All posts by brian solomon

Author of more than 50 books on railways, photography, and Ireland. Brian divides his time between the United States and Ireland, and frequently travels across Europe and North America.

E100-Final Frame of a Stormy Sunset

I’ve been experimenting with Kodak Ektachrome E100 slide film.

Kodak reintroduced Ektachrome in 2018/2019, several years after production this once popular film had been suspended.

I exposed one roll in Portugal in March 2019 and I was pleased with my results.

In the last couple of months, I bought more of this film and loaded it into my Canon EOS-3.

This photograph was exposed in July 2020 as a storm cleared over the North Conway station at sunset. It was my last frame in the camera, so there was no opportunity for bracketing.

Richard’s Lab in California processed the film, and a few minutes ago I scanned the slide using a Nikon Super Coolscan5000 digital scanner powered by VueScan software. Since the slide is relatively dark, I opted for a multipass scan to extract the maximum data possible.

I processed the scan in Lightroom and lightened one version while softening the contrast.

Below are my results.

Unadjusted multipass scan of original E100 color slide exposed in July 2020.
Scan adjusted using Lightroom to brighten overall exposure while controlling highlight and shadow areas.

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St. Lawrence & Atlantic crossing at Mechanic Falls, Maine—A lesson in Ilford HP5.

In June, Kris Sabbatino and I inspected the former Grand Trunk line at Mechanic Falls, Maine.

For some viewers the details of the process may seem like minutia, for me it is integral to my Black & white photography. Being in control of the process gives me the ability to make better photographs—Distinctive images that stick in the mind and resonate. 

For this photograph, I exposed Ilford HP5 using a Nikon F3. I processed the film using customized split development, starting first with Kodak HC110 diluted 1-300 with water for 6 minutes, followed by Ilford ID11 mixed 1-1 with water warmed to 70F for 7 minutes, followed by stop bath, dual fixing baths, first rinse, Permawash, and a 10-12 minute final wash, then final rinse in distilled water.

I first used Ilford HP5 in 1982, on the advice of my photo instructor Mark Bistline. Over the last 38 years I’ve slowly refined my process to get nearly the ideal tonality for the images I expose with it. Why ‘nearly’?, because I’m always tweaking my recipe.

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Conway Scenic Publicity Train

On August 12, 2019—one year ago—I’d organized a special publicity run over New Hampshire’s Crawford Notch to make photos and video of Conway Scenic’s then ‘Notch Train’—the train soon to be rebranded as the ‘Mountaineer’.

This departed Crawford eastbound just after sunrise.

I had preselected scenic locations along the former Maine Central Mountain Division where we stopped the train for static photos and organized roll-bys for video.

I was working with three still cameras that day, while Adam Bartley worked with the company video camera.

Our operating crew was Mike Lacey and Joe Costello.

These photos were made with my Lumix LX7. Several images from this run have since appeared in Conway Scenic advertising and in magazine articles.

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Cal Train at King.

In October 2003, I made this view of Cal-Train F40PH 914 leading train 74 at 7th and King Street in San Francisco.

You can easily tell this is train 74, because Cal Train put numerical train ID’s on the locomotives displayed near the cab windows. It was among the peculiarities of this intensely operated former Southern Pacific suburban operation.

This image nicely illustrates the difference between a train number which delineates a service and a locomotive number that identifies a piece of equipment. Just in case you were confused.

Exposed on Fujichrome film with a Nikon N90S.

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Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington on Film.

Here’s some nice cool photos from January.

I’d exposed a single roll of Provia 100F with a Nikon F3 on January 18, 2020, during the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington’s “Grand Reunion” event that I attended with Wayne Duffett.

I’ll admit; I wasn’t rushed to get my film processed.

To reduce the cost of shipping, normally I batch process film, by sending in five or more rolls at time to my lab of choice. These days I’ve been using Richard’s Lab in California, which has been giving me good results with their E6 processing.

This particular roll was stranded in Massachusetts, partially because of the Covid-19 outbreak & travel restrictions etc, and partially because I’ve been focused on North Conway, New Hampshire, where the Conway Scenic Railroad has occupied much of my working time.

