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.

Romantic Railway Poland

I exposed this timeless scene on a rural Polish branch line at Blotnica south of Wolsztyn on the 25th of April 2002.

John Gruber, Ross Valentine and I were on a week long photo escapade aiming to capture steam operations.

Some times the most effective railway photos don’t feature a train.

Exposed with a Nikon on Fujichrome film in April 2002. Contrast adjusted in post processing for improved presentation on the internet.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily.

Conrail SD50s Move Tonnage on the Water Level Route.

On April 9, 1988, I exposed this view on Conrail’s heavily used former New York Central System ‘Water Level Route’ west of Silver Creek, New York.

Clear skies and bright afternoon sun were ideal when exposing Kodachrome 25.

For this image of Conrail SD50s working westbound I used my Leica M2 fitted with an f2.8 90mm Elmarit.

Using a telephoto with a Leica rangefinder was always a bit tricky.

Although a window in the M2’s viewfinder provided a pretty good sense for the limits of the frame offered by the 90mm lens, the camera didn’t offer any sense of the effects of visual compression or limited depth of field that are inherent to this focal length in the 35mm format.

Yet, the combination of Leica glass and Kodachrome 25 allowed me to make some exceptionally sharp images.

I scanned this original Kodachrome slide at high resolution (4000 dpi) using a Nikon Super Coolscan5000 operated with VueScan software. For presentation here, I used Lightroom to scale the scanned file (which was more than 110 MB) into a Jpg. I left the corners of the slide mount in the frame to show that it hasn’t been cropped.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily.

New York City’s Empire State Building 20 years Ago.

In December 1996, I made a sequence of photographs from this vantage point off 8th Avenue in Manhattan featuring the Empire State Building.

This is one of many images from essentially the same spot that I exposed to show the changes in lighting over New York City. I intended to use as a multiple slide dissolve sequence in a slide show, although I’ve yet to organize it.

Exposed on Kodachrome 25 using a Nikon N90S mounted on a tripod.

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Hungarian Electric Freight; Photographing between the masts.

The morning of 20 August 2003 was a warm one, and the day would gradually turn into a scorcher. It had been that way for a week.

Western Hungary reminded me of eastern Nebraska: flat, open, and agricultural with scruffy trees here and there, and a busy double track railway running through a broad river valley.

Where Nebraska’s double track railways are heavy diesel-hauled freight lines; in Hungary these lines are largely electrified and carry a mix of freight and passenger trains.

Denis McCabe and I were set up just east of the country station at Nagyszent-Janos to make the most of this warm morning.

MAV freight and passenger trains pass on double track. Exposed on Fujichrome Sensia II (ISO 100) using a Nikon F3 with an f2.8 180mm Nikkor lens.

For me the catenary masts are a crucial part of the scene both operationally and compositionally. Imagine the scene without the masts; how might I have composed the photo? Would it have worked considering the back lit conditions?

Tracking the Light Posts Daily.

 

 

Philadelphia High Line Freight.

The old elevated Pennsylvania Railroad elevated freight line avoids 30th Street Station passenger trackage and is one of several ways of routing freights through Philadelphia.

Historically this was an electrified route and although the catenary was removed during the Conrail -era after it ended electric freight operations.

I was inspired by the photography of Jonathan Smith who is a regular Tracking the Light follower and University of Pennsylvania professor, and has forwarded a variety of images of this line to me.

Operations on this line are sporadic, which can make photography difficult for infrequent visitors.

During my visit last week, I was short on time, and only had a few minutes to wait. I spent a few minutes inspecting different angles on Walnut Street, while hoping to hear a train.

Fortunately, just as I was getting ready to leave I heard the unmistakable roar of EMD diesels. So, with Lumix LX-7 in hand, I exposed these views as it rolled southward across the viaduct.

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I adjusted the files using Lightroom to alter contrast. Specifically, I lightened the shadows, and tempered the highlights while slightly tweaking  overall contrast.

The silhouetted views required more post-processing work since the lighting was more contrasty and I wanted to retain detail in both shadows and highlights.

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West Chester Railroad’s Santa Train.

Would you read this if I titled it; ‘The photographic benefits of filtered sunlight‘?

The other day, Pat Yough and I made a joint venture of exploring Pennsylvania’s West Chester Railroad. This is a tourist line that runs on the vestige of the old Pennsylvania Railroad Wawa Branch (also called the West Chester Branch), formerly an electrified suburban line connecting West Chester with Philadelphia via Media.

SEPTA discontinued scheduled passenger service 30 years ago, although some its old platforms and signs survive as a reminder.

West Chester Railroad was operating its annual Santa Trains using a push-pull set comprised of a former Conrail GP38, a PRR baggage car and some converted former Reading Company multiple units.

Although the classic ‘clear blue dome’ is a favorite of many photographers, bright polarized light is often limiting on a line hemmed in by foliage.

Cheyney Station. Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
Cheyney Station. Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.

Our late season photography benefitted from high clouds that diffused the afternoon sun. This made for seasonal pastel light that made photographs of the tree-lined railway more pleasing.

Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
Locksley, Pennsylvania. Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
Locksley, Pennsylvania. Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
Locksley, Pennsylvania. Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
Locksley, Pennsylvania. Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
West Chester, Pennsylvania. Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
West Chester, Pennsylvania. Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
West Chester, Pennsylvania. Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
West Chester, Pennsylvania. Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.

