More than 30 years ago I admired New York Central System’s company photographs made by Ed Nowak from the elevated location above the Breakneck Ridge tunnels.
Over the years I’ve made many images from Breakneck Ridge. A couple of weeks ago, I made this view using my old Leica 3A with 35mm Nikkor lens.
There’s something about black & white film that has a timeless quality: Old, but new; traditional, reliable and comforting. Use of an antique camera-lens combination contributes to the nostalgic view point.
This frame was exposed on Ilford HP5, then processed in Kodak D76 (stock solution mixed 1-1 with water) for 9 minutes at 68F. Key to the tonality of the image is my ‘secret step’—a presoak water bath with a drop of Kodak HC110 in it.
The idea behind the water bath with a drop of developer in it is this: presoaking the film allows the gelatin to swell before encountering developer at full strength, while the very dilute amount of developer allows the chemical reaction to begin working before the primary development cycle. Since the developer is extremely dilute (and thus rapidly exhausted) the shadow areas receive proportionally greater development than highlight regions during this phase.
Two weeks ago, using my old Leica 3A with 35mm Nikkor lens I exposed this photograph of a northward North Jersey Coast train at NJ Transit’s Aberdeen-Matawan station .
I positioned the camera as to crop sun with the canopy over the platform.
The film is 35mm Ilford HP5 that I processed in Kodak D76 (1-1 stock solution with water) for 10 minutes at 68F, but preceded primary development with a prolonged pre-soak with a drop of HC110 developer to improve shadow detail tonality.
I exposed this view twenty years ago using a Speed Graphic with 120 size roll film back that I’d borrowed from Doug More.
A decade earlier, fellow photographer Brandon Delaney had showed me this bridge at Bernardston, Massachusetts on the Boston & Maine’s Connecticut River Line.
The bridge survives much as pictured here; today it serves as the route of Amtrak’s Vermonter. However the old mill dam with accompanying waterfall were destroyed sometime after I made this December 1996-view.
Tomorrow, I’ll post a contemporary angle of the bridge.
Hard lessons. Here we have a scene never to be repeated, and one that I’ve never dared to show before. In June (or early July 1984), I caught a westward Conrail freight passing the Palmer Union Station at sunset on the then double-track Boston & Albany..
This was toward the end of regular operation of cabooses on road freights. By that time many Conrail symbol freights on the B&A were already using telemetry devices in place of the once common caboose.
A caboose rolling into the sunset. Great illustration concept. Nice light, decent framing, etc.
Except the photo is soft. Working with my Leica 3A rangefinder I’d missed the focus.
And so as a result of this visual flaw, the potentially iconic image didn’t make my cut of presentable images. I filed the negative, then I misplaced it. For more than 32 years it remained unseen. I present it now only as a warning.
Even as a 17 year-old, nothing annoyed me more in my own photography than missing the focus. Back then there was no autofocus, so when I missed, I couldn’t blame the technology.
My lesson: get the focus right. Once you’ve missed it you can’t fix it. (Although with digital sharpening you can cover your tracks a little).
In my family we have a forty year old tradition of going to photograph the Lake Shore Limited.
The other day my brother arrived up from Philadelphia for the holidays, and I asked, “would you like to go up to West Warren to see the Lake Shore? It has some specially painted engines today?”
So my brother, father and I went to the bridge over the line near milepost 75. We timed our arrive very well. After only a 5 minute wait, Amtrak train 449 with two specially painted General Electric Genesis diesels rolled west along the Quaboag.
Sean said, “Wow, it came by really fast!”
I couldn’t help by find his comment ironic, since I recently composed an opinion piece for Trains Magazine on the topic of the trains operating too slowly. But that’s the topic for another time . . .
The sun was just rising over Bear Mountain, when I arrived at Mine Dock Park located on the west shore of the Hudson near Fort Montgomery, New York.
I set up on CSX’s River Line, historically New York Central’s ‘West Shore’ route. At first the signals were all red. Then after a bit the northward signal cleared to ‘medium approach.’
I concluded that a northward train would be taking the siding, thus in all likelihood it would be making a meet with a southward train. I secured an elevated view from the rock cutting north of the public crossing.
About 45 minutes elapsed and then a northward train took the siding as signaled. Six minutes later, this southward CSX autorack freight came gliding down river. I exposed a series of digital images with my Lumix LX7. The sun was perfect and the late autumn foliage on the trees made an already picturesque scene even better.
Nothing tricky or complicated here; it was just a matter of being in the right place for the action and paying attention to the signals.
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No one ever told me you shouldn’t point the camera into the sun!
I exposed this grab shot in New Haven, Connecticut as I was changing trains with my mother and brother (you can see my mother in silhouette at left).
As the Amtrak RDCs pulled into the platform I made a couple of black & white photos with my Leica 3A.
