Last week smoke and ash from fires in western Canada made for some very unusual lighting conditions.
Driving around Strasburg, Pennsylvania, Kris and I observed the sun as red globe descending into a greyish evening sky. This seemed unworldly.
I wanted to capture this effect, and selected a location off Blackhorse Road, near where I’d photographed trains a couple of days earlier. This provided enough elevation to allow for a good view of the horizon.
To better capture the definition of the sun, I selected a small aperture (large ‘f’ number), and intentionally under exposed by about 2/3s of a stop.
To retain the reddish color, I set my white balance to ‘daylight’, otherwise the camera’s software would attempt to ‘balance’ the color and neutralize the unusual color created by refraction of the light in the atmosphere (the very effect I was hoping to capture).
Althought, this might seem contrary, I also, made a couple of photos using my Nikon Z6’s black & white modes.
Below are several examples . If you look closely at the englarged image of the sun you’ll see a sun spot.
In the summer of 1998, Denis McCabe and I paid a visit to Wicklow Cabin on the Dublin & South Eastern route.
Working with Ilford HP5 35mm film loaded in a Nikon, I exposed this photograph of the signalman working the old mechnical frame. I don’t recall his name, but he was friendly and enjoyed having his photo made.
I processed the film in Ilford ID11, and many years later scanned the negatives using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner.
Over my many years photographing Irish Rail, I exposed hundreds of black & white photos in signal cabins to preserve on film these icons of antique signaling that were still in daily use.
Last week, Strasburg Rail Road was offering ‘In-Cab Experiences’ with former Norfolk & Western steamlined J-Class locomotive 611. These were scheduled to operate in a relatively secluded section on the Leaman Place-end of the railroad.
I made this digital view looking across the fields of the locomotive under steam using a Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm Nikkor Z-series zoom. My aim was to capture the majesty of the locomotive in pastoral setting.
By using selective focus and aiming through the lush Spring foliage, I hoped to create a sense of depth.
After exposure, I made a few nominal adjustments to the Nikon NEF RAW file using Adobe Light room. Notably, I used the ‘Select Sky mask setting’ to selectively lower the highlight density in the sky-area in order to avoid a loss of color and provide better balance the overall scene.
The other day I had an ‘oh no!’ moment involving the autofocus system on my Nikon Z6 fitted with a 70-200mm zoom.
Most of the time the autofocus with my Z-series cameras works very well. On rare occasion it misses completely.
I was set-up at Christiana, Pennsylvania along Amtrak’s former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line waiting for westward Keystone service number 605 in order to catch it passing the old PRR station.
I’d set the autofocus to ‘single-point’ (which allows to preselect a distinct point in the frame as the desired place of sharpness) and the system to ‘AF-C’ (continuous), a mode that in theory should continuously adjust the focus on the subject point.
There were three complicating conditions that in combination yielded an undesirable result. 1) The scene was back-lit with bright morning sun, which can make it more difficult for the autofocus system to quickly pick the focus on the desired point. 2) The train was moving faster than 90mph, which not only made it difficult to focus, but gave me no room for error when the shutter was released. 3) The headlights on Amtrak’s ACS-64 use a form of LEDs that produce a wavelength that can momentarily confuse the autofocus system on the camera. I’ve experienced these unfortunate effects previously.
The result was one photo where the focus was slightly off, followed by a second closer image where the focus was missed completely.
One solution for future efforts; I can use the autofocus to pre-focus on the desired location and the switch it off, thus avoiding the condition where at the last split second the focus shifts. But this too is a gamble, and doesn’t always work as hoped.
My favorite Strasburg Railroad steam locomotive is former Norfolk & Western 475.
I like its classic appearance and long boiler, but I’m also drawn to the relatively unusual wheel arrangement; 4-8-0.
Historically, this type was sometimes described as a ‘Mastodon’, perhaps because of its proportions. Another name for the 4-8-0 is ‘Twelve Wheeler,’ and this, while descriptive, doesn’t invoke romantic or alusive connotations.
Sunday, Kris and I caught old 475 coming and going at Blackhorse Road. I made these photos with my Nikon Z-series digital cameras. I thought back to November 1996, when I made photos of this same engine here on Kodachrome film. A differnt media for a different time.
