My FujiFilm XT-1 has an adjustable rear screen that allows me to hold the camera very low. The heads up display includes a line-level and exposure information that greatly aid in making action photos from a low angle.
I made these images of a southward Amtrak train near Manitou, New York from Mine Dock Park on the far side of the Hudson River (near Fort Montgomery).
Keeping the camera low to the water offers a more dramatic perspective.
By classic definition a Railroad station is the designated place where the railroad conducts its business. It may, or may not involve a structure.
Too often the station-building is confused for the station itself.
This may seem pedantic, but it leads to both linguistic problems and logistical complications.
Take the old New York Central station building at Garrison, New York. It’s now been repurposed as the Philipstown Depot Theatre. It still looks like a railroad station, but it isn’t one any more.
Today’s Metro-North Garrison station is nearby; this is a modern facility with an ugly overhead footbridge and high-level platforms. The old building is fenced off from the tracks with no access to the line.
I made this view the other day at Garrison, New York on the old New York Central Hudson Division.
The combination of my elevated angle, soft lighting, unusual track arrangement with a short tunnel, plus a clean Amtrak Genesis dual-mode locomotive make this scene look like a well-executed model railway.
My Leica was loaded with Kodachrome 64 on December 28, 1985. I was traveling with Brandon Delaney. First we photographed Boston & Maine local freight ED-4, seen here just north of the Brattleboro yard.
Later in the day we caught road freight CPED coming down from it’s interchange with Canadian Pacific. This was a big freight led by 5 or 6 GPs and we followed it all the way to East Deerfield yard.
K64 was an excellent film, but tended to have a magenta bias, as evident in this wintery view. Also, I found that the sky tended to reproduce a bit lighter than other films. By mid-1986, I’d largely switched to K25 for my color work.
In May 1992, I was on my way back to San Francisco from a visit to Southern Pacific’s Siskiyou Line. I stopped at SP’s Redding Station and made this afternoon image of a locomotive reflecting in the window.
Someday, someone might want to know what the Pacific Bell shelter was for, and wonder about the curious device positioned within!
Notice that I carefully included the station name in the view.
I exposed this on Kodachrome 25, which was a good film for daylight scenes but tended to do a poor job of rendering shadows. Yet, because the shadow areas under the station canopy are a bit dark this effect helps emphasize daylight on the locomotive reflected in the glass.
How would I make this photo digitally? First of all, I’d preset the white balance to ‘daylight’ rather than use the automatic setting. This would give the shadow areas a slight bluish tint, while maintaining more natural colors in the reflection.
Secondly, I’d set the exposure manually, and pay careful attention to the density of window reflection, while allowing the rest of the scene to go a bit dark (about ½ half stop).
Over the last 39 years I’ve exposed countless hundreds of photos of trains rolling through Palmer, Massachusetts. But that’s not stopped me from continuing the exercise.
Friday, December 23, 2016, I was at CP83 near the Steaming Tender restaurant, when the signals lit up: high green on the mainline for a westward move. That was my cue to get ready.
The previous day I’d gone fishing through the camera cabinet and found an old Nikkormat FT. Perfect! I loaded this up with some HP5 and set out making photos old school. It had been 20 years since I last worked with Nikkormat. I fitted it with a vintage Nikkor 24mm lens.
With this antique in hand I set up a shot by the old Palmer Union Station (Steaming Tender) using the building to partly shade the rising sun. I’d misplaced my handheld lightmeter, so I used my Lumix LX7 to help gauge the exposure.
This was a tricky, I wanted the sun light to be set apart from the skylight and normally this requires a bit of underexposure. But I didn’t want the front of the locomotives to become completely opaque. Ideally, I’d want there to be some detail in the shadows.
As the headlight of a westward freight appeared to east I was still dithering over my exposure. Ultimately I settled on f11 1/500th of a second.
The trick to bring up the shadow detail was more a result of my processing technique. I needed to retain enough detail in the negative to work with, but once that was established on site, the rest of the work was with the chemistry.
I’ve described this a few times in recent months, but I’ll mention it again:
Before the main process, I prepare a ‘pre-soak’. In this case, I used a Jobo semi-automated processing machine with continuously reversing agitation.
My ‘presoak’ bath consisted of about 200ml of water at 74 degrees F (pardon my mixing of measurement standards) with a drop of Kodak HC110 (about 2-3 ml of developer solution), plus some Kodak Photoflo.
I let film presoak for about 3-4 minutes. Long enough to let the emulsion swell and for the minimal quantity of developer to become completely exhausted. This has the effect giving the shadow areas proportional more development than the highlights, while getting the processing reaction going.
