Here are two views of the same train: led by the same locomotive, at the same location, more or less at the same time of day, exposed using the same camera with the same lens.
Both photos show New Engand Central job 608 led by GP38 3845 working northward in the morning along Plains Road in Willington, Connecticut (south of Stafford Springs).
Photos were exposed digitally using a FujiFilm XT1 with 27mm pancake lens. The slight difference in angle may be attributed to the inconvenience of a mushy snow bank along the road in winter view that was not a problem in the summer.
Make it hard on yourself. Give yourself a handicap, but make it work.
Try this example: Limit yourself to one fixed lens.
Back story: Most camera systems these days give you a wide-range zoom that allows you to easily adjust the focal length from wide-angle to telephoto. This is convenient, too convenient. So how about forcing yourself to use just one fixed focal length lens, regardless of the circumstance.
Back in the day, many beginning photographers started with a camera and just one lens. Some photographers were happy to use one focal length for all their photos.
What do I mean by fixed lens? I mean a prime lens; in other words a lens with non-adjustable focal length, so not a ‘zoom lens’. Fill the frame as you see fit; you might need to walk around a bit to make your composition work.
So why not give it a try. Pick a lens, maybe a 50mm, but make it work.
In my examples, I was using a prime 90mm lens with my FujiFilm XT1.
It was a bitterly cold morning just after sunrise when I made these views looking across a field off Route 67 east of Palmer, Massachusetts (near CP79, the control point 79 miles west of South Station, Boston, that controls the switch at the east-end of the control siding at Palmer.)
All were made from the same vantage point.
I was working with two cameras. My FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm telephoto, and my Canon EOS 7D with 40mm pancake.
The exposure, color profiles and color temperature of the cameras were set up differently, which explains the slight difference in overall density and tint.
On the previous day, CSX B740 had interchanged a healthy cut of cars for Mass-Central at Palmer, Massachusetts. So I surmised that this would be a good time to catch Mass-Central working both of its GP38-2s together.
Paul Goewey and I arrived in Palmer early, and once we were sure Mass-Central was ready to head north up their line toward Ware (old Boston & Albany Ware River Branch), we began scoping photo locations.
Although brisk and cold, the sun was clear and bright and there was a good amount of snow on the ground.
We set up at the Main Street Crossing along the valley’s namesake river. We didn’t have to wait long before we heard the train coming up the line.
These views were exposed using my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm lens.
I knew it as the Boston & Albany and Central Vermont diamond in Palmer (diamond describes the shape of rails made by the angled level crossing of the two lines). I made my first photos at this location before I entered 6th grade.
Fast forward to January 2, 2018. I stepped out of the car at Palmer and with the crisp winter air I could hear a train approaching eastbound.
So often my ears have alerted me to a train. In this case the two-cycle roar of classic EMD 645 diesels.
I ambled toward the diamond and made these views. Over-the-shoulder light, with rich mid-morning sun, at a readily identifiable location; nearly perfect.
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 with 27mm lens, I exposed a sequence of images designed to mimic the angle I’d used here many years earlier.
Back in the early 1980s, Conrail routinely assigned GP40-2s to road freights on the Boston & Albany. Back then I ignorantly dismissed the GP40-2s as ‘boring’. (But, I made photos anyway).
Today, being older and wiser and having a greater appreciation for locomotives of all kinds, I look back fondly on those olden times.
Luckily, I don’t have to go too far to find GP40s on the move. CSX still assigns vintage GP40-2s (albeit modernized) to the Palmer, Massachusetts local freight, symbol B740. (On the old Boston & Albany).
I see these locomotives as classics, yet still earning their keep, and wearing modern paint.
Last week when I exposed these views of CSX B740 at CP83 near the old Palmer Station, it was bright, but partly overcast midday with diffused high sun. Snow on the ground helps lighten the shadows—Decent, if not perfect, conditions for photographing locomotives.
Sun and freshly fallen snow makes for a nice setting.
New England Central job 608 was making its way from Palmer back to Willimantic with about 20 cars of freight.
In the lead was one of the railroad’s original GP38s, still wearing the classic blue and yellow livery that was applied to these locomotives at the time of New England Central’s start-up in 1995.
I made this view at Plains Road south of Stafford, Connecticut.
Although much of the location was shadowed, a shaft of sun on the grade crossing made for photo opportunity with a telephoto lens. I stood back a bit to allow for slight compression effect owing to the longer focal length, and aimed to frame the leading locomotive between the crossing signals.
I set my focus point slightly off-center to hit the locomotive square in the nose.
It was about 4 degrees Fahrenheit at East Brookfield, Massachusetts, when I made this view at 9:38pm on December 31st looking west toward CP64.
The signal had just changed from all red (stop) to red over flashing green (Limited Clear) on the main track.
I exposed the photograph with my FujiFilm XT1 with 27mm pancake lens with the camera mounted on a Gitzo tripod.
Using the ‘A’ mode with aperture set to f2.8, the exposure value boosted by about 2/3rds of a stop, and ISO set to 400, my effective shutter speed was about 5 seconds. A length of time that seems like forever when you are standing alone in the dark with an icy wind in your face.
