Category Archives: Tips and Technique

SPV2000 at Windsor Locks May 1985.

I made this photograph at Windsor Locks, Connecticut showing a southward Amtrak SPV2000 making its station stop.

The Budd SPV2000s only worked this Amtrak ‘branch’ for about six years and during that time they were rarely photographed.

Lets just say, I’ve seen more of my own photographs of these cars on the Springfield-New Haven run than all other published views of the cars. (And I only have a few photos).

It’s too bad. I thought the cars looked pretty cool. And they were fun to ride on. Plus, you never knew when one might show up hauled by an Alco RS-3 or some other locomotive!

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Wrestling with a Tripod in the Rain.

New York’s Canisteo Valley was among my favorite places to photograph in the late 1980s. The lure of the Erie Railroad and the old Union Switch & Signal Style S signals had captivated my interest.

On the morning of July 19, 1988, my old pal TSH and I were on one of our annual summer rail-photo adventures. We had started before dawn, and picked up a westward Conrail OIBU rolling though the Canisteo toward Hornell, New York.

Trains moved right along on the former Erie Railroad mainline and racing ahead of it in a Dodge Dart, I parked and leaped out of the car at a preselected location at milepost 320 (measured from Jersey City) and began to set up my photograph.

I was working with equipment I borrowed from my father. The Leica M2 loaded with PKM (Kodachrome 25 professional) was mine, but the 200mm Telyt mounted with a bellows on a Leica Visoflex viewfinder and positioned on a antique Linhof tripod were his.

In our hasty chase, I’d cut my set up time too fine. It was lashing rain and I was struggling to set up and level the tripod, while trying to focus the camera using the Rube Goldburg Visoflex arrangement. My exposure was about f4 1/8 of a second.

Conrail’s BUOI came into view before I had time to refine my composition: this imperfect photo was the result. I recall the frustration of fighting with the equipment as the roar of the train intensified and the rain obscured my vision.

Let’s just say, that at the time I wasn’t impressed with my image. I’d cropped too much of the foreground and the whole image is off level. So for 30 years, it sat in the Kodak yellow cardboard slide box that it had been returned to me from lab in.

Last year, I scanned it. Ironically, this damp-day silhouette closely captures the spirit of Conrail’s Canisteo Valley that had captivated my photographic interest. The reflection of the headlight on the glossy codelines is the finesse that I didn’t manage to capture in most of brighter-day photography.

I’m glad I didn’t throw the slide away.

This morning I cropped and leveled the image in an effort to correct for my failings in 1988. I’m not sure I improved it any.

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Geneva Street Car House—SF MUNI.

I liked the old Boeing-Vertol LRVs. (Light Rail Vehicles).

The shape of the cars lent well to photography.

The San Francisco cars reminded me a the old orange creamsicle frozen treats.

Back in December 1990, I made this view of a Boeing car leaving the Geneva Street car house for a run on the M-Ocean line. I was working with my old Nikkor f4.0 200mm lens on my F3T loaded with Kodachrome 25.

I made great use of that lens, but sold it in 1996 when I bought my 80-200mm zoom. In retrospect, I made better photos with the fixed 200mm.

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Tokyo April 1997

My preferred camera-lens combination in 1997 was a Nikon N90s with Nikkor 80-200 zoom lens.

This versatile set up gave me great flexibility. At the time I was still exposing both Fujichrome and Kodachrome slide film, but was leaning more and more toward Fujichrome.

Ironically, in retrospect I found that camera flexibility doesn’t necessarily produce the best photos. I think this is because the zoom lens allowed me to quickly adjust the focal length and perspective, I didn’t spend the time to properly scrutinize the scene for the best possible image. This not a fault with the equipment, but in how I was using it.

This photo of JR trains crossing an overpass in Tokyo reminds me when I felt the N90S, 80-200mm lens and Fujichrome Provia gave me limitless photographic potential. Maybe it still does?

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Chrome at Bad Schandau

It was on a misty May 2009 morning that I exposed this Fujichrome slide of a tram in the village of Bad Schandau in Germany’s Elbe River Valley.

This was just a few months before I purchased my first digital camera and when I still exposing lots of color slide film.

Yesterday I scanned this slide using an Epson V750 scanner and then processed the file using Lightroom.

Below are two Lightroom Jpgs. The top is uncorrected, the bottom reflects digital tidying up for internet presentation.