Tracking the Light is a daily photo blog.

 

Sunday-only Acela Express Blitzes Marcus Hook—December 4, 2016.

 

[This vertically oriented image may not crop well on some social media sites—click directly to Tracking the Light for the full post.]

The former Pennsylvania Railroad south of Philadelphia is an electrified multiple-track raceway. Decades ago this was the stomping ground of the railroad’s famous streamlined GG1 electrics.

Fastest of today’s trains is Amtrak’s Acela Express.

The long tangent at Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania offers a good place to watch and photograph these fast trains at speed.

Last Sunday, Pat Yough and I paid a visit and photographed Sunday-only Acela Express 2211 on its run to Washington D.C.

Exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera with an 18-135mm Fujinon lens set at 135mm (equivalent in 35mm camera terms to a 203mm focal length). ISO 400; shutter speed 1/500th, aperture f8, camera set manually, but using autofocus.
Exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera with an 18-135mm Fujinon lens set at 135mm (equivalent in 35mm camera terms to a 203mm focal length). ISO 400; shutter speed 1/500th, aperture f8, camera set manually, but using autofocus.

 

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SEPTA at Night on Girard Avenue.

The other night, I used my Lumix LX7 to expose these views of SEPTA’s route 15 trolley on Girard Avenue in Philadelphia.

Working in ‘A’ mode (which allows me to select the aperture while the camera picks the shutter speed) I dialed in a 1/3 stop over exposure to allow for a more pleasing overall exposure to compensate for the dark sky and bright highlights.

Exposed in 'A' mode which produces both an in-camera Jpeg and a RAW file. This view was adjusted in post processing from the camera RAW file.
Exposed in ‘A’ mode which produces both an in-camera Jpeg and a RAW file. This view was adjusted in post processing from the camera RAW file.
Exposed in 'A' mode which produces both an in-camera Jpeg and a RAW file. This view was adjusted in post processing from the camera RAW file.
Exposed in ‘A’ mode which produces both an in-camera Jpeg and a RAW file. This view was adjusted in post processing from the camera RAW file.

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Compare this adjusted RAW file with the image below exposed using the 'hand held night' mode. (explained below).
Compare this adjusted RAW file with the image below exposed using the ‘hand held night’ mode. (explained below).

I also made a couple of exposures using the Lumix’s built in ‘hand held night’ (one of the scene mode pre-selects, available by setting the top dial to SCN , pressing the menu button and scrolling through the options).

This is a composite image made in-camera by exposing with the Lumix's 'Hand Held Night' mode.
This is a composite image made in-camera by exposing with the Lumix’s ‘Hand Held Night’ mode.

The hand-held night mode was recommended to me by Denis McCabe. This makes a blended composite image from a half-dozen or so exposures automatically exposed in a relatively rapid sequence. It’s not perfect, but allows for decent images of relatively static scenes if you hold the camera steady.

Tracking the Light posts daily.

Amtrak Solari Board at 30th Street Station, Philadelphia.

These old electromechanical  arrival/departures boards have become scarce.

I exposed these photos at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station in early December 2016.

My train had arrived a few minutes late. Ironically, it was shown as ‘departed’ although it was still on the platform at the time I made these exposures.

Exposed using a Lumix LX7.
Exposed using a Lumix LX7.

philadelphia-30th_st_p1550809 philadelphia-30th_st_p1550808

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From the Mists of Time; Amtrak in the Fog.

I made this photo sequence in January 1982.

My father and I were trackside near milepost 82 east of Palmer, Massachusetts to catch Amtrak’s eastward Lake Shore Limited.

 It wasn’t a nice day. But it was atmospheric.

A headlight pierces the fog.
A headlight pierces the fog.
Exposed on black & white film using a Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens, negatives scanned using an Epson V750 flatbed scanner.
Exposed on black & white film using a Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens, negatives scanned using an Epson V750 flatbed scanner.
In 1982 I tended to process my film using Kodak Microdol-X. This was a fine grain developer, but not great for overall tonality. By 1985, I'd switched to Kodak D76.
In 1982 I tended to process my film using Kodak Microdol-X. This was a fine grain developer, but not great for overall tonality. By 1985, I’d switched to Kodak D76.
I wonder why I didn't expose one more image of the tail lamps trailing into the mist?
I wonder why I didn’t expose one more image of the tail lamps trailing into the mist?

Tracking the Light posts every day!

Central Vermont at the Palmer Diamond—1977.

This was one of several photos I exposed with my father’s Leica 3C in Palmer, Massachusetts on Labor Day weekend 1977. I started 6th grade a couple of days later.

Significantly, it was the first time I made a photo from this location at the Palmer Diamond, where Central Vermont crossed Conrail’s former Boston & Albany line. From near this spot, I’ve since made many hundreds of photos—more than I dare to count.

Grand Trunk GP9 4442 wearing black and orange paint leads a freight across Conrail's former Boston & Albany mainline. Exposed on black & white film using a Leica 3C fitted with a 21mm Super angulon.
Grand Trunk GP9 4442 wearing black and orange paint leads a freight across Conrail’s former Boston & Albany mainline. Exposed on black & white film using a Leica 3C fitted with a 21mm Super-Angulon.

Compare this 1977 view with my recent images of a CSX eastward intermodal train. (I posted these the other day, but have also included them below.)

