On a trip to the Pittsburgh area, I made these black & white photos on Tri-X in February 1987 at New Castle, Pennsylvania.
While, I like the effects of back lighting on this westward Chessie System train, I was thwarted in my efforts at producing satisfactory prints.
Complicating my printing problems were edge effects that had resulted in un-even processing that affected the sky highlights more dramatically than shadow areas.
After about a half dozen attempts using Kodak double-weight paper I’d given up.
The other day this roll of 120 Tri-X finally worked its way to the top of the scanning pile, and after scanning at high-resolution, I thought maybe I’d try to work with the back-lit photos using Lightroom to see if I could improve upon my printing efforts from 1987.
Instead of dodging and burning on the aisle, working digitally I’ve applied digital graduated filters to control highlights and shadows, contrast, and the overall exposure.
Two weeks ago I caught Amtrak engine 184 in the Northeast Direct heritage scheme working train number 56 (northward Vermonter).
The light was fading, so I upped the ISO on my FujiFilm X-T1 to 1000 and exposed these views using my 27mm pancake lens.
Although I set the shutter to 1/320 of a second, the relatively fast train still necessitated panning to keep the locomotive sharp. Panning had the effect of setting off the background in a sea of blur and conveying a sense of motion to the photos.
White balance was set at ‘daylight’ in order to better retain the blue glow of dusk.
On my visit to Carneys Point, New Jersey earlier this month, I exposed a few select frames of Kodak Tri-X using my Canon EOS-3 with 40mm pancake lens.
Previously, I posted a selection of the digital color photos that featured Conrail Shared Assets freight CA11. See: Bright Day on the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines. https://wp.me/p2BVuC-59B
I processed the film yesterday (Monday, 27 November 2017) using my two-stage development recipe:
By starting with ‘presoak’ solution that features a very weak developer, I allow for increased development in the shadow areas. My primary developer for this roll was Kodak D-76 stock solution diluted 1-1 with water.
While I intentionally under processed the film to avoid excessive highlight density, following stop bath, fixing baths, and rinse, I then soaked the negatives in selenium toner (mixed 1 to 9 )for 8 minutes to boost highlights to my desired ideal.
The results are these broad-toned monochromatic images with delicate silvery highlights.
A side effect of this process is the exceptionally archival quality of selenium toned original negatives that without any expensive storage conditions should long outlive my digital photos.
I made this view of a pair of Pan Am Railway’s recently acquired four-motor GE diesels at East Deerfield Yard.
When they were new in the 1980s, these locomotives were intended for moving intermodal trains at top speed.
Conrail’s B40-8s (DASH8-40B) were routinely assigned in sets of three to trailvan and double stack trains on the Water Level Route, while Susquehanna’s similar locomotives would work its double stack trains on the old Erie Railroad ‘Southern Tier Route’
So, I find it odd to see them now in faded CSX paint at Pan Am’s East Deerfield.
Perhaps, its an appropriate photographic metaphor to picture them in fading afternoon light passing the shell of the old tower.
Since Genesee & Wyoming took over Rail America, gradually the fleets of diesels operated by the component railways have been repainted into G&W’s corporate livery of orange and black with yellow highlights.
This traditional paint scheme had been used by the original G&W short line railroad for decades.
Here I’ve put the brightly colored diesels in scene that makes the most of the scheme.
New England Central 611 is southbound at Northfield, Massachusetts with locomotive 3475 in the lead. A cloud has briefly diffused the morning sun.
To make the most of the lighting and the scene, I made this telephoto view looking down a road, visually placing the orange and black locomotive in front of a yellow house.
The dominance of orange and yellow for the primary subjects works well in the late autumnal scene, as these colors mimic the muted foliage and grasses associated with the season.
Last week (November 2017) I made these picturesque tableaus of the Strasburg Railroad in its classic Pennsylvanian Dutch settings.
All were made with my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera.
Over the years I’ve made more than a dozen visits to the Strasburg Railroad, but this most recent trip was the first time I’d exposed digital photos here. I guess it’s been a while since my last visit.
Gauzy afternoon light in late autumn is a great time to photograph steam locomotives at work.
The combination of a relatively low sun angle with slightly diffused shadows, provides directional light with moderate contrast that nicely illuminates the locomotive’s boiler components and reciprocating parts while offering excellent color rendition.
Cool atmospheric conditions make for ample effluence of locomotive exhaust allowing for classic portrayal of a steam locomotive at work
This lighting situation is generally superior to harsh midday summer sun that tends to leave locomotive detail in inky shadows and atmospheric conditions that leave steam exhaust largely invisible to the naked eye.
Pat Yough and I re-examined Strasburg Railroad in mid-November and made a variety of classic views of locomotive no. 90 at work.
