I’m reviewing thousands of Conrail photos to make final selections for my new book on Conrail. Among the images I’m considering is this one (and similar views) of Conrail’s OIEL (Oak Island, New Jersey to Elkhart, Indiana) that I exposed on the former Erie Railroad in New York’s Canisteo Valley.
I like this photograph because it captures the essence of the old Erie Railroad as it winds along the Canisteo River. In the distance, you can see one of the many upper quadrant Union Switch & Signal style-S semaphores that governed train movements through the 1980s.
Will this slide make the final cut? I have hundreds of color slides exposed in the Canisteo Valley back in Conrail days.
Tough choices will be made.
Regardless, someone might complain, ‘there’s too many scenic views with semaphores in the Conrail book!’
In February 1999, I exposed this view of a Thalys TGV-style high-speed train at Antwerp, Belgium using my Nikon N90S with Fujichrome Sensia II (100 ISO).
To make the most of the angular high-speed train against a backdrop of traditional brick buildings, I used a moderate telephoto lens and a relatively slow shutter speed (probably about 1/60thof a second). This has the effect of keep the train sharp while softening the background and foreground.
The other day on the Conway Scenic, I was telling film student Adam Bartley about a photograph I’d exposed on the former Canadian Pacific at Cookshire, Quebec.
I have relatively few photos on the old CP line in Quebec east of Montreal, and this one is one of my favorites.
I made it with very little set up time, and using something less than my sharpest lens.
This appeared as a full page image on page 102 of Railway Photography, a book authored with the late John Gruber in 2003. We dedicated the book to the memory of our friend the artist Ted Rose, who had passed away the previous year.
On Friday August 9, 2019, I’ll be conducting an ‘on-train and at-the-station’ book signing on the Conway Scenic Railroad in North Conway, New Hampshire.
The Conway Scenic’s Brass Whistle Gift shop will have a host of my titles for sale and ready to be signed by me.
My titles for sale will include:
Vintage Diesel Power
Electromotive E units & F units
Brian Solomon’s Railway Guide to Europe
Railway Depots, Stations & Terminals
GE & EMD Locomotives
Classic Railroad Signals
I only do a couple of book signings a year, so this is a great opportunity to travel on Conway Scenic’s Valley Trainand buy a signed book! (If you don’t want me to sign my name, I can sign another name instead!)
I’ll be on the 130pm departure to Conway with a pen in hand, and then at the Brass Whistle Gift Shop in the North Conway station from about 230pm until 5pm.
Next weekend, August 3rd and 4th, will represent Conway Scenic Railroad’s 45thanniversary of steam operations and revenue services.
To mark the occasion of the railroad’s first 45 years carrying revenue passengers and as an invitation to visit the railroad on Sunday August 4th, 2019, I put together a very short promotional video. This includes some rarely seen archive materials.
This was posted to Conway Scenic’s new YouTube channel and to its Facebook page yesterday.
If you listen very carefully, you can hear me making the still photograph that appears here.
Last night I ventured along the banks of the Saco River to make this sunset view of Conway Scenic’s dinner train on its westward run toward Bartlett from North Conway, New Hampshire.
Why a back lit view?
Two reasons: Backlighting helps illuminate the trees, create greater contrast on the rocks in the Saco, and helps to better illustrate the bridge.
But, more important to this photo: I’d intended to try for a more traditional view, but was unable to find an easily reachable and suitable location on the far side of the bridge in the few minutes of set up time before the train arrived. Complicating matters was that I was also working with a video camera and carrying lots of equipment along the riverbank was limiting my agility.
Conway Scenic’s David Swirk asked if I could be available to photograph Lego model builder Dawson Santoro, who had built the Lego model of Conway Scenic’s excursion train that is displayed at the North Conway, New Hampshire station.
On the spur of the moment, I decided to make a short documentary video of Dawson’s visit. Members of the Conway Scenic railroad assisted by moving Dawson’s skillfully built model train into the yard, where we posed it alongside a Conway Scenic consist specifically assembled to resemble the model.
I felt like Bob Dylan, composing a song, singing, playing guitar and harmonica all the same time. I was arranging two tripods, two video cameras, and three still cameras pretty much simultaneously, all the while trying to interview Dave and Dawson and stage manage the relative positioning of the model and scale train. I did have some help carrying the tripods in between shots.
Complicating my filming was the July heat, plus gusty winds and the cacophony of noise that characterize operations around North Conway, not to mention some complicated lighting.
