The other night I made this digital photograph of Boston’s South Station.
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 with 12mm Touit, I set the ISO to 1600 and handheld the camera at ¼ sec.
I calculated exposure manually using the camera meter, and then intentionally increased the exposure by about ½ stop. (In otherwords I let in more light to the sensor than recommended by the meter).
In post processing, I adjusted contrast and exposure to control highlights and lighten the night sky in order to overcome two of the common failings of night photographs: blasted highlights and excessive inky blackness.
Amtrak ‘Cities Sprinter’ ACS-64 number 633 tows one of its sister electrics with train 163 as it arrives at Providence, Rhode Island on Saturday, December 2, 2017.
I exposed this view using my Lumix LX-7.
Amtrak’s line at Providence is charmless, but functional. Heavy electrification in an urban environment is rarely picturesque. To make a satisfactory image of a moving train takes patience, skill or both.
This is a routine view of American passenger rails in action, nothing sexy, and nothing complicated or tricky photographically.
Does my cross-lit midday view of a Siemens electric with 1970s-era Amfleet passenger cars work for you?
Autumn sunrise. No two are the same. The mix of clouds and particulates in the air make for endless mixtures of texture and color.
Last week I arrived in Worcester to take the 7am MBTA train to Boston.
I made these sunrise views using my FujiFilm X-T1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit lens handheld.
Working with the RAW files, I made some minor adjustments in Lightroom to balance highlights with shadows and tweak color balance.
The RAW file is not what your eye sees.
Where the in-camera Jpg uses a pre-profiled set of parameters in regards to color saturation, contrast etc. The digital RAW file represents the data as captured by the camera and is comparable to a film negative; it represents an intermediate step that requires adjustment and interpretation to produce a pleasing photograph.
I typically expose both a pre-set in-camera Jpg (often with one of Fuji’s digitally replicated film color profiles, such as Velvia) and a RAW file simultaneously.
In November 2017, I returned to this location in advance of the approaching northward Housatonic freight NX-12 that featured two early 1960s-era GP35s in the lead followed by 32 cars (28 loads, 4 empties) and another GP35 at the back.
I find the railroad setting here fascinating. The combination of the traditional line with wooden ties and jointed rail in a setting of old factories, freight house and passenger station makes for a rustic scene out of another era.
Working with a Nikon F3 with 50mm lens I made a series of black & white photos on Kodak Tri-X. And, I also exposed a sequence of digital color photos using my FujiFilm X-T1.
VueScan offers me a high degree of control, but I’ve found requires a bit of practice and experimentation to obtain the best scans.
I typically scan Kodachrome 25 slides at 4000 dpi (dots per inch) and then output as a Tif file to obtain the greatest amount of data. For this slide I opted to make a multiple pass scan to retain a higher degree of shadow detail. (VueScan offers the multiple pass option under its ‘Input’ pull down menu).
To make the most of the scan for internet presentation, I imported the Tif file into Lightroom and lightened the shadows and balanced the highlights, before outputting as a scaled Jpg. (The original scan remains unchanged during this process).
Kodachrome slides recorded tremendous amounts of information and the original Coolscan Tif is far too large to present here.
The old Western Pacific Junction at Keddie, California between WP’s east-west transcon line from Oakland to Salt Lake City and the Inside Gateway/High Line route north to Bieber was once one of the most photographed bridges in California.
What’s not evident from most photographs is that this impressive looking bridge can be viewed from California Highway 70—the main road through the Feather River Canyon.
On a dull October 2003 afternoon I made this view of the famed ‘Keddie Wye’ (as the junction is popularly known).
Contrast and texture make this photo work. My color slides from that day of the train crossing the bridge are less impressive.
Exposed on Kodak 120-size Tri-X using a Rolleiflex Model T with a Zeiss Tessar; processed in Ilfotec HC, and scanned using an Epson V750. Final contrast adjustments were made in Lightroom to emphasize highlights and lighten shadows.
Tracking the Light Publishes Something New Everyday!