The real topic is about how to use a wide angle lens when faced with a backlit subject.
Last week, while photographing Conrail Shared Assets freight CA11, Pat Yough and I were faced with finding suitable locations for the northward run. Complicating our challenge was the clear blue sky, which resulted in harsh back lighting at most locations.
Our train had an unusual consist of four diesels, led by one of CSX’s new SD40E3 ‘Eco’ units, but also featured one of Norfolk Southern’d former Conrail SD80MACs (third unit out).
We scoped several locations and ultimately settled on a broadside view near Penns Grove, New Jersey where the railroad crosses Perkintown Road.
To make the most of this setting, I opted to use the large tree by the side of the road as compositional frame, and exposed a series of images with my FujiFilm XT1 fitted with a Zeiss 12mm Tuoit.
This extremely sharp lens allows for exceptional clarity in backlit situations. In post processing I lightened shadows and nominally reduce the contrast to minimize unpleasant qualities associated with back lighting.
SEPTA has a small fleet of electric locomotives; seven are AEM-7s (kin to Amtrak’s now retired fleet), one is a similar model ALP44 built by ABB Traction in 1996.
This one SEPTA ALP44 carries the road number 2308. It is among the regional rail operator’s most elusive locomotives. NJ Transit also operated ALP44s, but these have been out of service for a number of years.
Last week (November 2017) I was in the right place at the right time and caught 2308 arriving at Temple University (station) with a train destined for Thorndale. I boarded and traveled to Jefferson Station (formerly called Market East), where I made these images using my Lumix LX7.
Soon SEPTA will be receiving a fleet of new Siemens-built electrics, so I would assume that old 2308 is on borrowed time.
Recognizing rare equipment is part of making interesting railway images.
Is SEPTA’s 2308 the modern-day equivalent of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s DD2 electric (a rarely photographed, one-of-a-kind machine that looked similar to PRR’s common GG1)?
I made good use of the pass, traveling over several heavy rail routes to make photos.
One of the greatest features of this pass is the ability to get on and off trains without concern for cost, or trying to explain to the conductor where I’m are traveling to. This allows me to change my plan on the spot if I see an interesting location.
SEPTA offers regular interval service on most of its suburban lines, with extra trains in the evening rush hour.
These digital photos were made using my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1 digital cameras.
Dusk is a mystical time to photograph; highlights are subdued, shadows are deep, while the prevailing light is soft and cool. Window light is equivalent to the outdoors, and railroad signal light seems more intense.
The short SEPTA line to Cynwyd in the northwestern Philadelphia suburbs is a vestige of Pennsylvania Railroad’s Schuylkill Valley line that once reached northward into anthracite country.
Today Cynwyd is the end of the line.
Until last week, it was one of the last segments of SEPTA’s Regional Rail network left for me to travel.
I arrived at dusk, and in that ‘blue hour’ and I made these photographs using my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1 digital cameras.
All things being equal I would have used a tripod, but I didn’t have one so with the XT1, I boosted the ISO to unusually high levels to compensate for the dim conditions.
Not just any old ‘mainline,’ but the famous Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) Main Line— so called because it was built as the ‘Main Line of Public Works’ in the mid-Nineteenth Century.
I made this view of Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian taking the curve at Berwyn, Pennsylvania.
Where most of the trains on this line draw power from the high-voltage AC catenary, Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian changes from an electric to a diesel locomotive at 30th Street to avoid the need to change at Harrisburg.
This is Amtrak’s only service on the former PRR west of Harrisburg. The lone long distance train on what was once a premier passenger route, and unusual on the electrified portion of the line.
I exposed this sequence at Berwyn using my FujiFilm XT1 and 18-135mm zoom lens.
To make the most of the curve and autumn color, I positioned myself on the outside of the curve at Berwyn. The chug of Amtrak’s P42 diesel alerted me to the approach of this westward train.
I made these views of a CSX freight operating on the former Reading Company in Philadelphia. My vantage point was from the sidewalk on the road bridge near the Strawberry Mansion Bridge over the Schuylkill.
The day was bright, but partially overcast, which benefitted my photography since bright sun would have resulted in a difficult and unflattering high-contrast situation.
This northward freight was moving slowly, allowing me to work with two digital cameras and expose a series of images as it went by.
To the uninitiated a cold windy rainy night might not seem like a good time to make urban photographs.
In my eye this is a fantastic opportunity to make unconventional images.
My brother and I planned to ride SEPTA’s No. 15 streetcar along Girard Avenue to have burgers and beer at Johnny Brenda’s located on Girard near the crossing of the Market-Frankford rapid transit line.
I worked with my Lumix LX7 hand-held to expose this selection of images.