Finally, I got the film back yesterday! I scanned a few of the images for display here using a Nikon Super Coolscan5000 slide scanner powered by VueScan software. I scanned these at 4000 dpi and made multi-pass scans to extract the maximum amount of date from each image and thus make the most of the film’s high dynamic range.

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Smoky Sunrise Caliente

Four years ago fires in the hills around California’s Central Valley contributed to the high level of particulates in the air.

This made for a stunning smoky sunrise at the Caliente horseshoe on the former Southern Pacific crossing of the Tehachapis.

I was set up near the crossing of Cal Bodfish Road to make this backlit view of a northward BNSF intermodal, one of three, that were threading their way toward Bakersfield.

Exposed with my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera with 18-135mm Fujinon lens.

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Bealville Grade Crossing at Sunset—August 6, 2016.

We were visiting the California Tehachapis four years ago. After more than two decades absence, it was my second trip there in as many weeks.

At sunset, I positioned myself at the famous Bealville grade crossing, where I photographed a passing Union Pacific intermodal train (historically on Southern Pacific this would have been an eastward train, but my notes from the day indicate that it was a ‘southbound’.)

Working with my FujiFilm XT1, I made a series of photos. Two variations of one of the head on views are presented here. One is the in-camera Jpg, the other is an adjusted image the I made in Lightroom from the Fuji RAW file.

In camera JPG, scaled for internet presentation.
Adjusted RAW file; contrast and color balance was altered to improve the appearance of the image.

The last image is a trailing view showing the signal and grade crossing gates.

My monthly column in September 2020 Trains Magazine features a photo that I made near this same crossing.

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Caboose in the Weeds—Newport, Vermont.

Once common, the caboose is now a curiosity on most freight railroads.

A few weeks ago, I used my Nikon F3 with 105mm Nikkor telephoto to make this photograph on Ilford HP5 film of a forlorn caboose at the Canadian Pacific/Vermont Rail System yard in Newport, Vermont.

The combination of the functional antique railroad equipment and monochrome media gives this image a timeless quality.

I recall photographing similar cabooses on this line back in the 1980s.

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Metrolink MP36 diesels—Close Up and Distant

On August 4, 2016, I made these two images of Los Angeles Metrolink MP36 diesels at the Los Angeles Union Station.

Both were exposed with my FujiFilm XT1.

The distant view places the locomotive in its environment; the close up examines the form of the equipment. Both help visually tell the story of the locomotive at work.

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August 3, 2016—Pacific Surfliner at Gaviota.

In Spring 1994, I’d exposed some Kodachrome 25 slides of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight crossing the steel tower supported trestle at Gaviota, California.

On August 3, 2016—four years ago today—I returned with my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera and captured an Amtrak Pacific Surfliner crossing the same bridge.

I made contrast and saturation adjustments in Lightroom as part of my final scaled image for presentation here.

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Telephoto on the Boston & Maine

1986 was a transitional year.

Boston & Maine was making its image transition to Guilford. While Guildford’s B&M acquisition had occurred a few years earlier, many B&M locomotives still retained their B&M blue paint. This period of transition on the railroad coincided with transitions in the way I made photos.

Here a pair of GP7s was leading the southward EDSP at Keets Road in Deerfield, a short distance south of Deerfield Junction. Notice the small stenciled Guilford ‘G’ on the short-hood of the locomotive.

B&M_GP7_1575_at_Keets_Road_Xing_south_of_Deerfield_Jct_Near_East_Deerfield_MA_410pm_July_8_1986 (file name for slide scan].

I’d recently discovered the superior qualities of Kodachrome 25. While very slow, this yielded great color, exceptionally fine grain, and about 2 ½ stops of exposure latitude.

For this slide, I had my Leica IIIA mounted to a Visoflex fitted with my father’s 200mm Leitz Telyt. This seemingly Rube-Goldberg inspired arrangement was klutzy compared with a conventional single lens reflex, it allowed me to use telephoto lenses and gave me an ability to selectively pinpoint my focus. The nature of the Visoflex screen did not encourage focusing on a central point.

