On Friday, 15 February 2019, during my visit with Stephen Hirsch and Denis McCabe to Bord na Mona’s operations at Lanesborough, I worked with three cameras to document operations.
My FujiFilm XT1 and Lumix LX7 were for exposing colour digital photos, while I employed a Nikon F3 to make classic 35mm black & white images.
I processed the film yesterday using custom tailored formulas.
The first roll was Ilford HP5 that I’d bought a couple of days earlier at John Gunn’s Camera on Wexford Street in Dublin. I processed this using a two stage development, starting with an extremely dilute solution of Kodak HC110 (roughly 1 part developer to 250 parts water) which used as presoak. The weak developer helps activate the chemical reaction and improves shadow detail without overdeveloping highlight areas.
The second stage of development involved Ilford Perceptol mixed 1-1 with water and heated to 71F. Based on past experience, I left the film in the developer for 12 minutes, then stop bath, 1stfixer, 2ndfixer, pre-wash, hypoclear, main wash (10 minutes) and final rinse in distilled water.
After drying, I scanned the negatives with an Epson V500 flatbed scanner and touched up the scans using Lightroom.
The other evening I made a few handheld photos of Irish Rail class 201 diesel number 217 River Fleskat Dublin’s Heuston Station.
217 was working a Mark4 set on the 2100 schedule to Cork.
There are myriad approaches to night photography. In this instance, I worked with my Lumix LX7 without a tripod.
I’m fortunate because I have an unusually steady hand. The Lumix further aids my efforts because it has image stabilization.
I set the camera to ISO 200, and working in ‘A’ (aperture priority) I manually set the lens aperture to its widest opening, which in this case is f1.8. The wider the aperture, the more light passes through the lens to reach the sensor, so having a ‘fast’ lens (one with a small maximum aperture number, such as my f1.8 lens) is a huge benefit.
This set up allowed me work with a 1/10 of second shutter speed, which is adequate speed for a static photograph.
If I had been using my FujiFilm XT1 with the kit zoom lens, my widest aperture would have been about f4.5, which is nearly two full stops slower than f1.8, which means at ISO200, I’d require about ½ second exposure to obtain a comparable result, which is too slow for a sharp handheld image in most instances.
Another way of approaching this would be raise the ISO. So with the FujiFilm set up just described, I could increase the ISO setting to 800, which would boost the effective sensitivity of the sensor by two stops (bringing me back up to 1/10thof a second using f4.5). However, this would also boost the noise level and reduce sharpness.
Back in the old days, I would have used Kodachrome, and that would have required a tripod, and probably some filters to colour-correct for the artificial light. Today, digital cameras when set to ‘auto white balance’ do an admirable job of balancing the colour for fluorescent, sodium vapor and other forms of artificial light that tend to tint an image.
Normally for night work with the Lumix, I’d dial in a 1/3 over exposure compensation (+ 1/3 on the exposure compensation dial) however in this situation the relatively bright night sky where low cloud was illuminated by lots of artificial light combined with the silver body of the locomotive and bright platform lighting, obviated the need for boosting the exposure by 1/3 of a stop.
However, I did make some very subtle changes in post processing to help visually separate the roof of the locomotive from the sky.
It was a bright overcast afternoon on 26 May 2005, when I photographed Irish Rail 077 leading an empty bubble cement train from Conyngham Road in Dublin looking toward platform 10 at Heuston Station.
I made this photo on Fujichrome slide film using my Nikon F3 with 180mm Nikkor ‘prime’ telephoto lens.
The telephoto compression has the effect of making the distant mountains seem closer while foreshortening the appearance of the cement train, which makes the individual four-wheel cement wagons seem even shorter than they were.
You’ll need to click on Tracking the Light to see the vintage photo.
On January 25, 2019, Pat Yough and I were aiming to catch New England Central 611 on the Millers Falls high bridge over the Millers River. This stunning 1905 pin-connected deck truss has been one my favorite spans to photograph in Massachusetts.
I made my first photographs of the bridge nearly 33 years ago: On May 14, 1986, I’d followed Central Vermont 447 north from Amherst (where I was enrolled at Hampshire College). The train was running at an abnormal time, which gave me the opportunity to make a late afternoon photo at Millers Falls.
Although I made some nice sun lit photographs on Kodachrome 64 of the CV GP9s and CN M-420 diesel working across the bridges, two problems vexed me and resulted in these slides spending more than three decades in the ‘seconds file’.
As the train rattled across the bridge, a huge flock of pigeons soared in the sky, which at the time ruined the image for me, since many of the birds looked like dark blobs that resembled dust on the emulsion. The other difficulty was more serious.
