On my theme of ‘getting the angle right’; or rather how slight adjustments in elevation can alter perspective, compare these two recent views of Amtrak 768 Pacific Surfliner at Fullerton, California.
Both were made with my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera and a telephoto zoom lens.
The top view was made from my standing height and aims to include the footbridge.
With the bottom view, I’ve taken a more extreme telephoto focal length while placed the camera very near to platform level. Composition was aided through use of the fold-out rear display. This allows me to hold the camera near to the ground while being able to look down to see the image. (A handy feature of the XT1).
The low angle telephoto is a good means for making a more dramatic view.
Dublin’s LUAS (not an acronym) is the name for the city’s modern light rail system.
By contrast, the Los Angeles Union Station is now known by its initials LAUS.
Historically, it was called the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal, and called LAUPT.
I featured this great terminal in my recent book: Railway Depots, Stations and Terminals, published in 2015 by Voyageur Press.
The other day I revisited the station and made my first digital photographs of the buildings and trains there. (A station is more than just a building or buildings).
Here’s an excerpt of my text:
Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal (LAUPT) was completed in May 1939. It is a rare example of an Art Deco era railway station and one of the few stations that opened during the streamlined era. It’s modern interpretation of the Spanish Mission style design is largely attributed to the LA-based architectural team of John and Donald Parkinson.
Not long ago the old IRT Flushing line was extended west and a new terminal station called 34th Street-Hudson Yards was opened. This is located near the Javits Center and just a few blocks west of Penn-Station.
My digital guru Eric Rosenthal recommended this to me as a photo subject. The station is unusually deep and features very long escalators.
I exposed these images with my Lumix LX7. The underground views were made at ISO200. One of the advantages of the LX7 is that it has a very fast lens. In other words the lens has the ability to let in lots of light.
The advantage of this feature is that I can use a relatively slow ISO setting in the subway and still get excellent results hand held.
CSX daylight operations through Palmer, Massachusetts can be a bit sparse these days.
This morning, I was on my way back from some errands and I noted that the local freight (B740) was holding on the controlled siding at CP83 and a New England Central local was stopped south of the Palmer diamond. So I pulled over and parked.
The points at CP83 were made for the main line and the westward signals were all showing red. Armed with this information I concluded that an eastward freight must be close at hand.
I walked up to the South Main Street bridge and gave it a few minutes. Before long an eastward intermodal train came into view with a relatively new General Electric ‘Tier 4’ six-motor in the lead.
My guess is that this train is CSX symbol freight Q022 that runs to Worcester, Massachusetts (but if anyone has better information, I’m open to amending my guess).
Tracking the Light sometimes posts more than once per day!
Last week I had a few minutes between trains, during which time I exposed these views of the Chicago Transit Authority’s famous ‘L’ at the Chicago Loop.
Although it is common misconception that the ‘loop’ is so named for the circular arrangement of CTA’s elevated railway downtown, the name pre-dates the ‘L’ and actually stems from Chicago’s cable car days. (Chicago, rather than San Francisco, once held title to the world’s most extensive cable operated streetcar network.)
A week ago, I traveled with John Gruber and Scott Lothes for a day’s photography on the Wisconsin & Southern,
A couple of days previously, John and I had made some photographs exploring the line to Reedsburg (see previous posts). So armed with that experience plus good information on operations, we set out with Scott for another run.
Among the three of us we have a bit of photographic experience and a lot of railway knowledge, so we were in good position to make the most of the day. I always like learning from fellow photographers as everyone has their own way of seeing.
I have to admit that the old Chicago & North Western line between Madison and Reedsburg isn’t my strongest field of interest. When I lived in Wisconsin this line (then still operated by C&NW) was largely nocturnal. However in more recent times, John and I have made daylight photos.
Until a few months ago the route still featured some vintage wig-wag grade crossing signals, and these had been the focus of my earlier efforts on the line. Since these are gone, we were able to take a more diverse approach.
