Strasburg’s Surreal Smoky Sunset

Yesterday evening the air and sky were thick with particulates. The landscape took on a surreal unworldly appearance.

As Kris and I drove around Strasburg, Pennsylvania, I made a few photos with my Nikon Z6 and 70-200mm lens.

The lighting was about as strange as anything I’ve worked with naturally.

The sun looked like a floating glob in a lava lamp. The sky was a pasty gray-lavender while wafting clouds of thick green-gray haze filled the air near the ground.

The sun didn’t so much set as it melted into the haze.

I exposed these images of Strasburg Rail Road’s preserved J-Tower and the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania’s former Reading Crusader tail-end observation car, and the nearby farm.

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Rosy Keystone Approaching Greenfield.

Yesterday evening (June 28, 2023), poor air quality made for a rosy sunset in Lancaster, PA.

Kris and I took a short drive over to Amtrak’s Harrisburg Line to catch Amtrak’s Keystone service train 653 that was down about 18 minutes from the advertised.

I especially liked the trailing view because the stainless steel train caught the rich evening light.

I made some minor adjustments in Lightroom to make the most of the reddish glow.

Amtrak Keystone train 653 westbound. Nikon Z6 with 80-200mm Nikkor Z-series zoom set to 175mm; f2.8 1.1250 sec, ISO 800.
Clear signal at 64 dot 5. 175mm f2.8 1/2000th of a second, ISO 800.
Glinting Amfleet at Greenfield.
Sunset in a smoky sky. June 28, 2023.

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NS Local Freight at Dusk

Amtrak’s former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line from Philadelphia to Harrisburg runs a short distance from our new home. While this is primarily the route of the Keystone and Pennsylvanian trains, it also hosts Norfolk Southern locals that use the line to reach secondary lines and serve local industry.

Since we moved in, I’ve heard a few NS trains but not had the opportunity to investigate their movements in daylight. However, last night we saw this local near Greenfield Road in Lancaster, PA.

As a trainman was setting up the telemetry device on the locomotive that would become the rear of his train, I made a few photos with my Lumix LX7.

Lumix LX7 photo. Exposed handheld at f1.8 for 1.5th of a second at ISO80. Locomotives were positioned at each end of the short local freight. GP38-2 5607 was being set up as the rear of the freight.

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Steam and Shadow at Esbenshade Part 2

Esbenshade! What a great name for a crossing suited to silhouette?

The other day I presented an example of a telephoto view of Strasburg Rail Road Number 89 leading the Saturday 6pm excursion at Esbenshade Road in Strasburg, PA.

Today, I’m offering two examples of wideangle views at the same crossing. These were exposed as NEF RAW files with my Nikon Z7-II, which has incredible dynamic range.

In this situation to make a silhouette, I set the camera in ‘M’-mode (manual) and used the in-camera meter to expose for the sky. I have my display showing an exposure histogram, the helps me best balance the detail captured in the extreme highlights and shadows. Although this detail isn’t evident in the thumbnail camera display, it has been captured in the NEF RAW file.

After downloading the camera, I import the NEF files into Adobe Lightroom, and use the ‘Light’ slider controls (including ‘highlights,’ and ‘shadows’) to adjust the images to better reveal details across the range of exposure. Again, by keeping an eye on an exposure histogram, I can avoid pushing the limits of adjustment and minimize data loss.

To allow for individual control of the sky, I made some adjustments using the ‘select sky’ mask.

Below are two examples of unadjusted NEF RAW files and the corresponding adjusted images.

This is how the unadjusted NEF RAW file appears (file converted to a scaled JPG for internet presentation) Note the lack of detail in the shadow areas.
This is the adjusted version of the same photo.
Unadjusted NEF RAW file.
This is adjusted version of the same file.

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Amtrak Schedule tip! Coming and Going on the Main Line at Christiana, PA

The old Pennsylvania Railroad station at Christiana is a neat place to catch Amtrak’s Keystone trains. Over the last few months I’ve visited this location several times.

Saturday evening Kris and I stopped by Christiana to make a few photos an approaching eastward Keystone.