I was using an old Leitz 50mm collapsible Summitar lens which had a loose front element and had lost its critical sharpness. Although on a small scale the photos made with this lens appear ok, when enlarged they are unacceptably soft. I’ve electronically sharpened the photo here to make it more appealing for internet presentation.
Ultimately, I discontinued the use of the soft lens, but it took me several months before I recognized and accepted the problem, and found funds to rectify it.
The other evening at the modern Amtrak station in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, Trains Magazine’s Brian Schmidt and I set up to photograph Hiawatha Corridor trains during their station stops.
The southward train arrived first, and featured one of the former F40PH diesels, now a cab-control/baggage car in the lead. These are colloquially known as ‘cabbages’, and this one was painted to honor American veterans.
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 and 27mm lens, I set the camera to ISO 6400 and panned the train as it arrived to allow for the effect of motion.
Yesterday afternoon Trains Magazine’s Brian Schmidt collected me at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and we made our way to the Metra station at North Glenview, Illinois, where we intended to incept outward commuter train 2125.
As anticipated, this was led my Metra’s recently painted Milwaukee Road heritage locomotive.
As the blue glow of dusk settled over North Glenview, the northward 2125 came into view, its oscillating light drawing a figure eight in the evening gloom.
Working with my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1 digital cameras, I exposed a series of photographs as the train made its station stop.
These are a few of my FujiFilm XT1 and Lumix LX7 digital photos. To make the most of dusk, I’d set the while balance to ‘daylight’, while taking a low angle to make the unusually painted locomotive seem more dramatic.
As New England Central 608 approached downtown Stafford Springs on January 14, 2019, I set my Nikon F3 to expose a textured image.
The old buildings adjacent to the tracks are as much of a visual attraction as the train itself.
Working with an f1.8 105mm lens, I exposed three frames of Kodak Tri-X.
To process the film, I used my custom tailored split process, that uses two developers, followed by selenium toning of the fixed negatives. This maximizes the tonality of the film, while giving me glossy highlights. A secondary effect of the toner is the slight lavender hue.
After processing, I scanned the negatives in color using an Epson V750 scanner.
Although Brian is traveling, Tracking the Light still Posts Daily.
This morning, January 14, 2019, I scanned a Kodachrome slide that had been hiding for 30 years.
It was on January 14, 1989 that I spent the morning photographing Conrail’s former Erie railroad line between Hornell and Buffalo, New York.
At Portageville, I exposed this Kodachrome 25 slide of Delaware & Hudson/New York, Susquehanna & Western Sealand doublestack train symbol NY10 with SD45 3630 working east. The back of the train is crossing the old Portage Bridge over the Letchworth Gorge, so the train is walking along at about 10mph.
At the time NYSW was designated operator of Delaware & Hudson, which included D&H’s trackage rights to Buffalo.
The other day I found this Kodachrome 64 slide in my 1980s ‘Seconds File’.
‘Seconds’ meaning ‘not so good.’
Its been a long time since Burlington Northern E9s worked Chicago-Aurora commuter trains.
My photography skills in August 1984 were rudimentary and my sense of exposure was less than ideal.
So! I made a multi-pass scan of the old slide using a Nikon Super Coolscan5000 slide scanner operated with VueScan software (version 9.6.09).
In post-processing using Lightroom, I made a host of adjustments to contrast, exposure and color balance, while manipulating shadows and highlights locally and introducing a degree of electronic sharpening in an effort to overcome some of the technical inadequacies of the original slide.
On our SEPTA exploration January 2, 2019, we visited the Norristown Transportation Center, where we changed from the former Reading Company heavy rail line to the old Philadelphia & Western ‘High Speed’ line.
The elevated station for the old P&W route offers a stunning view of the trestle over the Schuykill River.
A grand view, yes, but the light was about as uninspiring as it gets; I was faced with dull, colorless January gloom.
I made a few photos of a Norristown-bound car scuttling across the bridge.
As color photos these are pretty hopeless.
You might ask, ‘why didn’t I just make a B&W film photo?’
My answer is: ‘I was traveling light, and didn’t bring a film camera’
I think I’ll just need to return on a brighter day.
Tracking the Light Posts Every Day. Even when its dull and colorless.
It was a bright morning. I had a comparatively late start.
Since the new CT Rail suburban service began operations on the ‘Hartford Line’ (New Haven-Hartford-Springfield former New Haven Railroad line), I’d been meaning to photograph one of the trains on the big bridge over the Connecticut River at Warehouse Point/East Windsor-Windsor Locks.
