A few minutes ago I scanned this Kodachrome slide. When I went to caption the file, I thought,
“Jan 14th 1989. Wow, that’s exactly 27 years ago.”
So, there you go.
I’d been photographing Conrail symbol freight BUOI-4X (extra section of Buffalo to Oak Island Yard, New Jersey). This freight worked the old Erie Railroad route and picked up re-built New York City Subway cars from the Morrison-Knudsen plant in Hornell, New York.
I made this view at the old Erie Railroad East Hornell Yards that was mostly used for storage of old freight cars. (And yes, I do have some nice photographs of the old freight cars).
Stop for a moment and gauge the passage of time and your relative perception of it.
I made this photograph about 1980. I’d been fascinated by the New Haven Railroad, and what I saw here I viewed then as a relic of times long gone.
The old railroads such as the New Haven were those that my dad had photographed back in the days of sunny Kodachrome.
At the time, I made this view of old New Haven cars at New Haven, Connecticut, I was 13. Conrail was then only 4 years old (formed on April 1, 1976), yet for me even its predecessor, Penn-Central was already a foggy memory.
Looking back now, to me it doesn’t seem so long ago that Conrail vanished (Its operations ended in 1999). And yet, for point of comparison Conrail been gone almost four years longer (17 years) than I’d been alive at the time I made the photo.
What is interesting? What seems old?
In a high-school math class, I once remarked to my teacher, Mr. Ed Lucas, “Time and your perception of time are in inverse proportions to each other. The more time you experience, the faster it seems to go by.”
He replied, “That’s awfully profound for someone your age!”
Before Christmas, I related this story over dinner. However, I was stunned to learn a little more than a week later that Ed Lucas passed away on New Years eve.
It doesn’t seem so long since I sat in his class, and yet in another way it also seems like the dawn of time (or my perception of time)!
(If you are not viewing Tracking the Light, please click on the post to see the variations from Dark to Light.)
Kodachrome was a great film but it had its failings. It’s spectral sensitivity tended to render blue too dark in relation to the other colors.
An unfortunate result of this sensitivity was that at times of high sun, when there is a greater amount of ambient blue light, Kodachrome was both less sensitive and produced an unacceptably constrasty result that over emphasize the already unflattering light of midday.
For this reason, I often put the camera away during midday, or switched to black & white.
This slide is an exception. On June 29, 1989, I photographed an eastward Conrail freight with C32-8(a model known colloquially as a ‘Camel’) passing the old Boston & Albany station at East Brookfield, Massachusetts.
I have many better photographs of these unusual locomotives and superior views of the old station, both of which are now gone. Yet, I’m glad I made this slide.
For years, it remained in its yellow box as returned to me by Kodak. Although sharp, it wasn’t up to par with my slides from the time and so I’d deemed it unworthy of projection.
Today this is a pretty interesting image and through the comparative ease of digital processing, I can compensate for some of the failings of the film.
Using Lightroom, I’ve been able to adjust the contrast, exposure and color balance to make for a more acceptable image.
I’ve presented three variations: the above image is the unmodified scan (scaled for internet presentation); the other two have various levels of adjustment aimed at producing a more pleasing image.
Sometimes small operational anomalies on a railroad will combine to benefit the photographer by opening up different angles or opportunities.
Last Wednesday, delays on Mass-Central’s northward run (owing in part to congestion at Palmer Yard that resulted in a later than usual departure) combined with operation of engine 1750 with a southward facing cab opened some different winter angles on the old Ware River Branch.
I was traveling with Bob Arnold and Paul Goewey and we made the most of the variations in winter lighting along the route.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, over the last three decades, I’ve made many photos along this line. So, I’m always keen to find new viewpoints of this operation.
Low clear sun in January makes for rich colors and wonderful contrast, but also posed problems caused by long shadows.
It is true that carefully placed shadows can augment a scene, but random hard shadows too often do little more than add distractions and disrupt a composition.
Below are a few of the more successful angles I exposed on this southward trip.
While on the roll with Mass-Central, I thought I’d present some more of my latest views. Made over the last week or so, these portray the railroad and its environs in the Ware River Valley.
In my photography and writing, I believe that providing context is an important component of telling a story.
Not all these photos depict trains, but together they are intended to paint a picture of modern railroading in this historic New England valley.
