GO sunset—Sunnyside, Toronto.

Bitterly cold with a clear sky; that was Toronto on the evening of February 8, 2010.

I exposed this photo of a GO Transit train using my Lumix LX3. While this was a great little camera, it suffered from poor battery life. On this cold day, I rapidly worked my way through all three of my rechargeable batteries and had to take time midday to recharge one.

Exposed using a Panasonic Lumix LX3; f2.8 1/320 second ISO 80. Set manually. Vivid color profile.

By the time I made this frame, the last battery was flashing red, yet I had enough juice left for a few more photos.

My LX7 is a better camera and the batteries are much improved. Word to the wise: always carry a spare battery.

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This old PCC—memories of another time.

In October 2014, I photographed this old MBTA (Boston) PCC car at the Connecticut Trolley Museum at East Windsor, Connecticut.

Just a rusty old ruin; but the car and its Kenmore destination board, brought me back to the early 1970s when my family lived a few blocks from MBTA’s Riverside Line at Newton Centre.

This route had been the  Boston & Albany Highlands Branch, and was converted to a trolley line in 1960.

As young child, I was permitted freedom to wander around the neighborhood. My fascination with railways naturally brought me to the trolley line.

One afternoon, I’d been watching the PCC’s coming and going in front of the old B&A station. I’d often traveled on the cars with my parents, and I understood how the system worked.

Taking a chance, I quietly boarded one of the cars through the back door. I rode to Kenmore Square, where I boarded another car and returned to Newton Centre. I might have been five at the time. More than 40 years passed before I told anyone of this adventure. 🙂

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Wisconsin Central and Wig Wags at Fond du Lac.

The old wig wag style grade crossing signal is now virtually extinct. However, in the 1990s, a fair number of these signals could still be found in Wisconsin.

This is an excerpt from my book Railroad Signaling (first published by MBI 2003):

One of the first standard types of automated visual grade crossing warning was the automatic flagman, a signal commonly known as a ‘wig wag’. [This was] adopted as a standard crossing device by the American Railway Association in 1923. A standard wig wag is actuated by a track circuit and consists of a paddle with a red lamp that gracefully swings back and forth in a horizontal pattern when a train approaches [and] usually accompanied by a bell . . . [at one time] the wig wag was the preferred type of grade crossing protection in the Midwest and far west. [They were] largely supplanted by modern flashing signals and crossing gates.
Exposed on Fujichrome Provia 100 using a Nikon F3T with an f1.8 105mm Nikkor lens.

I was traveling with Marshall Beecher on the morning of August 3, 1996, when I exposed this view of Wisconsin Central’s southward freight ANPR-A approaching a grade crossing on the former Chicago & North Western line in Fond du Lac. This line saw less traffic than WC’s near by former Soo Line mainline over Byron Hill, but the attraction was these antique signals. Notice my use of selective depth of field.

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Mass-Central at Gilbertville—an example of digital photography.

I find one of the great benefits of digital photography is the ability to carry a high-quality imaging machine with me at all times. Also, other than the initial investment, the relative cost of individual photos is inconsequential.

As result, I’m unhindered by weight or cost in the seeing and making of photos.

Does this make for better images? Not necessarily, but it facilitates me to make a more complete record of my travels and capture ordinary scenes such as this view of the Mass-Central at Gilbertville, Massachusetts on a brilliant October 2014 afternoon.

Looking south on the old Boston & Albany Ware River Branch at Gilbertville, Massachusetts on October 14, 2014. Lumix LX7 photo.

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In the Dark: 30 Seconds, Five Years Ago.

On February 25, 2012, I exposed this 30-second exposure at New England Central’s yard in Palmer, Massachusetts.

I mounted my Lumix LX7 on heavy tripod, and actuated the shutter using the self-timer to minimize vibration. Note the effect of the clouds moving.

This is a scaled JPG made from the unaltered Lumix LX3 JPG file.
By adjusting exposure and contrast in the RAW file I was able to produce this improved version. Notice the detail in the shadow areas that was lost in the JPG.