At the time I was delighted because the leading RDC was still lettered for the New Haven Railroad. At the time this seemed like a relic from another age, but looking back it had only been about 11 years since New Haven Railroad’s demise.
Pity I didn’t have a wider lens, but it’s just as well I didn’t know anything about how you were supposed to make photos. If I had, I might not have made this one!
Back in the mid-1980s, I’d often visit Springfield Union Station (Springfield, Massachusetts) with Bob Buck .
We’d arrive in his green Ford van, typically after another event, such as a meeting of the West Springfield Train Watchers or a concert at the Springfield Symphony.
I’d come equipped with a tripod, Leica and large handheld Metz electronic flash unit (strobe). Often, I’d wrap the head of the strobe in a white garbage bag to diffuse the light (on the recommendation of Doug Moore). This eliminated the hard edge often associated with electronic flash.
[My old prewar Leicas predated electronic flash sync. However they do have a ‘T’ setting, and this allowed me to lock the shutter open indefinitely.]
I’d place the camera on the tripod, position it in a way as to minimize light falling the front element of the lens, open the shutter, then walk around using the Metz flash unit to illuminate shadowed areas of the scene as to even out the exposure. I’d keep the flash at relatively low power and make a series of bursts for the most effective results.
Typically I’d leave the shutter open for about 30 seconds.
New York Pennsylvania Station is not only Amtrak’s busiest station, but it handles nearly twice the number of passengers as the next busiest. In addition to Amtrak’s long distance trains are floods of Long Island Rail Road and NJ Transit suburban runs.
Busy, yes; attractive no.
It’s been more than a half century since the Pennsylvania Railroad demolished its original Penn Station terminal buildings.
Back when I worked at Pentrex Publishing in the 1990s, every so often we would need an illustration of Penn Station for Passenger Train Journal. While photos of New York’s elegant Grand Central Terminal were a dime a dozen, decent photos of Penn Station were few and far between.
Now, when I visit Penn Station, I often try to make representative views.
So, can you make interesting photos in ugly places?
On this date 1984, my friends and I explored the ruins of New Haven Railroad’s Cedar Hill Yard (near New Haven, Connecticut).
In its heyday this vast facility had been a main gathering point for carload freight, and one of the largest yards in New England.
We were fascinated by this relic of the earlier age, when New England was a major manufacturing center and freight moved primarily by rail.
By 1984, Conrail still had a presence at Cedar Hill, but this was just a shadow of former times.
I exposed these images using my Leica 3A with 50mm Leitz Sumitar.
Here I’ve corrected the level, as at that time I had the unfortunate habit of tilting my camera 3-5 degrees off level. These days both my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1 digital cameras have built in view-finder levels. Great features for modern cameras!
Back in the summer of 1981, I took a Sunday drive with my family. Route 32 bisects Monson, Massachusetts, having come north from New London, Connecticut. On this day, we decided to follow this road north as far as it goes, which brought us to Keene, New Hampshire.
On the way we stopped in Ware and a few other towns.
At Keene, I was fascinated by the Boston & Maine SW1 laying idle in the old yard. At one time, decades earlier, Keene had been a been a B&M hub.
By the time I made these photos, Keene was effectively the end of branch served from the Connecticut River Line at Brattleboro, Vermont via Dole Junction.
Not long after this visit, B&M conveyed operations to the Green Mountain Railroad. Business was sparse and by the mid-1980s operations were discontinued altogether.
I wonder what this scene looks like today?
For years I also wondered what happened to these photographs. I recalled making them, but searches through my negatives failed to locate them. Admittedly my early photographs lacked logical organization.
Finally I found them in the ‘BIG BOX’ of missing negatives located last week.
I exposed this black & white negative in the New York City Subway about 1978.
My understanding of photographic technique was minimal, as I was only eleven or so at the time and I had just begun to learn how the process worked.
In this case, not only did I underexpose the film, but when I processed it my developer was either nearing exhaustion and/or was heavily oxidized owing to poor storage.
Underexposure and underdevelopment is just about the worse of conditions with film.
This image is from one of about 100 rolls of my early efforts that had been stored in box for decades—unprinted, but not forgotten.
Unfortunately, sometime during my travels decades ago, this box of old negs was stored away.
I’d been looking for my lost early negatives for along time, and often frustrated by my inability to find them.
Believe it or not, I dreampt where to look for the missing box, and so upon my return from Dublin last week, I was finally able to locate them.
A hundred or so rolls!
I’ll begin with this one because it has special significance for me; the man at the right is my grandfather. He had brought my brother and me to the Natural History Museum at 81st street. I made a sequence of images of the subway train arriving to bring us back to the Bronx.
