was a gray Irish day, raining and spitting snow.
Ken Fox was our driver from Killarney in the morning, and Class 076 was our locomotive.
Traveling on the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland Cravens carriages afforded me some great views from the train as we made our way through the lush Spring countryside.
These digital images were exposed using my Fujifilm XT1.
It’s hard to believe that eight years have passed since I made the sprint from my old apartment at Islandbridge in Dublin to the top of the Phoenix Park Tunnel on the Conyngham Road to catch the elusive HOBS on its run toward Dublin’s North Wall yards.
As previously covered in Tracking the Light, Irish Rail’s modern ballast train is known by its initials HOBS, which stands for High Output Ballast System.
Working with my Canon EOS 7D digital camera, I exposed this sequence of images as the train accelerated around the bend at Islandbridge Junction. Old Irish Rail 074 was in the comparatively short-lived silver, black & yellow freight livery.
Last week on our ascent of New Hampshire’s Crawford Notch with Conway Scenic Railroad’s Work Extra 573, we encountered several minor obstacles.
Near milepost 84, about a mile from the summit, an ice fall had blocked the line.
Our crew set out to quickly remove it and then we were on our way again.
The lighting was flat and cold when I exposed these photos with my Nikon Z6. Keep in mind that if the sky had been clear, this portion of the railroad would have been in deep shadow, conditions that may have made for more contrast and thus more difficult lighting conditions.
I adjusted the camera NEF (RAW) files using Lightroom to improve the overall appearance of the photographs.
On this day (April 6th) 2014 I exposed a sequence of digital images of the Lisbon Metro (no, not Lisbon, New Hampshire) using my Lumix LX3.
Although I was soon to replace my trusty Panasonic Lumix LX3 with the more advanced and flexible LX7 model, I feel that in many ways the end-picture quality of the LX3 was preferable over the that from the LX7.
Recently, through the kindness of Tracking the Light reader Wm Keay, I now have in my possession my third LX7, which makes it my forth Lumix digital camera.
I’m looking forward to the next round of photos from the ‘wee Lumix’—long may it serve me!
Reading Company was among the most prolific users of the Hall Disc signal, one of the earliest forms of an electrically actuated signal.
Curiously, Reading continued to install new Hall Discs years after perfection of the electric three-position semaphore.
A few of Reading’s Halls survived into the diesel era.
Reading & Northern, which operates significant sections of the old Reading Company, installed this recreated Hall Disc near its Port Clinton, Pennsylvania offices in homage to Reading’s classic signaling.
In December 2014, I made this sequence of photos using Pat Yough’s FujiFilm XT1, on a trip to photograph R&N’s 4-6-2 Pacific number 425 that was running Christmas trips to Schuylkill Haven and Minersville.
Now that I’ve endeavored to recreate the Reading Company in HO Scale, I’ve stumbled upon a quandary: How to make operating scale models of the antique Hall Disc signal?
It was ten years ago today that I exposed this digital image of a Dublin LUAS tram gliding over the River Liffey on the Sean Heuston Bridge (formerly Kings Bridge).
At the time, I was working with my first, and only, digital camera, a Panasonic LX3 that I purchased primarily to use as a light meter to aid my film photography and to make social photos of my friends.
I soon learned that the Lumix was an exceptional image making machine and came to use it on almost a daily basis.
On March 31, 2021, I joined Conway Scenic’s ‘Work Extra 573’ that departed North Conway, NH in the morning to open the Mountain Division over Crawford Notch.
This was the first train over Crawford Notch since last November.
In this view west of the siding at Sawyers, the train has stopped for the crew to remove fallen branches that had fouled the gauge.
I exposed the above photo using my FujiFilm XT-1 with 16-55mm Fujinon zoom, and converted the RAW file to DNG format using Iridient X-transformer. I then adjusted this file with Adobe Lightroom to bring in sky detail, lighten shadows, reduce contrast, and improve color saturation.
Over the course of the day-long trip, I exposed more than 300 individual photos using two cameras, while recording more than an hour of video for the company archives.
I’ll be introducing a new format for Tracking the Light. This will be an ALL-RETRO format. Only black & white film photos will be displayed. These will only be exposed with traditional cameras using hand-ground glass and mechanical shutters.
Instead of scanning, latent (exposed and unprocessed negatives) will be sent directly to subscribers along with the correct chemistry for processing on-site. I will supply detailed instructions on how to process the film and make your own prints.