Last summer the sun angles didn’t suit the timetable, but now with a revised schedule and low winter sun, there are a variety of angles to be had.
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 and 18-135mm zoom, I made these views of CT Rail 4405 just before 11am on December 12, 2018.
The other evening, I made these panned views of a streetcar in New Orleans at night.
I set my FujiFilm XT1 at ISO 3200, the shutter speed dial to ‘A’ and the exposure compensation dial to +1/3 (to compensate for the dark sky). The camera auto-selected my shutter speed based on available light, which was about 1/12thof a second.
To keep the trolley sharp, I panned car as it passed me. I was careful to maintain my pan for the full duration of each exposure and avoid speeding up or stopping as I released the shutter.
I had the shutter release set for ‘CH’ (Continuous High) so the camera continued to expose images as I panned.
I’ve selected the most effective of my burst of images.
Last night a damp inky gloom greeted us as we alighted from Amtrak’s Vermonter at the former Pennsylvania Railroad station at Wilmington, Delaware.
A SEPTA Silverliner V electric multiple unit set sat on the opposite platforms waiting to depart for Philadelphia.
I made several exposures with my Lumix LX7. Working with the RAW files in Lightroom, I maximize the amount of visual information in the photos by lightening shadows and darkening highlights while adjusting contrast and color saturation.
In this instance, New England Central’s southward 611 (Brattleboro to Palmer turn) was crawling across the antique Millers Falls Highbridge in its namesake Massachusetts town.
My vantage point was the 2007-built Route 63 highway bridge.
This is more than a century newer than the parallel railway span.
First I exposed a burst of digital photos using my FujiFilm XT1 fitted with 90mm lens. Then I made a single black & white photo on HP5 using a Nikon F3 with 50mm lens.
By design the black & white view is textured. I realize that black & white doesn’t appeal to everyone, yet I’ve worked in black & white for my entire life, and I often find my traditional film photos more interesting to look at than the digital images.
On the evening of December 4, 2018, I panned CTrail train 4461 led by engine 6695 at the new Berlin, Connecticut station.
Berlin is brightly lit and makes for a good vantage point to watch and photograph passenger trains on the Hartford Line.
To make this pan photo, I set the shutter speed at 1/30thof second, fixed a point in my view finder and moved my camera and body in parallel with the train in a smooth unbroken motion as it arrived at the station.
Panning is a great means to show a train in motion.
These days the only regular trains to use the old Santa Fe Raton Pass crossing are Amtrak 3 and 4, the Southwest Chief. The days of helpers over the three percent are all but a memory.
This day two weeks ago: Arriving on No.4, we had more than ten minutes at Raton to stretch our legs and take in the mountain air.
I used the opportunity to make some twilight images of Silver Splendor, the Budd-built Vista-Dome that I was traveling on.
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 and Zeiss 12mm Touit lens, I exposed several views in the blue glow of evening. Dusk is a great time to balance the light inside the passenger car with outside illumination.
Between Albuquerque and Raton Pass (on the New Mexico-Colorado state line) I counted three bastions of Union Switch & Signal style-T2 upper quadrant semaphores on our journey over the former Santa Fe in Vista-Dome Silver Splendor.
I watched the blades drop from the vertical as we passed—a scene I’d not witnessed for many years.
In 2018, these signals represent the last large collections of active semaphores on any North American mainline.
The Style T2 was detailed in my book Classic Railroad Signals in a sidebar titled ‘Sante Fe Semaphores Survive in New Mexico’ by John Ryan and the late John Gruber.
Yesterday, 30 November 2018, I located a collection of my Irish Rail slides from 2005. Among them were these views of ‘bubble cement’ trains (consisting of pressurized four-wheel powdered cement wagons) passing Islandbridge in Dublin on 26thof May that year.
These were exposed on Fujichrome Sensia II (100 ISO) and processed at Photocare on Abbey Street in Dublin.
I scanned these using an Epson V750Pro flatbed scanner making large TIF files, then made colour and contrast adjustments using Lightroom to improve presentation. In addition, I also implemented some digital sharpening to make the photos prior to outputting as scaled JPGs (for Internet presentation) to make these appear closer to modern digital images.
Irish Rail stopped operating cement through Dublin about a decade ago, and so these views are now historic.
As we approached our station stop Lamy, New Mexico, I relocated from Silver Splendor’s dome, where I’d been enjoying the old Santa Fe mainline journey at the head-end of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, tothe car’s dutch doors to make photos of antique equipment stored line-side near the station.
The ability to photograph from opened dutch doors is a rare pleasure on modern trains.
