Category Archives: photography

Cola and a Coal Train

Cola Tower is located in Columbia, Pennsylvania along the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s Port Road Branch near the junction with the Columbia Branch that ran from its namesake to Lancaster. The solid brick building has been closed for many years and retains its Conrail-era blue sign. Evidence of PRR’s electrification abounds, although electric operations were discontinued by Conrail more than 40 years ago. However, I can’t claim to be an authority on Cola or this section of the PRR, and I’ll welcome details about its operation and demise.

I’ve visited Columbia on a number of occasions, but until recently, I hadn’t photographed a train at this historically important railroad junction.

Part of the challenge is that Columbia is a difficult place to portray. There is a lot of trackage, but not many vantage points. The second problem is that most of the action occurs in the evening owing to an Amtrak aytime curfew on the North East Corridor, which effectively limits movements over connecting lines.

Now that we are into the long days its is easier to find trains on the move.

My friend Dan Cupper encouraged me to investigate opportunities on this route. Last year, I caught an empty coal train in the morning at Washingtonboro, a few miles to the south.

Now that we are back into the bright evenings I aimed to try again. So, a couple of weeks ago I drove to Cola Tower with Seamus-the-Dog, reaching there about 7:30pm. After a cursory inspection to check sun angles and signals, we set up near the old tower.

I noticed a group of teenagers with phone congregating near a grade crossing, then a young enthusiast showed up wearing a Nofolk Southern T-shirt. He let me know that I was in luck, and a coal train was enroute via the Royalton Branch.

Camera’s in hand I positioned myself in the shadow of the tower. Before long, we could hear the whistle of an approaching train.

I made a series of photos of the passing train as Seamus watched with interest from the safety of the car. Afterwards, my friend and fellow photographer Pat Yough supplied details about the train which was NS’s unit train number 590, running from Shire Oaks, Pa., to Baltimore.

With this success, I’m anticipating more adventures in the area and hope to learn more about photographing this portion of the former PRR.

Tracking the Light by Brian Solomon publishes Daily Explorations into Railroad Photography!

Do the Numbers Matter? Read this one . . .

June 11, 1982, New Haven, Connecticut: Amtrak 903 was a common Amtrak AEM-7. I made this photo of the locomotive during the New Haven engine change, shortly after it arrived from Washington D.C.

My father and I had traveled up from Washington behind 903.

The F40PH that will take the train the rest of the way to Boston South Station is at the left.

What is so special about 903?

At 1:30pm on January 4, 1987, at Chase, Maryland, Amtrak 903 and 900 leading train 94, ‘The Colonial,’ collided with Conrail B36-7s 5045, 5052 and 5044 at a speed of more than 100mph . The engineer of 903 and 15 others were killed in the wreckage. Engines 903 and 900 were completely destroyed.

The locomotive engineer of the Conrail engines survived the wreck without major injury. He was later found at fault for the accident. The details of this accident forever changed American railroading. Veteran railroad crews refer to the time prior to January 4th as ‘BC’ (before Chase).

On June 12, 1982 number 903 was just another AEM-7, and a relatively new locomotive at that.

Exposed on Kodak Tri-X black & white film with my Leica 3A rangefinder.

Tracking the Light Posts Every Day!

Alcos and F-units—42 years ago.

On the morning of June 10, 1982, my father and I arrived at Washington Union Station on Amtrak’s Night Owl having traveled overnight from New Haven in the sleeper.

Working with my 1930s-vintage Leica 3A 35mm rangefinder, I made this selection of black & white photos from the station platforms.

And the topics of interest were the antique Washington Terminal Alco RS-1s and MARC F-units.

My photography wasn’t sophisticated, but today they photos take me back. It was a different world then!

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

On This Day 40 years Ago!

It is rare that I post photos on Tracking the Light that I didn’t expose myself.

It is also rare that I appear in a Tracking the Light photo.

Today, I’m taking a queue from Led Zepplin’s Guitarist Jimmy Page, who on his website often posts photos from the past on the day that marks an personal anniversary or event.

June 9, 1984, I posed with my classmates at Monson Jr Sr High School on the morning of our graduation. (That’s me on the far right with bad hair.)

The photo was exposed by one of our teachers (Mr Murray or Mr Renaud?) using my Leica 3A rangefinder.

