As a fan of the Erie, I’m drawn to Port Jervis out of curiosity.
Historically this was an important place on the old Erie Railroad. The Erie passed into history years ago, and now Port Jervis is little more than a minor commuter train terminal.
Today, it’s Erie heritage is honored at several locations in the town.
The old turntable west of the Metro-North station was restored in the 1990s. Former Erie E8A locomotive 833 is displayed in Erie paint on the table, with a former Delaware & Hudson RS-3 in a near-Erie livery (lettered for owner New York & Greenwood Lakes) rests nearby.
Several blocks away is the restored Erie Depot and a nearby business styled as the Erie Hotel [http://theeriehotel.com/hotel] that boasts historic links with to Erie passenger travel.
I visited Port Jervis the other day and made these digital photos with my Lumix LX7.
I also a exposed a few color slides and some black & white film (pending processing).
It was a misty January day. I thought, what better time to expose another roll of Foma Retropan 320 black & white film!
I was working with four cameras that day, so these images were just a small portion of my day’s results, but for me by far the most interesting. I was feeling nostalgic and the atmosphere of the moment seemed to lend itself to classic black & white.
The day after I exposed my film, I processed it. Where previously, I’d hand processed Retropan in Paterson tanks, for this roll I used the Jobo (a semi-automatic processing machine).
The Jobo eases processing by keeping all chemistry at a consistent temperature, taking care of agitation by continuously rotating the processing-drum, while simplifying pouring the chemicals in and out of the drum. Also, it makes more efficient use of the chemistry.
With the hand-processed rolls, I had used Retro Special Developer straight (undiluted stock solution) with a 3 minutes 30 second development time. Prior to introducing the primary developer, I pre-soaked in a water bath with a drop of HC110.
For the Jobo-processed roll, I diluted Retro Special Developer 1:1 with water and increased the time to 4 minutes. I also had a pre-bath with a drop of HC110, but like the main developer, this was agitated continuously.
My results were not as I expected.
My earlier experiments with Retropan demonstrated a fine grain film with broad tonality. But this roll had much coarser grain, and yet even smoother tones. At first, I was shocked by the more intensive grain, but in retrospect I’ve decided it adds a quality to the photos that I may not have obtained through other media.
For my next experiments, I’ll return to hand-processing and I may skip the presoak bath with HC110.
Sometimes I take a haphazard approach to photography; I explore and see what I find, then run with what is handed to me. This works well some of the time.
However, I often take a more calculated approach, paying careful advanced attention to weather, lighting and train schedules/operating patterns. Obviously, this works best on railways that make an effort to operate to the schedule.
Back in autumn 2006, fellow photographer David Hegarty and I made several focused trips to Co. Mayo to photograph the Westport Line and Ballina Branch.
On Friday’s the once per week Dublin Heuston to Ballina direct passenger train was scheduled to cross the evening Westport-Dublin daily passenger at Ballyhaunis (one station east of Claremorris.) This meant that the cabin had to be staffed to work signals, points, Electric Train Staff instruments, etc.
I think we made three Friday evening visits before getting it right.
On September 15, 2006, I exposed this trailing glint view of the down Friday Ballina train with a class 071 diesel and Mark 2 carriages meeting a class 201 locomotive leading Mark 3s on the up train to Dublin.
Soon all was to change. The signals were replaced with mini-CTC, the Mark 2s were retired, soon followed by the Mark 3s, and as a result the 071s relegated to freight/per way work.
Yet at the time the most difficult part of this photograph was the lighting! Finding a clear afternoon in Mayo isn’t an easy task.
Special thanks to Noel Enright for arranging for the sun to come out at the right moment.
Some readers might wonder why I persist with traditional black & white photography, when modern digital imaging is easier and doesn’t involve all that messing about with chemistry.
The reasons are simple:
I like tradition. I’ve always made black & white photos and processed my own film. While there have been gaps in my black & white work (usually owing to a lack of adequate facilities), I like the continuity by occasionally working with a consistent medium.
My black & white efforts can achieve desired results that may not be equivalent to images made digitally.
Because traditional black & white photography is more difficult, I feel it hones my image making skills.