Specifically, I adjusted the gamma for better contrast by putting the darkest regions at the toe of the curve (far left) and moving the highlights to the top of the curve (far right) while increasing contrast in the middle range. I reduced the amount of magenta and increased the yellow for better color balance, and applied a small degree of digital sharpening for edge effect. (This doesn’t actually make the photo sharper, but it looks sharper on screen). Lastly, I made a nominal correction for level by slightly rotating the image (which crops it).

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Snow Train Arriving.

Conway Scenic Railroad 1751 leads the evening Snow Train over the Post Office crossing at North Conway last week.

Conway Scenic is operating Snow Trains between the North Conway Station and Attitash through February 29th.

Exposed in February 2020 using a Lumix LX7 digital camera.

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Frosty Dawn

Last week the lights were lit on Gertrude Emma—Conway Scenic Railroad’s 1898-built Pullman open-end observation car—when I made this early morning view at the North Conway station.

Exposed using a Lumix LX7 mounted on a Bogen tripod.

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Toronto Transit Commission—Two Photos from Ten Years Ago.

In February 2010, I visited Toronto, Ontario with photographers Pat Yough and Chris Guss.

It was extra cold, but we made some stunning photos in the clear frosty light.

These view of TTC CLRVs (Canadian Light Rail Vehicles) were exposed using a Canon EOS-3 and Fujichrome slide film.

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Snow Train Day and Night

On Tuesday February 18, 2020 it snowed most of the day at North Conway, New Hampshire.

Through out the day the Conway Scenic Railroad was operating its new Snow Trains between its famous North Conway station and Attitash in Bartett.

I made these views of the Snow Train set led by former Maine Central GP7 573 paused between runs at the North Conway B&M station.

Both were exposed using a Lumix LX7.

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Snow Trains—The First Day.

Some times plans don’t materialize as expected.

The day dawned with an arctic claw. This made for an azure sky, but was a tad difficult on the fingers.

I thought I’d be showing photos of RDC Millie in the New Hampshire snow.

Instead, I have some photos of former Maine Central GP7 573 pulling a four car consist as Conway Scenic’s Snow Train.

That turned out to be a good thing for the railroad and resulted in some unusual winter photos. The larger train accommodated the swell of passengers that arrived to travel.

For these photos I was working with my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm zoom lens.

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Cupid’s Express under the Stars.

Last night (February 14th) I traveled on the head-end of Conway Scenic Railroad’s Cupid Express dinner train that ran over the old Maine Central Mountain Division toward Bartlett.

When the train paused for the engineer to change ends (we had a locomotive positioned at each end of the train to avoid the need to run around), I exposed a few photos.

It was clear, very cold and the stars were bright. You can see my footprints in the foreground snow.

The train was a success and was completely sold out.

Exposed with a Lumix LX7 at f1.4 for 13 seconds, ISO 100. Camera mounted on a Bogen tripod. I made some minor adjustments to exposure and color saturation in post processing.

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O’Connell Street in the Rain.

Dublin November 4, 2019:.I was heading to Drumcondra to meet the lads for an evening of railroad photography.

At O’Connell Street, I needed to change from one bus to another.

It was dusk.

The swollen winter sky opened and a cold rain cascaded down like a tsunami.

Working with a Nikon F3 fitted with a 50mm lens and loaded with Rollei Retro 80S, I made a single exposure.

This is it.

There’s something about the split composition, the depth afforded by the exceptional glossy wet evening, the shadowy figures with umbrellas, and the looming bus that works for me like few photos emanating from my camera in a long time. 

Since mid-November, I’ve had this as the opening photo on my Facebook page.

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Boeings on Duboce.

In 1990, this was just around the corner.

One October evening I set up on Duboce Avenue in San Francisco with my then new F3T and 35mm PC lens (perspective control lens, which allows for movement of the front element) and made this view using Kodachrome 25 color slide film.

Difficult to believe that was nearly 30 years ago!

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Memory Full!

When I’m working with film I keep a sharp eye on how many photos I expose, and work judiciously as I approach the 36th frame.

But with digital, too often the potentially vast numbers of photos that I can save to a card leads to my complacency. So, despite having had hundreds of exposures at my disposal, at an inopportune moment after releasing the shutter the dreaded ‘Memory Full!’ message appears at the back of the camera along with a snide sounding ‘beeep!’

I had this misfortune a couple of weeks back when in pursuit of the southward Vermont Rail System freight near Wells River, Vermont.

Luckily, I’d just captured the train in motion.