As previously described on Tracking the Light, I often use focus to direct the viewers eye in relation to my compositions, while allowing portions of the image to be less than pin sharp, which can produce a pleasing effect too often lost with modern hyper-sharp digital photography. The combination of a long lens with slow film produced endless opportunity for focus experimentation.

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400mm on the Hill

At Conway Scenic Railroad, we call the stretch of line on the Conway Branch running up to our yard at North Conway, ‘the Hill’. This uses a prolonged man-made fill to lift the railroad to its necessary elevation to serve the town. It is the steepest grade on the railroad.

Yesterday, July 30, 2020, I opted to work with my Canon EOS 7D with 100-400 lens to catch former Maine Central 252 on its northward run with the second Conway Valley train. This engine will soon be reassigned.

Canon RAW file scaled from internet.

I hadn’t used this camera in almost a year. When I went to download the files to my laptop, I realized—to my disgust—that I’d left all the cables and card readers specific to the 7D, elsewhere!

The Canon 7D uses the larger ‘CF Card’ (compact flash card) rather than the now standard smaller size ‘SD Card’. I went to Staples hoping to buy another card reader. But when I asked if the carried a ‘CF Card reader’ all I got was a blank stare and ‘A what?’ After five minutes of explaining and describing the device I concluded I was wasting my time and theirs.

While I’ve ordered a card reader from B&H Photo in New York, that won’t arrive until next week. In the meantime Kris Sabbatino came to my rescue. Among her collection of card readers and accessories, she found an old USB2 ‘All-in-1 Card Reader’ and this did the trick!

Hooray!

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Walong, California July 30, 2016.

On this day four years ago, I re-visited the former Southern Pacific crossing the Tehachapi mountains.

At Walong, popularly described as the ‘Tehachapi Loop’—where in the 1870s SP’s chief engineer William Hood applied this spiral arrangement to gain elevation while maintaining a steady gradient—I photographed this BNSF eastward intermodal train. (train direction is by timetable, not the compass.)

Working with my FujiFilm XT1 fitted with an 18-135mm Fujinon zoom, I made this photograph with the lens set to 21.6mm in order to take in most of the helical track arrangement. Exposure was f8 at 1/500 of a second at 200 ISO.

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Crawford by Starlight—night photo technique

The other evening, Kris Sabbatino and I stopped at the old Maine Central station at Crawford, New Hampshire shortly after moonrise to make night photos of the station.

I mounted my Lumix LX7 on a heavy Bogan tripod and set the ISO to 200. Working in manual mode, I set the camera to between 40 and 80 seconds and tripped the shutter manually (without using the self timer).

Working with the RAW files in Lightroom, I made slight adjustments to highlights and shadows.

Catching the stars in the night sky has always been a favorite effect of mine. I first tried this back in 1977 in my back yard in Monson, Massachusetts.

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Monochrome on the Redstone Branch.

On July 3, 2020, Conway Scenic sent engine 216 out on the Redstone Branch to collect a Boston & Maine boxcar I’d been using for advertising.

I documented the move with digital photos, as previously presented, and also on film.

For these images, I worked with a Nikon F3 with f2.5 Nikkor 105mm lens and Fomapan Classic 100 black & white film. I first sampled Fomapan on a trip to the Czech Republic in 2016.

Operating 216 was Adam, a Conway Scenic engineer trainee.

I processed the film using customized split-development that begins with a very dilute solution of HC110 with PhotoFlo as a presoak followed by primary development with Ilford ID11. After processing, I scanned the negatives using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner then imported the scans into Lightroom for final adjustment and scaling for presentation.

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Botched 1996 Olympic Pan

On September 10, 1996, I was driving east from Denver to Council Bluffs. Near Kearney, Nebraska, I was following the Union Pacific main line on a secondary road, where I made this panned photo of a westward UP freight train led by SD40-2 1996 specially painted for the 1996 Olympic games.

Working with my Nikon F2 fitted with a 200mm lens and loaded with Kodachrome 200, I panned the unusually painted locomotive to capture the sense of motion.

I’ve always found this photograph unfortunate because: 1) the doors were open on the side of the engine thus spoiling my view of the special paint livery. 2) the distant hill makes for a visually disruptive intersection near the front of the engine just over the top of the short hood.