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In November 2016 a CSX intermodal train crosses the Palmer Diamond. This view is made from a spot immediately to the east of my 1977 view.

csx_q012_palmer_p1550722Looking back, I wonder why it took me so long to decide to make photos here. But realistically, prior to summer 1977 my railway photographic efforts were infrequent events.

For my birthday that year, my dad gave me my own Leica, a model 3A, which I carried everywhere for the next seven years and with which I made thousands of images from the Maine coast to southern California, and from Quebec to Mexico.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily

I’ll be Writing for Trains Magazine.

Beginning with the February 2017 issue (expected toward the end of December), I’ll be featured in a regular opinion column for Trains Magazine.

This is a new and exciting opportunity for me. With it I hope to explore a range of topics over the coming months

The idea for a regular Brian Solomon column came about as result of my conversations with Editor Jim Wrinn and Assistant Editor Brian Schmidt who were intrigued by my comparisons between European and North American railroading.

Unlike Tracking the Light, which is focused largely on photography, my Trains columns will be aimed at the railroad industry, its operations and practices.

I’ll be writing narratives that draw from my knowledge of history and technology. My hope to is to both entertain and inform, while also offering unusual perspectives on railroads.

I've been contributing to Trains Magazine since 1984. My first published photo in Trains featured this Mass Bay RRE excursion that had operated from Boston to Brattleboro, Vermont on February 25, 1984. The photo that appeared in the magazine was an angle of the Amtrak F40PHs on the south end of the train in the Brattleboro yard; by contrast these views were of the train shortly after it arrived at Brattleboro station. All were exposed using my old Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar.
I’ve been contributing to Trains Magazine since 1984. My first published photo in Trains had featured this Mass Bay RRE excursion (that had operated from Boston to Brattleboro, Vermont on February 25, 1984). The photo that appeared in the magazine was an angle of the Amtrak F40PHs on the south end of the train in the Brattleboro yard; by contrast these views were of the train shortly after it arrived at Brattleboro station. All were exposed using my old Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar.
Although it was sunny at New London, by the time we'd reached Brattleboro it was raining very hard. I got soaked making my photographs. At the time I was senior at Monson Jr.-Sr High School, and David P. Morgan was still Trains Editor-in-Chief.
Although it was sunny at New London, by the time we’d reached Brattleboro it was raining very hard. I got soaked making my photographs. At the time I was senior at Monson Jr.-Sr High School, and David P. Morgan was still Trains Editor-in-Chief. Ironically, the original negative that was published in Trains, remains among my missing photographs. Hopefully it may resurface one of these days. This pair of images were from my ‘out-takes’, and I only recently rediscovered them. 

Tracking the Light will continue to post everyday!

Black & White-Morning Light: CSX at Gardner, Massachusetts.

But wait, CSX doesn’t serve Gardner. True. However on this day in mid-November 2016, I photographed a pair of CSX GE Evolution-series diesels leading Pan Am Southern freight 287—an empty auto rack train from Ayer.

These days, passing locomotives don’t necessarily reflect either the owner or operator of the train they lead.

CSX diesels work Pan Am Southern at Gardner, Massachusetts.
CSX diesels work Pan Am Southern at Gardner, Massachusetts.

Dappled morning sun augmented the effects of a textured sky and late season foliage. I opted to make this image using my Leica 3A with 35mm Nikkor Lens loaded with Ilford Pan-F (ISO).

This film offers fine grain and broad tonality. I’m not yet expert at processing this emulsion. Previously I used Ilfosol with mixed results. This time I tried Kodak D76 mixed 1:1 (stock solution with water).

If my process was completely successful my negatives would scan perfectly without need of electronic post processing adjustments. This example provided a good starting point, but to make for the most pleasing image, still required local and global contrast control.

By the way, digital photographers may relax; I also exposed several frames with my FujiFilm X-T1–Just in case.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

There’s Nothing Like a Clear Morning—Careful Navigation Scores the Shot.

The other morning I was aiming for a haircut. I arrived early and the barber wasn’t open yet, but I noticed an eastward CSX intermodal train on the old Boston & Albany that was slowing for the Palmer diamond.

I was on Route 20, about a mile west of Palmer, Massachusetts. I turned the car around, and immediately proceeded east in pursuit. (Haircuts can wait). However, road works at the New England Central bridge over the road caused me a critical delay.

Although the intermodal train was likely blocked, I wasn’t making any progress either, and I still had all of Palmer to get through in morning traffic. As a result, I took a detour and cut over the mountain using Old Warren Road—a favorite shortcut of Bob Buck’s that he showed me many years ago.

This saves several miles, but doesn’t follow the tracks.

As a result, I was able to be in place at West Warren several minutes ahead of the train. After exposing these views I retraced my steps and returned to my original mission!

 

 Lumix LX7 photo at West Warren, Massachusetts.

Lumix LX7 photo at West Warren, Massachusetts.
 Lumix LX7 photo at West Warren, Massachusetts.

Lumix LX7 photo at West Warren, Massachusetts.

Tracking the Light posts every day.

Fog over Palmer; CSX Intermodal crosses the New England Central.

Saturday after Thanksgiving I met visiting photographer Finbarr O’Neill at CP83 in Palmer, Massachusetts to give him a tour of the area.

The day was foggy, but shortly after we arrived a CSX intermodal train (probably Q012) slowed for the New England Central crossing.

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I made these images using my Lumix LX7. To make for a more pleasing final image, I made nominal adjustments to contrast and exposure using Lightroom.