I process my negatives in an archival fashion and I scan them digitally. This leaves me with greater chances that the images will survive for generations than images strictly stored on ephemeral digital media.
Some years ago, someone asked me if I had adjusted to the switch to digital photography. I said, “I still haven’t adjusted to the switch to color!”
However, just because I continue with the time-honored tradition of black & white photography, doesn’t prevent me from also working digitally.
As regular viewers know, I routinely expose, present (and occasionally publish) modern digital images. In fact I find that two types of photography complement each other nicely.
For my second roll, I focused on a variety of railway subjects, aiming to see how this film would perform. This one was exposed using a Nikon F3 with various Nikkor lenses, exposure calculated manually with the aid of a handheld light meter.
I made these images in parallel with digital images exposed with my other cameras.
As with the first roll, I exposed the Retropan at ISO 320 and processed it more or less as recommended by Foma.
Again, for this roll I used the Retro Special Developer with shortened the processing time (I opted for 3 minutes 30 seconds plus a pre-soaked in a water bath with a drop of HC110.
Overall, I was pleased with the tonality and tight grain structure. The film has a softer look than other fast black & white films, such as Ilford’s HP5, and a broad tonal range that holds highlight and shadow detail very well.
I scanned the negatives with an Epson V750 Pro flatbed scanner. These images are essentially unmodified scans, except for necessary scale reduction for internet presentation plus addition of my watermark. I did not alter contrast, exposure, tonality, or perform sharpening.
This test went so well, for my next experiment, I decided to significantly alter my processing of the film. Stay tuned for my bold experiment with Retropan Roll 3! (Sometimes changes produce unexpected consequences).
This spectacular train wreck, on the eve of Eisenhower’s inauguration, made headlines in every major newspaper across the country.
Thirty four years ago, GG1 4876—then operated by NJ Transit remained in daily service and routinely worked New York & Long Branch trains between Penn Station and South Amboy, New Jersey .
My father and I intercepted this infamous electric on various occasions in its final years of service.
Here are few 4876 views from my lost negative file; They were exposed in June 1983 with my battle-worn Leica IIIA from my High School days. I processed the film in the kitchen sink using Kodak Microdol-X.
Air pollution, fluffy clouds and very low sun can create some wonderful soft lighting.
Evening glint is a fleeting ephemeral condition.
The Northeast Corridor in central New Jersey is an ideal place to make use of soft glint.
Long tangent sections of track, a favorable north-east to southwest alignment and ample quantities of air-pollution plus very frequent service, allow for excellent opportunities as the light shifts and fades.
I made these photographs at Jersey Avenue in New Brunswick.
Getting the exposure right is crucial for successful glint photos.
I usually use manual settings. I’ve found that when exposing for glint light it is important pay careful attention to the highlight and shadow areas.
I avoid clipping the highlights (as result of over exposure), but also make sure that I don’t stop down (reducing the amount of light reaching the sensor ) too much, which will make the shadows completely opaque.
Over the shoulder light is easy to work with but doesn’t always make for the most dramatic images. When possible, I like to find dramatic lighting and to see what I can make of it.
So here we have an unusual, captivating and difficult lighting situation.
Looking down the New Brunswick, New Jersey station, fellow photographer Pat Yough and I found this brief shaft of light made by the setting winter sun.
Luckily during the few minutes where sun penetrated New Jersey’s concrete canyons we had a flurry of trains to catch the glint.
I made these images with my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a Lee 0.9 graduated neutral density filter to hold sky detail. I made nominal adjustments to shadow and highlight contrast to improve the overall appearance of the images.
It was a warm April afternoon in 1978 when my father and I arrived at Jersey Avenue to make photos.
For me this was a thrill. The long tangent in both directions seemed to reach to the horizon, and the trains passed at tremendous speed.
It was also one of my earliest experiences working with a long telephoto lens.
Pop had fitted his 200mm Leitz Telyt with Visoflex to my Leica 3A.
The Visoflex provided me with an equivalent to an SLR (single lens reflex) arrangement for a rangefinder camera by using a mirror with prism to see through the lens.