In retrospect, I’m happy to have the photo, I just wish my execution had been better.

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Working on the Railroad: 216 with a work train.

My Dad’s 1946 Lionel train set featured a Pennsylvania Railroad S2 Steam turbine and a collection of work cars including: a crane, work caboose, dump car, etc.

As I kid, I routinely operated work trains using this O-gauge equipment.

There’s a subtle charm to work trains. These are an integral part of the railroad, yet often go unnoticed and undocumented.

Last week Conway Scenic Railroad operated a work train to perform maintenance on the Conway Branch.

I made these photos of the train as it was prepared in our North Conway, New Hampshire yards. All were exposed using my Lumix LX7 digital camera.

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July 24, 2015: WAITING AT A Grade Crossing at Niskaniitty—Two PHOTOS.

On the afternoon of July 24, 2015, my Finnish friends, Markku, Petri, Pietu and I waited at this rural grade crossing east of Kontiomaki, Finland for a diesel powered long distance local freight.

It was warm and quiet. For me it had an edge of the world quality.

Finally after a while we could hear the diesel approaching.

This was a VR  Class Dr16 leading symbol freight T4077 from Joensuu in south eastern Finland.

I exposed these photos using my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera. I had been playing with the camera’s presets, and made an image of the grade crossing using a monochrome setting. Although I was exposing some Fuji Provia 100F, I didn’t use any black & white film at this location.

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Unexpected Surprise.

The other day I was scanning some vintage Guilford photos from my 1980s and 1990s file.

This photo came up in the rotation.

Photographer Mike Gardner and I had spent a productive May 1997 day photographing Guilford trains on former Boston & Maine lines.

Toward the end of the day, we caught EDLA (East Deerfield to Lawrence, Massachusetts) working eastbound upgrade near Farley, Massachusetts (east of Millers Falls).

I was working with my N90S fitted with an 80-200 Nikon zoom.

I remember the day well! But when I scanned the slide, I had an unexpected surprise.

Initially, when I saw the lead locomotive, I thought it was Guilford’s 352, a GP40 that has often worked out of East Deerfield Yard. It was only on second inspection that I notice what this engine’s true identity . . .

It was 252! Former Maine Central 252. In other words, Conway Scenic’s locomotive which I see everyday and have hundreds of photos working in New Hampshire.

Wow, that’s kind of cool, to suddenly find a vintage photo I made of this now familiar GP38, back when it was a common freight hauler and not a darling of the tourist trade.

June 27, 2020 at North Conway.

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Five Years Ago-July 22.

On this day in 2015, I was visiting my friend Markku Pulkkinen in Oulu, Finland.

Oulu is far north, and in July it never gets completely dark.

Working with my then new FujiFilm XT-1, I made these evening photos late in the day near the VR locomotive sheds at the north end of Oulu’s expansive yards.

Finland is one of my favorite places to photograph, and I hope to return someday when travel returns to normal.

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Canadian National at Savanna.

Scaled but unadjusted scan; no corrections to color, level, contrast etc.

Toward the end of an April 1995 trip along the Mississippi with Tom and Mike Danneman, we set up along the old Burlington near the famous Mississippi Palisades State Park in Savanna, Illinois.

The streamlined Twin Cities Zephyr was all but a memory.

However at that time Canadian National was exercising rights over Burlington Northern and routing 4-5 freights a day via this Mississippi River east-bank route to reach Chicago.

The light was fading when a nearly new CN DASH-9 approached us leading an eastward freight.

I exposed this Kodachrome 25 slide using my Nikon F3T fitted with a Nikkor f4 200mm lens. This photo has appeared in print several times over the years.

For presentation here and extract the maximum amount of information from the slide, I made a multi-pass scan using a Nikon Super Coolscan5000 digital scanner driven with VueScan software.

I selected ‘fine mode’ and made three samples to refine the scan and then imported the 119.8MB file into Lightroom for refinement, color correction, scaling and final presentation.

Adjusted scan.

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North Conway Station after March Snow

Last March on my way to work I exposed a series of black & white photos of North Conway, New Hampshire. Fresh snow blanketed the ground, with a clear blue sky above.

Such a contrast with July . . .

