Of these two photos, which do you like best? (only see one photo? click on Tracking the Light for the full post).
As the years ends, I’ve drawn on two clichés; reflection and sunset.
A couple of weeks ago, I exposed both of these images using my Lumix LX7 on the Black River & Western.
Reflect back over the last year? Did you make memorable photographs?
For my sunset image of Black River & Western 2-8-0 number 60, I show a dual transition; the fading light of day is one; the other is the conceptual juxtaposition of the antique world of the steam locomotive with the modern world of tarmac roads, uninspired modern architecture and a proliferation of wires.
‘Something about Norfolk Southern’s 24K, sorry didn’t catch the details,’ I replied.
A call was made; the angle of sun was inspected and Pat made a decision.
‘We can get breakfast, then catch the 24K before it arrives at Morrisville.’
Back in the days of the old Pennsylvania Railroad, the Trenton Cutoff was an electrified freight route used by freights as a shortcut around Philadelphia, that also served to avoid grades and minimize interference between through freight and passenger operations.
This late-era heavily engineered line is comparatively difficult to photograph these days.
Under Norfolk Southern’s modern operations, the Trenton Cutoff no longer functions as it had under PRR.
Conrail discontinued the electrification on the line in the early 1980s; today, the old PRR Main Line east of Harrisburg is largely void of through freight (as it primarily serves as a passenger route for Amtrak Keystones and SEPTA suburban trains).
However, today a few NS symbol freights are routed via old Reading Company lines to Norristown then via a Conrail-era connection to the Trenton Cutoff, thus avoiding the old Main Line. Got that?
Anyway, our quarry, intermodal freight 24K, terminated at yard near Morrisville, Pennsylvania opposite the Delaware River from Trenton. We set up near the yard.
First we scored our breakfast, then we scored photos of the 24K, before moving on to other projects.
Today, December 28, 2015 marks the first anniversary of Amtrak’s final runs of the Vermonter on the old New London Northern line between East Northfield and Palmer, Massachusetts.
Until February 1995, this railroad line had been operated by Central Vermont, which at that time conveyed it to New England Central, which hosted Amtrak’s trains.
Step back 135 years. Before New England Central, before digital photography, Amtrak, or commercial electricity . . .
Poet, Emily Dickinson, today one of the best-known American wordsmiths of her generation, lived just a few blocks from this station.
On occasion Emily Dickinson may have traveled by train from Amherst to Monson, where she’d have visited members of her family who lived there. Perhaps she traveled to other destinations further afoot via connections with the Boston & Albany at Palmer.
Back in 1880 a train journey to Monson was easier than today, since then New London Northern served Amherst with three daily trains in each direction.
Two southward runs from Brattleboro afforded travel to Monson; one stopped at 6:46am, and required a change to a New London train in Palmer, which stopped in Monson at 8:24 am. The other was a through all-stops evening train that departed Amherst at 5:50 pm and stopped in Monson at 7:13 pm. There were similar schedules for northward trains.
Which of these schedules might she have traveled?
Her train’s consist, I imagine, was a light wood-burning 4-4-0 leading a wooden baggage car or possibly a combine coach and a second coach. Track speed was probably about a steady 30 mph, except climbing Belchertown Hill, and likely faster heading downgrade. More research would be necessary to track down the particulars.
Among the lines of her famous poem about her train travels read:
I like to see it lap the miles
And lick the valleys up,
And stop to feed itself at tanks . . .
From this description, it sounds more like the 5:50pm that routinely took water in Palmer before continuing its journey southward. But then, perhaps she was penning her lines about a northward run on its way back toward Amherst. Maybe the water tank mentioned was that located near the Amherst station. Just some educated guesses.
Tracking the Light takes an angle on Literature in an effort to make more compelling images.
Consult your schedules, watch the signals, listen for the hum of the rail, and stay poised.
This is the heart of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, a raceway for passenger action. In between the fast flying Acela Express runs and Amtrak Regional trains are hourly all-stops SEPTA local runs.
Trains Under Wire.
On the morning of December 19, 2015, Pat Yough and I visited SEPTA stations north (east) of Philadelphia on the former Pennsylvania Railroad electrified four-track line. No GG1s today, but we did catch two old AEM-7s.