I scanned this photo a number of years ago.

Monson, Massachusetts, June 9, 1984.

Tracking the Light Posts Every Day!

Elizabethtown, PA.

It was a fine warm evening when Kris, Seamus-the-Dog and I visited Amtrak’s former Pennsylvania Railroad station at Elizabethtown, PA. According to Kurt Bell, railroad historian, PHMC’s Railroad Collections Archivist and an Elizabethtown resident, the station building dates to 1915, and is situated on a late 19th century line relocation on a high fill.

Kris and I had checked the station on a rainy day a few weeks earlier.

Amtrak has be undertaking a rebuilding of its Harrisburg Line, and there was evidence of this work as well as a variety of track equipment, including a multi-section Loram machine—possibly a rail vac, used for ballast work. The days of the old wooden ties on the main tracks are coming to a close.

I timed our visit to catch westward Amtrak Keystone train 667.

This was running on the near track to avoid the on-going work on the opposite track, which is typically used for westward movements.

Digital images exposed using my Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm and Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm Z-series zoom.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

Hints of Steam over the Fields and Trees.

Must all railroad photos focus on trains?

Is there a place for the elusive?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve made a great many photos of steam locomotives at work in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. This selection hints at what lies beyond. Subtle rather than obvious.

Follow the smoke.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

Coal Train in the Rain

Kris, Seamus-the-Dog and I had spent a productive afternoon along the old PRR Middle Division. It was bright and sunny when we arrived, but thunderstorms had blown in from the west. What started as a sprinkle had rapidly turned into a raging Monsoon.

Looming out the deluge at Thomsontown, Pa., was this eastward Norfolk Southern loaded unit coal train.

I set the camera shutter to a 1/8000th of second to freeze the rain drops.

The rain had falling so heavily that we were beginning to worry about the highway flooding.

Although we took a slightly circuitous route we ended up following the train east to the famed Rockville Bridge. Stay tuned for more!

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

Deluge at Thompsontown

Thunderstorms from the west closed in on us as we drove east toward Thompsontown, Pa., on state highway 333.

It was raining so hard, I could barely see where we were driving. Seamus-the-Dog slept in the back of the car.

“What’s that yellow light?”

“I think it’s a signal . . . no wait . . .it’s a headlight!”

We pulled over near Norfolk Southern control point SIP 143.5 on the Pittsburgh Line at Thompsontown just as a westward intermodal train glided through the deluge unimpeded.

I stopped the car, ran to the back an opened the rear hatch. This provided me a modicum of shelter long enough to photograph the train.

This was some of the hardest rain I’ve ever seen. It was coming down more than 2 inches an hour and the road was beginning to flood.

I set my ISO to 1000, and exposed this sequence with my Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm lens. You can see the individual rain drops in the enlarged images.

Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm lens set at 200mm. F2.8, 1/500th second, ISO 1000
Greatly enlarged section of the above photo. Notice the rain droplets.

I got completely soaked but did my best to keep the camera from getting total drenched.

It was raining too hard to drive, so we waited in the car for until the rain let up. It wasn’t long before we spied another light in the distance . . . .

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

Spring Exploration of the Northern Central

The historic former Pennsylvania Railroad’s Northern Central route between York and New Freedom, Pa., serves as a rail trail with the southern portion also hosting Northern Central Railway excursions.

On a Spring Sunday afternoon, Kris, Seamus-the-Dog and I made a casual cursory inspection of the line. (Last December, Kris and I photographed one of the Northern Central Railway excursions at Railroad and New Freedom, PA).

On this trip, I photographed the static excursion consist in New Freedom, along with a variety of other preserved rolling stock. Then we drove northward, pausing at a few locations to experience the trail and inspect the tracks.

New Freedom, PA.
Former Pennsylvania Railroad GP9 at New Freedom, PA.
New Freedom, PA.
New Freedom, PA.
Preserved PRR N5B cabin car at New Freedom, PA.
Kris and Seamus along the Heritage Rail Trail with former Northern Central route tracks.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

Freights rolling with backdrop of Tuscarora Ridge

The central Pennsylvanian setting near the village of Mexico offers a classic view looking east toward the Tuscarora Ridge, which can be photographed from a variety of angles.