Where I was well used to the peculiarities of Leica’s pre-war rangefinder arrangement, using the Visoflex offered a new set of challenges, especially in regards to focusing.
Fast forward to December 2016. Pat Yough and I were exploring locations on Amtrak’s North East Corridor. I suggested Jersey Avenue because I was curious to see if that was where Pop and I had made those photos so many years ago. (Back in 1978, my photo notes were a bit thin).
Indeed it was. So we made a few photos from approximately the same spot before investigating other locations. Compare my December 2016 views with my much earlier attempts.
Czech film manufacturer Foma introduced a new black & white film in 2015 called Retropan Soft (ISO 320).
This is advertised as a panchromatic, special negative film with ‘fine grain, good resolution and contour sharpness’. Among its features are a ‘wide range of half tones and a wide exposure latitude.
I tried my first roll in early December 2016. I have to admit that I was curious, but skeptical. Could this new b&w film change the way I approach film photography? Might it offer something decidedly different than Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP5?
Working with an old Nikon F3 and 50mm lens I wandered around Philadelphia with my brother and exposed a variety of gritty urban images that I thought might benefit from the look advertised by ‘Retropan’.
I exposed my film at ISO 320, and processed it more or less as recommended using Retro Special Developer, with two small changes:
I shortened the processing time (as I generally find that manufacturer recommended times are too long and lead to excessively dense negatives); plus I pre-soaked the film in a water bath with a drop of HC110 (as described in previous posts).
The negatives scanned well, and I was impressed with the tonality of the photographs. I’ve included a selection below.
Please note, that although I scaled the files and inserted a watermark, I have not cropped them or manipulated contrast, exposure or sharpness. These photos are essentially un-interpreted.
Stay tuned for my next Retropan test!
Brian Solomon presents something new on Tracking the Light every day.
The little town of Eagle Bridge is a eerily fascinating place.
Here the old Boston & Maine station survives as a relic, complete with the mast for the old train order signal.
At Eagle Bridge the Battenkill Railroad’s former Delaware & Hudson line connects with Pan Am Southern’s Boston & Maine route via a steeply graded junction. The old station sits between the tracks.
I made these views the other day using my Rollei Model T (with Zeiss Tessar lens) loaded with Fomapan Classic (ISO 100).
I processed the film with a Jobo processing machine and Kodak D76 (mixed 1 to 1 with water) as my primary developer. For added shadow detail, presoaked the film in water-bath mixed with a drop of Kodak HC110.
This was the first time I tried Fomapan 100 in the 120 size format (the Rollei makes 2 1/4 inch square images). These negatives demonstrate great detail, but they needed some nominal adjustment in post processing using Lightroom to manipulate contrast/exposure.
All things being equal I like my chemical process to yield negatives that don’t require post–processing adjustments. However, that level of refinement usually requires a bit of experimentation when using an unfamiliar emulsion type.
Here’s another case of dumb luck. The other day, when Mike Gardner and I headed for Pan Am Southern’s Boston & Maine at East Deerfield, we had vague notions that we’d follow one of their trains.
As with many of our photographic adventures, our plan was little more than a loose agreement that we’d explore and make photos. Mike does the driving, I help with the navigation and interpreting the scanner.
I’d brought a wide selection of cameras, including two Nikon film cameras and my old Rollei Model T for black & white work.
Early in our day we bumped into some fellow photographers who tipped us off on the westward approach of empty autorack train 287 led by Norfolk Southern 1069 painted to honor the old Virginian.
The Virginian is long before my time. It was melded into Norfolk & Western 7 years before I was born. However, I was familiar with the line through my father’s color slides.
As the day unfolded we learned that we had a pair of westward trains to work with. As noted in yesterday’s post, Pan Am’s EDRJ was working with recently acquired former CSX DASH8-40Cs. Initially, it was 287 with the Virginian painted locomotive that caught our attention.
Horace Greeley’s advice played out well that day! (But we aren’t as young as we were once).
Back in 1989, the DASH8-40C was the latest offering from General Electric. In April that year, I photographed some glistening Conrail units at Buffalo’s Bison Yard. Some months later I was delighted to catch a freshly painted CSX DASH8-40C working on the old Baltimore & Ohio at Deshler, Ohio.