However, since I’d planned out a series of locations, and I needed to proceed post haste to my next spot. I didn’t have the time to root around and locate another SD Card for my FujiFilm XT1 (poor planning on my part), so I went immediately to ‘Plan B’. (the back up plan).

That involved working with my Lumix LX7 and a Nikon F3 (loaded with black & white film) cameras, both of which are excellent tools.

The film remains in the camera, so I’ve opted to present the Lumix Photos here.

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Barnet Road-Barnet, Vermont.

I’ve looked at this location several times over the years. Here, Barnet Road crosses the Connecticut River and the railroad south of the old station-location at Barnet, Vermont.

Either the light didn’t suit photography, or there was no train around.

On January 28th, 2020, I had ample time to set up since the southward Vermont Rail System freight I was following had stopped to switch at Barnet. 

I scoped a couple of different angles from the road bridge, and at the last minute settled on this view.

I exposed this sequence of photos using my FujiFilm XT1 with 27mm pancake lens.

This view was panned slightly, which allows for a greater sense of motion while retaining sharpness on the leading locomotive.
Trailing view from the same bridge as the photos above.

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Monochrome: Steam in the Snow on Czech Film

During last month’s Steam in the Snow event at the Conway Scenic Railroad sponsored by the Massachusetts Bay Railroad Enthusiasts, I made a lot of digital photos and some video footage in my capacity as the railroad’s Manager, Marketing and Events.

But that wasn’t all.

Working with my Nikon F3 and a 50mm lens, I also exposed some Fomapan 100 Classic black & white film.

I first sampled this film on a trip to the Czech Republic in October 2016. I like the tonality and classic black & white appearance of this emulsion when processed in Ilford ID11 1-1. To boost shadow detail, I let the film pre-soak in a very weak bath of HC110 and Kodak Photoflo before primary processing.

Here’s a sample of my images.

Coming up soon, Conway Scenic will be running more trains in the snow. The railroad plans to run seven round trips a day from February 15th to 29th using Budd RDC number 23 Millie. The first trip departs North Conway at 730am and trains will run every 90 minutes to Attitash.

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Slovakian Beer Tram at Dusk.

Occasionally I aim for theme convergence.

I’ve been running a series featuring 100 transit cities and a few days back I features a tram in Berlin advertising beer. Yesterday, I discussed photography at dusk. So today, I’m featuring a beer advertizing tram at dusk in the eastern Slovakian city of Kosice.

A purist might call me out on the fact that this tram is preserved and inactive in the photo, therefore might not qualify as a legitimate transit image. I do, however, have slides of Tatra trams working Kosice streets. I’ll need to locate and scan them.

This photo was exposed on Fujichrome with conventional daylight balance. I made no color correction or alterations in scanning or post processing.

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Dusk at East Northfield.

It is unlikely you will find ‘East Northfield’ on most maps of Massachusetts, since this is a railroad location that doesn’t reflect local geography.

Not withstanding these directional peculiarities, East Northfield (as so-identified by New England Central’s sign) is a classic railroad location and a favorite place to photograph trains. Located on the Massachusetts-Vermont state line, this is where New England Central meets Pan Am’s Boston & Maine Connecticut River line from Greenfield.

On Friday, January 24, 2020, my friends, fellow photographers, Tim and Pat and I converged at the junction to make photographs of New England Central’s northward 611.

Here the train was held for a few minutes while Amtrak’s northward Vermonter made its Brattleboro station stop. Operational considerations typically find freights holding south of East Northfield until Amtrak is north of ‘West River’ (a railroad location situated north of Amtrak’s Brattleboro station).

The light was fading fast. So working with my FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm prime telephoto, I exposed a series of images to make the most of the tinted low lighting.

The first view was made with an auto-white balance setting. The second two using a daylight preset that results in the camera capturing more of the blue-spectrum of dusk.

Auto white balance; no post processing color correction.
Daylight white balance without post processing corrections.

This exposure was made a few minutes later and reflects the approach of evening after the amount of light had diminished. It was also made using the ‘Daylight’ white balance preset.

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Sacramento Light Rail; Two Chromes.

I’ve made numerous photos of Sacramento California’s Regional Transit District light rail system, all of them on film.

Here are two scans from color slides that were exposed nearly 19 years apart.

In November 1989,I exposed this pan of a light rail car near the California State Capitol building.
This elevated view of a light rail train at Florin Road, south of downtown Sacramento was made on Fujichrome using a Canon EOS3 with a 24mm lens.

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New England Central on the Roll!