I track Amtrak’s trains on my phone using the app, which updates about every 5-6 minutes and shows the train’s last reported location, operating speed, and indicates if it is on-time or runnng behind, while providing a full schedule of station stops.

This is often more useful than either Amtrak’s own website, which can be difficult to navigate quickly, and more up to date than 3rd party printed schedules.

We wanted to photograph Keystone Train 674. As it turned out this was operating on a special schedule owing to track work. I only discovered the train’s schedule alteration after the fact when researching the timetable for this Tracking the Light post.

However, since we used transitdoc App, the on-line interactive map provided all the information we needed and was up to date and literally at our finger tips!

So, despite the schedule alteration, we only had a short wait at Christiana and made some neat photos of the train coming and going at speed.

Trailing view of Amtrak 674 at Christiana, PA

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Steam, Smoke & Sky at Esbenshade

Yesterday evening, Kris and I photographed Strasburg Rail Road’s 6pm excursion approaching Esbenshade Road.

Dramatic lighting made for an excellent conditions to picture a steam locomotive in action.

I exposed manually to capture detail in the sky. In post processing, I made a variety of adjustments to the RAW file to make the most the the scene.

Below are examples of the NEF RAW file before and after adjustment in Adobe Lightroom.

Scaled JPG created from the unadjusted NEF RAW file.
This is the same file as above, but adjusted using Lightroom.

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Conrail 6281, Again

In my monthly column for the July 2021 Issue of Trains Magazine, I featured a discussion of Conrail SD40 6281:

“During the 1980s, I made forays to the former Pennsylvania Railroad crossing of the Allegheny Divide, the route famous for its sinuous Horseshoe Curve west of Altoona, Pa. And here I witnessed SD40s . . . Among the locomotives in Conrail’s Cresson, Pennsylvania-based helper pool was former Penn Central 6281, a January 1971 graduate of EMD’s LaGrange, Illinois plant . . . I wonder how many times I crossed paths with this locomotive over the years, both on Horseshoe Curve on New England Central. After Genesee & Wyoming acquired NECR in 2013, old 6281 was sent to Brookville’s Locomotive Division for overhaul and returned to NECR wearing fresh orange, yellow & black paint carrying its road number 3405.”

The other night while scanning slides at my new home in Pennsylvania, I came across this view from November 1986 of 6281, second unit out on Conrail’s BUOI (Buffalo to Oak Island) at Gang Mills Yard on the former Erie Railroad route near Corning, New York.

It was like the younger me had anticipated the question the older me asked. There I was standing on a bridge in the wind to make a photograph of a common SD40 while looking far into the future.

Where is 3405 (nee 6281) today?

Palmer, Massachusetts, December 9, 2012. Lumix LX3 photo.

Near Three Rivers Massachusetts on July 6, 2015. FujiFilm XT-1 photo.
Palmer, Massachusetts, May 11, 2017. Lumix LX7 photo.

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Freight Crossing Tunkhannock Creek

With Norfolk Southern SD70ACe 1021 leading a heavy freight [train symbol 11Z] in our review mirror, we drove south on Highway 11 toward Nicholson, Pennsylvania—location of the famous Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct.

As regular readers of Tracking the Light are aware, in recent months Kris and I have made several visits to this momental vestige of the late, great, Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad.

From our earlier visits I had my spot picked out on a side road a little ways from the village. I wanted to arrive with ample time to get into position set up in to time to catch the train crossing the bridge.

Dappled sunlight filled the valley as we heard the freight approaching.

I made a sequence of digital images using my Nikon Z7 with 24-70mm lens. Five locomotives were in the lead with a lone DPU (locomotive set up as a radio controlled remote ‘distributed power unit’) toward the rear of the freight. [NS 11Z runs from East Binghamton, NY to Roanoke, Virginia via Enola, PA.]

Afterwards we drove back under the viaduct and paused at the visitor’s parking area where there is literature and photos of the bridge on display. Our dog Boomer got to stretch his legs and mark his spot. He was delighted, it was his first visit to the big bridge!