Despite the long exposure, the resulting digital image was still too dark and required work in post-processing using Lightroom.

In addition to lightening shadow areas, I also lightened the entire exposure by about full-stop, while controlling highlights and softening overall contrast.

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Tracking the Light test pattern.

Back in the old days of television when a broadcasting problem developed a test pattern would appear.

Eventually the problem (of which the details remained elusive) would be resolved and the programming would resume.

Please note that if you do not see a photo below, then Tracking the Light is experiencing a problem today.

However, if you do see a photo than perhaps the problem has been resolved.

This is a test.


Tracking the Light intends to post every day.

Oulu Roundhouse, September 2001.

In September 2001, I used a Contax G2 rangefinder to expose this view of a VR (Finnish Railways) Dv12 diesel at the Oulu roundhouse.

Oulu, Finland, September 2001. My first trip to Finland began as an excuse to put my new Contax G2 through the paces. I used this compact rangefinder from 2001 to 2007.

On Thursday 9 March , 2017, two weeks from tonight I’ll be giving my Illustrated Lecture called Night Trains, Pendolinos, Iron ore, Timber and Trams to the Irish Railway Record Society in Dublin.

This will be delivered at the IRRS premises near Heuston Station in Dublin (opposite the entrance to the car park). I will begin at 7:30pm (1930).

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Multi-coloured Tram Glides Down Harcourt Street.

The gloom of last Sunday afternoon in Dublin was briefly brightened by the appearance of this specially painted tram, dressed in the latest advertising livery.

Having spotted the tram arriving at St. Stephens Green, I hoofed it up Harcourt Street, where I selected a spot near the Albany House Hotel to photograph its outbound run.

Exposed using my Lumix LX7.

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Tracking the Light Extra: Mr. Railroad

It was a pleasant surprise for me this morning when I checked Facebook and learned that Trains Magazine’s Brian Schmidt has nominated me as Mr. Railroad in the magazine’s on-line blog Train of Thought.

See: http://cs.trains.com/trn/b/staff/archive/2017/02/20/and-mr-railroad-is.aspx

This is a real honor and thought I’d pass it on to Tracking the Light’s readers. I guess all those hours scouring libraries and making observations trackside has finally caught a bit of notice.

Tracking the Light is Brian Solomon’s Daily Blog focused on Railway Photography.



View from King John’s Castle, Limerick—I photographed a train by accident.

Standing upon the wall of King John’s Castle in Limerick, I made this photograph looking in a northerly direction.

I found that I could just see the top of Irish Rail’s bridge on the Limerick-Ennis Line (top right). (Not to be confused with the prominent non-rail spans over the River Shannon at the top left).

I was about to consult my phone to see when the next train was scheduled, when I noticed a Ennis-Limerick railcar rolling toward Colbert Station. ‘Poor timing’ I thought, ‘I’ve just missed a train.’

No, actually the timing was perfect. So perfect in fact I didn’t even know I’d caught the train until I inspected my results later in the day.

The old castle walls offer a commanding view of the Shannon. If you look carefully immediately to the left of  church, you might just notice a two-piece Irish Rail silver and green railcar crossing a green bridge.
Here’s an enlargement of the image.

Wait! You don’t believe me do you? Admit it, you think I sat upon that wall in anticipation, all the while poised waiting for the train to appear!

As they say in Philadelphia, ‘Uh uh.’

Next time, I’ll bring a big telephoto lens.

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Irish Rail Limerick Colbert Station Revisited

It was here at Colbert Station Limerick that I boarded my first Irish Rail train, a two piece push-pull led by a 121 Class General Motors diesel. That was just about 19 years ago (February 1998).

The other day, I decided to travel by train to Limerick. Unfortunately on the way out I discovered that my ‘connection’ at Limerick Junction was a bus. Poor show Irish Rail. (Can I blame them for the rain too?)

On the return, my train operated (hooray!). Waiting to board, I made a few photos of the old station, which uses of the traditional terminal head-house and iron train shed arrangement.

Out front it has been cleaned up a bit, but for the most part the station looks much the way it did on my first visit all those years ago. No 121 though.

