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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.)
Looking 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.
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.
Tracking the Light will continue to post everyday!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 . . .
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.
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!
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!
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 . . .
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.
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.