In my earlier posts, I pictured Norfolk Southern freights from the north side of the Underpass Road grade crossing.

As the light changed and thunderstorms approached from the West, Kris and I took positions on the south side of the grade crossing. It began to rain lightly (but heavier rain was coming!)

A westward empty coal train rolled by. This was exceptionally long and featured a mid-train DPU (radio remote controlled locomotives working as ‘distributed power units’).

Not long after this train had gone, an east ward train could be heard. This was slowing for an ‘approach’ aspect. Its relatively casually speed made it easy to photograph. At the back was a single EMD diesel working as a DPU.

These photos were made with my pair of Nikon Z-series mirror-less digital cameras.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

Norfolk Southern on the Main Line

Just a few minutes after the westward freight pictured in yesterday’s TTL post passed Underpass Road in Mexico, Pa., when my Sixth Sense (common to veteran rail-photographers) tingled.

“There’s an eastbound.”

I walked across the crossing with my Z6 with 70-200mm in hand and ample time before this approaching train came around the bend. I set up from a safe distance while, Kris made photos from the south side of the tracks.

Nikon Z6 70-200mm Nikkor Z-series zoom lens set to: 200mm, f4.0, 1/500th sec, ISO 200.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

Middle Division Revisited

One of my first acquaintances with the east end former PRR Middle Division was Easter weekend 1988. I met my old pal TSH in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, having driven south from Rochester, NY where I was studying Photographic Illustration at RIT.

On that trip, I exposed Kodachrome of Conrail trains at Duncannon, Thompsontown, Mifflin and Lewistown. We missed the sweeping curve at Mexico.

It wasn’t until explorations in this area a decade later with photographer Mike Gardner that I first made photos from Underpass Road in Mexico, Pa. (If there was an underpass here, there is no visible evidence of it today).

Last weekend, Kris, Seamus-the-Dog and I revisited this prime photo location on Norfolk Southern’s Pittsburgh Line where the grand sweep of the track in a bucolic setting with the Tuscarora Ridge in the background makes for a favorite place to watch trains.

We didn’t have to wait long before the distant sound of rolling thunder announced the approach of a westward freight.

It was the first of several train that we caught here.

Kris noted that I looked extra happy here.

There’s more to come!

Tracking the Light Posts Every Day!

Pennsylvanians in High Sun

I was hoping to time it right to get the eastward and westward Amtrak Pennsylvanians (trains 42 and 43) passing one another at Bird-in-Hand.

In truth this is a more aesthetic exercise during the winter months when the light is low and the air is crisp. But not all photo opportunities present themselves in the perfect light.

As it turned out the two trains passed by within 90 seconds of one another, so there was no ‘running meet’ for me on this day.

All photos exposed with my Nikon Z7-II. NEF-RAW files adjusted in post-processing using Adobe Lightroom.

Tracking the Lights Posts Every Day!

Railroad Avenue

In the June 2024 Trains Magazine, photographer Eric Williams has an intriguing photo essay on ‘Railroad Streets.’

Following this theme, last week, I made these photos on South Railroad Avenue in New Holland, Pennsylvania.

Road traffic is light in the early evening, which made for a good time for New Holland vignettes. Unfortunately, catching a train here has proved elusive for me. I’ve seen Norfolk Southern’s local working this end of the branch a few times, but thus far I’ve not had the opportunity to picture it on the crossing.

Nikkor Z-series 70-200mm zoom set to 200mm
Nikkor Z-series 70-200mm zoom set to 175mm

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

Final Conrail Photos—25 years ago.

In March 1976, my father brought me trackside for a couple of days to witness northeastern railroading before Conrail assumed operation of most of the large railroads in the region.

Twenty-three years later, we spent two days along Conrail’s former New York Central lines in eastern New York state , documenting the railroad’s final hours.

At the time Mel Patrick and I were writing a column on photography for Trains Magazine. Magazine Editor Kevin Keefe had organized for Canon to send us a selection of cameras and lens to work with. At the time, I was primarily a Nikon user.

These were among the images that I made on May 29, 1999 using the Canon equipment loaded with Fujichrome.

Two days later Conrail concluded its independant Class 1 operations. CSX inherited the lines pictured here.