In my youth, I’d spent hours soaking in the atmosphere in the vestibules of trains, making photos with my old Leica 3A.
I exposed these modern photos using my FujiFilm XT1.
It had been more than 20 years since my last visit to New Mexico. This was my first by rail.
I was on my way east with Dave and Rhonda Swirk and Derek Palmieri of New Hampshire’s Conway Scenic Railroad, documenting Budd Vista-Dome Silver Splendor on its journey from Los Angeles to its new home in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
As we glided east at the head-end of Amtrak number 4 theSouthwest Chief,we met or overtook dozens of freights, many of them intermodal trains, on BNSF’s former Santa Fe Transcon.
Wow, BNSF sure runs a lot of freight!
I exposed these photos digitally using my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1.
Part of the challenge of making photos of trains from the train is trying to compose while in motion of moving subjects. Not only does this make if difficult to level the camera, but it leads to motion blur and other potential defects.
I exposed these views using my FujiFilm XT1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit lens.
Key to my success was the high ISO setting (ISO 5000) and auto white balance setting that adjusted and balanced myriad artificial light sources.
Lacking a tripod, I positioned and steadied the camera on the half open ‘dutch door’ of private passenger car Silver Splendor as it was paused across from the Metrolink train storage sidings in Riverside, California.
My exposures were about 1/2 second at f2.8 (ISO 5000).
To make the most of the photos, I imported the camera RAW files into Lightroom and adjusted highlights and shadows to make for more pleasing final images.
On November 17, 2018, I made this view of Metrolink train 662 eastbound on the old Santa Fe at Fullerton, California.
To make the most of the palm trees that line the platforms, I cross-lit the train, exposing from the north-side of footbridge over the line.
Metrolink’s white locomotive hauling a mix of white and stainless-steel cars effectively reflect light on the shadow side of the train, which make for a more even exposure and help balance the photograph by compensating for the otherwise inky darkness of the high-sun shadows.
These views are looking west . I used a telephoto lens that compresses the row of palms.
Some seven hours after I made this image, I was back at Fullerton again. Stay tuned for my nocturnal views from the same station.
Last Friday, November 16, 2018, as the sun dropped near the horizon and a layer of cloud and haze filtered the light, I repositioned myself from San Clemente Pier, northward to the Metrolink Station at San Clemente, California.
I selected my location in order to make photos of a southward, Oceanside-bound suburban train with the sun setting over the Pacific.
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 fitted with a 12mm Zeiss Touit lens, I exposed several sunset silhouettes as the train arrived onto the station platform.
To make the most of the sunset lighting, I exposed manually for the sky, allowing the locomotive and cars and other terrestrial objects to appear dark.
I was hoping to make a photo of one of Amtrak’s new Siemens Charger locomotives working the Pacific Surfliner.
I typically set my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera manually.
Most of the time this works well, as I gauge my exposures using the in-camera histogram. However, I’d become distracted immediately before the train arrived in the scene, and I grossly over exposed my sequence of photos.
Luckily, since I typically expose both RAW and JPG files I was able to work with the overexposed RAW image and correct for some of my exposure error using Lightroom.
Below are examples of the overexposed camera JPG and corrected RAW files, as well as a screen shot of the Lightroom work panel showing the position of exposure, contrast, and saturation control sliders into order to show how I successfully corrected the photo.
This is what some might call ‘Fixing it in Photoshop’, although I used Photoshop’s cousin, ‘Lightroom’, rather than the classic program.
The triple-track mainline at Fullerton, California is a great place to watch and photograph trains.
In addition to a steady procession of transcontinental container traffic, Amtrak and Metrolink passenger trains operate over the line and make stops at the old Santa Fe station.
Centralized Traffic Control with bi-directional signaling on all three lines allows dispatchers flexibility to route trains in either direction over any mainline track. There are crossovers immediately east of the station platforms.
The challenge of photographing from the pedestrian bridge is navigating the wire mesh. While my Lumix LX7 with its small diameter lens did a better job of getting through the fence, I opted for my Fuji camera because I wanted a longer telephoto lens to bring in the stack train which had stopped on the middle line waiting for a signal.
On the afternoon of November 14, 2018, I exposed this view from the east bank of the Connecticut River looking across toward Windsor Locks as Amtrak’s northward Vermonter crossed the circa 1906 New Haven Railroad-built bridge.
To help balance the contrast and better retain detail in the sky, I used an external graduated neutral density filter made by Lee Filter.
This is a 0.9ND or three stops grad filter.
In addition, I adjusted the camera RAW file to maximize highlight and shadow detail, control contrast and improve saturation.