Fast forward to 2017; reports of Pan Am’s recent acquisition of 20 former CSX DASH8-40Cs has interested New England railroad observers. I’ll admit, I find it strange that these locomotives causing such a stir.
On Thursday January 5, 2017, fellow photographer Mike Gardner and I visited Pan Am’s East Deerfield Yard (located near Greenfield, Massachusetts).
Upon our arrival, we saw road freight EDRJ (East Deerfield to Rotterdam Junction) getting ready for its westward journey. In the lead was a pair of the ‘New’ DASH8-40Cs.
I learned that this was the first run of these locomotives since arriving on Pan Am a few days earlier. Not to waste an opportunity we geared up for some photography.
And, yes, among the trains we photographed that day was EDRJ (always a favorite train to catch on the scenic westend of the old Boston & Maine). We followed it all the way to Eagle Bridge, New York, ‘new’ GEs in the lead.
Below are a few of the photos I made using my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera. While we made the most of these old ‘new’ locomotives, in truth we probably would have photographed Pan Am’s EDRJ regardless of its motive power.
Still, I’ll be keen to see these old goats painted in Pan Am blue and white.
Someone in the administration office at Monson High School may have noted my absence.
But the freshly fallen snow and Alco RS-11s working the road freight to New London distracted me. Really now, I think that making this sequence of photographs was more important than sitting around in some old classroom.
Now, 34 years later I still don’t think I was wrong. Do you?
During January 2017, I’ll have an exhibit of railway photography at the Valley Photo Center in Springfield, Massachusetts. The show will run from January 3 to January 28th in the Tower Square mall (formerly Bay State West) in downtown Springfield. The address is: 1500 Main St, Springfield, MA 01103, USA
The exhibit will feature photographs spanning two decades from the late 1980s to 2008, and depict trains in a variety of settings.
Among my underlying themes are scale and environment. Consider the contrast between the view of a light rail tram crossing the Danube in Budapest and the very large print of a freight car wheel in West Virginia.
Highlights include a Conrail stack train crossing Pennsylvania’s Starrucca Viaduct, and Union Pacific freight rolling through California’s Feather River Canyon at the North Fork Bridge.
This is a rare opportunity to buy my framed photography. All prints displayed are available for purchase.
A reception will be held on the evening of Friday, January 27, 2017 between 5:30 and 8:00pm. I’ll be there to give a live slide show (with real 35mm color slides!) Refreshments will be served.
This reception is scheduled to coincide with the Railroad Hobby Show in West Springfield, just across the Connecticut River.
The other day my brother and I drove along Philadelphia’s Girard Avenue on the way back from an errand.
This gave me the opportunity to make a few photographs along the way.
I had two cameras to play with. A Nikon F3 with 24mm lens loaded with Fomapan 100 Classic, and my Lumix LX7.
Inspired by my monochrome successes earlier this month, photographer Mike Gardner had encouraged me to make more Philly streetcar photos using black & white film, and so that’s what I did.
But, as you read this the images on film are still latent. As I worked the F3, I also popped off a few digital photos with the LX7. While anticipating the black & white, we can enjoy the digital images.
Not only does the LX7 produce instant results, but it’s a flexible tool with a very sharp lens.
Film versus digital? How about having your cake and eating it too?
My FujiFilm XT-1 has an adjustable rear screen that allows me to hold the camera very low. The heads up display includes a line-level and exposure information that greatly aid in making action photos from a low angle.
I made these images of a southward Amtrak train near Manitou, New York from Mine Dock Park on the far side of the Hudson River (near Fort Montgomery).
Keeping the camera low to the water offers a more dramatic perspective.
By classic definition a Railroad station is the designated place where the railroad conducts its business. It may, or may not involve a structure.
Too often the station-building is confused for the station itself.
This may seem pedantic, but it leads to both linguistic problems and logistical complications.
Take the old New York Central station building at Garrison, New York. It’s now been repurposed as the Philipstown Depot Theatre. It still looks like a railroad station, but it isn’t one any more.
