Southern Pacific 4449 at Worden, Oregon, April 1991.

My First Glimpse of the Daylight.

SP Daylight painted steam locomotive
Southern Pacific Gs4 4449 in the classic Daylight livery works railroad-direction west near Worden, Oregon in April 1991. Exposed on Kodachrome 25 slide film. Exposure calculated manually using a Sekonic Studio Deluxe handheld photocell.

Southern Pacific’s streamlined Daylight was one of the great classic American trains. It was so popular that a recreation of the train was assembled in the 1980s using traditional equipment, including one of the last surviving SP 4-8-4s, the often photographed engine 4449.

In April 1991, I was traveling with Brian Jennison and  J.D. Schmid in pursuit of various steam locomotives converging on Sacramento, California for RailFair 1991. Earlier in the week we’d made images of Union Pacific’s 844 and 3985 working former Western Pacific lines.

We’d driven overnight to this location just north of the California-Oregon state line. While I’d photographed SP lines in Oregon the previous year, Worden was new to me. The location was selected for the sweeping curve on an upgrade, which was hoped to produce a bit smoke. The location was selected for the sweeping curve on an upgrade, which was hoped to produce a bit smoke.

We knew that 4449 was on its way. I was fascinated. While I was very familiar with SP’s magnificent class Gs4 ‘Golden State’ 4-8-4s, having often seen them in photographs and magazines, this was my first experience with the engine in person.

By the time the train came into view, at least a dozen photographers were on site. A helicopter had landed on the far side of the tracks with video crew on board. This was more than just a train, it was an event!

I positioned my Nikon F3T with f4 200mm lens on my 3021 Bogen tripod loaded with Kodachrome 25. I also made exposures my Leica M2 handheld.

I made a selection of images as the train roared by. My favorite is this view, which has been various reproduced in books and other publications.

I deliberately broke a variety of conventions in the composition. Traditional steam photographers might shake their heads in dismay. I’m positioned on the ‘dark side’ of the tracks. I’m using a long telephoto lens. Instead of a centered view, I’ve positioned the train toward the left side of the frame.

Probably the most unusual thing was with my focus point. Instead of setting the focus on the front of the locomotive, I aimed it more toward the tail car. The combined result of the compositional effects is a peculiar tension that draws the eye toward the back of the train and to the scene, despite the dominance and drama of the engine.

Unhappy with this? Well, I also made a rather straightforward 50mm view. And, if that’s not good enough, did I mention the other dozen or so photographers?

Southern Pacific Gs4 4449 in the classic Daylight livery works railroad-direction west near Worden, Oregon in April 1991. Exposed on Kodachrome 25 slide film. Exposure calculated manually using a Sekonic Studio Deluxe handheld photocell.

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