On June 28, 2017, I made a sequence of digital photos of CSX’s Worcester, Massachusetts-bound intermodal freight symbol Q012 passing CP64 (dispatcher’s control-point 64 miles west of Boston) at East Brookfield.
This was one of several exposures made with my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
Yesterday, Wednesday, June 28, 2017, I arrived in Palmer at about 5am. Although there was clear blue dome above me, a blanket of mist had filled the Quaboag Valley. This was just beginning to clear, when I heard CSX’s westward freight Q427 (Portland, Maine to Selkirk, New York) approaching.
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a 27mm pancake lens, I exposed several bursts of digital images as the train rolled by the old Palmer Union Station (now the popular Steaming Tender Restaurant).
Consider that this is a lesson in lighting: even when you photograph trains at the same location, at the same time of day (but on different days) the results can be significantly different as result of ever changing lighting conditions.
Amtrak’s Vermonter passing an old Tobacco Barn in the Connecticut River flood plain north of Northampton, Massachusetts.
Sunday, June 25, 2017, Amtrak’s mobile App indicated that train No. 54, the Sunday Vermonter had departed Northampton about 7 minutes past the advertised.
Tim suggested we try the location pictured here (right off Massachusetts Route 5). It’s the same spot that about a month earlier we caught Pan Am Railway’s office car special returning from Springfield.
This setting reminds me of locations in Illinois and Iowa, looking across farm fields with old barns as props. In the mid-1990s, I made many photos along those lines.
Sunday, June 25, 2017, Tim and I had circled Pan Am Railway’s East Deerfield classification yard trying to find an angle, or a train.
The sun was out, and it was raining. Tim said, “This is some pretty weird weather.”
We crossed the old “Railfan’s Bridge” (McClelland Farm Road), and I looked eastward over the yard and shouted, ‘Holy —-, Look at the rainbow!’
It started out faint, and gradually grew more intense as the sun emerged from a cloud-bank.
Although it hung in the sky for ten minutes or more, there wasn’t a wheel turning. Pity too. I think of all the thousands of photos I’ve made around East Deerfield and in all kinds of light, but I’d never caught a rainbow before!
Exposed using my FujFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens and Lee 0.6 graduated neutral density filter.
These days most of CSX’s scheduled through car-load freights tend to traverse the east end of the old Boston & Albany during darkness.
True, there’s a couple of intermodal trains, and Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited during the day, but if you want to see an old-school freight train in daylight you’ll have a long wait.
Early in the morning of June 23, 2017, I went over to CP83 (control point 83 miles from South Station) on spec to see if I could catch some freight on the move.
I have a sixth sense or really good hearing (or both), because I stepped out of the car, and I could hear a distant freight with GE diesels laboring toward Palmer.
I fitted my FujiFilm X-T1 with my fast (f2.0) 90mm lens and walked up to the South Main Street bridge, where I’ve made hundreds of photos over the years.
As the train approached, I realized that it wasn’t an intermodal train, as I expected, but a carload freight. It was CSX’s Q422 (Selkirk, New York to Worcester, Massachusetts).
At 5:29am I made these photos with my camera set to ISO 800, f2.2 1/250 second handheld. The ability to raise the ISO to a faster (more sensitive) setting combined with my fast telephoto lens allows for photos like this one.
In my old Kodachrome 25 days, my exposure with my Nikon F3 and f2.8 135mm lens (offering an equivalent focal length to the 90mm with the small sensor on the X-T1) would have been: f3.5 at ¼ second. The resulting image of this moving train would have been dramatically different.
Since 1986, the interlocking east of Palmer at the east-end of the dispatcher’s controlled siding has been known on the railroad as ‘CP79’ which describes it as a ‘control point (remote control power switches and signals) 79-miles west of Boston’.
Friday, morning (June 22, 2017), I anticipated a westward freight just after sunrise, and set up looking across the farmer’s field west of CP79, looking toward the rising sun.
Working with an external graduated neutral density filter, I carefully exposed a sequence of photos, including pictures with the train. Then working with the camera RAW files in Lightroom, I manipulated contrast, exposure, color temperature and color balance, to make for better balanced more pleasing photos.
With extreme lighting conditions I find that post processing is a necessary, if tedious, part of the photographic process.
While on the surface this was a comparison between black & white and color images; in fact it was a more complex comparison between similar photographs.
One clue was the following, “I wonder how many viewers will notice the fundamental difference between the digital photograph and the film images?”
The other major clue was in the title, “Two Takes, Four Views.”
A little background. On May 16, 2017 I made the color photo of New England Central GP38 3809 leading train 608 upgrade. A few days later, I was following the same train with the same locomotive-consist and I had the opportunity to return to Bridge Street and make another image from the same location. Rather than repeat my efforts in color, I opted to make a black & white photograph with my Leica.