Tips of the day: stay sharp and remember that the long distance trains (Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Crescent, etc) are not listed in the Northeast Corridor schedule and can run ahead of the posted station times as listed in their respective schedules in the Amtrak National Timetable.
Is it a retro railroad fantasy to make images that resemble those of the late-Reading Era in 2015?
Traveling with Pat Yough, I made this selection of photographs at the former Reading Company yards at Cressona, Pennsylvania in December 2015.
Back in the 19th Century, Philadelphia & Reading consolidated various railroads primarily for the movement of anthracite. In its heyday, this railroad was one of the busiest and most profitable in the United States.
Coal demand and transport has changed dramatically in the last 130 years.
Reading Company’s operations entered a long decline in the 20th century and were finally folded into Conrail in 1976. Reading & Northern emerged as a Conrail spinoff in the 1980s.
Today, using a host of vintage railroad equipment R&N provides freight service and seasonal excursions in the spirit of the old Reading Company. Anthracite remains among the commodities moved by the railroad.
R&N paints its vintage locomotives and some freight cars to resemble those of the late-era Reading Company.
The line between documentation and photo recreation is blurred.
Through select cropping, I can either reveal the nature of the passenger excursions, or at first glance make R&N’s excursions operation appear like a Reading Company freight from the mid-1970s, or even its own weekday freights.
When does documentation become a re-creation? In the case of R&N does such a distinction even matter?
R&N offers a window on the old order, which is a relief for a railroad photographer aiming to step back from the contemporary scene dominated by massive class I carriers with modern six-motor safety-cab diesels moving unit trains of coal, ethanol and intermodal containers, and modern passenger trains.
Tracking the Light Poses Questions and Reveals the Secrets of Photographic Technique—Every Day!
In the hustle to get to where you going, don’t forget to take in the finer points of traveling.
The week around Christmas is one of the busy travel seasons for Amtrak and can be an interesting time to make photographs.
Amtrak’s former Pennsylvania Railroad Station at 30th Street in Philadelphia is one of the nicest large terminals in North America.
I made these photos at 30th St. the other day with my Lumix LX7 while waiting for Amtrak train 148, which connects Washington D.C. with Springfield, Massachusetts. (This is a direct train, and one of the few that still changes from electric to diesel at New Haven.)
After exposure I made nominal adjustments to the RAW files using Lightroom. To clean up the images and make them more pleasing to the eye I adjusted contrast and color saturation.
Slight adjustments can make a photo ‘snap’ which gives that extra something special that helps grab your attention. Extreme adjustments can alter the image and produce far-fetched fantasy images. (Which at Christmas in Philadelphia could be a good thing, right?)
It was a dismal rainy evening two days before Christmas 1988. I had two Leicas. With one I was running some tests on color filtration with a new flavor of Kodak Ektachrome (remember that?) for a class I was taking in color photography.
In the other Leica, my dad’s M3, I had a sole roll of Kodak Plus-X (ISO 125, that I rated at ISO 80).
My pal TSH and I were exploring New York City area transit on one of the busiest travel days of the season, and I was making photos trying to capture the spirit of motion.
Among the images I made, was this photograph of a PATH train crossing the massive lift bridge east of Newark Penn Station.
The other day I scanned this negative and processed the image electronically in Lightroom, where I minimized the dust that had accumulated over the last three decades.
I made my first photographs at the old Lackawanna Hoboken Terminal with my father back in 1976. He made his first photos there about 20 years earlier.
Today, Hoboken Terminal survives as one of the last great waterfront railroad terminals. Perhaps, the last great American waterfront terminal.
There’s no longer a Lackawanna Limited for Buffalo, nor any of the Lackawanna EMD F3s or F-M Trainmasters that my dad saw, but New Jersey Transit’s Hoboken Terminal remains as one of the most atmospheric locations in the New York City area to make railway images.
While I’ve featured Hoboken Terminal previously on Tracking the Light, (see: Hoboken?!) I exposed all of these photos in one morning about ten days ago using my Lumix LX7.
My intent here was no to make one photo, but rather a group of images that capture the character of the place.
This is another of my ‘Then and Now’ attempts from last week’s exploration of Jersey City.
As previously mentioned: my fascination with Pennsylvania Railroad’s Jersey City waterfront terminal at Exchange Place, inspired a family trip to look for vestiges in February 1983. This is my window back in time.