Tracking the Light posts Daily.

Monochrome at Iconic Breakneck Ridge Vista.

More than 30 years ago I admired New York Central System’s company photographs made by Ed Nowak from the elevated location above the Breakneck Ridge tunnels.

Over the years I’ve made many images from Breakneck Ridge. A couple of weeks ago, I made this view using my old Leica 3A with 35mm Nikkor lens.

There’s something about black & white film that has a timeless quality: Old, but new; traditional, reliable and comforting. Use of an antique camera-lens combination contributes to the nostalgic view point.

A Metro-North train for Poughkeepsie approaches the tunnels at Breakneck Ridge, New York. To the right are the glinting waters of the Hudson River.
A Metro-North train for Poughkeepsie approaches the tunnels at Breakneck Ridge, New York. To the right are the glinting waters of the Hudson River.

This frame was exposed on Ilford HP5, then processed in Kodak D76 (stock solution mixed 1-1 with water) for 9 minutes at 68F. Key to the tonality of the image is my ‘secret step’—a presoak water bath with a drop of Kodak HC110 in it.

The idea behind the water bath with a drop of developer in it is this: presoaking the film allows the gelatin to swell before encountering developer at full strength, while the very dilute amount of developer allows the chemical reaction to begin working before the primary development cycle. Since the developer is extremely dilute (and thus rapidly exhausted) the shadow areas receive proportionally greater development than highlight regions during this phase.

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NJ Transit North Jersey Coast in Monochrome.

Two weeks ago, using my old Leica 3A with 35mm Nikkor lens I exposed this photograph of a northward North Jersey Coast train at NJ Transit’s Aberdeen-Matawan station .

I positioned the camera as to crop sun with the canopy over the platform.

Sometimes the old tools allow for the best interpretation of a scene.
Sometimes the old tools allow for the best interpretation of a scene.

The film is 35mm Ilford HP5 that I processed in Kodak D76 (1-1 stock solution with water) for 10 minutes at 68F, but preceded primary development with a prolonged pre-soak with a drop of HC110 developer to improve shadow detail tonality.

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Amtrak’s Vermonter on the Stone Arches.

Yesterday, I presented a 20-year old  view of this old Boston & Maine bridge at Bernardston, Massachusetts, made back when the old mill dam and waterfall were still in place.

The loss of the dam and waterfall occurred sometime between late 1996 and 2003, while Amtrak’s Vermonter was restored to the line in late 2014.

Two weeks ago, I revisited the bridge with Tim Doherty and Patrick Yough to make this view of Amtrak train 55, the southward Vermonter.

Exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera in November 2016.
Exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera in November 2016.

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The Lost Waterfall at Bernardston.

You never know what’s going to change.

Photo exposed using 120 size Ektachrome film. Exposure calculated with a Sekonic Studio Deluxe handheld photocell (light meter).
Photo exposed on 120 size Ektachrome film. Exposure calculated with a Sekonic Studio Deluxe handheld photocell (light meter).

I exposed this view twenty years ago using a Speed Graphic with 120 size roll film back that I’d borrowed from Doug More.

A decade earlier, fellow photographer Brandon Delaney had showed me this bridge at Bernardston, Massachusetts on the Boston & Maine’s Connecticut River Line.

The bridge survives much as pictured here;  today it serves as the route of Amtrak’s Vermonter. However the old mill dam with accompanying waterfall were destroyed sometime after I made this December 1996-view.

Tomorrow, I’ll post a contemporary angle of the bridge.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily.

 

Great Shot Forever Ruined—I missed the Focus.

Hard lessons. Here we have a scene never to be repeated, and one that I’ve never dared to show before. In June (or early July 1984), I caught a westward Conrail freight passing the Palmer Union Station at sunset on the then double-track Boston & Albany..

This was toward the end of regular operation of cabooses on road freights. By that time many Conrail symbol freights on the B&A were already using telemetry devices in place of the once common caboose.

A caboose rolling into the sunset. Great illustration concept. Nice light, decent framing, etc.

Except the photo is soft. Working with my Leica 3A rangefinder I’d missed the focus.

Viewed at a small size on a pixelated back-lit digital screen this old photo is nearly passable. But it fails my basic test for sharpness. Face it, I missed the focus. Like spilled milk, once you've missed the focus there's nothing you can do about it.
Viewed at a small size on a pixelated back-lit digital screen this old photo is nearly passable. But it fails my basic test for sharpness. Face it, I missed the focus. Like spilled milk, once you’ve missed the focus there’s nothing you can do about it.

And so as a result of this visual flaw, the potentially iconic image didn’t make my cut of presentable images. I filed the negative, then I misplaced it. For more than 32 years it remained unseen. I present it now only as a warning.

Even as a 17 year-old, nothing annoyed me more in my own photography than missing the focus. Back then there was no autofocus, so when I missed, I couldn’t blame the technology.

My lesson: get the focus right. Once you’ve missed it you can’t fix it. (Although with digital sharpening you can cover your tracks a little).

Tracking the Light Posts Every Day.

 

 

Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited with Two Heritage Units—November 23 2016.

In my family we have a forty year old tradition of going to photograph the Lake Shore Limited.

 The other day my brother arrived up from Philadelphia for the holidays, and I asked, “would you like to go up to West Warren to see the Lake Shore? It has some specially painted engines today?”

