Here are two views of the same train: led by the same locomotive, at the same location, more or less at the same time of day, exposed using the same camera with the same lens.
Both photos show New Engand Central job 608 led by GP38 3845 working northward in the morning along Plains Road in Willington, Connecticut (south of Stafford Springs).
Photos were exposed digitally using a FujiFilm XT1 with 27mm pancake lens. The slight difference in angle may be attributed to the inconvenience of a mushy snow bank along the road in winter view that was not a problem in the summer.
It was a bitterly cold morning just after sunrise when I made these views looking across a field off Route 67 east of Palmer, Massachusetts (near CP79, the control point 79 miles west of South Station, Boston, that controls the switch at the east-end of the control siding at Palmer.)
All were made from the same vantage point.
I was working with two cameras. My FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm telephoto, and my Canon EOS 7D with 40mm pancake.
The exposure, color profiles and color temperature of the cameras were set up differently, which explains the slight difference in overall density and tint.
On the previous day, CSX B740 had interchanged a healthy cut of cars for Mass-Central at Palmer, Massachusetts. So I surmised that this would be a good time to catch Mass-Central working both of its GP38-2s together.
Paul Goewey and I arrived in Palmer early, and once we were sure Mass-Central was ready to head north up their line toward Ware (old Boston & Albany Ware River Branch), we began scoping photo locations.
Although brisk and cold, the sun was clear and bright and there was a good amount of snow on the ground.
We set up at the Main Street Crossing along the valley’s namesake river. We didn’t have to wait long before we heard the train coming up the line.
These views were exposed using my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm lens.
I’d mentioned that among the top ten reasons that I wanted to make photographs in 2018 was to revisit old places to make dramatic then and now comparisons.
This is a work in progress. And I’ve published similar comparisons for Palmer previously.
Below are several views looking west from the Palmer station toward the diamond crossing.
Over the decades I’ve made hundreds of photos here.
The vintage photo dates from Spring 1984. This view works well for modern companions because I conveniently left lots of room to the right of the locomotive while including details such as the code lines.
The color New England Central views were exposed on January 3, 2018.
These are imperfect comparisons because I’m not working from precisely the same angle, nor am I using equivalent lenses.
The 1984 views were made with a 50mm Leica Summitar, while the more recent views were exposed digitally using a Fujinon 90mm lens. However, I also made a few color slides using a 40mm Canon lens. But those are pending processing.
I knew it as the Boston & Albany and Central Vermont diamond in Palmer (diamond describes the shape of rails made by the angled level crossing of the two lines). I made my first photos at this location before I entered 6th grade.
Fast forward to January 2, 2018. I stepped out of the car at Palmer and with the crisp winter air I could hear a train approaching eastbound.
So often my ears have alerted me to a train. In this case the two-cycle roar of classic EMD 645 diesels.
I ambled toward the diamond and made these views. Over-the-shoulder light, with rich mid-morning sun, at a readily identifiable location; nearly perfect.
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 with 27mm lens, I exposed a sequence of images designed to mimic the angle I’d used here many years earlier.
Too often railway photographers seek ‘calendar lighting’, (over the shoulder three-quarter (morning or afternoon) sun, with a minimum of shadows, diffusion, or other natural lighting effects).
There’s nothing wrong with these classic conditions, but when applied repetitively in exclusion to other types of lighting it can result in a predictable body of work. Formulaic is a term that comes to mind.
Consider cross lighting; when the sun illuminates from an angle opposite the subject, yet not in the photo. This offers bright light on the front of the subject, but shadows on the side creating a more dramatic angle.
This effect can be tempered when the lighting is low, diffused (by clouds, mist or pollution) and/or when bright foreground (such as snow) reflects light into shadow areas.
I made this cross-lit view on the New England Central at Stateline Summit in late afternoon. Notice my use of foreground.
Back in the early 1980s, Conrail routinely assigned GP40-2s to road freights on the Boston & Albany. Back then I ignorantly dismissed the GP40-2s as ‘boring’. (But, I made photos anyway).
Today, being older and wiser and having a greater appreciation for locomotives of all kinds, I look back fondly on those olden times.
Luckily, I don’t have to go too far to find GP40s on the move. CSX still assigns vintage GP40-2s (albeit modernized) to the Palmer, Massachusetts local freight, symbol B740. (On the old Boston & Albany).
I see these locomotives as classics, yet still earning their keep, and wearing modern paint.
