Eleven years ago, I made this end of daylight view on the longest day of the year at CP83 in Palmer, Massachusetts.
CSX’s westward freight Q423 had stopped to change crews. In those days, Q423 ran from Worcester, Mass., to Selkirk, NY. I cannot recall why the crew was on short time.
I made the exposure using my Canon EOS-7D at 6400 ISO at 1/3 second, f3.5 using a prime 28mm lens.
The Canon 7D is an excellent camera. I’ve had mine for a dozen years and exposed thousands of digital photos with it. It’s higher ISO settings are weak compared with modern cameras. Here the 6400 ISO setting appears relatively pixelated. Yet at the time I was delighted to the ability to use such a fast ISO setting at the twist of a dial.
A week ago Kris and I visited the crossing at Tarratine, west of Rockwood, Maine where we waited for the eastward Canadian Pacific freight number 132.
This remote crossing bisects the track in a sweeping curve in the forest. We waited here for quite some time. Finally, I heard the distant sound of laboring General Electric diesels. And then, finally, a distant whistle.
I set up with my Nikon Z6 fitted with a f2.8 70-200mm Z-series zoom. When the train came into view, I exposed a series of digital images and made a pair of color slides on Ektachrome.
The slides remain latent (unprocessed), but here are a few of my digital images.
Some my regular viewers on Tracking the Light have expressed interest in seeing more photos of the freight cars behind the locomotives. So I’ve included a few of those images too.
Later that night, Kris and I returned to this same crossing where we made a series of night photographs of the westward freight. Those will be featured in another posting.
Last week, after another wait in the rain near the East Outlet Bridge on Canadian Pacific’s Moosehead Sub, I decided to forego the bridge, and try a different location nearer to Greenville Junction, Maine. So, Kris and I drove toward Harford Point, where there is a nice sweeping curve east of a shallow rock cut.
We had inspected this spot last year, and had waited there about an hour for the eastward train before giving up. (That was in June 2021, and ultimately on that day we saw the train and photographed it further west).
On this year’s visit to Harford Point, the lighting was soft owing to cloudy conditions. Light rain had put a gloss all over the foliage and tracks.
While waiting, I had a brief chat with one of the locals near the grade crossing, who reassured me that we had not missed the train. And not long after we set up, we could here CP’s eastward 132 whistling for a crossing to the west.
As the freight came into view, I made this sequence using my Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm Z-series zoom lens. In post processng, I made some minor adjustments to contrast, shadow density, sky detail, color temperature and saturation.
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During Conway Scenic Railroad’s special Railfan Photographer’s Mountaineer, I traveled on the head end to help position the train, while making photos for the company archive.
While the train was discharging passengers at the site of the Mount Willard section house near Crawford Notch, NH, I was across the ravine to the east, set up to photograph the special crossing the famous Willey Brook Bridge (also known as the Willey Brook Trestle).
I made several dozen photos over the course of several minutes, trying to make the most of this photo opportunity. Below is a selection of similar compositions. Why so many? It is impossible to know exactly how a photo may be considered for publication in the future and I’ve learned from experience that it helps to position the subject in a variety of ways within the frame of the viewfinder.
Five years ago, on June 7, 2017, I was traveling with my long-time friend and photographer Paul Goewey. We were photographing Vermont Rail System’s Green Mountain Railroad freight 264, and caught this train passing the former Rutland Railroad passenger station at Chester, Vermont.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, I recall watching Steamtown run around their excursion train at this location, although I don’t think I made any photos at that time.
On this day, I was working with my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera, which allows me to simultaneously save a photo file as both a JPG and as a camera RAW (RAF). At the time of exposure, I profiled the JPG in-camera using Fuji’s built in Velvia color slide film profile setting. . While in post processing, I custom profiled the RAF image by making minor adjustments to contrast, color temperture and saturation using Adobe Lightroom, and then created a JPG for internet presentation.