After departing Greenfield, where I’d had the fortuity to catch a westward Pan Am empty grain train (Thursday’s posting on Tracking the Light), I drove to Millers Falls, Mass. My friends Tim and Pat were photographing the northward New England Central 611 turn on its run from Palmer back toward Brattleboro, Vermont.

I phoned Pat when I arrived at Millers Falls. “Where are you?”

“We’re in South Amherst, 611 is passing Amherst now.”

That was just the information I needed.

I knew it would be cutting it a bit fine (in other words; with the wind a my back, I’d barely make it) but I was going to try to run against this freight and intercept it at Leverett (north of Amherst on the old Central Vermont).

I’m no novice at following trains on this line. I recall a spirited chase of CV freight from Amherst to Millers Falls back in Spring 1986!

I had a clear shot to Leverett (I didn’t get stuck behind a school bus). I pulled in, grabbed my FujiFilm XT1, jumped out of the car and listened.

I could hear multiple 16-645E3 diesels working in run 7 or 8. They were very close.

I needed to change lenses and had just enough time to switch from a 27mm pancake lens to my fixed focal length ‘prime’ 90mm telephoto.

As I set my exposure, the freight roared around the bend! I exposed a burst of images and then laid chase back north again. At one point, I gazed in my rear-view and saw that my friends were behind me. Classic train chase!

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Luck, Wisdom Way, and an Empty Grain Train!

Last week, I exited I-91 at Greenfield, Massachusetts with a vision of nipping over to Pan Am’s East Deerfield Yard—an old haunt that I hadn’t visited in a while.

As luck would have it, I never made it to the yard. Driving east I spotted former CSX GE DASH8-40Cs working west. It was an empty grain train! A prize indeed.

With no time to spare, and working from memory, I navigated post haste to Wisdom Way—a choice overpass on the former Fitchburg Main Line where I’ve made countless photos over the years.

I arrived in just enough time to set my exposure and capture this elusive freight as it passed in and out of dappled sun.

Exposed digitally using a FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm zoom lens.

Exposed digitally using a FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm zoom lens.

Not bad for a spontaneous catch. Soon I was on my way in another direction aiming to intercept New England Central 611 on its northward run.

Stay tuned for the results of that adventure!

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Boston & Maine Station at Ely, Vermont with Cotton Candy Sky.

On Friday January 24, 2020, I made a series of photos of the former Boston & Maine station at Ely, Vermont.

These views were made looking south toward White River Junction and show the station in partial silhouette against a wintery cotton-candy sky.

I exposed them in RAW using my Lumix LX7 and processed the files using light room to make the most of the dramatic sky.

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Amtrak Vermonter on THe Move!

Earlier this month I exposed this view of Amtrak train 57 on the move crossing a fill on the Connecticut River Backwater just south of Brattleboro, Vermont.

There was soft directional lighting with a textured sky. To better balance the exposure I worked with an external graduated neutral density filter positioned over the front element of the lens with the darkest portion of the filter ever the sky.

I’m not entirely satisfied with the results, but the filter helped.

Luckily, I also exposed a black & white photo that I hope to process with my next batch of film!

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Mexico City Streetcars—My Fleeting Glimpse.

December 30, 1979.

Forty years ago I had a fleeting glimpse of Mexico City’s streetcar system.

By the time of my December 1979 visit, all of the traditional streetcar lines in the downtown area were out of service. However, PCC cars remained in service on a pair of peripheral lines on the south-side of the city that connected at the end of a Metro Line.

I regret not having the opportunity to travel on the trolleys, but at least I got to see and photograph them.

This is one of my only color photos of Mexico City streetcars. I’d mounted the slide in glass, which didn’t do the emulsion any favors and resulted in unsightly moiré patterns (rainbow-like interferences). First I scanned the slide through the glass as seen here, then I very carefully removed the film from the glass and rescanned it. See below.
This is the same Kodachrome slide after removal from the glass mount. I cleaned the emulsion and rescanned the image. This scan is cleaner, sharper and largely free from the distracting artifacts caused by the glass, yet a few defects and stains remain. I’d go back and make the photo again, but I think the setting has likely changed in the last 40 years!

For me this sunset view of Mexico City street trackage is a symbolic photograph, and yet one that has haunted my imagination for decades. Technically speaking it is a poor photo; under exposed and the last frame on a roll of Kodachrome with the right side effectively cropped by the tape used during processing. I’ve cleaned up the slide a little for better presentation here.

