The other day Pat Yough showed me some examples he made with his digital Nikon of trains glinting in the curve at Madison. Since to emulate this effort, I’d require a longer focal length lens than I have for my FujiFilm X-T1, I opted to fire up my Canon 7D with a 200mm lens, and joined Pat for another evening’s photography on the Shore Line route.
Often I find that by making repeated trips through the same territory will allow me to make the most of my photography. I can learn where the light and shadow fall, how the railroad operates, and how to work with the various elements at hand to make the most effective images. If I miss something or make a mistake on one trip; I learn from it and armed with this knowledge try again.
In this situation, I needed a longer lens to make the image work. However since the sun is only sets on the north side of the tracks here for a few weeks, I needed to act while the light was right.
It looks to be Spring of 1979: My parents drove my brother, Sean and me to Springfield (Massachusetts) Union Station to catch Amtrak to New York.
At that time most Amtrak services on the Springfield-Hartford-New Haven run were operated with vintage hand-me-down Budd Rail Diesel Cars, the much loved RDCs.
I always liked the Budd Cars because I could talk our way into a cab-run, which was vastly superior to sitting on the seats.
On this day we were treated to running ‘wrong main’ (against the current of traffic) because of track-work south of Springfield.
At New Haven we changed trains for an electric-hauled run toward New York City. At that time, Amtrak served Rye, New York (rather than New Rochelle as it does today) where our grand parents would collect us. I always hoped for a Pennsy GG1 leading our train from New Haven, but usually had to settle for a boxy General Electric E60.
I made these views from the head-end of the RDC using my Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens. The train crews were always friendly and on this day the engineer gave us a detail running commentary about the line, much of which I’ve either forgotten or melded in with my general knowledge of the New Haven Railroad.
Back then all photos were film photos (except for Polaroid, I suppose). If could you make photos like this now with your phone, where do you think you’ll find them in 37 years?
The MBTA platforms at Mansfield, Massachusetts feature modern information displays.
As with many modern signs used by passenger railways these use light emitting diodes (LEDs).
You may have noticed that although LED displays seem clear to the eye, in many instances they do not photograph well and appear in your pictures as random spots rather than full letters and words.
This occurs because many LED systems pulse on and off at a rapid rate. You eye cannot detect this pulsing and so you see a steady light, but when a photograph is made at higher shutter speeds, the exposure may capture an LED during the ‘off’ portion of the pulse sequence.
Since the LEDs may not be synchronized with each other, the result sometimes appears as a random collection of spots (each is an individual LED) or if they are synced the pulse may be coupled with a scanning effect that results wide gaps of LEDs in the ‘off’ portion of the sequence. (Such is the case at Mansfield).
This unfortunate effect is especially pronounced when the message is scrolling laterally.
One effective way to expose images of LED displays is to set your camera to a slower shutter speed. This will allow the shutter to stay open for a full pulse cycle.
I’ve found that shutter settings of 1/60th of a second or less will usually work effectively. (It helps to test this, as display pulse rates vary).
Below is a sequence of images that I made at various shutter speeds to demonstrate the effectiveness of slower shutter speeds in regards to the LED display. In each situation I’ve used an equivalent shutter speed/aperture combinations to allow for uniform exposure between images.
In this instance the MBTA train was stationary as it discharged passengers.
Obviously, using slow shutter speeds with rapidly moving trains will present other problems. No solution is perfect.
After reviewing my black & white negatives from the 1980s, I decided it would be productive to use my old camera for some modern photography. So over the last couple of weeks I’ve exposed several rolls of 35mm film and processed them in the darkroom.
Last week I made use of my old Leica 3A at Old Saybrook, Connecticut.
While the passing trains were the primary subject; it was the fleecy cotton-candy sky that really caught my attention.
Successful black & white photography often makes use of texture and contrast. Here the sky worked well.
These images were exposed using Fuji Acros 100 negative film; processed in Kodak HC-110 at 1:32 (with water) for 4 minutes 30 seconds with continuous agitation.
