It was two years ago today (22 April, 2018), that I made my second visit to Valenciennes, France.
Although it was dull, I worked with my Lumix to make these views of SNCF’s TGV high-speed sets at the Valenciennes former Nord railway station.
Not every day is bright and sunny; not every city is blessed with world-class wonders; and not every high-speed train is moving fast.
Valenciennes has a nice old station and a showcase small-city modern tram system.
Later in the day, I caught up with my Finnish friend Mauno Pajunen, and toured Belgian railway sites in the region.
Over the next few days , I made a high-speed railway journey to Bordeaux and and then through the Channel Tunnel to London—all part of my exploration that contributed to the content of my latest book; Brian Solomon’s Railway Guide to Europe.
On Satuday 24 March 2018, I shared Dublin’s Claude Road foot-bridge with Paul Maguire and Ciarán Cooney, as we waited for the RPSI Cravens to run from Inchicore to Connolly for a scheduled inspection of the equipment.
It had been completely sunny, but as the time for the train approached, clouds began to dapple the morning sky.
I exposed this view using a Nikon N90S with 180mm Nikkor telephoto lens on Fujichrome Provia100F slide film.
The light was in flux when I released the shutter. Was the train in sun?
I had to wait more than three weeks to find out, since I’ve just received my slides back from the lab.
I made some nominal adjustments to contrast and colour balance after scanning.
Tracking the Light Posts Every Day.
I feature Irish Rail and the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland in my new Railway Guide to Europe, which is now available from Kalmbach Books.
As part of my 20 years in Ireland/201 numerical retrospective, this is my opportunity to present a few views of Irish Rail 206.
When I first arrived in Ireland in 1998, 201-class locomotives numbers 206 to 209 (as they were then identified) were painted for the cross-border Belfast-Dublin Enterprisepassenger service.
It is my understanding that these four numbers were chosen for the Enterprise201s to pay historical tribute to steam locomotives of the same numbers that had worked the service in an earlier era.
In my time these were painted specifically for the re-equipped Enterprise using De Dietrich carriages (derived from the original French TGV single-level carriages)
Of the four, 206 River Liffey has been my favorite, but until relatively recently it is also one of the more elusive 201s in passenger service (in regards to my photography).
Around 2002, it suffered a fire and was out of traffic for about three years. When it returned, it spent months working freights.
Only recently, have I again found it regularly working as intended. It now wears the latest Enterprise livery, which is laterally asymmetrical and features a giant purple swoop across the side of the locomotive.
In July 2016, John Gruber and I photographed Wisconsin & Southern’s Reedsburg job on its run from Madison to Reedsburg.
Although, I made many digital photographs that day, I also exposed a few photos on Ilford Pan F using a vintage Leica IIIA fitted with a Nikkor f3.5 35mm lens.
Notice how the tonality and texture of the image draws your eye in a variety of directions. The effects of tire tracks in the gravel and the pole shadows are enhanced through use of a monochromatic image making medium.
Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light Posts Daily and sometimes twice.
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.
Last week, Irish Rail operated a late IWT liner that departed Dublin in the evening, instead on its normal mid-morning path.
A group of my friends went to Cherry Orchard in the west Dublin suburbs to capture this relatively unusual move. While waiting for the freight, I made views of the evening passenger parade.
The sky was clear of clouds and sun was aligned with the Cork line making some interesting possibilities of glint and silhouette photographs.
In the 1990s, I exposed hundreds of images in this type of dramatic lighting conditions. The characteristics of Kodachrome 25 slide film made it well suited to glint photographs and I had my K25 exposures refined to a high art.
Glint photographs are more difficult to capture digitally, and I find that I have to control contrast and use digital masks/digital applied graduated neutral density filters in post processing to obtain the results that I expect.
Key to this exercise is underexposing a raw file sufficiently to retain detail in the sky and glinty areas of the image, than lighten shadows while making localized highlight adjustments in post processing.
I’d use ‘gray’ in place of ‘dark’, but apparently the phraseology has assumed new meanings.
I could just say ‘Dublin in Black & White’, but that isn’t really correct either.
Working with my Nikon F3 loaded with Foma Classic 100 black & white film, I made these photos during March 2018 wintery weather in Dublin.
To keep my camera steady for long exposures, I used various tripods, depending on the surface and circumstance.
My exposures varied, but most were between 1 and 8 seconds. I calculated exposure manually using a Minolta IV Flash meter (in reflective mode).
I processed the Fomapan 100 film in Ilford ID-11 stock mixed 1-1 with water at 68F for 7 minutes 15 seconds, plus pre-soak with a token amount of Kodak HC110, then scanned negatives using an Epson V500 flatbed scanner.
Not as rare to my lens as 202, but not as common as say 201, 205, or the seeming omnipresent 215. Today, views of 204 on the move are still pretty neat since it’s been more than eight years since it turned a wheel.
