My author’s advanced copy of the July 2018 Trains has been eagerly awaited.
In addition to my monthly column, I authored and illustrated two large feature articles.
The first is a detailed nuts and bolts discussion on Positive Train Control signaling, the second a travel guide to one of my favorite places: Germany’s Rhein.
I’m extremely pleased with how both stories turned out. Special thanks to my hosts at SEPTA for allowing me to better understand the intricacies of their modern signaling. And thanks to everyone at Trains Magazine for bringing these stories to print!
Bad timing, poor exposures, lousy composition and blurred images can all result in missed opportunities.
Was it human error or an equipment malfunction? You got to the tracks in time but your camera didn’t perform as expected. Is there something wrong with your camera, or was it simply set the wrong way.
There’s the moment of frustration when you press the shutter release and nothing happens, or the auto focus goes haywire, or you realize the camera is in a ‘mode’ and not the right one for making railway pictures—All well and good if you have time to resolve the problem, but if a train is passing at speed, you might end up with regrets rather than results.
Even if you are an experienced railroad photographer, you should take the time to learn the peculiarities of your equipment and double check the exposure and focus settings BEFORE you expect a train to enter the scene.
Earlier, were you using the self-timer? Be sure to turn it off again before you expect to use the camera for making action photos.
Why was the camera set to manual? AND why was it a f22 at 1/8000 of a second?
If you don’t know why, that’s going to be a problem. So step back and go over the basics. Or rely on ‘automatic’ modes until you have the time to cover that properly
Locomotive headlights can confuse camera autofocus systems. The result may be that at the very moment you need to rely on autofocus, it fails you.
One potential solution, if the autofocus starts hunting wildly quickly point the camera away from the headlights and allow it to find a focus point, then point it back at your subject.
Another solution: before the train arrives in the scene, auto focus on a preset point, then switch the autofocus off so that it won’t attempt to refocus at the last minute.
Autofocus problems tend to be more acute on dull days and in low light.
I’ve been making photos at the Junction at East Northfield since the 1980s.
The other day, on the third visit in two weeks to this iconic New England location (where New England Central’s line connects with Pan Am Railway’s Conn River route), I had a reckoning.
It occurred to me that railroad timetable ‘East Northfield’ is actually north and west of the town of Northfield, Massachusetts.
How is this possible?
Some Highway maps show railroad ‘East Northfield’ in West Northfield.
This timetable location has been called ‘East Northfield’ since the steam era, and the present NECR sign reflects this historic geographic incongruity.
No doubt at some point in the future, the geography will be retro-actively re-written to accommodate this oversight on the part of historic railroad timetable writers. What will they make of my captions!
For nearly 35 years, locomotives have worn Guilford gray and orange paint. The scheme is has been out of vogue since introduction of the new Pan Am liveries about ten years ago, yet a few of the locomotive are still working in the old paint.
I made these views of GP40 316 working local freight ED4 hauling state-owned ballast cars southward at Hillside Road in South Deerfield.
Exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1 with 90mm Fujinon telephoto lens. I opted for the ‘darkside’ angle in order to better feature the hills in the distance (that make this a distinctive location) as well as the tie-piles that indicate the improvement to the track is on-going.
Yes, I’m trying to pick a title that will get you to read this post.
I could call it ‘Fast Train on the Bridge’ or ‘Amtrak on the New Haven’, or ‘What? NO! Not Westport, Again!’ Or perhaps the accurate, if opaque, ‘Trailing View over the Saugatuck.’
In late April, I made this trailing view of a Boston-bound Acela Expresstilting train crossing the former New Haven Railroad draw bridge at Westport, Connecticut.
By working from the outbound Metro-North platform in the evening, I cross lit the train for dramatic effect and to better show the infrastructure.
Cross-lighting, is when the main light source (the sun in this case) primarily illuminates only the facing surface of the subject, while the surfaces are bathed in shadow. This presents a more dramatic contrast than three-quarter lighting, which offered relative even illumination across the subject.