The Reedsburg line is now but a branch on the sprawling Wisconsin & Southern freight gathering network, but historically the line was a key Chicago & North Western mainline between Chicago, Madison and the Twin Cities. For me this legacy makes the line more interesting.
We picked up the train at Wisconsin & Southern’s Madison Yard, and over the next few hours intercepted it more than a dozen times.
Sunny weather plus a single clean SD40-2 running short-hood first put us in a good position to make satisfactory images. On the previous run John and I needed to make do with the engine running long-hood first, which is a more challenging subject to photograph.
Here are a few digital photos from our second chase. Any favorites?
The Illinois Railway Museum has one of the best collections of North American railway equipment. Hundreds of pieces of equipment spanning more than a century are on display.
It’s great to be able to inspect a traditional 4-4-0, and a Forney Tank engine. I’m fond of classics such as the Santa Fe 2900-class 4-8-4, Burlington’s 4-6-4 Hudson and its streamlined Budd-built Nebraska Zephyr, and of course the Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 in Brunswick green.
The old diesels are neat, and there’s great array of old streetcars.
But then, what’s this? A Wisconsin Central SD45? Wow, nice to see that one of those was saved, but it just doesn’t seem that long ago and I was out catching these on the mainline.
And wait, what about this Metra Bi-Level electric? Weird to see THAT in a museum.
Two Chicago & North Western DASH9s!
Now I just feel old.
Views exposed with my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera with Zeiss 12mm Tuoit.
Last week I traveled with John Gruber to the Illinois Railway Museum at Union. John needed to deliver some material in relation to his North Shore photo exhibit, and he wanted me to expose a few images of him with his photographs.
Between 1960 and 1963, John made a project of documenting the last years of operation of the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee interurban electric line.
North Shore was an intensive electric line that connected the Chicago Loop (trains served downtown using the rapid transit ‘L’—[elevated line]) with Milwaukee, Wisconsin via Chicago’s northern suburbs. The line was well known for its articulated streamlined speedsters called Electroliners and its electrically cooked hamburgers known as Electroburgers. Operations concluded in January 1963.
John’s work is iconic. He exposed thousands of North Shore photographs and his photography goes well beyond ordinary images of the trains. He focused on people as well as machines, and preserved a feel for this unusual railway in motion.
Johns work was prominently featured in the pages of Trains magazine and in books such as those by the late William D. Middleton.
His current exhibit can be seen in the waiting room of the East Union station at IRM. It will be on display through the end of 2016.
Of course, while we were at IRM, we took the opportunity to travel the line, and visit some of the historic equipment (which includes several of North Shore’s cars).
In addition to a variety of digital photos, I exposed these black & white images with my Leica.
I exposed these three photos last week on Wisconsin & Southern at Baraboo, Wisconsin using my old Leica 3A loaded with Ilford Pan F black & white film (ISO 50).
In its heyday, Baraboo was a division point on Chicago & North Western’s Chicago-Madison-Twin Cities main line.
Its glory days are now more than a century past; decline began in the early twentieth century, when this route was augmented by C&NW’s low-grade Adams Line (via Milwaukee), which became a preferred route for through freight and fast passenger expresses.
It was severed as a through line in the 1980s.
As mentioned in an earlier post, on this July 2016 day John Gruber and I were following Wisconsin & Southern’s Madison to Reedsburg freight.
Some photographers might object to the railroad’s choice of motive power: an SD40-2 operating long-hood first. I recall the wisdom of my late-friend Bob Buck who reminded me once many years ago, ‘The railroad isn’t operated for your benefit.’
(In other-words; if a long-hood forward SD40-2 is on offer, that’s what there is and so make the best of it.)
Compare these images:
In one, I’ve adjusted the contrast to compensate for a cloud that momentarily softened the noonday sunlight. In the second, I’ve worked with depth of field and focused on trackside weeds instead of the locomotive. In the last, I’ve included fellow photographer John Gruber to add in a human element.
