On 20 April 2016, I made this image of a Swiss BLS Cargo (Bern Lötschberg Simplon) electric leading a northward freight on DB’s (German Railways) heavily traveled double-track line north of Freiburg, Germany.
Although clear and sunny, the direction of the light was directly behind the locomotive, which is anything but ideal.
To make the most of this awkward lighting situation, I opted to feature the flowering tree that was well-lit by the angle of the sun, and work with the locomotive in silhouette, while taking a low angle to minimize distracting elements on the far side of the line.
In post processing, I’ve lightened the shadow areas of the RAW file to restore detail and improve the overall contrast to the locomotive.
Below are both the unimproved RAW file (only scaled for presentation) and my modified file.
The railways around Karlsruhe, Germany are some of the most versatile and most thoroughly integrated in the world.
Karlsruhe was the pioneer of the ‘Tram-train concept,’ which enabled trams to utilize the heavy rail network.
As a result, trams can travel on city streets and reach beyond using the DB network.
Rastatt, south of Karlsruhe is a busy place where you can see high-speed passenger trains, Intercity and Regional Express passenger trains, freights, and Karlsruhe tram-trains using the same rails.
I made these views of a French TGV and tram-trains in April 2016 using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera. It was a bright morning and nearly ideal for photography.
The imaging challenge at Rastatt is making the shadows work for you and not against you. The curve of line, platform canopies and shadows cast by catenary masts and wires all result in visual elements that can make or break an image.
Below are two versions of an image I made of a Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn narrow-gauge train engaging the Abt rack system on its steep ascent from Göschenen to Andermatt.
These were made with my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera on my visit to the Alps with Stephen Hirsch, Gerry Conmy and Denis McCabe in mid April 2016.
The first is the unadjusted (except for scaling) Jpg produced in camera. Notice that the sky is washed out and lacking in detail.
The second image is a Jpg that I produced from the camera RAW file by making nominal contrast and saturation adjustments in Lightroom.
The aim of the second image was to hold the sky and highlight detail that was lost by the camera Jpg. This demonstrates the ability of the RAW file to retain greater detail than the Jpg.
Instead of using an external graduated neutral density filter, as I had with some previous images displayed on Tracking the Light, I used the equivalent graduated neutral density filter in the Lightroom program.
Why not use the external filter in this situation? Two reasons:
The external filter is cumbersome and takes time to set up.
I wanted to improve the appearance of the sky without darkening the mountains. Using the electronic filter gives me the ability to selectively control highlights and shadows in the graduated area selected by the filter, while the external graduated filter would have covered the top of the image and darkened the mountains as well as the sky.
Both are valuable tools for improving a photograph.
On the weekend of April 23, 1995, Howard Ande and I followed Chicago & North Western’s east-west mainline from Chicago to Council Bluffs, Iowa and back making hundreds of images in anticipation of the Union Pacific take over.
I exposed this color slide of a relatively new C&NW GE-built DASH9-44CW near Missouri Valley, Iowa on the evening of April 23, 1995.
The technique for both photos is essentially the same, however with the photo below of the Swiss ICN passenger train I used a slight telephoto and opted to crop the sky, rather than use a graduated neutral density filter to balance the contrast/retain detail.
Below is another view from the same location near Erstfeld. Same camera, same lens, but I’ve set the zoom to a wide-angle view and I’m not as low to the ground.
The result is that the flowers remain in relative focus to the train and distant scenery. (Also I’m using the graduated neutral density filter to retain highlight detail at the top of the image).
The train is a bit small, but this photograph is more about the whole scene rather than being focused on the train.
Instead of focusing on the engine, I set my focus point on the window. Using my Nikon F3T, I exposed this image with an f1.8 105mm lens wide open for minimum depth of field. This is a personal favorite of mine and over the years I’ve reproduced it in various places.
Tracking the Light is on auto pilot while Brian is Traveling!
On the morning of April 18, 1993, I made this Kodachrome slide of an eastward Amtrak train on the shore of San Pablo Bay at Pinole, California.
Exposed using a Nikon F3T with 35mm PC (Perspective Control lens). Note the level horizon.
Compare my use of foreground of the image below with that featured in this morning’s post at Gurtnellen, Switzerland. In both situations I’ve held the camera close to the ground, while standing on a hill side above the train.
To emphasize the wild flowers in the foreground, I’ve held the camera low to the ground and used the tilting back screen to compose the angle. (Aiding this approach is the FujiFilm X-T1’s built in line-level which appears as a ‘heads up’ display on the screen.)
By applying a Lee graduated neutral density filter to the front of the lens, I’ve maintained highlight detail in the sky.
My adjustments the RAW file in post processing lightened shadow density and increased color saturation to help make for a lush scene.
Notice the four layers: foreground, middle ground (the train), near background (the village of Gurtnellen), and the far background (snow crested peaks).
Once the new Gotthard Base tunnel is open to traffic at the end of this year, scenes such as this one of the Italian tilting train on the old route may be rare.
At one time the wig wag signal was the standard grade crossing protection. Now the type is all but extinct.
I learned a few weeks ago that Wisconsin & Southern had finally removed the last of these classic American signals on its former Chicago & North Western line to Reedsburg, which had survived at Baraboo, Wisconsin.
Over the years, I’d photographed wig wags at various locations in Wisconsin.
I made these photographs at Baraboo with John Gruber in February 2008.
Brian is Traveling, so Tracking the light is on Autopilot!
Thursday, 7 April 2016, Irish Rail’s IWT Liner was blocked at Islandbridge Junction. This gave me the opportunity to work some less common angles in addition to my common viewing point (often featured on Tracking the Light).
By holding my FujiFilm X-T1 above my head at arm’s length and tilting the camera’s live-view panel screen downward, I was able to make this view looking over the wall at the St. John’s Road roundabout in Dublin.
Why not try this more often? Simply because I’m not tall enough to see over the wall, so to make this view I’m actually using the camera to view the scene. It’s tiring work to hold a camera above your head while waiting for trains to appear.
I featured Southern Pacific’s massive Suisun Bay Bridge in my 2008 book North American Railroad Bridges. In this detailed book, I traced the development of bridges on American railroads and featured many of the most noteworthy spans.
Southern Pacific’s Suisun Bay Bridge opened for service on October 15, 1930, allowing the railroad to discontinue its intensive car ferry operations. It was the largest double track bridge west of the Mississippi.
I made this photograph with Brian Jennison on a foggy morning more than 16 years before the book’s publication. However this was not the image used to illustrate the bridge in the book. Instead, I opted for a broad-side silhouette exposed on Ektachrome in 1993.
Here’s a bridge photograph tip: to make a large span appear enormous crop the ends of the bridge, thus allowing the mind to expand the bridge to unseen ends.
Tracking the Light will post tomorrow at the usual time.