Since Mass-Central’s history is closely tied to the geography and industries that once-populated the Ware River Valley, to relay this story, it is important to capture more than just pretty pictures of the locomotive engine.
The old textile mills, villages, mill-ponds, and local highways all play an important part of the greater story.
Tomorrow, I’ll take a slightly more focused approach and highlight Mass-Central’s southbound run to Palmer. This will feature a variety of classically inspired views in low winter sun.
Someone once said, ‘never photograph by aiming directly into the midday sun’. And, this advice has been melded into the cardinal rules of good railway photography.
The other day, while photographing along Mass-Central’s former Boston & Albany Ware River Branch at Gilbertville, I opted to violate this basic premise of good photography.
Over the years (35 of them) I’ve exposed a great many images of the Mass-Central on its former B&A branch. (A fair few of these images, I feel are indeed quite good, and perhaps border the category of ‘above average’.) So, if I end up making a bad photo (or two), who cares?
My 12mm Zeiss Touit lens is an unusual piece of equipment. Owing to the nature of its design and exceptional high quality glass, I can make photos that frankly wouldn’t work so well with more conventional equipment.
By selecting a very small aperture (f22), I can create a sunburst effect in a clear polarized sky while continuing to retain shadow detail.
So, are these photos good? Will I be fined by the aesthetics police? That’s up to you to decide!
But, honestly, what else would you have me do with a northward train coming directly out of the midday sun? I could have made no photos, but that wouldn’t make for a very interesting post, now would it?
Winter is an excellent time to photograph Mass-Central former Boston & Albany Ware River Branch.
The lack of foliage and a dearth of heavy underbrush opens up angles for photography obscured during the warmer months.
My challenge is to find new views on this railroad that I’ve often documented over the last 35 years.
On Monday, January 4, 2016, I made these views of the southward Mass-Central freight descending Ware Hill on its return run to Palmer.
Here I present two of the sequence of images. Compositionally, I feel the first image works better as it allows the eye to wander from the locomotive at right to the other subjects. The second image places too much emphasis on the left side.
Which do you prefer?
Tracking the Light Explores Photographic Technique Daily!
It was rare glorious sunny day back in September 2015. Irish Rail had a full complement of trains on the move. Catching clean 071 class diesel 077 with the second IWT Liner was a bonus.
I exposed these photos along the Dublin-Cork line at Hazelhatch (about ten miles southwest of Dublin). Special thanks to John Cleary, who advised me on the day’s program, provided road-based transport and suggested some angles.
Photos by the rules:
Sunny day; tick!
Sun at least 30 degrees above the horizon and over right shoulder and positioned for evenly-lit three-quarter view; tick!
Rolling stock nearly free from shadows; tick!
Polls and wires minimized; tick!
View of railway wheels; tick!
shutter speed fast enough to stop the action; tick!
Trees and fences safely in the distance; tick!
Bonus qualifications: nominal elevation, clearly identifiable location and clean equipment.
Points subtracted: zoom lens used instead a prime ‘standard lens’. Digital used instead of film. Colour used instead of black & white. Evidence of people in some of the photos (minus two points, Tsk!)
Everyday Tracking the Light presents new material (qualified and otherwise).
The backyard is always a good place to experiment with a new lens:
See familiar territory in a new way; if something goes wrong, nothing is lost. If you succeed, you’ll know your new equipment’s strengths, but if something isn’t right, you’ll learn how to work around the problem before setting out to photograph less familiar places.
On St. Stephen’s Day, I took a drive up the Quaboag Valley along the old Boston & Albany route and made some photos with my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a new Carl Zeiss 12mm Touit super wideangle lens.
These are some of the digital images I exposed with my new camera-lens combination. I adjusted image contrast in post processing to maximize shadow and highlight detail for internet presentation.
Are these elements insidious intrusions or compositional aids?
The other day I was inspecting a nature photography magazine. Each and every photograph featured a stunning landscape free from the hand of man. Waterfalls and luscious skyscapes, arctic views and verdant forests.
Nowhere were there poles, wires, or tarmac roads. This magazine had portrayed a world free from industry, electricity, commerce, and railways!
Fear not good citizen! Tracking the Light will fill these photographic omissions!
Take for example these images of Pan Am Railways/Norfolk Southern’s intermodal train symbol 22K, photographed in November 2015 near its Ayer, Massachusetts terminal.