Final image processing was done following scanning with Lightroom.
[Click the link to Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light for the full effect!]
The long days of June offer distinct lighting. In the morning the sun rises earlier and further north than the other times of the year, and this makes for photographic opportunity if you know where to look.
These days much of the Boston & Albany route east of Palmer is a tree tunnel, but West Warren has a nice vista with characteristic 19th century New England mill buildings complete with a mill-dam on the Quaboag River.
As long as I’ve been making photos on the old Boston & Albany mainline, there’s been a westward intermodal train that passes through the Quaboag Valley early in the morning.
In Conrail times it was symbol TV9 (TV=Trailvan; Boston to Chicago). With the transition to CSX operations this became Q119. Now with revised intermodal terminals and changes to train symbols, I think this morning train carries the Q019 symbol (which runs from Worcester, Massachusetts since the closure of Boston’s Beacon Park yard a few years ago).
In the 1990s, I’d identified West Warren as a place to catch this train on the long days; where the sun rises on the north side of the tracks for about 10-20 minutes. This only occurs over a span of about three weeks, and provides the backlit glint effect that offers a distinct view at this classic location.
The other day, all the pieces came together. The weather was perfect; I was in place at my location with cameras at the ready at the moment the sun illuminated the north-side of the tracks; and CSX’s westward intermodal train passed at precisely the right moment.
On June 15, 2016, I posted two views of Pan Am Railway’s leased Slug Set working in East Deerfield hump service and paused on the Connecticut River Bridge east of the yard.
I asked readers to voice an opinion on their preferred image, while explaining that one was exposed on black & white film the traditional way and the other exposed digitally as a monochrome image.
I’ve weighed the comments, email and Facebook messages and found that the response was more or less evenly split, with a slight leaning to the top image (film). One respondent voiced a dislike of both images (see comments).
Below are the two vertical images with details of how they were made.
Both images were scaled for internet presentation using Lightroom.
Madison, Connecticut: until June 2016, I’d never made a photo there in my life, and as it turns out I was there twice inside of a week.
This isn’t really a coincidence; having scoped the location on June 7th, I returned a few days later to make the most of light on the long days.
I exposed these views from the Shore Line East station of Amtrak’s westward (southward) Acela train 2173 flying along the former New Haven Railroad Shoreline route.
For this angle, I employed my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a Zeiss 12mm Tuoit and a graduated neutral density filter (to retain sky detail). My shutter speed was 1/1000th of a second.
I had the motor drive set on ‘CH’ (continuous high), a setting I descriptively call ‘turbo flutter.’ This automatically exposes a burst of images in rapid succession.
Normally there’s only nominal differences between the frames, but in this situation the train’s rapid motion combined with my super-wide angle perspective resulted in considerable changes in the relative placement of the head-end.
Also, as it turns out, 1/1000th isn’t fast enough to stop the action. Maybe next time I’ll try 1/2000th.
I was on my way to New London, Connecticut in late 1996 when I first learned of the news that CSX was to make a bid for Conrail.
It was a big surprise to most observers. Ultimately CSX and Norfolk Southern divided Conrail.
Armed with the knowledge of Conrail’s pending split, I made many images to document the final months of Conrail operations.
Step back a decade: In the mid-1980s, I’d photographed the end of traditional double track operations on Conrail’s Boston & Albany line.
Long rumored, the B&A’s conversion from directional double-track (251-territory) to a single-main track with Centralized Traffic Control-style dispatcher controlled signaling and cab signals began in late 1985. It was largely complete three years later.
A year or so before the work began, I was sitting in an engine cab and a Conrail crewman pointed out to me that the railroad had re-laid one main track with continuous welded rail while the other line remained jointed.
“See that jointed track, that’s the line they’re going rip up. Better get your pictures kid.”
Sound advice. And I took it to heart. By anticipating the coming changes, I made many prized photographs of the old order—before the work began.
I continued to photograph while the work was in progress, but that’s not my point.