Last week when I exposed these views of CSX B740 at CP83 near the old Palmer Station, it was bright, but partly overcast midday with diffused high sun. Snow on the ground helps lighten the shadows—Decent, if not perfect, conditions for photographing locomotives.
It was about 4 degrees Fahrenheit at East Brookfield, Massachusetts, when I made this view at 9:38pm on December 31st looking west toward CP64.
The signal had just changed from all red (stop) to red over flashing green (Limited Clear) on the main track.
I exposed the photograph with my FujiFilm XT1 with 27mm pancake lens with the camera mounted on a Gitzo tripod.
Using the ‘A’ mode with aperture set to f2.8, the exposure value boosted by about 2/3rds of a stop, and ISO set to 400, my effective shutter speed was about 5 seconds. A length of time that seems like forever when you are standing alone in the dark with an icy wind in your face.
I checked my exposure and focus and thought to myself ‘good enough’. Which means that if it were warmer, I’d make another image.
CSX’s Q007 was lined west. But opted not to wait for it.
Snow, crisp cold air, and lots of decorative holiday lights: that’s the attraction of Connecticut Trolley Museum’s Winterfest.
Here’s a tip (two really): When making photos in this environment it helps to have a good solid tripod. And, if you going to bring a tripod that uses a clip-on system to attach the camera to the tripod head, IT REALLY HELPS to make sure you have your clip!
Last night, I exposed these photos using my FujiFilm X-T1 firmly mounted on a Gitzo Trip. I planned my visit to the Connecticut Trolley Museum to coincide with sunset, so that I could make use of the last of daylight before the inky black of night set in.
I experimented with my camera’s pre-programmed color temperature settings while also trying various Fuji film color profiles. With one or two images, I adjusted the RAW files to make the most of the scene.
By the time I was done with my first round of photography my fingers were pretty numb.
Warren, Massachusetts is a favorite place to photograph, but also a tricky one.
I used Warren as an example for a similar compositional conversation in Trains Magazine, published about two years ago and featured photo of Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited.
Yesterday (December 29, 2017), I arrived in Warren just in time to set up and catch CSX’s late-running Q264 (loaded autoracks for East Brookfield) race up the grade and pass the recently restored former Boston & Albany station.
Using my FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens, I exposed a burst of images.
I’ve selected three of these, and then annotated versions of the image that I like the best so that you may benefit from my compositional considerations.
There’s no correct answer to composition; in this instance I prefer the more distant view of the train because it better features the old passenger station and the town of Warren; here’s why I feel the composition works:
Yesterday was pretty frosty when I arrived at Eagle Bridge, New York.
I was just passing though, but made time to expose these photos. Not a wheel was turning, so I made these atmospheric images of the derelict Boston & Maine station and environs, demonstrating that you can make interesting railroad photos without a train.
So often I’ve heard the following lament, “I saw that once but I didn’t take a photo.”
The other day I was on my way to get a haircut when I passed under New England Central’s 611 departing Palmer, Massachusetts for Brattleboro, Vermont.
The weather was poor, the lighting bland and I had an agenda of things to attend to.
But I had my Lumix LX7 handy and I went after 611 anyway!
My head-on views were not worth describing here. Not today anyway. However, I like this trailing view at Barretts, Massachusetts of New England Central 721, still in Union Pacific paint (but with NECR lettering).
This captures some of the drama of the accelerating freight and makes reasonably good use of the lighting. Afterwards I resumed my mission to get a hair cut.
My point? Whenever possible, regardless of the weather and other things to do, I take the time to make photographs; of railroads and whatever else catches my interest.
Here’s my holiday card. Amtrak’s westward 449 led by heritage locomotive 156 passes West Warren, Massachusetts, Sunday December 10, 2017.
Amtrak 156 has been on my list for a long time. Of all the Amtrak paint schemes over the years, this is by far my favorite.
Although I caught 156 second unit out three days earlier (see yesterday’s Tracking the Light), this locomotive had eluded my photography for years. Apparently it had been assigned to the Vermonter for a month a few years ago, but I was out of the country.
Every other time it was some place, I was some place else.
But finally everything came together; first snow of the season, Amtrak 156 in the lead, and soft afternoon sun at one of my favorite former Boston & Albany locations; the engineer gave me a friendly toot of the horn, and I’m pleased with the outcome of the photos.
I hope you have a great holiday season and you find your 156 in the new year.
Tracking the Light wishes you Seasons Greetings too!
Two weeks ago, fellow photographer Mike Gardner and I were in Pittsfield, Massachusetts waiting for the arrival of the Housatonic Railroad freight from Canaan.