A ruinous landscape? Just imagine this scene free from roads, wires, and the hand of man. What would be left to photograph?
I exposed these views of Pan Am Southern symbol freight 28N at Gardner, Massachusetts on the old Boston & Maine Fitchburg mainline.
Dark Clouds on the Horizon.
Heavy wintery clouds were rolling in from the west, yet a few shafts of sun remained. The contrast between the bright sun and billowing churning clouds allowed for dramatic lighting; ‘storm light’.
I was traveling with Bob Arnold and Paul Goewey. Our bonus on this day was catching one of Norfolk Southern’s recently acquired former Union Pacific SD90MACs (a large General Motors model, built to accommodate a 6,000 hp diesel, but in this case powered by GM’s more reliable 16-710 engine with a more conservative rating).
Pan Am’s 28N is a autorack train that drops cars at Gardner and Ayer, Massachusetts. At Gardner Providence & Worcester interchanges, and often P&W’s WOGR (Worcester-Gardner) arrived about the same time as an eastward Pan Am freight.
By the time the P&W arrived at Gardner, the dramatic light had faded, yet the sky was still full of texture.
My photo at Shirley offers the hope of safe journey in 2016, but also a reminder to photographers that 2016 will see the decommissioning of many old signals such as these old General Railway Signal searchlights.
Tracking the Light has been Posting Daily since 2013!
Of these two photos, which do you like best? (only see one photo? click on Tracking the Light for the full post).
As the years ends, I’ve drawn on two clichés; reflection and sunset.
A couple of weeks ago, I exposed both of these images using my Lumix LX7 on the Black River & Western.
Reflect back over the last year? Did you make memorable photographs?
For my sunset image of Black River & Western 2-8-0 number 60, I show a dual transition; the fading light of day is one; the other is the conceptual juxtaposition of the antique world of the steam locomotive with the modern world of tarmac roads, uninspired modern architecture and a proliferation of wires.
‘Something about Norfolk Southern’s 24K, sorry didn’t catch the details,’ I replied.
A call was made; the angle of sun was inspected and Pat made a decision.
‘We can get breakfast, then catch the 24K before it arrives at Morrisville.’
Back in the days of the old Pennsylvania Railroad, the Trenton Cutoff was an electrified freight route used by freights as a shortcut around Philadelphia, that also served to avoid grades and minimize interference between through freight and passenger operations.
This late-era heavily engineered line is comparatively difficult to photograph these days.
Under Norfolk Southern’s modern operations, the Trenton Cutoff no longer functions as it had under PRR.
Conrail discontinued the electrification on the line in the early 1980s; today, the old PRR Main Line east of Harrisburg is largely void of through freight (as it primarily serves as a passenger route for Amtrak Keystones and SEPTA suburban trains).
However, today a few NS symbol freights are routed via old Reading Company lines to Norristown then via a Conrail-era connection to the Trenton Cutoff, thus avoiding the old Main Line. Got that?
Anyway, our quarry, intermodal freight 24K, terminated at yard near Morrisville, Pennsylvania opposite the Delaware River from Trenton. We set up near the yard.
First we scored our breakfast, then we scored photos of the 24K, before moving on to other projects.
Today, December 28, 2015 marks the first anniversary of Amtrak’s final runs of the Vermonter on the old New London Northern line between East Northfield and Palmer, Massachusetts.
Until February 1995, this railroad line had been operated by Central Vermont, which at that time conveyed it to New England Central, which hosted Amtrak’s trains.
Step back 135 years. Before New England Central, before digital photography, Amtrak, or commercial electricity . . .
Poet, Emily Dickinson, today one of the best-known American wordsmiths of her generation, lived just a few blocks from this station.
On occasion Emily Dickinson may have traveled by train from Amherst to Monson, where she’d have visited members of her family who lived there. Perhaps she traveled to other destinations further afoot via connections with the Boston & Albany at Palmer.
Back in 1880 a train journey to Monson was easier than today, since then New London Northern served Amherst with three daily trains in each direction.
Two southward runs from Brattleboro afforded travel to Monson; one stopped at 6:46am, and required a change to a New London train in Palmer, which stopped in Monson at 8:24 am. The other was a through all-stops evening train that departed Amherst at 5:50 pm and stopped in Monson at 7:13 pm. There were similar schedules for northward trains.
Which of these schedules might she have traveled?