Below, I offer both the in-camera JPG with Velvia color and my own adjusted file. Both images were created digitally. I did not crop the image area or make changes to sharpness.
Thursday evening, Kris and I took a drive up to the former Grand Trunk Railway route, operated by Genesee & Wyoming’s St Lawrence & Atlantic. We caught up with photographer Andrew Dale, and drove east to West Paris, Maine intercept the westward road freight 393.
A mix of old and new camera technologies allowed me to push the envelope of railroad night photography.
I attached my old Nikkor f1.8 105mm lens (which I retreived from storage in Dublin last month) to my Nikon Z6 mirrorless digital camera. This is a ‘fast’ lens, and a full stop and third faster than my 70-200mm Z-series zoom.
Working with a mix of street lighting and a hint of dusk in the sky, I made a hand held pan photo of the lead locomotive crossing West Paris’s Main Street.
I bumped the camera ISO to 40,000, and set the 105mm to f1.8, this allowed me a shutter speed of 1/160th of a second. I set the shutter speed, aperture and focus manually.
Our recent ride on the Berkshire Scenic included several stops and photo run-by. On the return run from North Adams, we paused at the South View Cemetery. I opted for a position well away from the line in order to make pan-photos.
For these images, I set the camera lens to f22 to allow for use of a comparatively slow shutter speed (1/30 second at ISO 200). Then as the train passed, I used my body to pan with the train to keep my desired point of focus in constant movement with train. The slower shutter speed lets the background blur while camera motion keeps the train sharp.
Perhaps the most important thing about executing a successful pan is to release the shutter while continuing to move with the train.
In yesterday’s Tracking the Light, I described the challenges of when a fluffy cloud obscures the sun beneath an otherwise blue sky. The opposite is a burst of direct sun through an otherwise overcast sky.
On Thursday, May 12, 2022, after departing Bernardston, Massachusetts, Kris and I zipped down to Pan Am’s yard at East Deerfield and set up at the east end overlooking the Connecticut River Bridge. Here the Deerfield hump engine was gradually shoving a long cut of cars. This is a blue, black & white, EMD switcher working with slug..
About the same time an eastward freight moved on the the bridge on the opposite track.
For a brief moment a burst of sunlight illuminated both trains on the bridge, making for a stunning setting in cosmic light.
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In this scenario, the exposure trick is to quickly getting the optimal exposure and not to allow the highlight areas to receive too much light relative to the rest of the scene.
Fair weather clouds pose a challenge for railroad photographers. When on a sunny day, if a small puffy cloud covers the sun at the moment a train approaches it creates a difficult situation.
The cloud darkens the scene, changes color temperature, diffuses the light on the ground, and increases the difference in exposure between the sky and subjects on the ground.
Back in my Kodachrome days, having a small puffy cloud obscure the sun bascially ruined the photograph.
The other day at Bernardston, Massachusetts, I was in place to photograph the southward Vermonter cross a 19thcentury multiple stone arch bridge.
I could hear the horn blowing. The sun was bright . . . And then, as the train came into view, a small puffy cloud momentarily covered the sun.
I exposed a sequence of digital photos as the train rolled over the bridge. Later, working with Adobe Lightroom, I made a number of changes and adjustments to my files to present several alternatives to compensate for the effects of the clouded exposure.
Yesterday, May 11, 2022, it was bright sunny and warm in Conway, New Hampshire. The only train on the move was Conway Scenic’s ballast extra. So I conferred with the ballast train crew before they departed the yard (with engine 252 and a rider coach—for use as a shoving platform and to carry the crew between work sites), and then intercepted the train at Conway as they were putting the consist together.
In the afternoon, I tracked down the train again to make the most of the bright day.
All of these images were exposed using my Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera with 24-70 Z-series zoom.
On May 10, 2007, I organized 37 photographers across North America to document railroading over the course of one 27- hour span.