So my brother, father and I went to the bridge over the line near milepost 75. We timed our arrive very well. After only a 5 minute wait, Amtrak train 449 with two specially painted General Electric Genesis diesels rolled west along the Quaboag.

Amtrak's westward Lake Shore Limited on November 24, 2016.
Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited on November 24, 2016. FujiFIlm X-T1 digital photo.
Trailing view at West Warren. FujiFilm X-T1 digital photo.
Trailing view at West Warren. FujiFilm X-T1 digital photo.

Sean said, “Wow, it came by really fast!”

I couldn’t help by find his comment ironic, since I recently composed an opinion piece for Trains Magazine on the topic of the trains operating too slowly. But that’s the topic for another time . . .

Tracking the Light is Daily!

 

Happy Thanksgiving from Tracking the Light!

 

Here’s an appropriate seasonal view that I made of New York’s Hudson Valley from Breakneck Ridge last week using my Lumix LX7.

I’ve often made photos in November in the Hudson Valley, where the autumn foliage tends to hold longer than elsewhere in the region.

Look carefully across the glinting waters of the Hudson River and you'll see the subtle silhouette of a northward CSX unit tank train (probably discharged crude oil cars) winding its way along the old West Shore line. Lumix LX7 photo.
Look carefully across the glinting waters of the Hudson River and you’ll see the subtle silhouette of a northward CSX unit tank train (probably discharged crude oil cars) winding its way along the old West Shore line. Lumix LX7 photo.

Tracking the Light posts on Holidays!

CSX on the Hudson at Mine Dock Park—November 18, 2016.

The sun was just rising over Bear Mountain, when I arrived at Mine Dock Park located on the west shore of the Hudson near Fort Montgomery, New York.

I set up on CSX’s River Line, historically New York Central’s ‘West Shore’ route. At first the signals were all red. Then after a bit the northward signal cleared to ‘medium approach.’

I concluded that a northward train would be taking the siding, thus in all likelihood it would be making a meet with a southward train. I secured an elevated view from the rock cutting north of the public crossing.

About 45 minutes elapsed and then a northward train took the siding as signaled. Six minutes later, this southward CSX autorack freight came gliding down river. I exposed a series of digital images with my Lumix LX7. The sun was perfect and the late autumn foliage on the trees made an already picturesque scene even better.

A southward CSX auto rack train hugs the Hudson at Mine Dock Park. Lumix LX7 photo.
A southward CSX auto rack train hugs the Hudson at Mine Dock Park. Lumix LX7 photo.
The train was moving relatively slowly, which allowed me to zoom out (to a wider focal length) as it approached. Which of the two views do you prefer? A southward CSX auto rack train hugs the Hudson at Mine Dock Park. Lumix LX7 photo.
The train was moving relatively slowly, which allowed me to zoom out (to a wider focal length) as it approached. Which of the two views do you prefer?  Lumix LX7 photo.

Nothing tricky or complicated here; it was just a matter of being in the right place for the action and paying attention to the signals.

Tracking Light aims to post new material Everyday!

I got it Mostly Wrong in New Haven in 1979.

No one ever told me you shouldn’t point the camera into the sun!

I exposed this grab shot in New Haven, Connecticut as I was changing trains with my mother and brother (you can see my mother in silhouette at left).

As the Amtrak RDCs pulled into the platform I made a couple of black & white photos with my Leica 3A.

At the time I was delighted because the leading RDC was still lettered for the New Haven Railroad. At the time this seemed like a relic from another age, but looking back it had only been about 11 years since New Haven Railroad’s demise.

Pity I didn’t have a wider lens, but it’s just as well I didn’t know anything about how you were supposed to make photos. If I had, I might not have made this one!

Amtrak RDCs working the New Haven-Springfield shuttle arrive on the platform in New Haven, Connecticut in the summer of 1979.
Amtrak RDCs working the New Haven-Springfield shuttle arrive on the platform in New Haven, Connecticut in the summer of 1979.

Tracking the Light posts daily!

Springfield in the Dark of Night; From the Lost Negative File.

Sorry, not a vampyre story.

Back in the mid-1980s, I’d often visit Springfield Union Station (Springfield, Massachusetts) with Bob Buck .

We’d arrive in his green Ford van, typically after another event, such as a meeting of the West Springfield Train Watchers or a concert at the Springfield Symphony.

I’d come equipped with a tripod, Leica and large handheld Metz electronic flash unit (strobe). Often, I’d wrap the head of the strobe in a white garbage bag to diffuse the light (on the recommendation of Doug Moore). This eliminated the hard edge often associated with electronic flash.

[My old prewar Leicas predated electronic flash sync. However they do have a ‘T’ setting, and this allowed me to lock the shutter open indefinitely.]

I’d place the camera on the tripod, position it in a way as to minimize light falling the front element of the lens, open the shutter, then walk around using the Metz flash unit to illuminate shadowed areas of the scene as to even out the exposure. I’d keep the flash at relatively low power and make a series of bursts for the most effective results.

Typically I’d leave the shutter open for about 30 seconds.

Amtrak Budd-built SPV-2000 diesel railcars at Springfield Union Station in summer 1984. Exposed on Kodak Tri-X using a Leica 3A with 50mm lens. Film processed in Microdol-X.
Amtrak Budd-built SPV-2000 diesel railcars at Springfield Union Station in summer 1984. Exposed on Kodak Tri-X using a Leica 3A with 50mm lens. Film processed in Microdol-X. If you look carefully at the far left you’ll see a ghostly shadow. That’s me aiming the flash unit at the SPVs. I told you this wasn’t a vampyre story! (Just an electronic ghost tale.)