In March 1984, I borrowed my father’s Rolleiflex Model T and exposed a roll of 120-size Ektachrome of Boston & Maine freights in the Connecticut River Valley.
The Rollei was an old camera and there was nothing electronic on it. Setting the camera was entirely up to the photographer. I was still in high school and my skills at using a hand-held light meter were less than perfect.
In short, the combined effect of snow on the ground and my lack of experience left me with some seriously underexposed medium format transparencies.
I was disappointed with my results and left the uncut film in the box that it was returned to me from the lab. I left them there for 33 years and only re-discovered them a few weeks ago. (Try that with your digital photos. No actually, don’t try that!).
With the technology now at hand I decided to see what I could do to make these photos presentable despite serious underexposure (suffering from receiving insufficient light).
Working with an Epson V750 flatbed scanner, I scanned the transparencies (positive color film) using VueScan 9×64 (version 9.5.91) software.
Scanning, like photography, is an art and I’ve found to make the most effective scans often requires a bit of knowledge and skill.
I’ve worked with both the Epson and VueScan software, and while both produce excellent results, for this effort I chose VueScan because it allowed me greater control of the scanning process.
To extract more information from these difficult photos, I opted to make multi-pass scans, which do a better job of capturing detail in high-lights and shadows. The software combines the data in the final file.
Once scanned, I then imported the Tif files into Lightroom for post processing adjustments. The photos presented here are scaled from the original tif files (which are far too large for internet presentation).
The results are not perfect, but vastly superior to the muddy, dense original chromes.
To allow you to better understand how I’ve set up the scanner with the VueScan software, I’ve included screen shots (above) of the various sub-menus which show the various options and parameters I used.
There is more than one way to make a scan, and I’m sure if I continue to play with these chromes I may get an even better result. However, I have thousands of photographs that need scanning, and I’m limited to 24 hours a day.
The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania is one of my favorite American railway museums both because of its great collection of Pennsylvania Railroad, Reading Company, Conrail and Amtrak equipment, and for its stunning interior presentation that makes railroad equipment compelling to look at.
I exposed these photos on a visit in mid-November 2017 with Pat Yough having spent the afternoon photographing the nearby Strasburg Railroad at work.
Among the fascinating aspects of the museum’s static collection are the numerous vintage freight cars that span a century of service. Too often the common freight car—the backbone of American railroad freight transport—is overshadowed in preservation by more glamorous equipment.
Yesterday I received my copy of the January 2018 Trains Magazine that features my most recent column.
Using my Lumix LX7, I made the photo illustrating my text on-board an SNCF TGV high-speed service from Brussels to Lille back in April 2017.
Below is a view of the same train at sunrise in Brussels prior to departure. Although unstated in the article, this was part of a trip across Europe during my research for my up-coming book on European Railway travel.
Over the years I made countless photos of Amtrak’s block-like E60 electrics working underwire.
So for me it’s a bit strange to see one of these 1970s-era machines on static display outside of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania alongside a PRR DD1 electric and some other classics, including a 1980s-era AEM-7 (topic of a future Tracking the Light Post).
Since today Amtrak 603 represents the E60 fleet, I scanned through my archives to locate photo of 603 at work on the Northeast Corridor. It’s pictured with a long distance train on August 1, 1986 at Linden, New Jersey.
I couldn’t have anticipated then that engine 603 would someday be a museum piece!
On a trip to the Pittsburgh area, I made these black & white photos on Tri-X in February 1987 at New Castle, Pennsylvania.
While, I like the effects of back lighting on this westward Chessie System train, I was thwarted in my efforts at producing satisfactory prints.
Complicating my printing problems were edge effects that had resulted in un-even processing that affected the sky highlights more dramatically than shadow areas.
After about a half dozen attempts using Kodak double-weight paper I’d given up.
The other day this roll of 120 Tri-X finally worked its way to the top of the scanning pile, and after scanning at high-resolution, I thought maybe I’d try to work with the back-lit photos using Lightroom to see if I could improve upon my printing efforts from 1987.