Having observed New England railroading for the better part of four decades, I again have a sense that change is in the works for railways in the region.
Will today’s operators remain as they are for long? Will traffic soon find new paths and may some lines—now active—dry up? Will those antique locomotives, more than four decades on the roll soon be sent for scrap? Those are the questions we should think about. Take nothing for granted and keep a sharp eye for images.
While, my crystal ball remains clouded, I’ve learned not to wait for the big announcement. I hate standing in lines to get my photos or realizing I missed an opportunity when the time was ripe. Act now and stay tuned.
Tracking the Light Offers Insight and Stories Daily.
Ok, how about then and when? (click on the link to Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light to see the modern view).
These photos were exposed 28 years apart from essentially the same place in West Warren, Massachusetts.
One view was made of an eastward Conrail freight in March of 1984; the other of an CSX freight at almost the same spot on November 15, 2012.
In both situations I opted to leave the train in the distance and take in the scene.
Over the years I’ve worked this vantage point with a variety of lenses, but I’ve chosen to display these two images to show how the scene has changed over the years.
In the 1984 view notice the code lines (the ‘telegraph poles’) to the left of the train and the scruffy trees between the railroad and the road. Also in 1984, the line was 251-territory (directional double track).
It was my second visit to Eagle Bridge, New York inside a week.
On this visit, We’d driven here on spec looking for Pan Am’s EDRJ (East Deerfield to Rotterdam Junction). No luck with that this time, but on arrival I’d noted that there were loaded grain cars on the interchange for the Battenkill Railroad.
Well, the Battenkill is known to run on weekdays; this was a Friday, its interchange had been delivered, but as of 1:30pm the Battenkill hadn’t come down to collect it yet.
The Battenkill’s primary attraction is its continued operation of vintage Alco RS-3 diesels. While the RS-3 was among the most common types built in the 1950s, only a scant few survive in traffic today outside of museums. (Perhaps a reader can supply a list?).
It was Spring 1984 when I made this black & white photo of Conrail’s SEBO-B climbing east through Warren, Massachusetts.
Until a couple of day’s ago, this negative was lost and unprinted, part of a group of Conrail negatives on the Boston & Albany.
When I first relocated these images after 32 years, I was puzzled.
What had happened and Why?
Then I remember the situation: I’d messed up the processing of the negatives at the time and I was disgusted with the results. And, so I’d put the negatives away in a general file, where they were mostly mixed in with similar outtakes from my High School yearbook collection (I was a sort of unofficial class photographer.)
In 1984, I’d typically use Kodak Microdol-X as my black & white developer, aiming to work with this solution at 68 degrees F.
To mix the solution from powdered form, I’d have to bring the temperature up to about 120 degrees F, then let it cool (often in glass bottles soaking in ice water).
I must have been in a hurry, and in this instance, I’d failed to allow the developer to cool properly. When I processed the negatives the solution was still over 80 degrees F. Worse, the rest of my chemistry was still at 68 degrees.
The result was that my photos were grossly over processed, but since the developer was highly active, it affected highlights and shadow areas differently. This provided much greater shadow detail to highlight detail than I’d normally expect.
Also, the shock to the emulsion when I dropped the hot film into relatively cool stop bath solution caused it to reticulate.
Reticulated emulsion results in grain clumping that lowers the sharpness, produces a ‘halo-effect’, and creates a speckled and uneven grain pattern that is most noticeable in even areas such as the sky.
Since the negatives received much greater development than usual, they are very dense, and back in my day printing photos in the family kitchen, were effectively unprintable.
With modern digital scanning and post processing techniques, I was able to overcome difficulties with the density and contrast.
I find the end result pictorial. Perhaps, it’s not an accurate rendition of the scene, but pleasing to the eye none-the-less.
I’m just happy I didn’t throw these negatives away. After all, Conrail SD40-2s were common, and I had plenty of opportunities to photograph freights on the B&A.