Both my dad and I made a few photos. At the time I was trying to get a sense for how things looked decades earlier. (Pop, had made views of PRR MP54s by day and by night at the old terminal, which by 1983 was long gone.)
Fast forward another 32-33 years, and I find that Jersey City has been completely transformed. Most traces of Conrail’s waterfront track have been replaced by modern development, while NJ Transit’s Hudson-Bergen Light Rail now winds through the city.
Working from my 1983 view at Exchange Place, on my recent visit I spent an hour walking around in concentric circles trying to figure out where I’d made the old photo. How hard could this be?
Complicating matters, I’d only been there once, my father was driving, and my memories from this one visit are a bit hazy.
Yes, I remember the day, and I recall making the photos, but how the various locations related to one another remained a bit sketchy. This was especially difficult because today the setting has been so completely changed that many of the landmarks in my old image are gone.
I’d all but given up. I went for a spin on the Light Rail, and my way back north towards Hoboken, I recognized the setting for my 1983 image.
Now then, how could I have known that my 1983 Exchange Place view was indeed at today’s NJ Transit Exchange Place light rail station!
Construction on the bank building made for a difficult comparison view, as does the Light Rail’s supporting infrastructure: awnings, ticket machines, catenary poles, etc, which precluded standing in the exact same spot.
Actually, the bank building on the left is just about the only common anchor between my two images. Almost all the other buildings in the 1983, including the Colgate-Palmolive building in the distance, have been replaced by newer structures.
And, while there are tracks in both views, these are on different alignments and serve entire different purposes.
I arrived in Jersey City on NJ Transit’s Hudson-Bergen Light Rail a few days ago. While I was checking out some comparative ‘now and then’ locations, I made these photos of the modern cars with my Lumix LX7.
(for those viewing via Facebook or other sites, you’ll need to click the link to Tracking the Light for the full effect.)
Then and Now, I think.
Back in 1983, I was fascinated by the Pennsylvania Railroad’s waterfront operations in Jersey City, especially at Exchange Place.
On a family trip, we spent an hour or so exploring the decay around Jersey City so that I could make photos that I’d ultimately planned to use to build a diorama/model railroad.
23 years previously, my father had made photos at the old Exchange Place Terminal. We had difficulties locating anything definable at the site of the once massive station, but made a few photos around the Conrail former PRR yards.
Over the last year, I’ve taken a few trips through Jersey City on the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail and found the place totally transformed from my mental images of the place stemming from the early 1980s.
So, I decided to try to recreate some of our 1983 angles, and last week armed with maps and photos in-hand I went exploring.
When a cityscape changes beyond recognition, it can be difficult to produce practical ‘now and then images.
I’ll call this, Flushing Line Revisited. My first visit was with my dad about 1968. They’ve changed the cars since then
The New York metro-area generates its own quality of light. By afternoon on this day a mix of high cloud and four flavors of atmospheric pollution had tinted the skylight grayish orange with hints of smoggy yellow.
I made these views with my Lumix LX7 from the Manhattan-end of the double-deck Queenboro Plaza station. The Manhattan skyline looms in the distance.
My Lumix LX7 is a great tool for photographing the subway. It has a fast lens (f1.4) while the camera body is light, compact, flexible, and discrete.
For my New York City Subway photography exercise; I set the ISO to 200, the white balance to ‘auto’, set the exposure to dial to ‘A’ (for aperture priority, meaning I manually select the f-stop and the camera selects the appropriate corresponding shutter speed for optimal exposure ) and open the f-stop to near it’s widest setting.
The Lumix LX7 allows me turn off all the sounds and lights, so when I release the shutter nothing beeps or flashes.
I exposed both RAW and Jpeg files simultaneously. While the camera’s automatic exposure was close, I needed made minor adjustments to contrast and white balance in post-processing using Lightroom.
Typically this is necessary to bring the highlights under control while opening up (lightening) the shadow areas to make detail more visible.
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On Thursday December 10, 2015, my father and I traveled on Metro-North to Grand Central Terminal.
West Haven, Connecticut is a modern station with long high-level platforms that opened just a few years ago.
Grand Central remains as impressive as always.
Our train was well-patronized and nearly at standing room by the time we departed Stamford.