Standing on a bridge completed in 2016, we were at the center of what had been a massive General Electric plant, but has since been closed and largely demolished.
Somewhere in my older photos, I have a photo of an eastward Conrail freight led by GE diesels passing through this plant that had straddled the Boston & Albany mainline. I also have a photo of the Alco switcher that worked the plant.
The Housatonic freight arrived and paused to make its drop for CSX. The sun emerged from the clouds and I made these views.
For me the train is incidental. The dramatic cloudy sky with the ruins of the GE Plant tell the story. A story so often repeated across New England.
Here are some recent examples of photos gone wrong.
It would be grand if every time I pressed the shutter I made a calendar perfect picture. (If, of course, I wanted to illustrate calendars all day long).
Trains move while I’m trying to make photos. If I don’t get everything set right, move at the wrong instant, or the technology slips up, then the moment is gone by the time I get it together.
Many times I get what I’m aiming for, but sometimes I goof it up.
Yes, I make lousy photos. Sometimes.
Too often the cause of the lousy photo is malfunctioning technology, or my over reliance on automated camera functions. Other times it’s just me. People make mistakes. Luckily no harm comes if I make a bad photo.
The old Boston & Maine Railroad’s Fitchburg route hugs the Millers River east of Millers Falls as it ascends toward Erving and Athol.
Last week, Paul Goewey and I followed Pan Am’s slow moving eastward unit grain train destined for Ayer, Massachusetts. This had been delayed by telemetry communication problems with its tail end.
A radio telemetry unit is used in place of a caboose on most North American freight trains. This communicates air pressure information relating to the air brake system, and can allow the engineer to set train brakes from the rear end in event of an emergency.
Four former CSX GE-built DASH8-40Cs were leading the train.
We set up near Farley’s, located at a grade crossing a few miles timetable west of Erving, where I made these photos of the train working the grade.
Back-lighted conditions accentuated the drama of the ascent by illuminating the locomotive exhaust.
I wanted to write, ‘why sometimes winter is better.’ Except this is a late autumn photo. (If you accept that the Winter Solstice is the defining date for the beginning of Winter.).
On December 6, 2017, Paul Goewey and I arrived at Depot Road in Leverett, Massachusetts several minutes ahead of the southward New England Central road freight, job 611 from Brattleboro.
I was interested in exploring this angle looking toward the rock cut immediately north of the old station location.
I’ve made a number of views from the old station area in summer, when the cutting tends to be obscured by brush and harshly shadowed.
And that’s why sometimes Winter (or late autumn) is better. The lack of foliage combined with diffused light opens up numerous photo possibilities that are impractical when the trees are leafed out and underbrush is thick.
The other night I made this digital photograph of Boston’s South Station.
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 with 12mm Touit, I set the ISO to 1600 and handheld the camera at ¼ sec.
I calculated exposure manually using the camera meter, and then intentionally increased the exposure by about ½ stop. (In otherwords I let in more light to the sensor than recommended by the meter).
In post processing, I adjusted contrast and exposure to control highlights and lighten the night sky in order to overcome two of the common failings of night photographs: blasted highlights and excessive inky blackness.
Autumn sunrise. No two are the same. The mix of clouds and particulates in the air make for endless mixtures of texture and color.
Last week I arrived in Worcester to take the 7am MBTA train to Boston.
I made these sunrise views using my FujiFilm X-T1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit lens handheld.
Working with the RAW files, I made some minor adjustments in Lightroom to balance highlights with shadows and tweak color balance.
The RAW file is not what your eye sees.
Where the in-camera Jpg uses a pre-profiled set of parameters in regards to color saturation, contrast etc. The digital RAW file represents the data as captured by the camera and is comparable to a film negative; it represents an intermediate step that requires adjustment and interpretation to produce a pleasing photograph.
I typically expose both a pre-set in-camera Jpg (often with one of Fuji’s digitally replicated film color profiles, such as Velvia) and a RAW file simultaneously.
In November 2017, I returned to this location in advance of the approaching northward Housatonic freight NX-12 that featured two early 1960s-era GP35s in the lead followed by 32 cars (28 loads, 4 empties) and another GP35 at the back.
I find the railroad setting here fascinating. The combination of the traditional line with wooden ties and jointed rail in a setting of old factories, freight house and passenger station makes for a rustic scene out of another era.
Working with a Nikon F3 with 50mm lens I made a series of black & white photos on Kodak Tri-X. And, I also exposed a sequence of digital color photos using my FujiFilm X-T1.