Since the original negative was impossibly thin, I wasn’t capable of making a print. However, I know now how to rescue difficult images:
First scan the photo, as a precaution in case chemical treatment fails (but also to show the effects of my process in a ‘before & after’ sequence.)
Soak the negative for an hour in distilled water with a hint of Kodak Photoflo.
Re-fixed negatives for 3-4 minutes in Ilford Rapid fix (mixed 1:4).
Rinse in water.
3 minutes in a Perma Wash bath.
10 minutes wash in continuous running water.
Treat for 9-10 minutes in selenium toner mixed 1 : 9 at 68F, agitating every 30 in a well-ventilated space.
Rinse in water.
3 minutes in a Perma Wash bath.
10 minutes wash in continuous running water.
The selenium toner is the key step; this helps build density in highlight areas without changing the grain structure.
After chemical treatment, I rescanned the negs and worked with this image in Lightroom to adjust exposure, contrast and sharpness.
Below are my results: not perfect, but not bad all things considered.
One of the challenges of digital photography is its limited dynamic range. While a RAW file gives you more than a compressed JPG, when you’ve reached the limit of the camera sensor, definition in highlights and shadow areas is finite.
Previously, I’ve experimented with a Lee 0.6 soft graduated filter as means of holding highlight detail in the sky, while providing a satisfactory exposure in foreground areas. Without this tool, I’d risk losing sky detail.
The 0.6 filter offers a very subtle graduated change. Fine for improving cloud detail on an overcast day, but not as useful in situations with greater contrast. So recently, I upped the ante with a 0.9 soft graduated filter.
In short, this is darker at one end, thus blocks greater amounts of light, and so provides more effective exposure control in scenes with greater contrast.
As a test, using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera I exposed this view at Fitchburg, Massachusetts looking east on the old Boston & Maine Fitchburg Mainline toward Ayer and Boston.
Admittedly this image is unrefined. It is but the first step toward something else, and I’ll continue to explore this topic in later posts.
Sometimes railway locomotives mean more than power for today’s train.
Over the years some old engines connect the dots.
A brisk wind was blowing across the water, as I listened to the distant whistle of a southward train approaching Moosehorn Pond in Hubbardston, Massachusetts. I thought back over the years . . .
In January 1991, under clear California skies, J.D. Schmid and I explored Santa Fe Railway’s Needles District between Barstow and Needles.
We were east of Ash Hill when the once a week Maersk double-stack from Richmond rolled by with brand new DASH8-40BWs in the lead. These were the only modern General Electric wide-cab four-axle diesel locomotives built for a freight railroad.
They were dressed in the classy classic red and silver Warbonnet livery designed by Leland Knickerbocker for Santa Fe’s early EMC diesels.
“A flash in the pan!’ He said, as we began our high-speed pursuit across the Mojave Desert. We caught them. And those photos have appeared in books.
Some 19 years later, one evening my late friend Bob Buck and I were having dinner at the Steaming Tender in Palmer, Massachusetts—located in the old station, near the crossing between CSX’s Boston & Albany and New England Central’s old New London Northern line.
It was dark and cascading rain outside, when a loaded unit ethanol train pulled across the diamond. Bob and I looked up to watch it pass. In consist were these former Santa Fe DASH8-40BWs that were being delivered to Providence & Worcester along with the ethanol train.
The train stopped.
As Bob ordered desert. I said, ‘let me find out the story on this.’
I dashed into the rain and inquired of the incoming crew when they expected to head south.
‘In about five minutes.’
Returning to the warmth of the restaurant, I relayed the message to Bob. “Would you like to follow it?” Bob’s enthusiasm for the chase was unchecked by weather or darkness.
Bob inhaled his dessert and paid his bill so quickly, you could see the draft of wind in the waitresses hair as we flew out to my car.
In the driving rain we followed the laboring train through Monson, Massachusetts as it ascended State Line Hill. The heavy train and wet rail made for slow progress. I exposed atmospheric night photos.
At Stafford Springs, Connecticut, I made time exposures with my Canon EOS 7D of Bob rolling by these Santa Fe GEs, some still in Warbonnet paint.
Afterwards we drove the length of Route 19, a highway that connects Stafford Spring with Bob’s home in Warren, Massachusetts.
It was still raining when we arrived and Bob had been telling me of his experiences with steam on the Central Vermont six decades earlier.
So back to the other day; I was traveling with my friends Pat Yough, Tim Doherty when we caught those same DASH8-40BWs leading a Worcester-bound train across the Moosehorn Pond in Hubbardston, Massachusetts.
The old Erie Railroad is one of my favorite lines.
Mike Gardner and I got a very early start on 15 April 2004. We worked our way west to the Portage Bridge at the Letchworth Gorge in western New York State in time to intercept an eastward CP Rail freight.
We chased this capturing it in multiple locations along the old Erie line to Hornell. At this time Norfolk Southern was the owner operator, while CP Rail operated via Delaware & Hudson trackage rights.