I chose May 10th for several reasons: It was the anniversary of the Golden Spike at Promontory, Utah, which marked completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad; It was also the anniversary of New York Central’s 999 on its world famous speed run, and it was my friend, Eamon Jones’s birthday. (Eamon spent his working career running engines for Irish Rail).
I, along with all the other photographers, spent the day photographing railroad operations. Early in the day, I captured Genesee Valley Transportation’s Matt Wronski removing a blue flag from the Falls Road Railroad shop at Lockport, New York. This image was exposed on Fujichrome.
I was one of only a few photographers that exposed film on this day. Among the other film photographers were my father Richard Jay Solomon—who made photos around Palmer, Massachusetts, and Hal Reiser—who spent the morning with me on the Falls Road Railroad.
The Railroad Never Sleeps was published by Quarto Press and was sold in book stores around the continent.
Among the objectives of my recent trip to Dublin was to retrieve some of my old Nikkor lenses that I’d kept there over the last 18 years.
I’d left these lenses there back in 2019 expecting to return in a few months, only to have the world change in my absence.
In the meantime, I’d bought a new Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera system with an adapter to attach classic Nikkor lenses and I’ve been waiting for the day to play with some of the classic glass stored in Dublin.
Previously on Tracking the Light, I’ve shown examples of my Nikkor f2.5 105mm telephoto attached to the Z6.
The photos exposed here were made with an Nikkor AF-DC f2.0 135mm telephoto lens. All were exposed at the widest aperture (f2.0) to allow for very shallow depth of field (narrow range of focus). This is an imaging technique often employed in portraiture but rarely in railroad photography.
Controlling focus is a powerful photographic tool because it helps direct the viewers eye. Often modern digital imaging systems facilitate great depth of field but make it difficult if not impossible to make use of shallow focus.
Although not used in these photos, the AF-DC f2.0 135mm lens has an additional control ring to adjust the lens elements to offer a soft edge specifically for portraits. I will explore that feature of the lens at a later date.
The subject of these images is 470 Club’s recently restored Boston & Maine F7A 4268 that sits on the plow track at the North Conway.
I first visited Irish Rail’s Connolly Station in February 1998.
That seems like a lifetime ago and the station facilities have been greatly altered since my early visits.
On Monday, 25 April , 2022, we transfered from the LUAS to Irish Rail’s DART at Dublin’s Connolly Station and on the way between the tram and the train, I exposed this Lumix LX7 photo 29000 and 22K series railcars under the old roof.
Although these are common varieties of trains in Ireland, there’s a certain thril of seeing them again in an historic setting, which reminds me that the common today will someday seem captivating. Everything changes and it helps to have been away for spell to better appreciate the effects of change.
An open eye can produce creative vision and a record for history.
Yesterday, April 12, 2022, Conway Scenic operated a loaded ballast train on the former Maine Central Mountain Division.
Leading the train was former Maine Central GP38 255 acquired by CSRR last October.
I arranged to be in position at the west end of the Frankenstein Bridge to catch the up-hill move, and exposed this sequence of digital photographs using my Nikon Z6 mirror-less camera with 24-70mm Z-series zoom.
Although overcast, the lighting was well suited to a red locomotive with black ballast cars.
My old Lumix LX3 had the ability to save a handful of photos in the camera’s built in memory (without an SD card).
This was a great benefit, especially in those moments where suddenly I realized that, “Oh Sh!#! I left the SD card on my desk!”
Not a problem, the camera would store the image internally for downloading later.
On 11 April 2012, I had one of those unforgettable “Oh Sh!#!” moments when I’d spotted a colorfully painted LUAS tram on Abbey Street in Dublin and when I went to photograph it the camera advised me I was saving to the internal memory.
That was ten years, and three Lumixes ago.
However, not only did the camera save the photo, but it was able to save both as a JPG and as RAW. And this was lucky, because a pesky afternoon cloud had just drifted in front of the sun, so my photo was very constrasty and slightly underexposed. Working with Lightroom I was able to lighten the original photo, correct the color temperature, and level the image.