Her train’s consist, I imagine, was a light wood-burning 4-4-0 leading a wooden baggage car or possibly a combine coach and a second coach. Track speed was probably about a steady 30 mph, except climbing Belchertown Hill, and likely faster heading downgrade. More research would be necessary to track down the particulars.
Among the lines of her famous poem about her train travels read:
I like to see it lap the miles
And lick the valleys up,
And stop to feed itself at tanks . . .
From this description, it sounds more like the 5:50pm that routinely took water in Palmer before continuing its journey southward. But then, perhaps she was penning her lines about a northward run on its way back toward Amherst. Maybe the water tank mentioned was that located near the Amherst station. Just some educated guesses.
Tracking the Light takes an angle on Literature in an effort to make more compelling images.
Consult your schedules, watch the signals, listen for the hum of the rail, and stay poised.
This is the heart of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, a raceway for passenger action. In between the fast flying Acela Express runs and Amtrak Regional trains are hourly all-stops SEPTA local runs.
Trains Under Wire.
On the morning of December 19, 2015, Pat Yough and I visited SEPTA stations north (east) of Philadelphia on the former Pennsylvania Railroad electrified four-track line. No GG1s today, but we did catch two old AEM-7s.
Tips of the day: stay sharp and remember that the long distance trains (Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Crescent, etc) are not listed in the Northeast Corridor schedule and can run ahead of the posted station times as listed in their respective schedules in the Amtrak National Timetable.
Is it a retro railroad fantasy to make images that resemble those of the late-Reading Era in 2015?
Traveling with Pat Yough, I made this selection of photographs at the former Reading Company yards at Cressona, Pennsylvania in December 2015.
Back in the 19th Century, Philadelphia & Reading consolidated various railroads primarily for the movement of anthracite. In its heyday, this railroad was one of the busiest and most profitable in the United States.
Coal demand and transport has changed dramatically in the last 130 years.
Reading Company’s operations entered a long decline in the 20th century and were finally folded into Conrail in 1976. Reading & Northern emerged as a Conrail spinoff in the 1980s.
Today, using a host of vintage railroad equipment R&N provides freight service and seasonal excursions in the spirit of the old Reading Company. Anthracite remains among the commodities moved by the railroad.
R&N paints its vintage locomotives and some freight cars to resemble those of the late-era Reading Company.
The line between documentation and photo recreation is blurred.
Through select cropping, I can either reveal the nature of the passenger excursions, or at first glance make R&N’s excursions operation appear like a Reading Company freight from the mid-1970s, or even its own weekday freights.
When does documentation become a re-creation? In the case of R&N does such a distinction even matter?
R&N offers a window on the old order, which is a relief for a railroad photographer aiming to step back from the contemporary scene dominated by massive class I carriers with modern six-motor safety-cab diesels moving unit trains of coal, ethanol and intermodal containers, and modern passenger trains.
Tracking the Light Poses Questions and Reveals the Secrets of Photographic Technique—Every Day!
In the hustle to get to where you going, don’t forget to take in the finer points of traveling.
The week around Christmas is one of the busy travel seasons for Amtrak and can be an interesting time to make photographs.
Amtrak’s former Pennsylvania Railroad Station at 30th Street in Philadelphia is one of the nicest large terminals in North America.
I made these photos at 30th St. the other day with my Lumix LX7 while waiting for Amtrak train 148, which connects Washington D.C. with Springfield, Massachusetts. (This is a direct train, and one of the few that still changes from electric to diesel at New Haven.)
After exposure I made nominal adjustments to the RAW files using Lightroom. To clean up the images and make them more pleasing to the eye I adjusted contrast and color saturation.
Slight adjustments can make a photo ‘snap’ which gives that extra something special that helps grab your attention. Extreme adjustments can alter the image and produce far-fetched fantasy images. (Which at Christmas in Philadelphia could be a good thing, right?)
It was a dismal rainy evening two days before Christmas 1988. I had two Leicas. With one I was running some tests on color filtration with a new flavor of Kodak Ektachrome (remember that?) for a class I was taking in color photography.
In the other Leica, my dad’s M3, I had a sole roll of Kodak Plus-X (ISO 125, that I rated at ISO 80).
My pal TSH and I were exploring New York City area transit on one of the busiest travel days of the season, and I was making photos trying to capture the spirit of motion.