I wrote about the DL&W bridge in my book Railway Masterpieces (Krause 2003) The viaduct was designed by DL&W’s bridge engineer Abraham B. Cohen and completed in 1915. The late historian-photographer William S. Young researched and wrote extensively about this bridge and Lackawanna’s early 20th century line relocations. He had interviewed Cohen’s descendants. I met with Young on a couple of occasions while researching bridge projects.

Check out this website for some history and vintage photos of the bridge:

Norfolk Southern symbol freight 11Z crosses the Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct, at Nicholson, PA.

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Ghost of Phoebe Snow—Fortuity at New Milford

Last Sunday, we exited Interstate 81 at New Milford, PA to get gas. This was the last leg in our big move, and our third drive from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania in the last month,

My plan was to follow old Route 11 toward Clark’s Summit. This avoids the traffic on I-81 and largely follows the old alignment of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western. In fact in many places Route 11 is built on the old right-of-way.

We had Boomer-the-Dog with us and this was his first trip to Pennsylvania.

As I was fueling the car, I heard the unmistakable roar of modern EMD diesels. It was a southward freight on the Lackawanna!

I concluded pumping gas before the tank was filled, and we headed south after the train.

Several miles south of New Milford, Route 11 runs adjacent to the Lackawanna, now operated by Norfolk Southern. We pulled over to roll the train by at milepost 637.

Here, Kris made a video with her phone, Boomer got to witness his first BIG freight train, and I exposed this sequence of digital photos.

Milepost 637 as measured from Mattawamkeag, Maine, dating from the brief period in the 1980s, when Guilford Transportation controlled the Delaware & Hudson, which then own this section of DL&W line.
A wink of sun at just the right moment made for an even better image.
NS 1021 is an EMD SD70ACe.

Soon we were off after an even bigger prize . . . (stay tuned).

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White River Junction: Six Photos-Four Locomotives

We paused at White River Junction, Vermont, on our way back toward Pennsylvania with Boomer-the-Dog

Boomer stretched his legs. I wandered and made photos of the locomotives and the old station buildings

I like the view of Boston & Maine 4-4-0 No. 494 with a GATX leased engine in the distance.

I wonder what it was like when the common 4-4-0 ‘American’ ruled White River Junction? It was a different world then.

Nikon Z7 photo.
There’s nothing like a puddle to improve a photo! Nikon Z7 photo.

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Revisiting Ashland, New Hampshire

After Plymouth, we drove south along the old Boston, Concord & Montreal route to Ashland, New Hampshire, where I photographed the restored Boston & Maine station there.

We had visited this location a couple years earlier. So far as I could tell, very little had changed since our previous visit.

I made these photos with Nikon Z7, and few supplemental images with my Lumix LX7. All were processed using Adobe Lightroom.

Next stop was the White Mountain College for Pets in Holderness to collect Boomer-the-Dog.

Nikon Z7 photo.
Historic Ashland station photo on display in front of the station museum (copied using a Lumix LX7).
Historic Ashland station photo on display in front of the station museum (copied using a Lumix LX7).
Nikon Z7 photo.
Nikon Z7 photo.
Nikon Z7 photo.
Nikon Z7 photo.
Nikon Z7 photo and self portrait.
Nikon Z7
Lumix LX7 photo.

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Vestiges of the Boston & Maine at Plymouth.

Saturday, on the final stage of our move from the White Mountains to Pennsylvania Dutch Country, we drove to the White Mountain College for Pets in Holderness, NH to collect Boomer the Dog from his training.

It’s a long drive and we budgeted plenty of time to get there. I used the padding in our schedule to explore a few places on the old B&M Boston, Concord & Montreal route, including the station at Plymouth, NH.

It has been an age since Plymouth was an important place on the old B&M, but the rails, albeit rarely traveled, remain in place. The station building is now occupied by the local seniors center.

The sky was swollen and spitting rain, when I made these photos using my Lumix LX7. (RAW files adjusted in Lightroom)

Strangely, while this was the first time I’d photographed at the Plymouth Station, I had a distinct sense of de ja vu. I can’t explain why.

Looking north at Plymouth.