Some of the street views were exposed using the Lumix’s ‘night mode’ that exposes a burst of images in rapid succession and combines them in-camera as a composite.
As you can see it was really lashing down and the most difficult part of this exercise was keeping the lens dry.
It’s dusk and too dark for a conventional photograph without boosting the ISO to high levels.
So, I opt for a panned image, where I use a comparatively slow shutter speed and move the camera to follow the motion of the subject.
I’ve found that it helps to pick a point on the vehicle and stay with it.
It also helps to begin panning well before the shutter is released and continue to pan without changing your overall motion after the picture has been made.
This last part is crucial. Many pans are ruined when the photographer stops panning (or slows) at the very moment the shutter is released, which unfortunately can be a natural inclination that must be overcome with practice.
Using my Nikon N90S with a Nikkor AF 35mm lens, I exposed these Provia 100F slides at Rome’s Porta Maggiore in September 2017.
I often expose color slides in addition to digital images.
I scanned the slides using a Nikon scanner with VueScan software. My initial scans are made at very high resolution (4000 dots per inch or higher) and then using Lightroom I scaled these for internet presentation.
Are these photos better than the digital images? I don’t know. My film photos have different characteristics than the digital images. Also, I like to give slide shows and I find it’s much easier and more satisfying to project original color slides than put together digital presentations.
Piermont, New York was the Erie Railroad’s original eastern terminus. This Hudson River port was so-designated because the railroad was intended to operate within the State of New York. The railroad developed a large pier here for transshipping goods and people via the Hudson to New York City.
The other day my brother Sean and I explored Piermont and it’s Pier. Although there’s very little evidence left of the Erie itself, I was curious to see this once important place. This is part of my on-going research and photography of the old Erie Railroad.
These images were exposed digitally using my FujiFilm XT1. However, I also exposed a few 35mm color slides that will be useful in future slide presentations.
I avoid shrouding my work in mystery and I’ve happily discussed my technique, tools and materials with anyone who asks. This can lead to some interesting conversations, but also some peculiar observations.
Over the years, various people have offered curious comments on my photography (not including the written comments that appear in response to Tracking the Light). Below are some of the most memorable:
1) Commenter, “I like your slides, what sort of film do you use to make the photos?”
Me, “Kodachrome 25”.
Commenter, “Kodachrome 25! Isn’t that too slow?!”
2) Commenter, “That’s a beautiful scene but I didn’t think it would make a good photograph.”
3) Commenter, “Here’s a tip for you son, your photos are too head on, I couldn’t read the words on the side of the trains.”
4) Commenter, “I like your photo of the sunset, if I want to make a photo like that, which filter should I use?”
Me, “I don’t know, I didn’t use a filter.”
Commenter, “Yes, but if I was to used a filter, which one should I use?”
5) Commenter (via a 3rd party), “I don’t like Brian Solomon’s photography, it shows too many trees!”
6) Commenter, “You shouldn’t be making photos at night, it’s a waste of film!”
7) Commenter, “You still use film?!!”
8) Commenter, “So how are you adjusting from the transition to digital?”
Me, “I still haven’t adjusted from the transition to color.”
9) Commenter in regards to my Lumix LX3, “I can’t believe that YOU use THAT!”
10) Commenter in regards to a photo of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited in the Berkshires, “That’s a beautiful photograph, pity about the train.”
In October I called up to one of my favorite places and made these two views of the GATX slug-set that Pan Am Railways uses to work the East Deefield hump.
During the course of its duties the East Deerfield hump engine routinely pulls cuts of freight cars out onto the Connecticut River Bridge, which makes for ample opportunity to expose photographs.
Sometimes one view doesn’t give you the full picture.
I like the old bridge in this bucolic setting, and this also a great place to picture equipment. I’ve photographed dozens of trains here over years.
One view was exposed with my 12mm Zeiss Touit (wide angle) lens; the other with my Fujinon 90mm telephoto. The wideangle view takes in the scene; the telephoto photo focuses more tightly on the locomotive. By presenting both you get a more complete picture.
Alternatively, I could call this Tracking the Light post, ‘28N at Millers Falls.’
Whichever you like.
So what do you do in a situation where a train is coming directly out of the midday sun?
1) give up.
2) go for a sandwich.
3) take up plane spotting.
4) all of the above.
Or you can try something different.
The other day at Millers Falls, Massachusetts I exposed these views looking timetable west on the old Boston & Maine. Train 28N is an eastward autorack destined for Ayer, Massachusetts.
Using a super wide-angle 12mm Zeiss Touit, I set the aperture to the smallest setting (f22), which produces a sunburst effect. To make the most of this effect, I positioned an autumn branch between the camera and the sun.