Instead of dodging and burning on the aisle, working digitally I’ve applied digital graduated filters to control highlights and shadows, contrast, and the overall exposure.
Two weeks ago I caught Amtrak engine 184 in the Northeast Direct heritage scheme working train number 56 (northward Vermonter).
The light was fading, so I upped the ISO on my FujiFilm X-T1 to 1000 and exposed these views using my 27mm pancake lens.
Although I set the shutter to 1/320 of a second, the relatively fast train still necessitated panning to keep the locomotive sharp. Panning had the effect of setting off the background in a sea of blur and conveying a sense of motion to the photos.
White balance was set at ‘daylight’ in order to better retain the blue glow of dusk.
On my visit to Carneys Point, New Jersey earlier this month, I exposed a few select frames of Kodak Tri-X using my Canon EOS-3 with 40mm pancake lens.
Previously, I posted a selection of the digital color photos that featured Conrail Shared Assets freight CA11. See: Bright Day on the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines. https://wp.me/p2BVuC-59B
I processed the film yesterday (Monday, 27 November 2017) using my two-stage development recipe:
By starting with ‘presoak’ solution that features a very weak developer, I allow for increased development in the shadow areas. My primary developer for this roll was Kodak D-76 stock solution diluted 1-1 with water.
While I intentionally under processed the film to avoid excessive highlight density, following stop bath, fixing baths, and rinse, I then soaked the negatives in selenium toner (mixed 1 to 9 )for 8 minutes to boost highlights to my desired ideal.
The results are these broad-toned monochromatic images with delicate silvery highlights.
A side effect of this process is the exceptionally archival quality of selenium toned original negatives that without any expensive storage conditions should long outlive my digital photos.
I made this view of a pair of Pan Am Railway’s recently acquired four-motor GE diesels at East Deerfield Yard.
When they were new in the 1980s, these locomotives were intended for moving intermodal trains at top speed.
Conrail’s B40-8s (DASH8-40B) were routinely assigned in sets of three to trailvan and double stack trains on the Water Level Route, while Susquehanna’s similar locomotives would work its double stack trains on the old Erie Railroad ‘Southern Tier Route’
So, I find it odd to see them now in faded CSX paint at Pan Am’s East Deerfield.
Perhaps, its an appropriate photographic metaphor to picture them in fading afternoon light passing the shell of the old tower.
Since Genesee & Wyoming took over Rail America, gradually the fleets of diesels operated by the component railways have been repainted into G&W’s corporate livery of orange and black with yellow highlights.
This traditional paint scheme had been used by the original G&W short line railroad for decades.
Here I’ve put the brightly colored diesels in scene that makes the most of the scheme.
New England Central 611 is southbound at Northfield, Massachusetts with locomotive 3475 in the lead. A cloud has briefly diffused the morning sun.
To make the most of the lighting and the scene, I made this telephoto view looking down a road, visually placing the orange and black locomotive in front of a yellow house.
The dominance of orange and yellow for the primary subjects works well in the late autumnal scene, as these colors mimic the muted foliage and grasses associated with the season.
Last week (November 2017) I made these picturesque tableaus of the Strasburg Railroad in its classic Pennsylvanian Dutch settings.
All were made with my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera.
Over the years I’ve made more than a dozen visits to the Strasburg Railroad, but this most recent trip was the first time I’d exposed digital photos here. I guess it’s been a while since my last visit.
Gauzy afternoon light in late autumn is a great time to photograph steam locomotives at work.
The combination of a relatively low sun angle with slightly diffused shadows, provides directional light with moderate contrast that nicely illuminates the locomotive’s boiler components and reciprocating parts while offering excellent color rendition.
Cool atmospheric conditions make for ample effluence of locomotive exhaust allowing for classic portrayal of a steam locomotive at work
This lighting situation is generally superior to harsh midday summer sun that tends to leave locomotive detail in inky shadows and atmospheric conditions that leave steam exhaust largely invisible to the naked eye.