Conrail SD50 6800 leads NFSE (Niagara Falls to Selkirk, NY) eastbound near Palentine Bridge, New York. May 29, 1999.
Conrail TV79 westbound at Tribes Hill, NY. May 29, 1999.
Conrail westward freights at Tribes Hill, New York. TV203 (on right) is overtaking SENF (on left).
Conrail sunset; former Boston & Albany tracks near Chatham, New York. May 29, 1999.
Conrail sunset; former Boston & Albany tracks near Chatham, New York. May 29, 1999.

Tornado Warning!

Yesterday evening after 830pm (May 24, 2024), the National Weather Service issued a Tornado Warning for Lancaster, PA and vicinity.

Over a span of about 15 minutes, I made this series of photographs looking northward using my Nikon Z7-II. These images were scaled from the in-camera JPG files without adjustment or modification.

The lighting (and the lightning) was very intense.

It’s never a good thing when you see a greenish colored sky.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

Pushing the Envelope: Position Light at Dusk

I drive by this signal almost daily.

It’s not an easy item to represent photographically.

In light of midday, the lights are nearly lost in the inky ring.

At dusk, the lights standout, but they are are easily overexposed which has the unintended effect of desaturating the light color.

A more complicated problem is stopping a fast moving train when the light is optimal for catching the signal lights at their correct density and hue.

Focus is another issue. In this situation, I was working with an f2.8 70-200mm zoom wide open (f2.8). I set my shutter speed manually to 1/640th of a second. According to the camera meter this resulted in about 2/3s stop (-0.7) under exposure. ISO was set to 5000. My focus point was on plane with the signal. The signal and near track are sharp, but the train suffers both from motion blur and being slightly out of focus.

Not a lot of options to do better. But, I’ll keep trying.

Amtrak Keystone train 620 eastbound near Greenfield in Lancaster, PA. Westward signal 64.5 displaying ‘approach’ with amber lights.
Amtrak Keystone train 620 eastbound near Greenfield in Lancaster, PA. Westward signal 64.5 displaying ‘approach’.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

135mm Views of SD40E 6342

I was looking for angles with my Nikkor f2.0 prime 135mm telephoto.

I was aiming to find subjects that suited this lens, rather than the other way around.

Kris and I crossed the tracks at Jefferson Drive near our apartment and spotted a headlight: Norfolk Southern 6342 (originally Conrail 6753) was leading the local freight returning from New Holland, PA.

We paused long enough for me to expose these views of the classic EMD on the move!

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

Conrail SD80MACs at Twin Ledges

May 24, 1997: Conrail had just two years remaining of independant Class-1 operations. The tug of war between CSX and Norfolk Southern to tear apart Big Blue had already begun.

This is among my favorite photos of Conrail SD80MACs. The 30 20-cylinder beasts built by EMD were only purchased new by Conrail. Many were assigned to the Boston Line.

I made this photo of Boston-Chicago intermodal train TV-9 approaching the famous ‘Twin Ledges’—dual rock cuttings on Washington Hill near Middlefield, Massachusetts.

Fuji had only recently introduced a new 100 ISO slide film called Astia. This had a warmer color temperature than either Provia or Sensia. This was among my first photographs with the new film. If this photo look familiar it is because I’ve had it published on several occasions in books and magazines.

Electric in Motion

I like Amtrak’s Siemens Cities Sprinters—the ACS-64s.

These are powerful, sharp looking and fast!

We had a moment, and I knew an Amtrak Keystone train 651 was less than five minutes away and closing quickly. So we paused along the old Main Line at Bird-in-Hand, Pa.

I don’t where ‘Bush,’ Pennsylvania is, but I wasn’t willing to risk trying to get there to find two ACS-64s on the move when I knew one was so close. (Sorry, it’s ‘bad-pun Thursday’!)

Using my Nikon Z7-II, I exposed a burst of photos as the train raced by trying to make up time as it approached its Lancaster station stop. ACS-64 number 668 was working in ‘push’-mode at the back of the consist.

Below are two of my favorites from this effort. These are scaled from the NEF-RAW capture without alterations to exposure, contrast or color.

Tracking the Light Posts EVERY Day!

Secret Weapon

In my arsenal of glass, I have a few secret weapons—lenses that when used properly can execute superior images.