These are all Fujichrome photos, since I never photographed 204 at work using a digital camera. Maybe someday it will return to service. But even then I might take it on slide film for old time sake.
All were exposed using Kodak Tri-X black & white film, which I processed in Ilford ID-11 (1-1 at 68 degrees F for 7 minutes 45 seconds, plus extended presoak with very dilute HC110 to pre-activate development.)
I scanned the negatives using an Epson V500 flatbed scanner.
On the way to Belfast from Dublin a couple of weeks ago, the rain lashed down. Instead of changing trains at Portadown, I opted to remain dry a little long and remained on the Enterprise all the way to Belfast Central.
It was still cloudy in Belfast, but the rain had stopped.
I traveled to Great Victoria Street, then changed for an all stops NI Railways train and alighted at Adelaide just as the clouds receded and bright evening light prevailed.
I exposed these views with my FujiFilm XT1 fitted with a Fujinon 18-135mm zoom lens.
So I wasn’t a fool in the end; or was I?
If I’d changed at Portadown, I would have arrived at Adelaide sooner and I may have photographed a train with a rainbow.
It is aimed at people looking to travel around Europe by train.
I hoped for a cover image that showed a modern passenger train in a classic setting. Also, while the book covers a wide geographical span, I thought it would be best for the cover to focus on central Europe.
Kalmbach books narrowed my selection about 8 photos; while the choice was ultimately theirs, the image of a DB Regional Express passing a medieval tower at Oberwesel made my final cut.
This photo was exposed in nice soft sunlight; it offers a pleasant scenic summer setting with a simple, yet striking composition showing a river, a castle and a decidedly modern European passenger train. The train’s paint scheme makes it easy to distinguished it from the surrounding landscape and it appears relatively high in the image area (if it appeared too low, it might not work well to sell the book). Also, there’s ample space for the book title and other writing.
I made the cover image while on a visit to the Rhein valley with Gerry Conmy, Stephen Hirsch and Denis McCabe. We spent the afternoon of 8 September 2015 photographing a parade of trains on the Rhein’s ‘left bank’ line.
The cover image was selected from a burst of 4 photos. I’ve included a variety of the other photos I made during the same afternoon.
All of these images were exposed over the course of less than an hour using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
Brian Solomon’s Railway Guide to Europe should be available at the end of May.
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.
For me, sometimes black & white film provides the best medium for capturing a scene.
Working with my Nikon N90S loaded with Ilford FP4 black & white film, I exposed this sequence of photographs at Mallow, County Cork.
Soft afternoon sun provided some nice light; just the sort of low sun that allows for tonality and texture to be interpreted on black & white film.
Previously, I’d struggled with FP4 to get a range of tones that satisfy me. With this roll of film, I used Ilford ID11 stock solution without dilution at 68 degrees F (20C) for 5 minutes, with only a short water bath prior to develoment.
Although, my negatives still required a touch of contrast adjustment in post processing, I’m very happy with the way they turned out.
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.
A few weeks ago I posted a shadow silhouette made from the Belfast-Dublin Enterprise crossing the old Great Northern Railway (of Ireland) Craigmore Viaduct.
Last week I had the opportunity to make a photo of the same bridge from the ground, thus making use of the shadow from a completely different angle.
Exposure was the tricky part, since the sun was low on the horizon, but partially blocked by the passing train. I made these photos with my Lumix LX7 without use of filters or post-processing adjustment.
Thanks to Honer Travers and William Malone with whom I was traveling.
Last week I traveled around Northern Ireland on a Translink Adult Zone 4 iLink day card, which allows for unlimited travel on NI Railways and Translink buses for a flat fee of £16. This offers great value and travel flexibility.
I arrived at Coleraine from Derry and wanted to make a photo of a train arriving at Portrush. Rather than take the branch train and wait around at Portrush for an hour to photograph the next arrival, I opted to board a bus.
Not only did the bus take less time than the train, but arrived before the connecting branch train was supposed to depart. This gave me time to explore my angles and set up my photo.
Portrush still features classic mechanical signaling, although on my visit the signal cabin was ‘switched out’. (In other words the cabin was not involved in controlling train movements on the line, which is a normal situation when there’s only one train at a time working between Coleraine and Portrush.)
Once the train arrived I made a few photos of it in the station, then boarded for the return trip to Coleraine (and on to Belfast).
Just an ordinary winter’s day at CP83 in Palmer, Massachusetts last month.
I made this view of CSX’s B740 using my Lumix LX7 .
One of the advantages of digital photography is the ability to check the exposure on-site. Although this scene had a tricky exposure, I was able to gauge my result at the time of exposure.
Consider the dynamic range of exposure in the this image: note the headlights on the locomotive (which appear brighter than the snow on the ground) and the sky (which is slightly darker than the snow).