For my main developer, I used Kodak D76 mixed 1-1 with water at 69F for 9 minutes. (This is less than the recommended time of about 11 minutes).
Afterwards I scanned the film using an Epson V750 at 4800 dpi. The photos presented here are scaled in Lightroom from my hi-res files.
No good? Don’t like it? No problem, I can go back and try it all over again!
Tracking the Light Discusses Photography Every Day!
A little while ago, I was thrilled to receive my advance copy of the February 2017 Trains Magazine that features my first monthly column (see pages 18 and 19). This is illustrated by a photograph my father exposed with his Leica M on Ektachrome in Livingston, Montana.
Yesterday (December 23, 2016) dawned clear and bright. Everything fell into place nicely, and without too much effort on my part, I made some nice photos of a New England Central (NECR) empty ethanol extra rolling through Monson.
Lately it seems that the elusive loaded ethanol trains tend to reach Stateline Hill in darkness. Over the last few weeks I’ve heard a number of these heavy trains laboring up the grade.
So, I was happy to catch this move. Not only was it the longest train I’ve photographed on the NECR in Monson, but it was my first time catching Providence & Worcester’s relatively new SD70M-2s.
Now that P&W and New England Central are both part of the Genesee & Wyoming family, perhaps these big locomotives will make more frequent appearances on the NECR line over Stateline Hill.
The old New Haven Railroad station at Berlin, Connecticut was a local favorite. Until recently, it was among the last small staffed Amtrak stations with an historic structure in southern New England.
My friend, and Tracking the Light reader, Bill Sample was a regular Amtrak Station Agent at Berlin. For me Berlin was like stepping back to that earlier era, when the small town station was the portal for travel. Bill would often help me plan trips and buy the most effective ticket for my travel plans.
The station itself was a gem. The interior retained characteristics of an early twentieth century station, complete with chalkboard arrival and departure information and rotating ceiling fan.
In recent months, the old Berlin station had been closed as part of double-tracking between Hartford and New Haven and related station renovations and construction of high-level platforms. The old building was to be integrated into a modern facility designed for more frequent service.
Wednesday (December 21, 2016), Otto Vondrak sent me the sad news that the old station had been gutted by fire. Media sources reported that the building was a ‘total loss.’
These Lumix LX3 digital photos show the building as I remember it in recent years.
The photographic lesson is: never take anything for granted no matter how familiar it is. Someday it may be gone without warning.
A couple of weeks ago, I bought an old Zeiss Ikomat folding camera for just $17.20 at a local antique market. The camera was in full working order, although I needed to sort out a couple of light leaks.
What makes this camera special is its f4.5 Zeiss Tessar lens. This is an exceptional piece of glass. Also important was the camera uses 120 film, rather than some variety of roll film that’s no longer commercially available.
I exposed this view at Gilbertville, Massachusetts on Sunday using Ilford Delta 100. I processed the film using a Jobo semi-automated processing machine with Kodak HC110.
My process includes a two-bath developer beginning with a very dilute water bath and a drop of HC110 at 74F, followed by HC110 mixed 1-32 for 4 minutes 45 seconds at 69F.
Here’s another view from my ‘lost negative file’. It captures Amtrak 448, the eastward Lake Shore Limited approaching the Quaboag River bridge between Palmer and Monson, Massachusetts.
I exposed it in mid-December 1983. It was on the same roll as a group of photos from a Monson High School dance that I’d made for the yearbook and members of the band.
Since the envelope read ‘Monson High Dance,’ it was too easily ignored in later years. Also, and more to the point, it was mixed in with another hundred or so rolls that had been misplaced during one of my periods of extended travel in the late 1980s. For years all I could find was a lonely proof print of this scene.
I’m improving my filing system now, but it’s taken a few years!
This photo appeared in Pacific RailNews/RailNews not long after I exposed it on Kodachrome 25 in October 1996. [Click on Tracking the Light for the full vertical image.]
The Twin Ledges is a classic photo location a mile or so west of the old Boston & Albany Middlefield Station in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts.
Conrail’s SD80MACs were an unusual modern locomotive because they were powered by a 20-cylinder variation of EMD’s 710 diesel, rated at 5,000 hp. They arrived only a few years before Conrail was bought and divided by CSX and Norfolk Southern.
Although their operation on the old B&A was short-lived, they were oft photographed (by me anyway).
In March 1982, I exposed these photographs of MBTA Green Line PCCs taking the corner at Boston’s Cleveland Circle.
The relative proximity of three Green Line trolley routes at Cleveland Circle made this an ideal place to photograph streetcars since there was lots of trackage and variety of action.