When I learned to use my old mechanical Leica there were three primary controls on the camera; a ring to adjust the focus (gauged with the aid of range finder using a ghost image overlaid on the main image); dials to adjust the shutter speed; and a ring on the lens to change the size of the aperture (lens hole) as indicated by a logarithmic scale with ‘f-stops/f-numbers’.
Other than merely pointing the camera, I needed to understand how these controls worked to make successful photos.
Today most imaging making devices take care of details such as exposure and focus, allowing image makers to snap away without concern for the mechanics.
In many instances this freedom facilitates the ability to make photos quickly and with relative ease. Yet, this loss of control steals from the photographer crucial tools.
I still like to set my aperture manually. This has less to do with obtaining the correct exposure (since in camera metering can quickly suggest or set appropriate shutter-speed/aperture combinations) and more to do with adjusting the depth of field to manipulate my composition.
A detailed discussion of how the f-stop (f-number) is determined on a lens and what the numbers mean can fill a textbook.
What is important here is knowing a few basics, such as; a smaller f-number represents a larger aperture size and, but more importantly, how you can use this.
As the size of aperture is increased more light is let into the camera, however with a big hole comes a decrease in depth of field (relative focus); conversely, the smaller the hole size (larger f-number), the less light and the greater the depth of field (relative sharpness between near and far objects).
By using a larger aperture (small f-number, say f1.4) the relative focus will be narrow, with those points not in focus appearing relatively soft compared with the subject in focus.
This relationship becomes exaggerated with longer focal length lenses. Where a super wide angle lens offers great depth of field even with a large aperture opening (small f-number), a long telephoto lens will offer relatively shallow depth of field even when using a small aperture (large f-number, say f16).
While the f-number may used as a constant gauging mark, what is most useful is controlling the degree of relative focus to achieve a desired effect.
Personally, I like the effect of a long lens with relatively shallow depth of field because this allows me to draw the eye of the viewer.
As with many successful stories, it often helps to lead your audience on an unexpected path before giving them what they want. I’ll often tease a viewer by leaving some crucial element of an image just beyond the range of sharpness, while placing the focus on something else, like say a railroad signal. Or vice versa.
Tracking the Light offers daily discussion on Photography.
I can’t say its a first; but it is the first time in awhile that I’ve been on Amtrak 448 (Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited) when it departed Albany-Rensselaer station precisely on schedule—3:05pm.
Things have certainly improved. Hooray for Amtrak!
I made these views using my Lumix LX7 this morning east of Cleveland, Ohio on the old New York Central Water Level Route from Amtrak 48, the Lake Shore Limited.
I up-loaded them to my laptop, processed in Lightroom (to add my name and scale the file) and transmitted them to Tracking the Light a few minutes ago while riding on the train over the Boston & Albany.
On my 1984 visit to Chicago I’d made photos and traveled to/from the old North Western Station.
Wow, have things changed.
Yes, I’ve made some visits between then and now, but it’s been a long time.
The old station was torn down not long after my first visit and replaced with an epic glass box. Today, this is known as the Ogilvie Transportation Center.
In the mid-1990s, about the time that Chicago & North Western was folded into Union Pacific, the station’s Bush train sheds were demolished and replaced with more modern platform coverings. I made a few photos during that transition.
Still, it seems a bit strange for me to see the former North Western Station in this modern format. My impressions from 32 years ago remain only in my memory and few photos that I made with my Leicas.
In my early days photographing every so often I’d hit upon a great film-camera-lens combination.
You know, just the right set up to make memorable images.
On May 6, 1984, my dad lent me his Leica M3 with 50, 90 and 135mm lenses. For reasons I’ve long forgotten, I loaded this with Plus-X (ISO 125) rather than Ilford HP5 or Tri-X (my typical films choices back then).
More significantly, I decided to use an orange filter to alter the tonality of the film.
I went trackside along the Conrail’s former Boston & Albany and exposed a series of evocative images of trains rolling through the Quaboag Valley.
