Norfolk Southern’s Water Level Route is among the busiest freight routes in the East.
It features a continual parade of trains; long freights led by common modern diesels.
Here a cookie-cutter General Electric Evolution-series works east with a double stack train, ducking under the South Shore line at CP485 near Burns Harbor, Indiana.
Isn’t this freight the modern day equivalent of a New York Central freight led by F7s; or a generation earlier by a common Central H-10 Mikado?
But does it matter that I exposed this image? Where does it fit in the BIG picture?
I was pleased when I made this view. Chris Guss and I had enough time to set up, but didn’t wait long. I recalled a photo made more than 20 years ago in this same territory; Mike Danneman and I spent a snowy February morning photographing Conrail. Those photos are looking better all the time.
Saturday evening I used my FujiFilm X-T1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit to photograph CSX’s westward Q437 (Framingham, Massachusetts to Selkirk, New York) at Palmer, Massachusetts passing the new signals at CP83.
They’ve yet to be activated and the new signals are in place alongside the Conrail-era signals installed in 1986.
It was dusk and the light was fading fast. I pushed the camera ISO to 2500, and exposed this action shot at 1/250th of a second at f2.8.
Rices at Charlemont, Massachusetts used to be an interlocking, where the Boston & Maine’s line went from double to single track.
Back in the 1980s, I’d catch meets here between eastward and westward freights.
Much has changed.
Not only was the interlocking decommissioned and later removed, but almost all evidence of it, including the old signal bridge are now gone. Trees and brush have grown up between the railroad and the river, and trees along the road are taller than ever.
This now makes for a pretty challenging setting.
At some point I’ll present ‘then and now’ views, but these photos demonstrate telephoto and wide angle photos of the same train from the same vantage point.
There was nice afternoon light on Pan Am’s EDRJ (East Deerfield to Rotterdam Junction) so I settled on my traditional location, which still gets a bit of sun late in the day.
Here’s something different. I had my FujiFilm X-T1 set up to record monochrome with a digitally applied red filter to alter the tonality. Working with a Zeiss 12mm lens, I made this view at Arlington, Massachusetts of two MBTA buses passing on Massachusetts Avenue.
On November 15, 1987, I followed a loaded PLMT coal train east from Buffalo, New York. This train had operated with Pittsburgh & Lake Erie locomotives and was being handled by Guilford’s Delaware & Hudson via trackage rights over Conrail’s former Erie Railroad.
Try to fit all that on the slide mount!
At the time these coal trains operated about once a week, and while it wasn’t uncommon to find P&LE locomotives, catching the trains on film was challenging.
I made this view on Kodachrome 25 with my Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron Lens. It’s a badly under exposed long pan (about 1/8 of a second) from a hillside off the Canisteo River Road, in the valley of that name, a few miles east of Adrian.
The original slide was made at the very end of daylight, and the slow speed ISO25 film didn’t give me the needed sensitivity to capture the scene with adequate exposure.
That’s a long way of saying; it was dark and I underexposed the film.
Thankfully, I didn’t through the slide away.
I scanned it using VueScan 9×64 (edition 9.6.09) software and a Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 slide scanner. It opted for manual controls; I selected 4000 dpi input, under ‘color’ I used the Kodachrome K14 color profile, and while output was set at 4000 dpi as a TIF file.
I then imported the TIF into Lightroom for color, exposure and contrast adjustment, necessary to compensate for my extreme underexposure. To hold sky detail, I applied a digital graduated neutral density filter.
Although slightly grainy, the results are much improved over the original and captures my intended effect of the train rolling at speed through the Canisteo Valley at dusk.
I rolled down the passenger-side window of my friend’s Golf, and exposed a series of photos with my Lumix.
I’ve described this technique previously; I adjusted the f-stop (aperture control) manually to its smallest opening (f8), my ISO was at its slowest setting (80), and I put the camera to aperture priority.
I intended this combination of settings to automatically select the appropriate shutter speed for ideal exposure, while using the slowest setting to allow for the effect of motion blur.
I kept the camera aimed at the locomotive while allowing for ample foreground to blur by for the effect of speed.
This works especially well to show the large diesel working long-hood forward, which is not its usual position.
This is a grab shot; I didn’t have time to do what I intended (and the sun went in).
We arrived at the small cemetery at West Northfield, Massachusetts minutes before Amtrak 56 (northward Vermonter).
The brush along the railroad has recently been cut. Unfortunately, a brush cutting/removal machine was awkwardly (as in non-photographically) positioned by the tracks, foiling my intend angle for a photo. I was going to try ‘plan b’.
I’d heard the crew call ‘Approach’ for East Northfield, I was hoping for time to swap to a wide angle lens, when I saw the headlight.
No time: so instead, I hastily composed this vertical view using my FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm lens.
I like the American flags, placed for Memorial Day. I wonder about my placement of the front of the locomotive relative to the gap in the brush. Should I have let the locomotive continue a few more feet to the left?