The secret: The fundamental difference between the images is that they were exposed on different days.
Thus there are subtle differences in the angle of the camera to the train, the lighting (higher in the B&W photo as a result of being exposed about an hour later), the locomotive exhaust is different (which several viewers commented on), the train consist itself is different (although the locomotives are the same), and in the elapsed days between images the leaves on the trees had grown to obscure more the track in the distance (which is why it is more difficult to see the freight cars in the black & white views).
Admittedly, by comparing color with black & white it was easy to steer many viewers from observing the other, and more subtle, differences between the black & white and color images. I further hid my secret by directing the observer to study variations in tonality between the three variations in the B&W images.
Would you have noticed more quickly if the leading locomotive had been a different engine in the color view?
Tracking the Light Posts Daily
Oh, and by the way, I prefer the color view over the black & white, the light was much nicer.
Massachusetts Central serves Ware on a mix of former Boston & Albany and Boston & Maine lines.
For the last few years the railroad has stored two of its antique locomotives in the Ware yard, including its unusual former Southern Railway EMD NW5 number 2100.
I have many images of this locomotive in various paint schemes over the years; hauling freight, switching the yard, and working excursion trains.
I made these photos the other day with a Nikon F3 fitted with an old school (non-AI) Nikkor 24mm lens (a favorite tool of mine for making unusual and dramatic images).
My process was also unusual. Working with Ilford HP5 rated at ISO 320 (instead of 400), in the dark room I allowed the film to get a very small degree of base fog to thus raise the detail in the shadow areas, while under-processing the film in Kodak D-76 (stock solution mixed 1-1 with water) by nearly 40 percent. Instead of an 11 minute time as recommended, I cut my time to just over 7 minutes, but raised the temperature to 73 degrees F for increased activity. This also boosts the grain a little but that adds to the texture of the photos and clearly distinguishes them from digital images produced by modern cameras.
As you might guess, I’m not opposed to visual characteristics in a photo that hint at the process that created them.
New England Central’s grade over State Line Hill climbs through Monson, Massachusetts. When I’m in Monson—where I live for part of the year—I can hear the trains as they pass through town.
In recent posts, I’ve focused my cameras on New England Central’s weekday freight, job 608, that runs from Willimantic, Connecticut to Palmer and back.
In the long days, the present schedule for 608 finds it in a number of classic locations that are well-lit for photography.
I can go after the train on any given morning, as often as I choose, and this allows me the freedom to explore different angles, photographic techniques, and visit locations repeatedly to make more interesting images.
I like to work in black & white and I choose to use traditional film cameras with which I can craft images in the old school. I process the film myself using custom-tailored recipes, and then scan for presentation here.
Why black & white film? First of all it’s not simply monochrome. My black & white photography is the culmination of decades of experimentation. This shouldn’t imply that the photos are inherently better than simple digital snap shots, but infers that I’ve put more thought and energy into achieving my end result.
Here I’ve displayed three variations of a black & white image I exposed using a Leica IIIa with 35mm Nikkor lens at Bridge Street in Monson. I’ve adjusted the contrast and tonal range producing subtle differences in each interpretation. For comparison, I’ve also supplied a similar digital color view that I exposed with my Lumix LX7.
I wonder how many viewers will notice the fundamental difference between the digital photograph and the film image variations?
For the discerning photographer, summer midday high-light presents difficulties with contrast and deep shadows.
In my Kodachrome days, I’d put the camera away from 10 am to after 2 pm during June-July. Kodachrome’s palate and contrast didn’t work with midday high-light and the slides would suffer from inky shadows, exceptionally harsh contrast, and bleached highlights.
Using digital photography and post processing, I can overcome some of the difficulties presented by summer high sun by adjusting color temperature and carefully controlling highlight and shadow detail.
Another tool is the external graduated neutral density filter. By attaching one of these filters to the front of the lens, I can darken the sky to better hold highlight detail and color saturation, while lightening the lower portions of the image area to make for a better balanced exposure and increasing the relative amount of data captured.
Final adjustment is still required in post processing to lighten shadows.
June can be a challenging time to make photographs. There can be wonderful rich sun for couple of hours in the morning, and again in the evening, while during the day high-light presents difficulties with contrast and deep shadows. (Topics for future posts)
Last week, Rich Reed, Paul Goewey, Felix Legere and I arrived at Ayer, Massachusetts in good morning light.
MBTA and Pan Am Railways kept us busy for a little while. And I made these images using my FujiFilm X-T1.