Sometimes we just have to do these things when the opportunity presents the time!
Adam Bartley assisted in post production, and in little more than a week we produced a very short video about Dawson, his train and the Conway Scenic prototypes. We put this up on Conway Scenic’s YouTube channel yesterday.
If you are not viewing this on post on Tracking the Light, you’ll need to click the link or you’ll miss the panoramic photo.
Last Friday (July 19, 2019), we traveled on Conway Scenic Budd-built RDC 23 Millie east toward Redstone, New Hampshire on the former Maine Central. On the return we paused at Pudding Pond so that I could make some photographs.
Once I was off the car, by arrangement it moved forward so the front of the RDC was catching the sunlight.
In addition to conventional photos, I also made this panoramic composite using my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera. The camera has a panorama preset that requires you to make an even sweep across the scene while holding the shutter release. The camera sews together the images and outputs them as a completed panorama.
On Select Fridays, Conway Scenic operates an RDC trip for children out on its Redstone Line—former Maine Central Mountain Division running east from Mountain Junction. Last Friday, July 19, 2019, I took the opportunity to travel with the crew on this run.
At Mountain Junction we cleared for the Valley Train led by GP7 573 that was on its return run from Bartlett to North Conway, New Hampshire.
When the Valley Train passed us, I made this view from the cab of Conway Scenic’s former Susquehanna (originally New Haven Railroad) RDC number 23, named Millie.
You know, I could have named this post: The Valley Meets Millie at Mountain Junction.
Last week at North Conway, New Hampshire hot humid afternoon gave way to rain forest-like torrential rains.
In the twilight of early evening, I exposed this raining view using my Lumix LX7 handheld.
The slight blurred effect is a combination of the cascading downpour and relatively slow shutter speed. For me the combination of heavy rain, dusk, and slight camera blur makes for a painterly effect that helps transcend the decades.
Near the summit of the former Maine Central Mountain Division at Crawford Notch, the line passes through a deep rock cutting in a natural low point in the mountains known as the Gateway.
Conway Scenic’s normal operations of its Notch Train to Crawford’s Station finds the train passing the Gateway at the peak of high sun. In other words, one of the most difficult times for photography using natural lighting.
Fires in the West resulted in particulate matter and haze, which last week provide a great degree of diffusion, making these condition an ideal time to catch the Notch Train on its uphill run.
Working with my Lumix LX7, I exposed this view from the railroad east end (compass south) of the famous cutting. Having locomotive 1751 in the lead was an added bonus.
I thought in the heat of high summer, it might be a refreshing time to present some frosty views from last January.
Previously, I’d posted some black & white photos exposed during a lake effect snow squall at Brookfield, Wisconsin on CP Rail’s former Milwaukee Road main line that I’d made on a photographic adventure with Trains Magazine’s Brian Schmidt.
That same morning, I’d also worked in color using my FujiFilm XT1.
Here’s a view of a westward empty grain train passing the old Brookfield station led by brightly painted BNSF GE’s.
It’s a stark contrast from the leafy trees and high summer temperatures of today.
Last Saturday’s excursion atop Mount Washington lent to some precipitous views of the line.
Over its 150 years, I imagine that every inch of this short but steep railway has been photographed.
Not withstanding that, I’ve added my FujiFilm XT1 photos to the mix. Here’s a selection as we rode up on the train. Special thanks to our brakemen on the way up who allowed me to make a few photos from the door at the end of the car.
Tracking the Light Rode the Mt. Washington Cog Railway!
These are not the words I want to see at the back of my camera screen.
Let’s back up:
Yesterday, after traveling to the top of New Hampshire’s Cannon Mountain via the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway with my friends, I made a series of cosmic photos of the surrounding scenery.
However, during my photography all of a sudden as I was reviewing photos the words ‘Card Read Error!’ came up on my camera screen.
This is bad news: it means that the recording media has been damaged or corrupted.
When this happens to you, don’t panic, but follow these instructions:
1) DO NOT attempt to expose more photos using the damaged card. Doing so can greatly complicate your future ability to retrieve the images that you’ve already exposed.
2) Turn your camera off.
3) Take the card out of the camera.
4) Replace the card with a fresh spare. (I always carry two or three spares with me).
5) Test the camera using the spare card. If it seems to work as normal, you can probably resume photography. If it doesn’t, there may be a more complicated problem.