These photos were much more effective than what I typically achieved with my Leica 3A and 50mm Summitar. I’d made a leap forward.
At the time, I was delighted with the results and on a Friday night brought a stack of 3x5in. prints down to Tucker’s Hobbies (owned an operated by my friend Bob Buck).
Friday evenings were our normal time to convene. And, one of Bob Buck’s patrons, a friend and a well-meaning (published) enthusiast photographer (who is long since deceased and so shall remain anonymous) offered me some free photo criticism..
“Oh don’t use an orange filter, it makes the Conrail paint too dark, and stop using that telephoto lens, it distorts your perspective. Otherwise these are great shots.”
I heeded this bad advice and returned to my older set up. Nearly two years passed before I made another serious foray into the realm of the telephoto for railroad photos.
Also, I largely returned to using unfiltered Tri-X/HP5. (Partially because I’d dropped my 50mm and it would no longer accept filters.)
I didn’t know any better and my magic combination was unraveled before I had time to fully explore it.
Every so often someone will ask if have any regrets. I’m never sure what they’re getting at, but yes, Yes I do.
My regrets? Not learning photography skills more quickly.
I made this photograph in late 1978 (slide mount reads ‘Feb 79’, but if I recall correctly, it was right around Christmas. Prompt processing wasn’t on my agenda back then).
I traveled with my father and brother to the old New Haven electrified lines. We picked this spot and set up. We were all delighted to catch this GG1 with an eastward Amtrak train. I can still feel the excitement when we spotted the old motor in the distance.
At that time I had access to all of my dad’s lenses. We probably had a 90 or 135mm with us at the time. Yet, I opted to use my 50mm.
Why? I just didn’t know any better.
Today, I look as this image and see three elements that I could have put together more effectively; the aged former Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 electric (pantograph first), old New Haven short-arm left-handed semaphores (most American semaphores aim to the right), and winter glint light.
Now, I’d use a telephoto to feature the signals and the electric in tighter more visually pleasing composition. This what I saw at the time, I just included too much dead space in my image and the locomotive and signals are too distant.
At least I was using good glass and Kodachrome film. There’s that anyway.
Tracking the Light explores photography every day.
This afternoon on the way to catch Amtrak 57, the southward Vermonter, my dad and I stopped in for a visit to the Connecticut Trolley Museum at East Windsor for old time sake.
Three cars were on the line today. We went for a spin on a vintage 1902 Brill-built open car.
These photos were exposed using my Lumix LX7, downloaded to my laptop on board Amtrak 57, manipulated in Lightroom, and then uploaded to Tracking the Light courtesy of Amtrak’s WiFi. From my camera to the world: a demonstration of the miracles of modern technology.
Among my themes in Tracking the Light has been; Anticipating Change and Acting on it.
It is easy to sit back in your easy chair and pontificate about the potential for change. Or go from day to day without ever thinking about the effects of change.
Yet, looking back at old photos, what so often catches our interest is how things have changed.
When I was a kid, I’d look back at my father’s photos, exposed 10-20 years earlier and marvel at the changes that had transpired. Amtrak had ended the age of privately operated passenger trains. Conrail and other mergers had swept away many of the classic railroads that appeared in those old images.
Having only lived a few years, it was my mistaken belief that all change was in the past.
Fast forward to 1999. My friend Mike Gardner dropped me in Boston. I was on my way to London and had several hours before my flight. Tim Doherty suggest I make some photos of the Green Line elevated near North Station, which was then due to be replaced.
At the time I thought, “Hmm, but I have plenty of photos of the old El.” True, but these images were already more than a decade out of date. Green Line had introduced a new livery, and most of my views featured PCCs and 1970s-era Boeing-Vertol LRVs.
I made the effort and exposed several color slides of Green Line cars squealing along the old elevated line. I’m glad I did; as predicted the El was removed and these views can never be repeated.
Look around you, anticipate change and make photographs. What you see today may soon be different. Sometimes change is easy to predict; other times it occurs with little warning.