Tracking the Light Posts Daily.

 

 

New York Penn Station—Not the prettiest place, But . . .

New York Pennsylvania Station is not only Amtrak’s busiest station, but it handles nearly twice the number of passengers as the next busiest. In addition to Amtrak’s long distance trains are floods of Long Island Rail Road and NJ Transit suburban runs.

Busy, yes; attractive no.

It’s been more than a half century since the Pennsylvania Railroad demolished its original Penn Station terminal buildings.

Back when I worked at Pentrex Publishing in the 1990s, every so often we would need an illustration of Penn Station for Passenger Train Journal. While photos of New York’s elegant Grand Central Terminal were a dime a dozen, decent photos of Penn Station were few and far between.

Now, when I visit Penn Station, I often try to make representative views.

So, can you make interesting photos in ugly places?

New York's Pennsylvania Station at 7th Avenue. Lumix LX7 photo.
New York’s Pennsylvania Station at 7th Avenue. Lumix LX7 photo.
Amtrak ACS64 615 at New York's Pennsylvania Station. Lumix LX7 photo.
Amtrak ACS64 615 at New York’s Pennsylvania Station. Lumix LX7 photo.

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NJ Transit display at New York's Pennsylvania Station. Lumix LX7 photo.
NJ Transit display at New York’s Pennsylvania Station. Lumix LX7 photo.
New York's Pennsylvania Station. Lumix LX7 photo.
New York’s Pennsylvania Station. Lumix LX7 photo.
New York's Pennsylvania Station. Lumix LX7 photo.
New York’s Pennsylvania Station. Lumix LX7 photo.

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Lumix views at Milford—Metro North M8 bound for Grand Central.

The other day I made these views with my Lumix LX7 from the platform at Milford, Connecticut before boarding the train pictured.

Yes, it’s just an ordinary Metro-North passenger train. Nothing unusual or extraordinary, but it still makes for a interesting subject.

On the tech side; to make the photos more appealing and balanced, I worked with the RAW files in Lightroom to adjust the contrast and lighten the shadows.

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Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

 

Ghostly Remains of a Cedar Hill Hump Yard—November 18, 1984; Four Photos.

 

On this date 1984, my friends and I explored the ruins of New Haven Railroad’s Cedar Hill Yard (near New Haven, Connecticut).

In its heyday this vast facility had been a main gathering point for carload freight, and one of the largest yards in New England.

We were fascinated by this relic of the earlier age, when New England was a major manufacturing center and freight moved primarily by rail.

By 1984, Conrail still had a presence at Cedar Hill, but this was just a shadow of former times.

I exposed these images using my Leica 3A with 50mm Leitz Sumitar.

Here I’ve corrected the level, as at that time I had the unfortunate habit of tilting my camera 3-5 degrees off level. These days both my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1 digital cameras have built in view-finder levels. Great features for modern cameras!

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View from an old hump tower. What better month to photograph an abandoned yard than November?
View from an old hump tower. What better month to photograph an abandoned yard than November?
An old 40ft New Haven Railroad boxcar that still had its New Haven markings. A fascinating relic.
An old 40ft New Haven Railroad boxcar that still had its New Haven markings. A fascinating relic.
Stark ruins of an industrial age.
Stark ruins of an industrial age.

Today Tracking the Light looks back!

Lost Negative File—Boston & Maine at Keene, New Hampshire.

Back in the summer of 1981, I took a Sunday drive with my family. Route 32 bisects Monson, Massachusetts, having come north from New London, Connecticut. On this day, we decided to follow this road north as far as it goes, which brought us to Keene, New Hampshire.

On the way we stopped in Ware and a few other towns.

At Keene, I was fascinated by the Boston & Maine SW1 laying idle in the old yard. At one time, decades earlier, Keene had been a been a B&M hub.

By the time I made these photos, Keene was effectively the end of branch served from the Connecticut River Line at Brattleboro, Vermont via Dole Junction.

Not long after this visit, B&M conveyed operations to the Green Mountain Railroad. Business was sparse and by the mid-1980s operations were discontinued altogether.

Exposed on Tri-X using a Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens. Film processed in Kodak Microdol-X.
Exposed on Tri-X using a Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens. Film processed in Kodak Microdol-X.
Exposed on Tri-X using a Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens. Film processed in Kodak Microdol-X.
Exposed on Tri-X using a Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens. Film processed in Kodak Microdol-X.

I wonder what this scene looks like today?

For years I also wondered what happened to these photographs. I recalled making them, but searches through my negatives failed to locate them. Admittedly my early photographs lacked logical organization.

Finally I found them in the ‘BIG BOX’ of missing negatives located last week.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily.

Brian’s Lost Archive: From the Depths—Twice Rescued.

 

I exposed this black & white negative in the New York City Subway about 1978.

My understanding of photographic technique was minimal, as I was only eleven or so at the time and I had just begun to learn how the process worked.

In this case, not only did I underexpose the film, but when I processed it my developer was either nearing exhaustion and/or was heavily oxidized owing to poor storage.

Underexposure and underdevelopment is just about the worse of conditions with film.