No hope with getting that kind of double save if you forgot to put film in camera! (Been there, done that!).
In two weeks time, I hope to be making use of my latest Lumix on the streets of Dublin!
This was among the many slides that I scanned yesterday.
In my ongoing effort to scan, archive, and organize my slide collection, I’ve been scanning slides, and reorganizing the original chromes so that they are placed together by similar subject.
Conrail is just one of dozens of my subject categories . Ultimately, I hope to subdivide the Conrail slides in to smaller categories largely based on precursor railroad routes.
This Kodachrome 25 image of a westward Conrail unit coal train was exposed in September 1988 at School Road in Batavia, New York, near milepost 399 on the former New York Central ‘Water Level Route’ main line using my old Leica M2 with 50mm f2.0 Summicron lens.
It is one of hundreds of Conrail photos I exposed between 1985 and 1999 of Conrail trains working the old Water Level Route.
Three years ago—April 9, 2019—I visited SNCF’s Gare_de_Lille-Flanders (France).
It was a damp day with dark leaden skies and well suited for photography beneath a train shed.
I made this view using my old Fuji XT1 fitted with a 28mm Fujinon pancake lens.
Below are two interpretations. One is derived from the Fuji Raw by Lightroom, the other was first converted using Iridient and then adjusted (using the same color profile settings) in Lightroom. Compare the roof of the train shed in the two versions.
I wrote about Pennsylvania Railroad’s Rockville Bridge in my book Railway Masterpieces published in 2002.
“The third bridge at Rockville was started in 1900, and opened to traffic in 1902. It is listed in the Guinness Book of Rail Facts and Figures, as ‘the world’s largest stone arch railway bridge over a river’. It consists of 48 stone arch spans.”
Last month Kris and I paid a visit to the Rockville Bridge. As we approached this magnificent viaduct a westward Norfolk Southern freight was crawling across, yet we had arrived too late to catch the head end of the train on the bridge.
We decided to wait a little while to see if another freight would come along.
Finally after about 45 minutes, I could hear a GE diesel chugging away on the far side of the Susquehanna. As the train started across the bridge, the evening sun emerged from the clouds, producing some very fine light to photograph the train.
I exposed these photos with my Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm lens firmly mounted on my mid-1990s vintage Bogen tripod.
Last month during our brief visit to Lewistown, PA, we caught two trains, one right after the other. Just a few minutes after the westward Pennsylvanian made its station stop, this Norfolk Southern intermodal freight worked west through the interlocking.
In the lead was 4092, one of Norfolk Southern’s AC44C6M rebuilds. These were converted from traditional DC traction Dash9-40CW locomotives into poly-phase AC traction diesels.
Photos exposed using my Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm lens and Lumix LX7.
On this day three years ago, photographer Denis McCabe and I wandered the narrow streets of Lisbon, Portugal.
I used my Fuji XT1 to make this portrait oriented view of a classic tram navigating a steep narrow street.
Last night I imported the Fuji camera RAW file into Iridient for conversion to DNG format and then imported the DNG file into Adobe Lightroom for minor adjustments tothe color, constrast and exposure in order to make the most of the camera sensor.
Strasburg Rail Road’s former Canadian National Railway 2-6-0 made for a stunning silhouette against a late winter sky.
Gauging the exposure for these contrasty scenes requires a bit of interpretation.
Since the locomotive is black, I allow it to fall into the shadows, and instead concentrate on retaining detail in the highlight areas of the sky.
This is most effectively accomplished by making test images and studying the histogram that shows pixel distribution across the exposure range. With this tool I aim to avoid excessive over exposure in the highlight areas.
Then in post processing, I work with Lightroom to re-balanace the image by lightening shadow areas and controlling highlight detail.
Below are three examples providing variation on a theme.
Late season snow blanketed the ground and was still falling, when Kris & I caught former Canadian National Railways 2-6-0 number 89 leading the return run from Paradise.