This morning, the combination of agricultural haze, moisture in the air, and dust high in the atmosphere from fires in western Canada made for soft rosy morning light.
I don’t make a habit of posting photos to Tracking the Light the day of exposure, so today is an exception.
A little while ago, I set up at Gap, Pennsylvania along the former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line, now Amtrak’s Harrisburg Line, in anticipation of Keystone train 642 racing east toward Philadelphia.
As the train took the curve west of Gap, I exposed this sequence of digital photos using my Nikon Z6 with Z-series 70-200mm zoom. ISO set to 400, white balance to ‘daylight auto’. All photos adjusted using Lightroom.
Although a non-conventional view, I like the last in the sequence that features the train in the distance with the focus on the wild flowers. Isn’t this how we often see trains, just a glimpse in the distance?
Monday’s Mountaineer Social was the first passenger excursion over Crawford Notch since November.
This famous view has been popular with photographers for generations.
I was standing on the side of Route 302 looking across the chasm toward ‘The Girders.’ Lighting here can be a challenge. Normally when the train reaches Crawford this bridge would be in shadow . On Monday, bright hazy light made for excellent conditions to capture a train in this stunning vista.
To give the passengers a good view of the scenery, Conway Scenic’s trains take easy when approaching the Gateway at Crawford Notch.
The train’s slow speed and a handy telephoto zoom lens allowed me to make several compositions of the train on the bridge by adjusting focal length and framing as the train climbed through the Notch.
In recent weeks, Conway Scenic’s work train crew have made great use of the railroad’s century-old wooden bodied caboose.
Although it is Spring, a chill has remained in the air in New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley. So, several days ago the crew improved the car’s coal stove in the car and put it to use.
Using my Nikon Z7-II (with 24-70mm Nikkor lens), I made these photos at North Conway of the caboose and its classic coal stove To make the most of the large NEF RAW files, I processed them using Adobe Lightroom, reducing highlight density to improve detail, while lightening shadows.
Although, I have described these techniques in previous Tracking the Light posts, in this post, I’ve pushed the effect to a greater degree, which makes the alterations more evident.
It was a typical Irish overcast day on 3 May 2014. Using my Canon 7D, I made this selction photos of Irish Rail.
Last night, I imported my nine year old Canon CR2 RAW files into Lightroom and re-profiled them as an exercise.
Three of the four photos below were adjusted for color, contrast, and exposure. One of the images was the in-camera JPG.
One of the great advantages of working with digital RAW files in post processing is the ability to lighten the shadow areas. This small adjustment can significanly improve the appearance of photos made in dull overcast lighting.
Last night Kris and I watched a Sci-Fi film about time travel.
Afterwards, I thought about how each of my slide binders offers a form of time travel.
Lately on Tracking the Light, I’ve been offering windows in time. Each that looks back through my photographs; one week, five years, etc.
I look at this photo and I think how much has changed since I exposed this frame of Fujichrome.
I was standing at ‘the box’ at the St John’s Road in Dublin on the evening of 29 April 2007. I made the image with a Nikon F3 with 24mm Nikkor lens.
Much of these scene has changed in the intervening years. The old baracks behind the train was demolished and replace by an upscale housing complex. The view of the tracks looking west has been obscured by brush and bushes (don’t ask which is which). And, these days I rarely exposed Fujichrome in Dublin with a Nikon F3.
Irish Rail’s Mark4 sets still work the Dublin-Cork run though. So that’s something.
Last week Conway Scenic’s Work Extra reached Willey Siding on the climb to New Hampshire’s Crawford Notch. This consisted of GP9 1751 and a laden ballast car.
For the railroad enthusiast this consist represents an unintentional pairing of former Baltimore & Ohio equipment.
The ballast car was a B&O two-bay coal hopper built in 1941, while GP9 1751 was originally Chesapeake & Ohio 6128 (built in 1956) and following the C&O/B&O merger was transferred to Baltimore & Ohio’s roster becoming 6677. It continued to serve Chessie System and later CSXT until the 1980s.