Below is a comparison between two photos; one exposed digitally and one made with film. (Hint: click on Tracking the Light to see both).
I made these the other day of Pan Am’s hump engine working on the Connecticut River Bridge at East Deerfield, Massachusetts.
I won’t bore you with excessive detail, but one was made as a black & white image with a digital camera . The other was exposed in a traditional manner on black & white film, processed chemically and then scanned and scaled.
So: which image do you prefer? (number one or number two).
Oh, and by the way, it is up to you to decide which was made with film and which was not.
June 10, 2016 was a perfect Spring day. Cool, clear, and sunny.
I made a project of following the Housatonic Railroad’s line up its namesake valley from Canaan, Connecticut toward Pittsfield.
Over the years I’d explored parts of this line, but never put all the pieces together.
So, with the northward freight on its way, and fellow photographer Paul Goewey in the navigator’s seat, I arrived at Housatonic in time to make a few photographs.
Often, even in nearly ideal lighting conditions, it is necessary to make contrast adjustments to digital files.
You never adjusted contrast with color slides, why is this now necessary?
With slides, what you saw was what you got. The only means of adjusting the slide was through the degree of exposure or in filtration (to adjust color etc). The means was imperfect, yet as photographers we grew to accept the results and refine our technique.
Such was never the case with black & white negatives. The negative was only one step in making the photograph, and in the course of printing, contrast adjustment was part of the process.
A digital RAW file is kin to a black & white negative in that both the RAW and the negative are a work in progress; or can be viewed as a step towards an end result.
With these photos, I made some simple changes in post-processing using Lightroom.
Specifically, on the telephoto view I made the following adjustments by manipulating the slider controls (the numbers indicate the amount of change as indicated by the slider) I brought down the highlights (-21) and lightened the shadows (+36), while making nominal adjustments to clarity and saturation sliders.
All my changes were made globally (to the entire file).
These adjustments were intended to improve presentation on the computer screen.
That is on my screen. I can’t anticipate how they will look on your screen.
Significantly, while I make these changes for presentation, I never alter my original files. Just like back in the day when after making prints I’d file the negatives in archival sleeves. I now store the un-modified RAW files on multiple hard drives. You never know when you might need to return to the original photograph.
The long days make for photographic opportunity. While modern digital cameras have the ability to capture scenes previously out of reach with film. Yet, sometimes there’s still work to be done after the fact.
The other day, Pat Yough and I were exploring locations along Amtrak’s former New Haven Shoreline at Madison, Connecticut.
“It’s the Acela.”
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a 27mm pancake lens, I had very little time to prepare for my image.
However, the colors of the evening sky attracted my attention and I knew I needed to use a relatively fast shutter speed to stop the action. I set the ISO to 6400, which allowed me to use a 1/500th of second shutter speed at f3.2.
(I set my camera manually.)
While the front of the Acela was exposed more or less as I’d hoped, the sky detail was washed out.
Later, using Lightroom for post processing, I was quickly able to produce three variations of the original image that brought back sky detail.
Admittedly the original file isn’t the sharpest image. But, I find one the great benefits of the digital medium is the ability to go back to the camera RAW file and adjust color and contrast sliders to make for a more pleasing final photograph.
Which of the four photos is your favorite?
Tracking the Lightdisplays new imageseachand every day!
Many photographers typically expose from a standing position, and in many instances this provides a suitable vantage point.
Yet, in some circumstances your natural standing height may not give you the optimal viewpoint.
I’m not talking about gaining elevation; that’s a topic for another day.
Sometimes making a small adjustment, by lowering the height of your camera can make for a noticeably different photograph.
Both images below were exposed the other day from the Shore Line East high-level platform at Westbrook, Connecticut. I was using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera fitted with a 27mm pancake lens. This is a fixed focal length lens, rather than a zoom. My exposure and nominal post-processing adjustment were the same in both images.
The first was made from my normal standing position.
The second was made from the same basic angle to the train, but from about a foot lower down.