Working with a Leica and Visoflex reflex-viewing attachment mounted on a tripod, I exposed this Kodak Kodachrome 64 slide with a 200mm Leitz Telyt telephoto lens.
I calculated the exposure using an old GE handheld light meter, which I promptly dropped on the floor of the famous New York City terminal, destroying the device’s sensitive electro-mechanical photocell and needle.
That was back in 1986.
It turned out that my meter had been giving me hot readings. After I bought a new meter a couple of days later, I began obtaining more accurate daylight readings and better overall Kodachrome exposures.
However, because the meter had been encouraging me to ‘over-expose’ (allow more light to reach the film than I intended), I actually produced a better color slide here at Grand Central Terminal, because slight over-exposure was necessary to balance the lighting and bring out the grandeur of the architecture.
If I’d exposed as I intended, my photo would have appeared darker. So, what makes this photo effective was the result of accidental relative over-exposure. How about that?
I’d heard complaints about this. You’ll find my solutions are the very end of this blog text.
Pan Am Railway’s 7552, a former CSX General Electric-built DASH8-40C (sometimes simplified as ‘C40-8’), features modern white light-emitting diode (LED) headlights.
The problem is that these white LEDs viewed head-on are much brighter than ordinary incandescent-bulb headlights. Unnaturally bright headlights may have some advantages; they undoubtedly offer better illumination and can be spotted from greater distance.
However they tend to be mesmerizing, which may have something less than the desired effect from a safety point of view.
I first encountered these headlights about 10 years ago photographing an electric locomotive in Munich, Germany.
For photography bright LED headlights pose a couple of problems. They can confuse both auto exposure and auto focusing systems, and as a result may contribute to under exposed and/or out of focus digital photos.
Also, many digital cameras only have a limited ability to handle extreme contrasts, resulting in an unappealing effect that I’ll call ‘light-bleed’, when bright light appears to spill over to adjacent areas of the image. A similar problem is a ghosting effect caused by reflections from external filters or inner elements on some lenses.
So what do you do?
I found that these LEDs are only unacceptably bright when viewed head-on, so by moving off axis, you can greatly reduce the unpleasant visual effects of these bright lights. That’s one solution, anyway.
Another way to suppress headlight bleed is to select a smaller aperture (larger f-number). I work my cameras manually, so this is easy enough to accomplish. If you are using automatic modes, you’ll need to select an aperture priority setting that allows you to control the aperture. Just mind your shutter speed or you might suffer from motion blur.
1) Use your foreground. Unless you’re a ballast enthusiast, avoid emphasizing the ballast. Too many railroad photographs suffer from excessive foreground clutter and other distracting elements, so when you’re composing an image pay attention to the bottom of your frame.
2) Watch your focus. Although most modern cameras have auto focus systems, too many use center-weighted auto-focusing sensors. These produce an unfortunate side-effect of encouraging novice photographers to center their subject, which tends towards bland and ineffective composition. More advanced cameras have tools such as variable focus points and focus locks that help you get around the centering problem.
3) Avoid Flare. One of the reasons traditional photography technique stressed over the shoulder lighting was to avoid the unpleasant effects of lens flare. This is caused when the primary light source hits the front element of your lens and cause streaks and patterns across your image while lowering overall contrast. You can make successful backlit photographs by finding ways to minimize direct sun or other primary light sources; stand in the shadow of a tree, building or other object; no shadows available? Make your own with a flat piece of cardboard, book, or spare copy of TRAINS magazine. One last point: while you should avoid flare, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should eliminate it entirely. In certain circumstances, a little flare can improve a photo. Watch the way Hollywood uses flare for dramatic effect.
After intercepting Amtrak’s southward Vermonter on the Connecticut River Line, I drove to Pan Am’s East Deerfield yard(near Greenfield, Massachusetts) to see if anything was moving.
Fortuity and patience combined enabled me to make photos of Pan Am Railways POED crossing the Connecticut River Bridge (immediately east of the yard).
In the lead was 7552, one of two (soon to be three) former CSX DASH8-40Cs wearing Pan Am Railways paint, plus one of the railroad’s last remaining 600-series six motor EMDs (619, that began its career as a Southern Pacific SD45) still in traffic.
Catching this pair of locomotives together is a coup. I’ve always found transition periods make for interesting photographs; during the last year, these second-hand GE’s have sidelined many of Pan Am’s older locomotives.
Will this be the last time I catch one of the 1980s era GEs working together with a 1960s era six-motor EMDs in Pan Am blue paint?
In my early days, picturing former Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 electrics was one of my main photographic interests.
I held Amtrak’s newer E60 electrics is disdain. These modern, boxy electrics appeared to be supplanting the GG1s. For me they lacked the historic connections, the elegant streamlined style, and the character of the GG1. They were bland and common.
I may not have been fond of the E60s. But I always photographed them. They were part of the scene, and important elements of modern operations.
Recently I rediscovered these E60 photos along with some other long-missing black & white negatives.