VueScan offers me a high degree of control, but I’ve found requires a bit of practice and experimentation to obtain the best scans.
I typically scan Kodachrome 25 slides at 4000 dpi (dots per inch) and then output as a Tif file to obtain the greatest amount of data. For this slide I opted to make a multiple pass scan to retain a higher degree of shadow detail. (VueScan offers the multiple pass option under its ‘Input’ pull down menu).
To make the most of the scan for internet presentation, I imported the Tif file into Lightroom and lightened the shadows and balanced the highlights, before outputting as a scaled Jpg. (The original scan remains unchanged during this process).
Kodachrome slides recorded tremendous amounts of information and the original Coolscan Tif is far too large to present here.
The old Western Pacific Junction at Keddie, California between WP’s east-west transcon line from Oakland to Salt Lake City and the Inside Gateway/High Line route north to Bieber was once one of the most photographed bridges in California.
What’s not evident from most photographs is that this impressive looking bridge can be viewed from California Highway 70—the main road through the Feather River Canyon.
On a dull October 2003 afternoon I made this view of the famed ‘Keddie Wye’ (as the junction is popularly known).
Contrast and texture make this photo work. My color slides from that day of the train crossing the bridge are less impressive.
Exposed on Kodak 120-size Tri-X using a Rolleiflex Model T with a Zeiss Tessar; processed in Ilfotec HC, and scanned using an Epson V750. Final contrast adjustments were made in Lightroom to emphasize highlights and lighten shadows.
Tracking the Light Publishes Something New Everyday!
In March 1984, I borrowed my father’s Rolleiflex Model T and exposed a roll of 120-size Ektachrome of Boston & Maine freights in the Connecticut River Valley.
The Rollei was an old camera and there was nothing electronic on it. Setting the camera was entirely up to the photographer. I was still in high school and my skills at using a hand-held light meter were less than perfect.
In short, the combined effect of snow on the ground and my lack of experience left me with some seriously underexposed medium format transparencies.
I was disappointed with my results and left the uncut film in the box that it was returned to me from the lab. I left them there for 33 years and only re-discovered them a few weeks ago. (Try that with your digital photos. No actually, don’t try that!).
With the technology now at hand I decided to see what I could do to make these photos presentable despite serious underexposure (suffering from receiving insufficient light).
Working with an Epson V750 flatbed scanner, I scanned the transparencies (positive color film) using VueScan 9×64 (version 9.5.91) software.
Scanning, like photography, is an art and I’ve found to make the most effective scans often requires a bit of knowledge and skill.
I’ve worked with both the Epson and VueScan software, and while both produce excellent results, for this effort I chose VueScan because it allowed me greater control of the scanning process.
To extract more information from these difficult photos, I opted to make multi-pass scans, which do a better job of capturing detail in high-lights and shadows. The software combines the data in the final file.
Once scanned, I then imported the Tif files into Lightroom for post processing adjustments. The photos presented here are scaled from the original tif files (which are far too large for internet presentation).
The results are not perfect, but vastly superior to the muddy, dense original chromes.
To allow you to better understand how I’ve set up the scanner with the VueScan software, I’ve included screen shots (above) of the various sub-menus which show the various options and parameters I used.
There is more than one way to make a scan, and I’m sure if I continue to play with these chromes I may get an even better result. However, I have thousands of photographs that need scanning, and I’m limited to 24 hours a day.
Over the years I made countless photos of Amtrak’s block-like E60 electrics working underwire.
So for me it’s a bit strange to see one of these 1970s-era machines on static display outside of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania alongside a PRR DD1 electric and some other classics, including a 1980s-era AEM-7 (topic of a future Tracking the Light Post).
Since today Amtrak 603 represents the E60 fleet, I scanned through my archives to locate photo of 603 at work on the Northeast Corridor. It’s pictured with a long distance train on August 1, 1986 at Linden, New Jersey.
I couldn’t have anticipated then that engine 603 would someday be a museum piece!
Two weeks ago I caught Amtrak engine 184 in the Northeast Direct heritage scheme working train number 56 (northward Vermonter).
The light was fading, so I upped the ISO on my FujiFilm X-T1 to 1000 and exposed these views using my 27mm pancake lens.
Although I set the shutter to 1/320 of a second, the relatively fast train still necessitated panning to keep the locomotive sharp. Panning had the effect of setting off the background in a sea of blur and conveying a sense of motion to the photos.
White balance was set at ‘daylight’ in order to better retain the blue glow of dusk.