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Backlighting on CP Rail at Pewaukee, Wisconsin.

I made this pastoral scene ten years ago on a visit to Wisconsin with John and Dick Gruber.

We had been photographing former Milwaukee Road lines in the central part of the state and were making our way to Waukesha to visit our friends at Kalmbach.

Near Pewaukee Lake, we heard the blast of an approaching eastbound freight on Canadian Pacific. With little time to spare, I made this hastily composed grab shot of the train running along the north shore of the lake. In the lead was a former BC Rail locomotive. High contrast made for a challenging scene.

The sun was nearly 180 degrees from the camera, yet my lens was shaded by the trees in the park. While the lighting was harsh the photo conveys the spirit of a sunny summer evening in Wisconsin.

Last night, I made a series of adjustements using Lightroom to improve the presentation of this image.

Scaled but otherwise Unmodified Canon CR2 RAW file exposed using a Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens set to 28mm
Screen shot of Adobe Lightroom work window showing the ‘Select Sky’ mask and my adjustments to the highlight and color temperature sliders. By using the mask my adjustments only affect the selected areas. Photo exposed in June 2013.
Adobe Lightroom work window with a semi-final image. This shows the positions of slider controls as applied to the overall image including the previously adjusted sky.
Final output of the CR2 RAW file. In the final corrections, I lowered overall contrast while increasing the white level. Note the detail in the bark of the trees.

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Sunset at North Star Road

There was a heavy sky at sunset last night, grey with particulates and low cloud. Kris and I turned down North Star Road to make photos of the red globe in the sky.

Below are the NEF RAW file (scaled), my adjusted file, and the Lightroom work window showing the position of adjustment sliders.

It took less than a minute for me to implement my adjustments.

This is the unadjusted NEF RAW file from my Nikon Z6.
This is same file following adjustment to increase saturation and alter exposure and contrast.
Lightroom work window showing the position of adjustment sliders.

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CSX RAW and Adjusted

Daybreak on June 15, 2016: I set up in West Warren, Massachusetts to wait for CSX’s westward Q009 intermodal train out of Worcester.

On the long days it was possible to catch this priority train in daylight.

I opted for West Warren to make the most of the scenery in Quaboag River valley.

Shortly after the first rays of sun tickled the old Boston & Albany line, the headlights of Q009 appeared.

I made a burst of photos using my FujiFilm XT1.

Since I made those images eight years ago, I’ve learned to work with the RAW files in Adobe Lightroom and really get the most out of my files.

Below I’ve displayed the unadjusted Fuji RAW file and my adjusted file. Notice the differences in highlight and shadow areas and subtled differences to color saturation.

This is the scaled but otherwise unmodified Fuji RAW file. Notice the highlight and shadow areas. Compare this view with my modified version below.
Working with Adobe Lightroom, I adjusted highlights and shadows to improve detail, while modifying color saturation and color temperature, warming the scene slightly and making the most of mist over the river. I also adjusted the level to correct for my slight tilted original view.

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Meet at Cherry Hill—Eight Photos

Monday while waiting at Cherry Hill, as we anticipated Strasburg Rail Road No. 89 on its return run from Leaman Place, we heard a horn to west . . .

Also it was beginning to rain.

Sure enough, Strasbrug’s SW8 8618 had been whistling for Esbenshade Road and was running light engine to the new freight yard at Leaman Place.

The two trains met at Groffs, with the diesel taking the siding and No. 89 with the passenger excursion holding the main track.

Soft light, spring foliage, and light rain made for interesting conditions for this sequence of digital images.

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Breakfast Stop with a Mogul or ‘Steam at Cherry Hill’

Yesterday morning, Kris and I got take-away breakfast from the Spreckled Hen in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. We drove over to Cherry Hill Road to roll by the 11am train to Leaman Place and enjoy our food.

I was delighted that former Canadian National Railways 2-6-0 number 89 was leading the seven-car excursion. (The 2-6-0 wheel arrangement is known as the Mogul Type.)

Rain was closing in from the west as I made these images using my Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm lens. Kris made a video with her iPhone 13 that she posted to Facebook.