I wonder if they ever worked together on the former B&O?
I made this selection of images using my Nikon Z-series mirrorless digital cameras, which can do an excellent job of replicating the old Kodachrome 25 color palatte.
Over the next couple of months Kris and I will be moving.
Part of the challenge of this relocation exercise will be the disassembly of my scale interpretation of the Reading Company in Pennsylvania coal country.
I began this two and a half years ago and the railroad gradually expanded. While I’d begun to install scenery, only about half the railroad enjoyed scale realism. Once we had decided to move, I stopped adding scenery and instead focused on operating the railroad.
Soon I will begin boxing up the locomotives, rolling stock and buildings. I will lift the track for future use and salvage elements of the electrical system including hundreds of feet of wire, dozens of lights and LEDs, plus numerous toggle switches that I used to control train movements.
Unfortunately, when I began planning the railroad, I failed to anticipate the need to take it apart. So, structure of the railroad consisting of wooden benchwork, as well as the scenery cannot be easily recycled.
I made these photos last night using my Nikon Z7-II to help preserve how the railroad looks.
Someday, the Wee Reading Company will rise again and it will be better than ever!
My Nikon Z7-II has a feature; the rear display screen is touch sensitive and it allows you to make a photo by touching the screen. It has another feature which senses when you are looking through the eyepiece and switches the view from the rear touch screen to the eyepiece.
On occasion, while moving my eye to the eyepiece my nose touches the rear display and releases the shutter resulting in an unintentional image. This usually annoys me, since I don’t like to erase photos and I don’t like to waste space on my memory card.
Yesterday, I scrambled up an embankment to make a photo of a Conway Scenic’s Work Extra that was collecting felled trees and other vegetation west of Notchland, New Hampshire near milepost 77 . I went to frame up a view of the caboose at the back of the train when my nose made a photo.
Here’s the irony, although unintentional, I like the ‘Nose View’ exposure better than the framed composition I made moments later.
Following this comedy of errors, and before the train moved up the line, I relocated. Once in position, I then made a series of photos of the caboose as it passed me.
Alex is a passenger train operator in Germany that connects Munich and Lindau among other routes.
Seven years ago (18 April 2016) a group of us had selected an overhead bridge near Lindau to catch an Munich bound train. I exposed this photo using my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm lens set to 18mm.
The lighting was uniform and bright, which illuminate the train nicely, and I liked the subtle Spring colors. However, the unmodified RAF/RAW file tends to display a slightly overexposed white sky.
To correct for the relative over exposure, I imported the camera RAF (Fuji RAW) file into Lightroom and used the ‘select sky’ feature, which automatically identifies the sky areas, and then used the ‘highlights’ slider to lower the sky density relative to the rest of the photo and thus better display detail and make for a more realistic image.
It was a dull day on Switzerland’s Gotthard Pass on 17 April 2016, when my Irish friends and I focused on trains working though the loops at Wassen.
Looking toward the top level the railway’s sinuous ascent of the pass, I had a decent view of this concrete arch.
Working with my FujiFilm XT1, I exposed a telephoto view of an Italian Pendolino working through the Alps toward Milan.
I’ve posted two views. The first is the XT1’s in-camera JPG with Fuji’s Velvia color profile. The second photo is a JPG crafted with Adobe Lightroom from the in-camera Fuji RAW file. I made adjustements to contrast, highlights and color saturation.
Six years ago—5 April 2017—I spent about an hour photographing modern Italian passenger trains at Firenze Santa Maria Novella.
I captured the impressive parade of sleek looking passenger trains using my Lumix LX7 digital camera. This compact and lightweight camera offers versatility and the ability to produce a very high-quality image.
I like the camera because of its exceptionally sharp Leica Vario Summilux zoom lens, and because it simultaneously outputs in both JPG and RAW with a variety of built in color profiles.
While in some situations, I carry the Lumix as a supplemental digital camera. On my 2017 Italian adventure, it served as my primary digital camera. But I also was working with a Nikon F3 SLR to expose black & white negatives and color slides.
What are you supposed to do while waiting for trains?
How about take portraits of each other on the railroad platform.