Pat Yough and I re-examined Strasburg Railroad in mid-November and made a variety of classic views of locomotive no. 90 at work.
The real topic is about how to use a wide angle lens when faced with a backlit subject.
Last week, while photographing Conrail Shared Assets freight CA11, Pat Yough and I were faced with finding suitable locations for the northward run. Complicating our challenge was the clear blue sky, which resulted in harsh back lighting at most locations.
Our train had an unusual consist of four diesels, led by one of CSX’s new SD40E3 ‘Eco’ units, but also featured one of Norfolk Southern’d former Conrail SD80MACs (third unit out).
We scoped several locations and ultimately settled on a broadside view near Penns Grove, New Jersey where the railroad crosses Perkintown Road.
To make the most of this setting, I opted to use the large tree by the side of the road as compositional frame, and exposed a series of images with my FujiFilm XT1 fitted with a Zeiss 12mm Tuoit.
This extremely sharp lens allows for exceptional clarity in backlit situations. In post processing I lightened shadows and nominally reduce the contrast to minimize unpleasant qualities associated with back lighting.
SEPTA has a small fleet of electric locomotives; seven are AEM-7s (kin to Amtrak’s now retired fleet), one is a similar model ALP44 built by ABB Traction in 1996.
This one SEPTA ALP44 carries the road number 2308. It is among the regional rail operator’s most elusive locomotives. NJ Transit also operated ALP44s, but these have been out of service for a number of years.
Last week (November 2017) I was in the right place at the right time and caught 2308 arriving at Temple University (station) with a train destined for Thorndale. I boarded and traveled to Jefferson Station (formerly called Market East), where I made these images using my Lumix LX7.
Soon SEPTA will be receiving a fleet of new Siemens-built electrics, so I would assume that old 2308 is on borrowed time.
Recognizing rare equipment is part of making interesting railway images.
Is SEPTA’s 2308 the modern-day equivalent of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s DD2 electric (a rarely photographed, one-of-a-kind machine that looked similar to PRR’s common GG1)?
I made good use of the pass, traveling over several heavy rail routes to make photos.
One of the greatest features of this pass is the ability to get on and off trains without concern for cost, or trying to explain to the conductor where I’m are traveling to. This allows me to change my plan on the spot if I see an interesting location.
SEPTA offers regular interval service on most of its suburban lines, with extra trains in the evening rush hour.
These digital photos were made using my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1 digital cameras.
Dusk is a mystical time to photograph; highlights are subdued, shadows are deep, while the prevailing light is soft and cool. Window light is equivalent to the outdoors, and railroad signal light seems more intense.
The short SEPTA line to Cynwyd in the northwestern Philadelphia suburbs is a vestige of Pennsylvania Railroad’s Schuylkill Valley line that once reached northward into anthracite country.
Today Cynwyd is the end of the line.
Until last week, it was one of the last segments of SEPTA’s Regional Rail network left for me to travel.
I arrived at dusk, and in that ‘blue hour’ and I made these photographs using my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1 digital cameras.
All things being equal I would have used a tripod, but I didn’t have one so with the XT1, I boosted the ISO to unusually high levels to compensate for the dim conditions.
Not just any old ‘mainline,’ but the famous Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) Main Line— so called because it was built as the ‘Main Line of Public Works’ in the mid-Nineteenth Century.
I made this view of Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian taking the curve at Berwyn, Pennsylvania.
Where most of the trains on this line draw power from the high-voltage AC catenary, Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian changes from an electric to a diesel locomotive at 30th Street to avoid the need to change at Harrisburg.
This is Amtrak’s only service on the former PRR west of Harrisburg. The lone long distance train on what was once a premier passenger route, and unusual on the electrified portion of the line.
I exposed this sequence at Berwyn using my FujiFilm XT1 and 18-135mm zoom lens.
To make the most of the curve and autumn color, I positioned myself on the outside of the curve at Berwyn. The chug of Amtrak’s P42 diesel alerted me to the approach of this westward train.