Today’s Metro-North Garrison station is nearby; this is a modern facility with an ugly overhead footbridge and high-level platforms. The old building is fenced off from the tracks with no access to the line.
I made this view the other day at Garrison, New York on the old New York Central Hudson Division.
The combination of my elevated angle, soft lighting, unusual track arrangement with a short tunnel, plus a clean Amtrak Genesis dual-mode locomotive make this scene look like a well-executed model railway.
My Leica was loaded with Kodachrome 64 on December 28, 1985. I was traveling with Brandon Delaney. First we photographed Boston & Maine local freight ED-4, seen here just north of the Brattleboro yard.
Later in the day we caught road freight CPED coming down from it’s interchange with Canadian Pacific. This was a big freight led by 5 or 6 GPs and we followed it all the way to East Deerfield yard.
K64 was an excellent film, but tended to have a magenta bias, as evident in this wintery view. Also, I found that the sky tended to reproduce a bit lighter than other films. By mid-1986, I’d largely switched to K25 for my color work.
In May 1992, I was on my way back to San Francisco from a visit to Southern Pacific’s Siskiyou Line. I stopped at SP’s Redding Station and made this afternoon image of a locomotive reflecting in the window.
Someday, someone might want to know what the Pacific Bell shelter was for, and wonder about the curious device positioned within!
Notice that I carefully included the station name in the view.
I exposed this on Kodachrome 25, which was a good film for daylight scenes but tended to do a poor job of rendering shadows. Yet, because the shadow areas under the station canopy are a bit dark this effect helps emphasize daylight on the locomotive reflected in the glass.
How would I make this photo digitally? First of all, I’d preset the white balance to ‘daylight’ rather than use the automatic setting. This would give the shadow areas a slight bluish tint, while maintaining more natural colors in the reflection.
Secondly, I’d set the exposure manually, and pay careful attention to the density of window reflection, while allowing the rest of the scene to go a bit dark (about ½ half stop).
Over the last 39 years I’ve exposed countless hundreds of photos of trains rolling through Palmer, Massachusetts. But that’s not stopped me from continuing the exercise.
Friday, December 23, 2016, I was at CP83 near the Steaming Tender restaurant, when the signals lit up: high green on the mainline for a westward move. That was my cue to get ready.
The previous day I’d gone fishing through the camera cabinet and found an old Nikkormat FT. Perfect! I loaded this up with some HP5 and set out making photos old school. It had been 20 years since I last worked with Nikkormat. I fitted it with a vintage Nikkor 24mm lens.
With this antique in hand I set up a shot by the old Palmer Union Station (Steaming Tender) using the building to partly shade the rising sun. I’d misplaced my handheld lightmeter, so I used my Lumix LX7 to help gauge the exposure.
This was a tricky, I wanted the sun light to be set apart from the skylight and normally this requires a bit of underexposure. But I didn’t want the front of the locomotives to become completely opaque. Ideally, I’d want there to be some detail in the shadows.
As the headlight of a westward freight appeared to east I was still dithering over my exposure. Ultimately I settled on f11 1/500th of a second.
The trick to bring up the shadow detail was more a result of my processing technique. I needed to retain enough detail in the negative to work with, but once that was established on site, the rest of the work was with the chemistry.
I’ve described this a few times in recent months, but I’ll mention it again:
Before the main process, I prepare a ‘pre-soak’. In this case, I used a Jobo semi-automated processing machine with continuously reversing agitation.
My ‘presoak’ bath consisted of about 200ml of water at 74 degrees F (pardon my mixing of measurement standards) with a drop of Kodak HC110 (about 2-3 ml of developer solution), plus some Kodak Photoflo.
I let film presoak for about 3-4 minutes. Long enough to let the emulsion swell and for the minimal quantity of developer to become completely exhausted. This has the effect giving the shadow areas proportional more development than the highlights, while getting the processing reaction going.
For my main developer, I used Kodak D76 mixed 1-1 with water at 69F for 9 minutes. (This is less than the recommended time of about 11 minutes).
Afterwards I scanned the film using an Epson V750 at 4800 dpi. The photos presented here are scaled in Lightroom from my hi-res files.