Among the images I made, was this photograph of a PATH train crossing the massive lift bridge east of Newark Penn Station.
The other day I scanned this negative and processed the image electronically in Lightroom, where I minimized the dust that had accumulated over the last three decades.
I made my first photographs at the old Lackawanna Hoboken Terminal with my father back in 1976. He made his first photos there about 20 years earlier.
Today, Hoboken Terminal survives as one of the last great waterfront railroad terminals. Perhaps, the last great American waterfront terminal.
There’s no longer a Lackawanna Limited for Buffalo, nor any of the Lackawanna EMD F3s or F-M Trainmasters that my dad saw, but New Jersey Transit’s Hoboken Terminal remains as one of the most atmospheric locations in the New York City area to make railway images.
While I’ve featured Hoboken Terminal previously on Tracking the Light, (see: Hoboken?!) I exposed all of these photos in one morning about ten days ago using my Lumix LX7.
My intent here was no to make one photo, but rather a group of images that capture the character of the place.
This is another of my ‘Then and Now’ attempts from last week’s exploration of Jersey City.
As previously mentioned: my fascination with Pennsylvania Railroad’s Jersey City waterfront terminal at Exchange Place, inspired a family trip to look for vestiges in February 1983. This is my window back in time.
Both my dad and I made a few photos. At the time I was trying to get a sense for how things looked decades earlier. (Pop, had made views of PRR MP54s by day and by night at the old terminal, which by 1983 was long gone.)
Fast forward another 32-33 years, and I find that Jersey City has been completely transformed. Most traces of Conrail’s waterfront track have been replaced by modern development, while NJ Transit’s Hudson-Bergen Light Rail now winds through the city.
Working from my 1983 view at Exchange Place, on my recent visit I spent an hour walking around in concentric circles trying to figure out where I’d made the old photo. How hard could this be?
Complicating matters, I’d only been there once, my father was driving, and my memories from this one visit are a bit hazy.
Yes, I remember the day, and I recall making the photos, but how the various locations related to one another remained a bit sketchy. This was especially difficult because today the setting has been so completely changed that many of the landmarks in my old image are gone.
I’d all but given up. I went for a spin on the Light Rail, and my way back north towards Hoboken, I recognized the setting for my 1983 image.
Now then, how could I have known that my 1983 Exchange Place view was indeed at today’s NJ Transit Exchange Place light rail station!
Construction on the bank building made for a difficult comparison view, as does the Light Rail’s supporting infrastructure: awnings, ticket machines, catenary poles, etc, which precluded standing in the exact same spot.
Actually, the bank building on the left is just about the only common anchor between my two images. Almost all the other buildings in the 1983, including the Colgate-Palmolive building in the distance, have been replaced by newer structures.
And, while there are tracks in both views, these are on different alignments and serve entire different purposes.
I arrived in Jersey City on NJ Transit’s Hudson-Bergen Light Rail a few days ago. While I was checking out some comparative ‘now and then’ locations, I made these photos of the modern cars with my Lumix LX7.
(for those viewing via Facebook or other sites, you’ll need to click the link to Tracking the Light for the full effect.)
Then and Now, I think.
Back in 1983, I was fascinated by the Pennsylvania Railroad’s waterfront operations in Jersey City, especially at Exchange Place.
On a family trip, we spent an hour or so exploring the decay around Jersey City so that I could make photos that I’d ultimately planned to use to build a diorama/model railroad.
23 years previously, my father had made photos at the old Exchange Place Terminal. We had difficulties locating anything definable at the site of the once massive station, but made a few photos around the Conrail former PRR yards.
Over the last year, I’ve taken a few trips through Jersey City on the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail and found the place totally transformed from my mental images of the place stemming from the early 1980s.
So, I decided to try to recreate some of our 1983 angles, and last week armed with maps and photos in-hand I went exploring.
When a cityscape changes beyond recognition, it can be difficult to produce practical ‘now and then images.
I’ll call this, Flushing Line Revisited. My first visit was with my dad about 1968. They’ve changed the cars since then
The New York metro-area generates its own quality of light. By afternoon on this day a mix of high cloud and four flavors of atmospheric pollution had tinted the skylight grayish orange with hints of smoggy yellow.
I made these views with my Lumix LX7 from the Manhattan-end of the double-deck Queenboro Plaza station. The Manhattan skyline looms in the distance.