Although I rarely use it, I have a Nikkor f2.0 135mm Defocus lens. This has an extra setting that allows for added control to adjust the out-of-focus effect of the background.

This is also an extremely sharp and very fast lens.

The other day it was cloudy and the light was flat. Kris and I drove over to Strasburg to catch the morning excursion on its run back from Leaman Place. This is a train I can (and have) photographed ‘any day of the week’.

To make something of the dull morning, I made this series of photos with my 135mm Defocus lens. Only with the photo of the observation car did I used the Defocus ring to alter the foreground focus. The effect is subtle but makes for a stronger image.

Exposed with a Nikon Z6 with f2.0 135mm Defocus lens attrached using a FTZ adaptor. ISO 100, 1/800th sec, f4.0. No defocus effect.
Enlarged portion of the above photo to demonstrate the exceptional sharpness of the 135mm f2.0 lens.
Exposed with a Nikon Z6 with f2.0 135mm Defocus lens attrached using a FTZ adaptor. ISO 100, 1/800th sec, f4.0. No defocus effect.
Exposed with a Nikon Z6 with f2.0 135mm Defocus lens attrached using a FTZ adaptor. ISO 100, 1/800th sec, f2.8. Defocus effect set for foreground.
Exposed with a Nikon Z6 with f2.0 135mm Defocus lens attrached using a FTZ adaptor. ISO 100, 1/800th sec, f4.0. No defocus effect.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!


Thirty-five years ago today, I exposed this Kodachrome 25 slide of nearly new New York, Susquehanna & Western DASH8-40Bs in Buffalo, New York.

On May 21, 1989, NYS&W 4038 was leading an eastward double-stack train that had paused at William Street for a crew change. This was during the period when NYS&W was the designated operator of the Delaware & Hudson and had acquired two orders of new GE DASH8-40Bs built to Conrail specs to alleviate a motive power shortage.

Engine 4038 was just a few weeks out of the factory at Erie.

As with many of my Kodachrome 25 slides from this period, the image suffers from a cyan bias. Cyan is a blue-green color that is the opposite of red in common photographic reproduction processes.

After making a hi-res TIF scan, I imported the slide into Lightroom and made a series of minor adjustments to minimize the effects of the cyan bias and high contrast. I added majenta and yellow, while resetting the black point, lightening shadows, and reducing the highlight density. I made these corrections with aid of the Lightroom histogram.

Below are both the scaled but unmodified scan, and my adjusted version.

Unmodified scan of K25 slide. Original exposed with a Leica M2 with 35mm Summicron.
Modified scan.

Tracking the Lights Posts Daily!

Steam with a Cotton Candy Sky

A recent visit to Strasburg, found engine 89 working an extra passenger train.

The setting sun had briefly illuminated the clouds of what I call a ‘cotton candy sky’.

As 89 was uncoupled to begin its run-around, I made this silhouette.

Knowing that I’d make adjustments in post-processing, I exposed the photo manually in order to capture the detail in the sky. The enormous data capture afforded by the Z-series cameras allowed for a two-stop lightening of the shadow areas and considerable adjustments to sky while affording global changes to contrast.

Below I’ve included the NEF RAW file (scaled as a Jpg, but without adjustments to exposure, contrast, color etc) and the final adjusted file.

I’ve also included two screenshots of the Adobe Lightroom work windows to demonstrate how I accomplished some of the corrections.

RAW file without adjustment to exposure, contrast, color balance etc.
Final adjusted file adapted from the RAW NEF file. Note the high level of detail recovered from the shadow areas. This is a single frame exposure and not an blend of images.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

Norfolk Southern at Leola—Variations on a Theme

A cloudless bright morning; the perfect time to picture Norfolk Southern’s New Holland branch local by the old station in Leola, Pennsylvania.

I made three similar photographs using my Nikon Z7-II with 70-200mm lens. In all three I had the lens set to 200mm at f5.6. The difference between them is in the framing with minor changes to the composition.

Which of these stands out from the other two?

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

Christiana and the Puppy

A month ago, Kris and I adopted at Labradoodle puppy. His name is Seamus. Over the last few weeks we’ve been gradually introducing him to railroading.

The other evening we brought him to Christiana, PA., where the old PRR freight house maintained by the Lancaster Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society offers a safe environment to watch passing trains.