I gauge my digital exposure using the camera’s histogram (a graph displayed in-camera that shows pixel distribution), and as a result I aim to capture the maximum amount of data by balancing the highlight and shadow areas.
If need be I can then adjust the exposure and contrast in post processing to make for the most visually appealing image without sacrificing the amount data captured
I’ve listed my exposures below each photo to provide a frame of reference.
It always surprises me when I find some vestige of former times that I’ve managed to overlook.
Last week my on the advice of Felix Legere, we explored the old Nashua, Acton & Boston Railroad right of way near Forge Village east of Ayer, Massachusetts.
This 24-mile 19th century railroad was among the lines melded into the Boston & Maine system. In 1875, it carried three passenger trains daily between Nashua and Concord Junction. Near Forge Village it crossed the Stony Brook railroad and a trolley line on an overpass.
The NA&B was an early casualty of Boston & Maine retrenchment and abandoned about 1925.
Today, part of the right of way is maintained as Tom Paul Rail Trail. Felix led our expedition to the railroad’s vintage stone arch bridge over Stony Brook (for which the Stony Brook Railroad was named).
I made the color photos with my FujiFilm X-T1, and the black & white with a Leica IIIa with 50mm Summitar lens.
The old McClelland Farm Road bridge over the Boston & Maine tracks at the west end of East Deerfield Yard (near Greenfield, Massachusetts) has been a popular place to photograph trains since the steam era.
Known colloquially as the ‘Railfan’s Bridge,’ this vantage point has been featured in articles in TRAINS Magazine Railpace, and other popular literature for decades.
I first visited with my father and brother in the early 1980s, and have made countless photos here, many of which have a appeared in books, calendars, and of course on Tracking the Light.
My friend Tim coined it the ‘waste too much film bridge’ in the early 2000s, owing to our propensity to make an excessive number of photos as Guilford freight trains switched in the yard.
Although hackneyed and perhaps over frequented, it’s been a great place to catch the sunrise, make photos of the locomotives and freight cars, and work the evening glint.
At times, I’ve seen as many as 30 photographers here, all vying for position.
Imagine my surprise last month, when Tim and I arrived to photograph the elusive and much followed Pan Am Railways office car train, expecting to find a wall of lenses, and instead realized that we were the only photographers on site!
I used this opportunity to make some photos of the old bridge, soon to be replaced by a new span located 40 feet to the west.
Why is this my first farewell? Simply, the bridge isn’t yet gone. After it is, perhaps I’ll post a ‘final farewell’.
Three freight railroads, plus Amtrak share the tracks at Bellows Falls. Yet on the morning of my visit last week not a wheel was turning.
I worked with the cosmic morning light to make a few photos of the old station building and the railway environment.
Not all great railway photos need trains. And Tracking the Light is more about the process of making railway photos than simply the execution of ‘great train pictures’.
For these images I worked with my Lumix LX7 (color digital photos) and a Leica 3a with screw-mount 35mm focal length Nikkor lens (black & white photos exposed on Kodak Tri-X and processed in Ilford Perceptol).
I have my favorites. Can you guess which these are?
In 2011 a late summer storm swept away the old Bartonsville Covered bridge.
A year or so later a replacement bridge built to the same pattern as the old one was completed.
I made these views on my trip to Vermont on June 7, 2017.
The black & white photographs were exposed using a Leica IIIa with 35mm Nikkor lens, both in the morning on the east end, and in the afternoon on the west. The color views are products of my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
I like the ability to make photos of a traditional appearing subject using traditional cameras and film. This requires skill and technique. However, it’s also nice to be able to work with more than one camera and in various media at the same time.
High sun in June doesn’t offer the most flattering light. Straight up and down sun, with harsh contrast, and inky shadows conspire to make for difficult photos.
Last week, Paul Goewey and I waited at this rural grade crossing near Cavendish, Vermont for Vermont Rail System’s southward (eastward) freight 263. Slow orders and other delays resulted in a much longer than expected wait.
I had Fomapan 100 black & white film in the Leica 3A. I’ve been experimenting with this Czech-made film since October last year. Among its benefits is its exceptional ability to capture shadow detail.
To intensify this desirable characteristic, I processed the film with two-stage development. First I let the film soak at 68F in a water bath mixed with a drop of HC110 and Kodak Photoflo for about 3 minutes.
For the primary developer I used Ilford Perceptol Stock for 5 minutes 25 seconds at 69F with very gentle agitation every 60 seconds. Then stop bath, two bath fixer, 1st rinse, Permawash, 10 minute second rinse.
I scanned the negatives using an Epson Perfection V750 Pro flatbed scanner, then imported the negatives into Lightroom.
Ideally my chemical processing should yield negatives that don’t require work in post processing. But in this case I found I needed to make minor adjustments to contrast and exposure.