Cross-lighting is often most effective for railroad photography when the sun is relatively low in the sky. In this instance the compression effect that results from the long telephoto lens works well with the cross lit train.
Exposed digitally using a FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens. To make this photo work, I had to carefully mind the shadows from catenary polls so they didn’t appear to interect the sloping face of the Acela Expresstrain set.
Next up for my 20 years in Ireland/class 201 numerical retrospective is old 208/8208: to be different, I’m posting views of 8208 (one of two Class 201s owned by NIR for Enterprise service) working a variety of trains but not the Enterprise!
Originally, the locomotive was number 208, and it had been painted in an attractive NIR blue livery, similar to the 111-class diesels.
I made these views from the station platform at Grindelwald, where the Bernese Oberland Bahn (BOB) meets the Wengernalpbahn. The Wengernalpbahn drops into the valley toward Grindelwald Grund, where the line reverses for the steep rack-aided ascent toward Kleine Scheidegg.
This was among the many lines Denis McCabe and I photographed in Switzerland that week.
In my book, I offer a variety of useful and practical advice for traveling European railways, while highlighting scenic journeys, interesting routes, and some of Europe’s most interesting cities and towns. The book compiles more than 20 years of European travel in to just over 400 pages.
Dublin’s Loop Line is a difficult bridge to picture trains upon owing to a high degree of foreground and background clutter, complex lattice girder construction, and brightly coloured graffiti.
Tank locomotive number 4 is an awkward mass and largely painted black that makes for a hard subject to picture satisfactorily, even on a good bright day.
It wasn’t a bright day; the lighting conditions were flat (low contrast) and bland.
Further complicating matters, there wasn’t more than a few seconds warning before the train entered the scene, so I needed to be poised.
Friends on board assisted my timing by keeping me up to date as to the location of the train.
I made my views from the Rosie Hackett Bridge (opened in 2014) looking down river toward Dublin Port.
Rather than work with a zoom, I opted for my fixed focal length 90mm telephoto on my FujiFilm X-T1. This gave me a wider aperture, allowed for shallow depth of field to help distinguish the train from its background, and is a very sharp lens corner to corner.
As the train clattered across the bridge I made several exposures, trying to minimize the distractions of bridge infrastructure and background clutter.
Although these are nice attempts, I’m not 100 percent satisfied, but without better light and an elevated view, I’m not sure how I could have made substantially better photos.
As part of my 20 years in Ireland/201 numerical retrospective, I’ll offer just a couple views of Irish Rail 203.
My memories of this engine are largely the blast a horn and the rush of air as it passed with Mark 3 carriages in tow on the Dublin-Cork line.
One instance stands out about the others though: I was showing some American friends around the island; we’d borded the Cu na Mara Mark3 international set at Heuston behind locomotive 215 destined for Galway. We got as far as Hazel Hatch, when 215 coiled up and we were sent into the loop to await a rescue loco from Inchicore.
Guess which engine was sent to bring us to Galway? (This is not a trick question).
At the end of December 2017, I revisited Mechanicville, New York with an aim of making some contemporary photos at the same angles as images I’d made back in November 1984.
Then and Now comparisons are common enough, but what makes these photos significant is that I’ve exposed both the historic photos as well as the modern images using the same type of film and equipment (a Leica IIIA with 50mm Sumitar loaded with Kodak 35mm Tri-X).
These pairs of photos show the Hansen Road Bridge east of Reynolds, New York, which is just a couple of miles from XO Tower at Mechanicville. In the 1984 views, my friends and I were following an eastward Boston & Maine train.
Back then the B&M route was much busier than it is today, although the line still carries a good share of freight.
Double track from Mechanicville extended east to an interlocking (which I believe was called ‘Schneiders’) east of Reynolds and near Schaghticoke. The main tracks were grade separated on approach to the interlocking, which made this a distinctive location.
In the 33 year interval between photos, the Hansen Road bridge was replaced, which slightly alters the angle for photography.