Seamus sensed our anticipation of Amtrak’s westward Keystone (train 649) and watched with fascination as it raced by us.

After it had gone he kept staring at the line, hoping the stainless steel beast would come by again.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

Amtrak E60 603—Then and Now.

I am in the process of preparing a book about Amtrak’s rolling stock.

Over the last few weeks I’ve poured over hundreds of color slides exposed from the 1970s until the mid 2010s.

Among them was this view of Amtrak GE-built E60 number 603 leading a New York City bound long distance train on the North East Corridor at Linden, New Jersey on August 1, 1986. I exposed this on Kodachrome using a Leica 3A attached to a Visoflex with Leitz 200mm Telyt telephoto lens.

This locomotive is significant because it was preserved at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, just a few miles from where Kris and I live. We drive by it all the time.

The other evening we paused outside the museum, and I exposed a few digital photos of the old electric using my Nikon Z6.

Amtrak E60 number 603 at Linden, New Jersey on August 1, 1986.
Amtrak 603 catches the evening light at Strasburg, Pa.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

Up Close with Conrail 1966

May 16, 1987 was brilliant sunny day and a great time to photograph Conrail in action.

I was working with a borrowed Canon A-1 with 50mm lens loaded with professional Kodachrome 25 (PKM) and I’d spent the morning photographing Conrail freight on the Southern Tier —what Conrail called the former Erie Route between Binghamton and Buffalo, New York.

At Hunt, New York, I caught up with a westward OIBU (Oak Island to Buffalo) and followed it west. Between Linden and Dixons on the east slope of Attica Hill this freight took the siding and stopped to wait for its eastward counterpart, Conrail’s BUOI.

While the train was stopped, I took the opportunity to make locomotive portraits.

General Electric B23-7 1966 caught my eye because its road number coincides with my birth year.

I scanned this slide using a Nikon LS-5000 scanner. After scanning I imported the TIF file into Lightroom and made a few small changes to exposure, color temperature, color balance and contrast. Below are both the unaltered file (scaled as a JPG) and the adjusted file.

The end of this month will mark 25 years since the end of Conrail as a Class-1 railroad, when its operations were divided between CSX and Norfolk Southern.

This is the un-adjusted file; although scaled for internet, threre were no changes to exposure, color or contrast in post processing.
With this version, I made a few very minor changes to exposure, color and contrast to improve the overall appearance of the image.

Working the Curve

The reverse curves on the old Main Line at Gap, Pennsylvania offer endless photo opportunities.

Amtrak Keystone train 649 is a regular subject for me in the afternoon.

A couple of weeks back, I suspected that train 649 would be worked by ACS-64 no. 642, which specially painted for American Veterans.

I surmised this correctly, however, the locomotive was working the back of the train rather than in the lead (as I would have preferred for photography).

That said, Amtrak doesn’t operate its trains for my amusement, so I made due with the configuration as I found it.

Images exposed using my Nikon Z7-II with 70-200mm zoom.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

Stacks on the old Erie Railroad—36 Years ago

3:36pm, May 14, 1988; milepost 309 (as measured west from Jersey City) near Cameron Mills, N.Y., Conrail intermodal train TV-301.

I exposed this photo in the reverse curves along Conrail’s former Erie Railroad mainline in New York’s scenic Canisteo River Valley east of Cameron Mills.

In the late 1980s, this valley was a favorite place of mine for photographing trains, and I made dozens of trips along the old Erie Railroad during those years.

This image was exposed on Professional Kodachrome 25 using my Leica M2 rangefinder fitted with a Leitz Wetzlar Elmarit 135mm lens.

My exposure was f4.5 1.250th second. While this was my standard ‘full sun’ daylight setting, the resulting slide was about 1/2 stop too dark. This was in part because of the reduced reflective light within the confines of the valley combined with slight backlighting of the train.

After scanning using a Nikon LS-5000 (Supe Coolscan5000) slide scanner, I made a variety of small adjustments to TIF file in regards to color balance/color temperature, exposure and constrast using Lightroom to produce a more pleasing photograph.

One element of this image that’s always annoyed me is the automobile peaking out on the left side of the leading locomotive. It would be a better photo if the automobile was further ahead of the train or totally conceiled by it.