Instead of the post office, I will use the Railway Express Agency, so you will need to collect your ‘Tracking the Light’ post at your nearest REA office. I will supply a list of offices via telegram.
Owing to the added complexity of distributing Tracking the Light using all-retro means, I will only post annually with shipments carefully timed to arrive on April 1st!
Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light is a rail-photo blog.
On a whirlwind trip to Belgium, France and Germany in Spring 1999, I made this long telephoto image of the high-speed Thalys departing Brussels Midi for Paris.
I was working with my original Nikon N90S that I’d bought secondhand from Mike Gardner two years earlier fitted with a Tokina 400mm fixed telephoto that I bought from Doug Moore in the early 1990s.
Most unusual was I was working with a short-lived slide film emulsion sold as Fujichrome MS 100/1000 that offered variable ISO through push/pull processing.
I’d rated this film at ISO 200, which gave me an extra stop over the Fujichrome Sensia II (ISO 100) that I normally used. Fuji offered processing for this film that came with a special mailer on which you would tick a box to select the desired ISO for processing.
The lighting was also unusual: it had been raining, but shafts of diffused sun light were peaking through heavy fast moving clouds.
The effect of the 400mm lens compressed the complex array of track on approach to the busy Brussels terminal.
Monday, March 22, 2021 was a clear bright day in North Conway, NH.
Not a steel wheel was turning, but Conway Scenic Railroad had a variety of equipment positioned around the yard, so in the afternoon I ventured out of my office in the North Tower of the railroad station to make a few photos.
All of these images were exposed using my FujiFilm XT1 with 16-55mm Fujinon zoom lens. These were scaled from the camera JPG files profiled using the in-camera Velvia color palate.
Two weeks ago on our northward journey, Kris Sabbatino and I paused at Wells River to photograph the Vermont Rail System freight that we had been shadowing.
Over the years I’ve photographed the former Boston & Maine routes around Well River on various occasions several times, but until this most recent trip, I never managed to catch a train in motion on this infamous span.
Infamous because, back in 1984, this bridge had been damaged and effectively shut the line to traffic until it was repaired.
Exposed using my Nikon Z6 with 24-70mm lens.
Tracking the Light is a Daily Blog on Railway Photography.
On the evening of November 27, 2003, I used my old Contax G2 rangefinder to expose this Fujichrome Sensia color slide of Irish Rail’s Nenagh Branch train departing Roscrea, County Tipperary.
This was toward the end of regular locomotive hauled trains on the branch. A few weeks later Irish Rail’s 2700-series diesel railcars would assume most of the runs on this branch, although locomotives with sets Cravens carriages would still occasionally make an appearance on the line into 2004.
In August 1982, Bob Buck of Tucker’s Hobbies in Warren, Massachusetts brought Doug Moore, John Conn and me on a memorable Boston & Albany West End tour.
We started at Westfield and worked our way across the railroad, making it all the way to Amtrak’s Albany-Rensselaer station.
It was my first experience photographing Washington Hill—B&A’s big grade over the Berkshires.
We caught several Conrail freights, including one that we chased from Pittsfield east up toward Dalton.
Earlier in the trip, Bob drove us in his green Ford van along the right of way of the third track to Middlefield Station. When we reached milepost 129, we inspected one of the remaining 1830s-era stone arch bridges.
Here I made this view looking eastbound to show the GRS search light signal. Among the quirks of New York Central-era signaling was displaying a staggered ‘green over green’ for ‘clear’ on intermediate automatic block signals in graded territory. ABS Signals on the B&A Westend grades were continuously lit, while those on the East End tended to be approached lit.
You can see Bob at the wheel of his van.
I wasn’t good a picking my exposures and this frame of Kodachrome 64 was a full stop underexposed (too dark). For years this image was in my ‘3rds file’ (junk), but with modern scanning technology and Adobe Lightroom, I was able to make the image presentable again.
On the evening of June 7, 2015, I exposed these two color slides of a northward Amtrak train on CSX’s former Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac pausing for a station stop at Ashland, Virginia.
This was on a trip with Pat Yough to photograph Norfolk & Western J-class steam locomotive 611. On this day, we’d made a side trip to Ashland to catch up with photographer/author Doug Riddell.
I was working with a Canon EOS-3 with 40mm pancake lens. At the time film choice was very limited, and so I had the camera loaded with Fujichrome Provia 100F. Ten years earlier, I would have had a much greater choice of emulsions to pick from.
We maintained an old tradition: watching the passage of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited at Palmer, Massachusetts.