To mark my twenty years photographing Irish Railways, I thought it would be a neat exercise to display images of each of the 201-class General Motors diesels in numerical order. I’ll intersperse these posts with other Tracking the Light features.
Today, I’m beginning with the class leader. This engine famously arrived in Ireland in a Russian-built cargo plane.
That event was before my time in Ireland, but I made hundreds of photos of engine 201 around Ireland before it was withdrawn from traffic and stored at Inchicore.
Next in this series, I’ll feature never before published photos of Irish Rail’s very elusive 202.
Tracking the Light focus on creating photos and this post is about the nuts and bolts of working with black & white film, and pursuing means to refine the process.
What better way to spend a damp, windy snowy day, then to expose and process black & white film in new ways?
I’d read about ‘stand processing,’ but I’d never tried it.
Stand processing uses developer at very low-concentration with virtually no agitation for very long process times.
Among the potential advantages of stand processing is greater tonality with exceptional highlight and shadow detail. A secondary benefit is that it requires much less developer. Also, I wondered if I could better control granularity by eliminating the effects of agitation (the answer from this test was: no).
I’d previously experimented with Foma Retropan, a modern film rated at 320 that emulates the effects of traditional emulsions. For those photos I processed the film in Foma’s specially formulated Retro developer. I found the negatives to be grainy, but offering a distinctive tonality with soft highlights.
Below are some examples of Retropan using stand development in Agfa Rodinal (mixed 1:100 with water) for 40 minutes, 10 seconds agitation at beginning of development, and again at the end. Development temp 74 F.
For comparison, a couple of hours later I also exposed more Retropan and processed this in Agfa Rodinal Special (as distinct from ordinary Rodinal) but with agitation and short process times; one batch (mixed at 1:32) at 68F for 4 minutes;
A second batch (mixed at 1:32) at 70F for 70 minutes. I then toned these negatives for 9 minutes in a selenium solution to boost highlight detail.
This is a work in progress and I have no formal conclusions, but makes for some interesting images.
Yesterday I was thrilled to receive my Author’s advance copy of my Railway Guide to Europe.
This represents a culmination of more than 20 years of wandering around exploring Europe by rail, while seeking places to make photographs.
This is aimed at helping you plan your trips around Europe by offering experience, suggestions and thoughts on where to go, how to get there, how to buy the best tickets, while hinting at what to avoid.
This is illustrated with hundreds of my best European photographs.
It goes beyond the railways and suggests myriad interesting places to visit with detailed sections on London, Paris, Vienna and Rome among other European cities.
At 1007 (10:07 am) this morning (8 February 2018), Irish Rail’s 071 (class leader of the popular 071 class of General Motors-built diesel locomotives) passed Islandbridge Junction with the down IWT Liner.
This locomotive was repainted in 2016 into the attractive 1970s-era livery.
Although, I’ve made a number of photographs of this locomotive in heritage paint before, it’s always nice to see it on the move. I’m told it had been laid up for the last few months and it’s only back on the road this week.
It was an arctic evening at East Brookfield when we crossed the bridge over the tracks near CP64.
There it was, making an alien roar: the Loram rail-grinder in the old sidings.
Hard snow on the ground and the moon rising.
‘This will just take a couple of minutes’.
We were on our way to a gig at Dunny’s Tavern, but I wanted to make a few photos of this machine. Interestingly, it was my old friend Dennis LeBeau that both invited us to the gig and alerted me to the Loram grinder.
I tried a few photos using my Lumix LX7 in ‘night mode’. But the extremely low light levels didn’t make for great results.
So then I balanced my LX7 in the chain-link fence, dialed in 2/3s of a stop over exposure, set the self-timer to 2 seconds, pressed the shutter and stood back.
I did this several times until I made an acceptably sharp photo.
I manipulated the RAW files in Lightroom to better balance the information captured during exposure.
I know someone will moan about the tree at left. There’s nothing I can do about that, it’s part of the scene. Sorry 2001-fans, no black slab! So far as I can tell, anyway.