Pan Am and the Hawk.

Compositional challenges in four photos.

The other day I was at the old ‘waste too much film’ bridge at Pan Am’s East Deerfield Yard near Greenfield, Massachusetts. An eastward freight was about to proceed into the yard when a hawk landed atop the code lines.

This tightly cropped image was made from the in-camera jpg. If nothing else, I know that my 200mm lens is sharp at f11! That's something, anyway.
This tightly cropped image was made from the in-camera jpg. If nothing else, I know that my 200mm lens is sharp at f11! That’s something, anyway.

Here was an opportunity for an interesting image of the bird and a train in the distance. My intention was make a visual juxtaposition between the two subjects. An interesting concept, but one fraught with technical difficulties.

I faced several problems. The bird was too distant to make for a substantial subject using my longest lens. Furthermore there was too great a distance between the bird and the train to allow both to be in relative focus when using my 200mm telephoto lens. (An even longer lens would have acerbated this problem).

To allow for greater depth of field (relative focus) I upped the ISO on my Canon 7D to 800, which allowed me to set a smaller aperture (f11).

This doesn't really work, does it? It's neither a great shot of the hawk nor an acceptable image of the train.  Exposed with a Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens. ISO 800 f11 at 1/250th of a second handheld.
This doesn’t really work, does it? It’s neither a great shot of the hawk nor an acceptable image of the train. Exposed with a Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens. ISO 800 f11 at 1/250th of a second handheld.

The larger f-number indicates a smaller aperture opening, while this lets in less light to sensor, it increases the depth of field (thus my need to increase the ISO to allow using a relative quick shutter speed to minimize camera shake). Often when photographing trains I want to use a smaller f-number to help offset the train from the background, but not in this case.

Also, some clouds obscured the sun. This had the dual unfortunate effects of flattening the light and allowing the bird blend into its background, while reducing the amount light on the scene to make an already difficult exposure more problematic.

There were several other problems. Most notably was the effect of the under-growth along the code lines that visually obscured the locomotives in the distance. If I moved to the left to get around the brush, the bird and train no longer had a workable juxtaposition.

Ideally, If I could have been about 10-15 feet higher, I might have been able to make this concept work, but there was no way to gain elevation. In this case I simply exposed the photo with the brush and hoped for the best.

Another difficulty was getting the bird to cooperate. I’m not fluent in Hawkese. But I wanted the bird to turn its head, otherwise it might just seem like a feathered blob, so I made some ‘tsking’ sounds to attract its attention.

Then the locomotive engineer throttled up and the dull roar of dual EMD 16-645E3 diesels startled the bird (or otherwise annoyed it) and it flew away. In the meantime I repositioned to make a series of more conventional photos of the freight train.

On the plus side, as the freight approached, the sun came out making for some photographic possibilities. The train was moving slowly, allowing me to change lenses and exposed a sequence of both digital and film photographs.

Pam Am 352 acclerates toward East Deerfield Yard with a heavy freight. As the train approached the sun came out. Yea! Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens.
Pam Am 352 acclerates toward East Deerfield Yard with a heavy freight. As the train approached the sun came out. Yea! Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens.
I made this tighter view, while intentionally offsetting the freight to feature the old searchlight style signal on the left. These old signals are rapidly being replaced with modern hardware. Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens.
I made this tighter view, while intentionally offsetting the freight to feature the old searchlight style signal on the left. These old signals are rapidly being replaced with modern hardware. Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens.
As the train got closer, I swapped lenses between my EOS 3 (loaded with Provia 100F) and my EOS 7D digital camera. I made this view digitally with the 7D and 100mm lens. Where's the bird now?
As the train got closer, I swapped lenses between my EOS 3 (loaded with Provia 100F) and my EOS 7D digital camera. I made this view digitally with the 7D and 100mm lens. Where’s the bird now?

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