As we waited for 89’s return trip we had a pleasant surprise . . . Stay tuned for the details and more photos!

Exposed using a Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera fitted with a Z-series 70-200mm zoom set at 175mm, f4.5 at 1/500, ISO 200. NEF RAW file adjusted for contrast, exposure and color saturation using Adobe Lightroom.
Exposed using a Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera fitted with a Z-series 70-200mm zoom set at 175mm, f4.5 at 1/500, ISO 200. NEF RAW file adjusted for contrast, exposure and color saturation using Adobe Lightroom.

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DL&W’s Nicholson Station

Yesterday on our drive to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, used highway 11 from Milford to Clarks Summit. Much of this route is on the old Delaware, Lackawanna & Western right-of-way, a line that was largely abandoned after the Nicholson Cut-off was completed.

At Nicholson, PA we paused so that I could make a few photos of the old DL&W station that remains located adjacent to the former railroad bed. In the distance the massive Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct rises above the town.

I wrote about this bridge in my book Railway Masterpieces published in 2002 Krause Publications.

” . . . the colossal neo-Roman Tunkhannock Viaduct [is a] great bridge, named for the Tunkhannock Creek Valley. . . completed in 1915. This gargantuan bridge seems out of proportion with its surroundings. It is nearly one half mile long (2,375 feet) and rises 240 feet over the valley floor, towering over the houses and shops in the village. “

Highway traffic rolls along the olf DL&W right-of-way with the famous Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct on the relocated 1915-era line looming in the distance. An old DL&W building is preserved along Route 11. Photo exposed using a Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm lens set to 190mm.

Thick haze, partially attributed to high-level smoke from Canadian wildfires, made the enormous viaduct appear ethereal and more mystical than it would on a very clear day.

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View from the Observation Car-looking back at North Conway.

At the end of May, I was traveling on the back platform of Conway Scenic’s 125-year old open observation car Gertrude Emma on its morning run to Conway.

Working with my Z6 fitted with 70-200mm lens, I made this pair of trailing views looking back at the iconic North Conway Station. Both images were made with the lens set at 200m and the aperture at f2.8.

Notice the relative position and aparent size of the semaphore to the station as the train pulled away from the station.

These photos are symbolic as well as literal. Yesterday, Kris and I watched as movers loaded our belongings into a truck. By the time you read this we will be on our way to our new home in Pennsylvania. I’ll still work for Conway Scenic, albeit remotely via internet and phone.

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Hobo Sunset—Lincoln, NH

Kris and I paused at Lincoln, New Hampshire last week to get some dinner. As the sun set I made a few photos of the Hobo Railroad using my Lumix LX7.

There was wonderful color in the evening sky and my wee Lumix did a reasonable job of capturing the scene. I exposed my photos in RAW, which allowed me some latitude while editing in the images to make the most of the high-contrast situation.

I had the camera set to ISO200 with ‘daylight white balance’. This is another situation where I fin that I get more pleasing color by using a white balance preset-mode, rather than ‘auto white balance,’ setting because the ‘auto ‘setting would have neutralized some of the rich color of sunset that made the scene appealing.

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First of my New Series in July Trains

My copy of the July 2023 Trains Magazine arrived yesterday. Pages 46 and 47 feature the first in my Travel series that focuses on destinations, train travel and historic railways.

For the inaugral story, I wrote about the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum. Trains ran two photos of the railway’s operation Budd RDC number 6126.

Both of those images were exposed using my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera and adjusted for publication using Adobe Lightroom.

This is a scanned excerpt of the story from Page 46 of July 2023 Trains Magazine.

In addition to an excerpt of the magazine article, below I’ve also included several previously unpublished photos that I’ve made at the Berkshire Scenic over the years.

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I was set up to make a video of Conway Scenic’s Sawyer River crossing the Ellis River at Glen, New Hampshire. My Nikon Z6 was mounted on the tripod for a telephoto sequence of the train heading west through the truss bridge.

Z6 with 70-200mm set up to make video at Glen, New Hampshire.