Sometimes those scenes we only glimpse stick in our imagination more than those that we were immersed in. Do you remember that 1960s song recorded by Vashti Bunyan ‘Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind’?

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Window in Time: Lagrange Maine, 1984.

On August 5, 1984, my late friend Robert A. Buck gave me an unforgettable tour of the Bangor & Aroostook in central Maine.

Among the stops on our trip was a brief visit to the disused tower at Lagrange. If you look to the right you can see Bob and his famous green van through the weeds.

I exposed this photo on Kodak Plus-X using an old Leica 3A with a Canon f1.8 50mm screw-mount lens. I processed the film in Kodak Microdol-X and stored the negatives for 35 years in an envelope. Last month I scanned the negatives using an Epson V750 scanner.

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Santa Fe at Perris, California.

In January 1994, my father and I paid a visit to Perris, California, where I made some photos of this pair of rebuilt Santa Fe EMD diesels, along with the railroad station before proceeding to the Orange Empire Railway Museum.

Exposed on Kodachrome 25 using a Nikkormat FTN with Nikon 28mm AF wide-angle lens.

Santa Fe 2725 was a GP30u, which lost the characteristic semi-streamlined cab roof when rebuilt from a GP30 in the early 1980s.

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Steam Switcher in the Mist—four Photos.

Some of the most atmospheric moments at the Conway Scenic Railroad occur in the gloom of night after all the visitors have departed.

I made these photos last night as 0-6-0 7470 worked the yard following the last trip of the day.

Working with my FujiFilm XT1 set at ISO 6400, I exposed these photos handheld. While trying to keep the ‘atmosphere’ off the front element of my lens.

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Not the New York Central—At Night!

Does anyone remember the spoof newspaper ‘Not the New York Times’?

Anyway, at first glance this nocturnal photo might be mistaken for a mid-1950s view of a New York Central EMD GP with a Bangor & Aroostook boxcar.

Of course there are lots of hints to the contrary. If you look carefully, the GP9 in this view has ditch lights (a feature of the 1990s and later). The paint scheme, while inspired by the ‘New York Central’ lightning stripe, isn’t really like anything actually used by the railroad on a GP9. And, of course this engine has dynamic braking grids (just barely visible at the top of the long hood), , which as everyone knows(to quote a phrase) isn’t representative of New York Central’s GP9s, since none had dynamic brakes.

Stupid details!

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Sound of Power: Conrail Ballast Train June 1984

Just imagine the roar! Conrail C30-7 6600 leads three former Erie-Lackawanna 20-cylinder EMDs!

So far as I can remember, this was the only time I caught an SDP45 (second unit) hard at work on the Boston Line.

I made these views of an uphill BAL (Ballast train) at Middlefield, Massachusetts on a day’s photography with my old pal TSH on a beautiful spring evening in June 1984. I was a week away from my high-school graduation.

My only regret is that I didn’t have better photography skills and better equipment.

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Fordham Road in THe Bronx—Looking back.

Another two black & white photos from the depths of my archive.

These scenes were captured with my old Leica 3A nearly 40 years ago.

Technically they aren’t great photos. But these distilled what I saw in the Bronx.

Fordam Road at Webster Avenue in the Bronx, circa 1980.

The view inside the Forham Road subway station was made when we were on our way downtown—to Manhattan. Can you hear the roar of the train as it approaches? I can.

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November Sunshine at South Barre; Mass Central GP38s Working the Old Spur.

Here’s another pair of photos from ‘Super Tuesday’—November 26, 2019.

Fellow photographer Mike Gardner and I mopped up a few nice photographs on the north-end of the old Boston & Albany Ware River Branch.

These images were made on the spur that connects the branch with the Wildwood Reload on the far side of Route 32 at South Barre, Massachusetts.

I made both images using my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm zoom lens.

November sun; when it shines, it’s brilliant!

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CSX SD40-2 at Rotterdam Jct.

Yesterday I scanned this 20-year old slide of an eastward CSX freight passing the signals at CPRJ—Rotterdam Junction, New York.

I’d exposed the slide using my first Nikon N90S on Fujichrome Sensia RA slide film.

I made great use of the Nikon N90S, and when I wore out the first one, I bought another.

Oddly, when reviewing my slides, I find that my work with the N90S wasn’t as refined as the photographs that I made with either my Nikon F3 (with which I used the same lens pool as the N90S) nor my Contax G2 rangefinder that had its own lenses.

I can’t really explain this phenomena, but I wish I’d recognized it sooner.

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