I was especially troubled by the hooks of the platform lamps on the far side of the cars that makes for an incongruous shapes. These add nothing of value to the image, and could easily be mistaken for some appendage atop the cars.
Notice the relationship of the NH herald, and more importantly the change to the distracting elements above and beyond the passenger cars.
Try this technique for yourself.
Use the opportunity offered by a paused train to expose several images from slightly different angles by making small changes in elevation. Pay careful attention to foreground and background elements as well as window reflections.
Tracking the Light displays new material every day.
On 30 April 2002, I found myself in Dresden and perishing low on film.
I’d been photographing in Poland and Slovakia for the better part of two weeks and underestimated how many photos I’d make. (Those who know me well, will recall this being a common occurrence on big trips).
Anyway, I’d found a shop with some black & white film, and exposed a roll of HP5 using my Nikon N90S, (trying to stretch out what little slide film I had left), and making parsimonious use of my 120 film.
This had me in a knot, as Dresden is a visually fascinating place, and I was seeing images everywhere I looked!
When I got back to Dublin, I processed the roll of HP5 in ID11 (Ilford’s relative equivalent to Kodak’s D76) and sleeved it, but I never got around to making prints.
The other day (May 2016), I was searching for some German tram photos, when I rediscovered this roll mixed in with a host of other unprinted B&W negatives from the mid-2000s.
What immediately caught my eye was this silhouetted image of a preserved four-wheel tram. Searching the internet, I can conclude this is a museum car operated by the StrassenbahnmuseumDresden.
It was a spirited chase; the day was fine and we made many photos.
But, was it really more than 31 years ago that my friends and I followed an extra freight, symbol EDLA from Erving to Ayer? (That was an East Deerfield to Lawrence, Massachusetts train, which my notes show as an ‘EDLA-X’, but I’m not sure I have that down right.)
Even in 1985, catching a GP18-GP9-GP18 leading a freight on the old Fitchburg was considered a prize.
The Boston & Maine GP18s are long gone, but a few of the old GP9s are still knocking around.
Recently, I scanned this negative using my Epson V600. I processed the file in Lightroom and cleaned up some of the dust spots.
Something to ponder: later that evening, symbol freight POPY (Portland to Potomac Yard) went west with D&H Alco C-420s in the lead.
Let’s gaze back in time; 30 plus years ago I was a young enthusiastic photographer with a 35mm Leica rangefinder. I was fascinated by the Boston & Maine, operated by Guilford Transportation Industries (as Pan Am Railways was then known).
B&M’s quaint operations, traditional signals, and antique General Motors diesels had a real appeal. Back then I focused on catching the EMD GP7s, GP9s, and GP18s, plus EMD switchers and run-through Delaware & Hudson Alco C-420s and C-424s.
I made hundreds of images trackside in those days.
On June 4, 2016, I picked up my old Leica, as I do from time to time, and loaded it with Ilford HP5 (often my choice film back in the day) and headed for Pan Am Railway’s East Deerfield yard before dawn, (as I have since I learned to drive 33 years ago).
Antiques still run the rails on Pan Am.
My lens of choice has a long history.
In the 1970s and very early 1980s, I’d often photograph with a Nikon 35mm wide angle made with a Leica screw-mount.
This lens had gone missing for decades and only recently re-emerged. In the interval it had seized up (as old equipment does when the lubrication dries out). My dad sent it for servicing and its now back in our arsenal of working photographic equipment.
Good lenses are relatively common these days. Most off the shelf digital cameras have pretty good optics compared with many consumer-grade film cameras of yesteryear.
But, truly great lenses remain hard to find.
This Nikon 35mm is a great lens. Not only is it sharp, lightweight and compact, but it has a distinctive optical quality that is rarely found with modern lenses. In short it has ‘that look.’ (look at the photos).
After exposing my film, I processed it with the aid of a Jobo film processor to my own custom formula.