6) Before downloading, do not ‘format’, ‘erase’ or take any action that will add/subtract information / data to or from the card.
7) Later, when you are home, attempt to download your card using an external device. In my case I have a card reader that inserts into my MacBook using a USB port.
8) After you successfully download the card, put it aside and mark it ‘defective’. Once recording media goes bad it is unwise to continue to use it. Buy a new card.
In my situation, I waited until evening, I first downloaded the new card that I’d inserted into my after the first card went bad. Only after all the photos from the new card were successfully downloaded and backed up on an external hard drive, did I began downloading the images from the damaged card.
I was lucky and all my images were downloaded with relative ease. I marked the suspect card ‘BAD’ and put it away. I will not use the card again. If I could not download the card using my normal software, I’d have to go through a more complicated procedure to attempt to retrieve missing photos.
Incidentally, camera-recording cards are only designed for short-term storage. I routinely download my cards nightly. While, I hold on to the cards for future re-use, I do not use them for long-term storage.
I suggest that all digital and digitized images be stored in triplicate and in different places. Further, since all hard drives will eventually go bad, it is wise to periodically re-backup data on new media. At least once a year I back up older files on new hard drives and check to make sure that files transfer successfully.
Wednesday evening July 10, 2019, I made this sunset view of Conway Scenic Railroad’s dinner train at Bartlett, New Hampshire.
The dinner train uses largely the same consist as the railroad’s Notch Train, but operates in the evening from North Conway to Bartlett and return.
Owing to the extreme exposure contrast between the darker areas of the car’s undercarriage and the highlights in the sky, I carefully balanced my exposure using the camera’s histogram to retain the maximum amount of detail, and later adjusted the RAW file in Lightroom in post processing to allow for the most pleasing image.
The other evening I exposed this trailing view of Conway Scenic’s RDC number 23, Millienear Glen-Jackson on its evening run up to Attiash .
On of the best kept secrets among Conway’s scheduled trains are its RDC runs for Attitash that depart North Conway on select evenings at 6pm.
I like the RDC, a typical Budd Car, that was common to New England passenger services when I was growing up in the 1970s and early 1980s.
For this photo, I was working with a FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm prime telephoto. The camera color profile was set to Velvia (see photo above), but ultimately I worked with the camera-RAW file in Lightroom to adjust color temperature, contrast and saturation (see photo below).
Warm sunny summer mornings are very pleasant. However with the warm weather comes rapid plant growth which can complicate railroad photography.
Take for example these views that I made at Vernon, Vermont at the end of June, 2019.
New England Central’s 611 crew was taking Brattleboro-Palmer turn southbound with locomotive 3476 in the lead (a one upon a time EMD SD45 re-built to a SD40-2/’SD40-3’ configuration.)
To get a bit of elevation, I scaled a mound on the east side of the line, near the grade crossing at the switch for the old power plant.
I liked the cows grazing in the nearby field, so working with my Canon EOS-7D with 200mm lens, I made a distant view. Unfortunately for the, the brush had grown so much that it seems like the freight is emerging from the undergrowth!
I also made a few photos with a FujiFilm XT1 and 27mm pancake lens. Of these, the more distant view seems to work better from a compositional standpoint. SD45 enthusiasts make argue otherwise!
On our rambles on Friday July 5, 2019, we paused at the trackside grave yard in West Northfield, Massachusetts (railroad south of the junction at East Northfield), to roll by Amtrak 54, the northward Vermonter.
I was giving my cousin Stella a tour of New England curiosities, sights, and infrastructure.
We’d hoped to catch New England Central’s northward 611, a train that we spotted a few minutes earlier, but we ran out of time before it crossed the Connecticut Bridge (located less than a mile from this spot on NECR’s line that runs between Palmer and East Northfield.)
I made these views using my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm lens.
Friday (July 5, 2019), I was rambling about with my cousin Stella—visiting from California—when we paused at Bardwell’s Ferry,.
The ferry is long gone. Instead a well-preserved pin-connected lenticular truss bridge carries the road over Massachusetts’ Deerfield River.
While we were photographing the bridge and river, I thought my ears tricked me; the rushing water sounded remarkably like a distant freight.
Since this wasn’t a serious rail-photo excursion, I hadn’t brought my scanner.
I went back to the car to get my omnipresent notebook, when I heard a whistle!
The flashers on Bardwell’s Ferry road illuminated, and sure enough there was an eastward Pan Am Southern freight approaching!