This is impressive ridership, considering Metro-North operates a half-hourly inbound service from New Haven, with even more frequent rush-hour service from Bridgeport, and additional trains from Stamford. Not to mention Amtrak’s long distance trains to Penn-Station.
As always, there’s always opportunities for photography
I exposed these photos using my Lumix LX7 digital camera.
Sometime last summer, I read a press release proclaiming something to effect that Metro-North’s New Haven Line electric service was now completely operated with the new Kawasaki M8 multiple units, and that all of old Metropolitan cars had been withdrawn.
I thought I did.
Recent trips along the old New Haven seemed to have confirmed this transformation.
So, I was quite surprised the other day when a ghost train arrived at Metro-North’s West Haven Station!
Real passengers boarded and it whizzed away toward Grand Central.
My father and I were supposed to have boarded, as we were on our way to New York. ‘Why didn’t you get on?’
‘What? Ride a ghost train?!’ I’ll wait for the M-8.’ (In truth I was so surprised, my primary thought was to take a photo.)
For my next trick, I’m heading out the Boston & Albany west-end to catch some of the A1 Berkshires on the move. I’ll report back.
Every so often I like to stir up the muck, open a few eyes, raise a few fists, and perhaps invoke a couple of smiles.
I made this digital photograph using a recently devised camera technique. I created the image ‘in-camera’ using my mirror-less FujiFilm X-T1 with the electronic shutter; I did this without unusual external attachments, filters or complicated post-processing manipulation.
So, how did I do it? And why?
Shocking railroad photograph? Sometimes a technique is so raw, so radical, or so non-conventional, your eyes will grip the results, while your brain tries to add up the dots.
At one time the Boston & Maine was a poster child for the General Railway Signal Company.
These days some of the old GRS searchlight signals remain but they are rapidly disappearing.
Here’s a railroad photography tip: catch the old signals while you can, they are fading fast, and soon they will be gone.
I’ve issued this signal warning before, and I’ll do it again.
Over the last month, I exposed these photos along the old B&M in the vicinity of Ayer, Massachusetts. These railroad photos are intended as more of a record, than as active illustrations of the old signals.
The millennium was coming to a close. I was just back in Ireland after a few months wandering. I arrived by ferry from Holyhead the night before.
The short days of winter offer moments of stunning low sun against what can often be a stark Irish environment.
It was the height of Irish Rail’s annual sugar beet campaign, so Denis McCabe and I headed first for Wexford (Wellingtonbridge to be specific) then worked our way west, finishing the day at Clonmel, County Tipperary.
Although, we come for the sugar beet, a side attraction were a pair of timber trains that were unloading there.
I was working with three cameras. One was a Nikon loaded with Ilford HP5. Ironically, most of those black & white photos have been squirreled away in my files for the last 16 years.
Here’s a sample of what I did that afternoon at Clonmel. Pretty neat in retrospect, however, what was more significant for me photographically was that this trip inspired a half-decade of intensive photographic adventures to document the sugar beet campaign.
Railroad photography isn’t necessarily aided by a windswept empty car park, a host lighting poles, catenary masts, fences, not to mention the metal monstrosity posing as a footbridge.
This was the scene at Readville, Massachusetts on Sunday, Morning, December 6, 2015.
An MBTA train heading for Boston was due shortly. Since locomotives operate on the south-end of consists, I set up for a trailing pan photo. I focused on the new engine and allowed the setting to settle into a sea of blur.
This is one means of making the ugliness more interesting.
One hundred and thirty five years ago, the railway station was key to many communities commerce and communications. It offered the connection to the world.
My 1880 Official Guide is a window on the past. The Boston, Barre & Gardner Railroad (among the companies later melded into the Boston & Maine network) schedule lists three trains a day in each direction stopping at Holden, Massachusetts.
Trains ran from Worcester to Winchendon stopping at Holden at 8:28 am, 4:15 pm, and 7 pm, and Winchendon to Worcester at 9:06 am, 1:22 pm, and 7 pm.
Obviously based on this schedule, there was a planned meet between northward and southward trains at the station.
In its heyday, back in 1880 Holden was an important station. It served as a telegraph office and as a transfer point for stagecoaches to Rutland (Massachusetts).
Today the old station is but a relic, the vestige of another time. Its train order signal is no longer part of the rules of operation; and the last passenger train passed in 1953. Yet the railroad remains active.