When I was at the Rochester Institute of Technology, once or twice a year Kodak would gift photo students with a selection of new products to try.
On this occasion, I had been given a sample of two rolls of the latest Ektachrome.
A professor gave us a vague assignment to make color photographs, so I wandered up to Lincoln Park, a junction on Conrail’s Water Level Route west of downtown Rochester, New York, and exposed these photos.
There I found local freight WBRO-15 working with GP8 7528. The crew was friendly and quite used to me photographing of their train.
Back in 1987 my serious railroad photos were exposed using 120 black & white film or on Kodachrome 25. These Ektachromes were an anomaly. After the assignment was turned in, I relegated the remaining images to my ‘seconds box’ and forgot about them—for 31 years!
I found them back accident the other day, and so scanned them post haste.
I thought my Rochester friends would get a kick out of seeing them. How much has changed since March 11, 1987?
Using my FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm zoom lens, I exposed this view of Pan Am Railway’s symbol freight EDBF (East Deerfield to Bellows Falls) working the Connecticut River line at Bernardston, Massachusetts.
I like the technological and geometrical contrasts of boxy General Electric diesels on the 19thcentury stone arch viaduct.
I made this panned view of Irish Rail class 201 number 212 working up-road at Cherryville Junction on 11 January 2003.
Panning is an effective technique for conveying motion. For this view I used a short telephoto lens and a comparatively slow shutter speed, probably about 1/60thof a second, while moving the camera in tandem with the locomotive.
Key to making an effective pan is maintaining constant speed and smooth motion.
Novice panners may make the mistake of stopping panning as they release the shutter. This results in a jarring complete blur that produces something less than the intended effect.
Tracking the Light Publishes New Material Each and Every Day.
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.
In 1982, Boston & Maine bought several routes in Massachusetts and Connecticut from Conrail. Among these were lines clustered around Plainville, Connecticut, accessed via trackage rights over Amtrak’s Springfield-New Haven Line.
Today, Amtrak’s route requires advanced signaling on leading locomotives and only a handful of Pan Am’s engines are so equipped. As a result, Pan Am sometimes operates a borrowed Providence & Worcester engine on its East Deerfield to Plainville freight.
As of last week, Pan Am’s EDPL was still operating on a daylight schedule, however with increased Springfield-New Haven passenger services to commence in June, this operation may become nocturnal.
I made these views from the old McClelland Farm Road bridge, a vantage point that will soon be gone when the new bridge opens.
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.
This is a technical follow up on my post showing examples of stand processed film.
Several readers were interested in seeing comparisons between stand processed negatives versus normally processed negatives.
I made these photos in the back yard to demonstrate the differences between processed negatives. This is intended to show differences in the amount of information presented and changes in tonality.
Although there are slight differences in the composition of the scene, these variations are irrelevant for this presentation.
All exposures were made on 120-size Kodak Tri-X roll film using a Rolleiflex Model T with 75mm Zeiss Tessar lens, set at f22 1/60thof second.
Photos are grouped with both the positive scan of the original negative (to show how the black & white negatives appear without reversal) and the digitally reversed ‘positive’, that appears as would a print of the negative. Photos have NOT been altered except for scaling. There have been no adjustments to gamma, density, etc.
Details of the differences in processing are indicated in the captions.
This is a work in progress.
Low Contrast Process, using normal dilution and agitation.
Stand process without toning.
Stand Process with Selenium toning to boost highlight density.
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.
Years ago, when I was a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, I recall whispers of a non-conventional approach to processing black & white film.
Key to conventional black & white processing is regular agitation of the tank. This keeps the developer from stagnating, minimizes streaking and mottling of the image area, while greatly speeding the development of the film.
Until recently, I’ve always agitated my film, but made a point to minimize this activity, since excessive agitation results in a host of other defects and undesirable characteristics.
Stand processing, as it’s now known, was what I heard in whispers during college.
Basically, you mix a very weak developer solution (approximately one third the concentration of ‘normal’ developer), agitate for about 15 seconds when introducing the solution to the tanks, then leave it to stand for about an hour with NO AGITATION. Then agitate briefly before draining the tanks and continuing process as normal: stop, fix, rinse, etc.
By doing this, you use the developer to exhaustion, which is more economical and yields a different result than by working with short times and more concentrated solutions.
This doesn’t work well with 35mm film because bromide salt deposits tend to cluster around the sprockets resulting in streaking.
I made a series of tests using 120-size film, which has no sprockets.
An advantage of stand processing is a very different tonal curve that features extremely rich blacks with great detail in shadows, and broad tonality in the mid-tones. When the mix is just right, the highlight regions should reach an optimal density that allows for excellent detail without loss of data.
Key to making the stand process work is controlling chemical fog. Without controlling chemical fog, the shadow areas will gain too much density and there will be an undesirable loss of image data leading to a poor quality negative.
There are other elements of the process that aid in making for more effective negatives, and like any black & white process, these require trial and error refinement to yield the best results.