Southern Pacific SD45 at Old Gorge on Donner Pass, July 1990.

Perspective Control Technique.

I spent a lot of time exploring Southern Pacific’s Donner Pass in 1990. Among my favorite locations was ‘Old Gorge’, sometimes referred to as ‘American,’ where SP’s line rides briefly on an open shelf some 2,000 feet above the American River.

Southern Pacific on Donner Pass
Southern Pacific SD45 7418 is downgrade on Donner Pass between Midas and Towle, California at the American River overlook in July 1990. Exposed on Kodachrome 25 with a Nikon F3T and 35mm PC ‘Shift’ lens.

This offers a stunning view of the American River Canyon, but can be a pretty challenging place to effectively portray a train on film.

On this day in July 1990, I’d been following a westward SP freight downgrade, and driven as close to my location as was practical, and then walked to this ledge overlooking the line.

The classic whine of dynamic brakes preceded the train by several minutes. I made several exposures as the train came into view.

For this image I use my recently acquired Nikon F3T with 35mm perspective control lens. (See recent  posts for detail on this equipment: Santa Fe at West Pittsburg, California, November 1990; Metro-North FL9 at Waterbury, Connecticut, November 16, 1992).

In this situation, I used the camera and lens handheld, and made a slight adjustment to the shifting element front element. Instead of aiming the camera down toward the front of the locomotive, as I would with a conventional 35mm lens, I aimed toward to the far rim of the canyon, while lowering the front element downward to take in the tracks.

As the train passed, I panned the nose of the leading SD45, exposing this frame when it was roughly parallel with the film plane.

Since I didn’t have the camera completely level there is still a bit of line convergence, yet the overall view helps put the magnitude of the canyon in perspective with the train without the locomotive appearing too small or seriously distorted.

Southern Pacific on Donner Pass

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