I’ve presented two examples; one is scaled but otherwise unaltered. The other has my exposure and contrast adjustments.
June 7, 2017 was a rare crystal clear day. Paul Goewey and I headed north to Vermont to retrace the path of the old Rutland Railroad, and retrace our own footsteps.
Many years earlier, we had made a similar trip to this railroad to photograph Maine Central RS-11 802 that had been loaned to the Green Mountain Railroad for the run from Bellows Falls to Rutland.
Where our 1983 adventured occurred in November on a gloomy gray day that soon turned snowy, this most recent trip benefitted from very fine conditions.
As we drove toward Rutland on Vermont Highway 103, we recalled the details of the earlier trip
In Rutland we located VRS freight 263 that was getting ready to depart. Positioning ourselves on the grade to Mount Holly we waited. Once the freight passed our first spot we entered in its pursuit, as one does, to make more photographs.
Among the spots we preselected was this view of the Cuttingsville Trestle. I selected an angle similar to that featured by famous photographs made in Rutland Railroad days by accomplished photographer Jim Shaughnessy.
I’ve included the technical details in my caption above.
It’s that time of year when the setting sun aligns with CSX’s old Boston & Albany at Palmer, Massachusetts.
I made these views using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
The camera’s color profile was set to ‘Velvia’ mode. White balance at ‘A’ (automatic). While I exposed both a Camera RAW and Jpg simultaneously, these views are strictly camera-produced Jpg files scaled for internet presentation.
Gauging my exposure with the in-camera matrix meter, I set the aperture and shutter speed manually leaning toward ‘under exposure’ to ensure good highlight detail.
In April, I used my Lumix LX7 to expose this view of modern Italian passenger trains, including the Italo (at right)—a privately operated high-speed train—at Firenze S. M. Novella [Florence main station.]
Filtered noon-time light made for a painterly-like setting.
Working with my Lumix LX7, I exposed a camera RAW file of Amtrak’s 449 at West Warren, Massachusetts on May 31, 2017.
This location is old hat for me. I’ve made dozens of images of Amtrak here over the years.
Here I’m presenting two versions.
The top is the completely un-modified camera RAW (no changes to color, contrast, shadow or highlight detail) that I converted in Lightroom to a JPG for internet presentation
On the bottom is a modified RAW file (saved as a Jpg for internet presentation). Here, using Lightroom I’ve applied a mask to the sky area to improve the exposure and better pulling in cloud detail, while adjusting for color and saturation.
I applied a small circular mask on the front of the locomotive to reduce the effects of glare. In addition, I made overall changes to contrast, while boosting saturation, and lightening shadows slightly.
The end-effect is a more saturated and pronounced sky, lighter shadows, a slight warming of overall color temperature, and better controlled highlight areas.
If you don’t like these, you can try it yourself sometime. Amtrak 449 passes West Warren daily between 245 and 310 pm
In July 2017 TRAINS, I look back at the effects and consequences of the Beeching Era on British Railways. Take a look on pages 16-17!
I’ve illustrated this discussion with a photo I made on the preserved Great Central Railway in 2004. This was part of a sequence exposed on Fujichrome Sensia II (ISO100) color slide film (Tracking the Light tie-in).
Years ago I’d ride my ten-speed bicycle to the Stafford Hollow Road Bridge in Monson, Massachusetts. I’d wait for Central Vermont’s freight to New London.
If I was lucky, I’d catch CV working upgrade with GP9s/Alco RS-11 making a healthy roar as they approached Stateline Summit.
On the morning May 31, 2017, I was leaving the Monson Post Office (having just mailed a letter to Ireland) when I heard New England Central 608 (running south from Palmer to Willimantic) tackling the grade in town.
I was surprised to see a Providence & Worcester GP38-2 in the lead. I supposed since New England Central and P&W are now both in the Genesee & Wyoming family it makes sense that the locomotives of these two connecting lines would get a bit mixed up.
Regardless, I knew that this would make for an interesting photograph. Among the places I caught 608 was at my old Stafford Hollow Road location.
My late friend Bob Buck had photographed here since the 1940s and always called the location ‘Smith’s Bridge’. I know he would have been delighted to see these photos of a P&W GP38-2 leading the southward freight.
At the end of April, Denis McCabe and I were on our way to the Basel Airport on the airport bus (image omitted). On the way, we spotted an over bridge on the double-track line that connects Basel with France.
Arriving at the airport, we concluded that we were too early to check in for our flight, so rather than waste time milling around the airport, we doubled back to the bridge, a mere 10 minutes away.
Among the photos I made in the interval at the bridge was this trailing view of an SNCF freight heading to France from Switzerland.