This image is from one of about 100 rolls of my early efforts that had been stored in box for decades—unprinted, but not forgotten.

Unfortunately, sometime during my travels decades ago, this box of old negs was stored away.

I’d been looking for my lost early negatives for along time, and often frustrated by my inability to find them.

Believe it or not, I dreampt where to look for the missing box, and so upon my return from Dublin last week, I was finally able to locate them.

A hundred or so rolls!

I’ll begin with this one because it has special significance for me; the man at the right is my grandfather. He had brought my brother and me to the Natural History Museum at 81st street. I made a sequence of images of the subway train arriving to bring us back to the Bronx.

Since the original negative was impossibly thin, I wasn’t capable of making a print. However, I know now how to rescue difficult images:

  • First scan the photo, as a precaution in case chemical treatment fails (but also to show the effects of my process in a ‘before & after’ sequence.)
  • Soak the negative for an hour in distilled water with a hint of Kodak Photoflo.
  • Re-fixed negatives for 3-4 minutes in Ilford Rapid fix (mixed 1:4).
  • Rinse in water.
  • 3 minutes in a Perma Wash bath.
  • 10 minutes wash in continuous running water.
  • Treat for 9-10 minutes in selenium toner mixed 1 : 9 at 68F, agitating every 30 in a well-ventilated space.
  • Rinse in water.
  • 3 minutes in a Perma Wash bath.
  • 10 minutes wash in continuous running water.

The selenium toner is the key step; this helps build density in highlight areas without changing the grain structure.

After chemical treatment,  I rescanned the negs and  worked with this  image in Lightroom to adjust exposure, contrast and sharpness.

Below are my results: not perfect, but not bad all things considered.

This is scan of the untreated negative in its natural state (not reversed digitally).
This is scan of the untreated negative in its natural state (not reversed digitally).
Reversed, the negative looked like this; muddy and dark.
Reversed, the negative looked like this; muddy and dark.
Following toning and work in Lightroom, this is what I was able to produce. Not to bad for a kid with a camera and film badly processed in a kitchen sink. Exposed c1978 using a Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens.
Following toning and work in Lightroom, this is what I was able to produce. Not to bad for a kid with a camera and film badly processed in a kitchen sink. Exposed c1978 using a Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

 

 

Dark Cloud, Silver Lining? Maybe You Need a Darker Graduated Filter.

One of the challenges of digital photography is its limited dynamic range. While a RAW file gives you more than a compressed JPG, when you’ve reached the limit of the camera sensor, definition in highlights and shadow areas is finite.

Previously, I’ve experimented with a Lee 0.6 soft graduated filter as means of holding highlight detail in the sky, while providing a satisfactory exposure in foreground areas. Without this tool, I’d risk losing sky detail.

The 0.6 filter offers a very subtle graduated change. Fine for improving cloud detail on an overcast day, but not as useful in situations with greater contrast. So recently, I upped the ante with a 0.9 soft graduated filter.

In short, this is darker at one end, thus blocks greater amounts of light, and so provides more effective exposure control in scenes with greater contrast.

As a test, using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera I exposed this view at Fitchburg, Massachusetts looking east on the old Boston & Maine Fitchburg Mainline toward Ayer and Boston.

FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with 18-135mm lens set at 18mm (equivalent to a 27mm focal length in traditional 35mm film-camera terms), ISO 400, f14 1/250th second with Lee 0.9 soft graduated filter. ‘Soft’ describes the relative transition from light to dark.
FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with 18-135mm lens set at 18mm (equivalent to a 27mm focal length in traditional 35mm film-camera terms), ISO 400, f14 1/250th second with Lee 0.9 soft graduated filter. ‘Soft’ describes the relative transition from light to dark.

Admittedly this image is unrefined. It is but the first step toward something else, and I’ll continue to explore this topic in later posts.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

 

Three Santa Fe’s at Hubbardston.

Sometimes railway locomotives mean more than power for today’s train.

Over the years some old engines connect the dots.

A brisk wind was blowing across the water, as I listened to the distant whistle of a southward train approaching Moosehorn Pond in Hubbardston, Massachusetts.  I thought back over the years . . .

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In January 1991, under clear California skies, J.D. Schmid and I explored Santa Fe Railway’s Needles District between Barstow and Needles.

We were east of Ash Hill when the once a week Maersk double-stack from Richmond rolled by with brand new DASH8-40BWs in the lead. These were the only modern General Electric wide-cab four-axle diesel locomotives built for a freight railroad.

They were dressed in the classy classic red and silver Warbonnet livery designed by Leland Knickerbocker for Santa Fe’s early EMC diesels.

“A flash in the pan!’ He said, as we began our high-speed pursuit across the Mojave Desert. We caught them. And those photos have appeared in books.

Some 19 years later, one evening my late friend Bob Buck and I were having dinner at the Steaming Tender in Palmer, Massachusetts—located in the old station, near the crossing between CSX’s Boston & Albany and New England Central’s old New London Northern line.

It was dark and cascading rain outside, when a loaded unit ethanol train pulled across the diamond. Bob and I looked up to watch it pass. In consist were these former Santa Fe DASH8-40BWs that were being delivered to Providence & Worcester along with the ethanol train.

The train stopped.

As Bob ordered desert. I said, ‘let me find out the story on this.’

I dashed into the rain and inquired of the incoming crew when they expected to head south.

‘In about five minutes.’