No good? Don’t like it? No problem, I can go back and try it all over again!
Tracking the Light Discusses Photography Every Day!
A little while ago, I was thrilled to receive my advance copy of the February 2017 Trains Magazine that features my first monthly column (see pages 18 and 19). This is illustrated by a photograph my father exposed with his Leica M on Ektachrome in Livingston, Montana.
Yesterday (December 23, 2016) dawned clear and bright. Everything fell into place nicely, and without too much effort on my part, I made some nice photos of a New England Central (NECR) empty ethanol extra rolling through Monson.
Lately it seems that the elusive loaded ethanol trains tend to reach Stateline Hill in darkness. Over the last few weeks I’ve heard a number of these heavy trains laboring up the grade.
So, I was happy to catch this move. Not only was it the longest train I’ve photographed on the NECR in Monson, but it was my first time catching Providence & Worcester’s relatively new SD70M-2s.
Now that P&W and New England Central are both part of the Genesee & Wyoming family, perhaps these big locomotives will make more frequent appearances on the NECR line over Stateline Hill.
The old New Haven Railroad station at Berlin, Connecticut was a local favorite. Until recently, it was among the last small staffed Amtrak stations with an historic structure in southern New England.
My friend, and Tracking the Light reader, Bill Sample was a regular Amtrak Station Agent at Berlin. For me Berlin was like stepping back to that earlier era, when the small town station was the portal for travel. Bill would often help me plan trips and buy the most effective ticket for my travel plans.
The station itself was a gem. The interior retained characteristics of an early twentieth century station, complete with chalkboard arrival and departure information and rotating ceiling fan.
In recent months, the old Berlin station had been closed as part of double-tracking between Hartford and New Haven and related station renovations and construction of high-level platforms. The old building was to be integrated into a modern facility designed for more frequent service.
Wednesday (December 21, 2016), Otto Vondrak sent me the sad news that the old station had been gutted by fire. Media sources reported that the building was a ‘total loss.’
These Lumix LX3 digital photos show the building as I remember it in recent years.
The photographic lesson is: never take anything for granted no matter how familiar it is. Someday it may be gone without warning.
A couple of weeks ago, I bought an old Zeiss Ikomat folding camera for just $17.20 at a local antique market. The camera was in full working order, although I needed to sort out a couple of light leaks.
What makes this camera special is its f4.5 Zeiss Tessar lens. This is an exceptional piece of glass. Also important was the camera uses 120 film, rather than some variety of roll film that’s no longer commercially available.
I exposed this view at Gilbertville, Massachusetts on Sunday using Ilford Delta 100. I processed the film using a Jobo semi-automated processing machine with Kodak HC110.
My process includes a two-bath developer beginning with a very dilute water bath and a drop of HC110 at 74F, followed by HC110 mixed 1-32 for 4 minutes 45 seconds at 69F.
Here’s another view from my ‘lost negative file’. It captures Amtrak 448, the eastward Lake Shore Limited approaching the Quaboag River bridge between Palmer and Monson, Massachusetts.
I exposed it in mid-December 1983. It was on the same roll as a group of photos from a Monson High School dance that I’d made for the yearbook and members of the band.
Since the envelope read ‘Monson High Dance,’ it was too easily ignored in later years. Also, and more to the point, it was mixed in with another hundred or so rolls that had been misplaced during one of my periods of extended travel in the late 1980s. For years all I could find was a lonely proof print of this scene.
I’m improving my filing system now, but it’s taken a few years!
This photo appeared in Pacific RailNews/RailNews not long after I exposed it on Kodachrome 25 in October 1996. [Click on Tracking the Light for the full vertical image.]
The Twin Ledges is a classic photo location a mile or so west of the old Boston & Albany Middlefield Station in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts.
Conrail’s SD80MACs were an unusual modern locomotive because they were powered by a 20-cylinder variation of EMD’s 710 diesel, rated at 5,000 hp. They arrived only a few years before Conrail was bought and divided by CSX and Norfolk Southern.
Although their operation on the old B&A was short-lived, they were oft photographed (by me anyway).