Kris Sabbatino and I met some old friends at CP83 in Palmer where we enjoyed takeout from the Steaming Tender (located inside the historic Union Station).
I looked up at the signals and said, ‘449 ought to be hitting the circuit at CP79 any second now.’ And on cue the light cleared to ‘green over red’.
I made these photos of Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited hitting the Palmer diamond using my Nikon Z6 with 24-70mm lens. I set the camera manually with a 1/1600th of a second shutter speed to better freeze the motion of the train.
Amtrak 449 is the Boston section of the train, which joins the New York section at Amtrak’s Albany-Rensselaer.
Last week, we heard New England Central 608 sounding for State Line from Moulton Hill in Monson, Massachusetts.
That was the call to send Kris Sabbatino and me into action.
We drove post haste through Monson, as the northward freight was approaching the ‘Monson Tunnel’ (Route 32 underpass at Academy Hill), and selected a spot well ahead of the train where the morning sun provided excellent illumination.
I made these two views using my Nikon Z6 with 24-70mm lens.
After exposure, I imported the NEF (RAW) files into Adobe Lightroom where I re-profiled the color and contrast.
Last Monday, March 8, 2021, Kris Sabbatino and I, followed New England Central’s southward 611 freight.
I drove us to my old standby location at East Northfield, where the NECR line toward Palmer, Massachusetts and New London, Connecticut diverges from the old Boston & Maine Connecticut River line (now operated by Pan Am Southern).
As the train approached I exposed a series of photos using my Nikon Z6.
I’ve displayed two variations of the same image.
The top image is a camera generated JPG with color set to Nikon’s Vivid profile.
The bottom image I created from the NEF RAW file in Adobe Lightroom by manipulating color, contrast, and saturation to emulate my FujiFilm XT1’s in-camera ‘Velvia’ mode.
My Nikon Z6 Mirrorless camera is an amazing tool for capturing images.
It has a tremendous ability to capture detail across a broad dynamic range.
Its RAW (NEF) files allow for a high degree of exposure latitude and post processing adjustment.
It’s unadjusted files are the closest to ‘true’ color of any camera that I have owned.
And yet, it is almost too much detail. But without the supersaturated punch that I’ve come to accept from my other digital cameras, notably my Fuji X-series.
On Monday, Kris Sabbatino and I photographed New England Central’s 611 arriving at Brattleboro, Vermont under a clear polarized blue dome. A near perfect morning, and yet contrasty with crusty snow on the ground and deep dark shadows cast along the sides of the locomotives.
I exposed for the snow to retain highlight detail with an expectation of making post processing adjustments to the NEF files with Adobe Lightroom.
My goal was to eye-up (estimate) the adjustment of my RAW files in order to emulate the richly saturated color profile automatically provided by my Fujifilm XT1 JPGs. This was an unscientific approximation without benefit from a detail study of the Nikon’s histogram in comparison with the Fuji’s.
I’ll plan on making a more critical project by working with these types of comparisons at a later date.
As we raced east on Rt2 in pursuit of Pan Am Southern’s ED-8, I kept my eye open for the turn that lead down to the railroad location on the old Boston & Maine known as ‘Farleys’.
I thought back to that February morning, 35 years ago, when working with my father’s Leica, I exposed the final frame on a roll of Kodachrome 64 of an eastward Boston & Maine loaded Bow coal train meeting the westward POPY (Portland to Potomac Yard) at Farleys.
While ED8 wasn’t quite as thrilling as that rolling meet, it was pretty neat to soak in the sight and sounds of this 106-car freight grinding up the grade toward Erving.
I exposed this photo using my Nikon Z6 with an aim to adjust the RAW (NEF) file to maximize the data presented so as to compensate for the excessively contrasty scene.
After photographing Pan Am Southern’s eastward ED8 passing searchlight signals at Lake Pleasant (See Monday’s Post), the chase was on!
Kris Sabbatino and I rolled eastward after the 106 car freight as it ascended the grade up the valley of the Millers River.
At Millers Falls, Massachusetts, we paused at the overhead bridge near the center of town that spans both former Boston & Maine and Central Vermont lines (now operated by Pan Am Southern and New England Central respectively) for a dramatic photo looking into the the afternoon sun.
Working with my Nikon Z6, I made a sequence of coming and going photos as the train roared by.
Later, I adjusted exposure, contrast and color using Adobe Lightroom to make for more pleasing images.
We continued after the train making more photos along the way!