Providence & Worcester’s freights connect with Pan Am Railways/Pan Am Southern at Gardner and this has developed as a route for the movement of new automobiles and ethanol moving via the port of Providence, Rhode Island.
Back in the day it wasn’t always easy to obtain a satisfactory exposure. Sometimes we got it wrong.
Such was the case on February 6, 1959, when my father made a very dark slide of a New Haven Railroad EP-3 electric leading a long distance train at 204th street in The Bronx.
Did a cloud block the sun at just the wrong moment? Did he simply use the wrong setting? Who knows. But the other day, I rescued this very dark slide from his ‘doubles file’ long stored out of sight.
By my estimate I’d say it is about 2-3 stops underexposed.
Slide Scanning in three 3.5 parts
I made three scans of this slide, from which I produced four variations of the image.
My question: all of this scanning and correction required about 45 minutes of my time. While it was neat to rescue this long forgotten image of an EP3 electric, would my time be better spent making less labor-intensive scans of properly exposed slides from the same period?
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For me this one image of the Bangor & Aroostook really conveys the spirit of a railroad in motion and captures the lay of the land of coastal Maine.
What makes a great railroad photo? It has to be more than just a picture of an interesting train.
Brandon Delaney was driving his Toyota sports car and I was leaning out the window with my Leica as we paced the northward Searsport Turn. I made this image as we passed a grade crossing at Prospect, Maine.
The great rolling ribbon of Highway 174 is one of several visual threads that helps tie the photo together and makes for added interest. The electric poles and grade crossing signals are cool elements too.
This isn’t just a railroad photo of a GP9 on the move, but an image showing a train in motion crossing a distinctive landscape.
It was a week before September 11, 2001. I’d taken the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn. During my first couple of days I rode around on the tram exploring the city.
In short 2001 was a very intensive year photographically. A week after ‘9-11’, I’d headed off to Spain in search of General Motors diesels and TALGO trains.
When my Estonian slides came back from the processing labs, I’d quickly picked out key images and the rest were filed away, largely unedited along with a host of other trips from the same year.
For years, I wondered what had happened to the Tallinn tram photos. I recalled riding the trams, but the slides were not mixed in with my other Estonian photos.
Complicating matters, I returned to Estonia a year later for an even more extensive trip and many of my photos of railway operations around Tallinn were exposed in 2002.
Last week, I found these images along with the photos I made in Spain, Finland, and Ireland, plus those along New York’s Southern Tier, northern and central Pennsylvania, the Berkshires of Massachusetts, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Charlottesville, Virginia and Vermont, all of which were exposed over an 8 week span.
I’m glad I kept notes to sort it all out!
Tracking the Light Takes Many Angles on Photography!
Snow in May? When I awoke I was astounded. But sure enough, on May 7, 1989, there was about six inches of fresh snow on the ground at Scottsville, New York.
I’d immediately mobilize to make use of the unusual weather.
Heavy wet snow with freshly budding trees was a disaster for signal code lines. Branches had brought down lines along both Conrail’s former Water Level and Erie routes.
I learned of a couple of trains working east from Buffalo on the Erie line. First I chased DHT-4, a Delaware & Hudson double stack, then I doubled back west to pick up Conrail’s BUOI led by General Electric C30-7A 6598.
The train had 103 cars and was moving along at little more than a walking pace.
I exposed this view near Swains, New York using my father’s Leica M3 with a 50mm Summicron. The snow made for some peculiar contrast that was well suited to Kodak Plus X.
My notes from the day read: “Snow! V.Bright” with some light meter readings in footcandles to aid in processing.
Fluffy snow had been falling all morning. Central Vermont’s freight arrived in Palmer and quickly organized to continue south.
I followed the train’s steady progress over State Line Hill, then set up in downtown Stafford Springs, Connecticut where I made these photos on Ilford FP4 black & white negative film using my Leica 3A with 50mm lens.
For me this pair of images does a great job of exemplifying my experience with Central Vermont in the mid-1980s when three, four, five, six, and sometimes seven vintage GP9s would work tonnage freights. The sounds of those old diesels still resonates in my memory.
Would these images have be improved by modern color digital photography? Would they survive for 31 years with virtually no attention from me? For that matter, where will these old negatives or the scans be in another 31 years?
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