That’s what we did two weeks ago at Paoli, Pennsylvania!
I made some views of my brother Sean and his partner Isabelle with my wife Kris as a westward Amtrak Keystone and SEPTA trains made station stops. Then Kris made a couple of photos of me with Sean and Isabelle using my Nikon Z7-II.
Hi ISO and auto white balance makes night photos easy!
Google Maps makes it much easier to navigate to the west shore of the Susquehanna River at Marysville, Pennsylvania to reach the famed Rockville Bridge.
I recall pouring over maps in the 1980s, trying to locate the correct sequence of turns to get to River Road. The challenge of this location is that the path is indirect and the main highways running parallel to the river and railroad do not facilitate straight forward exits.
On my most recent visit, I followed Google Maps instructions to my map ‘pin’ situated at the westend of Rockville Bridge. I approached the bridge just as a Norfolk Southern freight was easing across the 48 stone arches.
I returned to the vantage point on the north side of the bridge that Kris and I had visited nearly a year ago. This allowed me to make a long telephoto view of the train and capture the dramatic sky to the east.
Thursday I traveled with Conway Scenic’s Plow Extra to Attitash, and then east from Mountain Junction down the Redstone Branch to Kearsarge in North Conway.
My primary objective of this trip was to make video footage of the plowing and plow crew for Conway Scenic, both to document the activity and to help promote the railroad.
I used my Nikon Z-series mirrorless camera to record both still photos and video. In general, I feel more confident in my ability to work with still images than video, but I still made a lot of video clips which I am now editing into a short film that will hopefully play on Conway Scenic’s Facebook page as well as other accessible media.
Below are a few of the still photos from Thrusday’s adventure on the rails.
I often work with multiple cameras. Since purchasing my Nikon Z7-II at the end of last year, I now often work with both my Nikon mirrorless cameras in tandem. I’ve fitted my Z-series 70-200mm zoom to my Z6, and a Z-series 24-70mm to the Z7-II.
This arrangement gives me the flexibility to make a variety of different angles quickly, swaping back and forth between the two cameras as needed.
In addition to that, I’ll often have my Lumix LX7 at hand and sometimes an older Nikon loaded with film.
Last week, I was poised at Gap, Pennsylvania on the former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line that is now operated by Amtrak. Most of Amtrak’s trains are Keystone corridor push-pull sets powered by Siemens-built ACS-64 electric locomotives. An exception is the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian that runs daily and its typically led by a GE-built P42 Genesis diesel.
I got a tip that the eastward Pennsylvanian (train 42) was running with a P42 wearing one of the heritage paint schemes and I was in position to make the most of that train, while waiting on its late-running westward counterpart (train 43). Watching a train tracking ap on my phone, I wondered which train would reach me first.
I heard a GE chugging to the east and turned to find train 43 working west led by P42 number 117 . First I made a few images with the Z6 and 70-200mm, then made a few close up photos with the Z7-II and 24-70mm, before making a couple more trailing views with the Z6. I’ve included six of these images here in order of exposure to provide a sense of how I made the most of these cameras in tandem.
Minutes after train 43 went by, I spotted train 42 in the distance with the aforementioned heritage-painted locomotive in the lead. Stay tuned for those photos!
On this day, photographer Tom Carver and I were at Val Royal, Montreal to photograph Canadian National’s electric suburban trains.
In the orange glow of evening on a memorably cold day, I exposed this Kodachrome 25 slide using my old Nikon F3T with Nikkor 200mm lens.
Little did I know then, that 30 years later I’d be working daily with some of these very same cars: Conway Scenic Railroad operates former CN electric cars 6739, 6743, 6745 and 6749 as coaches on its excursion trains.
The other day there was nice afternoon light in the yard at North Conway, NH. The 470 Club’s famous pair of F7As were positioned on the Short Track in front of Conway Scenic’s 1874 passenger station building and the passenger consist was out on the branch which made of a nice photo opportunity.
I made this series of three-quarter roster-style views, making slight changes to my angle to alter foreground and background. Among the items I was trying to include were the station building and the flags in the distance, while also paying attention to the clouds and making slight exposure adjustments.