I checked my exposure and focus and thought to myself ‘good enough’. Which means that if it were warmer, I’d make another image.
CSX’s Q007 was lined west. But opted not to wait for it.
Snow, crisp cold air, and lots of decorative holiday lights: that’s the attraction of Connecticut Trolley Museum’s Winterfest.
Here’s a tip (two really): When making photos in this environment it helps to have a good solid tripod. And, if you going to bring a tripod that uses a clip-on system to attach the camera to the tripod head, IT REALLY HELPS to make sure you have your clip!
Last night, I exposed these photos using my FujiFilm X-T1 firmly mounted on a Gitzo Trip. I planned my visit to the Connecticut Trolley Museum to coincide with sunset, so that I could make use of the last of daylight before the inky black of night set in.
I experimented with my camera’s pre-programmed color temperature settings while also trying various Fuji film color profiles. With one or two images, I adjusted the RAW files to make the most of the scene.
By the time I was done with my first round of photography my fingers were pretty numb.
Warren, Massachusetts is a favorite place to photograph, but also a tricky one.
I used Warren as an example for a similar compositional conversation in Trains Magazine, published about two years ago and featured photo of Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited.
Yesterday (December 29, 2017), I arrived in Warren just in time to set up and catch CSX’s late-running Q264 (loaded autoracks for East Brookfield) race up the grade and pass the recently restored former Boston & Albany station.
Using my FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens, I exposed a burst of images.
I’ve selected three of these, and then annotated versions of the image that I like the best so that you may benefit from my compositional considerations.
There’s no correct answer to composition; in this instance I prefer the more distant view of the train because it better features the old passenger station and the town of Warren; here’s why I feel the composition works:
The combination of snow on the ground, very cold temperatures, and low light make for excellent photographic conditions, if you can bear to be outside.
I exposed this view of New England Central 3476 shortly after sunset in Palmer, Massachusetts.
The snow reflects light from below, thus providing greater illumination of shadow areas that under ordinary conditions would be underexposed at this time of day.
Cold temperatures and clear overhead conditions result in a inversion effect, which traps particulates and other airborne impurities that acts as a light filter resulting in a scene with more red and magenta spectrum than normal.
This effect is intensified at sunset because the sunlight has to pass through much greater amounts of polluted atmosphere because of its relative angle to the ground.
To make the most of these lighting conditions, it helps to set the camera white balance to ‘daylight’, since ‘auto white balance’ while tend to cancel out the effect of the rosy lighting conditions.
Yesterday was pretty frosty when I arrived at Eagle Bridge, New York.
I was just passing though, but made time to expose these photos. Not a wheel was turning, so I made these atmospheric images of the derelict Boston & Maine station and environs, demonstrating that you can make interesting railroad photos without a train.
Two weeks ago, fellow photographer Mike Gardner and I were in Pittsfield, Massachusetts waiting for the arrival of the Housatonic Railroad freight from Canaan.
Standing on a bridge completed in 2016, we were at the center of what had been a massive General Electric plant, but has since been closed and largely demolished.
Somewhere in my older photos, I have a photo of an eastward Conrail freight led by GE diesels passing through this plant that had straddled the Boston & Albany mainline. I also have a photo of the Alco switcher that worked the plant.
The Housatonic freight arrived and paused to make its drop for CSX. The sun emerged from the clouds and I made these views.
For me the train is incidental. The dramatic cloudy sky with the ruins of the GE Plant tell the story. A story so often repeated across New England.
Here are some recent examples of photos gone wrong.
It would be grand if every time I pressed the shutter I made a calendar perfect picture. (If, of course, I wanted to illustrate calendars all day long).
Trains move while I’m trying to make photos. If I don’t get everything set right, move at the wrong instant, or the technology slips up, then the moment is gone by the time I get it together.
Many times I get what I’m aiming for, but sometimes I goof it up.
Yes, I make lousy photos. Sometimes.
Too often the cause of the lousy photo is malfunctioning technology, or my over reliance on automated camera functions. Other times it’s just me. People make mistakes. Luckily no harm comes if I make a bad photo.
The old Boston & Maine Railroad’s Fitchburg route hugs the Millers River east of Millers Falls as it ascends toward Erving and Athol.
Last week, Paul Goewey and I followed Pan Am’s slow moving eastward unit grain train destined for Ayer, Massachusetts. This had been delayed by telemetry communication problems with its tail end.
A radio telemetry unit is used in place of a caboose on most North American freight trains. This communicates air pressure information relating to the air brake system, and can allow the engineer to set train brakes from the rear end in event of an emergency.
Four former CSX GE-built DASH8-40Cs were leading the train.
We set up near Farley’s, located at a grade crossing a few miles timetable west of Erving, where I made these photos of the train working the grade.
Back-lighted conditions accentuated the drama of the ascent by illuminating the locomotive exhaust.
I wanted to write, ‘why sometimes winter is better.’ Except this is a late autumn photo. (If you accept that the Winter Solstice is the defining date for the beginning of Winter.).