Clear blue dome; bright red EMDs, and great scenery with a good quality chase road made the morning extra productive.
Lomapan is a Czech film that’s been around for a long time. Until my recent trip to the Czech Republic, I’d never tried it before, so it was in effect new to me.
These days finding any kind of film can be a challenge. But having the opportunity to try a completely different type of film is a rare treat for me.
I bought several 35mm rolls of Lomapan at Fotoskoda in Prague.
These are a sampling from one roll of Lomapan Classic (ISO100) exposed at the station in Drahotuse, Czech Republic with my Canon EOS-3
My visit there was on a misty afternoon, which made for an ideal setting to expose a few black & white images. I gave the digital cameras a work out as well, but I’ll save those images for another occasion.
I processed the film in Dublin using Ilford ID11 stock solution mixed one to one with water. Overall I’m impressed with the film’s tonality. I scanned the negatives using an Epson V500 flatbed scanner.
The other day, Mark Healy and I continued our review of Dublin’s LUAS Cross City construction.
Track laying is well advanced through the city centre, yet gaps remain. Beyond Broadstone on the old Midland Line, preparatory work is on-going, while a short section of double track in the cutting near the Cabra Road is now in place.
I made these photos using my Lumix LX7 set in ‘A’ mode, but with a + 1/3 exposure override to compensate for the white sky and keep the shadows from blocking up.
All the images presented are scaled Camera JPGs. I have not modified the files for exposure, contrast or color.
Wien Hauptbahnhof (Vienna Main Station) is a shining example of modern railway architecture: Spacious, multi-modal, multi-tiered and iridescent.
I made this view on Ilford HP5 using my Canon EOS 3 fitted with a 40mm pancake lens. I processed the film in Ilford ID11 mixed 1:1 with water at 70F and scanned the negatives using an Epson V500 flatbed scanner.
As the light fades, conventional daylight photographic techniques begin to fail to yield satisfactory results.
In other words, you’ll end up with dark and/or blurry photos using standard settings.
One solution is the pan photo. I’ve described this previously, but I’ll reiterate because I’m often asked how this is accomplished.
Manually select a comparatively slow shutter speed. For novice pan photographers, I’d suggest working at between 1/30th and 1/60th of a second. This is what I’ll call a ‘short pan’. A long pan is more difficult to execute and can be accomplished with speeds up to about 1 second.
One of the most effective types of pan is where the front of the subject is sharp, but the rest of the scene is offset by a sea of blur.
Pick a point in your frame where you’ll place the front of the subject and as the subject passes keep it at that point, all the while moving your camera with the subject. Release the shutter while the camera is moving.
A common problem occurs when the photographer stops moving as the shutter is released, which tends to result in a messy unsophisticated blur. Keep panning even after you release the shutter.
Remember to pan with your whole body in a uniform smooth motion.
Don’t hit the shutter button aggressively as that will result in an up-down blur that diminishes the overall effect.
In October, I had had just three days in Vienna and the only time I saw the sun was on the plane as we breached the clouds on the flight back to Dublin.
My first morning dawned dark, windy and wet. I’d used most of my last roll of black & white film in the Czech Republic and was largely getting by with digital photography. Perhaps on a later date I’ll present some of those results.
While taking a spin on the number 2 tram in Josefstadt, I spotted a traditional camera shop with rows of old Leicas in the window.
Times have changed; finding film isn’t as simple as it was once. I called into the shop and they had just one suitable roll of film for sale; Ilford FP4. It came with an apology regarding supply.
Loading my Canon EOS-3, I set out making rainy-day photos.
The real trick is in my exposure and processing. FP4 is notionally rated at IS0 125. But I ignored the camera meter, and ritually overexposed by about half a stop.
Processing was more unusual. I returned to my older process using Agfa Rodinal Special (not to be mistake for the similar sounding Agfa Rodinal). This is a highly active a fine-grained developer that produces a rich black.
The recommended working dilution is 1 part developer to 15 parts water. But this tends to over-process the highlights, which is not what I wanted for a dull day. Instead I mixed it 1 to 30, and cut the time to about 3 minutes 15 seconds. Process temperature was 68F.
However BEFORE my main development, I soaked the film in a water bath with a trace of HC110 and a tiny bit of my main developer. This helps activate the process while letting the film swell before the shock of the primary developer.
After fixing, washing, hypo-clear, and more washing, I then toned the negatives in a selenium solution. This allows met to put an edge on the highlights that I’ve deliberately under-processed.
The end results are some very thin appearing negatives but with great amounts detail in shadows and highlights, which provides rich dark tones without excessive contrast. For me this arrangement suited the dark wet Vienna day.
I wonder if this image sample will translate for presentation in the digital world?