This is a small defect, considering that Conrail (as a class 1 railroad) has been gone nearly 25 years.

This is the un-modified TIF file that reflects the overall appearance of the original PKM color slide. Below is the adjusted scan.
This is the same scan following adjustments to color, exposure and contrast.

Zoom-Pan at Blackhorse

It was a misty evening when I rolled by Strasburg Rail Road No. 89 at Blackhorse Road.

Working with my Z6, I used the Japanese zoom-pan technique to capture the steam locomotive in motion.

This unusual way of making photos, involves working with a comparatively slow shutter speed and simultaneously zooming out while panning the subject and keeping a central point constant and continuing both motions while releasing the shutter. If you stop to release the shutter the effect is lost.

If you look at this image, the sliver of sharp focus centered on the crewman leaning from the engine, while everything to the sides is muted in a sea of motion blur.

24-70mm zoom lens at 53mm, f4.0, at 1/80th of a second, ISO 400. Zoom-range began at 26mm and ended at 69mm.

What really makes this work for me is the combination of blurred drivers-rods down, the glow of the firebox and exhaust from the engine.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

Sunrise at Greenfield

A few days ago I posted an evening glint photograph made with a 35mm lens of an eastward Amtrak Keystone passing Jefferson Drive, near Greenfield in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.


These images were made at sunrise few days later from almost the same vantage point, but using a telephoto zoom (Nikkor Z-series 70-200mm) of eastward Keystone service train 642 (led by Amtrak ACS-64 608).

I thought it would make for an interesting comparison to show how differently a location appears at different times of day and with different focal length lenses.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

Cows and a Mastodon

It was a fine evening at Carpenters (the little cemetery situated near the Strasburg Rail Road crossing of Blackhorse Road).

Kris and our puppy Seamus waited in the car as I set up for Strasburg’s return run from Leaman Place.

Cows populated the fields on both sides of the line. My challenge was that as the laboring locomotive approached, the cows in the field to the left of the line became wary of the noise and began to migrate away from the tracks.

Working with my Nikon Z7-II with 70-200mm zoom, I composed this series of images as engine 475 worked its way west. Leading is engine 475, a former Norfolk & Western 4-8-0—a type sometimes described as a ‘Mastodon.’ It is among the locomotives featured in my new book ‘Steam by the Numbers’.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

SP Donner Pass

In honor of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869, I present this photo I made of a westward SP freight ascending Donner Pass in May 1994.

The train is near the Nevada-California state line rolling approaching a narrow cleft of the Truckee River Canyon that is shared with Interstate-80.

I made the photo using Kodachrome 25 slide film with my Nikon F3T. The train was led by an unusual combination of locomotives, an SP SD45, followed by Conrail SD40-2 6354, another SP SD45, and Cotton Belt DASH8-40B 8047.

Having made dozens of trips over Donner Pass, I’d long eyed this vantage point from the eastward lanes of I-80.

On this day, once I knew the train was on its way up ‘The Hill’ from Reno, I drove west on I-80 from Verdi, then reversed direction at Floriston, California, and carefully timing my arrival at this location, so I could set up from the eastward breakdown lane and catch the train running along the river. (I seem to have neglected this level detail in my notes!)

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

Surprise on Norfolk Southern’s Steelton Local

I spied a pair of Norfolk Southern’s SD40E working west with the Steelton Local near the old Harris Tower. In the distance were the train sheds of Amtrak’s Harrisburg Station. I saw relics everywhere! And yet, the pending surprise was something new.

In this short freight’s consist were several nearly new Norfolk Southern gondolas. These days, seeing new Class-1 carload freight cars is a real rarity. I wonder . . . when was the last time I photographed a new gon?

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!

35mm Sunset Glint

Working with my Z6 with AF Nikkor 35mm f2.0/D attached via a Nikon FTZ adaptor, I made this imag sequence of Amtrak Keystone 618 racing eastward at Jefferson Drive in Lancaster, PA.

I timed my arrival just a minute ahead of the train.

My objective was to see how the traditional 35mm lens would handle the glinting sunset on my Z-series digital camera. I adjusted my exposure manually (aiming for overall underexposure to better capture the effects of the bright sun), then made changes to the camera’s NEF RAW files in post processing to make for overall appealing photographs.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!