On December 6, 2017, Paul Goewey and I arrived at Depot Road in Leverett, Massachusetts several minutes ahead of the southward New England Central road freight, job 611 from Brattleboro.
I was interested in exploring this angle looking toward the rock cut immediately north of the old station location.
I’ve made a number of views from the old station area in summer, when the cutting tends to be obscured by brush and harshly shadowed.
And that’s why sometimes Winter (or late autumn) is better. The lack of foliage combined with diffused light opens up numerous photo possibilities that are impractical when the trees are leafed out and underbrush is thick.
The other night I made this digital photograph of Boston’s South Station.
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 with 12mm Touit, I set the ISO to 1600 and handheld the camera at ¼ sec.
I calculated exposure manually using the camera meter, and then intentionally increased the exposure by about ½ stop. (In otherwords I let in more light to the sensor than recommended by the meter).
In post processing, I adjusted contrast and exposure to control highlights and lighten the night sky in order to overcome two of the common failings of night photographs: blasted highlights and excessive inky blackness.
Amtrak ‘Cities Sprinter’ ACS-64 number 633 tows one of its sister electrics with train 163 as it arrives at Providence, Rhode Island on Saturday, December 2, 2017.
I exposed this view using my Lumix LX-7.
Amtrak’s line at Providence is charmless, but functional. Heavy electrification in an urban environment is rarely picturesque. To make a satisfactory image of a moving train takes patience, skill or both.
This is a routine view of American passenger rails in action, nothing sexy, and nothing complicated or tricky photographically.
Does my cross-lit midday view of a Siemens electric with 1970s-era Amfleet passenger cars work for you?
Autumn sunrise. No two are the same. The mix of clouds and particulates in the air make for endless mixtures of texture and color.
Last week I arrived in Worcester to take the 7am MBTA train to Boston.
I made these sunrise views using my FujiFilm X-T1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit lens handheld.
Working with the RAW files, I made some minor adjustments in Lightroom to balance highlights with shadows and tweak color balance.
The RAW file is not what your eye sees.
Where the in-camera Jpg uses a pre-profiled set of parameters in regards to color saturation, contrast etc. The digital RAW file represents the data as captured by the camera and is comparable to a film negative; it represents an intermediate step that requires adjustment and interpretation to produce a pleasing photograph.
I typically expose both a pre-set in-camera Jpg (often with one of Fuji’s digitally replicated film color profiles, such as Velvia) and a RAW file simultaneously.
In November 2017, I returned to this location in advance of the approaching northward Housatonic freight NX-12 that featured two early 1960s-era GP35s in the lead followed by 32 cars (28 loads, 4 empties) and another GP35 at the back.
I find the railroad setting here fascinating. The combination of the traditional line with wooden ties and jointed rail in a setting of old factories, freight house and passenger station makes for a rustic scene out of another era.
Working with a Nikon F3 with 50mm lens I made a series of black & white photos on Kodak Tri-X. And, I also exposed a sequence of digital color photos using my FujiFilm X-T1.
On a trip to the Pittsburgh area, I made these black & white photos on Tri-X in February 1987 at New Castle, Pennsylvania.
While, I like the effects of back lighting on this westward Chessie System train, I was thwarted in my efforts at producing satisfactory prints.
Complicating my printing problems were edge effects that had resulted in un-even processing that affected the sky highlights more dramatically than shadow areas.
After about a half dozen attempts using Kodak double-weight paper I’d given up.
The other day this roll of 120 Tri-X finally worked its way to the top of the scanning pile, and after scanning at high-resolution, I thought maybe I’d try to work with the back-lit photos using Lightroom to see if I could improve upon my printing efforts from 1987.
Instead of dodging and burning on the aisle, working digitally I’ve applied digital graduated filters to control highlights and shadows, contrast, and the overall exposure.
Two weeks ago I caught Amtrak engine 184 in the Northeast Direct heritage scheme working train number 56 (northward Vermonter).
The light was fading, so I upped the ISO on my FujiFilm X-T1 to 1000 and exposed these views using my 27mm pancake lens.
Although I set the shutter to 1/320 of a second, the relatively fast train still necessitated panning to keep the locomotive sharp. Panning had the effect of setting off the background in a sea of blur and conveying a sense of motion to the photos.
White balance was set at ‘daylight’ in order to better retain the blue glow of dusk.
I made this view of a pair of Pan Am Railway’s recently acquired four-motor GE diesels at East Deerfield Yard.
When they were new in the 1980s, these locomotives were intended for moving intermodal trains at top speed.
Conrail’s B40-8s (DASH8-40B) were routinely assigned in sets of three to trailvan and double stack trains on the Water Level Route, while Susquehanna’s similar locomotives would work its double stack trains on the old Erie Railroad ‘Southern Tier Route’
So, I find it odd to see them now in faded CSX paint at Pan Am’s East Deerfield.
Perhaps, its an appropriate photographic metaphor to picture them in fading afternoon light passing the shell of the old tower.