Paradise, Pennsylvania, that is. We were set up near near Black Horse Road in Strasburg.
I made this photo on Saturday (March 12, 2022); but by Monday the grass was green and the birds were chirping.
Exposed digitally using my Nikon Z6 mirrorless digital camera with f2.8 70-200mm Z-series Zoom lens, set at f10, 1/1250th of a second, ISO 200. RAW image adjusted for contrast and exposure using Adobe Lightroom.
On March 8, 2014, photographer Dennis McCabe and I followed this Bord na Mona empty train compass west from the Edenderry Power Station to this rural level crossing near the village of Daingean, Co. Offaly.
The train was one of two heading out on the bog to a comparatively remote loading site to collect peat for delivery to the power station.
We had scoped out this location on an earlier trip, and at the time I was delighted to catch a train movement at this obscure location on the Irish Bord na Mona narrow gauge network.
Below are two variations of the same photo.
One was right out of my Lumix LX3, the other involves cropping the foreground and sky.
Ten years ago today (February 28, 2012), I made this photo of CSX Q300 on the old Reading Company at West Trenton, New Jersey.
My old Lumix LX3 was a little tricky to use when making action photos of trains. If the camera was in full ‘auto’ mode and I pressed on the shutter release the camera would hesitate for a moment.
The trick was to use the manual setting and then ‘queue-up’ the camera by presssing the shutter release halfway in preparation for making a photo. In this way the camera shutter would release almost instantaneously when pressed the remainder of the way, thus allowing for a composition with full-frame view of a moving train, such as this one.
A few weeks ago I scanned a strip of 120-size Fuji Neopan 100 using my Epson V600 Scanner.
This featured some coming and going views of First Great Western HST in Newport, Wales, UK that I exposed using my Rolleiflex Model T.
One of the features of Epson Scan 2 software is the ability to apply an ‘unsharp mask’ at the time of scanning. Despite its confusing name, the unsharp mask is a digital sharpening tool. The software allows for three degrees of sharpening with the mask, ‘low,’ ‘medium’ and ‘high’.
Normally, I select ‘low,’ which I find makes for a better looking scan.
Another option is to scan without the unsharp mask, and apply sharpening in post processing.
The unsharp mask adds an edge effect that makes the photo appear sharper. It doesn’t actually add detail.
Below are three sequences of images showing the image without unsharp mask; with the ‘low’ unsharp mask, and an image created in post processing by applying sharpening after scanning. Each of the three sequences shows first the full frame scan followed by a greatly enlarged portion to allow for a detailed inspection and comparison. Each is captioned for clarity.
NI Railways’ former Great Northern Railway (of Ireland) station at Lisburn is a classic that retains its traditional appearance including platform canopies and footbridge.
I made this view on a visit in Spring 2001. Working with my Rollei Model T, I exposed a geometerically balanced composition, where I’ve used the canopy supports as a visual partition that divides the photo evenly at the center.
Perfectly centered compositions are frowned upon in some circles, but I’ve occasionally executed successful and visually dynamic photos using this technique. In this instance I don’t think my photo could have been improved by off-center placement of the column.
Since background elements vary considerably on the right and left sides, the centered composition helps weigh the intrigue of one side versus the other.
Do you think this image would be improved if I had included a train?
After a light snowfall in December 1993, I set up at CP79 east of Palmer, Massachusetts, where an eastward Conrail freight led by DASH-8-40C 6069 was holding on the Controlled Siding to meet a set of light engines rolling west behind B23-7 1992.
I was working with my Nikon F3T fitted with an Nikkor AF28MM lens. Since the F3T wasn’t equipped with autofocus, I set the focus manually.
This lens offered a wide perspective and tended to vignette the corners of the photo. Also because it was relatively wide, the relative motion of the leading locomotive to the film plane was greater than with a longer focal length lens, and resulted in a slight blurring, despite a 1/250th of second shutter speed.