Returning to the warmth of the restaurant, I relayed the message to Bob. “Would you like to follow it?” Bob’s enthusiasm for the chase was unchecked by weather or darkness.

Bob inhaled his dessert and paid his bill so quickly, you could see the draft of wind in the waitresses hair as we flew out to my car.

In the driving rain we followed the laboring train through Monson, Massachusetts as it ascended State Line Hill. The heavy train and wet rail made for slow progress. I exposed atmospheric night photos.

At Stafford Springs, Connecticut, I made time exposures with my Canon EOS 7D of Bob rolling by these Santa Fe GEs, some still in Warbonnet paint.

“Great show!”

Afterwards we drove the length of Route 19, a highway that connects Stafford Spring with Bob’s home in Warren, Massachusetts.

It was still raining when we arrived and Bob had been telling me of his experiences with steam on the Central Vermont six decades earlier.

So back to the other day; I was traveling with my friends Pat Yough, Tim Doherty when we caught those same DASH8-40BWs leading a Worcester-bound train across the Moosehorn Pond in Hubbardston, Massachusetts.

Late November sun illuminates Providence & Worcester’s southward GRWO as it rolls southward across the east shore of Moosehorn Pond.
Late November sun illuminates Providence & Worcester’s southward GRWO as it rolls southward across the east shore of Moosehorn Pond.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily

 

 

Sunset on the Boston & Albany at East Brookfield—Working with RAW Files.

Yesterday evening I was visiting East Brookfield, Massachusetts.

As the sun neared the western horizon it illuminated some clouds from below, the effect that I call ‘drop under’.

It’s a stunning natural phenomena, but can be difficult to capture effectively because of the extreme contrast.

Armed with my Lumix LX7, I made my way to the overpass near the old station location, as per the suggestion of Dennis LeBeau— photographer, musician and long time East Brookfieldian.

As I made a series of exposures, I knew by observing the camera’s histogram that it would be necessary to work with the RAW files to produce the most effective interpretations of the scene.

Below are some examples for your inspection and consideration.

This is the unmodified file. The only change from camera RAW was a necessary scaling and conversion to JPG for internet presentation (the RAW is too large to upload). I made no changes to color saturation, contrast, or other elements of the image.
This is the unmodified file. The only change from camera RAW was a necessary scaling and conversion to JPG for internet presentation (the RAW is too large to upload). I made no changes to color saturation, contrast, or other elements of the image.
This is my interpreted image from the above RAW. I've used a digitally applied graduated filter to better hold detail in the sky, while improving contrast and increasing saturation with a slight to warming of the color balance to enhance the effect of sunset. Without these changes, the scene would not look as it appeared to my eye at the time of exposure.
This is my interpreted image from the above RAW. I’ve used a digitally applied graduated filter to better hold detail in the sky, while improving contrast and increasing saturation with a slight to warming of the color balance to enhance the effect of sunset. Without these changes, the scene would not look as it appeared to my eye at the time of exposure. Admittedly these alterations are mere subtle improvements and may not be evident on some electronic devices.
This is a horizontal view similar to the above images. Using the 'cut and paste' feature in Lightroom, I've applied the same alterations to this RAW file as described in the image above. This feature not only saves time when adjusting images, but ensures an element of consistency between images made in similar lighting conditions. I use it regularly.
This is a horizontal view similar to the above images. Using the ‘cut and paste’ feature in Lightroom, I’ve applied the same alterations to this RAW file as described in the image above. This feature not only saves time when adjusting images, but ensures an element of consistency between images made in similar lighting conditions. I use it regularly.
A telephoto view made at the same location, but with slight adjustments to contrast controls to accentuate the clouds and rails.
A telephoto view made at the same location, but with slight adjustments to contrast controls to accentuate the clouds and rails. Note the wire crossing the line. I could have taken that out and you’d never have known better, but normally I avoid invasive alterations that physically change the scene.

Tracking the Light posts daily.

A Hint of Colour at Zebreh.

An eastward EuroCity express passenger train running with Slovakian equipment takes the curve on approach to the station at Zebreh, Czech Republic.

It’s mid-October and the trees hint of autumn.

I exposed this view using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera set to the pre-programmed Velvia colour-profile.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily.

Vienna by Night; Take a Spin on the Tram.

A rainy evening in Vienna; enjoy a Wiener Schnitzel, some Gösser and take spin on the trams.

Vienna features one of the most extensive tram networks in the world, and this is well-integrated with the U-Bahn, S-Bahn and other public transport.

From a photographic perspective it’s hard to go wrong.

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Josefstadt.
Josefstadt.

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I made these images with my Panasonic Lumix LX-7.

Word of warning; when making photos with digital cameras in consistently wet circumstances, try to keep your camera dry!

After several hours of dampness, my Lumix LX-7’s lens fogged up from the inside and I needed to shut it down and give it about 12-hour rest in a dry area.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

Documenting the Ordinary at the end of the Quad Track.

Irish Rail’s Rotem-built InterCity Railcars are about as ordinary as you can find in Ireland.

These are a common garden-variety passenger train that are assigned to most intercity services as well as some suburban trains.

Last week I made this view of ICRs passing near the end of the quad track at Cherry Orchard in west suburban Dublin.

Just so you know, there’s neither cherries nor an orchard in Cherry Orchard.

Exposed with my FujiFilm XT1.

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Tracking the Light Posts Every Day!