The streetcars pictured had just finished their run and were turning into the storage/staging area at the end of Green Line’s ‘C’ route.
By this time MBTA’s old PCC cars were nearing the end of their regular service on Green Line routes, which made them an added attraction for me. The cars were tired and battered from decades of hard service yet soldiered on.
Today, it’s the period signs that make the photos interesting. Look at the ad for ‘Peoples Express’ on the back of one of the streetcars. Also, the cinema is advertising ‘Chariots of Fire’ among other films from 35 years ago.
I exposed these images on Ilford HP5 using my Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar. Unfortunately, I processed the film in Kodak Microdol-X. This developer offered very fine grain, but at the expense of tonality. It was tricky to get the timing right, and in this case I left the film in the developer too long. The result is that negatives display excessive contrast and blocked up highlights.
Back in October, I made photos of Tatra’s PCC-derived trams in the Czech Republic using Czech made Fomapan 100 Classic black & white film.
I was pleased with my results, so, I bought more of this film from B&H photo (saves me a trip to Prague). Earlier this month, while wandering in Philadelphia with my brother Sean, I exposed a few photographs of SEPTA PCC’s working the route 15 Trolley line on Girard Avenue in Philadelphia.
Where trams in Prague run on very tight intervals, often following one another through the city streets, making for a unceasing parade of vehicles to photograph, SEPTA’s Route 15 requires more patience.
I processed the film using the traditional tank method. For this batch, I used Kodak D76 developer 1:1 (with water) for 5 minutes 15 seconds at 69F, preceded by a water-bath presoak with a drop of HC110. After processing I scanned the negatives with a Epson V750 Pro and made minor adjustments to files using Lightroom.
Dusk is a great time to make captivating images, provided you get the exposure right.
I made this view at Buchloe, Germany in southwestern Bavaria. It was a little while after sunset, and the cool glow of a winter’s evening sky made for some interesting lighting. The platforms at the station were lit using common sodium vapor lamps, while a lamp in the yard on the left appears to be of the mercury vapor variety.
Among the advantages of twilight is the ability to find a good balance between natural and man made light. Once the glow in the sky fades, the black of night makes balanced exposures more difficult.
Here, I opted to use a Fujichrome emulsion (probably Provia 100F) that had filtration layers designed to minimize discoloration from the spectral spikes typical of man-made lighting, such as sodium and fluorescent sources. These spikes are largely invisible to the human eye, but can produce unnatural color casts on slide films.
One of the features of this image is the old DB Class 218 diesel, a type known colloquially as a ‘Rabbit’ because of its rabbit-ear exhaust stacks.
On April 9, 1988, I exposed this view on Conrail’s heavily used former New York Central System ‘Water Level Route’ west of Silver Creek, New York.
Clear skies and bright afternoon sun were ideal when exposing Kodachrome 25.
For this image of Conrail SD50s working westbound I used my Leica M2 fitted with an f2.8 90mm Elmarit.
Using a telephoto with a Leica rangefinder was always a bit tricky.
Although a window in the M2’s viewfinder provided a pretty good sense for the limits of the frame offered by the 90mm lens, the camera didn’t offer any sense of the effects of visual compression or limited depth of field that are inherent to this focal length in the 35mm format.
Yet, the combination of Leica glass and Kodachrome 25 allowed me to make some exceptionally sharp images.
In December 1996, I made a sequence of photographs from this vantage point off 8th Avenue in Manhattan featuring the Empire State Building.
This is one of many images from essentially the same spot that I exposed to show the changes in lighting over New York City. I intended to use as a multiple slide dissolve sequence in a slide show, although I’ve yet to organize it.
The morning of 20 August 2003 was a warm one, and the day would gradually turn into a scorcher. It had been that way for a week.
Western Hungary reminded me of eastern Nebraska: flat, open, and agricultural with scruffy trees here and there, and a busy double track railway running through a broad river valley.
Where Nebraska’s double track railways are heavy diesel-hauled freight lines; in Hungary these lines are largely electrified and carry a mix of freight and passenger trains.
Denis McCabe and I were set up just east of the country station at Nagyszent-Janos to make the most of this warm morning.
For me the catenary masts are a crucial part of the scene both operationally and compositionally. Imagine the scene without the masts; how might I have composed the photo? Would it have worked considering the back lit conditions?
Would you read this if I titled it; ‘The photographic benefits of filtered sunlight‘?
The other day, Pat Yough and I made a joint venture of exploring Pennsylvania’s West Chester Railroad. This is a tourist line that runs on the vestige of the old Pennsylvania Railroad Wawa Branch (also called the West Chester Branch), formerly an electrified suburban line connecting West Chester with Philadelphia via Media.