I made this photo using Kodak Tri-X exposed with a Nikon F3 with 105mm Nikkor Lens.

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Gorham Monochrome

Back on April 3, 2020, I exposed a handful of photographs on Kodak Tri-X (ISO 400) at the old Grand Trunk Railway station in Gorham, New Hampshire.

This was on a photo adventure in the White Mountains with Kris Sabbatino.

Last month I processed the film using specially tailored split development by first soaking the film in a very dilute HC110 solution, then using a more active solution of ID11. After stop, and dual fixing baths, I washed the film, rinsed in permawash, and washed for a full ten minutes before toning the still wet negatives in a selenium solution for 7 minutes. After rewashing, and drying, I cut the negatives and stored them in archival polypropylene sleeves.

Yesterday, I scanned them using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner powered by Epson software.

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Empty Oil at Tapa

On a trip to Estonia in July 2002, I’d organized a cab ride on a freight from Tallinn to Tapa, where I spent the evening.

The following morning, I exposed this view near the station with my Nikon N90S and 135mm f2.0 lens of an empty oil train led by a 2M62 diesel heading toward the Russian frontier.

This was a very busy junction with a lot of freight, mostly oil trains, passing through.

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Class Lamp Up Close—Maine Central 252

Yesterday I took a spin on the train to Conway. I made this view with my Lumix LX7 as I boarded the locomotive on the return trip.

Former Maine Central GP38 252 has been working Conway Scenic’s Valley Trains between North Conway and Conway, and to Bartlett for the last couple of weeks.

Historically classification lamps were used as part of the system of timetable and train order rules, where lights of different colors were part of a hierarchy that defined the superiority of trains.

Conway scenic still uses these rules, with extra trains flying white flags by day and displaying white lamps by night.

At the moment all of our trains are operated under timetable and train order rules as ‘extras’.

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Corry, PA at Sunrise.

In October 2009, I photographed Western New York & Pennsylvania’s westbound HNME (Hornell to Meadville) freight crossing the diamond at Corry, Pennsylvania.

Historically this was where the Erie Railroad mainline crossed Pennsylvania Railroad’s route to Erie, Pennsylvania.

Working with a Canon EOS3 with f2.8 200mm prime telephoto, I exposed this photo on Fujichrome Velvia100F.

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Storm Light at North Conway

Yesterday evening a series of thunderstorms swept over the White Mountains making for a show of lightening and dramatic clouds.

Near the end of daylight, I made this photograph of the North Conway, New Hampshire yard. I was with Kris Sabbatino on the way to collect my car.

I was working with my Lumix LX7. This is a JPG file scaled without manipulation from the in-camera jpg. In other words I made no changes to exposure, contrast, color balance, focus or sharpness.

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Snow on the Tracks, Lincoln, Maine.

In the heat of Summer, I thought it would be a cool to look at a wintery scene.

I made this view looking timetable east on Guilford’s Maine Central at Lincoln, Maine on a trip with photographer George S. Pitarys in January 1997.

For this image, I was working with a Nikon F2 fitted with a Nikon 80-200mm AF zoom lens, and loaded with Fuji Provia 100F.

My photography spans nearly 50 years, more than 30 nations, hundreds of cities and thousands of towns, while focusing on rails, transport, nature, urbanity, and friends (among other subjects).

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Maine Central 252 on the Valley.

During the last week, Maine Central GP38 252 has been working Conway Scenic Railroad’s Valley trains that run daily from North Conway railroad east to Conway and North Conway railroad west to Bartlett.

While 252 is more than capable of working these trains, it is typically been assigned to the run to Crawford Notch.

I took the opportunity to make photos of 252 working the 1910-1920s-era heavy steel cars that comprise our Valley train set.

These photos were made using a FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm lens.

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Guilford Tv96 at Worcester.

On May 16, 1997, photographer Mike Gardner and I were in Worcester, Massachusetts, where we caught Guilford Rail System’s TV96, a short-lived intermodal service that GRS forwarded from Conrail.

Working with my Nikon F3T and 80-200mm zoom lens, I made this view standing in the Amtrak parking lot below Interstate-290.

After making this photo we chased the train up to the Wachusett Reservoir.

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