As an after thought, I made a few still photos with my Z7. Although backlit, the combination of hazy midday light and the yellow GP38, made it relatively easy to use Lightroom to lighten the image, adjust contrast and increase overall saturation to produce a more appealing photo.

For better separation between the subject and the background, I framed the nose of the engine between the trees.

I’ve included both the unaltered NEF RAW file and my adjusted file, as well as a screen shot of the Lightroom work window.

Nikon NEF RAW file without adjustments (other than scaling for internet)
Lightroom created JPG following adjustment.
Screen shot of the Lightroom work window showing adjustement sliders and the sequence of images.

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Connecticut Company 1160

While visiting the Seashore Trolley Museum at Kennebunkport, Maine, Kris and I went for a spin on car 1160, a 117-year old New England Classic. When this car was new, electricity was still a novelty and many homes across the region were without it.

Old 1160 is wooden-bodied car that served the Connecticut Company in the New Haven-area until the 1940s. Today, it is a reminder of another era in rail-transport.

On our trip, there were 29 passengers on board.

I made these photos using my Lumix LX7 and a Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm Z-series zoom lens. All images were exposed digitally and adjusted in Lightroom for color, contrast and exposure.

Nikon Z6 photo.
Lumix LX7 photo.
Lumix LX7 photo.
Lumix LX7 photo.
Nikon Z6 photo.
Lumix LX7 photo.
Lumix LX7 photo.

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Train Crew—Portraits

My photography for Conway Scenic Railroad often focuses on the people.

The train crew are the faces of the railroad and are often featured in the company’s social media and advertising. Not everyone likes to be pictured, so I tend to focus on those who don’t mind my camera.

Last week, fine Spring weather made for some great light to photograph railroaders at work.

I often use short telephoto lenses and wide f-stops for shallow focus to better set the people apart from the background. In post processing I soften contrast and lighten shadows to make for more flattering images.

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Technicolor Trolley

Yesterday we paid a visit to Maine’s Seashore Trolley Museum, where I photographed former Wheeling Traction Company car 639 under wire.

Painted in the classic ‘Traction Orange’ this featured an old advertisement for a movie filmed in ‘Technicolor’.

A while back, one of my Irish friends asked if I’d gotten used to digital photography, I replied, “I still haven’t gotten used to Color!”

These photos were exposed digitally and in color, using my Nikon Z6 and Lumix LX7 digital cameras.

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June 3, 2015-Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

On this day eight years ago, I visited Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I’d taken Amtrak’s Keystone from Philadelphia and upon arrival spent some time in the State Archives visiting with Kurt Bell while researching for a book on steam locomotives.

I made these photos around the old Pennsylvania Railroad station in the afternoon using my FujiFilm XT1.

Later that month, I bought a new Apple MacBook Pro laptop and with it, Adobe Lightroom. I’ve been using Lightroom ever since to adjust my RAW files (these included).

A tightly cropped version of the above photo.

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Gertrude Emma on the Roll at 125!

In recent weeks, I’ve focused on making still and video images of Conway Scenic Railroad’s Sawyer River and Mountaineer excursions to be used in upcoming advertising.

I wanted to capture the trains with Spring greenery and characteristic White Mountains scenery.

Among the placed I set up was along the Saco River where the ‘3rd Iron’ truss crosses. Here I was aiming for a broadside setting where I could picture the train rolling by.

I made this panned view of popular Pullman open observation car Gertrude Emma crossing the bridge.

This American classic is 125 years old this year! It was built in 1898 for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Conway Scenic restored the car in the 1980s.

Nikon Z6 with 24-70mm lens set at 70mm; f16 1/30th of second, ISO 100.

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Pick One—Which View is More Interesting

Yesterday morning, I traveled on the 1100 Conway Scenic excursion to Conway, NH. After the locomotive ran around and was doing its continuity brake test, I exposed a series of telephoto photos of the train.

Below are two of my favorites.

At the top is a shallow-focus ‘power shot’ that emphasizes the train. Below is a more interpretive angle that includes a family observing the train during the run around. This view reminds me of when I was young and my father would bring my brother and I out to watch trains.

So, which of these two photos do you like better?

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