SEPTA discontinued scheduled passenger service 30 years ago, although some its old platforms and signs survive as a reminder.
West Chester Railroad was operating its annual Santa Trains using a push-pull set comprised of a former Conrail GP38, a PRR baggage car and some converted former Reading Company multiple units.
Although the classic ‘clear blue dome’ is a favorite of many photographers, bright polarized light is often limiting on a line hemmed in by foliage.
Our late season photography benefitted from high clouds that diffused the afternoon sun. This made for seasonal pastel light that made photographs of the tree-lined railway more pleasing.
The other night, I used my Lumix LX7 to expose these views of SEPTA’s route 15 trolley on Girard Avenue in Philadelphia.
Working in ‘A’ mode (which allows me to select the aperture while the camera picks the shutter speed) I dialed in a 1/3 stop over exposure to allow for a more pleasing overall exposure to compensate for the dark sky and bright highlights.
I also made a couple of exposures using the Lumix’s built in ‘hand held night’ (one of the scene mode pre-selects, available by setting the top dial to SCN , pressing the menu button and scrolling through the options).
The hand-held night mode was recommended to me by Denis McCabe. This makes a blended composite image from a half-dozen or so exposures automatically exposed in a relatively rapid sequence. It’s not perfect, but allows for decent images of relatively static scenes if you hold the camera steady.
This was one of several photos I exposed with my father’s Leica 3C in Palmer, Massachusetts on Labor Day weekend 1977. I started 6th grade a couple of days later.
Significantly, it was the first time I made a photo from this location at the Palmer Diamond, where Central Vermont crossed Conrail’s former Boston & Albany line. From near this spot, I’ve since made many hundreds of photos—more than I dare to count.
Compare this 1977 view with my recent images of a CSX eastward intermodal train. (I posted these the other day, but have also included them below.)
Looking back, I wonder why it took me so long to decide to make photos here. But realistically, prior to summer 1977 my railway photographic efforts were infrequent events.
For my birthday that year, my dad gave me my own Leica, a model 3A, which I carried everywhere for the next seven years and with which I made thousands of images from the Maine coast to southern California, and from Quebec to Mexico.
Beginning with the February 2017 issue (expected toward the end of December), I’ll be featured in a regular opinion column for Trains Magazine.
This is a new and exciting opportunity for me. With it I hope to explore a range of topics over the coming months
The idea for a regular Brian Solomon column came about as result of my conversations with Editor Jim Wrinn and Assistant Editor Brian Schmidt who were intrigued by my comparisons between European and North American railroading.
Unlike Tracking the Light, which is focused largely on photography, my Trains columns will be aimed at the railroad industry, its operations and practices.
I’ll be writing narratives that draw from my knowledge of history and technology. My hope to is to both entertain and inform, while also offering unusual perspectives on railroads.
Tracking the Light will continue to post everyday!
But wait, CSX doesn’t serve Gardner. True. However on this day in mid-November 2016, I photographed a pair of CSX GE Evolution-series diesels leading Pan Am Southern freight 287—an empty auto rack train from Ayer.
These days, passing locomotives don’t necessarily reflect either the owner or operator of the train they lead.
Dappled morning sun augmented the effects of a textured sky and late season foliage. I opted to make this image using my Leica 3A with 35mm Nikkor Lens loaded with Ilford Pan-F (ISO).
This film offers fine grain and broad tonality. I’m not yet expert at processing this emulsion. Previously I used Ilfosol with mixed results. This time I tried Kodak D76 mixed 1:1 (stock solution with water).
If my process was completely successful my negatives would scan perfectly without need of electronic post processing adjustments. This example provided a good starting point, but to make for the most pleasing image, still required local and global contrast control.
By the way, digital photographers may relax; I also exposed several frames with my FujiFilm X-T1–Just in case.
The other morning I was aiming for a haircut. I arrived early and the barber wasn’t open yet, but I noticed an eastward CSX intermodal train on the old Boston & Albany that was slowing for the Palmer diamond.
I was on Route 20, about a mile west of Palmer, Massachusetts. I turned the car around, and immediately proceeded east in pursuit. (Haircuts can wait). However, road works at the New England Central bridge over the road caused me a critical delay.
Although the intermodal train was likely blocked, I wasn’t making any progress either, and I still had all of Palmer to get through in morning traffic. As a result, I took a detour and cut over the mountain using Old Warren Road—a favorite shortcut of Bob Buck’s that he showed me many years ago.
This saves several miles, but doesn’t follow the tracks.
As a result, I was able to be in place at West Warren several minutes ahead of the train. After exposing these views I retraced my steps and returned to my original mission!