New paving stones, benches and decorative trees have improved the approach to Irish Rail’s Limerick Station. Note the big sign advertising trains.
Colbert station uses a traditional arrangement with concourse and train shed.

All photos were exposed using my Lumix LX7 in February 2017.

The outward Limerick-Limerick Junction train consisted of a 3-piece Intercity Railcar. This was very well patronized.
Trains operate from Limerick to several destinations, including Dublin and Galway.

Looking toward Colbert Station from a nearby road bridge.


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Tomorrow: how I photographed a train by accident.

Winter Light on an old Midland & Great Western Railway Station

I exposed these photos of Irish Rail’s former Midland & Great Western Railway station at Ballinsloe in January 2000. At the time, Fujichrome Sensia II (100 ISO) was my standard colour slide film.

Crisp winter sun made for excellent lighting to feature this stone building.

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East Troy Electric Railroad.

A low angle can make for a more dramatic image.

Maybe this is why that at an early age some of us were so impressed by trains to begin with?

I made this view at East Troy, Wisconsin on September 3, 1994 using my Nikon F3T with an AF f2.8 28mm Nikkor lens. Kodachrome 25 was my preferred emulsion at that time.

This view is full-fram and un-cropped. I made a few color correction and contrast adjustments in Lightroom to improve presentation here.

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Irish Rail Container Pocket Wagons pass Islandbridge Junction.

So do you go out in poor light to catch something unusual? That’s your choice.

Sometimes I hold off for fine weather or good light to make images. Other times I’m faced with catching something in prevailing conditions. The railway doesn’t run for sunshine.

Once a week Irish schedules an extra IWT Liner (International Warehousing & Transport—Dublin North Wall to Ballina, Co. Mayo). In recent months, this has operated with the elusive container pocket wagons (CPWs). But it doesn’t necessarily run every week.

I have plenty of photos from Islandbridge Junction, and no shortage of images depicting the IWT Liner, and while I’ve photographed the CPWs over the years, last week I knew for certain (that’s railway certain, which is at best uncertain) that the CPWs were on due to pass.

So despite flat light, I made the effort.

Irish Rail 075 leads the IWT Liner at Island Bridge Junction, Dublin. Lumix LX7 photo.
Exposed on Tri-X using a Leica IIIA with 50mm Summitar. Processed with two stage developer plus selenium toner.

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View from the Gutter.


Hooray for puddles and dusk. (I’ve put all the useful information in the caption).

LUAS Citadis tram exposed on Benburb Street in Dublin using a Lumix LX7. ISO 80 1/4 second at f1.7—handheld. By keeping the camera very close to the surface of the water, I was able to make the most of the reflection.

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“Night Trains, Pendolinos, Iron ore, Timber and Trams” — A Look at Finnish Railways to be presented in Dublin by Brian Solomon on 9 March 2017.


I’ll be giving my Illustrated Lecture called Night Trains, Pendolinos, Iron ore, Timber and Trams to the Irish Railway Record Society in Dublin to be presented on Thursday 9 March , 2017.

This will be delivered at the IRRS premises near Heuston Station in Dublin (opposite the entrance to the car park). I will begin at 7:30pm (1930).

Helsinki main station is the design of Eliel Saarinen—one of Finland’s greatest and best known architects. Inspired by the Vienna Secession movement, Saarinen blended elements of the Arts & Crafts movement with traditional Finnish rural architectural themes.


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Berlin, Connecticut Revisited.

This is a follow up to my Tracking the Light post of December 23, 2016, where I explained that on Wednesday December 21, 2016, Otto Vondrak sent me the sad news that the old station at Berlin, Connecticut had been gutted by fire.

This was reported as a ‘total loss.’

I generally avoid accidents, derailment sites, and fires. However, a few weeks ago, I decided I should take a look at the remains of the Berlin station before the scene was made unrecognizable.

This was not an easy photo to make. I have a lot of happy memories of this place. Exposed in January 2017 on film using my Nikon F3.
Here’s the Berlin Station’s arched window as it appeared in September 2004.