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm zoom lens, I exposed this series of photos.
I assume that this was symbol freight 16R which forwards Norfolk Southern traffic from Enola (Pennsylvania) and East Binghamton (New York) to Pan Am’s East Deerfield Yard. Without a scanner or positive confirmation, guess is all I can do.
Knowing I had a few minutes while east and westward trains made their meet at CP79 east of Palmer, I explored locations at Warren and West Brookfield. I concluded that summer-time brush along the line made many of my traditional photo locations un-workable.
So, I went over to East Brookfield, where the overhead bridge offered a clean view of the tracks. One photo was exposed using a FujiFilm XT1 the other with a Lumix LX7.
Toward the end of June 2019, I visited New England Central’s yard at Brattleboro, Vermont.
It was the first time in many months that I used my old Canon EOS-7D, which I’d fitted with a 200mm telephoto lens.
As the 611 crew was getting organized to take Brattleboro to Palmer turn south, I made these photos.
I’ve always like the Canon color palate, which I believe is a function of their lenses and sensor. This is decidedly different than the digital photos I make with either my FujiFilm XT1 or Lumix LX7. Playing with a long telephoto is always fun, although in recent years I’ve shied away from very long lenses, as I’ve found that they tend to be overused.
On Saturday, June 29, 2019, I used my FujiFilm XT1 to film a short video of Conway Scenic’s historic excursion over Crawford Notch to the far western end of its line at Hazen’s, near the White Mountain Regional Airport in Whitefield, New Hampshire.
The trip represented steam locomotive 7470’s public debut since its recent restoration to service and its first trip leading an excursion all the way to the end of the line. It was also the first public trip using recently acquired Budd dome car Rhonda Lee (formerly Silver Splendor), which can be seen directly behind the locomotive in the video.
I planned to this as a follow-up to earlier Conway Scenic shorts, including an interview with Conway Scenic President and General Manager, David Swirk which has attracted more than 40,000 views on Facebook.
So far, this most recent video has had about 6000 views on Facebook and is now also available on Conway Scenic’s NEW YouTube channel. (See link above.)
These videos are part of a strategy designed to promote the railroad using social media.
Conway Scenic’s Valley Train makes its station stop at Attitash.
The station is just a flag stop on the Valley run that serves the Attitash Mountain Resort. It has a short platform with benches, railings, a classic enamel metal sign with blue and white letters, and the requisite yellow line.
On Sunday, the Valley Train dropped off seven passengers who had traveled from North Conway via Bartlett. They were among many passengers traveling round trip to Bartlett.
To my disappointment no passengers boarded for the run back to North Conway.
With permission of the operating crew I disembarked with Lumix in hand to expose this photo. The train’s conductor is at right logging the move in the station register.
Last Tuesday, June 25, 2019, I’d photographed an eastward CSX intermodal train at Palmer, Massachusetts that took the controlled siding at CP83 and then eased up to the east end of the siding at CP79.
I took a chance and drove expeditiously to West Warren in anticipation of a westward freight. I was rewarded for my efforts.
The lighting was tricky but colorful. The sunrise was heavily tempered by clouds rolling in from the west.
To make the most of the contrasty scene, I used a Lee graduated neutral density filter over the front of my lens to reduce exposure in the sky, and then underexposed the entire scene by about two thirds of a stop. I used the in-camera histogram to gauge my exposure by aiming to obtain minimal loss of detail in highlight and shadow areas. To the eye, my RAW files seem a little dark, but this is by intent.
In post processing, I lightened shadow areas while controlling highlights in an effort to replicate scene as I saw it.
Such are the challenges with modern photography. With black and white film, I would have exposed for the shadows and printed for the highlights, but that technique won’t work with digital photography. Where black & white film could hold great detail in dense highlights, but suffered from thin and detail-less shadow regions, digital sensors have the opposite sensitivity range.
Among the mix of photos and video I exposed on Saturday June 29, 2019, was this Lumix LX7 view of Conway Scenic Railroad’s steam locomotive 7470 leading the Trains Planes and Automobiles rare mileage excursion west of Crawford Notch near Fabyans, New Hampshire.
To preserve the sense of motion, I manually selected a small aperture and slow ISO (80) to allow for a comparatively slow shutter speed, while making a slow full body sweep keeping parallel with the forward motion of the locomotive.
I continued this technique for some of the passing cars as well.
I’ve often found that the panning technique can be an effective way to compensate for an overcast situation.