Basically, I used a twin bath developer of Kodak HC110 with constant agitation at 71 degrees F for 4 minutes, 15 seconds. Stopbath for 30 seconds; twin bath fixer; rinse; permawash; and final wash. Negs were scanned as TIF files using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner at 3200 dpi . Nominal contrast adjustment was necessary with Lightroom.
Undoubtedly, someone will ask, ‘but isn’t that a lot of work?’
Yes, it is.
And, ‘Couldn’t you just convert your digital files to black & white?’
Continuing with yesterday’s theme of change on the Fitchburg Route, these photos were made on an exploration of recent investment along the old Boston & Maine line between Gardner and Ayer, Massachusetts.
In earlier Tracking the Light posts, I’ve focused on the old searchlights and other changes to the Fitchburg Route.
In May (2016) Rich Reed provided a detailed tour for Felix Legere, Paul Goewey and me, and we examined some of the new signals that have been installed, along with other changes, such as the construction of a new MBTA storage yard near Westminster, Massachusetts.
Ultimately these improvements will facilitate expanded MBTA operations on the Fitchburg Line while enabling Pan Am freights to continue to share mainline tracks with commuter rail.
Photographing changes to railway infrastructure is challenging because often construction results in visual discordance. Broken ties, piles of ballast, and messy scenes resulting from digging and other work are hard to photograph in a meaningful way.
In this compact 208-page soft-cover volume, I’ve covered a lot of ground by including not just modern mainline freight and passenger locomotives, but also historic engines, railroad rolling stock, as well as a sampling of light rail and heavy rail rapid transit cars.
The high-quality photo reproduction impressed me.
I’ve dedicated the book to my friends Dan and Mary Howard.
In addition to my own photos, and those of my father’s and Dan’s, I’ve also included the work of contributing photographers including: Timothy Doherty, Chris Guss, Scott Lothes, Jack May, Tom Kline, Jim Shaughnessy, Patrick Yough, and Walter E. Zullig. The cover photo was supplied by Shutterstock.
In addition to basic technical descriptions, in my writing I’ve tried to put the different types of equipment in historical and developmental context, while illustrating the subjects using a variety of photographic styles. Many of the images are contemporary, but I’ve also included a few oldies from my father’s collection.
Thanks to everyone at Voyageur Press for their help in producing this fine looking book including my editor Todd Berger, project manager Alyssa Bluhm, art director James Kegley, and layout artist Amy Sly.
Special thanks to Steve Roth for helping to promote this book and for sending me my author’s advance copy!
Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light is updated Every Day.
A few weeks ago, my friends and I met to explore recent changes to the old Boston & Maine Fitchburg Route (Pan Am Southern’s main line) including re-signaling and trackage upgrades.
Among the first places on our tour was Gardner, Massachusetts, where we found Norfolk Southern 66N, which is a loaded Ethanol train destined for the Port of Providence.
This was led by four Norfolk Southern DASH9-40CWs that were followed by an idler car and 80 cars of ethanol. The train was waiting on Pan Am rails for a Providence & Worcester crew to take it south from Gardner.
Among the recent changes was the installation of a crossover at the Gardner yard that makes it easier to make a progressive move from the old eastward B&M mainline track to the P&W, which facilitates operation of unit trains such as the 66N. This is a low-tech solution, as the switches are operated manually (of the ‘hand-throw’ type).
I made this series of images featuring the 66N with my FujiFilm X-T1.
Static and slow moving freights offer many opportunities for photography.
When we arrived the morning was clear and sunny, but over the next hour, clouds rolled in from the west and softened the light.
Thanks to Rich Reed, Paul Goewey and Felix Legere.
On 25 March 2007, Hassard Stacpoole and I were photographing the evolving British railway scene in the London area. Among our subjects for the day were the specially styled Gatwick Express class 460 Juniper train sets, such as this one, and Eurostar trains working via 3rd rail and serving London Waterloo International.
While the core of old Gatwick trains still exist, the distinctive styling was removed.
We knew then that both services would eventually change. The Gatwicks services were re-equipped while the Eurostar was routed into St. Pancras.