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Railway Station Chernivsti, Ukraine.

In July 2007, I was about to board a long distance train for L’viv, when I exposed this photo at Chernivsti, Ukraine on Fujichrome with my Canon EOS 3 with 100mm lens.

The main railway station at Chernivsti, Ukraine in July 2007.

Ukraine was a great place to watch and ride trains, except for the business of buying tickets, which I found unusually challenging, especially without the ability to speak Ukrainian!

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Whose Railroad is this?

An old favorite photo location is the Connecticut River bridge at East Deerfield, Massachusetts.

Earlier this month, photographer Mike Gardner and I caught two freights crossing this traditional span within just a few minutes of each other.

The first was eastward autorack train symbol 28T operating to Ayer, Massachusetts with Norfolk Southern locomotives. A few minutes later, Pan Am freight POED (Portland to East Deerfield) worked west with recently acquired former CSX General Electric DASH8-40Cs.

Autorack (Norfolk Southern symbol 28T) works east across the Connecticut River. Exposed using a Lumix LX-7. RAW file modified for contrast and color using Lightroom.
Pan Am’s POED with former CSX DASH8-40C diesels. Exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
Pan Am’s POED with former CSX DASH8-40C diesels. Exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.

Historically this was the Boston & Maine’s Fitchburg line; B&M was melded into the Guilford system in the 1980s and in the mid-2000s . Today, Pan Am and Norfolk Southern are partners in operating Boston & Maine lines west of Ayer as Pan Am Southern.

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611 on the Fly.

Sorry, not the N&W J.

The other day when photographer Mike Gardner and I were in hot pursuit of New England Central freight 611, and we saw this scene unfolding as we approached the Vermont-Massachusetts state line.

The locomotives were catching the light against a dramatic sky in a wide-open landscape.

Wonderful, but we were sorely out of position.

This 112-car freight had been making better progress than I anticipated.

Rather than bemoan the loss of a cosmic shot, I rolled down window and popped off a few frames with my old Leica IIIA.

Running and gunning old school: multitasking, I guessed the exposure (f11 1/500 with HP5 rated at 320) and fixed the rangefinder to infinity. Click.


When you see a true photograph, act decisively—no regrets.

I wish I this clever in other areas.

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Brattleboro in the Snow: Documenting the Documenting.

Last week I traveled with fellow photographer Mike Gardner to Brattleboro, Vermont to make images of the New England Central Railroad.

In this view, I photographed Mike photographing the train as it works the south end of Brattleboro yard.

Filtered morning sun, snow and hoar frost all added to the atmosphere.

This was exposed on Ilford HP5 using a Leica IIIA with 50mm Summitar lens—the camera & lens combination with which I made thousands of photos between 1977 and 1986.

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Amtrak’s Acela Express train 2252 catches the glint at Branford, Connecticut.

I said. “Give it five minutes, that Acela ought to be along. The light’s nice, it would be a shame to waste it.”

Exposed manually using a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera. 1/1000th of a second at f7.1 ISO 400.

Amtrak’s High Speed Trains in Acela service make for nice evening subjects since their stainless-steel bodies reflect the light well.

Exposure can be a bit tricky. If you don’t compensate for the flash of glint, you might end up with a washed out photo (over exposed).

Here’s a secret; anticipate the flash as being about 1.5 stops brighter than the ambient lighting and set your exposure manually rather than using one of the camera’s automatic settings.

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Shore Line East at Clinton, Connecticut.

Last summer, fellow photographer Pat Yough and I made a project of exploring the old New Haven Shoreline route between New Haven and Old Saybrook, Connecticut.

We decided that some of the locations we investigated on summer evenings, would have better lighting on a winter afternoon.

So on January 29, 2017, we re-visited the Shore Line East station at Clinton, Connecticut and photographed a processions of trains.

Here’s a view of Shore Line East train number 3645 working west with a locomotive painted for the old New Haven Railroad.

This colorful engine was a bonus since many Shore Line East trains run with old Amtrak Genesis P40 diesels in faded Amtrak colors.

Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.

Amtrak 163 at Old Saybrook, Connecticut—January 29, 2017.

For a change, I thought I’d present a three-quarter lit view of a nice clean train on a clear sunny January afternoon. (If you are viewing on Facebook, be sure to click the link to Tracking the Light to see the un-cropped image).

Often on Tracking the Light I detail unusual or uncommon photographic techniques. I’ve discussed how to make pan photographs, how to work with graduated neutral density filters, how to expose at night or in very low light.

I made this at Old Saybrook. Pat Yough and I were wandering around Connecticut after the BIG Railroad Hobby Show, and we paused here to catch Amtrak 163 led by clean ACS-64 635.

Nothing fancy about this photo, although I’ve include the relevant details in the caption, just in case you are curious.

Exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera fitted with a 18-135mm Fujinon zoom lens; set at 43.9mm (equivalent to a 66m focal length in 35mm SLR terms). ISO 200, f7.1 at 1/500th of a second. Metered manually using the center weighted camera meter. Both shutter speed and aperture were set manually. Color profile is Fuji’s Velvia (a built-in camera preset). Other than scaling for internet presentation, I made no color correction, contrast, exposure or gamma adjustments to the camera-output JPG file.

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Sunrise at Spuyten Duyvil, The Bronx, New York—lessons in graduated filtration.

A couple of weeks ago, I made these views from a public overlook of the Palisades Parkway that show the former New York Central electrified Hudson Division at Spuyten Duyvil.

The sun was rising through a thick layer of urban pollution with made for a stunning red-orange glow.

My challenge was balancing the light so that the train running along the river wouldn’t completely disappear into the background.

Below are four variations. I’m displaying two photo files, one made with an external Lee 0.9 graduated neutral density filter. The others were made without the external filter, with one of the two images adjusted digitally using Lightroom with a simulated graduated filter.

This is my Lightroom work window. In the big window is the camera JPG of the view exposed without an external filter.

I’ll explain each in the captions, but let you draw your own conclusions.

Image 1: This in-camera JPG shows a view made without an external graduated filter. Except for necessary scaling for internet presentation, I have made no changes to the appearance of the image. This shows the challenging lighting; if I exposed for the sky, the train would be lost in an inky blackness, if I exposed for the train and city scape, the sky gets washed out and loses the effect of a dramatic sunrise. Yet since this image didn’t use a filter, and required no post processing, it was by far the easiest to make.
Image 2: This was image was made from RAW file exposed at the same time as the above JPG (Image 1). No external filter was applied. Using Lightroom, I’ve digitally applied a graduated filter to the sky and manually adjusted the file by lowering highlight and over all density while increasing the highlight contrast and saturation. (By the way, the clouds were naturally terraced, all I’ve done is manipulate the RAW image to allow this effect to be be more apparent in the final image.)
Image 3: In this photo, I’ve applied the external Lee 0.9 graduated neutral density filter to the front of the lens and adjusted it to cover the sky. This tapered filter allowed me to capture more highlight detail in the sky while leaving the bottom portion of the image unfiltered. This is the in-camera JPG, and other than scale the image for internet presentation, I made no further alterations to it in post processing.
Image 4: Working with the RAW file exposed at the same time as image 3, I’ve implemented a variety of small contrast, exposure and saturation adjustments aimed at producing a more pleasing image. Obviously, further adjustment is possible. I could for example lighten the trees behind the train. So this image features both the Lee graduated filter and post processing. To my eye it looks the most like the scene at the time of exposure.

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Drop Under Light—CSX Q424 at Mitteneague (West Springfield).

A dreary evening at Mitteneague in West Springfield, Massachusetts was briefly brightened by a wink of drop under sun.

Luckily for me, at the very moment the trees in the distance were illuminated by this unexpected golden glow, I heard CSX’s Selkirk to West Springfield manifest freight Q424 approaching.

I exposed these trailing views with my 90mm f2.0 Fujinon lens.

Below are two variations of each image; one is a JPG made from the RAW without interpretation, the other is an adjusted file to represent what I saw at the time of exposure.

This is a scaled JPG made from the Camera RAW file without interpretation. Compare this with the adjust file below.
Image 2: To make for a more realistic and pleasing image, I adjusted the RAW file in Lightroom. Specifically I lightened the shadows while adjusting the blacks, alter the overall gamma (using the Clarity slider), and made a nominal increase in saturation. All changes were made globally (to the entire file).
Scaled, but otherwise un-adjusted JPG made from camera RAW.
Image 4: File adjusted in post processing using the same settings as the earlier image in the sequence (image 2).

Camera RAW files only represent the information (data) collected by the camera sensor, and rarely display an image as the scene actually appeared, thus the need for interpretation/adjustment during post processing.

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Rare Bird on SEPTA—University City.

It was a rainy Tuesday last week when I made these photos near University City in Philadelphia.

Regional passenger operator SEPTA has two unusual road-switchers (nos. 60 and 61), model RL-1, built by Republic Locomotive.

As locomotives go, these are real rare-birds. Although I’ve seen these from the window of the train, I’d never before caught one on the line.

On this day, I saw engine 60 working SEPTA’s wire train.

I made several photos using my Lumix LX7, plus a film photo exposed on Foma Retropan 320 using a Nikon F3 with 50mm lens.

SEPTA 60 with a wire train.
Exposed with a Lumix LX7.
Here’s a similar view exposed on Foma Retropan 320 black & white film.
This Lumix LX7 view shows a Silverliner bound for Philadelphia 30th Street Station.

Needless to say it wasn’t a very bright day. But it always pays to capture unusual equipment regardless of atmospheric conditions.


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Snow in the Hudson Valley—January 2017.

Last week, I made another visit to the scenic Lower Hudson Valley.

At first I was delighted by about 6 inches of freshly fallen snow.

Then I began to discover a new challenge. One by one, I found that all my usual parking spots were essentially inaccessible because of the snow.

Despite this difficulty, I secured a spot near Breakneck Ridge, and made the difficult climb on foot to this vista. While not a bad hike on a dry day, this was tricky with snow on top of mud.

My reward was a clean Amtrak dual mode Genesis running south on the normal northward track to go around a HyRail truck.

Amtrak train 280 passing Bannermans Castle in January 2017.
The nice thing about a zoom lens is the ability to rapidly adjust the focal length.

Photos exposed using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera with 18-135mm Fujinon zoom lens.

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Amtrak Keystone—Retro Style.

More experiments with Foma (Czech film producer) so-called  Retropan ISO 320 black & white film. See previous posts:

Retropan 320—First Experiment.

Retropan on the Rails; Experiments with My second Roll of Foma’s 320 ISO Black & White film.

Unexpected Results: My Third Experiment with Retropan.

Working with my Nikon F3 fitted with a vintage Nikkor f1.4 50mm lens, I made these views at Strafford, Pennsylvania along the old Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line west of Philadelphia.

It was a dull Sunday afternoon in January and my hope was to make iconic views using traditional materials that might work more effectively than modern digital color photographs (although I exposed some digital images as well.)

For this batch of Foma Retropan, I returned to hand processing in Paterson tanks. I used Retro Special Developer stock solution (diluted 1:1 with water) with a 4 minutes development time. Prior to introducing the primary developer, I pre-soaked in a water bath with a drop of Retro Special Developer stock for 1 minute.

My aim was to retain the broad tonality achieved with earlier experiments while keeping the grain size relatively fine.

Shallow depth of field and classic graininess make for a photo that looks like film. Because it was made with film. I like that concept. Not sure about the results however. I think this one needs refinement.
Amtrak train number 670, a Keystone service from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania blitzes Strafford on the old Main Line. Exposed using a Nikon F3 with 50mm lens; f2.2 1/250th of a second.
You know it’s not very bright when the streetlights are lit. This was a pretty low contrast scene. I scanned the negatives but did not manipulate the end result.

Honestly, I’m not sure that these photographs work for me. But the lighting was pretty tough. (Flat, dull, and lacking in character and direction).

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